Tom Campbell Wins the Desautels (and the Lidstrom, too!)

Jun 6, 2024

Tom Campbell's Desautels-winning mineral exhibit at the 2024 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Photo courtesy of Christi Cramer and The Mineralogical Record.

Intro by Rob Lavinsky

"Tom Campbell is one of my oldest online customers (we think we started in 97 or 98) and later became one of my longest time friends after we met in person and he helped me, simply as a friend, at shows and with mentorship in the rare species and science of minerals as my own website and business developed. It has been an honor to be able to convince him to be associated with our company as a contractor/consultant on various projects after his formal retirement from a long career in economic geology, resources and mining, during which we get to have him in Dallas frequently. Every time we do business or travel together or go through a collection together, I learn something. I saw him give a talk at University of Texas Dallas perhaps 7-8 years ago, which really served to convince me that, yes, pegmatites are damned interesting and maybe I could learn a little bit about how they form. His combination of bubble diagrams and casual talking style filled with self-deprecating jokes and pictures of his wife next to giant beryls, made me pay attention more than I have paid attention to many other science talks. I started to see pegmatites the way he does, as a cornucopia of variety and it gave me deeper appreciation in particular for the crazy combination pieces and weird but beautiful giant crystals of rare species – such as his collection is so strong in. (Happily/Sadly for him, it also made him an easier customer since I could target what he needed, all the better!).

As I saw his collection grow, and expand after his "retirement" gave him more time to play with minerals, I have long encouraged him to exhibit. He had the idea to combine the exhibit with educational content about how a pegmatite forms and gives such variety, and had initially planned to enter it as educational content at TGMS. However, the minerals are competition worthy and beautiful, and I was happy to push him over the hill to the trials and tribulations of competitive exhibition and lugging his babies to Tucson for this!

The Desautels award is named after Paul E. Desautels (1920-1991), a mineralogist and the former curator of the Department of Gems and Minerals at the National Museum of Natural History (AKA the Smithsonian.) 

The Tucson competition is different than most mineral shows in that above all levels of “standard” competition for displays ranking minerals in a case by quality, diversity, labelling, condition, etc, there is also a category above for “best overall case in show.” It is hard to define what this means, but you know it when you see it, at most shows – and the judges usually don’t quibble for long or over the details in a good year. The Desautels award and competition is named after this former Smithsonian Curator, who preached quality over all else and said something to the effect that he’d rather have one good specimen than ten mediocre ones. The award is a tribute to his legacy of influencing the rise of quality and condition as criteria among top dealers and collectors in the 1970s-1980s. To earn this award, you generally have to beat others out on QUANTITY of DIFFERENT QUALITY SPECIMENS of DIFFERENT SPECIES! In other words, you cannot win this by duplicating species much,  or without putting in as much breadth of beauty and diversity as you can. (interesting side note – this is why thumbnail collectors win so often! It is not about size and value, right?! So a thumbnail case can feature 50-80 fine specimens of different species and if they grade highly, they can easily beat out a case with fewer but more valuable large specimens). THE way to win is through diversity, combined with quality.  

Tom showing off his mineral display at the 2024 Tucson Mineral and Gem Show
Tom showing off his mineral display at the 2024 Tucson Mineral and Gem Show

A word about Tom’s score and intellectual diversity here:

Other than a case of thumbnails, there has seldom been so much breadth of species in a competition case, much less a winning case. And for minerals in the miniature to small cabinet size, this might have the most breadth and quality of each species, yet represented in Tucson competition. It is very much not just a case of beauty but an intellectual case with multiple items to puzzle both judges and viewers that left people saying “huh, what is that?!?” Such breadth and depth, in this quality, took Tom nearly 50 years of mineral collecting knowledge and searching to build.

We are happy to share what Tom wrote when asked how he felt: 

I was thrilled and honored to be awarded both the Desautels Trophy for the “finest individual display of crystallized mineral specimens entered in the show” and the Lidstrom Trophy for “the outstanding single mineral specimen entered in the competition” at the 69th TGMS Show in 2024. I had no expectations of winning anything, as my main purpose was to show the tremendous mineralogical diversity that granite pegmatites can have to the collector community (the science nerd side of aesthetics collecting!). Since the show theme was Pegmatites and I dedicated all of my life to that theme, it seemed reasonable to also dedicate all of my mineral entries to that theme. My display consisted of 49 specimens from thumbnail to cabinet size that represented 55 mineral species in total. Many of the rare and unusual species are some of the finest available in the size class. I wanted the collector community to be aware that there are a lot more beautiful, interesting, and well crystallized pegmatite species out there other than just the usual tourmalines, aquamarines, kunzites or topaz… although I had those too! This diversity is what makes collecting pegmatite minerals so fun, and so challenging; and I wanted to share it in a way that showed science and beauty together.

White beryllonite crystal on hydroxlherderite
Tom's Beryllonite on hydroxylherderite from Shigar Valley, Pakistan won the Lidstrom Trophy at the 2024 Tucson Mineral and Gem Show, a part of the display that also won the Desautels Trophy. 6.4cm tall. James Elliott Photo.

My absolute favorite specimen in the display, which was also the one I chose for the Lidstrom Trophy competition, was the stunning, almost snow-white Beryllonite crystal. It resembles a snowflake perched on a gemmy, complete, doubly terminated Hydroxylherderite crystal from the Shigar Valley, Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan and it measures 6.4cm tall. I treasure it for the unusual aesthetics and combination, which is so beautiful and unprecedented for this mineral species. Other notable pieces in the exhibit included the large, twinned Amblygonite crystal from Brazil (ex. Eric Asselborn collection via Rob), a beautiful and analyzed Fluor-liddicoatite Tourmaline from Madagascar (ex. Federico Pezzotta), a gorgeous lemon yellow (large for the species!) and gem Montebrasite crystal from Brazil (ex. Steve Smale collection via Rob), an exquisite specimen of Tiptopite and Fransoletite (with Montgomeryite) from the Tip Top pegmatite in South Dakota that represents the syntype specimen for the two species that I discovered and co-described as new minerals, along with many others that are unique and exceptional for the species like Wodginite (which I purchased myself when in Brazil), Simpsonite, and Behierite-Schiavinatoite (this one from Federico Pezzotta’s private collection).

This was my first competitive exhibit ever and I want to thank my friends (including all the folks at Arkenstone!) and colleagues for their support and encouragement in this endeavor!


Additional information can be found here in the Mineralogical Record, Vol. 55, No. 3 (May-June 2024).

