The Beauty of Opal: The Sunset in a Gem


Opal is Beautiful

If ever there was a most beautiful gemstone contest I believe the opal would win hands down. It is like the sunset and sunrise wrapped up in a volcano.

From the first time I laid eyes on opal I have been enthralled by the beauty of the stone. There is no question that the gemstone is a sight to behold. But I stand corrected in that opal is not a gemstone in the true sense of the word. The four true gemstones are diamond, sapphire, ruby and emerald and they are crystals.

Opal is a hydrated amorphous form of silica and may often have a water content as much as 10%. It is classed as a mineraloid along with glass, jet, obsidian and pearl.

In the article, “Are Cultured Pearls Real?” I described how pearls are coated with layers of very small, little bricks of nacre. Similarly, opal is made up of microscopic layers of little spheres and it is with the way light reflects its way along these layers that creates the spectacular colors we see. Precious opal ranges from clear through white, gray, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, magenta, rose, pink, slate, olive, brown, and black. Of these hues, the black opals are the rarest, whereas white and greens are the most common.

Singles, Doublets and Triplets

Generally opals are cut and polished in the cabochon shape and can be in singles, doublets or triplets. The singles will be comprised of the solid stone from front to back. A doublet may be made by cementing a layer of a dark stone to the back of the single stone to enhance the color of the stone, most commonly ironstone, dark or black common opal (potch), onyx, or obsidian. The beauty of opal is everywhere.



The darker backing emphasizes the play of color and results in a more attractive display than a lighter potch. An opal triplet is similar to a doublet but has a third layer, a domed cap of clear quartz or plastic on the top. The cap acts as a protective layer for the opal. The top layer also acts as a magnifier to emphasize the play of color of the opal beneath, which is often of lower quality. Triplet opals have a more artificial appearance and are not classed as precious opal. These changes are made to bring out the beauty of opal.

More Types of Opal

Along with the gemstone varieties of opal that show a play of color, many other kinds of common opal include the milk opal, milky bluish to greenish (which can sometimes be of gemstone quality); resin opal, that appears as honey-yellow with a resinous luster; and wood opal, which is caused by the replacement of the organic material in wood with opal. This change can take place over millions of years.

Mexican Opals

Mexico produces a wonderful array of fire opals. Fire opal is a transparent to translucent opal with warm, body colors from yellow to orange to brilliant red. Although it does not usually show any play of color, occasionally a stone will exhibit bright green flashes. Mexican opals are sometimes cut in their natural rhyolitic host material if it is a hard enough quality to allow cutting and polishing. This type of Mexican opal is referred to as a Cantera opal. Mexican water opal often is a colorless opal which exhibits either a bluish or golden internal sheen to the stone.

Girasol Opal

Girasol opal is a term that may be mistakenly and improperly used to refer to some fire opals, as well as a type of transparent type milky quartz from Madagascar which sometimes displays an asterism, or star effect, when cut properly. However, the true girasol opal is a type of hyalite opal that often will exhibit a bluish glow or sheen that follows the light source around. It is not a play of color as seen in precious opal, but rather an effect from microscopic inclusions. It is also sometimes referred to as water opal too when it is from Mexico. The two most notable locations where this type of opal can be found are Oregon and Mexico. The beauty of opal may be found everywhere.

Australian Opal

Australian opal has often been reported as accounting for 95 to 97% of the world’s supply of precious opal, with the state of South Australia accounting for almost 80% of the world’s supply. Ethiopian opal has been making inroads in world production in the last while but due to the different methods of weighing, it is difficult to determine the proper figures. The opal, found mostly in the form of nodules, is of volcanic origin and is found predominantly within weathered layers of rhyolite. Rhyolites that cool too quickly to grow crystals form a natural glass or vitrophyre, also called obsidian.

