Desert diamonds: natural gemstones found almost exclusively in the Arabian Peninsula

Although a few may be found in the UAE and Kuwait, desert diamonds are mainly harvested along the central desert plains of Riyadh. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 05 May 2018

Desert diamonds: natural gemstones found almost exclusively in the Arabian Peninsula

  • Go trekking in the desert around Riyadh, and that old Paul Simon song may come true... under your feet are thousands of semi-precious gemstones.
  • Desert diamonds are also known as Qaisumah diamonds, after the Saudi village where they were first discovered.

JEDDAH: If you gaze for long enough along the Saudi desert horizon, especially around dawn or dusk, you will eventually notice a glittering sparkle on the surface of the dunes. 

Your first impression may be that it comes from jewelry lost by desert trekkers. In fact, more often than not, what you see are desert diamonds — natural semi-precious gemstones found almost exclusively in the Arabian Peninsula.

The stones belong to the quartz family and come from the same micro-crystalline mineral as topaz and amethyst. When properly cut and polished, they have a luster and brilliance identical to that of far costlier carbon diamonds.

Although a few may be found in the UAE and Kuwait, desert diamonds are mainly harvested along the central desert plains of Riyadh. They are also known as Qaisumah diamonds, after the Saudi village where they were first discovered. Eons ago, rain washed millions of these metamorphic quartz gems downstream from the Hijaz mountains; the waters ran naturally into the Arabian Gulf and the sedimentary stones were deposited in what eventually became vast desert plains.

 

Natural sparkle

In their natural state, desert diamonds are simple river stones with a milky appearance. Hold them up to the sunlight, however, and there is a hint to their potential — they are completely translucent. Experts suggest the higher the translucency of the stone, the greater potential quality of the gem once it is ground, cut, and polished.

Desert diamonds are measured in carats and are slightly denser than full carbon diamonds, and thus are slightly smaller than carbon diamonds of identical weight. 

They are resistant to discoloration, do not break with age, and cannot even be scratched. Unlike the popular diamond simulant cubic zirconia, which are produced in laboratories and emit a rainbow-like shine, desert diamonds produce a purer, more natural sparkle — since they contain the same refractory properties as authentic full carbon diamonds.

Searching for them is a great way to enjoy the outdoor life. “It’s always a fun activity to do with friends whenever we go out desert trekking,” says Yasmin Khayat, 26, from Jeddah, who likes to take a break from her job as an auditor by exploring the desert.

“Just like treasure hunters around the world who go to the beach with metal detectors, we look for that special sparkle in the sand. It’s a competitive activity because sometimes it’s very difficult to find them, and other days there are many on the surface. The wind cycle is the big determining factor. After a sandstorm is always the best time because many diamonds that were buried come to the surface.”

Of course, it isn’t only amateur gem-hunters who are interested in desert diamonds. Sally Cowley, founder and managing director of Desert Diamond Global Group, told Arab News: 

“I started my business 20 years ago in Saudi Arabia, and we worked with natural quartz. Quartz, like other semi-precious stones from the topaz family, are fairly inexpensive, and over time processes have changed and developed and so has our selection of stone.

“Now we are based in Thailand, but in the beginning, our stone was quartz based as this was the best stone available that met our requirements. My passion is creating a collection of exceptional jewelry that delights the customer.”




Sally Cowley

While most people prefer the shine and luster of a professionally polished cut stone, many also like desert diamonds in their naturally rough and uncut state. The larger stones are commonly worn as a pendant, while the smaller stones can be incorporated into unique translucent quartz earrings.

 

Preservation

The refining process often involves a lengthy journey. Surprisingly, very few jewelers in Saudi Arabia can take on the task of transforming the rough stones into sparkling personal ornaments. Most desert diamonds are sent to Thailand for processing.

The raw stone is usually cut into a simple rectangular or square shape. It is then chemically treated to ensure the preservation of hardness and clarity, followed by a grinding process as the gem takes its final form. 

Lastly, the cut stone is polished and, if required, set in a mount of precious metal such as gold, silver or platinum.

A gem’s worth depends on the stone’s carat, color, clarity and condition. 

High-quality quartz can be valued at upwards of $200 a kilogram, making these gems one of the most durable and affordable authentic diamond simulants for everyday use.


Culture documentation by Saudi ministry to help dispel misconceptions

Updated 22 October 2020

Culture documentation by Saudi ministry to help dispel misconceptions

  • Dia hopes the documenting process will be done professionally and without bias

JEDDAH: Saudi artists welcomed the Ministry of Culture’s first-of-its-kind 16/13 initiative, documenting the diversity of Saudi culture and art through a visual library.
The library will display 16 aspects of culture and heritage through photography and videography that represent the 13 regions of the Kingdom.
Researchers will go around Saudi Arabia to meet creatives, and study their work, for inclusion in the initiative.
“This is an important step for the Kingdom, and it’s a global one to document visual art, whether works of art or cinema,” Dia Aziz Dia, Saudi artist and sculptor, told Arab News.
He added: “It’s important because this creates a database and can be used as a reference to study and compare paintings, photography, sculpting and various types of art, how they differ from one region to the next.”
It could also let government bodies discover art worthy of being put into museums for display, said Dia.
“It’s a good way to document history as well, and to study works of art and the standards of art here,” he said. “It’s on a global level and it’s done everywhere in the world, from England to the US.”
Dia hopes the documenting process will be done professionally and without bias.
He also said it was not easy to compile these works. “It’s an elaborate process to be able to get hold of all the works across the Kingdom. It’s an operation that requires organization, extensive studying and the cooperation of the Society of Culture and Arts and artists as well.”
Saad Tahaitah, documentary filmmaker and photographer, told Arab News that the initiative was promising. He was exposed to it through Saudi photographer Nawaf Al-Shehri, who has been traveling to help with the documentation process.
“The ministry’s been doing an incredible job; they’re (Nawaf and his team) going around the Kingdom and filming content for an actual library,” he said.
Tahaitah has worked on numerous short films on his own to depict the culture and heritage of Asir region, in the southwest of the country. He said he would not trade it for any other place and wished only to film in his hometown.
“I got into documentaries because I wanted honest storytelling. I didn’t want to write a script and hire actors, although that works for some,” he said. “The way I’ve been doing film is to let the person I’m filming go about their day and I let my camera roll.”
Tahaitah started documenting Asir because he wanted to dispel the misconceptions about it, and the stereotypes created through media like “Tash Ma Tash,” the famous Saudi comedy show.
“Asir is full of natural beauty and scenery to capture. It’s diverse in its sights and the people who live in it. Every once in a while, I realize there’s a thing I never noticed before and I film it, and I’ve lived here all my life. The way of life here, simply, can inspire you,” he said.
He added: “We don’t have one particular dance or only sit and dine in a huddle. In a way, I just wanted to showcase the reality of Asir because I love it.”
He said that this initiative could correct inaccuracies shared about certain areas in the Kingdom.