North American Gemstones

North American Gemstones

The North American continent -- including Canada, the USA, Mexico and the Caribbean -- is rich in minerals, including gemstones. Though not in the same class as Sri Lanka, Burma or Tanzania, North America has a long history of gemstone production that continues today.


Diamonds from Canada
Diamond from Canada

Canada is most famous for diamonds and has become the 3rd largest producer by value in the world (after Botswana and Russia). Diamonds were first discovered in 1991 in the Northwest Territories and diamond exploration is now carried on in 5 different provinces. Canada also has commercial deposits of emerald and aquamarine, and is one of the main sources for nephrite jade. Canada is also the chief commercial source for ammolite, an opal-like organic gem found on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Canada is believed to have extensive colored gemstone reserves, but mining costs are high compared to developing countries.



In the early 20th century, the USA was one of the largest tourmaline producers in the world, with significant deposits in Maine and California. But commercial tourmaline mining is no longer economic. Today, Arizona is the main source for gemstones, especially turquoise and peridot. The finest gem silica comes from the Inspiration mine in Arizona, though due to large scale copper mining gem silica is no longer mined commercially.

Gem Silica, Inspiration Mine, Arizona
Gem Silica, Arizona

Oregon is the source for some of the finest sunstone in the world. Sunstone is a a variety of labradorite that contains microscopic copper platelets that produce an interesting schiller or play of color.

Other states that produce important gemstones include Colorado, where rhodochrosite from the Sweet Home Mine is sought after by collectors. Montana produces small quantities of high quality sapphire from Yogo Gulch that are highly regarded. A rare translucent serpentine called Williamsite is found in Maryland and Pennsylvania.



Fire Opal, Mexico
Fire Opal, Mexico

Mexico is so famous for fire opal that this colorful and inexpensive gem is known in the trade as Mexican opal. The famous opal mine in Queretaro has been operating since 1835. Though fire opal usually does not display any play of color like precious opal, it is known for its vivid body color, which ranges from red to orange to yellow and white. Other gemstones mined commercially in Mexico include danburite, fire agate, sphalerite, obsidian and amber.


Dominican Republic

There are few important gemstones in the Caribbean islands, with the exception of larimar from the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola. Larimar is a blue pectolite that was discovered in the 1970's. Though opaque, the best stones have a sea-blue color that can be attractive when cut as cabochons. Since larimar is quite soft, it is usually set in pendants or earrings.