Black Fire Opal

The Virgin Valley opal fields in Humboldt County in northern Nevada produce a great variety of precious black, white, fire, crystal and lemon opal. The black fire opal is the official gemstone of Nevada. Most of the precious opal is partial wood replacement which occurs over eons of time. The precious opal is hosted and found within a subsurface horizon or zone of bentonite in place which is considered a lode deposit. Opals which have weathered out of the in-place deposits are alluvial and considered placer deposits. Other Miocene-age opalised teeth, fish, bones and a snake head have been found. The beauty of opal is in its fire but there are other colors which are highly sought after.

Blue Sapphires – Three Reasons Why People Are Fascinated By This Gem

Ever wonder why many people enjoy the color blue? Blue seems to dominate the clothing market at times. Blue goes with almost everything, doesn’t it? Blue sapphires appear to be the top choice of the Royal Family when it comes to choosing engagement rings. Perhaps that is because men are in on the selection as most men will prefer blue when asked. The color blue releases chemicals in our bodies which are calming and make us feel good about ourselves.

The Gemstone Sapphire

Even though we commonly think of sapphires as a stone with a gorgeous, rich, deep blue colour, sapphires can be colorless, yellow, green, orange, brown, pink and even black. In fact, the most popular color is blue. It brings to us the energy of loyalty, honesty and devotion. The sapphire is often used in the design of engagement rings. Some of the most famous sapphire engagement rings belonged to the late Princess Diana, the actress, Penelope Cruz and the supermodel, Elizabeth Hurley. So why are so many people fascinated by this beautiful gemstone?

  1. Blue sapphires [including the other colors of sapphires] are one of the four true gemstones (ruby, emerald, diamond and sapphires). The mysterious deep blue sapphire has been fascinating and inspiring humanity for as long as there are records of its existence. Infused with the power of integrity, strength and wisdom, the sapphire has been used by people in power since ancient times.
  2. The beautiful sapphire represents the month of September and is the birthstone of the astrological signs of Taurus and Virgo. Sapphire is also the birthstone of the Chinese zodiac sign of Tiger and expresses the energy of two days of the week: Thursday and Saturday.
  3. For centuries, sapphires (excluding blue) were often called the same name as a popular gemstone of that color with the prefix “oriental” added to it. For example, green sapphire was called, “Oriental Emerald”. The practice of applying the name of a different gemstone to identify the sapphire was misleading, and these names are no longer used. Oriental Emerald is now called, “Green Sapphire”. The same holds true for all other color varieties of sapphire; however, the word, “Sapphire” in its plain context refers only to blue sapphire unless a prefix color is specified. Sapphire with a color other than blue is often called a “fancy” in the gem trade.


The beauty of the blue sapphire is that it blends so well with diamonds. Diamonds bring out the true blue of the sapphire so well that the two colors complement each other. Strange that the supposed lack of color of the diamond enables the blue color of the sapphire to literally leap out to our eye. In this photo of the engagement ring notice how the two sapphires draw the eye to the diamond.

Blue sapphire engagement rings will be popular for a very long time and certainly have moved to the top of the heap as the number 1 choice among those contemplating marriage.


Gemstone Versus The Diamond Engagement Ring

Where Jewelry Trends Begin

The traditional engagement ring set with a diamond or diamonds has undergone plenty of changes in style over many years. From a simple solitaire diamond ring set in a white and yellow gold band to emerald, sapphire, jade, and many other gemstones; engagement rings have come a long way.

When I entered the jewelry business as a youngster many years ago, there was no reason to debate the selection of gemstone versus the diamond ring because there were only diamonds on the market.

Tough Times

My dad Joe was a great judge of character.

My dad owned a small jewelry store in a little coal mining town. In 1935, two months before I was born, my parents moved from a city to this little town out of desperation due to the Great Depression. He had spent every penny to purchase some stock for the store. The second night he was there, thieves broke his front window and stole every item he had in stock leaving him with one man’s ring. He phoned the company in Toronto to discuss the problem and the company owner immediately sent a replacement order along with a dozen diamond engagement rings. The gentleman told him not to worry about paying for the stock until he made some sales. For the next 40 years my dad bought all of the goods he ever needed from that company.

