The Miguel Romero Collection of Mexican Minerals

Oct 12, 2019
18.7 cm, from the San Juan Poniente stope, Level 5, of the Ojuela mine, Mapimí, Durango, Mexico. “The Aztec Sun,” Jeff Scovil photo.

In 2008, Rob purchased the collection of Dr. Miguel Romero, who assembled a particularly significant and outstanding Mexican mineral collection. To memorialize the collection, we worked with the Mineralogical Record to publish supplementary volume highlighting Dr. Romero, his contributions to preserving the mineral heritage of Mexico, and his collection.

The book is available for free here, but the introduction, by Dr. Eugene Meieran, gives interesting insight into what happens when a collection is sold and thoughts about its dispersion.

If you're interested in purchasing a copy, check to see if the Mineralogical Record still has them available for sale in their bookstore.


Introduction to The Miguel Romero Collection of Mexican Minerals

By Dr. Eugene Meieran

Originally published in 2008

I doubt that any serious collector of anything can pursue a collecting career without becoming aware of the amazing historical collections displayed in museums and other institutions. The mere names of these great collections conjure up strong emotions—of awe at the beauty and perfection of their specimens, and, yes, of an envious desire to own those specimens. As mineral collectors, we can all name the great institutions that have amassed fine mineral collections: the Sorbonne, Harvard, Yale, the Houston Museum, the British Museum, the American Museum, the Smithsonian, the Philadelphia Academy, the Los Angeles County Museum, etc. And we can often name individual collections within each of these institutions: the Roebling Collection, the Kunz Collection, the Vaux collection, and more. These historical collections were put together over time by dedicated private collectors, and eventually made their way into the museums of the world. We all have stood before such displays and thought, “Gee, I wish I owned that specimen!” Such envy is a characteristic (or a malady) of serious collectors!

One such impressive private accumulation was the Romero collection, which most recently resided in the Flandreau Science Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson. This particularly outstanding collection of Mexican minerals was put together over the years by Dr. Miguel Romero, and includes several of the most wonderful Mexican mineral specimens ever dug out of the ground, some of which indeed are widely recognized as the best mineral specimens from anywhere (so-called “mineral ikons,” using the term recently proposed by Wayne Thompson). In fact, the Romero collection of what might be called “Mexican Mineral Treasures” could be viewed as an analog of the spectacular “American Mineral Treasures” exhibits assembled for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in February 2008.

Miguel Romero in 1992, at his home in Tehuacan, showing the “Aztec Sun” legrandite, his most famous specimen, to Texas collector Imelda Klein in 1992.

As is the case with many fine private collections, the Romero collection was not seen by very many other mineral collectors for many years. It was originally kept in an office in Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico, where it was seen only by the occasional serious collector who happened by—and by hoards of local school children who were regularly admitted for tours. I was fortunate to visit the Romero collection in the early 1980s, when I passed through the city during an unsuccessful trip to acquire some Las Vigas amethyst. So in 1997 I was thrilled to see the best of the collection come to Arizona and be put on display at the Flandreau museum! Along with the fine Arizona mineral collection and the displays of world-wide minerals in the museum, the Romero collection stood out as a peerless assemblage of great Mexican minerals. During the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, thousands of visitors had the privilege and pleasure of seeing the best of the Romero collection on public display (thereby making it one of the most widely viewed mineral collections in the world).

Of course, while we as collectors privately covet museum specimens, we are always grateful that public museums acquire and display great pieces for us all to see. Museums preserve valuable natural and cultural artifacts and objects for posterity. So, as I said at the beginning, we mineral collectors look at public displays of private collections with mixed feelings: appreciation that great specimens are indeed preserved and displayed for public enjoyment, and jealousy that we do not own these wonderful objects ourselves!

The Romero mineral collection clearly represents the best that Mexico has to offer to the mineral connoisseur. It was put together by a person who knew, understood and loved mineral specimens and the mineral heritage of Mexico. And since Mexico is so well endowed with great minerals, the Romero collection stands out even among other great world-wide collections. And speaking personally, I really wanted some of those world-class specimens for myself, but I was equally appreciative of the fact that the collection was on public display for me and my fellow collectors to enjoy. Of course, I never thought that the best of the Romero collection would be sold to a private collector.

There are times when a great private collection or set of collections goes on display in a museum, and then later some or all of the specimens are sold or traded to the public, usually for one of three reasons. First, the museum may have so many equivalent specimens that it makes no sense to keep more of the same; the museum collection is enhanced by exchange of specimens with other institutions or collectors or dealers, and these transactions enrich both the private and public collections. Second, the museum may need funds for other exhibits or programs and, perhaps too often, minerals are the first to go because there is such a strong market for museum-quality specimens. And third, the collection may simply be on loan to the museum and is only on temporary display under its stewardship. It can be removed at any time at the discretion of the collection’s owner.

Batopilas Since their discovery by the Spanish in 1632, the vein deposits of Batopilas have yielded seven times the total amount of silver produced at Kongsberg, Norway. Most of the silver found there in recent years is in the form of herringbone crystals from the New Nevada mine, but in earlier times some of the 300 different mines in the district produced wire silver as well. In the 1980s thousands of good specimens reached the market after having been etched out of white calcite, but large specimens were rare. For more information see Wilson and Panczner (1986) “Famous mineral localities: The Batopilas district, Chihuahua, Mexico,” Mineralogical Record, vol. 17, no. 1. 5-cm view, from the Nevada mine, Batopilas, Chihuahua, Mexico. Ex. Romero collection. Joe Budd photo.

This third scenario was the case with the Romero collection: the Romero family had retained ownership while the collection was on public display in Arizona, and they ultimately decided to put it up for sale. We are naturally saddened by the fact that the entire collection is no longer on exhibit. However, the situation is not as bad as it might seem. We can be heartened by the fact that suites of Mexican locality specimens will be retained permanently by the University of Arizona, through the efforts of Rob Lavinsky, the dealer who transacted the sale. The Arizona specimens have gone to the leading private collector of Arizona minerals, where they will surely be well cared for, and although some of the Mexican specimens have been dispersed, Rob has arranged for the core of the Mexican collection to remain intact with a private collector who is planning eventually to open a mineral museum overseas. So, although the unity of the Romero collection is lost, some of it will remain available for study by the public at the Flandreau Science Center in Arizona and the most of the major Mexican specimens may someday be on exhibit together once again in a public museum.

Since the vast majority of private collections are ultimately broken up and their cohesiveness totally lost, it is gratifying to me as a collector to see the best of the Romero collection documented in this book, and to know that most of the collection will be preserved in major segments. In addition, 1,200 specimens still in the Romero Mineralogical Museum in Tehuacan will remain there, and a systematic collection consisting of 5,500 specimens is being donated by the Romero family to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. I look forward to seeing portions of the Romero collection once again, albeit in different museums. Given that the Romero family has found the sale necessary, this is indeed the best possible outcome.


Love Mexican minerals?
Shop our fine minerals for sale from Mexico, including hyalite opal, smithsonite, quartz, adamite, and legrandite!


Read the Mineralogical Record supplement featuring Dr. Miguel Romero's collection online!

Free E-book Available Here


Emeralds: History’s Favorite Stone?

Sep 26, 2019

Emeralds: History’s Favorite Stone

The history behind Emeralds is filled with royalty who’ve sought the precious gemstone for its rarity and eloquent beauty. Emeralds come from the beryl mineral family and are renowned for their deep green to greenish-blue color. In fact, many modern gem collectors regard Emeralds as the top of the “big three” of colored stones, including Rubies and Sapphires.

Throughout the history of civilization, Emeralds have held their status as one of the most valuable colored gemstones. From Asia to Africa, and uniquely South America, the Emerald has inspired impressive statues and jewelry pieces worn by some of history’s most prominent figures and powers.

colombia emerald matrix specimen beryl Phenomenal Colombian emerald in matrix.

