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Back in 1990, a Murfreesboro, Ark., resident named Shirley Strawn became an instant celebrity when she struck it rich at the nearby Crater of Diamonds State Park — the only diamond site in the world where amateur prospectors get to keep what they find.
Strawn discovered a 3.03-carat diamond in the East Drain section of the park's 37 1/2-acre search area. Gemologists determined that the rough stone had so much potential as a faceted diamond that it was sent to New York, where famous diamond cutter Lazare Kaplan International worked its magic. The Arkansas-sourced rough gem was transformed into a world-class, 1.09-carat round brilliant-cut sparkler, and became the first diamond from the state park to earn a perfect grade of "Triple Zero" (Ideal cut/D color/Flawless) from the American Gem Society.
The find was so momentous that the State of Arkansas purchased the gem — now known as the "Strawn-Wagner" diamond — for $34,700 and made it the centerpiece of the park's special exhibit. There's even a prominent marker in the East Drain section of the park to show exactly where it was found.
Only a few weeks ago, a retiree named Wendell Fox was scanning the ground very close to the Strawn-Wagner marker when he, too, spotted a diamond on the surface. While Strawn's gem was white and weighed 3.03 carats in its rough state, Fox's gem weighed 2.78 carats and displayed a champagne brown color.
“I was 80 to 90 percent sure that it was a diamond when I saw it,” the 70-year-old Fox told park officials. About the size of an English pea, the oval diamond contains a few inclusions and demonstrates an unmistakable metallic shine.
Park Interpreter Waymon Cox noted, “It’s no surprise that Mr. Fox found his diamond by surface searching. It has rained a lot at the park this spring and, so far, we have registered 11 diamonds that were found on top of the ground in May.”
Cox explained that diamonds lack static electricity so dirt doesn't stick to them. When rainfall uncovers larger diamonds near the surface and the sun comes out, they sparkle and are often easier to see.
Although Fox and his wife, Jennifer, are now retired and living in Joliet, Mont., Fox spent his formative years in Arkansas and always dreamed of searching for diamonds at the park. His wish came true a few weeks ago when the couple visited for the first time.
Wendall and Jennifer have named their diamond "Way Out Yonder" to honor their home in Montana and plan to have the gem mounted in a piece of jewelry.
“All in all, it was a great experience,” said Wendell Fox. “Finding a diamond was just icing on the cake.”
So far this year, the Crater of Diamonds State Park has registered 209 diamonds weighing a total of 52.08 carats. Seven diamonds have weighed in at more than 1 carat each. In March, 14-year-old Kalel Langford of Centerton, Ark., made headlines when he secured a 7.44-carat brown gem that he named “Superman’s Diamond.” The largest diamond ever discovered in the United States was unearthed in Murfreesboro in 1924 during an early mining operation. Named the Uncle Sam, the white diamond with a pink cast weighed 40.23 carats.
Credits: Images courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.