100 Carats: Icons of the Gem World, at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Apr 11, 2024

Hurry in and check it out! The Exhibition is on display until April 21, 2024

125.37 ct Jonker I Diamond on display at the Natural History Museum of Lass Angeles County for the 100 Carats exhibition
The world-famous Jonker I Diamond (125.37 ct from South Africa) on display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

100 Carats: Icons of the Gem World is an exciting new exhibition located inside the Hixon Gem Vault in the Gem and Mineral Hall of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It runs from December 8, 2023 to April 21, 2024 and is free with museum admission. The centerpiece of the exhibit is undoubtedly the exceptional, massive 125.37 ct historical Jonker I Diamond, whose storied past is museum worthy on its own but the brilliance, clarity, and size make it beyond compare.

This exhibition, in collaboration with Robert Procop Exceptional Jewels, does not stop simply at the Jonker I Diamond but showcases many jaw-dropping gem displays, with over two dozen exemplarily gemstones never seen before in public.

From Left to Right: Pride of Sri Lanka / The Healing Blue (186.82 ct deep royal blue Sapphire from Sri Lanka), The Magnificent (106.20 ct, Paraiba blue Tourmaline from Mozambique), The Miracle (100.06 ct teal Sapphire from Tanzania), The Crown of Colombia (241.04 ct deep electric green Emerald from Colombia), The Sunrise of Ceylon (115.13 ct sunshine yellow Sapphire), The Princess Pink (109.82 ct bubble gum pink Sapphire from Sri Lanka)
From Left to Right: Pride of Sri Lanka / The Healing Blue (186.82 ct Sapphire from Sri Lanka), The Magnificent (106.20 ct, Paraiba Tourmaline from Mozambique), The Miracle (100.06 ct Sapphire from Tanzania), The Crown of Colombia (241.04 ct Emerald from Colombia), The Sunrise of Ceylon (115.13 ct Sapphire), The Princess Pink (109.82 ct Sapphire from Sri Lanka)

Further information on the exhibit from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County can be found here.

As well as a write-up by CNN that can be found here.

All photos courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Rob Lavinsky Donates Massive Stibnite

Jan 26, 2024

Dr. Robert Lavinsky, founder and owner of The Arkenstone,, was honored to donate one of the world's largest stibnite crystals to the University of Arizona's Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum.

The donation was celebrated at a reception on January 25, 2024 at the museum, at the start of the 2024 Tucson Mineral Show Season.

Mined in 2003 in Jiangxi, China, this stibnite is one of the largest surviving specimens from what has become one of the world's most significant stibnite finds.

"I am incredibly thankful to Dr. Lavinsky," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "His generous donation of the incredible stibnite piece places the University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum at the forefront of global mineral exhibits and boosts the museum's ability to provide a unique opportunity for individuals of all ages to engage with the history and importance of minerals." (Read the full press release from the museum.)

Stibnite on display at the University of Arizona
Massive stibnite from the University of Arizona's Mineral and Gem Hall, donated by Dr. Robert Lavinsky

Additional Resources:

Rare Stibnite Joins Arizona Gem and Mineral Museum - National Jeweler

UArizona Gem and Mineral Museum unveils rare specimen donated by renowned collector - UArizona

Tucson Metro - Mineral Donation - Arizona Daily Star

A Rare and Intricate Beauty - UArizona

2024 Tucson Show featuring Schauss and Sanabria Collection Premieres

Dec 7, 2023

The annual Tucson show season is almost here!

This year we are very excited to premiere two prestigious collections, Alex Schauss and Raul Sanabria, in addition to all our other new eye candy at our gallery in La Fuente de Piedras starting January 26th.


Photograph of the entrance to La Fuente in Tucson, AZ.


La Fuente (Lester St. patio entrance)
1735 North Oracle Rd.
Tucson, Arizona 85705


Friday, January 26, 2024 to Friday, February 9, 2024
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Saturday, February 10, 2024
10:00 AM - 3:00 PM

Final Schauss Release Party

Saturday, January 27, 2024 from 4-6 PM

Closing Reception Party

Wednesday, February 7, 2024 from 4-6 PM

Alex Schauss Collection, 2nd (Final) Release Premiere:

Profile photograph of Alex Schauss

Last year, we were honored to feature the first installment of Dr. Alexander G. Schauss's amazing thumbnail collection, many of which are incredibly rare, fine examples from worldwide localities. The second installment will premiere the second half of his collection which had not yet been released for auction or sale. Alex's award-winning collection is known its for world-class aesthetics. Many of these outstanding thumbnail specimens were featured in the book Refined Elegance: The Small Treasures of Mineralogy by Wendell E. Wilson, Jim Houran, Alexander G. Schauss, and our own Robert M. Lavinsky.

To learn more about Alex Schauss: check out our interview with Alex from the first installment of the Schauss Collection Premiere on Vimeo, read more about Alex in a blog post, or browse through an article co-authored by Alex with Dr. Jim Houran and Jim Bleess called Little Wonders: Connoisseur Thumbnails in the Contemporary Collector Market. If you just cannot wait to jump in and see some of what Alex has to offer, you can view items available from the first installment of the Schauss collection on

Raul Sanabria Collection of Spanish Fluorite, featuring Berbes:

The subject of the January special issue of the Mineralogical Record will be the famous fluorite mines of Berbes in Spain. We are fortunate to have acquired the lifelong private collection of one of the two co-authors (Raul Sanabria with Jordi Fabre) and the fluorite specimens (most featured in the book) will be released in Tucson. Raul grew up working and visiting the mines of Aliva and Berbes. He later became an exploration geologist and used his childhood and professional contacts to build important location collections of large specimens, without repair or restoration, for each over the decades. Our Tucson release will be the first public showing of the collection, although specimens were featured in both the Aliva and Berbes books by Mineralogical Record (both of which he co-authored), as well as in numerous Spanish publications over the years. 

Important release of Copper from a US locality:

Stay tuned for a special announcement on January 26 on our instagram account, when we will post videos showcasing an old find of world-class copper specimens - and they're NOT from Michigan!

For further questions, please contact via e-mail

Artist creates a mural for The Arkenstone

Nov 7, 2023

Tucson just got a new mural. And it looks strikingly different from the 120+ murals spread all over the city featuring mostly southwestern themes. It is painted on the northwest patio of La Fuente de Piedras (the former La Fuente restaurant) in midtown Tucson on Oracle and Lester, where The Arkenstone sets up for the annual gem and mineral show.

Mineral inspired mural by renown artist Timothy Goodman on the northwest patio of La Fuente de Piedras in Tucson, AZ.
The artwork by Timothy Goodman is a nod to Tucson’s importance to the mineral collecting community and the economic importance that the Tucson gem, mineral and fossil shows have on the community.

The new mural on the side of The Arkenstone's location incorporates the culture of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, featuring mining imagery, species names, and some Tucson flare with cacti and nods to the mountains and desert... and even Gollum, as an acknowledgement of the origin of The Arkenstone's name.

