Home Travel Tips French tourist unearths 7.46-carat diamond at Arkansas state park

French tourist unearths 7.46-carat diamond at Arkansas state park

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When Julien Navas left Paris for a vacation in United States, he knew that he needed to buy a diamond for his future wife’s wedding ring. He could have picked one up at Zales or Tiffany. Instead, he found the perfect sparkler earlier this month in the mud at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. The 7.46-carat chocolate-colored gem cost him only $15.

“I was so happy,” the 42-year-old entrepreneur said by email. “Since it’s a big diamond, they asked me to name it. I gave it my fiancée’s first name, ‘the Carine Diamond.’”

Navas’s find ranks as the eighth-largest diamond discovered at the 37½-acre field since 1972, the year it became a state park. A Texas visitor on a family vacation holds the title for the 16.37-carat bauble he extracted in 1975. The record whopper for the Murfreesboro, Ark., site and the country is the Uncle Sam Diamond, a 40-carat dazzler dating to 1924.

According to a 2016 Census report, more than 75,000 diamonds have been unearthed on the land owned by farmer John Huddleston who discovered diamonds in 1906. Between 1972 and last year, the state park has recorded 35,250 diamonds weighing a total 7,032 carats. For nearly two decades, more than 100,000 people have visited annually.

Sarah Reap, a park interpreter with Arkansas State Parks, said the attraction averages one to two finds a day, depending on the number of visitors. The figure dips during the slower winter months and increases during busier periods.

“On a March day, we could have 10 diamonds turned in,” she said, “but we could also have a thousand people here.”

Regulars obviously pocket more diamonds, such as a frequent visitor who last year amassed about 100 diamonds. However, Navas was only looking for one for his One.

“In France, there are a lot of articles about the Crater of Diamonds,” he said. “I always had the idea [of visiting] in the back of my mind. I often come to the United States, but this time, being engaged, I needed to find a wedding ring with a beautiful diamond for my partner.”

Navas’s primary reason for coming to the States was to watch United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur Rocket zoom to the moon from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 8. Unfortunately, the mission flamed out. The Peregrine, a lunar lander, missed the moon because of a fuel incident and burned in the sky. An experienced hunter of precious metals and minerals, Navas decided to spend the latter half of his trip trying his luck closer to Earth.

“Since I was little, I have been looking for treasures — gold, gems — with shovels, gold-panning pans and metal detectors,” he said. “For my engagement ring, I collected 10 kilos of computer processors to extract the gold and make a geeky ring for my future wife. For the gem, I went to an old emerald mine in Austria. I searched for more than a week to find one and finish the engagement ring.”

Before setting off on his search, Navas consulted with park staff about the different techniques for finding diamonds. Reap said the three methods are surface searching, dry sifting and wet sifting. The ideal weather is a sunny day on the heels of a ground-soaking rain. Before Navas’s visit, the park had received more than an inch of rain.

“We plow rows in the field, and the rain will kind of hit those top layers of topsoil and wash away heavier materials,” she said. The sun, meanwhile, will pick up the glint of the gemstones.

Navas rented a basic diamond-hunting kit — shovel, sieves, buckets — and set to work. He spent four hours digging in the mud and rinsing the gravel he collected in bins with cold water. Nothing sparkled. After a lunch break, he roamed the crater, observing the regulars. A pro hunter “with only his head sticking out of the hole” advised Navas to stopped digging and start scanning the surface. He walked around for another three hours before he noticed a brown crystal that resembled a smoky quartz. He consoled himself with the idea of a consolation prize.

At the park’s identification lab, the experts took his crystal and returned with broad smiles. They informed him that he had found one of the largest diamonds in the country. Reap said most people’s discoveries average a quarter carat. She described Navas’s diamond as “very abnormally large.”

“It was one of the most amazing surprises, after the birth of my daughter,” he said.

Navas kept the diamond a surprise until he returned to France. He said his partner had been wondering what he had been up to in Arkansas. He presented her with the answer. He said the diamond is so large, he may be able to use the stone for two wedding rings, one for his fiancée and one for the distant nuptials of his 3-year-old daughter.

correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly said that 7 million carats of diamonds had been found at the park since 1972. It is 7,032 carats. The article has been corrected.