LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Beth Gilbertson was washing the contents of the buckets of dirt she had collected at the Crater of Diamonds State Park when she suddenly saw something shiny catch her eye.
“I thought it was a piece of glass at first,” she said. “But when I put it in my hand and started rubbing it, I realized what it was.”
What Gilbertson had found Tuesday was an 8.66-carat white diamond, roughly the size of a nickel and the third largest diamond found by a visitor since the park was established in 1972.
“It’s a dream come true. I’m still in shock,” Gilbertson said, adding that she travels down from her home town of Salida, Colo., regularly to dig for diamonds at the park in Arkansas.
Gilbertson, 49, said she has been visiting the park for more than a year and has found small diamonds before, but nothing close to this size.
The search area for the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a 37.5-acre plowed field where visitors get to dig for diamonds and keep what they find. It calls itself the world’s only diamond-producing site open to the public.
Joan Ellison, Public Information Officer for Arkansas State Parks, said about two diamonds are found each day at the park, but the best time to dig is after rainy weather.
“The perfect time to find diamonds is after a rain storm and the sun has come out,” she said. “Diamonds have an oily skin around them, so when it rains that dirt will slide off that oily skin and when the sun comes out they’ll sparkle.”
Gilbertson’s visit to the park coincided with a recent bout of severe storms that hammered through much of Arkansas Monday and Tuesday nights.
She said she had been showing two other visitors how to search for diamonds in an area she didn’t normally frequent. After scraping gravel out of a drainage ditch, she discovered the diamond while sifting buckets of dirt at a washing station.
“I knew (Arkansas) had some really bad storms recently, so it’s had some erosion,” she said. “I found an area that was collecting water and I figured that might be a good place for a diamond to land. I guess it was.”
Gilbertson said when she took the diamond to the park office to be weighed, the staff member on duty’s jaw dropped. It weighed in at 3.66 carats. The park offers the option of certifying the diamond, but Gilbert said she wanted to take it home so she could spend the night determining the perfect name for her gem.
“I ended up naming it the Illusion Diamond because I was convinced it was a piece of glass at first,” she said after bringing it back to the park Wednesday to be certified. “I did think it was a diamond until I held it, and it looked like it changed from glass to diamond in my hand.”
Ellison said the only diamonds the park’s visitors have unearthed that were larger than Gilbertson’s were a 16.37-carat Amarillo Starlight found in 1975 by park visitor W. W. Johnson of Amarillo, Texas, and an 8.82-carat Star of Shreveport found by Carroll Blankenship of Shreveport, La, in 1981.
“A lot of people go to the Crater of Diamonds hoping to find the big one. It’s everyone’s dream and it was her dream, too,” Ellison said. “We are all so thrilled and happy for her hard work and her good luck.”
Gilbertson said she isn’t quite sure what she is going to do with the diamond yet, but it’s already safely tucked away in a safe deposit box.
“I’m just going to hold on to it right now and be able to look at it and appreciate it and show it around. After that I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll probably take a break for a few days and then head back out there. I know there’s always a bigger one out there than the one I have now.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)