Are you ready to find a gemstone that is almost as unknown as it is rare and best of all is expensive? This beautiful blue gem can go for up to $2500 per carat*, and now for the first time in over 100 years the only mine in the world that produces gem quality crystals is open to you and your family. So what is this gem?
Benitoite a rare gem
Benitoite pronounced (ben-ee-toe-ite) is one of the rarest gems in the world. It can only be mined in sustainable quantities at one place in California where it was originally discovered at the turn of the century. Although it has been located in other parts of the world, it has never been found in quantities that would allow for mining. In 1985 benitoite was named California’s state gemstone.
The ability for the public to go on a treasure hunting vacation for benitoite was not available until 2006, and since then many spectacular finds have been made. One of these includes the discovery of an over 34 carat specimen that was cut down to an 8 carat benitoite gemstone. This is the third largest benitoite stone ever found, and is currently for sale for $500,000.00*.
What’s that? You’re ready to find something like that for yourself. Well to do that you need to first know what you’re looking for.
Mining for Benitoite
Mining for benitoite has traditionally been done as hard rock mining, but today it is done by searching thru the tailings piles. The mine has been run off and on commercially for the last 100 years and these tailings obviously still have a lot of fine gems left in them.
There are three ways to hunt for your benitoite stones in the tailings piles:
First is simply by digging and flipping over rocks to see if you can find stones that have a white substance called natrolite on them. Once you find the natrolite on a stone, if it is a small smaller stone simply look around the edges of the stone to see if you find a layer of light blue called schist next to the natrolite, the deep blue benitoite crystals will form in between these layers of natrolite and schist. So look closely along the boundary of these to layers to see if you can find any benitoite crystals sticking out.
Be aware you are not allowed to break any rocks at the mine; this is because you could potentially destroy any crystals in the stones if you do.
You need to be on the lookout for some other types of crystals also, because along with the benitoite you can find many other rare minerals including neptunite which is very deep red in color and can appear almost black, and joaquinite which is an orange to light red color. Both of these can be valuable to mineral collectors so be on the lookout for them also.
Another way to hunt for you benitoite stones is to sift the dirt. When screening you will be looking for the free crystals out of the natrolite matrix these are called cutters. Once you’ve shaken the sand out of the screen you will need to wash your sample in a tub.
Washing takes a little bit to learn because while dropping it down into the tub you’ll also need to shake your screen back and forth. This is because the benitoite stones are heavier then the surrounding material, so much like gold in a gold pan the benitoite will settle to the bottom.
Once your material is screened and washed, you’ll need to have a cover to place on top of the screen and flip the whole thing over. Then you can begin searching through the stones that were on the bottom of the screen and are now on the top.
Along with the bright blue color of the gem quality benitoite stones you may also find duller blue crystals, this is due to the fact that benitoite often has inclusions in it, which are other associated minerals inside of the crystal. Although this may preclude it from being gem quality these are still quite valuable due to their rarity.
One other very interesting thing about benitoite is that it can often be found in natural crystals that have a triangular shape. These crystals are very sought after by collectors, and should definitely be looked for.
Black Lighting for Benitoite
Potentially the easiest way to find your benitoite gemstones is to do what is called black lighting. This happens to be the method that was used to find that 34 carat stone I mentioned at the top of the page, you remember that one right, it’s only worth $500,000.00*.
Oh, so are you paying a little more attention now and really want to know what black lighting is?
Well, black lighting sounds like what it is. You wait until the sun goes down and then you go out to the tailings with a UV black light. An interesting little property of benitoite is that it fluoresces in a wonderful brilliant blue color under black lights.
As you walk around with your black light the ground will look like the night sky with extremely small pieces of benitoite fluorescing all around. You’re only looking for the larger pieces and you’ll be surprised at how many pieces you simply walked by all day long and never saw until you used this method.
Unfortunately only about 2% of the stones you find will be of a quality good enough to be gem quality, but with it costing up to $2500 a carat* even one good find can make your entire vacation.
Hunting for benitoite stones is not a day trip for the faint of heart, this is not for the very young or those that may have health problems. Simply getting to the mine requires anywhere from 1 to 3 hours of travel on some very rough roads that can require a 4 wheel drive, be sure to have a full tank of gas before heading off the main roads.
How to Clean Your Benitoite Gems
So what do you do with those pieces you have with natrolite covering up the crystals? Well for those you need to see our cleaning your benitoite page.
Where to Find Benitoite
There is only one mine in the world that allows people to find their own benitoite gemstones:
California State Gem Mine Hollister, CA
*Please understand the fact that although some gems are sold at a price like that, the odds are very much against a person not directly in the mining business ever even seeing a gem of that quality. Treasure hunting vacations are not about getting rich, they are not about the treasure you find in the ground, what they are about is the treasure you find in searching for the beauty that nature has to offer, and the treasure of enjoying time with family and friends. Enjoy your trip for these things and you will have a treasure hunting vacation of a lifetime.
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