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Buried Treasures: The Sapphires of Auvergne

One may find sapphires…in Auvergne.

– Antoine Furetière

In 2023, a tract of land in Livradois-Forez — just south-east of Clermont-Ferrand — became a battleground for what some have called the region’s first “sapphire war”. The conflict arose last autumn after several residents discovered that Riviere de France, a company headed by a neighbour, had been extracting sapphires from a stream allegedly located on their respective properties. Complaining that Riviere de France had sold these gems for astronomical prices on the market for seven years, they took their case to court, claiming €1 million in compensation. The dispute is ongoing, and in December 2023, a judge appointed a mining expert to fully investigate the plaintiffs’ claims.

Although mineralogists have long regarded Auvergne’s sapphires as among the finest in Europe, the legal battle in Livradois-Forez has thrust the radiantly blue stones into the public eye. Hunted for centuries by licensed extractors and amateur treasure-hunters alike, they were well-known to — and frequently sought out by — French aristocrats. In fact, since at least the Middle Ages, the most popular place to find sapphires in Auvergne has been the Riou Pezzouliou, a brook located not in Livradois-Forez but in Haute-Loire, between Puy-en-Velay and Espaly-Saint-Marcel. 


According to Henri Lecoq, one of the most renowned naturalists of nineteenth-century France, the Riou Pezzouliou’s “gemmiferous sands” also contained garnets and other precious stones. Fortunately, there’s nothing to suggest that these mineral deposits no longer exist.

Every year, eagle-eyed mudlarkers continue to stumble across all kinds of ancient artefacts on the banks of the Thames. Like their counterparts across the Channel, however, would-be prospectors of the Riou Pezzouliou must tackle the difficult task of learning how to look. It’s a well-guarded secret, for the savviest fortune-hunters know only too well the wise adage of Johann Wolfgang Goethe: “He who goes in search of buried treasure must work in profound silence, saying not a word.”

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