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Pala International has consistently earned its reputation as the direct source for the finest colored stones.

California as a Gem State

Pala Presents title image

California as a Gem State

by Gilbert E. Bailey, E.M., Ph.D.


With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the library of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who shares with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology. The following article was published in the Overland Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine of the West, Vol. XL, No. 5, November 1902.


California as a Gem State title image


A FEW years ago it was the fashion for excursionists from the East to take back nuggets of gold as souvenirs of their visit to the land of sunshine. The men still keep up this habit, but the women have discovered something more interesting, unique and valuable, and go back with dainty native turquoise in pin and buckle, and rich and brilliant tourmalines glittering in their rings, while many a dainty piece of bric-a-brac in mother of pearl is packed away in their baggage.

The tourmalines of California are attracting especial attention in the Eastern and foreign markets as being of the finest quality known of this rare and beautiful gem. The optical coloring of this gem is unique.

For example, a crystal view through the side may be a rich transparent green, but when viewed through the end it may be a yellow-green.

Some specimens are of one color only; others green at one end and red at the other. A crystal may be white at the end, then green of various shades, then pink, and so on. In some specimens the colors shade into each other, in others they join but do not blend. These gems are found on the Mesa Grande in the mountains east of San Diego, in veins that are mined the same as any gold vein. The crystals range in size from a knitting needle to 2 inches in diameter; the smaller crystals as a rule having greater limpidity and freedom from blemishes. They occur in all colors, but principally in pink and green. One form of cutting gives a most beautiful gem of light greenish yellow of great transparency and lustre; while another from the same crystal may give a setting that has the color brilliancy and richness of the ruby. A recent report of the U. S. Geological Survey says of them: “The great variety of crystals, their size, perfection and beauty make this locality one of the most important known.” Another gem that is a great favorite with the ladies is the delicate turquoise, which needs no introduction to the world at large, for it has been a favorite with both civilized and uncivilized races for ages immemorial. To-day it is highly prized by all Orientals, and worn by them to insure health and success; ages ago it was worked into charms by the Cliff Dwellers of the west and buried with his other treasures. The same advice given by the astrologers of Persia in the days of Omar Khayyam is found in the jingle:


"If cold December gave you birth,

The month of snow and ice and mirth,

Place on your hand a turquoise blue;

Success will bless you if you do."


A jingle that has made more than one Christmas happy as She looked at the ring He gave her.

The California turquoise mines are located in the heart of the great Mojave desert west of Manvel, in San Bernardino county. There is evidence that the veins of the desert were worked ages ago for this gem as some of the crude implements of prehistoric workers have been found. The colors of the stone vary from sky-blue and bluish-green to apple green and greenish gray.

The stones of the finest blue are sold by the carat, but the stones of other shades are set in brooches, pins and belt-buckles and sold by the piece, while large quantities showing the brown matrix are mounted uncut for hat-pins, etc.

Another unique production of the State is rock crystals. The name of quartz has been so long associated with the idea of “Alaska Diamonds” and other “stage diamonds” that few realize that the limpid crystal has a genuine value, and that it is prized by others than collectors of cabinets. Quartz spheres or balls have been used for ages, and are used to-day by mystics, astrologers and diviners to fortell the future, review the past, and conjure up distant scenes by crystal gazing; while the mere possession of a perfect sphere of the crystal has become one of the costly fads of the society of to-day. The largest crystal ball on record is one seven inches in diameter, now in the Museum of Natural History in Paris. It was cut in Japan, and is valued at $25,000. A ball 6 inches in diameter is owned in New York, and is valued at $20,000. In 1898 a sphere entirely free from flaws, 5.5 inches in diameter, was cut by Tiffany & Co., from one of the large quartz crystals found in Amador county. It is the largest perfect sphere ever cut from an American crystal, and is valued at $3,000. Handsome spheres not wholly free from blemishes, from 8 to 14 inches in diameter, have been cut from California crystals. Some of the natural crystals found in this State are of immense size. One single crystal from the Green Mountain Mine, Chili Gulch, Calaveras County, weighed 152 pounds; while a group of 47 crystals weighed 2,200 pounds. Magnificent crystals from 80 to 90 pounds each have been found in the Blackiston Mine at Placerville.

