Friday, August 30, 2013


Random stock photo of tourmaline gemstones.
Gems: They're pretty, they're shiny, dragons and people like them.

What makes a gem?

It's a stone that can be used in jewelry. People often consider some non-stones to be gems, too, such as pearls. Precious things used for adornment is a catch-all to describe gems in general.

Since many raw gemstones look more like ordinary rocks than rocks you pull them from, you'll want someone to explain to you before you start what you're looking for.
Random stock photo of gemstones.

I like mining for gems. There's something highly satisfying about pulling a rock out of a pile of dirt and knowing it hides a beautiful shiny gem inside. And shining a flashlight through my rocks until I see a green or blue or red glow always makes me smile.

Your quartz stones, of course, are obvious. They'd stick out anywhere, in vivid purples and yellows and browns and clears. One of these days I'll put a whole bunch of them together around a light and make a lamp, or something.

There's a place up near Boone, NC, where you can pan for gems and get an education experience where the staff will tell you about what you find. Okay, there's lots of gem-panning places around Boone. But this one gives you more information than most, and besides, the owners are nice. (The others are, admittedly, also fun. Sorry, Doc, I have indeed cheated with other gem mining places on occasion. Foggy Mountain is pretty nice, for example, although they don't get their ore locally and mail the gems for gem-cutting off to Germany.)

The place I usually go, Doc's Rocks, uses only local ore, from North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and such. We've got actually a lot of native gemstones in our state, so there's always something to find. In fact, the "Rock Hound" tours take you on a field trip to pick up gemstones from local areas. In the garnet expedition, you can pick up ball garnets (in their raw state, garnets look like 12-sided brown dice) from a stream. Yep. Just pluck them out of the water.

Now, chances are it'll have flaws and inclusions, if you get it cut. It probably won't be high quality by typical gemstone standards. The NC rubies are pink, and the sapphires a dark blue-black; natural emeralds tend to be very flawed. And when you take in an inch-diameter garnet to be cut and come back with a dime-sized cut stone, it's a bit of a surprise that so much of the rock is unusable.

But given a choice between a laser-cut diamond from a bloody mine in a far-away country and a less valuable stone I found myself in my own state, from my own state, hand-cut by someone I've met in person... It's an easy choice. I'll take the bright, beautiful, local stone that exudes personality and reminds me of home.

Have you ever been gem-mining? Did you get anything cut, and if so, was it what you expected?

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