Calling all gold diggers: Did you read about the two lucky gold hunters who last month unearthed a pair of enormous gold nuggets in Australia—one of the world’s top gold panning destinations? If so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see you pulling on your boots right now for a trip out into the field to do some gold hunting of your own!
For those of you wondering where to try your luck, here are some of the world’s best places to go panning for gold.
In ‘The Land of the Free’, gold is found in nearly all states. It’s no surprise that California is top of the list, though. California was the location of the famous 19th century Gold Rush. The area to head for is Gold Country (also known as Motherlode Country), a region in Northern California that lies on the western side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Here, gold gathers in the placer deposits of the streams running from its slopes.
Bordering California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon also provide rich pickings for gold hunters. Nevada and Arizona are desert states, so you’ll need to dry pan or use a metal detector for the best results. Alaska is rich in gold and, unlike in California, the rules here are very relaxed.
Wherever in the states your gold panning adventure takes you, you’ll find countless places offering equipment hire and gold panning lessons—far too many to list!
In the remote north-west of Canada, the Yukon River is definitely one of the world’s top gold panning destinations. Dawson City, which lies on the river, is the capital of that mountainous region, and has been a destination since the late Nineteenth Century. This is where the Klondike Gold Rush began in 1896, and gold mining still thrives here today. There are plenty of spots around Dawson City to try your hand at panning for gold. For those who wish to linger, there are even log cabins for a comfortable stay in the wild.
Australia is a land rich in gold, particularly Western Australia where 60% of the country’s gold is mined. The biggest gold producing area is Goldfields—the clue is in the name!
At Warrego, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, commercial goldmining ended in the 1980s, but there is still gold to be dry panned from the surface soil. This part of the country can be a challenge to tourists and care should be taken to follow official fossicking advice.
Another spot to consider is Clermont in Queensland. The site of a gold rush in 1861, Clermont still provides opportunities for visitors licensed to fossick. Panning may be wet or dry, depending on the season; but whatever the case, the Queensland government provides the visitor with plenty of advice and information on making a worthwhile visit.
In certain parts of New Zealand, visitors are free to try their luck at fossicking without the usual permits. The Tasman region, at the northern end of South Island, for example, was the site of New Zealand’s first gold rush in 1856. Here, the Department of Conservation has set aside a number of locations for low-tech amateur gold-prospecting. Whatever the yields, it’s a stunning place to visit.
The South Island’s West Coast also experienced a gold rush in the Nineteenth Century. It was there in Hokitika that New Zealand’s largest nugget was found, and today’s visitors can still dream. Not far away in Goldsborough all you need is a gold pan and some patience! Another option is the Otago region in the southern part of South Island.
For many centuries, the people of Japan have been looking for gold, but it’s fair to say that its resources have been underexploited. Things are changing, however, and today you can, in certain regions, join in the fun. The biggest mine in Japanese history was the Sado Kinzan mine on Sado Island. It is now a museum; as is the Toi Kinzan mine, where visitors can try their hand at panning for gold – and keeping what they find!
With the owner’s permission, you can have a lot of fun in the United Kingdom, especially the Celtic fringe. Scotland may make you think ‘whisky’, but gold in more solid form has been found for centuries in its multitude of rivers and streams. For half a millennium, Wanlockhead in Dumfries and Galloway has drawn gold hunters to its deposits. Once Covid restrictions have been lifted, beginners can take gold panning lessons at The Museum of Lead Mining.
In the highlands of Sutherland, The Suisgill Estate allows you to pay a small fee and pan for gold in two of its burns (streams). The Kildonan Burn flows through the Baile an Or, the site of the 1869 gold rush.
In Wales, the north is still yielding gold, while at the Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Carmarthenshire, first worked by the Romans, you can pan for gold under supervision. As for England, there is still gold lurking Cornwall the Pennines and the Lake District.
You can find more information about gold and gold panning in my Gemstone Detective guides to Australia, USA and India.