The milky white, grey or black specimens of quartz glistening with threads and specks of gold are familiarly known to jewelers all over the world as California gold quartz. No statistics have been gathered of its consumption for watch chains, rings, ornaments and inlaid work, but enquiries and some of the principal factories show that it is over $100,000 a year, a value that includes the gold, as these specimens are sold as nuggets.

To attempt to enter upon the subject of the varieties of quartz, like agate, jasper, bloodstone, chrysoprase, carnelian, heliotrope, catseye, prases, etc., would require a volume the size of this magazine. They are found along the coast, from the beach at Pescadero to Point Loma, and in every mining county of the State; and the amount cut and polished each year must reach a good sum of money.

The beach line of the coast gives something more valuable than the agate and catseye in the form of pearls. Tiffany & Co. exhibited at the Paris Exposition seven pearls from the abalone shells gathered in San Diego County. There is a necklace of the pearls owned in San Francisco that is valued at $2,000. While the abalone and other shellfish of the coast secrete pearls, and sometimes very choice ones, the main use of the nacreous portion of the abalone shell is used for making pearl buttons and bric-a-brac. The shell industry of the coast reaches from Monterey to Mexico, one of the main factories being located at San Pedro, the shells coming from White’s Point and from San Clemente Island. The flesh of the shellfish is either smoked and dried or canned and shipped to Japan, where it receives the appreciation really due a meat as sweet as clams.

The shells are made into spoons, salad sets, bells, jewelry, or any other dainty trifles that ingenuity may suggest. The exquisite variety of colors from the iridescence of the black to the brilliant red, yellow and green lend themselves to a wide range of choice in decoration; while the sheen and creaminess, the brilliancy and lustre of the mother-of-pearl surpass that from any other source. While the home consumption is large and ever growing, the bulk of the shells still go to New York to be distributed to the button makers of England, France and Germany; the buttons coming back to be worn on this coast where they should be manufactured.

The one gem probably that rivals the pearl in the affections of ladies fair is the diamond. They are not yet counted as one of the resources of the State, yet the fact that they have been really found here is pointed to with pride. In fact over 200 genuine diamonds have been found in this State that weighed from 0.6 to over 7 carats each. In 1853 Mr. Lyman, a New England clergyman found the first authentic diamond “about as big as a pea,” in a placer mine in the Cherokee district in Butte county. The Bidwell diamond, found in 1861 at Yankee Hill, weighed 1.5 carats when cut; and the William Bradreth diamond, found in 1867, weighed nearly as much when cut, and was a fine white stone. In the same year, Professor Silliman found one at Forest Hill, Placer County, of over a carat. In 1871 W. A. Goodyear found over 15 diamonds in the ancient river channel three miles east of Placerville, in El Dorado County. Diamonds have also been found in Trinity, Amador and Siskiyou Counties. The records of the identification of these gems exists in the proceedings of many academies of sciences at home and abroad, so that there is no doubt about the genuineness of the finds. The white gem that like gold has defied for ages the best efforts of alchemist and chemist is too rare and valuable for any reported find to escape thorough investigation. The diamonds found in this State have all come from the channels of ancient river beds, and like the gravels in which they are found they are far away from their original home. The diamonds are associated with zircons, topaz, rutile and other gems that accompany them in their native homes; and it is noticed also that they are found in the vicinity of serpentine masses, and not far distant from areas of volcanic vents. The remarkable itacolumite rock, which is popularly associated with diamonds, is found in a number of places in the State; but the diamonds already found here are much older geologically than their South African relatives.

So far the list of gems and jewelers’ material known to exist in this State embraces over 60 groups and 200 varieties, and this list can no doubt be increased by careful investigation. California was first known as the gold State, then oranges and agriculture were added. It has already become famous for its copper, oil, borax, etc., and it evidently proposes to deck its wreath of honor with gems, for it produced in 1901 the following: Quartz crystal, $17,500; tourmaline, $20,000; turquoise, $20,000; gold quartz, $100,000; pearl, $50,000; and other jewelers’ material to the amount of $10,000; or a total of $217,500 for the year—certainly not a bad beginning.