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Collectors and Jewelers Seek Oregon Sunstones

Every spring, rockhounds and gemstone collectors head for the Rabbit Basin of southeastern Lake County’s Warner Valley, about 25 miles north of Plush, Ore. They’re searching for sunstones, known locally as Plush diamonds, which are large crystals of feldspar found in basaltic lava flows.

Oregon sunstones range in color from red to green and a coppery shimmer known as aventursescence.

The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries says the gems were considered very rare in the early 1800’s, but they have become more available and less expensive after discoveries in Siberia, Norway and other parts of the world.  Sunstone of variable quality is found in at least five other U.S. states.

In Oregon, collectors concentrate on a 7-square-mile area north of Plush.  Roads into the area are passable from late spring through early fall.

Indians collected sunstones for adornment and traded them for other goods. In about 1908, Maynard Bixby of Salt Lake City reported the rediscovery of the Oregon deposits.

Known for its clarity and range of colors, the Oregon sunstone became the state’s official gemstone in 1987.


Source: Peterson, N V. The Ore Bin 34.12 (1972): 197-214. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. http://www.oregongeology.org/pubs/og/OBv34n12.pdf;  http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/oregon/state-gem-gemstone/oregon-sunstone.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.