In New York City, one man is making an unlikely living by scraping through the dirt in pavement cracks. Raffi Stepanian, who self-identifies as both a “freelance gemstone designer” and “city miner”, realised that by combing the city’s pavements armed only with a butter knife and a pair of tweezers, he could find tiny pieces of gold, rubies and even diamonds.
The specks usually make their way to the street by clinging to those who work in the area’s jewellery trade. As Stepanian told the New York Post in 2011, valuable tidbits “fall off clothes, [stick to the] bottom of shoes, it drops off jewelry, and it falls in the dirt and sticks to the gum on the street”. Sometimes, Stepanian spots the gems in the dirt; he also collects mud to dissolve in water and so shake out the heavier precious materials, just as more traditional goldpanners do.
Stepanian claims he nets anywhere from $500 to $900 in a week by selling the stones back to the very people who drop them – the city’s jewellerymakers.
In this video, Stepanian gives offers a brief introduction to the sidewalk-mining profession: