The Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas has become a hot spot for eager diamond hunters hoping to find a little buried treasure. Each year, nearly 200,000 people flock to the 800-acre park with their diamond hunting equipment, $7 for admission and big dreams.
Every individual has their own method for finding a diamond. Some come prepared with a seruca, which is a screen designed to separate the diamonds from debris. Others get on their hands and knees in hopes of getting lucky. In 2007, visitors pulled over 1,000 diamonds from the ground. The Crater of Diamonds State Park’s philosophy is that anyone who visits may leave the park with a diamond, and some say, that also leaves room for some bad behavior.
Eric Blake has been visiting the park ever since he was a teenager. The 33-year-old carpenter finally got lucky with his discovery of a colossal 3.9 carat stone in October 2007. In case you are wondering, 3.9 carats is about the size of a dime. When news of Blake’s discovery broke some congratulated him, some grew jealous and others raised their eyebrows in suspicion.
If Blake can prove that the diamond came from Arkansas soil, it could fetch up to $8,000 on the market. Park superintendent Tom Stolarz caught a glimpse of Blake’s lucky find, “We have concern of maintaining the integrity of not only the park, but the state of Arkansas.” Stolarz knows how to spot a real diamond, he’s handled more than 10,000 of them, but only a geologist can tell where it actually came from. That is where Blake’s saga took a different turn.
After Stolarz looked over Blake’s diamond, he advised Blake to send it to the Arkansas Geological Survey’s Mike Howard. Howard returned from vacation to head into his office in Little Rock after he got the call about the diamond. After trying several times to reach Blake, Howard finally hears from him. Blake told me “he had a flat tire and didn’t have time to come by,” says Howard. To Howard’s surprise, a few weeks later pictures of Blake’s diamond began showing up on the internet and Blake’s own site Arkansas Diamond Jewelry. Even Blake’s fellow hunters became suspicious. “You don’t just come up here, find 40 diamonds and say, “I’ll see you next year,” said Dennis Tyrell, who has been mining at the park for the last 18 months. Rumors and innuendo spread for months about the authenticity of Blake’s find but there was no proof of any wrongdoing. That is, until a mineral and fossil dealer named Yinan Wang stepped in.
Wang bought a small diamond from Blake in September of 2007. In December, while starting a business venture with an Indian dealer named Malay Hirani, Wang asked Hirani for a recent Kimberly Process Certificate for the rough diamonds he was selling. This certificate also ensures the buyer that the diamond’s are not illegal “blood diamonds” from African warlords and proves that a dealer has done business in the United States before. In a stroke of luck, Hirani gave Wang a copy of a certificate from an order that he had recently sent to Blake. Attempting to get some feedback on Hirani, Wang asked Blake if he could trust Hirani. According to Wang, Blake denied even knowing Hirani and said that all of his diamonds come from the U.S.
Wang says he didn’t even ponder the issue until he was talking with Hirani about where to find rough diamonds and he mentioned Blake’s site. After looking at the site, Hirani claimed that some of the diamonds on the site were his. The two then poured over Hirani’s receipts, shipping confirmation numbers and photographs that he sent to Blake. The duo claims they even managed to track down the source of the 3.9 carat Blake claimed to have found in Arkansas. They say that diamond can be tracked to a Belgian dealer named Philippe Klapholz.
Even with all of this controversial evidence swirling around Blake’s diamond, he maintains his innocence. “A couple of diamonds were in question, but nobody has proven anything,” says Blake. He claims he only made the mistake of posting the wrong photos on his site.
Pike County Sheriff Preston Glenn is investigating Blake and expects to be finished with it this spring. It’s up to the district attorney whether or not the county will file charges against Blake. Eric Blake is enjoying his freedom and still operates his website, but he has agreed not to ever set foot on the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas.
Editor’s Note: This story has the makings of an Agatha Christie novel: money, diamonds and betrayal. The question remains: Was there a crime committed? There is a lot of circumstantial evidence but no one has proven that he planted the diamonds at the park or tried to sell the diamonds in question. What do you charge someone with who plants a gemstone in a state park and then claims to have found it? For all of those people who are angry with Blake and would like to see justice done there may be a silver lining.
There is one thing that anyone who sells jewelry must possess in order to become successful, and that is trust. If people cannot trust you, they will not buy something of value from your store. This story is spreading like wildfire through the diamond community; it has even gained national attention. Bad press can seriously damage your reputation and there is no doubt that this story has marred Eric Blake’s.