Since 2008, Timothy Goodman has made a name for himself as a creator of text based graphic art on a variety of media: walls, packaging, clothes, products, magazine covers and even a sanitation truck for the city of New York. Originally a Cleveland, OH native, the 41 year old artist resides in NYC. Goodman has lent his creativity to brands such as Apple, Nike, Google, Samsung, the Museum of Modern Art, Netflix, S'Well, luxury fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, Time, the New Yorker, and the New York Times.

Artist Timothy Goodman at work on a New York inspired mural.

Timothy is not just an award-winning artist and graphic designer; he is also an author and public speaker. His latest book I Always Think it’s Forever, published in January 2023, is a one-of-a-kind graphic memoir in the bold illustration style Goodman is best known for. It chronicles the year he spent in France and offers a unique glimpse inside the heart, mind, and soul of the man, Timothy Goodman.

Cover of Timothy Goodman's book, I Always Think It's Forever: A Love Story Set in Paris as Told by an Unreliable but Earnest Narrator (A Memoir).
Timothy Goodman's book I Always Think It's Forever: A Love Story Set in Paris as Told by an Unreliable but Earnest Narrator (A Memoir). A sweeping, unique graphic memoir about the artist’s year abroad in Paris and how it gave way to an all-encompassing love affair and crushing heartbreak as he wrestled with trauma, masculinity, and the real possibility of hope.

“If you are making a living as an artist then you are truly performing a miracle” said Goodman, in preparation for his second solo exhibit in New York City in 2023. 

Timothy wants to initiate conversations about uncomfortable topics and is not shy about voicing his, sometimes unpopular, opinion on topics such as manhood, relationships, love and heartbreak, politics and race, and mental health and therapy.

Timothy Goodman at work on The Arkenstone's mineral inspired mural on the northwest patio of La Fuente de Piedras in Tucson, AZ.
The hands-on artist Timothy Goodman at work.

Famous mines: The Pala Chief Mine, Pala, San Diego County, California

Nov 6, 2023

Amongst worldwide localities, the Pala Chief mine holds a special spot in the hearts of collectors, a California locality known for old fables and fine gem crystals like tourmaline and kunzite.

Historic photo of the Pala Chief mine in the early 1900s, including M.S. McLure, Bernardo Heriart, Pedro Peiletch, and Frank A. Salmons. Photo from the Bill Larson Library
Pala Chief Mine, Pala, California ca. 1903/04. From left to right: M.S. McLure, Bernardo Heriart,
Pedro Peiletch and Frank A. Salmons. H. C Gordon photo. From the Bill Larson Library.

The history of the Pala Chief Mine is very much connected with the history of the Sickler family, as told by Peter Bancroft in 1995 in The Wrangler newsletter, a quarterly publication of the non-profit San Diego Corral of The Westerners, summarized in the next few passages.

Marion Marcellus Sickler, born 1853, came to San Diego in the late 1880s. He was a descendant of an influential pioneer family from the East Coast who immigrated to the US in 1760 and settled in Upstate New York. He had an entrepreneurial spirit, and built a grain mill near Pala with his brother, and he was prospecting for gemstones.

On one of those prospecting ventures on Heriart Hill in 1901, his two sons, Fredrick (born 1879) and Allen discovered quartz and lepidolite at a pegmatite ledge. Upon closer inspection, Frederick found “fragments of a light pink heavily striated crystal, which he assumed were tourmaline”.

On June 14, 1901, Frederik was enouraged enough by the mine to file for a claim on the land, which he called ‘White Queen Mine’. The family started working the deposit “which immediately produced good quantities of pink tourmaline, large quartz crystals, pink-colored beryl crystals […] and some small, lilac-colored crystals of a then unknown variety of gemstones”. However, as with most gemstone mines in San Diego County, the sales barely covered the expenses for mining.

kunzite crystal from the Pala Chief Mine
A historic kunzite from the Pala Chief Mine from the early 1900s. It went from the collection
of Peter Bancroft to Dave Wilber to Perkin Sams. The Arkenstone photo.

Still undeterred, Frederick and his father filed claims on several mines in the Pala Mountains: Katherina (1902), Vandenburg (1902), Herirat (1903), Lookout (1905), K.C. Naylor (1904) and Affiant (1910).

The Sicklers kept finding shards of the striated, bright lilac-colored gemstone with the pronounced cleavage at their Katerina mine, similar to the finds that had caught Fred’s attention at his White Queen claim. After unsuccessful consultation with local miners and regional jewelers, in 1902, a sample was sent to George Kunz, gemologist at Tiffany and Co., the go-to address in New York for gemstones and jewelry. He identified the crystals as spodumene, and in 1903 H. Charles Baskerville named the mineral “kunzite” for George F. Kunz.

George Kunz with a crystal, thought to be a kunzite, in the early 1900s.
George Kunz examining what is thought to be a kunzite crystal. Mineral Collector, Vol. X, No.8, October, 1903, pp. 113–114

Kunzite was also discovered at the Pala Chief Mine, when John Giddens, Frank A. Salmons, Bernardo Hiriart and Pedro Peiletch claimed the property in 1903. The mine has since been the source of some of the finest kunzite crystals ever found in southern California, as well as exceptional colorless and green spodumene crystals. Bancroft describes the pegmatite of the Pala Chief as “The main horizontal ledge consists of an upper portion of coarsely crystallized feldspar and quartz; a lower stratum of compact granite ‘line rock’ contained black tourmaline, mica, and small garnets. Between the two layers lies a zone of pockets filled with white and pink clay, lepidolite, tourmaline, and morganite”.

In an article by Mark Mauther in a 2011 article of Rock & Minerals, he questions the story of the discovery of kunzite and presents a few hypotheses that the gem variety has indeed been found years earlier at different locations. The author also hypothesizes that it might not have been the Sickler boys who first discovered kunzite, and drops the names of Salmons, Hiriart and Peiletech as possible discoverers (Mauthner 2011B).

A funny anecdote about an incident of high-grading (entering and working a mine without permission of the owner) attributed to the Pala Chief is written up by Bancroft in 1984. He tells the story of “a miner and his buddies” high-grading one of Solomon’s mines, who happens to drive up to his mine. When the mine owner saw the high-graders he fired shots in the air. He had not noticed that his car started rolling backwards down the hill, and the high-graders remember seeing Solomons chasing his car, and “they never learned of the fate of the automobile”.
Kunzite from the Pala Chief mine, ex. Bill Larson Collection. Learn more

It is interesting that Bancroft tells the exact same anecdote in his 1995 Sickler family history. In that version, “one day early in the morning” another San Diego County legend named George Ashley (who would later purchase several Pala pegmatite properties) is the high-grader on one of the Sickler properties, and it is Frederik Sickler who fires shots and chases his car. The ending is the same as “… there is no record of what happened to the car”.

