Fossicking for Gems

Emerald. Sapphire. Rubyvale. These are the names of the towns in central Queensland. Not surprisingly, they are named such because of the gems that can be found in the area.

We heard that 80% of the sapphires on the market today (not sure if it is only the Australian Market) come from these towns.

After we left Carnarvon Gorge, we headed a few hundred kilometers further up north to try our luck at “fossicking” (known as prospecting to us Americans)

On the road to the public gem field we got to try out the 4wd in the van:

This is the site where we dug in an old creek bed. There were several pockets of earth that were being dug in this area:
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The top layer of earth was topsoil – dry, hard, and not where we’d find sapphires – so we had to begin by chipping away that layer and throwing it out of our hole. After this we could pick out the gravel layer of the old creek bed and fill our buckets until we reached the layer of clay that made the floor of the hole:
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The throw screen helps to sift out both the dust and the larger rocks. Richard dumped the bucket of gravel in on end, I cranked the handle to rotate the cylinder, and the usable gravel traveled from the far end to my end and dropped through the large screen into an empty bucket:
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Richard is filling the sieve with the gravel. The top circle has larger screen than the bottom, so all the small stuff falls to the lower layer as you wash it:
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This contraption is a willoughby and serves to quickly wash the gravel in the sieve. The sieve is plunged into the tub of water and pumped up and down for a little over 1 minute to clean off dirt/mud from the rocks. After washing we rinsed the gravel once by dipping it into cleaner water.
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After rinsing the sieve is flipped upside down onto a flat surface for inspection. Sapphires are heavier than most other rocks so during the washing they would fall to the bottom of the pile. Flipping it over helps you to spot the sapphires right away. It’s very unlikely to find one as large as the rocks in the upper part of the sieve, but we looked anyway… you never know:
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There’s one! The sapphires look like a small piece of glass as they are shinier than anything else in the pile and the dirt tends not to stick to them. They are all different colors from deep blue to green to yellow to gold to multicolored. The deeper colors tend to look black in the rock pile, but once you hold them up to the light you can see the color:
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We spent about 3 hours at the gem fields and this is the result of our labor. The orangey one is an agate and the rest are tiny sapphires. (Notice the blisters on Richard’s hand as well.) We took the rough gems to a cutter and were told that 3 of them were big enough to be worth cutting. Richard found one that was particularly pretty, a multicolored green and yellow, so we decided to get it cut. It takes several weeks so they’ll ship it back home for us since we’ll be in another far land by then:fossicking12

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1 Comment

Filed under Australia

One response to “Fossicking for Gems

  1. wow! that looks like SO much fun! and you get a rock out of it to keep!! I LOVE that idea. Money well spent on a brilliant memento.

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