Friday, April 3, 2009

Playing With Rocks...

Do you have any jewelry? I have tons of the stuff. I'll admit it...I'm a bling-bling junky. I like sparkly things. In fact, I like it so much that I have been accused of being at least part crow.

I'm sure you have at least a few pieces, maybe some with stones of various types and some just plain metal. There was a survey done by the Gemological Institute of American (GIA) that found the average woman had only three precious stones in her engagement ring and a pair of earrings.

That's just sad!

But, given the prices of jewelry, I guess it's understandable.

Have you ever thought about stones other than diamonds and similar "precious" stones? Some of the others are very pretty and far less expensive.

Things like tourmaline, garnet, and others can be had for reasonable prices if you're willing to work for them.

No, no! Not THAT kind of work! I'll also admit that I've "paid" for the occasional bling with some rather interesting activities. :ahem:


I'm talking about getting your hands dirty.

This really isn't getting any better, is it? OK, I've used my hands to "pay for" some bling. Sheesh.

I'm talking about digging in the dirt and mud looking for the rough stones. That's better.

Here in Sunny Southern California there are several places you can find nice stones for reasonable prices...

One place I've been several times is Gems of Pala. For a fee of someplace between $10 and $50, you get a bucket of dirt and rock. You then sort through—with the help of the friendly and knowledgeable staff—and look for gems. Anything you find is yours to keep. On my very first trip there some three years ago, I found a pair of pink tourmaline in a $10 bucket that I had cut and made into earrings. Counting the bucket of rock, I invested about $75 in the earrings, and they are valued at around $250.

We went to a different place yesterday, though. The Oceanview Mine is a little different...for $60, you get to sort through as many buckets of rock as you can. You also get a tour of the real, working mine where the rock comes from. I found a number of great gems yesterday, but I have no idea what they are worth yet. I know that I more than paid for my trip.

More important, though, is that it was a fun day. We took a picnic lunch and some drinks in a cooler and about halfway through the day, we sat down in the shade and had a nice meal. I also enjoyed the walk though the mine. It was informative and I liked seeing the various rocks in their natural state.

Kids are welcomed at both places, but please remember that you need to keep them under control. There are other people around and there are also rattlesnakes in the area. Keep your eyes on your children.

The Pala casino and several others are also close by if you'd like to make a donation to the tribes or have dinner at one of the many fine restaurants, but keep in mind that searching for the gems in the rock can be a dirty project and you're likely to get muddy.

Some of you may be wondering how you find the gems...the answer is that we find them the same way as they were found a hundred years ago. You take a bunch of rock from your bucket and pour it onto a metal screen, and then you wash off the dirt with water and look for the gems. Repeat as needed until you're out of rock. It's low-tech, easy, and effective.

And anyone can do it. One of the kids yesterday found a gorgeous watermelon tourmaline (a pink center surrounded by green) about ¼" in diameter and maybe twice that thick. That stone could be worth over $100. Way over.

My biggest personal finds yesterday were a dark green tourmaline crystal about 3/8" in diameter and 1.5" long. It's very clear and I see no fractures. That is probably $150 as-is and should cut out to several nice stones that, when faceted, could fetch a total of more than $1,000. The other is a huge aquamarine that is about the size of a golf ball and a clear pale blue. I was offered $300 on the spot for the stone. I'm thinking a big necklace which should push $1,500 when all is said and done.

So, you can get quality gems for a little money and a little work, but for me it's more a chance to spend a day outside with family and friends doing something fun. As the commercials say, that's priceless.

But the bling is nice, too.

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