Herkimer diamonds are not actually diamonds, but a specific form of quartz found in only a few places on the planet. Though most specimens come from Herkimer County in New York state, similar forms of quartz have also been found in Arizona, Ukraine, Afghanistan, China and Norway. Unique because they are double-terminated, these quartz crystals develop in cavities within bedrock that formed millions of years ago. A freshly discovered specimen may be dusty from the mining process, but Herkimer diamond cleansing is easy and can be done at home.
Things You'll Need
- Bowl of clean, warm water
- Dish soap
- Small, gentle brush
Herkimer Diamond Cleansing
To make your Herkimer diamonds sparkle and to reveal any special inclusions in your specimens, regular Herkimer diamond cleaning is recommended. If you collected the Herkimer diamonds in the field, cleaning will be needed to truly see the unique characteristics of your rocks.
Fortunately, the process is very simple. For some Herkimer diamonds, all that is needed is a quick rinse in clean, warm water. Let the Herkimer diamonds soak for several minutes in a bowl of clean water, and then swirl the bowl to provide a little agitation. Remove the Herkimer diamonds from the water and let them dry to complete the process.
For other Herkimer diamonds that need a bit more cleaning, add a couple drops of dishwashing soap to the bowl of warm water. After soaking in water for 15 minutes or so, use a small, gentle brush to scrub the stone. An old toothbrush works well for removing debris from the crevices of Herkimer diamonds. After gently scrubbing, rinse with clean water and let the stones dry in a warm place.
What Are Herkimer Diamonds?
Unique formations of quartz found in a limited number of places, Herkimer diamonds are not true diamonds. They are similar in appearance, but Herkimer diamonds are naturally faceted, whereas true diamonds must be cut by a professional to make them faceted.
Herkimer diamonds have a unique geometrical shape, with 18 facets and two points, a characteristic that is referred to as doubly terminated. They are rated as 7.5 on the hardness scale, while true diamonds are rated as 10 on this scale.
Most Herkimer diamonds are transparent and colorless, but some appear smoky due to tiny inclusions. Inclusions are materials embedded in gemstones that may change their appearance. Some Herkimer diamonds contain anthraxolite, or decayed plant life, which looks like small pieces of coal within the stone. Other Herkimer diamonds contain water bubbles; these specimens are referred to enhydro crystals.
Finding Herkimer Diamonds
If you simply want to add a Herkimer diamond to your collection, there are many places to purchase a specimen. If, however, you want to prospect for a Herkimer diamond in the bedrock, the best place to find them is in Herkimer County, New York.
There are several commercial mines for tourists in Herkimer County, mostly along Routes 28 and 29 near Middleville, New York. Tools may be rented at several of the sites; the most popular tools for mining are crack hammers and chisels, but serious collectors also bring wedges and pry bars to prospect for cavities of Herkimer diamonds.
If you decide to go prospecting in the bedrock of Herkimer County, dress appropriately. Always wear safety goggles, and dress in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Closed-toe shoes are also recommended, as are gloves.
Prospecting for Herkimer diamonds is a family-friendly activity. While adults and older children may enjoy breaking into mine walls, looking for cavities full of crystals, younger children might have success scavenging for treasures among the rubble on the mine floor.
Any crystals found in a commercial Herkimer diamond mine are yours to keep, and they'll need just a simple cleaning when you get them home to reveal their sparkle and beauty.
- Hydrochloric and/or oxalic acid are both potentially dangerous; handle them with caution. Wear protective clothing, gloves and eyewear.
About the Author
Meg Schader is a freelance writer and copyeditor. She holds a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Cornell University and a Master of Professional Studies in environmental studies from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Along with freelancing, she also runs a small farm with her family in Central New York.