Another anecdote told by Bancroft is that sometime later, when the widow of Frank Salmons took over the Pala Chief, she “hired a man named Rene as her foreman to oversee a crew of Indian muckers”. The story goes that Rene, an opportunist, realized that the worker mucked out a gem area with a high potential, and “told them the ground was no good” and told them work in a different section of the mine. Reportedly, the following morning, “there was a big hole where the Indians had been working”, and a serious amount of Kunzite crystals “had been removed from a major pocket”.

Theft at the Pala Chief and other mines in San Diego County was a recurring problem. High graders would sneak into the mine at night so frequently that they often “were called the ‘night shift.’”

Kunzite gemstone from the Oceanview Mine, California
Spodumene var. Kunzite makes good cutting rough. One of the finest cut gems from the mine to date 3.0 x 2.2 x 1.4 cm, 56.65 ct. Rough was purchased from the mine owner Jeff Swager from the Oceanview Mine, Pala District, San Diego County, California. More Info here.

Bancroft relayed that “The Pala Chief was producing the greatest quantity of large lustrous gem-quality kunzite crystals. The largest weighed in at 1.37 kilograms, and six other crystals approached 36 centimeters in length and 13 centimeters in width. Stunning examples are displayed in the collections of Harvard University, the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.”

The story of the Pala Chief One is full of “dreams come true” stories such as the one about the “bridal chamber”, Pala Chief’s greatest pockets. And again it is Bancroft who tells the undated story. The bridal chamber, when dug out, resembled a large bed, probably wishful thinking of the miners dreaming of riches. “Once, when a miner was digging into an overhead pocket, sandlike pegmatite grains began to pour from the opening. Next, gem crystals began to ‘roll out’ including kunzite, green tourmaline, and beryl—a most unusual occurrence of three gemstones in a single vug”. Once the pocket was fully dug out, it had produced blue and rose-pink bicolored beryl crystals deemed “the best ever found in San Diego County”. The crystals from this find rivaled the fine bicolored beryl crystals found in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil.

Photo of a large rubellite crystal from the Pala Chief mine. Photo by Mia Dixon, courtesy of Pala International
A 12 x 7.5 x 7 cm rubellite from the Bridal Chamber of the Pala Chief Mine with an interesting provenance. JP Morgan gifted the piece to Andrew Carnegie for his private collection. It was later purchased by Gary Hansen, sold to Wayne Thompson and finally to Bill Larson. Photo by Mia Dixon/Pala International.

The colors of the tourmaline with crystals up to 30 by 9 centimeters from the Pala Chief, ranging from “light pink to the rich red rubellite variety” attracted the attention of local Chinese jewelers, who provided the much-coveted pink tourmaline to the Chinese imperial court and the expanding Chinese market (and for the personal taste of the Chinese Empress CiXi). Two of those individuals are recorded in history: San Diego jeweler Hom Bing, and members of Ah Quin family, also from San Diego, bought large amounts of tourmaline crystals since the late 1890s. A quote of Hom Bing who sent the red tourmaline to his father in China where they were cut into snuff bottles and carvings, is quoted in Bancroft for saying “I give you twenty dollars a pound and you sell me all the stones you get like that”. The demand in China for gem quality tourmaline that could be used in carvings was very high, and the mines of the Pala District, including the Himalaya Mine were reliant on the Chinese market. 

A 3 kilogram rubellite tourmaline from the Pala Chief mine. Larson Family Collection, Jeff Scovil photo.
A 3 kilogram rubellite tourmaline from the Bridal Chamber of the Pala Chief mine. Larson Family Collection, Jeff Scovil photo.

In fact, street names of part of San Diego still reflect this dependence on mineral trade with China in the names of the cross streets as you go down Garnet Avenue from the hills to Pacific Beach, crossing streets with names like Quartz and Feldspar on the way to Mission Beach, which used to have a pier. Mineral collector and author John Sinkankas always said he loved living on a mineral street with so much history, even if largely forgotten by the locals.  

By 1912, the Southern Californian gemstone mining had collapsed for a number of reasons: the demise of the Chinese monarchy in 1911; the labor shortage due to America’s involvement in WWI; and George F. Kunz’s tireless marketing of gemstones which caused a glut on the market; and later the Great Depression.

Pala Chief was closed in 1914, and mining in the Pala Mountains lay dormant until in 1947, George Ashley bought up most of the former Sickler claims on Heriart Mountain: San Pedro, Anita, Katerina, Vandenberg, Fargo, Naylor, Heriart, El Molino, and White Queen.

Schorl with quartz from the Pala Chief Mine.
Schorl with quartz from the Pala Chief mine. The Arkenstone photo.

It goes without saying that there is an anecdote about how Ashley got the funds for the purchase. And this time Jesse Fisher from San Francisco tells it: “Legend has it that Ashley raised the money needed to purchase the claims through the sale of gem material he clandestinely collected from the mines while Sickler still owed them.” If that does not sound familiar go back to paragraph four.

The slide collection of Josie Scripps holds a number of incredible photos of George Ashley from the 1950s and 60s, who quickly turned over of most of the mines by selling most of them to Charles Reynolds in 1948, with the White Queen going to Norm Dawson and Ahley only kept the Katherina and the Vandenberg, where during his tenure in the 1950s, “… he made several important finds”. Reynolds got lucky in 1951 when he encountered “a very large pocket with gem kunzite”, and Dawson did not touch the White Queen until 1959, and until 1973, he “encountered a number of major pockets containing superb specimens of morganite on cleavelandite and some very large quartz crystals.”

Not much is known about the Pala Chief from 1914 until the late 1950s when Fielder Fitzsimmons and William Adams reactivated the mine, but the time seemed to have been uneventful. In 1966, Albert C. Ordway and partners took over until in 1968, Ed Swoboda from Los Angeles who provided the Hollywood film industry with costume jewelry, purchased the Pala Chief with the Stewart and Tourmaline Queen. In the years between 1969 and 1972, the Pala Chief was worked with heavy equipment, and turned out to be a very successful specimen producer under the ownership of Pala Properties, a partnership of Ed Swoboda with Bill Larson from Fallbrook. In 1976, the mine was solely owned by Larson. In 1980, limited mining activities were reported on Hiriart Hill by George Ashley, Norman Dawson, William Magee and Roland Reed, and Fisher reports that “Unsuccessful attempts to reopen the Pala Chief mine were made by several parties during the latter part of the 20th century”. By then it was generally accepted that the major pockets of the Pala Chief had been exhausted.

Bi-color tourmaline (Blue Cap) from the Pala Chief Mine.
Blue-Cap tourmaline from the Pala Chief Mine. The Arkenstone photo.

The mine was owned by Bob Dawson from the 1980s through 2011, and between 2001 and 2003, he found several small pockets with a limited number of excellent specimens. The most notable is a plate of well-formed smoky quartz, microcline, and cleavelandite crystals with a large pink and blue tourmaline perched on one side. Learn more about the history of the Pala Chief mine.

