Kasey and Kean Riley may be to rocks what Willy Wonka is to chocolate, offering magic in the forms of minerals.
Kasey and his twin brother Kean were 4 years old when they became fascinated with minerals and rocks. Not just your everyday rock, though; these two may argue that there is no such thing as an average rock.
"We were young when we wandered over to the house next door, which happened to be The Rock and Gem Shop," Kean said. "Ralph Bristol would get bulk rocks. It wasn't unusual to see 18-wheelers pulling down our street on Petrova Avenue with 100 pounds of rocks, quartz and other materials.
Kasey and Kean Riley stand near their private collection at the Twin Crystal Rock Shop
(Photo — Diane Chase)
"I remember the day. We looked at a sign above the garage and it said Rock Shop and we were hooked. That was 44 years ago. We worked; we would rake the lawn and do what we needed to do to help out at the Rock Shop. We would sweep and do maintenance, and Mr. Bristol would throw us some quarters. He had a tree where he would put all the rough rocks. We would find those stones over by the tree. Then we started buying stones with the money that we earned."
Ralph Bristol is the man that the Riley brothers credit for nurturing their interest in minerals. Bristol collected examples of various rocks and contributed numerous samples to the New York State Museum Mineral Collection as well as recording his findings of region specimens such as Labradorite to the New York State Mineral Catalog.
The New York State Academy of Mineralogy is dedicated to promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of the minerals and mineralogy of New York. Kean admits that most people like Bristol start out as hobbyists and then turn it into a business. Bristol collected as well as sold minerals to other rock shops. Kean mentions more than once he and his brother's gratitude to Bristol and his wife for cultivating their careers as lapidary artists.
The Riley Brothers are still working off stock that they received from Bristol when he retired from the mineral business.
Kasey and Kean have been working since they were 5 years old, whether it was shoveling snow or running errands, and that strong work ethic shows today. They loved working and learning about minerals and started selling their own rocks from their garage at the age of 8. The brothers still have a rubber business stamp they had made at that time.
"It wasn't until 1995 that we had a storefront, just down the street from here on Broadway," Kean said. "We closed the store after a few years but continued to give lessons when we decided to work in different careers. We learned a lot of lessons about owning a business."
Nine years later, Kasey and Kean reopened the rock shop as Twin Crystal Rock Shop, and are putting their extensive knowledge to work. The brothers are dedicated to being at the store for their customers.
"We do educational tours and promote educational browsing," Kean said. "People do not have to come in and buy something. I want people to come in and ask questions. We want people to be comfortable. We have had Girl Scout and Cub Scout Troops here for tours. Because of our educational tours, our shop is now part of the North Country Community College geology curriculum. We really try to connect with the community.
"A cabochon is cut by hand, shaped, and the lapidary artist looks for the natural angles of the stone where to slice the stone. We do offer lessons here at the shop."
There is a lot of diversity coming from a family of six boys. Kasey and Kean are close to their whole family, and their shop is a stopover for friends and family.
Though identical twins, Kasey and Kean are different in personality, and each brings his own strengths to their business.
"Our talents complement each other," Kean said. "We have never competed against each other.
"We moved to this new location in the fall from across the street from our old place," Kean said. "This place, 13 Broadway, has more space but we have always offered stone cutting lessons and have had birthday parties. We hope to really get kids and adults interested in the materials we have to offer. We let people choose different options like cutting their own geode, picking out candy and digging for treasure."
Kean demonstrates how the saw blade used is safe for children.
"It is hard enough to cut through stone but it won't cut skin," Kean said. "That is why we can offer that to kids. We are always there and monitor the whole operation. It is always safety first. It does give kids the opportunity to do something different, and it's educational."
Kasey comes into the shop and comments on how they are trying to do fun stuff at the shop. They want to offer a variety of activities that can be interesting to a wide variety of people. Kasey and Kean have also made an effort to purchase locally, buying some of their wire-wrapped silver jewelry, gemstone beaded jewelry as well being a source of New York's Herkimer Diamonds.
Herkimer Diamonds are actually double-terminated quartz crystals found mainly in Herkimer County believed to be close to 500 million years old. The majority of the Herkimer Diamonds have 18 facets.
"We have our wish list of stuff we would like to get into the store, but our focus is the minerals," Kasey said. "We focus on the cutting of cabechons and creating beautiful custom jewelry. We love what we do."
Their attention to detail reinforces that thought.
"Rock shops have a stigma, and we want to break that," Kasey said. "People think of rocks as something they just find on the ground but rocks are the basis for most jewelry. We have these beautiful crystals and gems.
"Rocks are magical. They are mysterious and interesting. These crystals took thousands of years to form. People don't realize that the base rock of the Adirondacks is also found on the moon. Anorthosite usually runs too deep for people to see. The Adirondacks are old and have eroded so that this rock can be viewed."
In the center of the store is a glass display of their private collection that Kasey and Kean use to entertain themselves and visitors.
Most recently the twins went to the premier of "Recreator," a locally shot feature film where they got to see themselves on the "big screen." They experienced a brief foray into film when they were cast in "Recreator."
Kasey received the close-up, while Kean spoke their only line as twins mistaken for clones in a feature film by director and writer Gregory Orr.
Their storytelling skills are credited to their father, local columnist Howard Riley.
Kean explains some various materials and the history of them all. Goldstone, or monk stone, he relays, is often mistaken for a gemstone because of how it is polished. Centuries ago, monks in Italy mistakenly dropped copper shavings into molten glass when making stained-glass windows, thus creating the stone's glittery appearance. Artists discovered its beauty and found a way to cut it like a gem.
Kasey explains another unique material found in the store,
"Fordite, or Detroit agate, comes from the Detroit car company. It's hardened layers of paint from the '60s that someone realized you could do something with."
The Fordite was formed when cars were hand spray-painted and the overspray built up in a multicolored pattern that could be cut and shaped. Since cars are no longer painted in the way that fashioned the material, the enameled "rough" is now considered rare.
"I love being able to tell the stories of how some of these materials were formed. I want to be able to share this information with other people. It is the stories and history that makes it more than just rocks," Kean said.