Forty years of sparkle in Vail |

Forty years of sparkle in Vail

Shauna FarnellDaily CorrespondentVail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Shauna Farnell

VAIL, Colorado – Anyone who happened through Vail in 1970 would scarcely recognize it now, but in spite of the town’s transformation, some of its earliest merchants have held strong and true through the years. Dan Telleen is one of them. Karats of Vail began as a summer business in which Telleen and his then-business partner, Jim Cotter – not long out of college – would sell their wares between semesters teaching school. In 1969, they found a temporary location in Estes Park and first heard about a little place called Vail.”This woman who bought a piece came in and said, ‘There’s this town in the mountains … well, it’s not really a town yet. It’s a ski resort trying to be a town. But there’s only like six stores there. If I were you, I’d take a look at Vail,'” Telleen said.After moving first to the promenade area near The Lodge at Vail, which was primarily used for employee housing at the time, Telleen and Cotter went separate ways and Telleen, after going back to school to study diamonds at The Gemological Institute of America, settled Karats into its current spot near La Tour restaurant. He continues crafting his own unique and custom-ordered necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings using precious metals and stones from around the world.

In continued celebration of Karats of Vail’s 40th anniversary, this weekend’s show will feature an encore of pearl specialist Koji Kawamoto’s vast collection of saltwater and freshwater pearls and also a display of rainbow sapphires. Though typically recognized as September’s blue birthstone, sapphires, formed from a mineral called corundum, come in literally every shade on the color wheel. Michael Couch & Associates focused on the magic of this phenomenon and launched Rainbow Sapphire Jewelry, featuring sapphires from Madagascar, south Tanzania and even Australia and Montana, isolating corundum from the classic deep cerulean blue to rich red – which we all know as ruby – but also purples, yellows, oranges and greens.”Sapphire comes in every color of the rainbow. When it cools – after a volcanic eruption, for example – that’s what makes those different colors,” said Marshall Hoyt of Michael Couch & Associates. “There are characteristics from different areas.”It is the imperfections of the soil and the way the crystal forms that account for the different colors. Only two percent of all that M.C. & Associates mine is of high enough quality to make it into the Rainbow Sapphire collection, and only after it exchanges hands from miners to distributors in East Africa, often at great risk (Hoyt said one of his company’s associates has been shot at). The colors and sizes are then cut and sorted by a team of experts in Thailand.As for the mining process itself, it is similar to how certain deposits of gold were discovered in Colorado and the West. Like gold, sapphire is heavy. Gemstones are rated on a hardness scale and sapphires are rated above nearly every other gem at a nine, every gem, that is, except for the diamond, which is the only 10 on the scale. “The rough sapphire is a pebble – a crystal – pointed at both ends like two pyramids. It can be found as sand in a river, where the river over time has tumbled away the softer stone and exposed the sapphire crystal,” Telleen explained. Shauna Farnell is a marketing consultant for Karats. E-mail comments about this story to

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