A History of Royalty

The Emerald is one of the world’s earliest mined precious stones with many references found throughout history. The oldest known book in the world, The Papyrus Prisse, at over 4,500 years old mentions Emeralds in a passage about pursuing wisdom. Saying, “But good words are more difficult to find than the emerald, for it is by slaves that it is discovered among the rocks of pegmatite.”[1]

Some scholars believe this passage is in reference to the emerald mines of the Ptolemaic Egyptians. In fact, the oldest known mines in the world served Pharaoh Cleopatra, dating back to at least 300 BC.[2]

Emeralds were the preferred gemstones for crowns, amulets, and staffs in many of the world’s great civilizations. One record by Rome’s Pliny the Elder tells the story of Nero, the last emperor of Rome, using a monocle with an Emerald lens to watch the gladiator games.[3] The emperor was known for having poor vision, and the soft green colors of the emerald relieved the weariness in his vision.

The fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan also used over 250 pounds of Emeralds to decorate the white marble walls and peacock statues of the Taj Mahal.[4] The Emeralds used in the Taj Mahal were inscribed with sacred texts, titles and names of the Mughal rulers.[5] Yet, the distinction of “the most treasured jewel in Indian history” goes to the Taj Mahal Emerald, an emerald weighing 141.13 carats and engraved with lotus and poppy flowers.[6]

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Emerald - Muzo Mine, Boyaca Dept., Colombia • item GEM19-20 • We just posted dozens of new pieces for sale on! Visit the link in our bio to shop this piece and other little treasures. While emeralds are found in several localities around the world, Colombians are still held to a higher prestige. This emerald specimen exhibits an intense, neon-green color saturation. The color is literally shocking and can be seen from across a room. The larger crystal, measuring 2.5 cm in length, is translucent throughout and capped by a 2 mm thick, clearer area at the termination. The mass is 19 grams. The coloring on this just doesn't quite come out right on video... check the photos on for color-corrected images. Click the link in our bio to view pricing, photos, and more details!

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The Surprise of Emeralds in The Americas

The love for Emeralds wasn’t unique to Europe, Africa, and Asia. When the Spanish conquistadors invaded what is modern-day Colombia, they were surprised to find enormous raw Emeralds and jewelry shaped by the Incas. The Spanish conquistadors found intricately carved eggs and flower bells from raw Emeralds to be presented to the lost statue of Goddess Umina.

One legend believes the statue was a giant emerald the size of an ostrich egg that hosted the spirit of Goddess Umina.[7] The egg and flower bell carvings were presented as her daughters when they sought her guidance.[8] When the Spanish traded what they’ve found for other precious metals, it helped peaked the curiosity of European and Asian powers into the Americas.

The United States has also enjoyed a recent history of mining for Emeralds in North Carolina. The first North Carolinian Emeralds were discovered in 1875 by farmers in the area. So far, 5 major deposits have been found in the state, including the Rist and Ellis mines in Alexander County and the Crabtree mines in Mitchell County. Today, thousands of rockhounds visit the mines to try their luck at one of the world’s most important precious stones.

Emeralds have mesmerized powers and civilizations throughout history. Their deep green color has inspired many legends and works of art, and is often regarded as one of the most sought after stones in history.

New Finds

Recently, significant finds of emerald have been mined in Ethiopia, nar Kenticha, Oromia. The country has also been a significant producer of fantastic color-play opals this century. While most of the material is rather cloudy and included by biotite, there have been some beautiful cut stones that have emerged as well as rich green crystals.

Ethiopian emerald cut gemstones from Kenticha Cut emeralds from recent finds in Ethiopia

Want to see these rare crystals and gemstones in person? We’ve recently updated our galleries with many impressive specimens from around the world. You can find our latest collections here. Also, don’t miss our listings for our rare rock and mineral shows. We’d love to meet with you and talk about the specimens in our collections!


[1] Glenn K. Faceting History: Cutting Diamonds and Colored Stones. Xlibris Corporation, 2005, 22.

[2] Emerald History and Lore”. Gemological Institute of America Inc.

[3] Br O. “Nero’s Emerald”. National Center for Biotechnology Information.

[4] Diana P, Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire (Walter Books, 2009), 125.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Courtney S. “Former Incarnations: The Secret Lives of Objects in Treasures from India”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[7] Fara B. “Histoy and Legend of Emerald – Gems of Yore”. International Gem Society.

[8] Ibid.

Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Warren District, Arizona

Sep 4, 2019

The Copper Queen Mine was first discovered in 1877, and ever since, the history of this mine rivals the drama of an old western.  Silver and copper deposits were reported in the early 1870s, and in 1877 , rich outcrops were found for prospectors to dig into.

To set the stage, the Copper Queen Mine is situated, in what was then, hostile Apache territory in Arizona, and the U.S. Calvary patrolled the area. One day, they were searching for water in a canyon in the Mule Mountains of Southeastern Arizona, when they noticed outcrops that were tinted red with iron. These outcrops were said to contain cerussite, a lead mineral that was often found with silver; a good sign for prospectors. Sgt. George Dunn grubstaked (outfitted with provisions in exchange for part ownership) the area to George Warren to start the mining operation with a handmade map of the area.  Warren proceeded to get drunk in the Bruneko Saloon, told everyone within earshot about the discovery, using his name for the area, and then proceeded to lose his stake in the operation in a horse race. Warren was soon declared insane by his partner, and promptly committed to a state asylum in Phoenix in 1881. Shortly thereafter, his partner squandered his small fortune. When a group of miners heard about Warren’s plight, they managed to buy his freedom with a sack of sugar, and Warren emerged from Phoenix penniless. Even so, he almost immediately found himself jailed after wandering into Mexico. He finally returned to Bisbee in time for Christmas in 1892, but unfortunately caught pneumonia and died. Warren’s strange life came to a quick end, but he was responsible for getting the word out about the ores that people were looking for, and when the did, they named the mining district in his honor.

The tale of the Copper Queen picks up in 1880 when Benjamin and Lewis Williams and Judge De Witt Bisbee leased and bought multiple mining claims, including the Copper Queen. Bisbee was crucial to the area’s survival; he invested large amounts of capital to build a smelter in the town to save money instead of shipping ore to Wales, Arizona.  The town was named after him in 1880 when it transformed from a collection of tents and hastily constructed buildings to a real mining town. The Copper Queen Mining Company was formed, and the rich ores they discovered rewarded the investors. The discovery site was quarried until a massive pit formed, and a shaft and tunnels were then constructed to follow rich copper veins. By the time all was said and done, the mine had hundreds of kilometers of tunnels and stopes that were developed until nearly all of Bisbee mine became connected underground. Despite of considerable exploration, in mid-1884 it seemed only a few months of ore remained in the Copper Queen mine. The Phelps Dodge & Company had opened the Atlanta mine adjacent to the Copper Queen in hopes of encountering similar geology, but the initial results were not as good.  In one of the last mining efforts in the Copper Queen hit an ore body 60 meters in the main shaft. The same ore body was just discovered in the adjacent Atlanta mine at the same time. The Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company formed from the two companies to give the mine a second chance. They held control over the area of Bisbee for 15 years until Phelps Dodge developed adjacent areas Copper Queen Consolidated had overlooked, and eventually took over the Copper Queen.

Azurite malachite copper queen This is a large, very sparkly display specimen of azurite from the most classic era at the Copper Queen Mine, around the turn of the 1900s.


The Queen was always productive; lode after lode was discovered. In the hopes of continuing the fruitful production, The Phelps Dodge Corporation eventually took over the mining operation and had total control of the area by 1931. Ben Williams became the General Manager of the Copper Queen from 1882 to 1889 and had a stunning personal collection that was recently brought to market.  The equally impressive collection of S.W. Clawson, the Mine Foreman of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company in the late 1890s and early 1900s resides in the LA County Museum of Natural History. Even the miners had personal collections, albeit with questionable provenance. The miners believed it was a birthright to sneak minerals out of the mine and take them home. They even had a saying that “a specimen was only stolen when it was stolen the second time.” No one really tried to stop the miners unless they abused this tradition by taking unnecessary risk or if the miners were taking too much time collecting on their own. The Bisbee area was one of the greatest copper camps on Earth, producing more than $6 billion in metals.  Today, great tailings and dumps remain to showcase the history of mining in Arizona.

