Gemstones: The Unearthing Process

Gemstones: The Unearthing Process
by Lisa Coen, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Where do gemstones come from?

Gemstones are found all over the world. They begin as minerals, rocks and organic formations and become desired for their specific colors, phenomenon, shine, inclusions or rarity. There are gemstones found in primary deposits (their places of original formation) and those found in secondary deposits (locations they are carried to via water, wind or even lava). Diamonds, for example, are formed underground and carried upward via pipes created by volcanic activity. A few gemstones have even been found in meteorites ... possibly an article for another time!

Certain parts of the world are known for the types of gemstones discovered there:
  • Australia: Opal
  • Africa: Diamond
  • Sri Lanka: Sapphire, Ruby and many more
  • Brazil: Amethyst, Emerald, Citrine and more
  • Columbia: Emerald
  • Arizona, United States: Sleeping Beauty Turquoise
  • Tanzania: The only known deposits of Tanzanite
  • Dominican Republic: Exclusive deposits of Larimar
  • Alberta, Canada: Ammolite
How are gemstones uncovered?

Though long ago gemstones might have been found glistening on a beach or along the base of a mountain, most gemstones are found deep in the earth. Mining for gemstones is often carried out using primitive methods in some developing areas of the world. These miners work in open pits with makeshift tunnels dug alongside gemstone deposits where they use hand tools to remove gemstone deposits. Some miners have access to air compression drill devices and explosives to help loosen deposits. Larger corporations mine gems using industrial machinery including excavators, hydraulic drills, bulldozers, underground vehicles and "shaker" machines which separate rocks into various sizes. Riverbeds are also home to many gemstones, and the mining efforts for these are essentially larger productions of traditional techniques used for gold-mining such as sifting and panning.

Amethyst Geode, viewable in the lobby of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Amethyst geodes are found underground and are unearthed by drilling into tunnel walls. When a drill bit moves forward easily into the rock, miners check to see if they've actually drilled in to the hollow center of a geode by placing a small light into the hole. Workers then carefully drill and chisel away until the geode can (hopefully) be removed intact.

Large amethyst geodes, like the one pictured, have to be extracted from the earth carefully. This 600-pound, 4-foot tall by 3-foot wide beauty from Aria, Brazil, is 160 million years old and, once exposed, had to be encased in concrete for stability so that it wouldn't collapse under its own weight while being removed.

The close-up photo shows the blue lace agate that formed a layer around the amethyst (along with the outer layer of concrete). If you visit Fire Mountain Gems and Beads in Southern Oregon, you'll see this incredible amethyst geode in person!

Will all gemstones always be available?

Larger deposits of some gemstones are being "worked out." In other words, many of the better grades of gemstones such as malachite, agate, garnet and carnelian are becoming harder to find as their deposits are mined. Though there are still gemstones left, a lot of the material will eventually be lower-grade quality. Also, many gemstones are becoming harder to acquire due to safety regulations and governmental control (like amber and turquoise mining in China). Fortunately these protocols now provide safer working conditions for miners and also help control the environmental impact of mining.

Eventually, many gemstone deposits could be depleted; yet there could also be new gems unveiled. It was just in the last 40 years that larimar and tanzanite were discovered. And don't forget, there are tons of finished gemstones out there in the world waiting to be passed on to new generations as heirlooms or to be sold to new owners and turned into magnificent new pieces of jewelry.

Why are natural gemstones so desirable?

Depending on the amount of a certain type of gemstone that can be uncovered (and the areas in the world where it can be found), a gemstone can be described as rare and desirable. Basically, the harder it is to find and mine (and shape and carve), the more valuable it becomes. And of course, pure gemstones have greater value. For these reasons, many gemstones carry high price tags. Don't we always want things we can't afford? Many gemstones are popular simply because of their natural color or effect, their history or because they can be traced back millions of years. Perhaps the real reason gemstones are popular is because most people realize the true meaning behind "gem"--something beautiful and magical created by nature that brings joy to people.

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Customer Comments

We would like to share some of the customer comments we received in response to the article "Gemstones: The Unearthing Process," as featured in an email newsletter. Please keep in mind that the comments expressed below are those of our customers and do not reflect the views of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.

"Love the newsletter and the article on mining. I especially loved the huge geode. Keep articles like this one coming. I would also like articles on the history of natural stones."
- Julia

"Thanks for giving us this article. I enjoyed it immensely."
- Anonymous

"It was very interesting and I enjoyed the article as I work with several stones in my craft work."
- Ronald

"Love it! More, more!"
- Sue

"Really liked this article. Knowledge builds value!"
- Roxanne

"I so enjoyed the information on where and how some gemstones are discovered. Thank you for sharing this type of information to your customers."
- Lyn

"I just wanted to thank you for this article, reminding us of all the hard work that goes behind bringing us beautiful gemstones, and the fact that gemstones are a finite resource. I, for one, am glad that safety and the environment now play into the acquisition of these beauties. It makes me treasure the gemstones that I have even more!"
- Deb

"Very nice newsletter on origins of gemstones."
- Lorraine

"This was a fun read. Thanks! Sincerely,"
- Jan

"I loved this brief article on gemstones and where they came from. I would love to see an article like this on every gemstone you offer, and other minerals too. It would be great to read about them one at a time, just like this article. Minerals and gems are a passion of mine and I never tire of learning about them :) I hope you do more articles like this one. I would be interested in writing them online myself, if you need me :) Sincerely,"
- Lisette


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