5 Extraordinary Diamond Finds by Ordinary People

This week, JCK brought you the story of a 1.22 ct. diamond found in a Wisconsin well. And yet that’s hardly the biggest, or most valuable, diamond discovered by an ordinary person just rummaging around—as you’ll see in the following amazing tales:

1. The Star of South Africa (1869)

The South African diamond rush of the 1800s led to the founding of De Beers and the modern diamond industry. And the gem that sparked that rush was the 83.5 ct. Star of South Africa, discovered by a local farmer, who, according to legend, sold it for the un-princely sum of 500 sheep, 10 oxen, and a horse. The buyer, Schalk van Niekerk, also a farmer, had previously found another famous stone, the Eureka, which gave him a sense of how much gems sell for. He then sold the Star for more than $50,000. It was subsequently cut into a 47.69 ct. pear-shape, and displayed in 2005 at the London Natural History Museum.

Source: De Beers

2. The Strawn-Wagner Diamond (1998)

Of all the amazing, unlikely finds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Ark., perhaps the most amazing, unlikeliest one was the Strawn Wagner Diamond, a 3 ct. gem that was eventually cut into a 1.09 ct. ideal cut D flawless—earning the AGS Lab’s highest rating, a triple zero. The stone’s finder, park regular Shirley Strawn, told JCK in 1998 that when she first realized what she had, she got “goose bumps the size of Texas.… Anyone can go into a jewelry store and buy a diamond. But how about finding one with your bare hands?“ The stone is currently on display at the park.

3. The Jones Diamond (1928)

Not many big diamonds have been found in the United States, but one exception is the Jones Diamond (a.k.a. the Horseshoe Diamond), a 34.48 ct. blue-white gem discovered by 12-year-old “Punch” Jones of Peterstown, W. Va., while playing horseshoes. According to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the gem was stashed in a cigar box in the family’s backyard shed for more than a decade, until a local geology professor examined it and told the family it was a diamond. The instantly notorious rock then spent several years at the Smithsonian, and was sold by Sotheby’s in 1984 for $74,250. In fact, the find received so much attention over the years that Jones’ mother reportedly said she sometimes “wished they’d thrown in the New River.” A picture of the gem can be seen here; a marker commemorating its founding can be seen here.

4.  The Eagle Diamond (1876)

A U.S. stone with a far more checkered history is the 14 ct. Eagle Diamond, which for decades was considered the largest gem found in America. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, workers unearthed the 12-sided stone while digging a well in Eagle, Wis. (Could that be the hot new diamond source: Wisconsin wells?) The stone found its way into the hands of Clarissa Woods, who took it to a local jeweler. Thinking it was topaz, the retailer gave her the grand total of $1 for it. When it turned out to quite a valuable diamond, he then sold it to Tiffany for $850, prompting Woods to sue (and lose). The gem then resided for years at the American Museum of Natural History—until 1964, when it was stolen, along with other famous stones, in a daring midnight robbery by a gang led by Jack (“Murph the Surf”) Murphy. And while other gems nabbed that night have been recovered, the Eagle, the museum says, is “permanently lost.”

Source: Popular Science Monthly, reprinted on archive.org

5. 11th-Century Black Diamond (2008)

Englishman John Stevens was always a treasure hunter, but one day his hobby paid off big-time. While rummaging with a metal detector on a local farm in South Leicestershire, he unearthed something he first mistook for a gold bottle top. Instead, it was a gold and black diamond necklace believed to be from the 11th century, estimated to be worth tens of thousands. As the anchor says in the video below, “Lucky man.”