A French tourist visiting the United States returned home with a special souvenir earlier this month: a 7.46-carat diamond he found in the mud.
Julien Navas, who is from Paris, was visiting the States in mid-January to watch the launch of the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Afterward, he decided to venture out and explore other American locales, including New Orleans.
During this part of his trip, Navas heard about Crater of Diamonds State Park, a protected area in southwest Arkansas that’s brimming with diamonds because of its unique geologic history. So, he decided to check it out.
Navas visited the state park for the first time on January 11. He got there bright and early, rented a diamond hunting kit from the park and started digging. It had rained earlier that week, so the park’s 37.5-acre gem search area was muddy and wet.
But Navas was undeterred. He scoured the sopping ground from 9 a.m. until sometime in the afternoon, when he finally decided to call it quits. Navas had discovered several interesting-looking rocks, but he wasn’t sure what they were.
“That is back-breaking work so by the afternoon I was mainly looking on top of the ground for anything that stood out," he says in a statement.
At the end of the day, he took his finds to the Diamond Discovery Center, where staffers informed him that one of his rocks was a 7.46-carat brown diamond. Round and deep chocolate-y brown, the diamond is about the size of a gumdrop candy, according to the park.
Navas decided to name his stone after his fiancée, Carine. When he gets home, he hopes to have his “Carine Diamond” split in two so he can give one to his fiancée and one to his daughter. He already wants to return to the park, and bring his daughter along for the next “great adventure,” he says in the statement.
“It is a magical place, where the dream of finding a diamond can come true,” he adds.
Navas’ find is the fifth of 11 diamonds registered at the park so far this year, and it’s the largest registered since 2020. It’s also the eighth-largest diamond registered since the area was officially designated a state park in 1972.
Collectively, tourists usually find one or two diamonds each day within the park’s boundaries. Many of those are discovered on the surface, because park staffers periodically plow to help break up the soil and promote natural erosion. When a rainstorm hits, like it did the week before Navas’ visit, the precipitation washes away the lighter dirt to reveal heavier rocks, including diamonds.
This part of Arkansas has long attracted fortune-seekers. One of the first was John Huddleston, also known as “Diamond John,” who purchased land in the area and began finding valuable gems in the dirt in 1906.
His luck attracted tourists and prospectors, who dug up precious gems of their own—including the 40.23-carat “Uncle Sam” diamond in 1924, the largest uncut diamond ever found in the U.S. In 2022, a 12.4-carat piece of “Uncle Sam” went on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History during its “Great American Diamonds” exhibition. Collector Peter Buck, who co-founded the Subway restaurant chain, donated the rare gem to the Smithsonian’s National Gem and Mineral Collection.
Huddleston died in 1941. Tourists can visit his gravesite at Japany Cemetery, located just three miles from the diamond field, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
The gem-rich region became a state park in 1972, but state leaders decided to continue allowing tourists to dig for diamonds of their own. An estimated 75,000 diamonds have been pulled from the soil since 1906.
This part of Arkansas is loaded with diamonds thanks to a violent volcanic vent eruption that took place roughly 100 million years ago. The powerful explosion carried rocks from Earth’s mantle up to the surface, and left an 81-acre crater in its wake (which is where the park’s name comes from). Three types of diamonds—white, yellow and brown—are common in the region, as are gems like quartz, agate, garnet, amethyst and jasper, among others.
Some three billion years ago, the park’s diamonds started life as stable carbon located 60 to 100 miles below the Earth’s surface. Over time, intense pressure and high temperatures transformed the carbon into diamond. But much of what scientists know about these and other diamonds remains a mystery, including the source of the carbon and how long it takes for diamonds to form.
“As far as we know, all diamonds that formed in the Earth formed under those kinds of conditions and, of course, that's a part of the Earth we can't directly sample,” said Jeffrey Post, the now-retired long-time curator-in-charge of gems and minerals for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, to Smithsonian magazine’s Cate Lineberry in 2006. “We don't have any way of drilling to that depth or any other way of traveling down to the upper mantle of the Earth.”