Weekender

A real life gold digger

Written By : FIONA ROBERTS Daily Mail. It turns out the streets of New York really are paved with gold – as long as you don’t mind searching for it
24 Jun 2011 12:00

image Written By : FIONA ROBERTS Daily Mail. It turns out the streets of New York really are paved with gold – as long as you don’t mind searching for it on your hands and knees.
Raffi Stepanian, a self-styled urban prospector, has discovered enough tiny jewellery fragments hidden in the sidewalks of the city’s Diamond District to make a living.
Using nothing more than a Styrofoam cup, tweezers and a butter knife, he collects hundreds of dollars worth of gold, diamonds and rubies each week.
The 43-year-old 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.”
Mr Stepanian spends his days trawling through nooks and crannies in the area around 47th Street, searching for a glimmer of the precious metal.
He eases up mud from the cracks in the sidewalk using a butter knife, then takes it to a nearby polishing studio where he pans the dirt using a bowl and a sieve, just like a 19th-century prospector.
He earned $819 in just six days last week by selling the gold to dealers in the area – where it came from in the first place.
Many of the fragments are carried out into the street by gold and gem merchants, who accidentally pick it up on their clothes.
Mr Stepanian also finds tiny chips of platinum, gold earring backs and loops from broken necklaces, watches and chains, all of which have been dropped by mistake.
He told the Post: “Material falls off clothes, on the bottom of shoes, it drops off jewellery, and it falls in the dirt and sticks to the gum on the street.”
His daily treasure hunt started several years ago, when he was working as a stone setter and found gold scraps on the floor of a diamond exchange.
He realised if he could find gold inside, it must be outside too – so he started scouring the sidewalks.
He said: “The stones are already cut and manufactured – it’s a step above a mine. I’m finding them already cut and polished.”
His unusual trade has earned him a reputation among the diamond sellers in the area, one of whom quipped “half of it is probably mine”.
For Mr Stepanian, it’s no different to collecting cans on the street and handing them in exchange for nickels – except it’s rather more lucrative.
He said: “It’s redemption of reusable gold. This is the gold that has been on this street for 60 years. I know how to look, and I know where to look for it.”


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