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Mineral show visitors search for diamonds in the rough

March 21, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - If they were patient and very, very lucky, visitors to the 27th annual Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Show at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center could find a diamond.

For a dollar, visitors could search through a small heap of jewelers' slag for diamonds. A hand-held thermoconductivity meter determined whether or not a find was genuine.

Jewelers bring rings and filings to a refiner, where they are melted down. The resulting slag is cleaned up with nitric acid, said Robert Ridgway, president of the Pennsylvania Geologic Society.

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"We offer this because it's a fun, interactive thing," he said, adding that one of the diamonds in his wedding ring came from a slag pile.

Bill Slemmer of Waynesboro, Pa., patiently sorted through the slag with forceps. He didn't find a diamond, but his son, B.J., found a piece that scored an eight on the thermoconductivity meter.

"It has to be nine or above to be a diamond," B.J. said.

Sponsored by the Franklin County Rock and Mineral Club Inc., the show was held Saturday and featured handmade jewelry, fossils, polished and natural rock specimens from around the world, polished shells, shark's teeth, pieces of a meteorite, coral, and crocodile and dinosaur teeth.

Gene Niswander of St. Thomas, Pa., hosted an extensive display of Native American artifacts of the Delaware, Tuscarora and Susquehannock Indians of Franklin County and surrounding areas. Garry Akers of St. Thomas demonstrated the art of antler carving.

Ridgway, who is retired from the military and lives in Enola, Pa., said he is writing a book about identifying plant fossils in Pennsylvania. It will be "mostly a picture book," he said, "so you can know what you're finding."

Ridgway said he finds the fossils in the top layer above coal seams, where plant material did not have enough heat and pressure to be turned to coal.

Geologist Bernard Pisarchick of Brockway, Pa., said he personally finds about 15 percent to 20 percent of the specimens displayed at his table.

Pointing to samples of celestite, Pisarchick said there is a bill in the state legislature to make celestite the state stone of Pennsylvania. It is not found statewide, but in an arc from Harrisburg to Maryland. While it can be mined as a ore for strontium, a rare metal, the celestite found locally is only "little crystals here and there," he said. "It's a collector's stone, a curiosity."

Pisarchick also displayed a charoite, a rare gem mineral from Russia that is fashionable in jewelry, he said. A polished 5-inch sphere of it costs $800.

Melisha Miller of Chambersburg brought 6-year-old Clark and 4-year-old Maddie to the show.

Miller, who has degrees in biology and geology and teaches science at Shippensburg (Pa.) Middle School, said it was "neat to see the unique uses people make of stones." Both children got some shark's teeth, and Clark clutched several small rocks.

"He likes the shiny ones," his mother said.

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