Rough Diamond found in West Virginia

A 34.46 carat diamond found in 1928 was sold at Sotheby's in 1984. It still ranks among the largest diamonds ever found in the United States.

By Mike Ruben – WV State Journal

PETERSTOWN -- One of the largest diamonds ever found in North America was unearthed in Peterstown during a game of horseshoes in 1928.

The gemstone, which weighed a hefty 34.46 carats and measured more than one-half inch in diameter, was sold 56 years later in a New York auction for more than $74,000.

But West Virginia’s state geologist wouldn’t advise anyone to purchase mining gear for their next trip to Monroe County. Michael Hohn of the W.Va. Geological and Economic Survey in Morgantown said the odds are extremely remote of another diamond finding.

“There are likely no other diamonds or other precious gems to be found in the state,” said Hohn. “West Virginia consists of 99.9 percent sedimentary rock. Due to the pressure requirements, diamonds are normally found deep in igneous rocks.”

The gem discovered by William “Punch” Jones and his father, Grover Jones, is a rare alluvial diamond — one that is revealed through riverbed erosion. The Joneses property is situated along Rich Creek, a tributary of the nearby New River. One theory is that the stone originated in Virginia or North Carolina before being carried by floodwater into the southeast corner of the Mountain State.

Documentation of the diamond can be found on a state historical marker situated along Route 219 in Peterstown. The sign indicates the father and son found the shiny stone while engaged in a game of horseshoes. Believing he was in possession of a relatively worthless piece of greenish-gray quartz, 10-year-old Punch placed the stone in a wooden box situated in his father’s tool shed. It remained there for the next 14 years.

Punch, who was the eldest of 17 children, later explained his curiosity about the stone was rekindled in 1943 when he became more familiar with carbon while working in an ammunition plant in Radford, Va. He learned its true identity only after requesting an analysis by a geology professor at Virginia Tech. At the urging of the professor, Jones placed the gemstone with the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History before entering World War II.

Jones, who was a newlywed with an infant son, was killed in action on Easter Sunday 1945 while on patrol in Belgium. Punch’s will left joint ownership of the diamond to his young family and his parents.

These were trying times at home, according to Charlotte Jones Faulkner, who was born during the year following her brother’s death. The youngest sibling and the only girl, she recalled her father did what he could with the meager income of a one-room school teacher. Still, he remained adamant about not cashing in the diamond.

“Dad wouldn’t sell it because of the sentimental value,” said Faulkner, who resides at the family homestead. “We could have used it very much, though, with all of those children. It would have been great to find another one.”

The stone was retrieved from the Smithsonian in 1964. With the exception of being displayed at the 1968 State Fair of West Virginia, it was kept in a safe deposit box at the First Valley Bank of Rich Creek, Va., for the next two decades. Sotheby’s Auction House of New York sold it in 1984, 12 years after Grover’s death. It garnered a sale price of $74,000 before deductions for commission and other expenses, according to Sotheby’s. The buyer was said to be an agent representing a lawyer from Asia. 

© John P. Kuehn