Transparent Gemstones of Nevada

Transparent Gemstones of Nevada – Brief Article

Michael Gray

One would think that with California’s gemstone treasure trove right next door, Nevada would be equally blessed with gem material. However, this in not the case. Although Nevada, with more than 110,000 square miles, is the seventh largest state in the United States, it ranks thirty-seventh in population with only 1.6 million people, most of whom live in the densely populated areas around Las Vegas and Reno, which encompass just a small fraction of the state. There are also fewer roads penetrating Nevada’s interior than in its more populated neighbor, and the weather is not always cooperative in this landlocked state.

Perhaps the gemstone wealth is actually there but has yet to be discovered. Nevada has been extensively explored in the past for strategic minerals (such as uranium) as well as for gold and silver. However, although prospectors may have stumbled upon quartz lodes and pegmatites that contained gemstone wealth, it was not what they were looking for and thus is unlikely to be documented.

The best-known gemstone of the Silver State is the beautiful opal produced at the remote locality of Virgin Valley, outside of Denio in Humboldt County near the Oregon border. Much of what is found are limb casts, in which the opal has replaced ancient pieces of wood, sometimes with spectacular results. Most of the opal is transparent with a slight brownish cast, although some is black with flashes of red, green, and blue. The main drawback of opal from this locality is that most of it is not stable and must be kept in water to keep from drying out, crazing, and losing its colors. The two main collecting areas, the Royal Peacock mine and the Rainbow mine, are open to fee digging during the summer. Stones have been faceted from stable material (generally considered to be out of the ground, and out of water, for at least a year), and a fine example of the black fire opal, weighing 15.39 carats, is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Stones are on record weighing up to 71.84 carats for a lighter-colored opal with lots of fire.

One of the better-known collecting sites for amethyst and smoky quartz was considered a California collecting spot for many years. The Petersen Peak scepter locality can be reached by either state; it is known in California as Hallelujah Junction and is about 30 miles north of Reno on U.S. Highway 395. However, as the Nevada collectors point out, one must cross into Washoe County in Nevada on the way up the mountain to the collecting site. Until the 1980s, collectors dug out the large amethyst scepters on smoky quartz stems by back-breaking work with picks and shovels. Currently, large bulldozers and excavators are on site that can move much more material in a day, and more and better specimens have been found, many of gem quality. The largest fine amethyst of good purple color to come out recently weighs 337.60 carats.

Natural pale blue topaz has been found at the Zapot mine, east of Reno in Mineral County, operated by Harvey Gordon of Reno. Stones up to 15 carats have been cut from this material.

Spessartine garnets are found at Garnet Hill, near Ely in White Pine County, but these tend to be such a dark brownish-red that they are unsuitable for gems. There is a locality near Searchlight, near Laughlin, that produces clear, pale smoky quartz with spessartine crystal inclusions that make interesting gemstones.

In the late 1970s, a find of cinnabar came out of Pershing County, near Lovelock. One stone, now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, is an intense red 2.97-carat triangle-cut stone.

More recently, gorgeous honey-colored barites have been recovered at the Meikle mine, north of Carlin in Elko County, by Casey and Jane Jones of Geoprime Minerals. Stones are still being cut from this material, with clean gems achieving sizes of more than 30 carats.

The Smithsonian has a 5.80-carat yellow labradorite feldspar labeled as being from Nevada, although it is not attributed to a specific locality. Other stones reported from Nevada without specific localities are epidote, a colorless 1.58-carat anorthite feldspar, oligoclase feldspar, peridot, and a 0.59-carat realgar.

In a state with so much area and so many geologic features, it is surprising to find so few gem materials. Some localities that have produced crystals have the potential to produce cutting rough, such as the emeralds from the Oreana mine, east of Rye Patch Reservoir, Pershing County, and the bluish-green beryls from the Newberry mine in Clark County. Even though parts of the state are cut off from the public, such as the military bases, there are still tens of thousands of square miles of mountains and valleys to explore.


Gray, P.A.S. n.d. Database of large gemstones. Forthcoming.

Sinkankas, J. 1959. Gemstones of North America. Vol. 1. New York: Van Nostrand Co.

–. 1976. Gemstones of North America. Vol. 2 New York: Van Nostrand Co.

–. 1997. Gemstones of North America. Vol. 3. Tucson: Geo science Press.

Michael Gray, a gemstone cutter and dealer, has a partnership with other cutters (Coast to Coast). His most recent article for Rocks & Minerals was titled “Gemstones of California” and appeared in the California issue (November/December 1994).

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