During the 19th Century Edinburgh was a thriving centre of the lapidary and jewellery trades, turning out high quality ‘pebble jewellery’ from a ready supply of ‘Scotch pebbles’ or agates and Cairngorm stones.
The last of these Edinburgh professional lapidaries, Mr Alexander Begbie, passed on the know-how of the craft to Mr Ron Bennet, who shortly after, with the help of a locally placed newspaper advert, founded the Scottish Mineral & lapidary Club.
The Scottish Mineral & Lapidary Club is the longest running Lapidary Club in Britain. It was founded on the 2nd of December 1958 by a group of 30 enthusiasts who rented a single workshop in Rose Street in the heart of Edinburgh.
As the membership increased over the years the Club has moved round several premises in Edinburgh, residing now in our current premises at 20 Maritime Lane, Leith, Edinburgh.
The First Lapidary Club in the UK, after nearly 60 years, still continues to carry on the Edinburgh lapidary tradition.
The principal material collected, cut and polished by club members was and still is Scottish Agate. In the early days, members split agates using a hammer and chisel; the agates were then polished using six polishing laps in the workshop.
By 1961, the Club membership had grown modestly to 55, and for the first time there were junior and associate members. The hammer and chisel were soon abandoned in favour of a diamond slab saw and the Club also purchased their first grinding wheel.
Interest in the SM&LC grew steadily as members took part in exhibitions of work around Edinburgh; the Club even featured in a BBC broadcast in February 1961.
June 1965 saw a move to the larger St. Giles Street premises in Edinburgh’s Old Town. This move led to the acquisition of a greater number of laps (including faceting laps), grinders and saws, and the addition of a room for silversmithing and a library.
By the early 1980s, membership was in the hundreds and the Club had acquired a fine collection of mineral specimens.
After nearly 42 years of work at St. Giles Street, redevelopment of site meant another move for SMLC, this time to Maritime Lane in South Leith and this is where you will find the club today.
The club has formed strong links with the Leith community and regularly takes part in Leith Festival and each year hosts an “At Home” open day, where visitors can view the work of club members.
(adapted from Collins, W. (1982). ‘The Scottish Mineral and Lapidary Club’. In Gray, A.R. and Tait, A. (Eds.) Agate Symposium: Proceedings. Edinburgh: Scottish Mineral and Lapidary Club, Royal Scottish Museum.)