The streets of New York City are literally paved with gold and gemstones, according to urban miner Raffi Stepanian. For the past four years, the Queens native has been earning $100 to $930 per week scraping the gunky expansion joints that separate the cement sidewalks of the world famous Diamond District.
The same joints that collect goop and occasionally catch a stiletto heel also provide a muddy groove into which gold, diamonds and gemstones can settle.
Stepanian told My9NJ.com that gold fragments and small gems often find their way onto the streets by clinging to the clothes and shoes of diamond district workers.
Armed with a bucket, magnets, tweezers and scraping tools, Stepanian typically heads out on his mining mission after 7:30 p.m., when most of the local businesses have closed for the day. Then he scans the sidewalk for anything reflective.
Once he finds a promising spot, he gets down on his knees to perform the tedious task of inspecting and collecting the material from the expansion joints that divide the concrete sidewalk. While demonstrating his technique to a reporter from My9NJ.com, Stepanian discovered something valuable right away.
"See over here?" Stepanian asked the reporter. "That's solder right there. Nice piece of gold solder."
A freelance diamond setter who has been in the jewelry business for more than 26 years, Stepanian got the mining bug four years ago when he happened upon a piece of gold on the sidewalk in front of a 47th Street jewelry exchange.
He now believes that the 60-year build-up of precious materials on the sidewalks of the Diamond District is far more concentrated than that of any diamond or gold mine.
He told The Daily Telegraph, “The soil in the sidewalks of 47th Street is saturated with the stuff. You might get $30 per piece, but it all adds up."
Once he’s collected enough material, Stepanian lugs his muck-filled bucket back to his home in Queens, where he separates and screens the material using water, dish soap, heat and a strainer.
How long will Stepanian continue to crawl the streets of the Diamond District looking for riches?
“As long as I keep finding material, I will keep doing this,” he said. “If people can drop them, I can pick them up.”
Images: Screen captures via My9NJ, YouTube.