Sharing the Fun and Folklore of Gemology


First, I would like to say thank you to Don Clark the President of International Gem Society for allowing me the chance to reach out and talk with each and everyone of you. My name is Douglas S. Le Grand G.G., the initials at the end of my name G.G. stand for Graduate Gemologist. This is not a degree that you get from a regular college or university; this is a special degree that you get for studying gemstones. And this is what my article is going to be about, gemstones and the people who study them.

“Canyon Sin Nombre,” Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA, by Michael Allen Smith is licensed under CC By-SA 2.0
“Canyon Sin Nombre,” Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA, by Michael Allen Smith is licensed under CC By-SA 2.0

My goal is to share with each of you the fun and folklore or gemstones. Since this is my first article for IGS, my goal is to introduce you to the difference between a rock, mineral and a gemstone.

I remember my first experience hiking through the canyons behind my parent’s home in San Diego. I came across a sandstone formation filled with tiny little shells. When I took them to “Show and Tell” in my elementary class my teacher told me that they could be millions of years old. I could not believe my ears, San Diego and the canyons that I was playing in was all under seawater 100,000’s of years ago and that is where the shells came from.

Did you know that San Diego is the fourth largest gemstone source in the world? It’s true, and this is my second story that I want to share with you. When I was a much younger man, I worked as a gold miner up in the hills of San Diego. Mining is very hard work and they usually make you work 12 hour shifts. So before you begin working in a mine you have to get in top shape. The way my boss did this was, he made me break big rocks into small rocks. My boss’s name was Verne Harkness. One day Verne backs up a truck loaded with Pink Quartz. Quartz is one of the most common minerals on earth covering 70% of the world’s surface, and pink quartz is beautiful variety of this mineral. So Verne tells me to start breaking the big rocks up into little rocks. The first hours were horrible, I was so tired I sat down to rest. Of course since he was the boss, he came over, put his arm around me, and explained what he was doing, getting me in shape to work. I felt better but I was still tired.

After resting a while, I got up and began breaking the rocks again. Then I broke open a 10 lb pink quartz rock to reveal it’s hidden treasure; a perfect 6-inch long, black Tourmaline crystal. That was the moment I was hooked on minerals. Tourmaline crystals form in a Hexagonal crystal structure, (that just means it has eight sides to it.) What I did after that I will always regret; I pulled the crystal out of its matrix, (the surrounding stone,) and put it in my pocket. The true beauty was destroyed when I took the crystal out of its surrounding stone.

Close your eyes and imagine a solid black crystal that had been sitting in the pink quartz for millions of years and I just pulled it right out. It makes me sad today thinking out it. It is common for miners to find Tourmaline inside of quartz. As a matter of fact, this type of quartz is special because a lot of different minerals are found in it. Topaz, Tourmaline, Beryl, (pink, blue and green Emeralds), metals like Gold, Silver, are also found.

Getting back to what is a rock, a mineral and a gemstone. It might be a little confusing but a gemstone is a rock or mineral that man has shaped and polished to wear as jewelry. A gemstone will have certain characteristics that are common: it must be hard, durable and most of all beautiful. It will be easy for you to discover what is beautiful once you begin your lapidary classes and make your first piece of jewelry.

Remember to go with your club or family on field trips, they’re the most fun, and start looking around for something that you think will look beautiful. Whether it is drilling a hole into a seashell and pulling string through it so that you can wear it around your neck, or taking lapidary classes, shaping and polishing your first stone, use your imagination. Some people will say that imagination is God’s way of letting you share your inner feelings with people around you. There is no right stone or wrong stone. It is up to you to express yourself through the stones that you pick with jewelry.