Struggling to find the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your partner? You’re in luck! Meet Christine Leader, a Charlevoix metalsmith making heirloom jewelry out of recycled precious metals and her daily rock hunting and beach treasure finds.

This article first appeared in Traverse Northern Michigan. Find this story and more when you explore our digital issue library. Want Traverse delivered to your door or inbox monthly? View our print subscription and digital subscription options.

Christine Leader knew she’d make art her career. But what kind of art? Fine art? Fiber? Graphic design? The answer arrived at Wayne State University, where she took her first metals class. “I fell in love,” she says.

Now, 15 years later, through her six-year-old Charlevoix-based business—Christine Leader Michigan Metalsmith—she’s making of-the-moment jewelry worthy of future generations, melding and casting recycled precious metals with natural finds she happens upon during her many daily walks.

Rock hunting

Photo by Dave Weidner

Yet, it isn’t the metal-smithing that moves her. “It’s the finding,” she says.

That moment, pinned between hope and exaltation, in a rain-drenched forest, on a wind-bitten shore, or even in an asphalt-pocked downtown alley, when Leader’s eyes alight on something: “I feel like I stumbled upon magic.”

Shards of Lake Michigan beach glass, tiny fossils, a single agate among measly old pieces of quartz, and, once in Copper Harbor, a rare Michigan greenstone. The flat, fern-like needles of a northern white cedar. A single cicada wing forgotten between blades of grass. Each one a part of Leader’s imagination and alchemy.

A woman hunting for rocks

Photo by Dave Weidner

“There are things all around us that we walk right past—these little things in life that we never noticed,” she says. “And, you know, when you find these things, it’s really just moments of true and sheer joy.”

Unique rocks while rock hunting

Photo by Dave Weidner

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner