All You Want To Know About Gem Hunting

Gemstone Spinel
SI Neg. 77-14895. Date: 1977. Spinel is found in a broad range of attractive colors. Spinel is often confused as ruby. From the Gem and Mineral collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Credit: Dane A. Penland (Smithsonian Institution). Public.Resource.Org is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We all have played treasure hunts throughout our childhood and there are no two views about the fact that we all loved those exciting, adventurous and rewarding games.

How about playing a treasure hunt to find real gems? Sounds great, right?

Put simply, gem hunting is a treasure hunt, but one that is performed at an advanced level, utilizing modern tools and professional techniques.

Most everyone love to look at these shiny, sparkling jewels. But, unfortunately, gem hunting isn’t as easy a sport as our childhood treasure hunts were.  As someone rightly said, it is like playing the geological lottery. If luck is on your side, you may find some precious gems without hunting for days, but if luck isn’t kind to you, you may hunt for days on end, using advanced tools and machinery and even then, you might only end up getting your hands on few semi-precious gemstones.

Before we get into discussing the details of gem hunting, let us take a look at some basic information regarding these beautiful and colorful minerals of nature.

How Do We Define A Gemstone?

Despite the fact that human beings have been hunting and pursuing gems for thousands of years, we still lack a proper definition of them. Coming up with an appropriate definition has been challenging, not only for laymen, but also for lexicographers (linguistic experts who compile the dictionaries).

For the sake of understanding, a gemstone, alternatively known as a gem or jewel, can be defined as a piece of rock, mineral or any other organic material that is generally formed inside the earth. After cutting and polishing, they are used for adornment, architectural or decorative purposes, due to their beauty and preciousness.

Do you know that the study of gems, called Gemology, was classified as a science during the 1930s?

What Decides The Value Of A Gemstone?

Multiple factors contribute towards determining the value of a particular gemstone. These include:

  • Its natural occurrence inside the earth. This is why rare gemstones are expensive.
  • Beauty
  • The four C’s i.e. color, carat, cut and clarity
  • Supply and demand 

While the above-mentioned factors determine the value of these entities, there is no universal measurement or classification system in place for any gemstone except the diamond. Due to the absence of a uniform classification system, numerous gems are not considered as precious as diamonds despite the fact that they are much rarer than the diamond. Following are some of the highly rare gems:

  • Red beryl
  • Alexandrite
  • Musgravite
  • Painite
  • Poudretteite
  • Jeremejevite
  • Benitoite
  • Grandidierite
  • Tanzanite

Synthetic Gemstones – A Cheaper Alternative

Thanks to the manufacturing industry, we now have synthetic gemstones as well. They make a good option for those who are only concerned about the appearance and not the veracity of gemstones. In fact, synthetic gems sometimes may have fewer blemishes than the real ones. Not to mention they are much cheaper.

Where to Look for Gems?

Ever went bird watching?

If yes, then you know that you have to travel to a certain spot of a particular destination to view a specific species of bird. To find out the right destination for bird watching, one has to find out the species’ habitat, migration patterns, food choices etc. Knowing these things will help you figure out the location where a particular species of bird is likely to be found. You cannot simply wander around the forest in hope of finding the species you are looking for; it would be nothing more than wasting time.

Experts say that gem hunting is much like bird watching. You cannot hope to find gemstones in the soil or under the rocks outside your home (well, you might if you live in an area where gemstones are naturally found).

However, the practical approach to getting your hands on a particular type of mineral or gem is to first research about the areas where the gems are naturally found and then use the right technique to access the deposits.

For example, since diamonds are formed as a result of extreme pressure, they are either found deep inside the earth, in areas where various geological processes have pushed the mantle rocks from the depths of the earth to the surface or alongside the rivers that flow from such areas.

Similarly, if you are looking for malachite, you have to look for it near copper and limestone deposits.

The occurrence of gemstones may also vary across countries, depending upon their geological processes, volcanoes, storms and earthquakes, as they cause shifts in the tectonic plates and bring the buried bedrock to the surface of the earth.

Crater of Diamond State is a park in Arkansas City where the visitors are allowed to dig and hunt for diamonds upon paying a fee. The park was once a diamond mine.  So, when are you visiting the park?

Methods for Gemstones Mining

From basic to advanced, there are various methods for gemstones mining. They include:

  • Underground Mining

When gem hunting is done within the pipe and alluvial deposits, it is called underground mining. The methods used for underground mining are:

  • Block caving
  • Tunneling
  • Chambering
  • Open Cast Mining

Open cast mining uses different techniques to remove the upper layer of rocks to reach the bedrock buried deep inside the earth that contains gems. Any of the following methods are used to excavate gems from the deepest layers of earth:

  • Terrace Mining
  • Pit Mining

Open cast mining methods are widely used in various parts of the world including the United States, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Myanmar etc.

  • Sea Mining

Sea mining, marine or undersea mining, as they are alternatively called, is used in areas where marine deposits are present.

  • River Digging

As evident from the name, river digging is performed in and around rivers and lakes to excavate the gems that have been buried in the river soil and rocks naturally, by the water current or geological processes over time. It can further be classified into two types:

  • Wet Digging
  • Dry Digging

Gem Hunting Tools

As with any other specialized task, you cannot expect to have a successful gem hunting experience if you don’t have the right tools and equipment.

For example, there is no point to go for fishing without a fishing tackle and/or bait. It is highly unlikely to catch a fish with your hands. Similarly, searching for gemstones without the proper gem hunting tools is nothing more than wasting your time. Tools for gem hunting are easily available at affordable prices, which mean that even occasional hunters can easily buy them without exceeding their budgets. For gem hunting, you would need following basic tools:

  • Shovel
  • Rock Hammer
  • Magnifying lens
  • Bucket and collection bags
  • You may need some specialized equipment to excavate some particular types of gems, such as a metal grid frame for screening, a pan for gold, etc
  • Permanent markers for labeling

For your own safety and comfort:

  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes
  • Apply insect repellent and sunblock
  • Wear goggles
  • A GPS device or map to find your way
  • Water
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Walkie-Talkies for communication

Top Places to Go For Gem Hunting in the US

Gem hunting is an exciting family activity. This is why many people include a gem hunting adventure in their vacation plans. If you want to experience the adrenaline rush by finding precious gems at places where you least expect them, then take a look at the following list to know about the places considered amazing for gem hunting:

  • Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas
  • Emerald Hollow Mine, North Carolina
  • Cherokee Ruby Mine, North Carolina
  • Gem Mountain, North Carolina
  • Gem Mountain Sapphire mine, Montana
  • Diamond Hill Mine, South Carolina
  • Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine, Nevada
  • Woodward Ranch, Texas
  • California State Gem Mine, California

Whenever you plan to go for gem hunting, make sure to check the legalities before you start the hunt at a location, apart from those that are specifically meant for the purpose and are open to public. This is important to ensure that you would not end up being arrested for violating laws or trespassing. Unless you have permission, you can hunt for gems at any private or public property.

Final Note

Gem hunting is an exciting, adventurous and rewarding activity that can be taken upon both as a career and for recreational purposes. So, let loose your inner explorer and experience the exhilaration this amazing activity has in store for you.

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