Dover-based gem hunters rock the world

The owner of Market Square Jewelers is the subject of a new documentary on gem-buying adventures

Peter Henry collects rocks, but not just any rocks. These rocks are pretty, and very rare. Sometimes Henry must travel to far reaches of the globe in order to obtain such treasures. In the upcoming documentary, “Rockmen,” filmmaker H. Nelson Tracey follows Henry and a small team as they search for beautiful gems and jewels in places that aren’t typical tourist destinations.

Henry discovered his love for natural stones and organic items in the 1970s. Today, he is the owner of Market Square Jewelers, with locations in Dover; Portsmouth; Newburyport, Mass.; and Portland, Maine. With his online store, his business sells gems and jewels to customers all over the globe.

“Our objective is to show the widest diversity of natural gem material of any store in the world,” Henry said.

In order to achieve that goal, he must look beyond New England for rare stones. Henry has become a master gem hunter, traveling to places like Brazil, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Colombia to uncover the best finds.

“I’ve mapped out gem sites all over the world,” he said. “I know how to get this stuff. I know how to quietly go about my business and find these stashes of material.”

Peter Henry of Dover's Market Square Jewelers in Sri Lanka for filming.

From left, filmmaker H. Nelson Tracey, Market Square Jewelers owner Peter Henry, and Henry’s business partners Mohammed Shyam and Lonnie McCulloch in Sri Lanka. photo by H. Nelson Tracey


Gem hunting
When Henry travels to a foreign location to buy gems, it’s no vacation. He spends a typical day at a buying center, which he says is usually in a small, hot room.

“I find a corner and put a table across it and get behind it,” he says. “Then the dealers come to the table and they start showing me stuff.”

He tells the dealer to open their parcel and flip the stone for him.

“I look, I like, I take. I look, I don’t like, I go like this,” he said, making a “get lost” motion with his hand.

Not every jeweler is cut out to go on these types of excursions. Henry, who often travels with business partners Mohammed Shyam and Lonnie McCulloch, said the buying rooms become very crowded with sellers, and everyone wants him to see what they have. It’s an intense atmosphere.

“We’re following the trail of trying to create a little piece of perfection,” Henry said. “If we keep that mentality in front of us, then the money comes. But it’s not about the money. Money is the end result of doing something well.”

Lonnie McCulloch in Colombia during filming.

Lonnie McCulloch examines an emerald at a mine in Colombia. photo by H. Nelson Tracey


Gem filming
Nelson Tracey is Henry’s cousin’s son. The 23-year-old went to Chapman University in Orange County, Calif., to study film. He graduated last May and now does freelance work in Los Angeles. Last August, Henry contacted Tracey with an idea that sounded “a little more like a pipe dream,” Tracey said. The idea was to create “Rockmen” as the pilot for a documentary series about the trials and adventures of the gem-buying industry. Despite the tall order, Tracey took on the job.

“I’m relatively new at all this,” said Tracey. “I’ve studied narrative film with big scripts and lots of actors.”

He began studying documentary in the latter part of his academic career.

“I saw documentary as a really good way to show the world,” he said. “When you have real people who are doing this for their business, I’m just kind of an observer … to create and find the drama and excitement of this was part of the challenge.”

According to Henry, drama is never too hard to find in the world of gem buying.

“We’ve had situations where we’ll have a broker in his home in this village, and we’ll be in a room, and we’ll have literally 250 gem dealers fighting to get into the room to show us their goods. And we’re in a small space. It’s an absolute madhouse.”

While some drama helps captivate an audience, Henry and Tracey agreed that “Rockmen” would be primarily focused on the authentic experience rather than creating an overly dramatized version of the process.

“The cool thing about these countries is that Americans don’t have images in their heads of them because they aren’t usually shown in movies or TV,” Tracey said. “If I say ‘Paris, France,’ you have an image in your head … but Colombia and Sri Lanka are two places people don’t have a sense of what they look like. This was an opportunity to show the world a new place, and a culture … they wouldn’t normally have a chance to interact with.”

H. Nelson Tracey in Sri Lanka during filming

H. Nelson Tracey on set in Sri Lanka during filming of Rockmen. photo by Lonnie McCulloch


Gem screening
“Rockmen” will premier with a free screening at The Strand Ballroom in Dover on Wednesday, May 11 at 7 p.m. The historic building was most recently converted into a ballroom, but the owner agreed to reinstall the original screen for the showing of “Rockmen.”

“The movie theater experience is the best way to have a community film experience,” Tracey said. “It’s much more rewarding to show your work to a physical audience. Dover is a great place to start given it’s (Henry’s) home base.”

Tracey plans to schedule more screenings in places like L.A. and Denver, but first he needs to build an initial audience. He expects a genuine reaction from the audience in Dover, as most of them will have no previous conception of what the gem-buying industry consists of.

Tracey is hopeful that his film could actually turn into a series.

“I’m very realistic, and there are many other people trying to do similar things,” Tracey said. “We’re ambitious but I’m cautiously optimistic. But regardless of its future, we have this … it’s a niche topic but it’s widely appealing. Anyone could turn this on and find interest in it.”

At Market Square Jewelers in Dover, Henry mused about the possibilities of having his own TV show.

“We could sit down at a table with a world map on the wall and throw a dart and see where it lands,” Henry said. “Then I head off to (the Czech Republic) to see what gems I can find there, or Russia, or China, and we find out that every country has its own geological history.”

Someone makes a joke about Henry becoming the Anthony Bourdain of gem hunting.

“I doubt it very much,” Henry said, “but it would be an interesting way to retire.”

Rockmen premiers on Wednesday, May 11 at 7 p.m. at The Strand Ballroom in Dover. For more information, click here.