I used to think this was because the North American landscape was simply just barren of precious stones. I was surprised to learn that this isn’t true at all. Many kinds of gemstones can be found in the US.
It turns out that there are plenty of gemstones around, but just not a lot of business in them. Gem mining is a slow, labor-intensive operation that is said to be profitable mainly in countries with low labor rates.
Gemstone mines in the United States are mostly on the level of cottage industries — mostly small businesses with only a few employees. Some US mine owners simply charge an entry fee for tourists to come in and do the digging themselves. You get to keep whatever you find. Could be a lot of fun for the kids too.
Surprisingly, its the individual "rock-hounds" that do much of the commercial gemstone mining in the U.S., and they mostly do their prospecting on government lands. Often you don’t even need a permit. However, you can’t get too carried away. Blasting, using big-time mechanical equipment, and otherwise damaging the environment or disturbing the wildlife is strictly regulated.
Rubies, sapphires, even emeralds, have been found in North Carolina, as well as many other kinds of gemstones.
Oregon is known for sunstones and opals, as well as its “thunder eggs” — geodes with a rough rocky exterior that are more or less hollow on the inside but encrusted with sparkling crystals.
Utah produces many gemstones too, especially topaz and red beryl, as well as the unique tiffany stone, a rare type of fluorite, often opalized, found only in Utah.
Tennessee boasts the only freshwater pearl farm in the United States to date.
Montana is known for its sapphires, and is said to have produced over a million cut stones for the jewelry trade. Numerous agates are also found in Montana. Discoveries of kimberlites and other diamond-indicator minerals suggest that major pipelines of diamonds may someday be discovered in Montana.
Colorado produces many different gemstones including aquamarine, lapis lazuli and many more. The largest diamond ever cut in the US came from a Colorado stone.
Diamonds have also been found in Arkansas, although it’s best known for having many kinds of quartz gemstones.
Other states known for gemstone mining are Idaho, Maine, Louisiana and Nevada. Turquoise has been mined in the southwest states since prehistoric times, especially by the Navaho.