Seminar touts American gems

“Buying and selling American gemstones is much more than just a patriotic cliché,” said Gary Roskin during a Thursday morning seminar titled “Mined in America.” “It just makes good gemological sense.” Roskin pointed out that we can’t control what happens to all gemstones, but U.S. law and close trade communications with Canada and Mexico give us the means to track what happens to North American Gems.

Roskin noted that with all the uncertainty over sapphires, it’s reassuring that the United States has excellent sources for documented natural and traditional heat-treated rainbow colors of sapphires.

He also noted that possibly half of the “Brazilian” amethyst in jewelers’ inventories is actually Japanese or Russian synthetic. “Prove the reports wrong, and buy natural U.S. amethyst,” said Roskin.

For jewelers who are concerned that their customers won’t want to buy conflict diamonds or HPHT-treated diamonds, one simple solution is to show them the Canadian Northwest Territories Government certificate of origin, which proves that a diamond is not only non-conflict but also unenhanced.

Almost every popular gemstone variety has been found in North America, Roskin said, and treasure hunters keep digging for gems. “Take Helen and Richard Shull of Out of Our Mines, in Arcata, Calif.,” said Roskin. “They lease a portion of the old Himalaya tourmaline mine in San Diego County and mine three weeks out of the year looking for tourmalines to cut.”

This old mine has been worked for more than a century, and was once owned by Tiffany & Co., noted Roskin. Like most underground mines, it’s dark, deep, and dangerous. The floor is steeply angled, the ceilings low, and the gravels of previous diggings make traversing the caves risky. Roskin described it as a “grab-your-hammer-and-pick operation” that chisels into the pillars left by former mining geologists that are holding up the hard rock ceiling. “Helen and Richard look for that missed pocket of gems,” said Roskin.

The Dust Devil mine in Oregon has a fairly large mining area of gem feldspars, or sunstones. Martin Guptill, of Foolish Hearts Gems, along with a number of gem artists head to Oregon every summer to pound out rough sunstone to facet and carve.

Roskin described North Carolina as a gem hunter’s dream. Numerous gem varieties are found in the hills of North Carolina, including emeralds and rhodolite garnets. North Carolina even has its own supply of American rubies.

Roskin also talked about Jerry & Mike Romanella of Commercial Mineral Company in Scottsdale, Ariz., who trek up the local mountains every year to break out Four Peaks amethyst. “With Four Peaks you don’t have to worry about trying to identify synthetic amethyst, which, by the way, is a very difficult identification,” Roskin said. “The stone you get is from inside a mountain just east of Phoenix.

Roskin noted that the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Ark., where the Uncle Sam diamond was found, still lets visitors dig all they want for $3 a day. “You may even find something cuttable,” he said. “But don’t waste your time with Arkansas if you’re looking to change your entire inventory over to American diamonds. Go North. Canada is fast becoming the choice for conflict-conscious retailers and consumers. The Yellowknife area in the Northwest Territories is producing some of the finest-quality colorless and near colorless diamonds on the planet. You can make contact with a number of wholesale diamond cutters to get certified Canadian diamonds.”

There are two active mines, Ekati and Diavik, with a third, Snap Lake, due to begin production in 2005.

Montana sapphire is probably the best alternative now for stocking sapphires for any reason. “You know where it’s come from, and that most have been heated in the more traditional sense of the enhancement,” Roskin said. “You don’t have to worry about bulk diffusion treatment, which is very difficult to identify, or agonize over whether or not it might be synthetic.”

The old Gem Mountain and Rock Creek claims from American Gem Corp now belong to Bob Kane at Fine Gems International. He guarantees, in writing, that all of his sapphires have been heated by only traditional methods—no beryllium added.

Montana has one of the most important gem sapphire mining localities in the world, Yogo Gulch. Here, the rich Burma-like blue sapphires are top color, and not even heat-treated. Supplies are limited, but it’s worth making an effort to find one.

Other gems found in America include the following:

* Beryls. Emeralds from Hiddenite, N.C., are as fine a quality as produced from most Brazilian mines and equal to some of Colombia’s lesser deposits. Prices may seem steep, but that’s because North Carolina emerald is still considered a rare U.S. gem find. Other beryls include morganite from Southern California and red beryl from Utah – although the red beryl mine is now closed.

* Garnets. Andradite and other garnets can be found in Arizona and Mexico. Magnificent spessartites are found in Southern California. Prices are comparable with the finest qualities found currently in Nigeria. Chrome pyrope garnets from Utah and Arizona have super-saturated color, and the stones are readily available.

* Pearls. The Mississippi River and its tributaries are where natural pearls are found. Other rivers producing natural pearls extend into West Texas. California is well known for its natural abalone pearls, but fishing is limited.

* Cultured pearls. Tennessee is where U.S. cultured pearls were first begun, by John Latendresse at American Pearl Company. Supplies are good, with qualities and designer shapes emphasized. California has a limited supply of cultured abalone mabés.

* For something more unusual, there are conch pearls, a natural pink concretion with a flame-like surface pattern. Those are found off the Florida Keys. Peridot. Arizona peridot from San Carlos is world famous, and there’s plenty of material available.

* Quartz. Besides the Four Peaks amethyst, there are plenty of quartzes around North America, including agates, fire agates, petrified wood, and rock crystal, all of which can make for relatively inexpensive jewels.

* Tourmaline. California and Maine are the main sources of tourmalines in the United States.

* Turquoise. Arizona and New Mexico contain the some of the largest commercial deposits of turquoise, and The Sleeping Beauty turquoise is among the finest in the world. It compares so well to the historically important Persian turquoise that some is reportedly shipped to the Middle East and sold there as Persian.

* Ammolite. Iridescent layers of fossil ammonites make for one-of-a-kind black opal-like cabochons and tablets. They’re found in Alberta, Canada, and promoted by Korite Minerals.

* Benitoite. This sapphire-blue mineral is California’s state gem. It’s found in San Benito County, south and east of San Francisco. Colors range from colorless to blue to violet blue.

* Coral. Coral is Hawaii’s state gem. They fish for gold, pink, and black coral off the coast of Oahu.

* Ivory. Fossilized walrus tusk, and mastodon can be added to the list of American gems. Alaska and the North American Arctic can produce some very nice ivory.

* Jade. Go north from Jade Cove, just above Monterey Bay on the California coast, all the way up to Dawson in the Yukon, and there is plenty of jade to be found. (It’s nephrite mostly.) Black jade from Wyoming is also a novel addition to the jade case.

* Labradorite. That’s found in Labrador, Newfoundland, the far eastern portion of Canada. It’s been around since the late 1700s.

* Obsidian/Moldavite. This natural green glass can create beaded necklaces from New Mexico’s natural “Apache tears.” Rainbow Obsidian in Mexico can also be used.

* Opal. Nevada’s Virgin Valley opal is outstanding but can be easily crazed. Opal is also found in Idaho and Oregon.