Monday, June 17, 2013

Gem Mining In Franklin, NC

The first stop on our recent RV trip was Franklin, NC, which bills itself as the Gem Capital Of The World and based upon the number of mines, it would be a hard brag to refute – nine mines in a small area.  When I think mine, I think of a hole back in a mountain into which one goes in search of riches, but these are really miniature strip mines where you dig in the gem laden dirt or someone else digs it for you.  You can also buy seeded buckets where gem stones have been added to the dirt for you to find.

After talking with several work-campers at the campground, we went a couple of miles to the Mason Mountain Mine.  This place is somewhat unique in that the actual mine is up on the mountain where the gemstone laden soil is loaded into a dump truck and dumped at the base of the mountain.  We passed this guy (wood carving) on the way.

At the mine, for $20, we were given a five gallon bucket, a screen bottomed tray, a trowel, use of a dolly, and four hours to wash as much gravel as we could ($30 for all day).  This is the entrance and as you can see it’s nothing fancy - also a shot up the flume.

After filling our buckets from the pile and using a dolly to move them to the flume, we troweled the dirt into a screen bottomed tray and washed away all of the dirt until only rocks were remaining.

Since we were rank amateurs, it took us a long time to go through the first bucket, but with some instruction, Madison quickly figured what we were looking for and our process picked up rapidly.  We were picking out little pieces of garnet that were useless, until we realized it was the larger and cutable rubys and sapphires that we wanted and they basically looked like smooth rocks with a pink or blue cast to them. 

After the owner dumped a fresh load of dirt and we knew what we were looking for, we ended up getting several cutable stones in a short period of time.  The big ruby in the first shot (lower right) was uncutable, but the large sapphire near the glasses (second shot) yielded a good sized gem.

After finishing I asked Bev if she looked forward to the next time or if she’d been-there-done-that and she picked the latter.

Again, after talking with the campground guys, we took our stones to the Jackson Hole Gem Mine for cutting. They charge $45 per finished karat for the cutting, which sounds like a lot, but they sell their finished stones for $120/carat.  We just took our bag of rocks and the young lady quickly separated them into cutables, too-small-to-fool-withs, and rocks.  This is our completed haul with a total weight of 68 carats - the largest sapphire is 10 carats and the largest ruby is 6 carats.  The other three are star rubies and supposed to be quite valuable.  The smaller stones are about a carat.  I gave up on trying to get a good shot of them.

After seeing the finished gems and writing a pretty big check, Bev, Pat, and Madison accepted the two free $50 buckets of dirt they offered, found a bunch more stones, and took a few of them back in to be cut.  I then understood the game: the mining is just a way to provide rocks for their real money maker – gem cutting and setting.  I’m confident that if they knew you would have them cut, they would just give you the gem stones. 

With eight grand kids (seven girls), we can envision a nice piece of jewelry for each and Bev has changed her tune to maybe we should do it again sometime.

Photos best if enlarged by clicking on them.

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by Almost Heaven South.


6/8/2013 event date


  1. I can't get over how pretty they look when finished. I've seen the signs in Franklin but never knew much about the mines. As a teenager a group of us went to a diamond mine in Arkansas (what amounted to a big field) in search of a treasure. It was raining that day and all we got was mud and a pretty box of rocks in the gift shop for a souvenir.

  2. Those stones will make beautiful jewelry for granddaughters but I'm not sure it was worth all that work.

  3. We visited the Geology Museum on the grounds of the South Carolina Botanical Gardens yesterday, it was quite impressive to see all the gems, rocks, geodes, petrified wood, and artifacts, but didn't know about the mine in Franklin, will have to stop by there next time. We went to a diamond mine in Arkansas years ago, but didn't find any diamonds, darn. Ha.

  4. How very cool that Madison figured out the process first! And I'm sure your granddaughters will enjoy having the cut gems that you and Bev hunted up for them. I hope Madison is getting to enjoy the RV trips with you!

  5. We've stopped in Franklin several times on our way up to river rafting on the Nantahala River. I didn't know about the gem mines, but I think there might be some good antique and craft shows in the area too. Have fun in the mountains!

  6. Larry, That big vulture on the stump saw you coming! I did the math on your take...phase one at least...and I think I found a great business to go into... Sounds like the females are happy though! That's worth something! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

  7. What I liked about this post is that Madison figured it out first. She had to be pleased with herself. We've done the same thing in the hills of Colorado, except for gold. In a river. With a pan. It was kind of fun. We found very small chunks.

  8. No difference if the gems turn out to be a good deal, you had a wonderful experience with Bev and Madison :). Beautiful stones!

  9. This post was a real gem, Larry;) (That was so bad it hurt to type it, ha ha)

    It looks like you folks scored pretty well! Nice job, Madison!

  10. What a little adventure...your granddaughters will be thrilled. I'll be looking for that big sapphire on Bev in the future. :)


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