A True Gentleman

The owner of the company was a man by the name of Harry Fogler and he was a wonderful gentleman. He had a traveling salesman who toured the Maritime Provinces for the company called Tru Blu Diamonds. When the company salesman was beginning his tour of the Nova Scotia stores that carried his line of diamonds, Harry would leave Toronto and fly into Sydney on Cape Breton Island so that he would meet his customers personally. In my mind I can still see my mother getting excited when my dad told her that Harry was due to arrive.

My mother, Margaret thought the world of Harry.

He was one of those gentlemen of long ago who truly believed ladies should be treated with respect. Harry’s visit always featured a fine dinner as only my mother could prepare. I can still remember his high-quality eyeglasses frame made of gold with wide temples. Harry was one of those rare individuals who would make you feel important and whom you would never forget.

He Took Time to be With Friends

He also owned a watch company under the name of The Fontaine Watch Company. That company also sold ladies and gents rings and a nice line of jewelry items. After a day visiting with the other local jewelers, Harry would return home and leave his salesman to carry on with the rest of his territory. If you looked under the description of a classy gentleman, you would find the name, Harry Fogler.

Emerald Becomes Popular

My dad sold hundreds of diamond and wedding rings over the years but it wasn’t until he retired from the business that the colored gemstone engagement ring became popular. The emerald gemstone versus the diamond engagement ring is probably the most popular stone to challenge the diamond. This beautiful, green stone is the third hardest gemstone next to the diamond and is sometimes called beryl. Another beryl stone is aquamarine that occurs as a beautiful pale color as well as a pale yellow.

Sapphire Has its Day


Princess Diana engagement ring

The beautiful, blue sapphire that became so popular when worn by Princess Diana is a crystal of corundum and when enhanced with a few diamonds can be a beauty that is hard to match. It is second only in hardness to diamond.

The gemstone versus the diamond preference will come and go over time. It was not that many years ago that all bridal gowns were only white. It is amazing how times and styles tend to change through the years.


Emerald engagement rings become popular from time to time. The emerald is a real beauty and it is one of those stones that seems to defy the tide in that a gemstone must be flawless. Most emeralds are not and may have many inclusions. In order for the gemologist to play down these inclusions (small cracks) the gem is treated with oil which makes the cracks less obvious. This treatment is normal and accepted in the trade; however, if the emerald is treated this way it must be accompanied with a certificate stating it has been oiled and the type of oil that was used.

Another gem that has found popularity over the years is the pearl. Many beautiful designs of pearl engagement rings have been used but there are some facts that a person should consider with the pearl in mind. It is soft and can be damaged by oils and soaps.

Here is the history of the engagement ring that I purchased for Irma in 1957. The ring was made of white and yellow gold and contained a .25 carat diamond solitaire and 2 small diamonds on the shoulder. We have had the claws, which hold and protect the diamonds, replaced every 8 to 10 years, which is probably the norm. The diamonds are still the same as when she first wore the ring. I occasionally check them and they are still perfect as viewed with my 10X loupe. The white gold claws wear down over time. This is proof that diamond is the hardest gemstone of all.

How Long Will Your Marriage Last?

In the gemstone versus diamond engagement ring debate a person must keep in mind that there is a possibility that a marriage could last for 60 years or more. Will the colored gemstone maintain its popularity or will it fade away?

The Opal is Similar to Pearl in Construction

Opal is a beautiful gemstone and is very popular. It is easy for a person to fall in love with these stones. The main problem with opal is that it is quite porous and will absorb oils and soaps easily. Water can find its way inside and what once was a beautiful, colorful stone with excellent flashes of radiance may now be a lifeless, dull stone with very little appeal to the eye.

Your Comments Are Welcome

So what do you think of this gemstone versus diamond discussion? Have you had any experience with these or other stones being used as engagement rings? Please feel free to comment.

Are Cultured Pearls Real?

What a Great Question

This is a question that crops up from time to time that most people have a tough time to understand, after all, isn’t a pearl simply a pearl? If pearl is the birthstone for June is it really a stone? In order to answer the above question, we need to understand what a pearl really is and how it is made.