Congratulations to all of you celebrating a 5th anniversary, the anniversary of sapphire! Symbolising love and fidelity, sapphire is a beautiful gemstone that’s tough enough to withstand a few knocks – just like a good marriage.
Though blue is the most popular and well-known colour, sapphires occur in a wide range of pretty hues: blue, pink, green, yellow, orange, purple, black and even colourless. There’s no such thing as a red sapphire though. Know why? It’s because a red sapphire is known as a ruby. Sapphire and ruby are both varieties of the mineral corundum, and the variation in colour is caused by different chemical elements within the gemstones’ structure.
I’ve come across some phenomenal sapphires on my travels, and I don’t just mean that they made my jaw drop! The term ‘phenomenal’ in gemmology refers to gemstones that have fascinating optical properties.
The most well-known type of phenomenal sapphire is probably the star sapphire. Star sapphires exhibit a property called ‘astersim’, which means that they seem to have a star shape floating across their surface. Asterism happens when light bounces off dense, linear inclusions of titanium dioxide (also known as ‘rutile’ or ‘silk’) in the gemstone’s body. In black star sapphires, the rutile is hematite and some Thai sapphires contain both titanium dioxide and hematite. As well as causing the floating star effect, the rutile gives the star sapphire its milky, opaque appearance. Depending on the nature of the rutile, a sapphire may exhibit a four, six or twelve-rayed star.
You probably know that alexandrite is a colour change gemstone, but did you know that it’s possible to buy a colour change sapphire? Colour change gemstones appear to be different colours in natural and artificial light because the gemstone’s chemical makeup means that particular ranges of wavelength (i.e. colours) in the light spectrum are absorbed more intensely under one light source than another. The colour change in sapphires is most commonly a subtle but pretty change from blue to violet.
Bi-coloured or ‘parti’ sapphire displays two different colours (usually blue and greenish yellow) within the gemstone no matter what the light source. Though found in Tanzania, Madagascar and Nigeria, the world’s main source of parti sapphire is Australia. I was lucky enough to find a few myself, when fossicking in the outback on my travels down under. These intriguing and unusual sapphires certainly make for a striking piece of jewellery!
Happy 5th anniversary! Let’s not forget that sapphire is also September’s birthstone!
All you lucky October babies have not one but two stunning birthstones to choose from: opal and tourmaline.
October’s birthstones are chemically very different, but they do have something special in common –both are stones of the rainbow in the mythology, folktales and lore of many cultures. It’s not hard to see why, as opal and tourmaline are found in myriad colour variations. In the first of October’s blog posts, let’s take a closer look at opal.
How on earth can I begin to describe the beauty of an opal? Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder had the same problem two thousand years ago, writing that‘of all precious stones, it is opal that presents the greatest difficulties of description, it displaying at once the piercing fire of ruby, the purple brilliancy of amethyst, and the sea-green of emerald, the whole blended together and gleaming with a brightness that is quite incredible.’
It’s difficult to argue with that! Every opal is different, and even the individual patterns and colours within each stone change according to the light and viewing angle. Finding the right opal is so personal that it is often said that the opal chooses you, rather than the other way round.
There has been a lot of research about the formation of opal. There is no definite or conclusive evidence as to how opal is formed. They are all theories and there’s a lot of conjecture. Nobody can prove exactly why or how opal has formed.
The vast majority of the world’s precious opal is mined in Australia and, of all the country’s opal mining localities, Lightning Ridge is probably the most famous. It’s here that the coveted ‘black opal’ is mined—a stone with a dark base colour that beautifully emphasises the multi-coloured flashes and patterns within.
It’s no surprise that the mystical appearance of October’s
birthstone has is associated with some incredible legends. One such story from the Aboriginal tribes of
southern Australia tells how the dreamtime creator transported himself to earth
in a rainbow. The place where he first
touched the earth became a great plain of glittering stones in all the colours
of the rainbow that had once rested there.