The Copper Queen was among the most prolific mines in the Warren District.  The rocks of the Bisbee area consist of Precambrian quartz sericite schist basement overlain by 1,600 to 2,00 meters of Paleozoic, predominantly calcareous sediment. During the Jurassic Period the rocks were intruded by numerous stocks, dikes, and sills, then underwent several episodes of mineralization. The origin of the limestone is from a multistage intrusion along the Dividend Fault about 180 million years ago. These intrusions deposited around 450 million tonnes of pyrite!  Following the limestone intrusions, there was an iron/copper intrusion following along the same dikes. This intrusion led to significant deposition of copper in the Sacramento Complex that later became the ores that would later be mined. A third intrusion was a lead/zinc intrusion that replaced limestone deposits and were deposited adjacent to the pyrite and copper deposits. A fourth and final, small-scale intrusion brought a large amount of precious metals that would later prove to be economically significant. Just prior to the Cretaceous there was broad regional uplift that led to erosion of the Paleozoic sediment forming deep canyons. During the Cretaceous the rejuvenated Dividend fault dropped the southern block about 600 meters relative to the northern side. Later, in the Pliocene the region-wide normal faulting formed the topography of today.

The mineralization of the mine is high-grade copper carbonates with minor lead zinc and carbonates in irregular replacement ore bodies. The pre-existing networks of dikes, sills, faulting, and brecciation controlled the ore deposition. More than 320 species have come from the Bisbee area. Among the species produced are botryoidal azurites, soft tufts of malachites with azurite overgrowths, gypsum, aragonite stalactites, and some of the world’s finest blue-green spangolite in small vugs in cuprite that were lined with velvet malachite. Rare cuprite crystal groups in octohedral cubes up to 3 centimeters in red and in the stunning acicular chalcotrichite variety. Calcites in myriad colors with unrivaled inclusions of malachite or cuprite are also among the best specimens to come from the Copper Queen. The Copper Queen is famous for the malachites and azurites that have varying hues of blue and green, stunning ingrown/overgrown nature, and beautiful shapes.  Some of the most pristine specimens have concentric rings alternating with blue azurite, blue-green malachite, and brown limonite. There are stunning examples of native copper in dendritic and branching clusters often in parallel orientations, and examples with twinning.

Copper Queen mine Bisbee An old Copper Queen mine copper with branching form completely crystallized from top to bottom with sharp spinel twins.

The western action never seemed to stop in Bisbee.  In 1884 John Heath and his gang of robbers and murderers targeted the town. The townspeople tracked him down and hanged him from a telegraph pole.  The town had peaceful times, too. The cave was large enough to host events for the town: members of the Masonic order lived there and had a ceremony inside the Copper Queen, and Bisbee High School students held a prom in the Queen. When World War I came, unions sought to organize the mine and threatened to strike. County Sheriff Harry Wheeler marched 1200 strikers onto a train and had them shipped to New Mexico fearing the strikers would dynamite the shafts. The sheriff was brought to trial as a kidnapper, but the judge ruled in his favor saying the extradition was necessary to save the community.  President Woodrow Wilson even admonished the strikers, adding to the incredible story of the Copper Queen.

Azurite and Malachite, copper-based minerals Azurite on Malachite from the Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee, Arizona. Ex. Frank Valenzuela, Joe Budd Photo.


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

Copper Queen Mine (Halero Mine), Queen Hill, Bisbee, Warren District, Mule Mts, Cochise Co., Arizona, USA. (2015, January 1). Retrieved January 13, 2015.

Graeme, R. (2008). Bisbee, Cochise County, Arizona. In American Mineral Treasures (pp. 12-19). East Hampton, Connecticut: Lithographie LLC.

Rare Chalcopyrite Balls from Daye, China

Jul 5, 2019

Chalcopyrite Balls

Tonglushan Copper Mine, near Daye, Hubei Province, China

found Jan 2019 through April 2019

These "balls" started coming out in January, from one reliable source of mine who works directly with miners at Tonglushan (literally "Green Copper Mountain" in Mandarin), which by the way is also the world's oldest continuous working copper mine. It has been active since the Chinese Bronze Age 3500 years ago, and there is a historic museum atop the old ruins. Nowadays, they mine deep underground with huge trucks and modern mining. Tonglushan is the recently productive source of many modern copper minerals from China including Malachite in stalactites and sheet forms, the strange chalcocite "balls" in matrix that came out a few years ago, sparkly Pyrite on Calcite, Calcites of different colors, Gypsum, and many other species. The modern entry is just down the road from the museum and the archaeological grounds of the old smelters and kilns of ancient times.

Chalcopyrite fine mineral specimen from Daye, China These new 2019 chalcopyrite finds from the Tonglushan mine near Daye, China are stunningly complex!

When these first came out, we thought they might be some trickery of a new way to fake copper minerals. However, the source has worked with me for nearly a decade and said the miners were truthful and forthright. I had the first specimens looked at in several ways. We cross-sectioned one of the larger yellow chalcopyrite balls to look at the internal structure (which was normal and radial, so these are not carved), and to do analysis at University of Arizona via EDS. The results came back conclusively chalcopyrite, with no bornite (as I had guessed the multicolored coating on top might be). Both internally and externally, these are pure chalcopyrite that matches the known standards. We then asked the miners to provide matrix specimens. Apparently, the easy pickings were the floater clusters on the bottom of the pocket, and few matrix pieces had been collected (from above). In the fourth and final lot that I obtained in May, which was collected in April, we were finally able to get the matrix specimens by paying extra. The floaters had been simply picked up in the bottom of the open pockets, and the matrix specimens took more work (and time, and tools) to acquire from the roof of that last pocket. Matrix is Mudstone, an extremely fine-grained sedimentary rock consisting of a mixture of clay and silt-sized particles.

Additionally, Dr. Stuart Mills (Senior Curator of Geosciences at Museum Victoria) has been studying these extensively for a future paper. Some of his initial findings are available here.

New Chalcopyrite balls from China Two views of the inside of chalcopyrite balls from Daye, China

Courtesy of Dr. Peter Megaw, who examined pieces in China with us :

As you can see in the accompanying images, the matrix pieces show a rim or zone between the balls and the mudstone matrix.  My guess is that fluids of some sort dissolved whatever cement was holding the mudstone together, liberating the sulfide balls and allowing them to pop free and accumulate in the bottom of the void in a nest of loose sand. Originally, each ball would have been completely surrounded by this zone but in some cases it was incompletely dissolved (perhaps because it was more completely sulfidized?) leaving the balls stuck to the matrix. I think (simple) weathering is very unlikely to be the culprit as the leaching the agent. The oxidation you can see is not very pervasive and the balls generally look fresh; since chalcopyrite weathers easily and quickly I think if this was a weathering effect you'd see more oxidation and chalcopyrite destruction than you're seeing here. More likely is that late ore fluids dissolved the matrix around the balls and may even have contributed a little sulfide to “glue” the loose balls together. Closer examination of those rims and their transition towards the matrix will tell you whether this scenario is plausible. I am also intrigued by the complex lumpiness on the back of the largest matrix piece. That may reveal some aspects of the overall environment they formed in.

