Hana Jae East is a pebble pup.

She was given the moniker by her mom and dad purely out of affection. Melissa and James East’s grown-up nickname is “rock hound.”

Hana Jae, 7, was the inspiration for the couple’s latest journey to showcase and share their love of gemstones and minerals. 

But, it’s more than that; this family has the desire to educate and inspire children and adults about geology and the natural world around them.

In the heart of Donelson in the Music Valley area is an unlikely gem of a place where all can experience a high-quality, hands-on, gem-mining opportunity. The couple opened Jae’s Gem Mine about three years ago on Music Valley Drive.

“We have one of the largest and most diverse Tennessee mineral and fossil collections on display,” said Melissa East. “We love to instill a genuine interest in gemstones and minerals through an interactive mining experience, where water separates the ore, revealing the amazing stones you can keep.”

Hana Jae East is the star of their small mom-and-pop rock shop that specializes in minerals, fossils and gemstones found in Tennessee. The Easts have been avid rock hounds who enjoy learning about what can be found in and around Tennessee.

Their place is not only a store, but also a learning center. The back section of the 1,200-square-foot place showcases a custom-built gem flume. They offer buckets of enriched ore for participants to sift through in the gem flume and discover hidden treasures inside.

“Yes,” said Melissa East. “All do get to keep everything they find inside their buckets.”

How did this all begin?

Melissa and James East are that couple who can actually work all day together and get along fabulously. While they as a couple have lived in Donelson for 12 years, both have lived in the area since they were 5 years old. Until three years ago when they debut Jae’s Gem Mine to the community and beyond, they worked together in a family construction business for 17 years.

“We both grew up collecting fossils and stones and arrowheads,” said Melissa East. “We both enjoy exploring and uncovering beautiful gems.”

The fun hobby-type rock hounding grew more serious when their daughter arrived. 

“When she was about 1 year old, she started having seizures,” Melissa East said. “We had baskets of gems on a shelf under the television, and Hana Jae was drawn to them in a very real way. I started to research, and since the beginning of time, emeralds have had holistic aspects.”

Mom said her daughter from then on was a true crystal child through and through, the gemstones comforted her, and the seizures stopped over time.

The couple started to take more and more trips to North Carolina to take part in commercial mining and rock hounding. They soon realized they could not keep traveling so far away for the fun and educational activity. They had an old trailer and thought, why not bring gem mining to Nashville. 

James East built a mobile gem trailer, and the business was born. They studied and researched and sifted through their own collections of gemstones and fossils and filled up the trailer and took to the road to offer gem experiences at various schools, festivals and fundraisers. 

All the while, they took trips to several different gem and fossil-rich places within a fairly close distance from home. They discovered a place in Illinois where there’s much fluorite. West of the Tennessee River, they hounded pieces for dinosaur bones and shark teeth. 

“We have a small claim in Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee to sift through,” said Melissa East.

Their next trip is in January to Douglas Lake in East Tennessee where many little quartz points can be found. 

Muddy fields and sandy creeks are rich with agate and small pieces of gold. 

“Tennessee does not have a lot of gems, but many fossils,” said Melissa East.

Tennessee is home to more than 70 commodity minerals, 185 valid minerals and more than 40 types of rocks. Not to mention there are many different fossils found in the state, including dinosaur bones and amber.

A big part of the experience at Jae’s Gem Mine is the unique opportunity to crack geodes they’ve collected in Tennessee, as well as ones imported from famous geode locations around the world.

Their extensive gem, fossil and rock collection includes gems for sale from $1 to high-end pieces worth $100,000. They’ve partnered with several rock hound clubs that reached out and provide locally found gems to the couple. They recently founded Middle Tennessee Prospectors Club, which is a chapter of a national club for gem lovers. 

“We also take students on trips to hound and have party packages that are so popular,” Melissa East said. 

Not only does Jae’s Gem Mine offer lots of fun, but it also sneaks in educational aspects throughout all the events and activities.

“Most participants don’t even realize how much they are learning during the excitement of hands-on mining,” said Melissa East. “From sifting through ore discovering a handful of gemstones and fossils to cracking open Moroccan geodes to identifying local minerals and how they are formed to identifying minerals from around the world.”

Let’s not forget they make and sell jewelry that showcases the most gorgeous gems around. Last week, Melissa East made gemstone guitar picks. And yes, they are playable.

Jae’s Gem Mine is at 2416 Music Valley Drive. Visit jaesgemmine.com for more information.

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