Author/photographer Mark Mauthner tells the exciting story of a spectacular find at the Oceanview Mine, when at the turn of the year 2009/2010. A pocket was opened where spectacular spodumen, smoky quartz and black tourmaline were recovered by miner Steve Carter and Jeff Swanger.

In 2010, the Elizabeth R Mine, which was owned and operated by Roland Reed, and the Oceanview Mine, run by Jeff Swanger, merged into one big complex on Chief Mountain. It is open for tourists as a fee dig site on weekends:

In 2011, the Pala Chief was sold to Oceanview Mines, LLC. Owner Jeff Swanger, who was also a speaker at the 2016 Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium. He promises on the website of the mine that “A visit to the Oceanview Mine allows you a unique view of the only actively working underground mine in the world famous Pala Gem mining district and a chance to find your own gems—tourmalines, kunzites, morganites and more.”

More recenly, Swanger sold the claim to a private owner, though he remains an active and significant part of the management team.

Love minerals and crystals from San Diego county? Check our currently available crystals from mines like the Little Three mine, the Himalaya mine, the Tourmaline King mine, and more.


Bancroft, P. (1984) Gem & Crystal Treasures. 102–105. Western Enterprises Mineralogical Record.

Bancroft, P. (1995) The Sickler Family: Historic San Diego County Gemstone Miners. The Wrangler. San Diego Corral of the Westerners. Vol. 28, 1-7.

Fisher, J. (2008). Gem Pegmatities, Southern California. In American Mineral Treasures. 187-195. East Hampton, Connecticut: Lithographie LLC.

Mauthner, M. (2011A) Recent Finds at the Oceanview Mine Pala District San Diego County California. Rocks & Minerals, Vol. 86/1. 41-47.

Mauthner, M. (2011B) The History of Kunzite and the California Connection. Rocks & Minerals, Vol. 86/2. 112-131.

What's this Rock?

Oct 30, 2023

Curious about identifying your minerals and crystals? This can be a tricky process, sometimes requiring a good bit of testing and equipment, which is why we don't make guesses off of photos and videos submitted online! We'd rather be conservative in the spirit of proper science than make bad guesses off of limited information, like images online.

I bet a lot of us have had situations where we go on a hike and find a cool rock, or we're given a gift but we have no clue what the rock or mineral is. A large percent of the time, these rocks can't (and shouldn't!) be identified by just photo or video, since digital media generally can't accurately portray all of the physical properties required to make a good guess, much less a positive identification. It can be a bit like trying to guess the color, make, and model of a car, when only looking at a black outline of the car's shape. You have some clues, but a definite ID is pretty tough unless the outline has distinctive features!

Calcite crystal from China

This calcite, for example, stumped many of our friends on social media (so much so that we did a scientific analysis to prove the ID!)

Due to the clarity and colorless nature, many people argued that it was a quartz, instead of a calcite from China, and we completely understood how an initial first impression could be confusing. However, when examining the crystal in person, various physical attributes of the cluster can help with clarifying the identification, such as hardness (calcite is only a 3, while quartz is a 7 on the Mohs scale) and the strong doubling characteristic of calcite. Calcite also will bubble slightly with a drop of vinegar, while quartz won't. So even though this crystal might look like quartz off a quick photo or video, a true ID requires more information than online media can provide.

Often times, photos and videos of rock samples don't show necessary identification characteristics like defined crystal shapes or formations, or there is an absence of indicative features and colors. Or perhaps the unknown mineral is embedded in host rock, and it can't be identified from the smattering on the surface. Most often, the devil is in the detail.

Density, luster, and hardness are all meaningful identifiers that also can't be determined just from photos and videos, and these can be vital clues to make identifications.

Photos and videos also make it difficult or sometimes impossible to determine if minerals have undergone treatments like dying or heating. These determinations often require more advanced equipment and experimenting. A great example of this is a famous find of bright blue hemimorphite from Mexico that came to market in 2020. The world went crazy for them, with many initially selling at really high prices, but once dealers and clients began seeing them in person, skeptics started doubted the legitimacy of the color. Testing performed by FMI and Dr. John Rakovan determined the crystals were coated by Phthalocyanine Blue B and sold illegitimately.

So, now for the reality check. How do you confirm the identity of your mineral or rock specimen?

Many identifications are simply good educated guesses unless actual scientific analysis is done on a piece, such as X-ray diffraction (XRD) or Raman spectroscopy. Try reaching out to nearby universities with geology departments, since they might be able to assist, or do a little Googling to find companies that perform testing services for a fee.

Check with local rock shops or mineral and gem clubs, as well, since you might be able to show specimens to someone in person to help them guide you in your identification efforts.

Mineral museums can be a very good resource as well. Some of them offer help with mineral identification, either by walk-in or by scheduled hours. Find out and take advantage.

If you still want some suggestions and tips from people who are willing to speculate off photos and videos, or help with some guidance, here are a few other resources.

Please note that many of these resources require some basic descriptive information in addition to photos and videos, and the more information you can provide, the better your answers are likely to be! Information like where you found the specimen and how long you've had it can be great clues for these sleuths.

Mineral Specimen Identification Room on Facebook - There are also other Facebook groups to explore for identification help, too, if you do a little searching, though we've found this is one of the better moderated groups for mineral identification.

See you in Denver!

Sep 5, 2023

We're excited to be Colorado-bound soon, for the 2023 Hard Rock Summit show in Downtown Denver, opening September 15, and we hope to see you there.

Here in the Dallas gallery, we're busy preparing fine specimens from classic localities to share with you. We're proud to show several mineral showcases with a curated selection of choice specimens, acquired in the last year, including several specimens from the recently-purchased Wally Mann collection.

We will showcase another featured auction live from the show, with surprising offerings of high-end crystals and minerals available for in-person viewing (and online bidding!) If you haven't registered yet, please do so early to ensure your account is active.

Green tsavorite garnet crystal available for bidding on
This Tsavorite garnet is one of dozens of specimens we'll be offering online at, with the opportunity to preview the pieces live at the Hard Rock Show in Denver.

Drop by to see a preview of upcoming Dr. Erika Pohl collection fine mineral and crystal auctions coming later in the year, selected from her vast collection of over 90000 specimens.

Want us to bring something specific from our gallery inventory for you to consider as your next acquisition? Contact us at by Thursday, September 7 for us to add it to the truck.

Transcending Barriers

Aug 24, 2023

A Behind-the-Scenes Conversation on the Making of Rare Earth

Jacqueline Chao, Dennis Kratz, Robert J. Stern, and Robert Lavinsky

Rare Earth: The Art and Science of Chinese Stones, recently on view at the Crow Museum of Asian Art of The University of Texas at Dallas, explores the different ways that Chinese and Western cultures have celebrated the beauty found in, and created from, natural stones. Reflecting the educational mission of The University of Texas at Dallas to unite scientific and artistic thinking, the exhibition pairs works of Chinese art from the Crow Museum’s permanent collection with connoisseur-level samples of raw minerals from China. It uniquely displays these natural and reshaped minerals in contexts that invite multiple, interrelated responses: to appreciate their beauty, ponder their cultural significance, and be inspired to understand the natural forces that created them.

