Buttongrass jade: Finding a Pacific gemstone on the wrong side of Tasmania

Tasmania’s west coast is known for its rugged, rocky coastline and hidden among the landscape are minerals that can make beautiful gemstones.


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Quartz, crocoite, topaz and sapphire can be found scattered across the state but jade is less common.

Boris Ellis is very familiar with the west coast and its hidden jewels.

He and his wife Christina have spent years up in the hills looking for flecks of colour in stones they can then turn into jewellery.

A few years ago on one of their regular trips, Mr Ellis stumbled on a gem he never expected to find in Tasmania.

“We’d been to this area before and I just noticed a small fleck,” he told Helen Shield on ABC Radio Hobart.

“A small chip of green on the surface amongst some very irregulated shaped brown rocks.

“I held up this small chip to the sun and it was translucent, nearly transparent, a beautiful apple green.”

Mr Ellis said the green reminded him of chrysoprase, a bright green and nickel coloured silica quartz gemstone found in parts of Australia.

“When I got the hand lens on to it I knew it wasn’t the chrysoprase,” he said.


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“It had a structure very felted and needle like, interlocking needles, and I knew right away that this was nephrite jade.”

Nephrite jade is the more common type of jade, largely found in Pacific rim countries such as New Zealand.

So you can imagine finding this type of jade on the western coast of Tasmania was not expected.

“It was quite a surprise,” Mr Ellis said.

“I’m sure lots of people have kicked it around over the years but not recognised its potential.

“First we had it cut and polished to make sure it was going to come up as a gemstone.

“Then we sent some to a factory in China which specialises in cutting jade; it came back as a wonderful product.”

Mr Ellis also sent some to Mineral Resources Tasmania for testing, just to be sure his find was nephrite jade as there are other green stones that resemble jade.


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Confirmed, the Ellises were asked to come up with a unique name for the stone.

Mr Ellis finally hit on the name buttongrass, after a Tasmanian native plant common on the west coast.

“It’s got greens, yellows, browns, oranges,” Mr Ellis said.

“Driving to the west coast at different seasons, those are the colours you see on a buttongrass plain.”

Source : http://www.radioaustralia.net.au


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