Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Mined in the USA

Rock hounds know that the U.S. is dotted with mines overflowing with a variety of gemstones.

By Sheryl Jones

Tiffany Stone.
Photo courtesy Tom Munson.
Did you know that there are blue sapphires in Montana, watermelon tourmalines in California, Siberian-colored amethysts and aquamarines in Maine, black opals in Nevada and vibrant peridot in Arizona? There are even emeralds at the Crabtree mine in North Carolina, which was once owned by Tiffany & Co. Enthusiasts from around the world know that these gemstones and many others like jasper, agate, turquoise, chrysocolla, malachite, quartz, sunstone, Picasso Marble and Tiffany Stone can be found right here in America.
   Gemstone mining in the U.S. has traditionally been very small compared to other countries. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2011 Minerals Yearbook, in 2011 the U.S. produced more than $11 million dollars worth of stones compared to the $23.5 billion that were imported. Several factors have contributed to the low production. Tom Munson, a former mine and environmental inspector in Utah for over 25 years and currently owner of Desert Mountain Gems, in Salt Lake City, Utah, explains, “The expense of mining, coupled with license fees, has become so cost prohibitive that many family-owned mines cannot afford to mine and make a profit.” He points out that mining is closely regulated and subject to environmental laws, with many mines owned by the federal government and restricted from private mining. Munson adds, “Many mine owners have opened their property to the public and are pick and pay.” People either pay a flat fee and are permitted to dig and keep whatever they find or they dig for free and pay for the gemstones by weight.

Maine, the Gem-Rich State
   “Maine is very pegmatite rich and therefore has more gem-quality stones than any other locality,” says Dennis Creaser, gem cutter, jewelry designer and owner of Creaser Jewelers in South Paris, Maine. The state’s well-known quarries have produced some of the finest gem-quality tourmaline, amethyst, aquamarine and golden beryl.
   In 1972, Maine became a leader in mining spectacular pink tourmaline. Dunton Quarry in Newry, Maine, produced gem-quality, clean material that ranged in color from pale pink to deep burgundy and raspberry. The record size for a crystal discovered was 60 pounds. However, very little pink tourmaline is mined there now and Nigeria is a significant producer. However, Mt. Mica Mine in Paris, Maine, produces a teal green to deep mint-green color tourmaline. While most of the gem-quality, clean tourmaline is mined in Maine, it isn’t the only state that produces it.
In operation since 1898, the Himalaya Mine, in Santa Ysabel, California, and owned by Chris Rose since 1988, is known for its beautiful bubble-gum pink and grass green to olive-colored tourmaline. According to Denise Olson, mine manager, there are five miles of underground tunnels with tourmaline-rich material that comprise the mine.
   One of the largest amethyst deposits in Stow, Maine, is known as the Fourth of July pocket. Creaser and his partners discovered it. Their company, Intergalactic Mining, excavated about four tons of minerals, with about 3 percent to 4 percent of it gem-quality amethyst. Creaser says, “We mined the best Siberian-color amethyst with red flashes in the U.S.”

The Abundance of Beryl
   According to Creaser, the mountains of Maine are rich in large quantities of beryl. The largest morganite found in North America — almost 12 inches wide and weighing approximately 50 pounds — was discovered inside a pocket in Bennett Quarry in Buckfield, Maine. Beautiful gem-quality, clean aquamarine in shades of medium-to-dark blue, in 3-carat to 4-carat sizes can be found at the Russell Brothers Quarry in Topsham, Maine. Aquamarine can also be found in Mt. Antero, Colorado where the largest specimen in North America was unearthed, measuring 37 inches by 25 inches. It included over 100 aquamarine crystals.

Popular Opaque Gemstones
   Opaque gemstones have become very popular with manufacturers who want a big stone that makes a statement but at an affordable cost. Munson explains, “Beautiful opaque gemstones are mined in Utah. These include the Tiffany Stone, an opalized fluorite that resembles a beautiful swirl of blues, purples and whites with touches of mauve, yellowish-brown and black. The Tiffany Stone, along with the Zebra stone, a black-and-white banded marble, and Picasso Marble, a combination of browns, black, white and shades of purple with black brush strokes, create what looks like a scenic picture of a forest or something found in nature.” These stones can be cut into cabochons or beads to make striking jewelry.

Demand for American Gemstones
   In recent years, jewelers and gemstone manufacturers like Eric Braunwart from Columbia Gem House in Vancouver, Washington, have been cutting and selling gem-quality sapphires from the Yogo Gulch area in Montana. Although production stones are scarce, they are known for the remarkable sky to light denim blue color and brilliance.
   Creaser anticipates that demand for opaque stones will grow throughout the U.S. due to Americans’ desire to buy products made here and ethically mined. These factors, coupled with the growing popularity of stones once only coveted by collectors, make America poised to be an important source of gemstones.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2016. To subscribe click here.

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