How Gem Hunting Works

An emerald hunter shows off a small emerald found outside a mine in Muzo, Colombia.
Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images

Gem hunting is like playing the geological lottery. One person may spend hours performing backbreaking work and pay fees for access to mine tailings only to find a few semiprecious stones that aren't worth much. Another person may randomly reach into a pile of dirt and pull out a diamond worth thousands of dollars.

Looking for interesting gems and crystals can be a rewarding hobby, even if you don't hit the jackpot. Many recreational gem hunters enjoy spending time outdoors, learning about geology and hanging out with their gem-hunting friends. Others are more goal-oriented; they look for their own birthstones or for attractive gems that they can make into jewelry. And then there are the collectors, who want to track down as many different types of gems and rocks as possible to catalog and display.


There are many different ways to experience gem hunting, from fee digs to staking your own mining claim (all discussed later). This article will outline the basics, from equipment and preparation to the legal issues amateur gem hunters should know. We'll tell you where to go hunting and what to do with your gems after you've found them.

Before you can attain geologic glory, there are a few details to mention about this hobby. Let's examine the different types of gem hunting and which would be the best option for you.