A Princeton lapidary’s prehistoric inspiration
John Miller is living the new American dream: He quit a lucrative corporate job to do what he really loves. And what did he gamble it all for? A bunch of rocks. As a lapidary, Miller travels the world to collect Earth’s treasures and turns them into jewelry and crafts at Tomorrow’s Heirlooms, his Princeton store. "I found this 60-pound T-rex bone on a camping trip when I was 14," says Miller. "I watched it being cut and polished, and I was in love." With that fascination, plus a few classes and a natural mechanical aptitude (he’s also a Mensa member), Miller began setting stones as a teenager, his way. "Dyed-in-the-wool lapidaries think you have to follow the rules," he says. "But my pieces usually aren’t standard facets like round or square. They’re all different shapes." And because Miller’s one-stop shop offers restorations, repairs and custom designs, there’s no typical workday: He could be splicing picture jasper to make his signature landscape pendants one day; the next, he’s restoring an antique, like the rare 150-year-old star-ruby necklace that he just (tearfully) parted with for a whopping 25K. Or he might be chatting with regulars, like the guy from Seattle who keeps 30 pieces on layaway to be shipped out when he needs a gift, or the cruise director who hunted Miller down after noticing a passenger wearing his work. Miller’s advice on turning a hobby into a career: "If it’s important enough, you’ll learn to live on a little less. I hated my job for 22 years, and now every rock I cut is a new adventure."
Tomorrow’s Heirlooms, 2 Chambers Street, Princeton, 609-921-9440; tomorrowsheirloomsnj.com.
Originally published in Philadelphia Magazine, May 2007