Collecting rocks and stone carvings has been popular in many countries, but particularly in Chinese culture for thousands of years. This tradition is rooted in the philosophical and spiritual inspiration drawn from the artistic beauty of natural stones, such as jade. Unusually-shaped stones called “Scholar's Rocks” or “Philosopher’s Stones” carved by natural processes have also been long valued in China in particular, where there is a multibillion dollar market in such stones. Seen as embodiments of the dynamic transformational processes of nature, these stones were also admired for their resemblance to mountains or caves, particularly the magical peaks and subterranean paradises believed to be inhabited by immortal beings (Figure 1). Although mineral collecting, a practice based on the aesthetic appreciation or the scientific characteristics of the naturally symmetric and patterned crystals and minerals that make up rocks, has a long history in the United States and in Europe since the 1300s, it was not commonly practiced in China. The country’s abundant mineral resources were, instead, historically used as raw material for both art and industrial purposes only. In the mid-1980s, this changed when remarkable Chinese specimens entered the Western market, not only amazing collectors worldwide, but also stimulating a rising interest within China to collect fine minerals.

Figure 1. Scholar’s Rock. China, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), 19th century. Stone, wood stand. 22 x 21.5 x 10 in.
Crow Museum of Asian Art of The University of Texas at Dallas, 1986.25.

This exhibition was co-organized by the Crow Museum of Asian Art of The University of Texas at Dallas and the Center for Asian Studies of The University of Texas at Dallas, in partnership with the UT Dallas Department of Geosciences and the Dr. Robert Lavinsky Mineral Collection.

On the occasion and as a reflection of the collaborative spirit of the exhibition, we wanted to provide an honest behind-the-scenes look at how the exhibition came to be amongst the organizers—from the selection of objects, to the various discussions, debates, arguments, and ensuing discoveries. In this conversation are Jacqueline Chao, former Senior Curator of Asian Art of the Crow Museum and curator of the exhibition; Dennis Kratz, Senior Associate Provost and Director of the Center for Asian Studies at UT Dallas; Robert J. Stern, Professor of Geosciences at UT Dallas; and Robert Lavinsky, lifelong fine mineral collector and educator.

How did this exhibition come to be?

Jacqueline Chao (JC): I have known Rob Lavinsky for several years now, and a few years ago I and several members of the Crow Museum’s staff had visited the Arkenstone Gallery, to see Rob’s mineral collection. I remember that I was blown away by the size and scale of his collection, which included minerals from all over the world, along with a particular special private area of the collection dedicated to minerals from China, many types and samples of which I had never heard of, or ever seen before. In those early visits, many years ago, Rob and I discussed what an art exhibition could look like that blended aspects of Chinese art and culture with natural minerals. Also at the time, we had been in communication with the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, as they were in the process of re-installing their Gems and Minerals Hall with a focus on minerals from China, and our two museum teams had met to see if there was a way to possibly collaborate on the timing of both our exhibitions. With our Museum’s subsequent merger with UT Dallas and the ensuing pandemic, all of our Museum’s plans were delayed. I am grateful to Dr. Kratz for having helped to pick this conversation back up again last year through the Center for Asian Studies (CAS) Faculty Advisory Board, and for reconnecting me with Rob (Lavinsky) as well as introducing me to Bob (Dr. Stern).

Dennis Kratz (DK): As I recall, the project slowly emerged from a series of conversations involving various combinations of the four partners. For me, it began with a tour of the Arkenstone Gallery and a conversation with Rob about our shared interest in connecting science with art—for him, using art to attract students to scientific thinking; for me, merging scientific, artistic, and humanistic thinking in education. Subsequent conversations with Bob Stern and Jacqueline Chao—and I assume their conversations with one another and Rob—inevitably developed the idea of connections; and Jacqueline had an impressive ability to translate this generative concept into the form of an exhibition.
Robert Stern (RS): I have been on the UT Dallas Geosciences faculty for 40 years. In that time I have seen amazing growth at UT Dallas. We have added so many groups of people with a wide range of talents, certainly new degree programs, departments and schools but also things like the Center for Asian Studies (CAS) and the Crow Museum of Asian Art.

I am increasingly concerned that UT Dallas’s growth has not been matched by efforts to link these groups together, and to involve our students and communities in more of our activities. Nearing the end of my career, I enjoy trying to help build some of these connections and getting involved with CAS provides a great opportunity to do so. I also enjoy working on new projects, like CAS and Athenaeum Review, because the ground rules for these babies are still flexible, encouraging innovation and experimentation. When CAS formed, I was interested to help involve science in its purview and reached out to Dennis, who was kind enough to invite me to join the CAS faculty advisory board. I was very happy to join because I am very interested in Asian geology and resources, partly because I am a geologist and understanding how Asia and its important mineral resources formed is very interesting, and partly because I am Editor-in-Chief of a journal, International Geology Review, which gets a lot of manuscripts about Chinese geology. I knew about Rob Lavinsky’s world-class mineral gallery, the Arkenstone, and also have been a big fan of the Crow Museum for many years before it became part of UT Dallas. Before the covid pandemic, Dennis was looking for ideas about how CAS could announce itself to the larger DFW community and, as I recall, I suggested that we somehow marry the Chinese art in the Crow with the Chinese minerals in Rob’s collection.
Rob and Jacqueline did the heavy lifting to make it happen.

In your own words, how would you describe your role in this project? What was your approach? What were your main concerns regarding this project, if any?

JC: My role, at least as I understood it, was to curate the exhibition, particularly the Chinese art works on view. I worked closely with Rob to identify particular mineral examples from his Chinese mineral collection, and we continued to adjust the list of mineral samples right up until beginning the exhibition installation.

My main concern and approach was to make sure that Chinese art and culture was presented authentically and respectfully, and also that the mineral examples were being presented authentically and respectfully as well. My first idea was to create thoughtful and intentional pairings of like object and mineral, where each case would showcase a particular mineral. However, when reviewing the museum’s Chinese art collection, it became clear that I did not necessarily always have certain minerals represented in works of art, because those minerals were not used as the base for Chinese art production historically. While minerals such as gold and silver were more easily represented and could be thoughtfully paired with existing works from the museum’s permanent collection, other minerals such as hemimorphite or aragonite had not been traditionally used for art production, instead having been more often used historically for industrial purposes. I was faced with a conundrum: how do I showcase these fantastic natural mineral examples, while still making a respectful and authentic connection to Chinese art and culture?

