Australia has Opals, the Ural Mountains have Alexandrite and Columbia has glittering Emeralds, but what gemstones can be found in the UK?
Even though the UK is famed for its wet weather, monarchy and fish and chips, it won’t be surprising that glittering gemstones aren't exactly one of the top UK attractions. In fact, can you find gemstones in the UK? Yes, yes you can! Some of the most sought after gems in antique jewellery can be found on our rugged coastlines and enchanted forests! So much so, that in 1813, a real Diamond was discovered in a stream in Co Fermanagh, so stranger things have happened.
Below are a list of natural uk gemstones born and bred, perfect for when you want to spend a Sunday afternoon gemstone hunting!
One of the most revered gemstones, Amber, specifically Baltic Amber can be found on the “Amber Coast” of Norfolk and Suffolk, between Felixstowe and Southwold. Little globules of orange, Baltic Amber is sought after for both its rarity and its healing properties.
Amber is actually fossilised tree sap, which would have been trapped within the ancient Baltic forest (now all underwater in the Baltic sea). Melting glaciers from the last ice age bring these little gems to the surface, which is why they make their way to our shores.
What is incredibly fascinating is that Amber can even have fossilised critters inside, which is very illuminating as to what kind of species lived millions of years ago.
Russian Amber and Silver Drop Earrings, Source - Lillicoco
They say that the best time to go searching for Amber is after a storm, as rough seas shake up the seabed and mover the amber towards the shore. However, the bright and fiery glow that we associate with Amber is actually when the stone is polished. Rough amber is actually a dark rusty brown colour, which is why it can be easily overlooked.
Blue John Fluorite
Another popular gemstone found in the uk, Blue John Fluorite is native to the Blue John Cavern in Derbyshire. So much so that it is also known as Derbyshire Spar! This type of mineral is distinguishable by its bands of blue and yellow, and it is one of the few gemstones that can ONLY be found in the UK!
During the 19th century, Blue John Fluorite was a very fashionable gem, mined for its ornamental value for furnishings and jewellery. The name comes from the French “bleu-jaune” literally meaning “blue-yellow”, and it was originally thought that it was exported from France in the 17th century. However, there are no records to substantiate this, and its not actually found in France - so its a complete mystery as to how this rumour came to be! Nevertheless, it remains one of the few gemstones found in the UK, and it is still mined on a small scale today.
Victorian Candelbra with Blue John Fluorite, c.1860, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Although found all over the world, and with numerous different types, Agate can also be easily found within the UK, notably on the shores of Cornwall and in the north of Scotland. If you are an antique aficionado, then you are likely acquainted with Scottish Agate jewellery, one of Queen Victoria’s most coveted items.
Reminiscent of wild Scottish lochs and towering craggy Scottish mountains, Victorian Scottish Agate jewellery was a romanticised ideal of Scotland, and is still very collectable today. Much of Scottish Agate was formed through Volcanic eruptions, with the gemstone forming within the silica-rich gas bubbles of cooling lava.
The most well-known places to find authentic Scottish Agate is the Blue Hole in the Usan and Lunan Bay. A well-known 19th century collector, Matthew Forster Heddle collected an array of Scottish Agates from the Blue Hole using explosives. His extensive collection was even exhibited in a 2018 exhibition titled “Hidden Gems: Scotland’s Agates” at the National Museum of Scotland.
Another prized and rare antique gem found in the UK, Jet was one of the most sought after materials in the 19th century for Victorian mourning jewellery. Specifically, Whitby Jet. Similarly to Amber, Jet is actually fossilised tree wood that is washed up on the shores of Whitby in England.
Victorian Jet Brooch, c.1870, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Formed into a coal-like structure from millions of years of pressure, Jet’s inherently dark colour has etymologically earned itself the originating influence behind “jet black”. The Jet found in Whitby formed over 181 million years ago (wow!) during the Early Jurassic period. Whilst it's still incredibly rare to find today, W.Hammond, a jeweller in Whitby, is completely devoted to creating true Whitby Jet jewellery today. True Victorian Whitby Jet is even rarer to come by, and it is very expensive.
Another native Scottish gemstone, Cairngorm Quartz is a variety of smokey Quartz exclusively found in the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. A very desirable variety of Quartz, Cairngorm Quartz is actually considered to be Scotland’s national gem. It was actual industry back in the early 19th century to find Cairngorm Quartz, with numerous men known as “diggers” perusing the mountains to find these rare nuggets.
This type of Quartz gem is noticeable for its signature slightly yellow colour, due to a small mount of ferric oxide within its structure. Cairngorm Quartz was widely used in Scottish and English jewellery, embellishing weapons, kilt pins, necklaces, earrings and brooches. For some time, Cairngorm Quartz was known as the Scottish Topaz, a testament to its rarity and signature nature. Cairngorm Quartz was widely converted at Victorian societal events and balls, making a lasting impression on all who see its smokey mysterious surface.
Although not officially a gemstone, we couldn’t NOT include Welsh Gold in this list of gemstones found in the UK. Welsh Gold is one of the rarest and most sought after types of Gold in the world. Not to mention, it is a type of Gold that many of the Royal Families engagement and wedding rings have been crafted from, including Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle.
Early Bonze Age Welsh Gold Cape, c.1800BC-1600BCE, Source - The British Museum
Welsh Gold is the first known mined Gold in the UK, dating back to the Bronze Age in Dolau Cothin Wales. Welsh Gold was in regular use until 1938, today only surviving in small increments with a small yield. For instance, in the late 1990s it would cost over £1000 an ounce to extract, and the value of Welsh Gold today is estimated to be up to 30,000 times more than standard Gold.
Whilst there are a few regional varieties of gemstones, have you ever heard of Bristol Diamonds? Not to be confused with the glittering highly prized precious gemstone, “Bristol Diamonds” are actually a type of Quartz that is found in the Avon Gorge caves. These Quartz gems were sought after as a novelty gemstone in the 18th and 19th century, as many persons visited the Hotwells spa (marketed to have rivalled the towns of Bath and Cheltenham).
The “Bristol Diamonds” as they were colloqually known in the 18th and 19th century were actually called Diamonds in the 1586 Topographical survey by William Camden. In fact, he described them as the following: “for in bright and transparent colour, they match the Indian Diaments, if they passe them not; in hardness onely they are inferior to them.”
So, as shown in this blog, there are numerous gemstones that you can find in the UK! All we need to know next is how to look for them. Many of the UK’s gemstone mines have now closed, but that doesn’t mean you may not be able to find them whilst searching the landscape although this is pretty rare.
Nevertheless, if you are looking for authentic British antique jewellery, you can easily search a well curated selection through our website!