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Peculiar Pearls & Other Oddities – Herkimer Diamond

A few days ago, Silvio received a gift of a Herkimer Diamond, still embedded in a cavity in a segment of its host rock. You might have seen the photograph we posted on our Facebook page. You were curious and so were we, so we did a bit of research to learn more about this very particular gem.

The Herkimer Diamond mines of upstate New York are among the most interesting and most accessible precious stone mines in the world. In fact, jewelers often obtain specimens directly from customers wishing to commission a custom piece. These mines are a longtime tourist and collector attraction. Early settlers already knew about these deposits. They learned of them via interaction with the native Mohawk Indians.

The Mohawk obtained many of these stunning gems from stream sediments. Settlers often came across the gem right underfoot, as a result of clearing and plowing fields.

It is easy to imagine how such a uniquely shaped and crystal-like stone might catch the eye and imagination, and how it might be perceived as an object of value. In truth, the Herkimer diamond is not actually a diamond, but this denomination clearly shows the value that is placed on it, and rightly so. It inspires stunning jewelry creations.

Gemology enthusiasts who visit the Herkimer County mines can obtain the gem via what is known as “scavenger prospecting” or “cavity prospecting.” The first method consists in searching the quarry floor for signs of exposed crystals. Cavity prospecting is a more involved process. It consists in breaking off cavities in the quarry walls with a wedge and sledge-hammer. Those who adopt this method must first familiarize themselves with the proper way of accomplishing this.

This type of crystal is found in few locations around the world besides New York. These include Norway, Afghanistan, China and Ukraine. In the United States, it can be found in Arizona. The name “Herkimer” only applies to those found in that particular region of NY State.

What makes the Herkimer Diamond especially unique is its shape. Unlike other quartz formations, it presents two prism-shaped ends rather than just one. For this reason, it is called a “double-terminated quartz crystal.” Though it forms within cavities in a host rock, like many other crystals, the Herkimer Diamond grows almost independently from its host, that is, with very little contact. This is the reason for the double ends and it is what makes Herkimer Diamonds so precious and inspiring.

When  we refer to a host rock, we also mean an entire region of rock formation. In this case, the formation dates back to the Cambrian Age, 500 million years ago. Thus the Herkimer diamond, also known as Herkimer Quartz, is a testament of time. Maybe this is another reason for its ability to spark the imagination.

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