Diamonds are forever, but this has a 2B year head start

Short story: I’m selling jewelry – really cool jewelry for geek women who would appreciate style with a secret, impressive history.  Read on.

Long story: A few years back, for reasons I won’t go into at the moment (let’s just say “my eccentrism”) I found myself searching for the oldest possible terrestrial thing I could put my hands on for some experimentation and also as a touchpiece for discussion on long-term thinking.  I was looking not for something merely ancient like dinosaurs, but something fantastically old, back as far as I could reach, to the days when the planet was first cooling and solid rocks were forming.

After quite a bit of research I found that the oldest rocks in the world that were single masses were from a shield formation of rock in upper Canada called the “Acasta complex” (or “Slave craton” depending on what book  you’re looking at) and the rocks themselves were a gneiss called “Acasta gneiss”.  The rock is 4.03 billion years old.  The Earth is around 4.54 billion years, so this is some pretty old stuff.

Can you comprehend a hundred years?  It’s hard; it’s more than most people’s lifetimes.  A thousand years is even tougher.  Ten thousand years is far past the dawn of written history.  A hundred thousand is as inconceivable as a million, ten million, a hundred million, a billion… four billion.  It truly is difficult to contemplate – probably impossible.  But that’s how old these rocks are.  Dinosaurs are 300 million years old, at the most – this is more than ten times older.  Diamonds are typically 1 to 3.3 billion years old.  Acasta gneiss is probably the oldest thing you will ever touch that has remained as a consistent “thing”, measurable even against the age of the universe (~13 billion years.)

This rock field is found north of the Slave Lake in Canada, far past the reaches of roads, and is about as remote as you could possibly hope to be – perfect for such an unbelievably old and undisturbed layer of material.  There were older zircons that had been found in Australia, but they were small flecks in younger rock layers.  The Acasta gneiss rock formation was the oldest rock that had been found which could be said to be a consistent age throughout.

So, now that I’d found out what the oldest rock WAS, how do I get some?  This proved to be more difficult than I had first imagined.  I found that there were samples at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC and that several scientists had done experiments on fairly small pieces.  I found someone selling a few grams for close to $100 for research purposes, but a few grams was not what I was looking for.  If anything, I am persistent, and after a few weeks of rummaging around various articles and journals, I finally found the owner of the property from which most of the samples had been taken, and via a very circuitous route finally managed to contact him.  After some discussion (“Oh, I can’t get any new rock until the lake is thawed since I have to fly up in the spring – why do you want this, again?”) and quite a bit of delay, I received my chunk of rock in a beat-up brown box in the mail from Canada.

The rock then saw quite a few miles as a conversation item, something to make myself and others think.  I enjoy unusual items that cause people to pause, especially myself – the firebrick-sized block of titanium on my desk, the ferrofluid, the altimeter, the ship’s telescope – odd objects, each with a story.  The Acasta gneiss was a favorite, though – nothing else could touch the impossibly deep concept that it embodied – “All of history.”

One year I was in dire straits for a Christmas gift.  What can I give?  I was drawing a blank on typical ideas, until I saw the rock sitting on my shelf.  Hmm… maybe I’ll just cut a slice off of that, and make some jewelry out of it.  I contacted a local lapidary here in Portland whose work with semi-precious stones I had seen and liked, and gave him the rock to take some cuts.  His skilled work turned out well – the rock took a great polish, and his wife is a superbly skilled silver-wrap specialist who fitted the pieces into pendant and earring settings.  Anyway, needless to say, the jewelry was well-received and is a conversation piece no matter where it’s worn.

The lapidary had a few pieces left over from the cutting, and asked if I wanted them back.  I told him to see if he could make a few simple “dangle” earrings out of the shards that I could give out as presents to others who might find the story interesting.  As it so happened, at the office I told the story about what the rock was, and how I had the jewelry made, and there was such an interest in the pieces that the earrings I had in my bag as rainy-day emergency gifts ended up being sold on the spot.   The desire to contemplate such age is apparently more wide-spread than I thought, and I had the lapidary make some additional pieces from the leftover stone.  But I have a fairly limited supply, since this was a year or so ago and both my schedule and the jeweler’s schedule work on (pun intended) geologic timescales as far as sideline projects like this.  However, I just received the last batch of silver-wrapped pendants and earrings, and I still have some “dangle” earrings as well.

This is truly a unique gift.  There are no others like this in the world, and the community of ownership I suspect will remain as a tiny group of people who contact me directly.  Getting this rock is difficult; damn near impossible.  The stone is hard (gneiss is a 7 on the Rockwell scale, roughly equivalent to quartz) and takes a polish well but takes time to get shining.  The settings are elegant and professional.  This is a stone far more rarely owned than gold, diamonds, or opals, but even the rarity is not what makes it interesting – the appeal is the age.  This is a piece that women love to own and talk about  – nobody else at the table will have a piece of the Earth from the beginning of time.

What I’m selling

The silver-wrapped pendants (will not match the pictures, but will be roughly the same size but may be differently shaped) or silver-wrapped earrings are $400 for either item, or $700 for a set of earrings and pendant.  If you buy a set, the pendant shape will match the earring shape and the grain will be the same on all the pieces.  The dangle earrings are $150.  Prices include shipping to the US and Canada, though overnight is extra for you last minute buyers.  Pendant includes 16″ or 18″ silver chain – please specify.  PayPal is preferred – contact me for details at

Sorry for the crummy photos – I’m not a pro with macro yet.  You can see some of the quartz and red flecks in some of the shots – the stone is actually quite pretty and “deep” looking when seen in a good light.  The silver settings are quite interesting in and of themselves – they’re tension-based, and typically made of just one or two pieces of wrap.

Acasta gneiss pendant/earrings

Acasta gneiss pendant/earrings

Acasta gneiss pendant - close up

Acasta gneiss pendant - close up

Acasta gneiss earrings

Acasta gneiss wrapped silver earrings

Acasta gneiss dangle earrings

Acasta gneiss dangle earrings

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