By Maureen Stanley
“On the way to Cape May, I saw my dreams come true.”
This seaside serenade made famous by Al Alberts sings of summertime romance along the beaches of New Jersey. Cape May, New Jersey, invites guests to take a step back in time and explore “The Nation’s Oldest Seashore Resort.” Over 600 lovingly preserved Victorian buildings are the crown jewel of this National Historic Landmark. However, your visit won’t be complete until you find a handful of illustrious Cape May Diamonds.
“Diamonds” in the rough
Cape May Diamond expert Jeanette Fox Bartolomeo of Sunset Beach Gift Shops explains. “These beautiful gems we call Cape May diamonds are pure quartz crystals,” she says. “They are, in fact, semi-precious stones with a hardness of seven compared to a genuine diamond’s hardness of 10. Just like real diamonds, they are hard enough to cut glass.” When polished, cut, and faceted, Cape May Diamonds resemble an actual diamond (at a fraction of the cost).
Cape May diamonds, also called Delaware Bay diamonds (left to right): as found on Sunset Beach, wet Cape May diamonds on the beach, the many colors of quartz and beach stones found on Cape May beaches, dry and unpolished Cape May diamonds, Cape May diamonds tumble-polished to a high gloss.
The largest faceted Cape May Diamond, weighing in at a staggering 1,800 carats, along with several smaller ones, are on display at the Cape May County Museum.
A connection to the Ice Age
Over 10,000 years ago during the Ice Age, massive ice sheets covered much of North America including New Jersey. These thick glaciers trapped rocks and sediment and, as the ice melted, quartz pieces began their long journey tumbling toward the sea. Cape May quartz travels from the swift water of the Delaware River towards the Delaware Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean.
A gift of goodwill from the Lenni-Lenape tribe
Bartolomeo shares the Cape May Diamond’s connection to the Lenni-Lenape Native Americans here in New Jersey. “Cape May Diamonds were first discovered by the Kechemeche Indians, part of the Lenni-Lenape Council,” says Bartolomeo. “The diamonds were found in limited areas around Delaware Bay. The translucent gems were held in high esteem by the Kechemeche who attached mystical powers and a sacred trust to their possession. They believed the curious stones possessed supernatural powers, influencing the success, well-being, and good fortune of the possessor.”
Searching for Cape May diamonds: the lure of Sunset Beach
There’s something magical about Sunset Beach—one of few places on the east coast where the sun sets on the water. Located where the Delaware Bay meets the mighty Atlantic Ocean, Sunset Beach is located at the southernmost tip of the Cape May peninsula.
While the sunsets are spectacular, beachcombers flock to Sunset Beach to search for Cape May Diamonds as this location is abundant with them. Plan to wear shoes of some type as the beach is predominately pebbles. The best treasure washes up after the ocean has been churning from a storm. However, Cape May Diamonds can be found at any time. Just look for the clear, glistening quartz among the pebbles. Some “diamonds” appear more like frosted sea glass. As with any gift from nature, Cape May Diamonds come in all shapes and sizes. Bring a sand scooper to dig down past the top layer as the stones can be hidden.
In addition to Cape May Diamonds, beachcombers find sharks’ teeth, agates, Indian arrowheads, and black quartz.
8 things to do in Cape May
Once you’ve found your Cape May Diamonds and other mermaid treasure, take some time to enjoy this beautifully quaint seaside town.
- Cape May Lighthouse Climb 199 steps of this fully restored 1859 lighthouse. The prize? A stunning view of the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean. For those who prefer to stay on solid ground, explore the Oil House, Museum Shop, and Visitors Center.
- Cape May Zoo Looking for family fun? The Cape May Zoo is the place to be! Visit this popular zoo (free admission) featuring over 550 creatures from over 250 species (including the famous snow leopards).
- Wine Tasting New Jersey’s wine market continues to flourish with over 50 wineries across the state. Set out on a Cape May tasting tour. Cape May also has several breweries and distilleries. Happy Hour never tasted so good!
- World War II Lookout Tower Those interested in World War II history will enjoy exploring New Jersey’s last remaining restorable Word War II tower (constructed in 1942). The tower had a key role in the Delaware River and Bay’s coastal defense.
- Shopping Cape May is home to the Washington Street Mall, a lovely outdoor walking mall covering three blocks. Peruse everything from jewelry from local artisans, antique treasures, clothing boutiques, handcrafted home décor, and the famous whipped cream fudge.
- Dolphin and Whale Watching Immerse yourself in nature with an exciting tour of the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean aboard the Cape May Whale Watcher.
- Dining From fine dining to hamburger joints, Cape May’s wide variety of cuisine options has something for everyone.
- Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge Grab your binoculars and head to the East Coast’s first-rate spot for bird watching. Take in the flight of raptors, shorebirds, songbirds, and waterfowl.
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This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2019 issue.
Learn more about beachcombing in Cape May ›