Gems of North America

From Canada's rich diamond mines to Mexico's lustrous cultured black pearls, North America is a surprisingly rich source of gems.

This continent's gem story begins more than a century ago in the United States with exciting discoveries of blue sapphire in Montana and pink, blue, and green tourmaline in Maine.

But nothing matched the tourmaline rush after the gem was discovered near San Diego in 1872. A single California mine produced six tons of pink tourmaline in 1904. This pink gem was destined for the Forbidden City: China had an almost insatiable demand for tourmaline. The last Empress of China loved tourmaline so much she was buried with her head resting on a California tourmaline pillow.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, the United States today is still an important gem producing country, although most mines today are small family operations. Maine and California still mine tourmaline, although not as much as a century ago. Montana sapphire, too, is in limited production.

But Peridot Mesa, in the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona is the world’s most important source for the green gem. Apache miners collect most of the peridot by hand.

Turquoise from the U.S. southwest is among the world’s finest. It is mined in significant quantities and is in demand from all over the world. The only known source of delicate translucent Purple Sage Chalcedony is in the United States, in the high desert of Nevada. Arizona also produces small quantities of Anthill garnet: small but firey red gems that can sometimes be found in the anthills that dot the Arizona desert.

Canada and Mexico have recently come into their own as gem producers. Canada is now home to one of the world’s major diamond mines: the deposit in Yellowknife, which opened a few years ago, is producing diamonds of spectacular quality.

Mexico is the world’s primary source for vivid fire opal, a gem that seems to have captured the blaze of a firey sunset. Fire opal is growing in popularity as more people discover the beauty of this unusual orange to red gem.

And Mexico now produces exotic black cultured pearls similar to those produced in Tahiti in the Sea of Cortez. These lustrous beauties come in a surprising array of colors including golden, green, blue and gray tones.

Learn more about these gems of North America in our Gem Fact Files:
Montana Sapphire
Cortez Pearls
Fire Opal
Mesa Verde Peridot
Pink Tourmaline
Purple Sage Chalcedony
Idaho Garnet

Continue traveling the World of Gems by visiting the Gems of South America