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.
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. Found exclusively in California, Benitoite became the State’s official gemstone in 1985.
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.
Named after the Russian Czar Alexander II (1818 – 1881), the first Alexandrite crystals where discovered near the Tokovaya River of the Urals in 1834. 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.
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. The Painite was once regarded as the rarest mineral on Earth with only 2 faceted gemstones found until mid-2005. Although a few hundred crystals and pieces have been found to-date, nearly complete and facet crystals are extremely rare.
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, 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. It was first discovered in 1904 and since then few quantities of Red Beryl have been large enough to form a gem. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, iRocks.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Tourmaline remain misidentified until 1703, when Dutch jewelers introduced the mineral to the markets of Europe. 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 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.
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. 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. Specimens from Newry, Maine have a very distinct color that many collectors can recognize instantly upon sight.
The Phenomenon of Color
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.
Schorl are the most common type of tourmaline, accounting for nearly 95% of tourmaline mined. 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. With multiple colors and a transparent face, they continue to be a favorite rare mineral amongst rockhounds and collectors alike.
 Rod N. “Tourmaline”. HyperPhysics at Georgia State University. http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/minerals/tourmaline.html
 “Tourmaline”. State Symbols USA. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0ahUKEwig5fjRrJ7QAhXH7yYKHbnDD-cQFgg6MAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.statesymbolsusa.org%2Fsymbol-official-item%2Fmaine%2Fstate-gem-gemstone%2Ftourmaline&usg=AFQjCNFzANN_ssJ7FbzBV7ATtGoWCCPSSg&cad=rja
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.
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.
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.
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 iRocks.com 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, www.TheArkenstone.com, at that time. Nobody could spell it, and people thought I was from Arkansas, so I changed it to iRocks.com 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: www.ChinaCrystallineTreasures.com) 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.
Minerals and gems expo set to sparkle in Chenzhou
May 17, 2018
Latest event will showcase Hunan province city's expanding business opportunities and draw international interest with exciting exhibits and displays
A fantastic stage set the mood for the Fine Mineral Auction at the China Mineral and Gem Expo in Chenzhou, Hunan, China. Monica Kitt Photo.
The China (Hunan) International Minerals and Gem Expo - staged each year in the city of Chenzhou, Hunan province - is set to again draw international interest and showcase the city's bright business opportunities, according to local officials.
This year's expo, the sixth show, will open on Friday and organizers said it will be another dazzling extravaganza.
They said a total of 2,800 exhibition stands, covering about 120,000 square meters, have been booked by more than 1,000 exhibitors from over 50 countries and regions including France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Brazil.
Liu Zhiren, mayor of the mineral resource-rich city, said he believes the expo will continue to play its role as a platform to publicize the city's business environment and forge deals, helping attract overseas businesses and push local companies into international markets.
Most people understand gold in terms of wealth and investments, but there is so much more to say about the mineral. Gold has had a long history as a currency and as a sign of power. Today, gold’s unique qualities have expanded its role as a conductive material, decorative accent, and a mineral collector’s favorite. Here is part 1 of our 10 facts about gold that you didn’t know:
Gold can be found around the globe
Gold can be found on every continent, including discoveries in Antarctica. However, not all locations hold equal amounts of gold. For centuries, the two largest deposits of gold were found in South Africa and India. Australia's gold rushes began in the mid-1800s. When South African gold began to peak in the 1970s, other locations like Russia and the North American continent began to boom as the leading producers of gold. Brazil recently has hit a small deposit of beautiful crystallized golds.
Brazil recently had a find of beautiful gold crystals.
We’ve produced enough gold to fill two Olympic swimming pools
Two Olympic pools or 5 million liters is a figure that is frequently cited by publications using Thomson Reuters GFMS survey. The truth of the matter is that coming up with an exact number is incredibly complicated, as many countries are secretive about the amount of gold they hold.
Mining for gold has been a practice for growing wealth since before the ancient Egyptians. History holds countless legends of gold hordes like Francisco Pizarro’s treasure exploits filling a 22-ft. by 17-ft. room and hundreds of bullion chests aboard sunken ships like the Nuestra Señora. Still “Two Olympic pools” is a safe estimate with cross surveys by the U.S. Geological Survey and the British Geological Survey.
There is more steel produced in an hour than gold in its entire history
Gold is incredibly rare. In fact, the world produces more steel in an hour than it has ever produced gold since the start of written history. Looking at the number, the world increases the production of steel by 10,500 tons per-hour while gold production increases by 2,000 tons per-year!
Crystallized platinum, an example of a noble metal is exceptionally rare.
Gold is a “noble metal”
“Noble metals” are a rare group of metals that resist corrosion and oxidation from moisture in the air. This is because gold’s electronic configuration prevents its electrons from reacting with chemicals that would cause base metals to rust or tarnish. Other metals included in the “noble metals” group are silver, platinum, rhodium, and palladium.
