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January-February 2011

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Mines and Minerals of the Southern California Pegmatite Province

For much of the past century, the Southern California pegmatite province has been the source of some of the world's finest specimens of a variety of gem and rare-element minerals, along with considerable amounts of gem and lapidary material. Although known primarily for producing spectacular specimens of multicolored tourmaline, the region's pegmatites have also been the source of excellent specimens of morganite, aquamarine, topaz, and spessartine, and they were the first recognized occurrence of the lavender-colored gem variety of spodumene now known as kunzite.

Since the beginning of mining in the late nineteenth century, production from the region's mines has been highly cyclic, depending upon the economics of the gem and specimen market. High points of mining activity occurred during the first decade of the twentieth century, and again between the early 1960s to mid-1990s. Although literally hundreds of pegmatites have been discovered and prospected during these periods, only a handful have ever yielded significant amounts of gem-quality minerals. Specimens from the few mines that have, including the Himalaya, Tourmaline Queen, Little Three, Pala Chief, and White Queen, are today the highlight of many collections, both public and private; a few, such as the “Blue Cap” elbaites from the Tourmaline Queen mine, have become iconic.

Jesse Fisher, who has a master's degree in geology, works in commercial laboratory management. He is also a partner in the UK Mining Ventures specimen recovery project at the Rogerley mine, England. A lifelong mineral collector, he has written numerous articles on the pegmatites of Southern California and the mines and minerals of Northern England.

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