Gemstones & Pearls:News
You can help Habitat for Humanity without even lifting a hammer
Thousands of volunteers, including Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, build homes
for Habitat for Humanity each year. Vernon Wilson, a Poquoson, VA, jeweler
can't join in because of an injury suffered in an accident. But last year
he did the next best thing: donating $182,000 in loose fancy-color diamonds,
sapphires, rubies, emeralds, aquamarines and other collectible gems
once earmarked to finance his retirement to the home-building charity.
In the process, he involved his community, giving valuable experience to
students who will become the marketers and jewelry designers of tomorrow.
Habitat for Humanity, in operation since the 1950s, accepts donations
of time, building skills, materials, cash and now gems. All
donations help to build affordable housing for the working poor recipients
of the houses work right along with the volunteers to build "sweat
Though physically unable to participate, Wilson knew his collection could
be parlayed into ready cash to build more housing. Though he hoped for a
quiet, anonymous donation, the notion was soon dashed. News of the jeweler's
largess made the Associated Press and soon dozens of media outlets, including
People magazine, descended on the quiet, soft-spoken man. Wilson,
well-known in his community, became an international celebrity.
For Wilson, donating his prized gemstones was not the end of his generosity.
Because Habitat for Humanity didn't quite know how to market the stones,
they turned to him for help. Soon, the local high school's design class
was developing a logo, taking commercial photographs and creating ads and
marketing materials for the project.
Prospective consumers turned out to be interested in mounted, not loose
gems. So Wilson suggested involving more students. Virginia Commonwealth
University's jewelry design department stepped up to the plate, with students
making jewelry using the donated stones. The project involved calculating
materials and work-time to establish retail values for the finished product.
Wilson is delighted the students got the opportunity to experience practical
manufacturing and enhance their resumés. Hoover & Strong, the
Richmond, VA, metal refiner, heard about the project and chipped in with
silver and gold.
"It was a real community outpouring," says Wilson. So far,
400 gems out of the total of 1,600 have been sold. Wilson appeals to other
jewelers around the country to donate designs, gold, work or time. "We
will easily raise the retail value of the gems, but now we would like to
get a better value out of selling mounted goods." He says more than
$300,000 could be raised. "Priced at $40,000 each, that's a lot of
homes," he says.
Though he had saved the now-donated gems for his retirement, Wilson isn't
worried about his future. "We'll be well taken care of," he says
with a chuckle. "Realize that God is in control. You never know where
the seeds you plant will sprout or how they will grow. Work hard, be honest
and help other people."
Jewelers willing to contribute to the momentum are urged to contact Starr
Mayer, Habitat for Humanity, P.O. Box 1443, Newport News, VA 23601-0443;
by Robert Weldon, G.G.
This gem, when donated to Habitat for Humanity, ignited a firestorm of
publicity and opportunity. Photo by Bill Boxer
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.