After several rounds of case mock-ups and thoughtful discussion, I proposed taking what I called “aesthetic leaps” in thinking about the display of certain artworks and certain minerals. For example, I paired the hemimorphite “cloud” and aragonite “tree” with our Duan stone table screen to highlight the landscape motifs of the screen. I placed the large pink Pyrite on Calcite (Figure 2) on its own in one case, and in its object label, I connected it to the tree peony, discussed the significance of the peony flower in Chinese art and culture, and so on and so forth. I wanted to allow visitors to the exhibition to be able to participate in creating the story of these objects in a way, and to be able to make these aesthetic connections on their own, in order to appreciate each work, whether a piece from the museum’s collection, or a stunning natural mineral example. Every conversation with Dennis, Bob, and Rob was incredibly helpful. Both Bob and Rob were especially helpful in drafting more detailed scientific explanations for each mineral, which I think was critical in cementing the collaborative theme of science and art in this show.

Figure 2. Pyrite on Calcite – ‘Big Blanket’. Manaoshan, Chenzhou, Hunan Province, China. Dr. Robert Lavinsky Mineral Collection.

DK: My role (at least as I imagined it) was to keep the exhibition focused on the process of thinking that the objects on display inspired. At the time, I was involved in a cross-centuries conversation with Alexander von Humboldt. I had just finished reading a biography (The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf) and was in the midst of Cosmos, Humboldt’s grand attempt both to describe the natural world as a living whole, all its parts inextricably and intricately interconnected, and to show that a full understanding of nature required the fusion of intellect and imagination. I wanted the exhibition to evoke a similar kind of “interconnected” response.

The decision to juxtapose “natural” and human-sculpted pieces was a brilliant start. It wouldn’t be enough, however, simply for a science-minded observer to see beauty, or for an artful-minded observer just to become more interested in the natural processes that created the minerals on display. Somehow, I hoped, some observers would become participants in seeing and imagining multiple kinds of connections between works displayed side-by-side and among works displayed separately.

RS: I helped with the original idea, and also provided some explanations for various minerals. I knew from many years of teaching at UT Dallas that the equally intelligent Chinese art history and mineral communities were equally knowledgeable of their own field and equally ignorant of the other, so the explanations of various minerals in the displays needed to be short, simple, and without too many unnecessary details. I really had no concerns about the project.

Rob Lavinsky (RL): Minerals, crystals, and beautifully shaped rock formations have a profound place of honor as treasured objects in many human cultures and in the art they create. We’re used to seeing human creations that owe their coloring to these raw, natural minerals in carvings, jewelry, and paintings. In Western culture, historically, we have tended to focus less on appreciating their natural forms. In Asian cultures, there is a particularly strong cultural relevance to displaying naturally-shaped stones as art objects with imbued cultural meanings to enhance the home and even health. This rising trend in popular culture is now fusing with the longstanding tradition of Americans and Europeans curating focused mineral collections. We’re proud to develop this cooperative effort between the Crow Museum of Asian Art, UT Dallas, and my own collection to share the unbelievable natural beauty, history, and cultural relevance of these natural works of art in synergy, blurring the lines between the seemingly separate worlds in how we classify nature, science, and art. My hope for this exhibition is to show people the unbelievable, and collectible, beauty within the earth, which is just now gaining a new level of awareness and appreciation. I have collected minerals all my life, since I first saw these treasures as a child, and it is my belief that through telling stories of connections to culture and art, people will see these objects in new eyes, not as reductionist “rocks on a shelf” as if the same objects were in a science museum.

Figure 3. Aragonite “Tree”. Wenshan, Yunnan Province, China. Dr. Robert Lavinsky Mineral Collection.

Were there things that happened in the process of planning this exhibition that surprised you? What was something new you discovered?

DK: Not so much as surprised by how much I learned from listening to the multi-perspective conversations among my three colleagues—especially Jacqueline’s process of juxtaposing pieces and creating the possibility of connections among distantly placed objects.

RS: I knew Chinese carvings of jade but was very surprised to learn that these incredible artists also carved quartz crystals.

JC: Echoing what Dr. Stern said earlier, I admit I am one of those art historians who did not have a very strong scientific knowledge of minerals going into this project. As a result, there were many discussions and debates that occurred during the planning of this exhibition that surprised me. For example, the question was raised about whether to include jade in the exhibition, as jade is not considered a mineral! I had always understood jade to be a mineral, and it was difficult to imagine this exhibition without including fine examples of Chinese jade carving, perhaps the largest and most important aspect of our museum’s Chinese collection. I was conscious of being careful to not misrepresent the various mineral examples either. From these conversations, I realized it was important and necessary to expand the scope of the show to include a broader discussion on the appreciation of stones in Chinese culture, from Scholar’s Rocks to other stones such as marble or soapstone—stones that are not technically classified as minerals, but rather, as metamorphic rocks. I think by expanding the scope of the exhibition to include the celebration of stones in Chinese art and culture in general, which includes gems and minerals, we were able to create a more rich and innovative presentation of these works. In the end, I am grateful for this wonderful partnership, the invigorating conversations, and everything that I have learned from this project.

RL: First, letting go of my traditional ways of viewing minerals—even though I see beyond, I am still constrained by the past—and letting Jacqueline go with it and make the selections herself…had a huge impact and change from what I might have picked, and yet I love them all. Secondly, the idea of less is more—this is not a science museum. We do not need quantity to convey impact, only quality and the right story.

Figure 4. Vase. China, Qing dynasty (1644–1911), Qianlong period (1736–1795), 18th century. Cast bronze, cloisonné enamels, and gilding. 29.25 x diam. 14 in. (74.3 x diam. 35.6 cm). Crow Museum of Asian Art of The University of Texas at Dallas, 1999.29.

What is your favorite piece in the show, and why?

DK: Two “pink” flowers sculpted by nature (a large pink manganoan calcite, and two flowers formed by calcite on calcite). During a visit by the Chinese Consul General, I was showing the First Secretary (Lian Shuyu) the exhibit and pointed out the two flowers. Her response was immediate—and from a wholly different emotional perspective: Pink is her daughter’s favorite color. We then searched out other pieces mainly or just tinged with pink, while talking about our families, and reminding me of other ways that works of art—natural and human made—have the power to remind individuals from different cultures of our common humanity.

RS: I have five favorites: The scholar’s rock (Figure 1), the pyrite turtle, the chrysanthemum stone, the tunnel rock, the big blanket, and a carved quartz vase. The Scholar’s Rock captures a sensibility that doesn’t exist in the West. These are natural pieces of limestone that were first fractured into vertical slabs and exposed to the elements, which over thousands of years were slowly carved by slightly acid rainwater into ruggedly intricate shapes. These are found wherever limestone landscapes are fractured, uplifted, and exposed. Such landscapes are called karst, and the spectacular karstic limestone landscapes of Yunnan, southwest China, are famous; this is probably the region that many Scholars Rocks come from. Among the carved pieces, I very much admire the quartz pieces, especially the quartz vase. Quartz has a Mohs scale hardness of 7, and I can’t imagine the skill and patience it took to carve those!

