South Carolina’s interesting geology means that it has some great gemstones and crystals hiding out in the local earth. These range from precious gemstones to odd minerals, with a healthy heap of them spread throughout the locality. When it comes to our hobby, South Carolina rocks!
So, let’s take a look at our list of rocks, minerals, and gemstones found in South Carolina to help you plan your next trip!
Beryl is a family of crystals that has some of the most famous gemstones among it’s members. Both aquamarine and emerald, for instance, happen to fall under the label of beryl. You also have less popular stones such as the pink morganite and yellow heliodor that have the same qualities as the rest of the family. Beryl is quite hard (8.0 on the Moh’s scale) and forms into octagonal crystals that are rarely terminated.
Searching for valuable varieties of beryl can be trying. Most of the material will be on privately held claims and you’ll have to work around these to remain legal during your search. In addition, people are notoriously cagey about revealing their spots. No small wonder, considering the value of some of these gemstones.
Beryl from South Carolina usually takes the form of aquamarine. This is a light blue variation of beryl, famed for gemstone use. In this area, gem-quality aquamarine isn’t unheard of although it’s still vanishingly rare. The material is spread across much of the state, or at least regular beryl is, but there are a few places you’ll have a better chance at finding a good bit.
The banks of the Savannah river are known to hold aquamarine, as is the area east of Piedmont, with clear beryl to the west. These are good locations to start, along with anywhere known to house pegmatites in the state.
Corundum is a strange stone if you look at how it’s been used for too long. The varieties that most of us are familiar with, blue sapphire and rubies, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to coloration. In addition, corundum which isn’t gem grade is often used as an abrasive since corundum is second only to diamond in hardness, bearing a 9.0 hardness rating on the Moh’s scale.
The most common form of corundum is emery. This is a black, granular version of the mineral that’s usually seen on sandpaper. Gem-quality corundum is a rarity, even where it’s known to be found, and requires great color saturation and clarity to be considered for cutting. Corundum is often heavily included and opaque, which can be seen in mineral samples of ruby and sapphire sold to the collector market for reasonable prices.
The corundum in this state is often of the emery type, but blue sapphire can also be found in many locations. These sapphires are usually cab-grade, rather than being of the right quality for faceted stones, but they’re attractive samples and can bear some deep color. They can often be found as large-ish hexagonal crystals.
If you’re looking to score a few sapphires for the collection then you’ll want to check out gravels on the eastern side of Cherokee County or areas around Abbeville County. Both locations host some blue corundum and you may get lucky!
3. Quartz/Amethyst/Smoky Quartz
Quartz is a common crystal, seen as a hexagonal form with pyramidal termination. It’s most often seen in geodes, clusters, and points depending on the area. Those of you who have done a bit of study know that many popular gemstones are also quartz varieties that have been colored by various impurities.
Amethyst and smoky quartz are two varieties colored by iron. Amethyst was actually considered one of the classic gemstones just a few hundred years ago but was demoted to semi-precious status thanks to the enormous deposits found in the Americas. Brazil, in particular, produces a large amount of good amethyst found in basalt.
Smoky quartz is less talked about but still beautiful. It takes on a grey-to-black form with varying amounts of clarity. It’s usually collected as-is rather than cut, but good smoky quartz can also produce some impressive gemstones for a reasonable price. It’s a favorite for many collectors, as the darker color makes it easier to see interesting formations inside the crystal in detail.
All three varieties are found in South Carolina. Your best bet is the paid dig at Diamond Hill Mine, where all three varieties are found in large amounts. You can also try creeks, waterways, and some of the pegmatites in the state which all have a good chance of housing some variety of quartz.
Tourmaline is an amazing crystal that’s often cut into varying gemstones. While the majority of it is black (ie: schorl), the remaining percentage points are often brilliant in color. Some of the more famous varieties include indicolite and rubellite, both of which rival colored gem corundum for clarity and saturation. Other samples are famously multi-colored, watermelon tourmaline being among the most commonly sold bi-color specimens.
Tourmaline tends to show up in large-ish crystals. As noted above, schorl is the most common form even where gem-grade colored tourmaline is found. The last few percentage points are highly sought after, and even schorl has its place in many collections. It’s a common feature of pegmatites across the United States.
There isn’t much colored tourmaline in South Carolina, but some areas produce exemplary, large samples of schorl. I’ve actually been unable to dig up a single verified example of colored tourmaline from the area, although I have seen a few very dark pieces of indicolite claimed to be from the area.
If you’re looking for tourmaline here then you’ll want to the area south of Piedmont and east of Andersen. You can also find tourmaline at Paris Mountain State park.
