Natural Beauty: American Gemstone Beads
American gemstones have always been popular—think turquoise and quartz from the Southwest and garnets and rubies from the Southeast—but they’re in the spotlight now. There are beautiful jaspers and agates being mined in the United States and transformed into gemstone beads and cabochons to make beautiful beaded jewelry.
ABOVE: rocky butte jasper
The renewed enthusiasm about American stones is due in part to consumers’ desires to feel good about their purchases. Veronica Woods, president of the Gem Shop in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, says, “Because of our country’s labor laws and regulations to miners, most U.S. stones are ethically sourced. The stones are excavated on legal land, by decently paid workers.”
Jeff Elvin, president of Dakota Stones, says that the Made in China label is sometimes misunderstood. He says, “For the most part, the stones that get turned into gemstone beads in China aren’t mined in China. Stone is shipped to China from all over the world because it’s less expensive to hire skilled labor there to grade and slab the rough, finish beads, string them, and manage all of the other necessary steps. One factory might cut beads, another might drill beads, another might do faceting, etc. It takes an amazing amount of precision to make gemstone beads—with 20 to 30 processes going into the finished product.”
American Gem Beads: Jaspers and Agates
While some jaspers and agates are well-known, new material is infusing excitement into the market. Veronica says, “There are a few new stones being mined in the U.S . that have great potential. Blue Mountain Picture Jasper is one of them. This fine-grained solid Jasper has rich blue/green color and takes a great polish. Another stone that has my interest is Dead Camel Jasper. We haven’t seen either one of these materials in the bead market yet, but hopefully we will soon.” It’s not unusual to see one new type of stone per year, or maybe just be a color change as the vein is mined.
A lot of American mines are claims that someone’s renting or rented for a season. Jeff says, “When miners find new rough material, they bring their finds down to Quartzsite, which is before the Tucson gem shows. Then, a vendor might take it to Tucson. Sometimes, we buy it and slab it there to look for banding. Tighter bands are important for smaller gemstone beads.”
The variety of colors and “looks” of American stones is truly incredible, even among jaspers and agates. And, they pair beautifully with seed beads, crystals, or your other favorite beads to make eye-catching beaded jewelry. As you shop for gemstone beads, look for information about where the stones were mined. They might be from your own neck of the woods.
Managing Editor, Beadwork