Gold-in-quartz

With the surrounding unattractive host rock removed, crystallized gold specimens—like this one (facing page, top left) courtesy of Wayne and Dona Light, Kristalle, in Long Beach, Calif.—are magnificent and stunning. But for jewelry, as in the remaining pieces seen here, you’ll want to keep the quartz. Counterclockwise from top right: A large tablet of gold-bearing quartz is framed in 22k yellow gold. The gold-in-quartz cane handle (minus the walking stick), with elaborate repoussé floral and foliate decoration on the sides, dates from the 1870s. The inlaid bright-polished top with scalloped edges contains 13 sections of gold-in-quartz. The remaining gold-in-quartz, loose and mounted/inlaid, comes from Kabana, Albuquerque, N.M. Known for intricate inlay work, Kabana has an exclusive contract with Gympie Gold, Queensland, to create a line of both men’s and women’s gold-in-quartz jewelry.

Gold is found in different forms. Typically, it’s recovered from a mineral vein trapped inside other minerals and hard rocks. When the surrounding material is white quartz, there’s a decision to be made: Crush the host rock and extract the gold, or slice it up for jewelry?

Only two mines furnish the jewelry industry with most of its gold-in-quartz. One, the Sixteen to One Mine, is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California, and the other, the Gympie Eldorado mine, is located in Queensland, Australia.

The Sixteen to One Mine, in southwestern Sierra County, has been producing gold since the early days of California gold mining. The estimated worth of the area’s total output is $1 billion. The mines today are small-time operations, but locals describe the ore as “spectacularly rich.”

The ratio 16:1 was an arbitrary formula established by Portugal in 1688 for the number of ounces of silver equal in value to one ounce of gold. This “bi-metallic monetary system,” which the world followed for more than two centuries, was adopted in the United States in 1792 and abandoned in 1873.

Dropping the system meant that silver prices also dropped. In 1896, William Jennings Bryan, in his first bid for the presidency, supported returning to the 16:1 system. That same year, the Original Sixteen to One Mine was found in local Alleghany resident Tom Bradbury’s back yard. Bradbury named the mine in support of the 16:1 formula, but William McKinley soundly defeated Bryan, and so 16:1 was permanently out, and the new gold standard remained.

The Original Sixteen to One Mine was incorporated in 1911 and has been in operation ever since. According to the records, the mine has produced more than a million ounces of gold. Mine president Michael Miller says the Original Sixteen to One Mine is America’s oldest gold mining company.

In the early 1990s, the mine became quite productive again. In late 1993 the mine enjoyed a huge strike, producing three-quarters of a million dollars worth of gold. For an entire decade after that, through July of this year, production was scant. But then in August the miners struck gold—big chunks of gold-in-quartz, valued at roughly $700,000. Now that’s gold mining.

Gympie Gold, Queensland. In the Land Down Under, Gympie Gold Limited mines gold-in-quartz in Gympie, Queensland. Until late last year, the firm mined some of the finest examples of gold-in-quartz the world had ever seen. But a fire in the company’s coal mining operation in New South Wales resulted in the company’s going into receivership, says Garry Hall, representative for Gympie Gold Ltd., and the gold operation was greatly reduced. According to Hall, Kabana, Gympie’s U.S. partner, has not received any new stocks from the mine and has exhausted its stock holding.

Take a tour, or mine for gold. Tours of the Sixteen to One Mine are available, but reservations are needed. For the “Hoist Room” excursion, you’ll travel into the mine as far as the 800 Station (about 1,200 feet) and up to the Hoist Room. The “Ballroom” excursion continues a mile farther up to the “Ballroom,” a large cavern in the white quartz vein. There’s also a Boy Scout Geology Merit Badge tour, and a “Miner for a Day” tour.

Quality. Hard-rock gold mines uncover 20k+ gold, veined in pure white quartz. Although you might think that natural gold deposits would measure out to 24k pure gold, most is alloyed by Mother Nature to be 20k, roughly 85% gold and 15% silver.

The higher the purity of the gold and the whiter the quartz, the higher the quality of the gold-in-quartz. Look for interesting vein patterns of gold. Mother Nature doesn’t make two alike, so each can have its own unique look. Less is more, so thinner veining, and more of it, is preferred over wider seams or a mass of gold. The color of the quartz also is important. It can occur in dark gray through snow white, but for the most dramatic appearance, the purest gold against the whitest white is ideal.

There are exceptions to the rule. “We have some clients who actually prefer a bit of color in addition to the white and gold,” says Rae Bell, corporate secretary for the Original Sixteen to One Mine. “Black flecks create an interesting contrast, and sometimes we even have [green] mariposite as the matrix, which is even more rare.” Bell says that depending on the application the jeweler has in mind, sometimes heavy veining is desirable—for example, in larger pieces such as belt buckles or bolo ties. “Still, our grading system is based upon the lighter veining as the more expensive material,” Bell adds.

Prospectors who find gold-in-quartz on the surface, mostly with the aid of a metal detector, often turn up pink quartz. The color is caused by iron staining, notes Peter Fischer of Morning Sun Jewelry, Grass Valley, Calif., manufacturer of gold-in-quartz jewelry. “The pink gold-in-quartz is also appreciated, at least as much, if not more, than the white GQ.”

Also look for cracks in the quartz. Lesser-quality material may show signs of damage resulting from excavation or natural pressures, but these pieces may be stabilized.

Durability, enhancements, and imitations. As you would expect, the 20k gold is soft, around 2.5-3 on the Mohs hardness scale. However, it is surrounded by quartz, which has a hardness of 7, so this gives the gold veining great protection and increases its wearability.

Some finished jewelry-set gold-in-quartz is stabilized with Opticon or other epoxy resins. (You may remember Opticon as the most common enhancement used in Brazilian emeralds.) Opticon holds together fragments of quartz that might be pulled off or fall out during the fashioning process or during wear and allows for a smooth, even, polished surface.

OroCal, the natural gold company in Oroville, Calif., notes on its Web site, www.orocal.com, that there are gold-in-quartz imitations, but for most experts in the field, these are readily discernible fakes. One rule of thumb is that if it looks too good to be true, or not good enough to be true, then it probably is not the real thing.

Prices. Prices vary greatly. Determining factors are the whiteness of the quartz, the size and weight of the piece, and the natural design of the gold. “It’s a hundred times more rare than tanzanite,” says Miller. “And [tanzanite’s] treated! I want something natural. When you go dig out a slab of gold, carry it in your pocket, you know you have something that was created 150 million years ago. It’s still undervalued in my mind. But what can I do?”

“Determining the value of gold-in-quartz is similar to determining the value of tanzanite,” says Fischer. “Some customers prefer the blue color while others like the mixture of blue and purple.”

Care and cleaning. The first rule: Try not to get it dirty. Second rule: Clean only with a mild soap and soft toothbrush. Do not use ultrasonic or harsh cleaners.

Special thanks to Peter and Dawn Fischer at Morning Sun Jewelry, Grass Valley, Calif., and to Michael Miller at the Original Sixteen to One Mine, Alleghany, Calif.

For more information on gold specimens and other fine minerals and gems, call (949) 494-7695, or log onto Kristalle’s Web site at www.kristalle.com. You can see more of Kabana’s gold-in-quartz collection at www.kabana.net. To learn more about the Original Sixteen to One Mine, call (530) 287-3223, or log onto www.origsix.com. For more information about Gympie Gold, visit www.Gympiegold.com.au. And to see more gold-in-quartz jewelry, log onto Fischer’s Web site at www.morningsunjewelry.com.