First, a pearl, unlike a stone, is not created from within the earth by heat and pressure like most gemstones but it is the result of an event that occurs within an oyster, mussel  or conch that causes a pearl to be produced inside the animal.

If you take a look at the inside of a shell, as an example oyster, you will notice that the shell is coated with a thin layer of shiny material called nacre. Some nacres will be dull and have little color and for some others, called Paua otherwise known as Abalone, the opposite may be true. Nacre is a hard, protective surface covering produced by the animal to smooth out the inner surface of the shell. If a foreign object such as a tiny particle of sand or shell is detected, the animal covers the object with layer upon layer of nacre. The end result is a pearl.

Sometimes the foreign object might cling to the shell and become embedded in the side of the shell. More often the object will be free to move about the animal’s body and may take shape as a round pearl or free-form pearl. In most instances the round pearl is the higher priced one but other shapes can attain a very high value such as pear-shaped pearls. This is the way that real pearls are created.

Natural Pearls

Natural pearls are formed by nature, more or less by chance. On the other hand, cultured pearls are human creations formed by inserting a tissue graft from a donor oyster, upon which a pearl sac forms and the inner side precipitates calcium carbonate in the form of nacre or “mother-of-pearl”. The most popular and effective method for creating cultured pearls is from the shells of freshwater river mussels harvested in the midwestern states of the US, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

This is what a freshwater mussel looks like without the innards. The upper shell is the outside.

Now the question arises, “are they real?” Well, they are and they aren’t. The difference between a natural  pearl and a cultured pearl is in the process of how the two are created. The natural pearl gets its start when a foreign object or a parasite finds its way into the animal in the shell. A reaction takes place within the animal and a chemical called nacre (calcium carbonate) is secreted and covers the foreign object. Over time, the nacre is built up layer upon layer and the result is a natural pearl.

Cultured Pearls

William Saville-Kent was born in England in 1845, was educated and lived for many years in Australia and New Zealand. In 1889, he became Commissioner of Fisheries for Queensland and in 1892, Commissioner of Fisheries for Western Australia, a position he held until 1895. During this time he experimented with culturing pearls on Thursday Island; his experiments were successful, and modern-day spherical cultured pearls are primarily the result of discoveries he made. These discoveries were later patented by Dr. Tokichi Nishikawa of Japan, who had heard of Saville-Kent’s techniques. It was he who provided the answer to the question, are cultured pearls real?

Getting The Job Done

The process for making a cultured pearl is carried out by first of all creating a perfectly round portion of shell and scientifically prying open a mature oyster and inserting the round inside the reproductive gland along with a small piece of the mantle. Tissue is harvested from one oyster and cut into small pieces. After obtaining the mantle tissue from the first oyster it is time to operate on the second animal. The oyster is placed in warm water to relax the animal. Then it is gently pried open and mounted in a stand to be operated on. A small incision is made and the nucleus is inserted along with a small piece of mantle gland. The oyster is then placed back in the water and allowed over several years to coat the nucleus with nacre. The nucleus is coated in many layers of this nacre, so that when pearls are cut in half, visible layers can be seen.

Other Uses For Shells

Now that you know how pearls are cultured, the shells of these animals provide us with a variety of products. The obvious use is for the making of jewelry. Paua shell, or Abalone, as it may be called, is a beautiful shell with a wide variety of blues, greens and blacks and is used in a wide variety of necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

For many years the shell has been used in the decoration of musical instruments as well as furniture decoration inlays.

Probably the greatest use of shells has been for the making of buttons. When we consider how many pieces of clothing are fastened with buttons it can be mind-boggling.

So, the next time you take a walk along the beach, keep an eye out for shells and remember that you may be walking on pearls. I hope I have answered the question, “Are Cultured Pearls Real?”


Why is the Hope Diamond Blue?

The Hope Diamond, possibly the most mysterious diamond in the world, resides in the Smithsonian Museum. It was donated by Harry Winston after he bought it from the estate of Evalyn Walsh McLean after her death. It is famous not only for its deep, blue color and its size, but for the curse that follows the owners.