Sillimanite is an aluminosilicate mineral that’s only found in a few locations. It’s actually a polymorph of the mineral kyanite, which is better known and also found in this state. A polymorph is a mineral that has the same chemical formula as another but has an entirely different crystalline form.
Sillimanite is found in a couple of different forms, both a traditional crystal and a more fibrous mass. These are common collector items, although they may not be as appealing as the darker blue kyanite. Its first known occurrence and description took place in Connecticut.
Sillimanite was used heavily as a source of alumina (aluminum oxide) in the past. This compound is often used in refractories and for other heat retaining applications. These days it makes up less than 2% of the world’s alumina production, becoming more attractive to collectors than industry.
If you’re trying to find some of this mineral in South Carolina then you should check out the eastern part of Cherokee County or mines around King’s Creek. These areas are known to produce fine samples and both areas will also contain numerous other minerals.
Lazulite is a dark blue crystal that is actually one of the components of the famous lapis lazuli when in massive form with a few other ingredients. The lazulite from this state typically occurs as impure crystals, with a pyramidal form. It can also be found as smaller crystals spread across the surface of the bedrock.
Lazulite is a phosphate mineral. Oddly enough, it doesn’t contain copper unlike many of the blue stones found in the Americas. It occurs in association with quartz, kyanite, and a few other minerals. Finding some is great, and it also means that there are likely to be other treasures hidden nearby.
Lazulite is quite rare, but its close association with other minerals means you’ll rarely leave empty-handed. The areas in South Carolina that bear lazulite also bear others on this list including tourmaline, kyanite, and staurolite. They’re good areas, even if you don’t find any of the blue crystals.
Lazulite is restricted to just a couple of spots in the state. The best is the rocky exposures around Henry’s Knob.
The various types of cryptocrystalline silica are a source of much argument on the internet. It’s easier to lump them in together, since it’s all chalcedony at the end of the day, just with a few remixed ingredients. Agate and jasper are usually used for patterned material, with jasper being opaque in most cases. That’s before we get into jasp-agates, which are brecciated stones with veins of opaque and clear chalcedony, often with quartz crystals in the center for added confusion.
These stones can be found in waterways and gravel pits from around the United States. It’s rare that there’s an area where you have no chance of finding one, especially if you’re not high in the mountains. Chalcedony is in shorter supply on the Eastern Coast, but still present.
In South Carolina, these forms of silica are going to be found primarily on beaches. They tend to wash up with the tide, and as a bonus, they’ll generally be wet already which makes the color stand out. Hunting for agates on the beach is a different experience, but one that’s a lot of fun.
The main beach where these stones are found in South Carolina is Myrtle Beach. If you’re lucky, there are also fossilized shark teeth including megalodons that wash up here as well.
Topaz is a precious gemstone that’s not often found. Wherever topaz can be found it seems to draw people to it, even when the samples are guaranteed to be less than perfect. Topaz itself makes a fine gemstone, with a brilliant fire. The majority of topaz seen on the market is blue, but there’s a catch to that.
Blue topaz is a very rare find in nature. Instead, the majority of these stones are irradiated after being found, causing them to take on the light blue hue associated with the stone. Some of the colors are more striking than others, with Swiss Blue being a personal favorite. Topaz is irradiated routinely. It’s rarely disclosed by the person selling the stone since it should be assumed the stone is treated, much like faceted citrine is assumed to be heat-treated amethyst unless there is evidence otherwise.
Not that this detracts from their beauty. Topaz is often associated with yellows and oranges as well. This mineral is actually part of the Moh’s scale. It’s the defining mineral for 8.0. Topaz from South Carolina is usually yellowish when pulled from the ground, and it’s not known for particularly high clarity or deep color.
Topaz is only found in Brewer’s Mine in the state. This is an old gold mine and the current owner specifically states they don’t want to hear from unqualified prospectors, so the majority of hobbyists won’t be able to go check it out themselves.
Zircon is a common mineral, what’s not common is being able to find it in crystalline form. Or at least crystals that are observable without a microscope. It’s mostly used as an industrial resource. These aren’t exotic uses, instead, it’s used for things like making ceramics opaque. It’s also used to extract zirconium.
As a gemstone, Zircon is actually a very attractive gem. It has the highest specific gravity (ie: density) of any common gemstone and displays some interesting optical qualities. It can’t quite match diamond in its play-of-color but the sparkling from a zircon is almost unmistakable once you’ve handled a few of them. Gemologists have words to demystify the shine, but a full explanation is beyond our scope here.
South Carolina produces some great zircon if you’re looking in the right areas. Here it will usually be a dark orange color with some level of inclusions. True gem-grade zircon is always a bit rare, but it’s found in the state on occasion by eager prospectors.
Zircon can be found across the state in many of the same places mentioned above, but the best samples seem to come from Tigerville Prospect in Greenville County.