Professional Jeweler Archive: A Slice of the Wild West

November 2000

Gemstones & Pearls/ News

A Slice of the Wild West

Gold-in-quartz is a classic American gem

A fluke. An oddity of nature. A sales opportunity. Gold-in-quartz is all of these, particularly when the metal and gem are mixed in a uniform ratio.

Gold-in-quartz occurs only in the western U.S., primarily in California. This gives it a rarity that befits independent retailers. “We don’t end up in every store in the mall,” says David Conner, president of Oro-Cal, an Oroville, CA, company that markets quartz-in-gold jewelry. “We look carefully at our markets and understand our customers,” he says. “We don’t want to saturate any single market.”

Oro-Cal offers 1,000 designs (including nugget and opal inlay jewelry), but gold-in-quartz jewelry accounts for more than half of its $3 million in annual sales. The jewelry consists largely of rings, though pendants, earrings and bracelets are available also. Retail prices range from $75 to $10,000 and average $1,000.

Oro-Cal offers video sales training, literature and counter displays.

The target customer for gold-in-quartz jewelry appreciates something that’s one-of-a-kind or wants to take home a beautiful or historical reminder of the American Wild West, says Conner. The customers are often tourists and often from overseas. “You’d be amazed how German tourists are captivated by it,” he says.

Like a Loaf of Bread

Gold-in-quartz wasn’t always appreciated in its natural state. Once, miners’ primary goal was to divorce the gold from the quartz. But Tiffany & Co. gemologist George F. Kunz was fascinated, extolling its virtues in his book Gems and Precious Stones of North America (Dover Books, 1892). “Scarcely anyone visiting California fails to secure a specimen,” he wrote. Kunz said gold-in-quartz was used extensively in brooches and cuff links as well as in canes, furniture paneling and perfume bottles.

Kunz penned his observations shortly before Tom Bradbury discovered the primary gold-in-quartz mine in 1896 while digging in his back yard in Allegheny, CA. What ensued was the fabled Sixteen to One Mine, which still provides the world with some of the finest gold-in-quartz.

While the material is durable, it’s also porous and, on occasion, fragile because of dynamite blasting in the mine. (Newer mining methods use metal detectors and diamond-impregnated band-saws, lessening the need for dynamite.)

Conner says his material is stabilized with an epoxy resin, allowing the company to offer a two-year warranty. The company is choosy about the gold-in-quartz it buys from the Sixteen to One Mine. Conner looks for samples with purest white quartz and no staining by other minerals. He also looks for a rich, even display of gold entwined in the quartz.

“The gold-bearing chunks of quartz are then cut into slices, much like a loaf of bread, from which we pick out the best vein pattern to match our gold mountings,” he says. “We basically draw the design, cut it with a diamond band saw, finish the sides and polish the stone.”

Oro-Cal, Oroville, CA; (530) 533-5065, fax (530) 533-5067.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Most gold-in-quartz is cut as cabochon material to best contrast the gold within the quartz. Courtesy of Oro-Cal.

A selection of gold-in-quartz jewelry. Courtesy of Oro-Cal.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications