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Home » Gemstones » United States Gemstone Production and Consumption


Gemstone Production and Consumption in the USA

The Gemstone Market in the United States is Dominated by Imported Diamonds




The World's Leading Consumer of Gemstones



People in the United States love gemstones and have disposable income to buy them. More gemstones are sold in the United States than in any other country on Earth. In 2009 U.S. consumers purchased 35% of the world's supply of gemstones - yet the United States only has about 4.5% of the global population. [1]

In 2010 U.S. consumers spent about $19 billion on gemstones. Over 99.9% of these gemstones were imported because the United States has very little domestic gemstone production. As the world's largest consumer of gemstones the United States is dependent upon a supply of stones mined mainly in developing countries. [2]


A Market Dominated by Diamonds



Diamonds are the favorite gemstone of United States consumers. Almost 95% of the money spent on gemstones in the United States is used to buy diamonds. Diamonds account for about $18 billion of the United States gemstone market and colored stones account for only about $1 billion. [1]

An important reason for the diamond dominance is that diamond is the gemstone traditionally used in engagement rings. The typical engagement ring costs several thousand dollars, contains a white diamond and millions these rings are purchased each year.


What is a Gemstone? The Minerals Yearbook, published by the U.S. Geological Survey uses the word "gemstone" for "any mineral or organic material - such as amber, pearl, petrified wood and shell - that is used for personal adornment, display or art object because of its beauty, durability and rarity." That definition will be used throughout this article. [1]


History of Gemstone Mining in the United States



Gemstones have been produced in what is now the United States for thousands of years. Native Americans produced turquoise, flint, amber, shells, obsidian and other materials for use in jewelry, beads, carvings and tools. In the southwest they mined turquoise and used it to make earrings and pendants. Along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts shells were used as gemstones, ornaments and currency. The use of flint for making tools and ornaments was widespread.

About 60 types of gemstones have been produced in the United States. The most important gemstones in current production include: agates, amber, beryl, coral, diamond, garnet, jade, jasper, opal, pearls, peridot, quartz, sapphire, shell, topaz, tourmaline, turquoise and others. These stones are used for jewelry, carvings and as specimens by gem and mineral collectors.

In 2010 ten states produced about 84% of the natural gemstones mined in the United States. In descending order of production, these states were: Arizona, Oregon, Utah, California, Idaho, Colorado, Arkansas, Montana, North Carolina, Maine and Tennessee.


Diamond Mining in the United States



Only one diamond mine is active in the United States, the Crater of Diamonds Mine located near Murfreesboro, Arkansas. There amateur collectors can pay a fee to look for diamonds and keep any that they find. Collectors find a few hundred carats per year.

Diamonds found at the Crater of Diamonds mine are highly valued because many people want to patronize this gemstone locality - they want to own an "American Diamond" or an "Arkansas Diamond". The stones often sell for several times the price of equivalent-quality stones produced in Africa, Canada or other locations.


Colored Stone Mining in the United States



U.S. Gemstone Production
Values in Thousands of Dollars
Gem Material
2010
2011
Beryl
1,700
1,740
Coral
150
150
Garnet
149
110
Gem Feldspar
693
756
Geode / Nodules
110
110
Opal
189
71
Macrocrystalline Quartz
273
333
Cryptocrystalline Quartz
208
248
Sapphire / Ruby
344
343
Shell
821
832
Tourmaline
95
73
Turquoise
449
1330
Other
4,840
4,950
Totals
10,000
11,000
Colored stones are produced commercially from a few hundred mines in the United States. These mines are typically very small - with a few employees who often work part-time. Gemstone mining employment in the entire United States is estimated to be between 1000 and 1200 people.

A significant portion of the United States production of colored stones is done by collectors, gem clubs and hobbyists instead of businesses. [1] Many of the mines are not operated by employees, instead they are open for public collecting, where, for a fee, anyone can enter the mine, look for gemstones and keep whatever is found.


"Pay-to-Dig" Mining



Each year thousands of gemstone collectors, prospectors, rockhounds and other interested people visit hundreds of these pay-to-dig mines across the United States. Most states have several pay-to-dig mines where anyone can visit, pay a small fee and try their luck at finding some nice gems. Many of these mines are very popular and are visited by thousands of people per year.

Even though the pay-to-dig fee is very small these operations produce a substantial amount of local commerce, once the price of hotel rooms, campgrounds, restaurants, gasoline and on-site purchases of everything from work gloves to goggles to Gatorade are considered. The business-generation value is many times the pay-to-dig fee.

Directories of pay-to-dig mining operations have been published for the western and eastern United States. For a photo visit to a very popular pay-to-dig mining operation see our article on Herkimer Diamonds.


Synthetic Gemstone Production



Of the $38.5 million worth of gemstones produced in the United States in 2010 only $8.5 million were natural stones and the remaining $30 million were laboratory-created. [2] Laboratory-created gemstones have the same chemical, optical, and physical properties of a natural stone but have been manufactured by humans. Law requires that these stones be clearly marked so that they are not confused by the consumer with natural stones. The laboratory-created stones produced in the United States include: alexandrite, diamond, emerald, moissanite, ruby, sapphire and turquoise. [1]


United States Statistics
(millions of dollars)
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Natural Gemstone Production
11.3
11.9
11.5
8.4
8.5
Laboratory-Created Gemstone Production
52.1
73.5
51.4
27.2
30.0
Imports for Consumption
18,300
20,100
20,900
13,300
19,000
Exports and Reexports
9,930
12,300
15,300
10,500
15,000
Apparent Consumption
8,430
7,880
5,670
2,820
4,400


Simulant Gemstones



Another category of gemstones is simulant gemstones. Simulants look like natural gemstone material but have different chemical, optical and physical properties. They are typically made from glass, plastic or other materials. The value of simulant gemstones produced in the United States exceeds $100 million per year.

Contributor:
Maine Tourmaline - photo by Thuss Photography for the Maine State Museum
The first commercial gemstone mine in the United States that was operated by miners other than Native Americans was at Mount Mica, Maine. There a large deposit of tourmaline was discovered by two boys in 1820. Two years later a mine was opened which has yielded thousands of carats of gem quality crystals. The three cut tourmalines above are from the Dunton Quarry, Newry, Oxford County, Maine (left 29.67 carats, middle 20.01 carats, right 27.43 carats). Photo by Thuss Photography. Used with permission of the Maine State Museum.




Maine Tourmaline - photo by Thuss Photography for the Maine State Museum
Native American shell and turquoise jewelry found near the Tonto Cliff Dwellings at Tonto National Monument, Arizona. National Park Service image.


Information Sources

[1] Olson, Donald W., (2011). 2009 Minerals Yearbook: Gemstones. 2009 Minerals Yearbook, Volume I, Metals and Minerals, Gemstones. United States Geological Survey.

[2] Olson, Donald W., (2011). 2011 Mineral Commodity Summary: Gemstones. United States Geological Survey.



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