In the 1880's as Congress Hall enjoyed its return to glory following the Great Fire of 1878, it continued the tradition of attracting clientele from the elite classes. Legends of these guests are embedded in the walls and sometimes even reach out into the sands that roll beneath the waves of the vast Atlantic Ocean. In 1886, Joseph Hand was a prominent member of the Cape May community in that he served these elite classes as the local jeweler. It was Mr. Hand that provided these guests with trinkets and tokens from Cape May that would travel the world and serve as reminders of timeless memories. One guest of Congress Hall created quite a buzz when she paraded through the halls with a $30,000 necklace made of real diamonds. She challenged Mr. Hand to create the same necklace, using only the famed Cape May Diamonds. When Josey (as he was known to locals) rose to the occasion, there was not a single person in town who was not impressed by the “string of such brilliancy”. Valued at a cost of $60, the two pieces of jewelry were nearly identical, distinguishable only by the eye of Mr. Hand himself.
Cape May Diamonds have a history that predates the birth of the United States. In the 1750s, it is said that a large Cape May Diamond was presented to Christopher Leaming, a local whaler, by the last chief of the Kechemeche tribe King Nummy. This possession of this diamond could be traced through the Leaming family up until the 1970s, after which its whereabouts are unknown. The Kechemeche believed that the “diamonds” contained supernatural powers, and used them to seal bonds of peace and friendship.
Today, similar bonds are created as families and couples scour the shores of Cape May Point looking for the famed rocks known as Cape May Diamonds. But what exactly is a Cape May Diamond? According to the staff at Sunset Beach Gifts, a Cape May Diamond is a quartz stone that washes up on the beaches of the Delaware Bay. They are translucent when wet, and when they are tumbled they have the appearance of a real diamond. Karrie Kolateri, a Beach Plum Farm employee who is studying geology explains the difference in the chemical make-up of Cape May Diamonds and actual diamonds. “Cape May Diamonds are Quartz, so they are made up of Silicon and Oxygen bonds. Diamonds are made up of carbon bonds and that’s why they are much harder. Quartz is a really pretty gem, especially when it's polished the way they are here in Cape May.”
When storms such as Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore, all sorts of treasures wash up onto Sunset Boulevard. Jeanette, a woman who works at the gift shop and a lover of Cape May Diamonds, said that following both the hurricane and another storm in February there was an abundance of both Cape May Diamonds and Sea Glass. Unlike Cape May Diamonds, which were created by the waves and the current of the Delaware River, Sea Glass is a piece of glass created by man that has been tumbled throughout the ocean to create interesting treasures. Sea glass has become rare in the past few years, given that plastic has taken over as the primary material used for bottles that are abandoned on the beach. Sea glass may also come from ship wrecks that have been lying under water for hundreds of years. These treasures wash up to the surface, particularly on Sunset Beach, following large storms and hurricanes.
Sunset Beach holds Cape May Diamonds of all shapes and sizes waiting to be polished into new treasures and cherished by the visitors that take them home. These Native American symbols of friendship have become symbols of love as many couples flock to Sunset Beach to seal a pact of engagement with a Cape May Diamond. The Beach has seen several marriage proposals over the years. The staff at Sunset Beach Gifts shared the stories of a young couple fresh out of college eager to begin their life together, while an older couple was engaged after beginning a long standing friendship in Cape May. While the stones themselves have little monetary value, like real diamonds the memories and legends that are associated with Cape May Diamonds last forever in the sand of Sunset Beach.