Fine, rare crystal for sale - Chalcopyrite from Tonglushan, China Multicolored chalcopyrite balls "cemented" together by remaining sulfides in the formation pocket. Daye, China

These matrix specimens show that the chalcopyrite forms much in the same was as "Blister Copper" from Connecticut or Cornwall formed, but in different matrix. Instead of forming in, and being bonded to, solid sulfide ores as at those classic localities, these form in a hard sandstone rock matrix with lots of cavities. The chalcopyrite filled veins and cracks, and also bubbled up into these shapes where open space allowed it. Some specimens do show two balls fused together, or clusters of smaller merged with larger, naturally in the matrix. Later, the structure of mudstone holding these heavy objects was degraded and as the sulfides are heavy they simply fell out and settled to the bottom of the pocket (except for some pieces stuck in matrix on the top). This is similar to some gem species' pockets in kaolinized clay where everything settles to the bottom in a mess of floater kunzite or tourmalines; or  like you'd expect to happen if clusters of Spanish pyrites had been exposed to such effects and ended up in open pockets instead of frozen in a mountain. When found, the miners scooped these up and took them out, and we have only cleaned them with water and a quick bath in SimpleGreen. When you look at the matrix specimens, you can see incipient floaters coming out of the strange mix of sulfide-infused mudstone, and easily imagine how these would have formed by the logic above.


This piece is super cool. Many mineral collectors love specimens that tell a story, and this one definitely does and looks good too. The corona surrounding the balls make a very aesthetic picture but give a glimpse at the formation of this find. Originally, each ball would have been completely surrounded by this corona zone. Looking at this specimen you can see how the corona has been preferentially dissolved, and when you rotate the specimen you get an amazing cross-section of this phenomenon. Plus, you can see the relationship between the Chalcopyrite and the mudstone matrix, the complex lumpiness of matrix is super intriguing! This piece is both visually and intellectually stimulating.

We'll be launching these for sale over the next month (and featuring more at the 2019 Dallas Symposium!) so if you haven't already joined our mailing list (in our webpage footer, or by registering for an account), do so for notification when we have these available for purchase!

5 Favorite Rare Minerals

Jun 26, 2019

5 Favorite Rare Minerals

Collecting rare minerals is a passion that requires a lot of patience. Many specimens have journeys that last millions of years until a brave explorer takes the plunge and unearths their beauty. While all minerals are precious, there are a few that stand a cut above the rest in rarity, history and value. Here’s a list of 5 of our favorite rarest minerals.



Found exclusively in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Tanzanite is one of the rarest minerals on Earth. In fact, it carries the saying, “1,000 times rarer than the Diamond”, to signify its limited supply. The Tanzanite’s history is young as it recieved its name from New York jeweler Tiffany & Co. in 1968.[1]

Zoisite var. Tanzanite crystal and cut gem A beautiful Tanzanite ( variety of zoisite) Rough crystal and cut gem. Both are from Tanzania.

The formation of the Tanzanite crystal started roughly 600 million years ago as Mount Kilimanjaro erupted and created the unique conditions needed to form the crystals deep within the Earth. Starting at a brownish hue, the gorgeous blue-violet colors of the Tanzanite can be seen after the small amounts of the Vanadium impurities are heated and oxidized.



First discovered in 1907 near the headwaters of the San Benito river, the Benitoite is a blue-violet mineral whose gemstones are rarely found over 1-carot.[2] Found exclusively in California, Benitoite became the State’s official gemstone in 1985.[3]


Benitoite california dallas gem mine Benitoite from the Dallas Gem Mine in San Benito California.

Benitoite is also known as the “blue diamond”, holding a sapphire blue color due to its small amounts of iron. However, rare specimens of Benitoite can come in an array of colors when exposed to UV light. Some Benitoite crystals will appear as a reddish color when shown under a long wave UV light with slight dispersions of green.


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Benitoite and Neptunite on Natrolite - Dallas Gem Mine, San Benito Co., California, USA • item GEM19-31 • We just posted dozens of new pieces for sale on! Visit the link in our bio to shop this piece and other little treasures. Nicely emplaced on a matrix of contrasting white natrolite, is a single, well formed, trigonal crystal of benitoite, measuring 1.2 cm in length. For an added bonus there are a few lustrous black neptunite crystals, to 7 mm in length, embedded in the natrolite. Startling aesthetics and balance make this a competition-level thumbnail, and it is an old piece from the world class thumbnail suite of Rukin Jelks (of Tucson), purchased by him in the 1980s or previously. Specimens like this are seldom seen, and rare amidst "more clunky" examples. Click the link in our bio to view pricing, photos, and more details!

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Named after the Russian Czar Alexander II (1818 – 1881), the first Alexandrite crystals where discovered near the Tokovaya River of the Urals in 1834.[4] According to legend, Alexandrite was found on the day that Alexander II came of age to become the future Czar. With the crystals shining red and green, Alexandrite became a national favorite of imperial Russia.[5]

Zimbabwe alexandrite chrysoberyl color change Alexandrite showing the signature color change. This specimen is from Zimbabwe

Alexandrite is known for its optical ability to suddenly change color under different types of light. Under daylight, the gemstones shine a deep greenish blue color, but under incandescent light it turns into a soft purplish-red color.



First discovered in the Mogok region of Myanmar (Burma) in 1951, the Painite was named after British gemologist Arthur Charles Davy Pain.[6] The Painite was once regarded as the rarest mineral on Earth with only 2 faceted gemstones found until mid-2005.[7] Although a few hundred crystals and pieces have been found to-date, nearly complete and facet crystals are extremely rare.

Painite, ruby, Burma Painite and Ruby from Kyauk-pyat-thet, Burma.

A few complete Painite gemstones that where found varied between brown to red-pink. It’s highly pleochroic, changing hues depending on the angle that you’re viewing it from.


Red Beryl

Red Beryl, also known as Bixbite, “Red Emerald” and “Scarlet Emerald”, is found in a few locations within the Thomas Range and the Wah Wah Mountains of Utah.[8] It was first discovered in 1904 and since then few quantities of Red Beryl have been large enough to form a gem.[9] This is because the special mixture of elements needed rarely occurs in large enough quantities to produce the red coloring, making the Red Beryl incredibly rare.

red beryl utah bixbite specimen One of the finest red beryl specimens. 6cm tall.

The conditions needed to make the Red Beryl occurred around a hundred million years ago during the formation of the Rocky Mountains. Volcanic activity and Beryllium-rich gases created porous pockets of low pressure and high temperature, allowing the red coloring in the Beryl to settle.

Since the mid-1990s, the Arkenstone has been a pioneer of the online mineral world, expanding the breadth of this hobby that we love worldwide. Grow your collection of rare and exotic minerals by exploring our online collection at iRocks! Click here to start your search or explore new collections in our Galleries.


[1] “Tiffany Colored Gemstones”. Tiffany & Co.

[2] “California State Gemstone”. State Symbols USA.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Biography of Dr. Peter Bancroft”. Palagems.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Painite Visible Spectra (380 – 1100 nm)”. California Institute of Technology.


[8] “Utah Gemstone Mining”. Geology.

[9] Ibid.

Benitoite Gem Mine of San Benito, California

Apr 3, 2019

The Benitoite Gem Mine filled one of the largest voids in the mineral world in spectacular fashion. J.F.C. Hessel predicted the ditrigonal dipyramidal class of crystallization in 1830, and when minerals were found in San Benito County in 1907 with this crystal habit, his hypothesis was confirmed. Only a handful of ditrigonal dipyramid minerals have been recognized to this day. This new mineral, named Benitoite, formed in triangular-shaped crystals with an intense sapphire blue-color.

Benitoite crystal from Dallas Gem Mine area in San Benito, California. Copyright The Arkenstone, Joe Budd Photo.