I also like four natural pieces that make you stop and ask: Is that natural or carved? These are the pyrite concretion (turtle), the slab of yellow sandstone laced by iron oxide to resemble a tunnelscape, the big black slab of limestone with white “Chrysanthemums” of the mineral celestine, and the pink manganoan carbonate edged with pyrite (big blanket). The first three of these are the result of subsurface chemical reactions that geologists call diagenesis. Diagenesis involves the physical and chemical changes that happen to sediments underground as they transform into sedimentary rock. Diagenesis happens in many ways and these three objects show three of them: 1) forming concretions (the turtle); 2) infiltrating chemical-laden fluids (lacy sandstone tunnel); and 3) growing new minerals (Chrysanthemums).

The turtle concretion is exquisite; its rounded body is permeated with pyrite crystals marking original sedimentary bedding planes. Concretions form in sediments after they are buried, as diagenetic chemical reactions begin to cement the loose grains, beginning from some nucleus and expanding outward, so that concretions are typically sub-spherical, like a turtle’s shell.

The big slab of sandstone laced with iron oxides is also a product of diagenesis. I got lost imagining myself going down this crenulated tunnel. This slab seems to have been cut out of a larger stone and polished. The lacy crenulations of reddish iron oxide formed when iron-rich fluids infiltrated the sandstone. The chrysanthemum rock is a black shale in which diagenesis sweated elements of strontium, sulfur, and oxygen to migrate slowly out of the surrounding rock and combine to form clusters of large celestine (strontium sulfate) crystals, radiating from a few nuclei thought to be caused by sulfur-rich bacteria trapped in the rock. The effect is stunning, with a few big white Chrysanthemum blossoms set against a jet-black background. The last of my favorite five is big blanket. This beauty has many pink, dainty calcite leaves that are exquisitely rimmed with metallic flakes of pyrite; it reminds me of a Dale Chihuly glass piece. The Tree of Life (Figure 3), an organic looking “natural sculpture” that reminds me of so many mythological constructs, really transcending all cultures. It is an aragonite from China, that I purchased there perhaps around 2010.

JC: This is an incredibly tough question to answer; every piece in the show is truly stunning and has an important place in this exhibition. I am particularly fond of our museum’s cloisonné vase (Figure 4), and my favorite mineral example in the exhibition is this beautiful azurite with malachite
(Figure 5), and thinking about the relationship between the two. Cloisonné was known in the Byzantine world, and from there it spread to Europe and to China under the expansive Mongol empire. In this method, enclosures known by the French term cloisons, made of copper or bronze wires that have been bent or hammered into the desired pattern, are generally pasted or soldered onto a metal body. Glass paste, or enamel, is colored with metallic oxide and painted into the contained areas of the design. The vessel is usually fired at about 1470° F (800° c). When enamel is fired, it shrinks; therefore, the firing process is repeated multiple times in order to complete filling in the design. The surface of the vessel is then rubbed until the edges of the cloisons are visible and finally gilded.

The earliest appearance of Chinese cloisonné dates back to the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), and the technique reached full maturity by the eighteenth century, as exemplified by the types of dense, complicated cloisons seen on the museum’s vase. Strong, vibrant colors, such as turquoise, lapis blue, and golden yellow, made cloisonné an ideal medium that suited the Qing imperial aesthetic. The museum’s vase may have been made in the imperial cloisonné workshop established in the Forbidden City by the Qing dynasty emperor Kangxi.

From the late seventeenth century onward, cloisonné was popularly used at court for domestic goods, ritual vessels, and purely decorative items intended primarily for the furnishing of temples and palaces due to their flamboyant colors. The tapering neck of this work has two gilded handles in the shape of stylized chi, or hornless dragons. This vase is covered with magnolia, peony, lotus, chrysanthemum, and prunus motifs that represent the four seasons. They are interspersed with archaic bi discs in purple and green. The details of the vase are absolutely incredible! The deep blue color of the azurite in the exhibition is so rich and draws the eyes in immediately. I have always known azurite as traditionally used as the base for the color blue in Chinese ink paintings, ceramics, and cloisonné, and malachite was also used for green, but what I learned through the course of this exhibition is that azurite is also an ore of copper, and has also been mined and broken down for its copper properties, as was malachite. When you see this azurite in person, it is so hard to imagine that such a beautiful example like this could have been mined and broken down for its copper!

Figure 5. Azurite and Malachite. Liufengshan Mine, Anhui Province, China. Dr. Robert Lavinsky Mineral Collection.

What was your biggest takeaway from this experience? Final thoughts, messages, etc.

DK: Thinking and imagining along a new path toward a shared goal with colleagues and friends should happen more often. Can we design or happen upon more ways to nurture such experiences? At one point in our conversations, Bob Stern used the metaphor of “injuring” gemstones to make them more beautiful—and thereby of greater value (in multiple senses of the term). That comment gave the exhibition an underlying ethical level. We injure the earth when we imagine it as a “source” of economically valuable resources; but we are appalled by the thought of damaging nature’s “stone art” that is magnificently visible—Grand Canyon and Uluru, for example. Should it be equally troubling to injure an underground artisan workshop where unceasing geological forces are creating beauty?

RL: That I can share these treasures I have always felt a visceral, gut-level love for, with others. That other people can see them in association with “real treasures” and come away with the impact of seeing nature’s art on its own, as worthy connoisseur-level collectibles that have a place outside the realm of mere science.

Rare Earth: The Art and Science of Chinese Stones was on view at the Crow Museum of Asian Art of The University of Texas at Dallas through February 26, 2023.

Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium Livestream Tickets Now Available

Aug 4, 2023

Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium Logo

We hope you'll join our 2023 Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium Livestream on Saturday, August 19, 2023.

This is a full day of talks with opening remarks starting at 9:45AM and our first speaker starting at 10 CDT. Talks are scheduled to end around 5PM. Detailed symposium schedule and benefit auction details are provided below.

Schedule times are listed in CDT. Convert times HERE

Purchase your ticket for $25, with proceeds from our livestream benefitting the Mineralogical Record, Rocks &, and the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

Purchase Livestream Tickets

Benefit Auction

We'll also be hosting our annual Symposium Benefit Auction online again this year, on, complete with dozens of minerals, mineralia, and mineral collecting field trips. Auction proceeds benefit The Mineralogical Record, Rocks & Minerals,, and the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. If you don't have an account on the auction site yet, we recommend signing up early!

Auction closes on August 19 at 6PM CDT. Logo

For questions or comments concerning the Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium, contact