If you asked why it is blue, the answer is that trace amounts of boron, hydrogen and nitrogen give the diamond its blue-grey color. A few years ago, the diamond was removed from the setting and a hole was drilled into it one nanometre deep (four-billionths of an inch) thus revealing these three elements.

Where Did it Come From?

It is generally accepted that the stone first appeared in India and was purchased by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier who made a career out of tracking down and buying large diamonds. He sold the diamond to King Louis X1V in 1668.  It was stolen 123 years later and when it appeared, it had been recut in 1839. The new owner was a London banker by the name of Hope. It passed from one owner to another and finally became the property of Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean who was an heir to the Westinghouse fortune. She had the Hope Diamond remounted with 19 round diamonds and a diamond set neck chain and loved to wear it on many occasions.

Like many famous stones, the Hope Diamond has many stories of curses connected with it. The diamond has been surrounded by a history of a reputed curse to the end that it brings misfortune and tragedy to those who own it or wear it. There are strong signs that such stories were fabricated to increase the stone’s mystery and appeal, since increased publicity usually raised the gem’s value and mystique.

Many Stories Were Told

For many years this story has found its way to the newspapers of the day.
These accounts are almost impossible to prove but here are a few of the many supposedly true facts.

  • Stone guardian Kulub Bey was chased down and hanged in Turkey.
  • Jeweler William Fals, who was tasked to recut the stone, “died a ruined man.”
  • William Fals’ son, Hendrik, had stolen the jewel from his father and later committed suicide.
  • Louis X1V and Marie Antoinette were both beheaded.
  • Prince Ivan Kanevski bought it but was killed by Russian revolutionists.

These fables about the Hope Diamond have followed many others about pirate’s treasures, hidden boxes of gold, bags of precious jewels and suitcases filled with cold, hard cash — they are all great stories.

More About Harry Winston

Harry Winston’s father, Jacob, started a small jewelry business in New York after he and his mother immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine. While growing up, he worked in his father’s shop. When he was only  twelve years old, he was looking in the window of a pawn shop one day and he realized that a two-carat emerald in the shop was an expensive emerald and bought it for 25 cents, and then sold it two days later for $800! Winston started a business of his own and opened his first store in New York City in 1932.

Harry Was Very Smart

Winston’s jewelry empire began in 1926 with his acquisition of Arabella Huntington’s vast jewelry collection for the price of $1.2 million. The wife of railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, Arabella amassed one of the world’s most prestigious collections of jewelry, largely from Parisian jewelers such as Cartier.

When Winston bought the collection after her death, he came to the conclusion the designs of the jewelry in the collection were quite old- fashioned. Winston set about redesigning the jewelry into more contemporary styles and showcased his unique skill at jewelry crafting that was to make him his fortune. According to the Huntington museum, “He frequently boasted that Arabella’s famous necklace of pearls now adorned the necks of at least two dozen women around the world.”

When he came to own the Hope Diamond his fame grew as well.

Over the years this skill became his forte. After he died he left his business to his two sons who fought over his fortune for 10 years! In 2000 his son, Ronald and his partner bought out his brother Bruce for $54 million.

One of Winston’s favorite diamonds was the Jonker Diamond. It was found by a farmer at the Elandsfontein mine in South Africa by Johannes Jacobus Jonker on January 17, 1934. The diamond was 726 carats and at the time, was the fourth largest uncut gem ever found. The diamond was found 5 km away from the largest diamond ever found, the Cullinan Diamond. There is speculation that the Jonker may have originally been part of the Cullinan crystal, as both crystals had cleaved faces which seemed to match up perfectly.

Winston purchased it for 150,000 pounds and after studying it for a year, had it cut into 13 stones. He had it recut from time to time and it was sold in pieces around the world. One diamond was was sold to King Farouk of Egypt for $100,000 who, after he was deposed, had to give it up to settle debts. The last known location of the Jonker 1 was in the hands of an owner in Hong Kong who bought it for $2,298,000.

The Hope Diamond has had some amazing company over the years and Harry Winston has been in the mix many times over that time.