In 1907 oilman R.W. Dallas grubstaked (outfitted with provisions) Jim Couch to explore California’s San Joaquin Valley. Couch brought L.B. Hawkins with him because of his extensive knowledge of minerals. The two men left Coalinga on horseback and rode through the valley for three days, without luck, in search of copper and any other minerals. On the fourth day, while waiting for sun to warm them up from the morning chill, they noticed a tiny tributary of the San Benito River dancing with light similar to reflections from broken glass. Couch went over, and saw “thousands of blue gems” scattered in the river and throughout the hillside that appeared to have weathered out of a snow-white material now known to be natrolite. Natrolite is a sodium-bearing mineral that often exhibits needle-like overgrowths with orthorhombic symmetry. Usually it has the form of a square prism with right angles and a low pyramid. Natrolite will exhibit perfect cleavage parallel to the faces of the prism, a vitreous luster, with occasional silky luster in the needles.

The ‘blue diamonds’ were sent back to R.W. Dallas, who took them to San Francisco to find out what they were. A lapidary in San Francisco described the stones as “too soft to be a sapphire,” and decided they must be a form of spinel, the only other stone that has the blue color. Next, Dallas took the minerals to George Eacret, manager of Shreve and Company, a jewelry store in San Francisco. Eacret found that the stones were doubly refractive, and thus could not be spinel. Eacret then showed the samples to Dr. George Louderback, a geologist at the University of California at Berkeley. Louderback determined that these minerals were a new species, quickly published a preliminary report, allowing him more time to do research until he could publish the final report. Louderback rode out to the site and named the crystals after the river. He also had samples of natrolite with shiny black prismatic crystals that he believed was a new species as well. At first, he named it carlosite, but it was later found to be that they were neptunite, previously found at Narsarsuk, Greenland. Even still, the neptunite that comes from Benitoite Gem Mine are recognized as some of the finest known. The men also found small amounts of copper minerals, djurlite, digenite, and chrysocolla along the seams of natrolite.

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The Dallas Mining Company was formed to mine the deposit of this new, yet-to-be-accurately-identified mineral. Thankfully, they kept very detailed records of the operation from 1907 through 1913. Tunneling began in August 1907, only a month after Louderback made his visit to the site, which was only two weeks after he published his preliminary report. A 50-meter tunnel penetrated the hillside and two inclines were dug, each about 16 meters. Several short side-tunnels were also constructed into the primary blue schist zone. Benitoite crystals were found in thin veins of natrolite, and were then chiseled out with hand tools and a punch press, usually used for cutting and shaping metal. The crude process destroyed many crystals, and untold quantities of crystals were lost through the use of high explosives. In later years, it was learned that the natrolite could be dissolved in acid, leaving the gem and crystals totally undamaged. This new exotic mineral is first documented in Shreve and Company catalogs in 1908 as gemstones and set in jewelry. Daily production lasted until 1910, with occasional mining continuing until 1913 when Dallas Mining Company declared bankruptcy and auction off its equipment. The next twenty years of the Benitoite Gem Mine are virtually unknown as the diary of the Dallas Mining Company came to a close.

Peter Bancroft authored Gem and Crystal Treasures, detailing 100 of the world's top mineral localities.

Edward Swoboda and Peter Bancroft (author of Gem & Crystal Treasures) became mineral collectors at a young age. As boys they had read about the Benitoite Gem Mine, and in 1938 they set out to go explore the mine for their own crystals. They were dropped off in Coalinga, and set out on foot, and made the 22-mile (36km) hike to the mine. There was a cabin leftover from the operation that was still standing, and upon inspection was determined to still be weather tight, and have a working wood stove. On their first night there they were awoken to rustling and rattling, to discover four rattlesnakes, three falling to .22 caliber rifles. Swoboda and Bancroft found the mine walls still crossed with natrolite veins, but they were devoid of gems. They did find, however, a decomposed section of the mine that was rich in weathered-out benitoite gems that allowed them to begin collecting. They sorted the crystals by grade according to the estimated flawless weight each would produce. They did this for two weeks when their food ran out, then headed out with their packs loaded to about 45 kilograms. When they returned, they loosened the matrix from the gems with hydrochloric acid, and measure several fine gems with flawless deep blues that weighed in between 4.25 and 4.45 carats. Swoboda and Bancroft made a total of six trips to the mine. In 1947 a forest fire swept through the area, destroying the cabin.

The forest fire did not mean the end of the Benitoite Gem Mine, however, Julius Gisler and his son also worked the tunnels in the mid-1940s. They found spectacular benitoite crystals up to 2.5 cm in length that are now housed in museums. R.W. Dallas managed to retain control of the mine, and in 1952 Clarence Cole leased the mine. He brought in a small amount of heavy equipment and began hauling material offsite to Oakland to work through it. Cole hauled an estimated 9 tons of material that proved to contain very little valuable material. Cole found a handful of stones weighing over 3 carats, and even claim that his cutter stole a 5.18-carat stone. Cole had control of the mine through 1967, but the last five years were inactive, and his total time with the mine proved to be unsuccessful.

In 1967 Elvis Gray and William Forrest, leased the mine from Dallas’s daughter and systematically worked the area. The process was very rudimentary at first, and was a weekend operation throughout. Gray and Forrest started with hand tools, working over the surface, and then eventually moving up to drilling and blasting. They mined every weekend, leaving Fresno at 5:00am and working until 5:00pm on Sunday so they were back work on Monday. In 1970 they discovered an enormous block of veined blue schist that produced some of the finest neptunite crystals ever found. They had superb doubly terminated crystals exceeding 5cm in length on pure white natrolite matrices. Another block was found that had freestanding benitoite and neptunite crystals in association with albite crystals that were not associated with the natrolite vein. Within the block of blue schist they found outstanding tiny crystals of orange joaquinite.

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Rich, blue benitoite crystals are accented by burnt-orange Joaquinite, from the Dallas Gem Mine, San Benito Co, California.

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Later on, crystals of a new mineral, snow-white jonesite, were discovered in the acid baths used to recover benitoite crystals. Three other rare crystals were found at the Benitoite Gem Mine, biotite, fresnoite, and banalsite. The operation was proving to be unsuccessful, and in 1972 they focused solely on tailing. Water was pumped up the hill, and the tailings were separated with everything greater than 2.5 centimeters being washed so they could be hand sorted for minerals. The entire process was difficult because the soil was basically clay, but the workers became proficient and were able to spot knobs of natrolite that coated benitoite and neptunite. The smaller material was sorted in a gravity jig where higher density benitoite could be sorted out. The natrolite coating was actually able to protect the more valuable minerals when the tailings were blasted and transported, and then all that was needed to remove it was hydrochloric acid. In 1984 Gray and Forrest bought the mine from the Dallas family, and found a new vein down the hill from the tailings pile. Many fine specimens were recovered from this vein, but the majority of the production from this time was from the tailings. Numerous stones larger than 4 carats were found, including a 15.42-carat flawless faceted stone now in the Mike Scott collection that is the largest clean stone ever found. Gray and Forrest operated the mine as a fun adventure despite being contacted by several companies interested in acquiring the property.

Cut Benitoite from the Dallas Gem Mine California Lustrous cut Benitoite gemstone from the Dallas Gem Mine.

In the late 1990s, new technology was available and Azco Mining, Inc. tested the property but did not purchase the mine. Bryan Lees’ Benitoite Mining Inc. (BMI) did come through and purchase the mine in November of 2000. BMI used Gray and Forrest’s old equipment, feeding 2,000 cubic meters through the sorters. In 2002 they enlarged the operating plant, installing a specimen-sorting belt, so the gravity jig operator was no longer responsible for watching specimens and making sure the flow of material was proceeding smoothly. They also went through the tailings pile, and were able to recover an astonishing amount of small gem rough. BMI embarked on a strip-mining operation of the area but was left disappointed as the blocks they cut out proved to be barren on benitoite. They processed approximately 25,000 cubic meters of material before closing down for good in 2005.

The Benitoite Gem mine is also rooted in jewelry lore. In 1972 William McDonald, a Fresno jeweler, design an elaborate necklace fashioned in platinum, gold, and diamonds, with 66 stones of benitoite. Elvis Gray spent four years cutting 60 stones for the necklace, including the feature stone; set as a pendant, it was a flawless deep blue benitoite of 6.53 carats. The necklace was sold and shipped Zurich, where a Swiss security official stole it. The necklace was recovered, but the massive pendant has never been found.

