Have you ever heard of Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas? The place where you can sift through the dirt and look for the sparkle of a diamond? I so wish my parents had taken me here when I was a kid!! Even though the possibility of finding a diamond is small–only about 1-2% of all visitors leave with one–the probability of having a good time is very high.
Crater of Diamonds has been a state park since the early 1970s. The park encompasses over 900 acres, but 37 of those acres sit on a volcanic pipe. This pipe, which was part of a 95 million year old volcano (long since eroded), carried diamonds to the Earth’s surface. Today, Crater of Diamonds is the only diamond-bearing site that is open to the public. For eight dollars you can search from morning til night. The park has exhibits and videos that give you the history of the area as well as good tips on how to search for diamonds. It has equipment you can rent, things like shovels and sifting screens, or you can bring your own. Over the years the park has been the location for some remarkable stories.
The biggest diamond ever found there, or anywhere in the U.S., was a 40.23 carat stone called Uncle Sam. It was found back in 1924, when the area was still owned by a diamond mine. Other big finds have been made over the years. As recently as 2015, an 8.52 carat diamond was found, and has been named Esperanza. Most of the diamonds found, however, are small. Approximately 90% of the diamonds are less than 1/4 carat, which is only about the size of a match head . The diamonds from this site are yellow, brown, or colorless. They are not easy to find, but one feature that helps is that they look polished, almost as if they have an oily film on them. Also, they’re usually translucent, which means you can see into them but you can’t see through them. If you’re not sure what you’ve found, there is an expert at the site, ready to help you with identification.
The park is a popular place. It had 168,000 visitors last year. In addition to looking for diamonds, there is a water park and camping. It sounds like the place for a perfect day, if you’re a kid. Go get dusty and dirty looking for rocks, and then get cooled and cleaned off at the water park! Heck, it sounds great even if you’re not a kid!!
If you’d rather look for colored gems, amethysts, garnets, and agates have also been found at Crater of Diamonds. But there are, perhaps, better locations in the U.S. if you’re rockhounding for colored gemstones. Check out Gem Mountain in Montana for sapphires. Or Emerald Hollow Mine in North Carolina for emeralds, rubies, and aquamarine. Morefield Mine in Virginia is a source for amazonite, beryl, garnet, amethyst, and topaz.
It’s not too early to start planning next summer’s vacation. Ask your kids and they’ll tell you–“We want to dig for gemstones!”
Diamonds seem to come mostly from Africa or Russia or Canada. But prior to the 1800s, diamonds came from India. And Shah Jahan, the same Mogul ruler who commissioned the Taj Mahal, was the owner of some of the world’s largest and most precious diamonds. He reigned from 1628-1658 and, during his reign he possessed famous diamonds such as the Koh-i-Noor, the Orlov, and the Hope Diamond. Of course, they may have looked different in the 1600s than they do today. Diamonds have often disappeared and then disguised by being re-cut. The famous ones have a colorful past–even if they are colorless.
1) Koh-I-Noor (Mountain of Light)
The Koh-i-Noor is in the cross atop the Queen’s crown.
The Koh-i-Noor had many homes before reaching its current resting spot in the Tower of London. When the Mogul empire was taken over by the Persian, Nadir Shah, in 1739, this diamond and many others were passed to him. When he was assassinated in 1747, the diamond went to the King of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the King had to surrender the diamond to Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh Empire, in order to avoid death. And then Singh had to give up the diamond to the British East India Company, who claimed it for Queen Victoria.
It has been in England ever since 1848. But it was re-cut during Queen Victoria’s reign and, as a result, lost about 43% of its mass. Queen Victoria and later Queens of England have worn the diamond in either a necklace, a brooch, or a crown. The last person to wear the diamond was the Queen Mother, mother of Elizabeth II. The current queen has never worn it, perhaps because of an ongoing controversy with India over which country should possess the gem.
2) Hope Diamond
The Hope has, perhaps, the most colorful history of all. It actually started out as the Tavernier Blue, owned by a French diamond merchant who obtained the deep-blue diamond from the Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan. When the merchant presented the stone to Louis XIV, the French King had to have it. In 1673, it was recut into a heart, and was thereafter called the French Blue. Louis XIV wore it in a cravat pin. It was held by French royalty until the French Revolution, when the Crown Jewels, including the French Blue were put on display to the public in the National Treasury located in Paris. In 1792, looters stole the Crown Jewels and the French Blue disappeared.
In 1839, a beautiful deep-blue diamond surfaced, owned by Henry Philip Hope, a prominent London banker. The stone wasn’t the same heart shape, but it was suspected to be the French Blue in still another re-cut form. (It was not until 2005, when a computer model study was conducted on the stone, that this suspicion became certainty.) The Hopes owned the stone until 1901, when it began an 11 year nomadic life, eventually ending up in the hands of American socialite, Evalyn Walsh McLean. When she died in 1947, Harry Winston bought her entire jewelry collection and, in 1958, he gifted the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian. This diamond is one of the most visited exhibits at the museum.
The famous Hope Diamond photographed by Jyothis at Malayalam Wikipedia
The Orlov Diamond photographed by”Orlow (Diamant)” by Elkan Wijnberg
It is thought that the Orlov Diamond was once part of a much larger stone, again unearthed during the reign of Shah Jahan. But, by the mid-1700s, the diamond was possessed by an Armenian diamond dealer called Safras. Catherine II, Empress of Russia, invited Safras to St. Petersburg, with the intention of buying the diamond. But the deal was never finalized, and Catherine didn’t get her diamond until her lover, Russian nobleman Grigory Orlov, negotiated a deal with Safras. Orlov’s name became forever tied to the gem, even though the gem didn’t permanently tie Orlov to Catherine. Ultimately, the diamond was set into Catherine II’s Scepter, where it remains to this day as part of the permanent display at the Kremlin in Moscow.
For those of you who like numbers, the Koh-i-Noor is 105.6 carats. The Hope Diamond is 45.52 carats and the Orlov is the largest, at 189.62 carats. Just to give you an idea of size, the Hope Diamond is about the size of an unshelled walnut and the Orlov is shaped like one half of a hen’s egg.
Much of my information came from a wonderful exhibit called “Diamonds are Forever: The Incredible Journeys of World-Famous Diamonds and the People Who Owned Them”, showing through April 19th at the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson, Arizona. But there are also many websites and books devoted to these famous diamonds.