October’s birthstone has for thousands of years been
associated with good fortune, prophecy and protection from harm, but it is also
once believed to have been a stone used by witches—an association that means
some people view opal as a symbol of bad luck.
Me? I think that
anyone who owns such a beautiful stone must be blessed with the best of luck!
If you want to find out more about identifying, choosing and buying an opal, take a look at the Gemstone Detective Series, Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in Australia. You don’t have to be planning a trip down under to learn all you need to know about finding your perfect opal!
September’s birthstone is sapphire. If you’re a September baby, then lucky you – regal and stylish, there’s a variety of this gorgeous gemstone to suit everyone.
The word sapphire comes from the ancient Greek sappheiros meaning ‘blue’, which itself comes from a Hebrew word meaning ‘precious gem’ and possibly from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘dark coloured’.
It’s probably the case that when someone says ‘sapphire’,
you think of a deep blue gemstone, but did you know that sapphires occur in
many different colours? With blue,
pink, green, yellow, orange, purple, black and even colourless to choose from,
you won’t be stuck for a sapphire to match your favourite outfit.
September’s birthstone doesn’t come in red, though, and that’s because red sapphires are actually…rubies! Both sapphire and ruby are varieties of the mineral corundum and all corundum’s various colours are caused by different chemical elements within it. For example, titanium and iron in the corundum give rise to an intense blue sapphire, and trace amounts of vanadium produce sapphires of a purple hue.
After blue sapphires, the padparadscha is the most prized ‘fancy’ sapphire. Padparadscha means ‘lotus flower’ in Sinhalese, one of the native languages of Sri Lanka and was named because the gem has the same gorgeous salmon-pink colour of the blossom.
Corundum is the second hardest mineral after diamond—9 on
the Mohs scale of hardness—which makes it a great choice of gemstone to wear in
rings that are prone to knocks and scratches
If you’ve chosen sapphire for an engagement ring, you’re in famous company. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, wears the engagement ring that famously once belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales—a 12-carat, cornflower-blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds. Princess Eugenie’s engagement ring too, is a sapphire – a stunning, peach-coloured padparadscha.
Another reason to slip a sapphire on your beloved’s finger is that sapphire symbolises fidelity and sincerity when used in an engagement ring!
Sapphire can occur as a phenomenal gemstone—a gemstone that displays certain optical effects. A sapphire with asterism (a so-called ‘star sapphire’) will seem to have a six-rayed star floating across the surface of the stone; a colour-change sapphire will appear to turn another colour in different lighting conditions and a bi-coloured or ‘parti’ sapphire (typically found in Australia) displays two colours within the stone regardless of the light source.
Not only September’s birthstone, sapphire is also the traditional gift for a 45thwedding anniversary and a 65th jubilee.
Some practitioners of alternative therapies use sapphire to promote the immune system and impart clarity and wisdom to their patients. Whether or not you believe in the healing properties of gemstones, September’s birthstone certainly makes it a wise choice!
I hope you were able to find a few minutes to read Who is the Author – Parts 1 & 2. This is the final Who is the Author Q&A blog post.
What is the biggest mistake people
make when buying a gemstone that you tackle in the books?
The biggest mistake I think people make is being too trusting. One thing that I have learned through my
travels is that not many people working in the gem trade have real knowledge
about what they’re selling. They might
talk the talk – but how much do they really know about gemstones? You have to be so careful about who you buy
Unfortunately, it often comes down to survival. Competition is cut throat, there are bills to pay and families to feed. It’s a dog eat dog world out there and many people are willing to be dishonest to make money.
But that’s why it’s so important to take care and buy from people who can
advise you properly – people with real knowledge and if you’re buying a
precious gemstone, can give you a certificate from a reputable laboratory.
Who is the Author – Part 3
The Worldwide book offers the widest, most general appeal,
to anyone interested in buying a real gemstone – it looks set to be very
popular. What led to the creation of this
book, what sort of topics does it cover and who do you hope will read it?
