Meet Gem Collector Neil Santerre

You may not have “diamonds on the soles of your shoes” as Paul Simon sang, but there are treasures under your feet. Our planet has been busy cranking out bling for billions of years, then playfully concealing her work. Neil Santerre knows this well. He digs, collects, cuts and trades in this hidden bounty. Beautiful, shimmering minerals and crystals. Dazzling gems. Riches, all there for the taking and free if you don’t count the work. So grab your pickax and safety glasses. Go prospecting. Stake your claim in the state’s back forty. Pick a specimen from your neighbor’s stone wall and crack it open. Just do it at night — and please don’t mention my name.

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Photo by David Mendelsohn

  • My interest in minerals goes way back. It all started with a trip to Ruggles Mine. After that visit, it was all downhill from there and, actually, more often uphill.
  • Why a rock and mineral store? The simplest answer is “why not?” With a name like Santerre (which means “without earth”), I thought it had a good ring to it: “Santerre’s Stones ’n Stuff.”
  • The artistry and beauty of a natural crystal is tough to describe. I like to call them Mother Nature’s art.
  • Some rockhounds look for crystals, some look for material to cut for jewelry, and some just [want] to
    get out and enjoy the outdoors. I fit all three.
  • If I have a good day, some of the material will go for sale in the store. Most times though, they go right into the personal collection.
  • You don’t have to have a degree in geology to discover pretty rocks. Having some understanding of geology does help if you go prospecting in new locations, but it is not required. You just need to go out and enjoy.
  • There are many opportunities for rockhounding here. If you are a novice, you may want to join a mineral and gem club. Some mines are closed, but if you are a member of a club, they have special field trips to various open ones.
  • Gems and crystals have certain spiritual powers. People will come into the store asking us what stone will help with something specific. That is a tough question because it’s not the same for all individuals.
  • I tell people that all minerals contain energy. However, everyone’s energy is unique, so how an individual relates to the stone is a personal experience.
  • Metals cause the colors in gems and minerals. For example, in emeralds it’s chromium — that produces the green. In aquamarines it is iron for that blue.
  • The only real way to judge whether a particular rock, when broken open, will contain anything of value is through experience.
  • When it comes to selling the specimens and jewelry that we make, I do not get attached. However, when it comes to selling the stones I have found, it is a little tougher.

Ruggles Mine 01RUGGLES MINE IN GRAFTON has been closed for so long it became a setting for a weird art installation/happening a few years ago, but new owners promise that the mine will reopen soon, and will begin to lure a new generation of geologists and rockhounds to discover the mysteries cooked up in the guts of the Earth. That’s where Neil Santerre found his passion that led to a life of collecting mineral specimens and to the opening of his shop, Santerre’s Stones ‘n Stuff, in Epping. ( A web search for gem and mineral clubs will produce a number of active societies for those wanting to get their hands dirty while hunting for nature’s buried treasures.

Categories: Q&A