World Mining Report 2005 – North America
Colored gemstone mining is a hard thing to pin down. The vast majority of mining is still done by independent, small-scale miners, working in remote locations and selling to buyers who pay cash and may or may not declare their gems on export. For many producing countries, particularly in Africa, the real production from the mines probably outstrips the reported production by a factor of 10 -- or 20, or possibly 100. No one really knows. In compiling this report, weve included estimates from both official and unofficial sources, but in some cases there simply isnt any information available. This report isnt intended as a comprehensive list of gemstone deposits; its a guide to the most active mining areas in the world right now, with the humble acknowledgment that no matter how much we see, theres always more out there.
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This page "World Mining Report 2005 - North America" includes estimates from both official and unofficial sources of active mining deposits in North America.
Related Article: World Mining Report 2005 - List of Countries
Canada's primary gem export is nephrite jade, found in the Dease Lake area of northern British Columbia. An estimated 200 tons are exported each year, mostly to Asia.
The country's other major gem exports are ammonite and labradorite, which was originally discovered in the province of Labrador. Canada remains a major source of labradorite, especially in fine qualities, although precise figures aren't available. Ammonite is retrieved from the Milk River in Alberta, and remains relatively rare.
Other gem deposits have been discovered throughout the country. Commercial interests are mining sapphire and iolite in British Columbia, emerald and blue beryl in the Yukon, and sapphire on Baffin Island; currently all are in the exploration stage. Fee-dig operations are mining opal in British Columbia and amethyst in Ontario, and various other sites are open to collectors, but none of them produce gems in commercial quantities.
A majority of the world's fire opal is mined in Mexico, with the most important mines in Queretaro, located about 125 miles northwest of Mexico City. Another important producing area is in Magdalena, Jalisco, about 185 miles to the west of Queretaro. Most of what has been seen on the market in the past few years is small, lower grade material. The open pit mines are reportedly up to 500 meters deep in some areas, and most of the bigger rough was mined long ago near the top.
The Chiapas state of Mexico is known for its amber, most of which comes from an area in the Chiapas highlands near the town of Simojovel. The material is much clearer than that from other deposits, and it is highly prized for its transparency and impressive color, including reds. Production remains limited, however, and is estimated at about 200 kilograms per year.
Production of good-quality amethyst in Guerrero state has drastically dropped since flooding at the mines about five years ago. Veracruz also continues to produce amethyst, but lower demand, the flow of material has slowed. The state also produces demantoid garnet.
Gemstone mines in the United States produce a wide variety of gemstones, reportedly more than 60 different types. Despite that, the United States is not a significant gemstone producer, and the trend is decreasing. The U.S. production of natural gemstones from 2000 to 2004 decreased approximately 25 percent.
Commercial mining of gemstones is almost exclusively conducted by family-operated mines or by small, privately-held companies. Other producers are individual collectors or miners, gem and mineral clubs, fee-for-dig operations, and other part time or semi-professional operations. The majority of the value of U.S. gemstones comes from just seven states: Oregon, Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, Idaho, and Arkansas, in decreasing order of value produced.
Arizona's gemstone production — including much of the azurite, malachite, turquoise, chrysocolla, and related gems — is often the byproduct of large-scale copper mining.
Once the world's largest producer of peridot, mining in Arizona's San Carlos Apache reservation has been impacted by material from China. Chinese dealers are selling cut peridot for less than the asking price of Arizona peridot rough, pricing it out of the market.
Some of the more famous gemstone-producing mines in California — like the Stewart Mine and Benitoite Mine — are being converted to fee-for-dig operations. Other mines, including the Himalaya, Tourmaline King, Tourmaline Queen, Pack Rat, Hercules, Little 3, Beebe Hole, Katerina, Gems of Pala, White Quartz mine, White Queen Mine, and Bar-n-Grill mine, are all closed. Production is nil at the famous Pala Tourmaline district, which is nearly depleted.
Sapphire is essentially the only gemstone produced in Montana today. At one time there were as many as 14 separate sapphire mining operations in Montana; today there is less than half that number. Future prices for rough and cut sapphire will determine the future of Montana's sapphire production.
Nevada and Idaho
Most of the gemstone mines in both Nevada and Idaho are small-mine operations on federal lands. Production has been stifled due to a change in the federal mining law requiring small mining operations to post high-cost reclamation bonds. Opal producer Virgin Valley in Nevada has essentially become a fee-for-dig operation and has not had significant commercial production.
A major mining company in the Pacific Northwest, with opal, agate, and jasper mines in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada, did not operate any of its mines in the summer of 2005 due to cost constraints and has stated there are no plans to reopen.
Oregon sunstone operations appear to still be operating, but production may be affected in the future by the need to meet federal requirements for high-cost reclamation bonds.
According to the Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Minerals, thus far in 2005, 31 small mines have been issued cease-and-desist orders because of the lack of reclamation bonds and/or mine permits. A significant number of these mines were producing gemstones, so picasso marble, snowflake obsidian, variscite, mahogany obsidian, Tiffany stone, dinosaur bone, and similar gems may be in short supply.
One of Utah's most famous gemstone mines, the Red Beryl Mine, reportedly has or is undergoing an ownership change; it is also rumored that the resources in the lower portion of the deposit are nearly exhausted.
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