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  : Gems in the UK

Gems in the UK

Map of the UK
Map of the UK

The United Kingdom is a densely populated country that encompasses a small area of approximately 243,000 square kilometers. The UK includes England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Scotland almost became independent in September 2014, however, a majority vote by Scottish residents ruled that Scotland would remain part of the UK.

In terms of mineral wealth, it is lucky for the UK that Scotland did not gain independence, since most of the gemstone materials of the UK have been found in Scotland. In fact, even a diamond was found in Northern Scotland in the 1870s by Scottish mineralogist, Professor M F Heddle. Other gemstone materials that have been discovered in Scotland include sapphire that was found on the Isle of Harris, but a protection order prohibits its removal. Small amounts of ruby and beryl (including aquamarine) have also been found in Scotland. There is a place in Fife known as "Ruby Bay", but it is garnet, rather than ruby that is found here. Larger amounts of "blue hole agate", amethyst and smoky quartz were also found in Scotland, and some red and yellow jasper. Zircon has also been found in Scotland.

Scottish Jasper Cabochon
Scottish Jasper Cabochon

Before the Scottish diamond was found, in 1816, a diamond was discovered in the Colebrooke River of County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Many years later, in 1996, a Canadian company investigated areas of County Tyrone and County Fermanagh. Their exploration suggested that there may be untapped potential. Gemstone quality ruby, sapphire, aquamarine, opal, hematite, calcite and quartz have also been discovered in Northern Ireland. County Tyrone in Northern Ireland is also home to one of the UK's last remaining gold mines.

Wales has also been known as an important source of gold, rather than gemstones in the UK, especially in Roman Britain. Dolaucothi is the first such Roman gold mine that is now a museum. Welsh gold is highly sought after and is the material of choice for gold wedding bands worn by the British Royal Family, including the one worn by the Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Prince William. With regard to gemstones, quartz, but not many other well-known gemstone materials have been found in areas of Wales.

British Amber Gemstone
British Amber Gemstone

With regard to England, several gemstone materials have been found. In the North of England, on the Isle of Man and also on the north-eastern coast of England, agate has been found. Also found on the east coast, especially in Whitby, Yorkshire, is jet, which was popular in the 19th century when mourning jewelry was fashionable. Jet is made of fossilized wood and is no longer popular since other black gems have superior gem qualities such as durability. Further down the east coast of England and in the Isle of Wight in the south, amber has been found. Some of this has a rich color that was caused by forest fires in the Cretaceous period, it is sometimes known as "Hastings firestorm amber".

The middle of England is most famous for fluorite. The best-known source for fluorite is Derbyshire, the source of highly regarded "blue John" fluorite, which occurs in purple to blue and yellow to white bands. This is also known as "Derbyshire Spar" or "Derbyshire Blue John". This fluorite was popular during the 1800s when it was sent all over the world.

Blue John Fluorite Cabochon
Striped Fluorite Cabochon

The two south-western counties known as Devon and Cornwall have seen some interesting gemstone discoveries, such as topaz, tourmaline, beryl, fluorite and amethyst. Cassiterite, which is tin ore, was also mined from this area and is said to have been mined since the Bronze Age. Other metals such as silver and copper were mined here too.

Although the UK is a small place, some unique and interesting materials have been unearthed from its mountains, valleys and shores. Perhaps there are more hidden treasures in the UK, just waiting to be discovered.

  • First Published: December-09-2014
  • Last Updated: December-09-2014
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