Southern California has produced some of the most beautiful gemstones, and San Diego has played a large role in that history. Six years before the 1848 California Gold Rush started, miners in 1842 were pulling museum-quality gems out of the hills of San Diego County.
The Dowager Empress of China was particularly obsessed with pink tourmaline, making this gem especially lucrative. Now famous Tiffany & Co. was the facilitator of the pink tourmaline trade between Southern California and China.
Royalty in China would place an order and a Tiffany gemologist, J.L. Tannenbaum, commissioned miners in Southern California to mine and ship the order. This continued until 1911 when the Empress died. San Diego’s mines sent over 120 tons of gem-quality pink tourmaline in just their last decade.
Topaz is another gem that is a Southern California specialty. John W. Ware was a San Diego jeweler who owned and operated a small mine on Smith Mountain that produced blue topaz. He had marketed the product from his small mine so well that he eventually was importing the gem to meet his demand.
Sempe and Tourmaline Queen are two of San Diego County’s mines where another gemstone, Morganite, was discovered. The gemstone was named by George F. Kunz, another Tiffany & Co. gemologist, after one of Tiffany’s most distinguished customers at the time: J.P. Morgan. While the discovery and rise in popularity of morganite is attributed to Southern California, it’s since been mined from Afghanistan, Brazil, and Madagascar.
Local Gemstones On Display
San Diego structures are still home to some of these local gems. One of the most notable of these displays was Jessop’s Clock in downtown San Diego. The clock was designed by Joseph Jessop (second-generation jeweler with a local mine at Mount Palomar) and finished construction in 1907. It contains 17 gems that were mined from the Jessop Mine including tourmaline, agate, topaz, and jade.
The clock stood outside of J. Jessop and Sons Jewelry Store through two downtown locations. In 1984 it was relocated to Horton Plaza where it was on display until 2019 when the lease agreement at Horton Plaza ended. Since 2019 it’s been kept safely in storage, awaiting a new lease to be signed for its public display.
If you’re looking to add these or other stones to your collection, visit Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers on San Diego Avenue to find the perfect gemstone jewelry piece.