The Benitoite Gem Mine is still one of the most unique mines to this day. Benitoite occurrences around the world are basically non-existent, aside from minor occurrences in Japan and Arkansas. Five miles to the northwest of the mine is the Mina Numero Uno, which has produced pink benitoite, and that is it for localities. The California Federation of Mineralogical Societies pushed for benitoite to be named the California State Gemstone in 1984, recognizing the significance of the mineral.

Wayne Schrimp offered the following info as an update on more recent mining activites:

"In 2005 the mine was sold to Dave & John Luke Schreiner. That year a single piece of rough was found that was 34 carats which was cut by Ben Kho which produced 4 stones, the largest being a 8.06 carat flawless oval. It was opened for the first time in its history as a public fee collecting site until the closure by the BLM of the surrounding 75,000 of the Clear Creek Management Area. In 2008 following the closure, the owners built a fee dig at their property outside Coalinga where material is hauled down by dump trucks for fee diggers to try and find their own treasure. Still to this day, facet grade crystals and specimen material is still being found in the old Mine Dumps." 08-23-2019


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

Gray, M. (2008). Benitoite Gem Mine, San Benito County, California. In American Mineral Treasures (pp. 120-127). East Hampton, Connecticut: Lithographie LLC.

Written by Lauren Megaw for The Arkenstone,

Spotlight on Azurite: The Blue-Hued Beauty

Mar 26, 2019

Spotlight on Azurite: The Blue-Hued Beauty

Azurite [Cu3(CO3) 2(OH)2] is a rare copper carbonate mineral formed by either contact between carbon-dioxide-rich water and copper-bearing minerals, or through a reaction involving cupric salts and limestone. Azurite is generally found in massive form (though it occasionally occurs as prismatic crystals), and it is often associated with malachite, chrysocolla, or turquoise, in areas with significant deposits of copper.

azurite malachite crystal mexico pseudomorph pigment Strikingly blue Azurite Crystals with a bit of Malachite. From the Milpillas Mine in Sonora, Mexico.

Azurite is best known for its brilliant, distinctive blue color – which closely resembles that of lapis lazuli. Though its stunning azure blue hue makes gem-quality specimens extremely popular amongst collectors, azurite is not commonly used for adornment. With a Mohs hardness of 3.5 to 4, it is fairly soft, and its tendency to fade from blue to green with exposure to heat and light make it less than ideal for jewelry making.

This softness has, on the other hand, largely contributed to azurite's most well-known historical use – as a brilliant pigment, prized by painters.

Though its original discovered use was in Egypt, as a pigment and dye for textiles, azurite was also commonly used in the east, and its blue tones can still be seen in the cave paintings at Tun Huang in Western China, as well as in wall paintings in Central China which date back to the Ming and Sung Dynasties.

Azurite from GuiChi Copper Mine in Anhui Province, China A shimmering azurite specimen from Anhui, China is an impressive 29cm tall. Joe Budd Photo.

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance period, azurite was prized among European painters. It was used first in tempura and fresco painting, and later in oil. To make azurite pigment, masses of the mineral were collected and ground into powder, which was then washed, and run through a sieve. The grains of ground azurite were separated by size – the heavier, coarse grounds created a dark blue pigment, while the finer grounds were used to create lighter shades.


pseudomorph azurite malachite mineral thumb A Tsumeb Mine Azurite caught exactly halfway in the pseudomorphing process! This is the same process that causes the Azurite pigments to fade to green .

No matter the grain, several coats of azurite pigment were required to create a solid blue color – however, the layering of coat after coat of fine azurite fragments eventually formed a crystalline crust with deep blue hue, and a subtle sparkle. The effect was a rich, beautiful, and brilliant blue, with incredible depth – hence it's popularity.

As mentioned above, Azurite, over long periods of time, can alter to greener hues as a natural change based on the copper in the mineral. This change is referred to as a pseudomorph, and the resulting green color is a related copper mineral by the name of Malachite. This change can be seen in mineral specimens, but it can also be seen in the old paintings that used azurite pigments. One of the most notable works of art affected by this Azurite to Malachite change is Raphael's Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints. The Virgin was often depicted in a blue mantle but time has turned her clothing dark green. (See the paining here)

First noted as a valuable pigment by Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D., azurite pigment was favored by many masters, including Duccio di Buoninsegna, Johannes Vermeer, Hans Holbein The Younger, and Raphael. Its use continued until the 18th century, when it was replaced by the discovery of Prussian Blue, which was more resistant to the greening and fading which tended to occur with azurite's exposure to the elements.

Azurite is a widespread mineral, and significant deposits have been discovered in France, Greece, Germany, Australia, and Mexico, among other locales. The most prized azurites are crystalline specimens, usually originating in Tsumeb, Namibia, or Morocco. Beautiful crystalline azurite specimens have also been found in the U.S., at copper-rich sites located in both Arizona and Utah.

Arizona Azurite Bisbee Malachite Classic Azurite Specimen from the Famous Bisbee mine in Arizona. Joe Budd Photo.

Azurite's historical connection to artistic endeavors lends additional depth and interest to this stunning blue mineral. Though rarely used as a pigment today, its brilliant color still stands as one of nature's finest, making it a valuable and highly esteemed specimen, which adds distinction to any collection.

To learn more about collecting fine rocks and minerals click here to view our current collection of azurite specimens.



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Tourmaline: Most Colorful in the World?

Mar 19, 2019

Tourmaline: Most Colorful Mineral in the World?

Tourmaline is a very sought-after rare rock amongst fine mineral collectors for its massive range of colors and shades. The depth of color in tourmalines rival that of emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. Yet, tourmaline doesn’t have an extensive history of myths and lore because it is a relatively modern discovery.

Not Quite an Emerald

The earliest known history of tourmaline minerals were as recent as the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors on the Isla of Elba confused tourmaline for Brazilian emeralds.[1] Tourmaline crystals are highly transparent with a vitreous luster, giving green colored specimens a deep and rich vibrancy that can pass for an emerald. When viewing the tourmaline below (from Minas Gerais, Brazil) it's easy to understand how they might have confused the two.



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Tourmaline remain misidentified until 1703, when Dutch jewelers introduced the mineral to the markets of Europe.[2] Tourmaline would eventually find its way to Tiffany & Company where jewelers discovered a chemical composition that was different from anything else on record.

Later observations would describe tourmaline as a grouping of four different types of minerals – elbaite, schorl, dravite, and liddicoatite – instead of a single mineral. Each type of tourmaline has a similar crystal structure but different chemical compositions that create its unique range of colors.

mint green tourmaline maine crystal for sale Mint green tourmaline from old finds in Newry, Maine

After the discovery of tourmaline as a mineral group, additional mines were found in Sri Lanka, Russia, and the United States. In 1892, gemologist George F. Kunz (the namesake for the mineral Kunzite) wrote a report on the discovery of tourmaline deposits in Maine and California.[3]

Between 1898 and 1914, California was one of the largest producers of tourmaline in the world with crystals coming in rich shades of blue and yellow.[4] The Empress Dowager in China took a particular liking to the pink and red crystals found there, reportedly shipping over as much as her boats could hold. Maine held steadier yields with a greater range in colors and weights, including a blue and green 256-carat stone.[5] Specimens from Newry, Maine have a very distinct color that many collectors can recognize instantly upon sight.

The Phenomenon of Color

elbaite tourmaline crystal mineral brazil pederneira Exceptional 31 cm tall Multi-colored Elbaite Tourmaline from Pederneira Mine, Minas Gerais, Brazil.

The most popular type of tourmaline is elbaite, which offers the widest range of gem-quality colors and gradients. Elbaites are found within granite pegmatites, which are rich in a variety of elements needed to produce the range of colors for which they are famous.

