Cape May diamonds are not diamonds at all, but they have been known to fool the most discriminating eyes.
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One thing is for certain: They make great souvenirs of a trip to the Shore.
The diamonds begin their lives truly “in-the-rough” in the upper reaches of the Delaware River, in the areas around the Delaware Water Gap. Pieces of quartz crystal are broken off from veins and pockets by the swift-running waters of mountain streams that feed the river. Thus begins a journey of more than 200 miles that takes thousands of years to complete. Along the way, the sharp edges of the stones are smoothed as they are propelled along the river bottom. Eventually the stones come to rest on the shores of the Delaware Bay in South Jersey.
Thousands of vacationers in the Cape May area each year search for these sparkling crystals that, when cut and faceted, have the appearance of real diamonds. The largest concentration of booty is located on the sands of Sunset Beach in Cape May Point. Here, the wreck of the ship Atlantus and a rock jetty trap the stones, which are forced ashore in large quantities just prior to being swept by the tides into the Atlantic Ocean.
Some days the stones are more plentiful than others. “The best time to hunt is on cold, windy days when the water is churned up and just after storms,” says Kathy Hume, of family-owned Sunset Beach Gift Shops. Would-be prospectors should come equipped with a beach bucket, sand shovel, and a beach sieve to shake off sand. Typical specimens are about the size of a pea and come in a variety of shapes and colors. “Much of the time, larger stones the size of grapes are just underneath a layer of smaller ones,” advises Hume. Prospectors may also find sharks’ teeth, Indian arrowheads (some of museum quality), agates, and black quartz.
The gift shops at Sunset Beach sell Cape May diamond jewelry, including pendants, bracelets, necklaces, rings, and stud earrings. The pieces are made from gems that have been smoothed and polished in rock tumblers or cut and faceted. Prices start at 99 cents for a polished stone with a description card, and run up to $265 for a 14-karat gold ring with a 6-millimeter stone (just under one karat).
Cape May diamonds may have more than just monetary or sentimental value. In an earlier time, the local Kechemeche Indians, a part of the Lenni-Lenape tribe, believed the gems had supernatural powers to influence the well-being and good fortune of their possessor. The bonds of friendship and lasting goodwill were often sealed with gifts or exchanges of the sacred gems.
When you do decide to head to the beach, consult our 2009 Summer Beach Guide for beach badge prices, parking information and exit numbers (if you don't know them by heart). Click here to view the beach guide (PDF format)
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