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The Punchline

Meet New York’s ‘Urban Prospector’

Katharine Crnko Jun 21, 2011
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So it turns out the streets of New York really are paved with gold.

Raffi Stepanian is a self-described urban prospector. Stepanian makes his living on his hands and knees, sifting through New York’s dirt, grime and silt to find tiny jewelry fragments hidden in the sidewalks and gutters of the city’s Diamond District.

Armed with little more than a butter knife, a pair of tweezers and a Styrofoam cup, Stepanian says he collects enough fragments of gold, diamonds, rubies and pearls each week to make a living.

The 43-year-old is no stranger to the jewelry business. He sometimes works as a part time jewelry setter, but says he can earn more than $800 in a week “mining” in Manhattan’s streets.

He spends his days scouring the sidewalk cracks and gutters in the area around 47th Street, searching for the glimmer of a precious metal or stone.

He carefully lifts mud from the cracks of the sidewalk using his butter knife and tweeters, then takes his findings to a friend’s nearby polishing studio to pan for the day’s treasures using a bowl and sieve.

Stepanian told the New York Post: “The percentage of gold out here on the street is greater than the amount of gold you would find in a mine…It comes close to a mother lode because in the street, you’re picking up gold left by the industry.”

Stepanian often sells his findings right back to the source — the dealers in the area. Stepanian explains that many of the fragments fall off the clothes and shoes of gold and gem merchants.

You can watch Stepanian’s process, and see some of his findings in the video below:


Images Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

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