The chemical composition of elbaite contains a mixture of calcium, chromium, fluorine, iron, lithium, manganese, magnesium, sodium, vanadium, and rare traces of copper. The signature “watermelon tourmaline” is formed when there is a change in chemical composition during crystallization, leaving portions of crystal with a red center and green rim. Alternatively (and by similar compositional changes), elbaites can also display bi-color or multicolor changes along the length of the crystal, as perhaps most famously seen in tourmalines from Minas Gerais, Brazil. Multicolor specimens are coveted by gem collectors and specimen collectors alike, as multicolored minerals are rare to come by, especially in the many shades tourmaline can provide.

The liddicoatite type shares nearly mirror-like chemical and aesthetic properties as the elbaite with an equally impressive color range, but with a noticeably larger volume of calcium. Liddicoatite are unique with their trigonal pattern and multi-color zoning that can create some striking formations.

(Love this piece? Learn more on the specimen page.)

Schorl are the most common type of tourmaline, accounting for nearly 95% of tourmaline mined.[6] Most specimens are a solid black color from their rich volumes of iron. Dravite is a marble-like mineral that forms in limestone and is typically a brown-reddish color.

Tourmaline is a beautiful gem-quality stone that comes in a wide-spectrum of colors and shades. Mines in the United States have often supplied much of the world’s tourmaline, and the State of Maine named tourmaline its official state stone in 1971.[7] With multiple colors and a transparent face, they continue to be a favorite rare mineral amongst rockhounds and collectors alike.

Shop our Tourmaline selections to see what treasures we have available!


[1] Various, Tourmaline Gemstones – A Collection of Historical articles on the Origins, Structure and Properties of Tourmaline (Worcestershire: Read Books Limited, 2011), 189.

[2] Sandra K, Gemstone Feng Shui (Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications, 2002).

[3] Donald O. “Tourmaline”. U.S. Geological Survey.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Rod N. “Tourmaline”. HyperPhysics at Georgia State University.

[7] “Tourmaline”. State Symbols USA.

Rare Crystals & Minerals for Corporate Office Design

Oct 3, 2018

Rare Rocks & Minerals for Corporate Office Design

Bringing life into a corporate office is an art that most professionals can appreciate. No one wants to spend over 40 hours per-week in a dull and grey room. Instead, many interior designers use rare rocks and minerals to inspire creative conversations and revitalize a workspace.

Rare rocks and minerals come in various sizes, colors and arrangements that make each piece a unique work of nature. Popular designs that integrate rare rocks and minerals into an office space focus on two main approaches when selecting pieces – centerpieces and accents. To help spark your designer creativity, we’ve organized a list rare rocks and minerals that will brighten any corporate office.

Rare Rocks and Minerals as Centerpieces

When designing an office, the centerpiece is used as the reference point for the rest of the space. Popular minerals that are used as centerpieces include geodes, agates and quartz crystals. These minerals offer a brilliant array of colors, depth and grandiose in their shape.

  • Geodes: After thousands of years in volcanic pressure, the silica within a geode cools and forms a unique display of layered crystals within the geode cavity. The rough exterior of the geode adds to its cavernous aesthetic that makes geodes a great conversational piece.
  • Agates: Formed from the groundwater inside the cavities of igneous rock, agate structures are translucent bands of microcrystalline quartz that come in a gradient of colors and shades. Their multiple layers of color from the chemistry changes found within the water. Their natural designs and colors make them a popular centerpiece for large offices and lobbies.
  • Quartz Crystals: One of the most popular minerals on earth, quartz crystals can from in numerous environments and conditions. Quartz crystals have been found in large sizes and thicknesses, colors and translucencies. Amethyst and Citrine Quartz are some of the most popular crystals for their deep purple and orange colors.
Geodes and crystals in lit cubbies as decor At the Arkenstone Gallery, fine minerals fill custom-built lit cubbies with bright pops of color.

Rare Rocks and Minerals as Accents

Accents are used to give your designed space a finished look. They can range from smaller subtle pieces like bookends to more detailed likes tabletop décor.

The key to using accents in your design is to start with an aesthetic vision in mind. For example, offices that are well lit with white walls may want to introduce light-cool colors to fill the room. Take into consideration how accents will compliment other décor in the office. Some popular crystals and minerals for accents are amethyst, petrified wood, and lapis.

Rare rocks and minerals offer more than a beautiful finish to an office. They bring with them the natural history of the earth, embodying the virtues of patience and consistency to form breathtaking colors and patterns.

See many of the mentioned minerals by visiting The Arkenstone Gallery!

Don’t forget to check our listings for our other shows. The Arkenstone is proud to offer specimens in many displays around the world.


An Evolution of Dr. Lavinsky's The Arkenstone Gallery

May 29, 2018

I was born in 1972. While still a youth, I liked dinosaurs of course (who doesn't?!) and collected fossils in central Ohio by the side of the road - fossils first, crystals later! I went weekly to see the science exhibit of rocks and fossils at COSI in Columbus (a science museum) and marvelled at the natural beauty of these things. I was "found" by an older collector named Carlton Davis collecting fossils by the side of the road in rural central Ohio (Carlton, a well-known collector, was a member of the Columbus Rock and Mineral Society - the wild adventurer, to my mind, who traveled each year to Tucson to buy and compete in exhibition).

After exposure to the club, despite being half the age or less of most folks there, my interest in minerals grew rapidly - a testament to the patience and time spent in those days by mentors in the community and in the local club circuit. There were also books and magazines to read, although they were more scientific and taught little about actually curating collections of these treasures as an asset and for fun - that, I learned by going to small shows and events throughout the Midwest. John Medici, another club member, took me on my first field trip to collect crystals in a quarry at age twelve to Lime City, Ohio (my mom had to go on the museum bus with me as a minor, for liability reasons. She still is mad I lost a boot in the gripping mud of the place...)

To fund my growing hobby, (and that is all I intended it to be!), I essentially became a part-time mineral dealer by age fourteen, selling self-collected Ohio minerals to support my emerging hobby and setting up at the Columbus and Cincinnati mineral shows in their swap areas (where you sold items for "monopoly money" that could be turned in to the real dealers for specimens). I realized that "HEY! As a kid even, I could own stuff as good as in some museums, and handle and hold these things from Nature from millions of years ago?!" and that seemed a crazy revelation.

A young Rob Lavinsky appeared in the  column "Mineral and Fossil Enthusiast", Rocks & Minerals magazine, circa mid-1980s. The photo is taken in his "rock closet" equipped with plastic shelves cut to wedge in.

It propelled me to a fascination with the natural world that led to a Doctorate in science later, but ironically set the stage for a different career in selling these things and building museums as well - I just had no idea, at the time. I also met small town dealers and field collectors, Neal and Chris Pfaff, who were phenomenal field collectors and "the most fair mineral dealers ever," and ended up working for them while I was in junior high school in Ohio. I took the bus up after school, 2 days a week, and helped them and learned from them. I also had a high truancy rate for missing afternoons to leave early and go play with rocks... At that time the Pfaffs specialized in offering tables at shows with specimens that were $10 each or 3 for $25. Selecting and sorting such specimens from their finds taught me a lot about quality and value.

Many days I sat sorting minerals and gluing thumbnail specimens to toothpicks while watching Star Trek reruns. At shows in Ohio, I would run around looking for bargains to trade or buy and then sell “finds” from card tables in the "junior dealers" area of those shows (they used marked monopoly money to make "swap tables" there in the day). I started with $5/10/50 specimens bought with mowing lawns and shoveling snow, combined with spending birthday money on "rocks" instead of video games. My first $500 mineral specimen was in the mid-80s, as I saved up a year's worth of these “swap dollars” to buy a special Indian apophyllite specimen. At first, I tried collecting everything, but he quickly focused on calcites as a species I could collect and really build something around as a "collection" instead of as a "pile of random stuff." I even started exhibiting at local Ohio shows.