After I had written the first few books, it became apparent that there was a market for a more general book on buying and caring for gemstones. It’s great for people who want to know more, but haven’t booked a holiday yet, or who want to buy a gemstone in their home country. I’ve taken out the country-specific detail, which has enabled me to add a few new topics.
I think the most helpful knowledge I share will be about choosing a diamond engagement ring. It was my husband’s idea to include an easy-to-follow guide to buying a diamond after confessing that he wished he’d known more about it when he chose our engagement ring 12 years ago. It’s written to help those who find themselves in a similar position – not knowing anything about diamonds but wanting to put a carat or two on their loved one’s finger. I talk about the 4Cs in relation to diamonds, the different ring styles and gemstone cuts, and I share some tips on making your holiday proposal one to remember!
handful of other new topics in the book, but I don’t want to spoil all the surprises!
Who is the Author – Part 3
What are your top tips for anyone who
wants to buy a real gemstone, such as a diamond, in the UK?
It doesn’t matter where in the world you are buying a diamond from, the exact same rules apply – make sure you buy from a reputable jeweller, and make sure it comes with a certificate – preferably a GIA lab report.
My other suggestion is to buy only what you can afford. Don’t listen to all the hype about how many months salary you should spend on a diamond – that was a line made up by a well-known diamond company to boost sales in the 1930s! Buy something that your loved one will enjoy wearing and that will suit the lifestyle you live.
How would you
describe the Gemstone Detective series to anyone who has never heard of it
It’s a simple travel guide to buying gemstones abroad. It’s a bit like a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide – but it’s just about holiday experiences with gemstones & jewellery.
Most of the books are country specific. The books are for
tourists and travellers, whether they are gem collectors, jewellery lovers,
jewellery designers, hobbyists, or just holiday makers who want to take home a
Because I’ve been out there to research the gem trade in
each of the countries featured, the information is real, up to date and you can
The launch was very successful and those who were there have
told me they had a great time. I
certainly did – the food was great, and both conversation and bubbly were
We’ve had some excellent feedback from readers of the book. We’re racking up more 4 and 5 star reviews from readers on Netgalley, and there is a growing number of equally glowing 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon – 15 and counting…
It’s been great to see that several people have read the first book and then pre-ordered the rest of the series. It never even crossed my mind when I began this project that people would want to collect every book!
three books in one night tonight – quite an impressive feat! Why is it important for you to offer such a
wide range of books within the series?
Well, when someone refers to a ‘series’ I think there’s an
expectation that it’s going to be more than a few books… Of course, I want my
books to help as many people as possible.
Offering such a wide range reflects how many options we now have as
tourists to travel and explore.
How long does it take
you to write each book? What is the process in terms of choosing a destination?
Each book is a combination of 2-3 research trips, which adds
up to about 4-6 weeks research in that country. I’ve often been to a country a couple of times
even before I go back for these research trips. My most recent trip was to India,
and that book is now with the printers, ready to hit the shelves in May.
It’s easy to choose countries for the series because I know
exactly which tourist destinations have a well-established gem trade. Not all gemstone-producing countries are
suitable, so I won’t be writing a book for Cambodia, Afghanistan or Madagascar
just yet – the gem trade is too young and underdeveloped.
Who is the Author – Part 2
Where are you
travelling to this year?
I’m heading off to USA next week for a 6-week trip, and I’ll
be returning to the USA in May for a further two weeks.
I’m not quite sure how the rest of the year looks yet
because I want to fit in a trip to Mogok to finish researching the Myanmar
book, and then there’s the possibility of combining a trip to several countries
in Africa – South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania and Zanzibar.
When will the next
books be released?
India will be published on 14 May 2019, and USA will be published in September 2019. I’m not yet sure about Myanmar but hopefully it will be sometime this year – if I can squeeze in that second trip to Mogok. It’s going to be a very busy year!