Britain - The Gem Isles. A Look at British Gemstones

December 23rd, 2015

On 19th September 2014 I awoke with a start, scrambling for my phone. It wasn't ringing - it was lying lifeless and silent on my bedside cabinet. I awoke with a start because somehow, in the depths of my sleep, I had managed to remind myself that there was something I needed to know, something very important to me.

Squinting with one bleary eye half open, I prodded my phone with automatic expertise. There it was in black and white. BBC News announced at 6.24am that the 'No' vote had prevailed with 2,001,926 votes against 1,617,989. Scotland was to remain in The United Kingdom of Great Britain. Hallelujah!

I make no bones about it. I love my country. I consider myself British first, English second. We are unique, unusual, complicated and diverse. That's how I like it. The 'divorce' of Scotland from the rest of Great Britain would have broken my heart for many, many reasons. Being from the very north of England, I have an affinity for both the luscious-green, rolling fields of Northumberland, but also the rocky, heather strewn terrain of the Highlands of Scotland. I'm so very glad I can still call it 'mine'. For now.




Hidden Treasures

The diversity of our wonderful land gives us such an array of unique things. Of all the things we have here in the UK, probably the last thing that comes to mind for most would be precious gemstones. It's a shame, because we actually have quite a variety, albeit not in huge abundance. Scotland in particular has more than its fair share of precious little treasures. From the breath taking shores of the Outer Hebrides (If you think Caribbean shores are special, you've seen nothing until you've stood on Luskentyre beach and watched the sunset) to the historic, dramatic moors of Dartmoor in the south of England, there are surprising finds...


Hebridean Sapphires

We'll start with my favourite place. I've already mentioned Luskentyre, which is regularly featured in the top ten most beautiful beaches of the world and in my (humble) opinon a contender for the top spot. It's a secluded place on the Isle of Harris - an island most famous for Harris Tweed, coveted by fashion houses all over the world. Blue sapphires have been found in small amounts. The stunning area was quickly designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest to prevent destruction from pillagers hoping for a lucrative find. So the chances of wearing a Harris sapphire are quite slim.

Scottish Sapphire

Image courtesy of Scottish Gemmological Association

Elie Ruby

Head across to the east coast, a wee drive from Edinburgh and you'll find yourself on Elie beach in Fife. Famous for 'Elie Ruby' - a bit of a misnomer, but much more romantic sounding than 'Elie Garnet'. Pyrope garnets are found strewn in the volcanic rock of Elie Ness beach - the same beautiful red of rubies.

Elie Ruby

Searching for Elie Rubies - image courtesy BBC



Found at Loch Tay in Perthshire. Smokey, translucent and yellow it's locally known as Cairngorm. Black and opaque, it's Morion.



Freshwater mussels are protected but licensed dealers may sell you pearls that rival the beauty of Oriental pearls. From the cold, pure waters of Tay, Spey and many Highland rivers - the same waters used to make many a wee dram taste so good.



Chipped from the hard-as-iron granite found in the Borders then cut and polished into beautiful gemstones. Pale liacs and deep, regal purples.


Head south, across the border into England and the gems become more sparse. But still they're there to be found.


Made desirable during Victoria's reign and popular for the mourning jewellery of the period. An organic gem that forms from pieces of woody material that have been coalified. Jet can be cut, carved and polished to a bright lustre. Whitby beach on the east coast is world famous for its Jet. Ever heard the expression 'jet black'?




Forest fires during the Cretaceous period formed amber with a deep, rich colour referred to as 'Hastings Firestorm Amber'. Found in spatterings down the east coast of England. Another organic gemstone from the rich, fertile land of England.


Blue John Fluorite

Derbyshire, right in the middle of England, is home to this wonderful gemstone. Famous for its purple to blue and yellow to white bands. At its height of popularity in the 1800s it was sent all over the world.


Devon & Cornwall

At the bottom of the country, where it's marginally warmer and can even be Mediterranean in climate (honestly, sometimes it happens!) we find a final flurry of gemstones. Topaz, tourmaline, beryl, fluorite and amethyst have all been found in these beautiful counties.


And Finally... Diamond

Yes, that's right. Diamond. Once thought to be restricted to Africa. Then discovered in Australia and more recently in the icy baron glaciers of Canada. One or two have been found right here in the UK. Back in the 1870s Professor M. F. Heddle of the ancient University of St. Andrews, returned from the Kimberley mines, determined to find diamond here. It is recorded that he found a small diamond about 4.5km north of Ben Hope in Scotland.


I bet you're surprised to find that all these wonderful gems can be found right here, in our green and pleasant land. All of these finds have been by amateur geologists, gemmologists and beach combers. But recent discoveries have whet the appetite for further investigation of the potential of Britain being a source of precious stones on a commercial scale - particularly the discovery of diamond indicator minerals in Ireland and Scandinavia.

We're breaking up for our Christmas Holidays here at Trafalgar Towers. So on that note, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas - Nadolig Llawen - Nollaig Shona

Gem Christmas tree






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