A harsh judging when I was 17 or 18 years old at the Berea (Cleveland area) Show admittedly reduced me to tears and convinced me that my talents were not in labeling or organizing an exhibit case at that time! I bought my first $1000 specimen in those days, and my poor mother had a fit about "the rock shop lady" taking advantage of me when I proudly showed her on my return home via the city bus (had no car). View the video below where it's featured in the last few minutes. I still have it to this day and am still friends with that wonderful mentor from the local rock shop. Gloria Olsen is 83 now and just visited me here in Dallas with her affable husband Don.

The mineral hobby transitioned from summer collecting to a business after I went to college (and to my first BIG SHOW - the Tucson Show) in 1991. During my sophomore year at Rice University, I ran out of money and realized that in order to graduate while doing science lab research work in the evenings and weekends as well, I would need to support myself through the hobby instead of getting a "real job." Minerals beckoned! I did shows all over the country each summer, and local street fairs with agate slabs, geodes, and earrings. I also forged links with many sources and dealers, in my travels.

Once, I came across a mineral collector from Milwaukee in a quarry in Indiana, and in getting to know him, found that he had "met a guy who knew a guy" while collecting in a quarry near Atlanta, and turned up a pallet of the old First Issues of Sports Illustrated with a foldout spread of old baseball cards inside. We spent the next 2 years traveling to all the small cities in the eastern USA, doing rock shows and selling those SI issues 2-5 at a time to sports card and baseball card shops along our routes. It paid for a lot of travel expenses!!! Today, they would have been worth a million dollars and more if we had kept them. But at the time, they paid food and gas while we drove around selling and buying mineral specimens.

A funny story about my rise: Sometimes one event stands out. As an undergraduate student at Rice University (a BS in biochemistry and a minor in ancient civilization), I was conveniently located across the street from the Houston Museum of Natural Science. In 1992, the Fabergé exhibit came to Houston, curated by scientists from the Fersman Museum in Moscow, Russia.

Dr. Dmitriy Belakovskiy explores drawers of minerals at the 2017 Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium

Geologist, explorer, and Moscow native Dr. Dmitriy Belakovskiy (now a close friend!) was sent to accompany the exhibit with a one-way ticket from Moscow and very little money for living expenses and food with his companions. Joel Bartsch, the museum mineral curator at the time who knew me, introduced them to me because he knew I spoke Russian (from high school language class - it was interesting and it was the fifth period, so I could play hookie after that and go work on rocks...). Between my two years of high school Russian and Belakovskiy's rough English, we became friends. In a gesture of kindness to pay their living and food expenses during the exhibit, Bartsch gave these guys two folding card tables to sell minerals (sent over from Russia by colleagues who took them from expedition collections in the basement of the Russian museums!) at the exit from the glamorous Fabergé exhibit---most of them at $1, $2, $5, and $10 each! Between classes, I walked over from Rice University and bought from the tables, wheeling and dealing with the specimens to my own contacts.

As a college student with fast computer access (for that time), I was lucky! Nobody had fast computer connections in 1992, and I lived in a dormitory with free computers and a T1 line. I started some of the first email swap/sell lists before the days of websites. This enabled me to sell to dealers and collectors I had known since childhood in Ohio and from the show circuit. I made my first large deals over $2000 with the Fersman Museum, and I was hooked as a dealer, in hindsight, even if it took a few years to sink into me what was obvious to others. My business grew and grew in my spare time as an undergrad, and I spent a lot of time visiting collections and learning from collectors, who became friends and customers. Those crazy early deals with the Russians really set me on a new road.

Screenshot of in February of 2001 - a rare archival  photo showing the announcement of The Virtual Show, the first online offerings live from Tucson!

INTERNET! Who knew? I had time, I had free computers and access, so one day in 1994 I bought "HTML FOR DUMMIES" at the Campus Bookstore, and tore into it. I put up my first website,, at that time. Nobody could spell it, and people thought I was from Arkansas, so I changed it to shortly after. The internet was wide open at the time. No Google. No Amazon. No eBay. Just a few sites. I put mine up and kept growing it over the years, retooling again and again as the web developed around me, and we found that the mineral market is indeed worldwide, and grew bigger every year once the information and context barriers were broken by the World Wide Web. Business grew. I used to mail VHS tapes around the world with homemade videos of pieces I had for sale. The Internet changed everything.

By design, my website became the largest and one of the first websites with a purposefully broad catalogue of species, quality, and pricing and showing the values of contemporary collector specimens, rather than more common "rock shop" things for the public. I was propelled by the volume I was selling on the Internet to become a “Main Show” dealer at Tucson, our big show - the only major dealer who came up through the web at the time to do so.

At the time I was transitioning to be a dealer in Tucson, I forged an alliance with John Veevaert, a former customer who had become a good friend and fellow website mineral dealer by the late 1990s. Together, we built something we called "The Virtual Show" to convey the energy and excitement, and the new finds, of being onsite at the annual Tucson Show. We sold minerals in gallery and auction formats, and in fact both started our auctions at that time, pushing the frontiers of mineral collecting with the idea and the publicity. Not all folks accepted that the internet was a contribution to the hobby at the time! Few dealers actually understood we were offering specimens in the hallway rooms, to the whole world. Nobody saw the size of the community out there, except us on the statistics reports. TVS ran each year, with specimens and news reports, for perhaps 5 years before we were forced to abandon it due to the workload and went our separate ways. It was a fun adventure I recall fondly now!  We both grew in the process, and John helped me as much as I helped him at the time.

Dr. Lavinsky in the grad lab.... and he hasn't been warned that this photo is being published. Save this photo, fast, before he makes this affable employee remove it!

Despite the lure of dropping out to become a mineral dealer, I loved the science I was involved in and still thought I'd have a career in biotech and academia, so I continued my schooling at UCSD. I earned a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics ("Genetic Engineering") in 2000 (published in Nature, and then my thesis ended up as a feature paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). While writing a doctoral thesis and with a child on the way, I realized the life of a postdoc working in a science lab was suddenly not quite as attractive. I debated whether to go into biotech or work at home as a mineral dealer. With the gracious permission of my wife, I chose the latter - and never looked back.

Since those early Tucson days, I have kept growing my business only as I helped grow the whole trade itself and have been a dealer in the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show™ (TGMS) for over twenty years; promoting the field as a whole and its educational/inspirational opportunities on the website and encouraged both juniors and adults to come into this field. To build on the educational aspect of the hobby, in close partnership with Dr. Gene Meieran, formerly senior Intel Fellow at Intel Corp, I started an annual mineral symposium in Dallas that now attracts hundreds of collectors for a mineral immersion weekend. I also signed on to help produce a PBS television reality show, Mineral Explorers.

Another of my projects was to be a sponsor of The World’s Most Precious Treasures, a reality television documentary following gem tanzanite from the mine to the market in Tucson; it was made by French National Television in association with the gem company Cartier of Paris and has aired in Europe now.


In addition, I organized and planned the Chinese Crystalline Treasures exhibition at the University of Arizona in 2013 in conjunction with partners at the university. The book on the exhibit (online: is really a short introduction and primer to collecting fine minerals in general; and later it was published in Chinese by the Hunan Provincial Government (the first officially authorized and translated U.S. mineral magazine issue of any kind in China). It's also available as a free interactive e-book.

This is the template for a future museum exhibition, hopefully coming soon to Dallas and then Los Angeles or another city in 2021 or 2022! I have been lucky to be accepted by the community of museums in China and have taken the educational mission in China very seriously, traveling there often for talks and experiences, as well as buying trips.. It has truly been an adventure, and not one that I knew I would have when I started "collecting rocks" as a kid!

After maintaining several different gallery locations, I'm excited to have our new gallery in Dallas, opened in early 2018, to showcase these natural treasures for what they are: Art.