The Quality of the Cut Diamond

Quality is Most Important

The quality of the cut diamond is widely considered the most important aspect in determining the beauty of a diamond. It is commonly admitted that a well-cut diamond may appear to be of greater carat weight, and have clarity and color of a greater grade than they actually have. The skill with which a diamond is cut by the diamond cutter determines its ability to reflect and refract light thus exhibiting superior value.

The Cut is Tough to Judge

Besides carrying the most importance to a diamond’s quality as a gemstone, the cut of the diamond is also the most difficult to judge. Many  factors — including proportion, polish, beauty and balance as well as the relative angles of various facets — are determined by the quality of the cut and can affect the performance of a diamond. A diamond with the 57 facets cut only a few degrees out of alignment can result in a poorly performing stone such as looking dull or off-color.

Mistaken Identity

A round cut diamond with too much fire may appear as a cubic zirconium which gives off much more fire than a true diamond. An inferior cut diamond will appear dark in the center and in some cases there may be shadows when viewed from the table. The quality of the cut diamond brings forth different theories on the “ideal” proportions of a diamond and continue to be advocated by various owners of patents on machines to view how well a diamond is cut.

The science and skill required to shape a rough diamond into a beautiful polished gemstone is an art in itself. The choice of cut is often decided by the original shape of the rough stone, location of the inclusions and flaws to be eliminated, the preservation of the weight, popularity of certain shapes amongst consumers and many other considerations. The round brilliant cut is preferred when the crystal is an octahedron, as often two stones may be cut from one such crystal. Odd-shaped crystals more than likely will be cut as fancy diamonds.

The quality of the cut diamond generally results in over 50% of the original weight being lost during the cutting and polishing process. Since such a premium price is awarded to the 1.00-carat stone the consumer would be well advised to consider buying a 1.10-carat or a 0.99-carat perfectly cut diamond rather than what could turn out to be an inferior cut 1.00-carat diamond.

Many Factors to Consider

The term light performance is used in the gem trade to describe the amount of light that will return to the viewer from within the diamond. There are three light properties which are taken into consideration in relation to light performance: brilliance, fire, and scintillation. Brilliance refers to the white light reflected from within the stone. Fire refers to the spectral colors as the diamond disperses the white light and scintillation refers to the small flashes of light from within the stone as the diamond is turned. All of course affect the quality of the cut diamond.


Gold-Filled: Five Things You May Not Know

Gold Facts

Most people do not have any idea what gold-filled jewelry is yet we all spend our hard-earned dollars on gifts for our loved ones not knowing whether the gift item we purchased is gold-plated, solid gold or plastic-covered with gold plating. With so many different scams on the go, perhaps it would be wise to take a refresher course in gold-filled jewelry: five things you may not know.

When gold is taken from the earth and separated from impurities by smelting in the furnace, it is very soft, pure gold called 24 karat. Miners of placer gold found in rivers and creeks are able to tell how far from the source the nuggets have traveled from the mother lode by the absence of sharp edges. As the nuggets bump along the creek bed the sharp edges are rounded off.

  1. Solid gold 24k is never used to make jewelry. The gold must be blended with other minerals such as copper, nickel, silver or platinum to create durability. Without these hardeners, the items would wear down very quickly.
  2. Another gold standard referred to as solid gold may be 18k or 14k. This means that the 18k gold consists of 18 parts gold and 6 parts other metals; likewise for 14k. 10k gold products are simply called 10 karat gold, consisting of 10 parts gold and 14 parts other metals.
  3. Gold-filled products are created from a plate of 10k, 14k or 18k gold being fused to another plate of precious metal such as copper, brass, silver or platinum. It may be in the shape of a tube with the inside consisting of the other metals and the outside, gold. The other metals help to harden the gold and should last for 20 to 30 years or more before it shows signs of wearing through.
  4. Gold-plated products of different qualities may be manufactured by way of electroplating. This is done by attaching the pieces to be plated to one side of a battery and attaching the other side of the battery to a piece of gold and immersing both into an acid bath. This allows the gold from the anode to transfer to the goods to be plated. In the United States, the quality of gold-filled jewelry is defined by the Federal Trade Commission. If the gold layer is 10k, the minimum weight of the gold-plated layer on an item stamped GF must equal at least 1/10th of the total weight of the item. If the item is stamped GF with 12k or more, it must contain at least 1/20th of the total weight of the item.
  5. So what then do we call an article that is stamped 10k or 14k? It is not gold-filled nor is it gold-plated. This is where things get confusing, 10k gold is made up of 10 parts gold and 14 parts other metal. The item is 10k gold all the way through. To make matters more confusing, 14k gold is sometimes referred to as solid gold.

Next time you visit your jeweler, try to remember some of these points so that you may make the right choice of that gold gift.

How is Gold Found?

found it golden nuggets gold pan in the water

Prospectors search for gold by traveling along streams and panning for gold at every little bend where sand and gravel pile up. They partially fill the pan with material and water and wash the gravel by swishing the pan back and forth and slowly allowing the large stones to fall away. As these stones are removed the pieces of gold, which are much heavier than the sand, will gather at the bottom of the pan. If there is no gold to be seen the prospector will move along. If he spots a few tiny flakes of gold, called colors, he may decide to work the area for more.

The Rocker

A rocker, also called a “cradle” or a “dolly”, is used when water is in short supply or when the depth of the stream or creek is too shallow to use a sluice box. The principle of the rocker is simple: As the cradle is rocked, water washes the finer material through the bottom of the hopper and gold collects on ridges or riffles. Rockers were used extensively for placer mining. With one man to load soil and water and a second to rock it, the rocker could process about 200 buckets per day.

The Sluice Box


The sluice box is a long, open wooden trough and when it was introduced it became very popular. The sluice is narrow and low at one end. Dirt and gravel is placed at the top and washed down the length of the sluice by a constant stream of water, usually from a flume. Gold would be caught either by “riffles” (ridges on the bottom of the sluice box) or by a false bottom with holes in it. Mud and the larger chunks of rock would wash out the lower end leaving the gold behind.

This was the method used back in the 1850s.

These old-timers would leave civilization and head for the hills, spending many months on the streams usually with very little to eat. If their search proved successful, they would need to travel to the nearest gold commissioner’s office where they would file a claim for the rights to dig for gold. They would be given tags to be put on the markers to be placed in the corners of their claims. Once the task was completed, they would get to work.


Over millions of years the gold erodes from the rock and quartz bit by bit. As it is heavy it washes out of the gravel and settles down to bedrock. Since bedrock is solid, the gold cannot go down any further so that is where it remains to be found sometime in the future. As the streams and rivers are continually moving back and forth across the valley floors, new flakes and nuggets are moved with the action of the water and glaciers along with the sand and gravel. Prospectors know this and will search for high banks where once upon a time the water flowed. Some of the gold will generally remain in the deposits of these banks.

The prospectors will be searching for what were old stream beds that have gone dry. Although panning for gold appears to be a long forgotten system it is still the best tool for prospecting for gold in the right hands.

Once a claim is set up, the hard work begins.

Way back when, the miner would begin to dig and either sluice or rocker the gravel he excavated. Today the owner will probably get some backers with the money and set up large sluice machines that are capable of sluicing many tons of gravel per day. The sluice will be fed by a large backhoe or loader that may be assisted by use of a bulldozer. The water supply will be pumped to the sluice and a series of riffles and metal mats will capture the gold as the water washes away the sand and gravel.

This method is employed to carry out placer mining. This method will be used to dig down until the bedrock is uncovered.

Generally the cleanup will be done every 20 or 30 hours of sluicing. The sluice machine will be shut down and the mats and riffles will be shoveled by hand into buckets or tubs. Every little speck must be captured. The gold will be taken to the refinery where it will be melted down and poured into a mold.

Hardrock Mining

Some mining companies employ prospectors to tour the country on the lookout for promising mining sites. When something promising is located, a drill team will be sent in to do some diamond drilling. Cross-section cores will be examined by company geologists to determine the gold content of the site. When the gold content looks promising, plans may be drawn up to make the decision to set up a mine or not.