Several gemology fans spent three days in Lake County’s famed sunstone area as part of the ‘Rush to Plush’ excursion, hosted by the San Antonio, Texas-based International School of Gemology.
Participants hailed from all across the United States for the trip, which commenced on Friday, Aug. 9, and continued through Sunday, Aug. 11.
Leading the weekend was Robert James on behalf of the ISG, kicking off the weekend with a tour of several local mining operations.
James, a 42-year veteran of gemology, said the ISG’s establishment 10 years ago served as a cost-effective, grass roots means of providing training in gemology.
His credentials include status as a fellow of the Gemological Association of Great Britain and a graduate gemologist of the Gemology Institute of America.
The ISG was the only school to respond to the issue of artificially created stones in China, James said, referring to the matter of the Tibet Andesine that arose in 2008, adversely impacting the local sunstone market.
James said that the Chinese were taking naturally found feldspar and artificially infusing the stones with copper. The stones were then marketed on a global level as genuine sunstones at cheaper prices.
James said that the faux stone sales began around 2004 on television shopping channels.
“The shopping channels actually sued me in California,” he said. “because we (revealed) they were selling these treated stones without disclosure… and we prevailed.”
Once he became involved in the ensuing investigation, James said that the requests began pouring in to see these unique gemstones. The first Plush excursion was held in 2009, followed by another trip two years later.
The Oregon sunstone market is bouncing back as a result of James’ efforts related to the phony stones.
Don Buford, one of the owners of the Dust Devil Mine, said that he is eternally grateful for James’ success in revealing the artificial stones.
“This guy is my hero,” he said. “He’s done more for Oregon sunstones than anyone else in the world. This is a resource for Lake County in Oregon that has real potential.”
‘Rush to Plush’ participants, consequently, enjoyed an opportunity at partaking in a hands-on look at the science and terrain of Oregon’s official gemstone.
Most of the group gathered at the Weee Rock Gem & Mineral Studio in Plush on Friday morning, prior to departing for the sunstone area to the northeast.
James stopped at a couple points of interest en route to the area to point out geologic features of interest, discussing the lava flows that influenced the region’s topography and features.
Post-lava flow uplifts created such famed local landmarks as Abert Rim, James noted, while the Plush cutoff road is also an example of a former lava flow.
Sunstones, known colloquially as ‘Plush diamonds,’ are unique in that the Plush area is the only place that they have ever been found.
The classic Oregon sunstone is mostly colorless with a slight champagne hue, while the more desirable examples carry red coloring that stems from copper impregnation.
Scanning terrain at sun up as well as sun down points during the day will reveal scattered glittery sparkles across the desert, James said. Another good time for this type of visual is following a rainstorm, he said.
A stop along the roadway featuring a massive vista of Abert Rim proved James’ point, with several of the excursion participants spotting samplings in the vicinity all along the ground.
John and Debbie Aldrich led a tour of their Double Eagle Mine site, filling the group in on their operations.
“This mine produces some of the most incredible pieces,” James said.
In the early 1900s, the famed jewelry firm Tiffany’s mined the area for champagne yellow sunstones.
“Everyone wanted the big bling and look like the Rockefellers, but couldn’t afford diamonds,” John said. “The pale yellow is our main volume, so it’s more affordable.”
Participants for the program came from locations as varied as Vancouver, B.C., Missouri, New York and Florida to Oregon and California.
“In this particular group, it’s pretty diverse,” James said.
For more information, visit www.schoolofgemology.com.