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No spuds in this nickname – why is Idaho “the Gem State?”

Last week, in our Inside Idaho series, we told you how Lucky Peak got its name after miners struck rich from gold in the late 1800s.

While Lucky Peak and the Boise Basin first came to fame during the gold rush — it’s another precious material that made Idaho the Gem State. Although many think of potatoes when they think of our state, it’s what’s found much deeper in the ground that makes Idaho a true gem.

Gems in the rough

Oval six-ray star garnet. Photo courtesy: Stewart’s Gem Shop

More than 72 different types of precious and semi-precious gemstones are found in every corner of Idaho. The Gem State nickname first popped up before statehood, when Idaho was still just a US territory.

“We have the largest variety of gems – second to Africa,” The Diamond Girls co-owner Natalie Gorsuch Piccola said. “Garnet, jasper, opal, sapphire, jade obsidian, the list goes on.” 

Over 240 different types of minerals make for the perfect recipe for a variety of gems to form in Idaho’s mountains.

Idaho even has its own state gem – the star garnet. The legislature adopted the purple-hued gem as an icon of the state in 1967. The stone can only be found in two places in the world: India — and Idaho of course.

[Inside Idaho: Why is Lucky Peak… lucky?]

“My father, Dudley Stewart, discovered the specific way in which to cut the rough garnet from the Emerald Creek area in order to reveal the star or rays within the stone,” Eugen Stewart, owner of Stewart’s Gem Shop said.

They’re called “star garnets” because they have four to six rays in the middle of the stone that look like a star.

“He pioneered the Idaho Star Garnet and introduced it into the market in 1951,” Stewart said of his father.

Star garnets can be found in the panhandle of Northern Idaho and most abundantly in Latah and Benewah counties.

Find your own

Starting May 28th through September 6th, anyone with a reservation can mine star garnets at the Emerald Creek Garnet Area which is located off Highway 3 – about 40 minutes from St. Maries, Idaho.

“They have campgrounds and all the stuff setup to help you find them,” Piccola said. “We could then help people get their stones polished and cut or set.”

Tickets and more information can be found here.

If you don’t want to make the trek to Northern Idaho, you can find a variety of star garnets and other Idaho gems at Stewart’s Gem Shop off Idaho Street in Boise.

Next time on our Inside Idaho series: The word Idaho is said to stem from that ‘Gem State’ nickname. But really, a politician came up with it based on a complete lie. Find that June 7th on BoiseDev and Idaho First.

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Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly is a reporter for BoiseDev. She's an Emmy-winning journalist, and a professor at the College of Western Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].

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