Earthquakes can create gold
A recent study by the University of Queensland in Australia discovered that water in faults vaporize and make gold during an earthquake. During an earthquake, water moves from bigger faults to smaller fractures throughout the earth. At around 6 miles below the surface, the intense heat and pressure carries concentrated carbon dioxide, silica, and gold. When the pressure drops, the water is instantly vaporized to forcing out silica and gold.
Stunning gold from the Eagle's Nest Mine (Mystery Wind Mine) in Mariposa, California
Our fascination with gold has found many incredible facts about its history, uses, and qualities. Be sure to join our mailing list to stay updated.
Looking for gold pieces to add to your growing rare rock and mineral collection? Then follow the Arkenstone on their many mineral shows throughout the year! Information on the shows we’ll be attending can be found on our Mineral Shows page. We’d love to meet with you and talk about the specimens in our collections!
 Vronsky. “History of Gold”. Gold-Eagle. http://www.gold-eagle.com/article/history-gold
 Bjørk H. “Why gold is the noblest of all the metals”. Nature. https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v376/n6537/abs/376238a0.html
 Deon W. and Richard H. “Australian research confirms link between seismic activity and gold deposits”. The University of Queensland. https://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2013/03/australian-research-confirms-link-between-seismic-activity-and-gold-deposits
Visit a Gallery, a Museum and the Dallas Symposium: A Hands-on Education
Feb 22, 2018
There’s no greater fulfillment in collecting rare rocks and minerals than seeing an incredible specimen in person. Not only is it a rare opportunity to engage with scholars, you’re also bound to learn a wealth of information that cannot be found in an article. This is why we at the Arkenstone encourage enthusiasts to visit museums and symposiums to see rare minerals that couldn’t be found anywhere else.
The founder of the Arkenstone, Dr. Robert Lavinsky, has woven this passion for hands on education into the culture of the company with several specimens in display at the Smithsonian Institute, Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology, and many others. In our opinion, here are some reasons to start planning your next museum or symposium visit today:
You’ll See Premier Specimens
Going to a museum or symposium gives you the chance to see some of the finest specimens found on earth and learn from experts. It’s one thing to read about a rare rock in a magazine or online article. Being up close and personal with some of the earth’s rarest minerals like benitoite, red beryl, euclase, and alexandrite is a far richer experience.
You’ll See Complete Collections
Natural sapphires like this one are judged on criteria like crystal shape, color, and the rarity of the location. Joe Budd Photo.
The most exciting part of visiting a museum or symposium are its complete collections. Some minerals like sapphires come in a variety of colors with large specimens being incredibly rare. Visiting an exhibit with an entire collection is a unique opportunity to indulge in a collection that would otherwise take dedicated years and resources to complete.
Some museums dedicate entire rooms to collections by world famous hobbyists and researchers like the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall. The museum is residence to over 2,500 minerals and gems, including the Hope Diamond and the Star of Asia sapphire.
The Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian, one of the world's most famous gems. By David Bjorgen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
You’ll Meet Experts in The Field
There’s no shortage of rare rock and mineral experts when you visit a museum or symposium. Museum curators and docents have extensive background knowledge about the rare rocks in display and will happily offer references for further studies.
Symposium events like the annual Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium and the Tucson Mineral Shows bring hundreds of scholars and enthusiasts to review the season’s most important discoveries and research. These events typically have showrooms available, allowing you to network with other enthusiasts.
Opportunities to Handle Rare Minerals
Sulfur from Sicily, Italy. Photo by Joe Budd.
A great way to familiarize yourself with the spectrum of rare rocks and minerals is to observe their physical properties. From the surprising smell of sulfur to the unexpected weight of gold, handling rare minerals provides deeper insight.
Some museums have special exhibits planned that allow visitors to handle specimens. The National History Museum in Los Angeles County encourages visitors to handle their slabs of jadeite – a highly praised material around the world.
Visiting a museum or symposium offers unique opportunities that can’t be experienced anywhere else. So, fit a trip into your next vacation or outing today!
Looking to start your own rare rock and mineral collection? Follow the Arkenstone on their many mineral shows throughout the year! Information on the shows we’ll be attending can be found on our Mineral Shows page. We’d love to meet with you and talk about the specimens in our collections!
 “Museum Event Spaces”. Smithsonian Natural Museum of Natural History. http://naturalhistory.si.edu/specialevents/gems.html
 “Gem and Mineral Hall”. Natural History Museum. http://www.nhm.org/site/explore-exhibits/permanent-exhibits/gems-minerals
The Vibrant Glow of Electric Hyalite Opals
Feb 18, 2018
Opals are some of the most unique gems found on earth for their wide display of color. Fire opals are revered for their translucent coloring with flashes of red and yellow hues. Lightning ridge opals are a darker variety with splashes of red and green.
Of the many opal varieties, one of the most unique versions is hyalite opal. But unlike the fire and lightning ridge opal, hyalite opal’s display of magnificence is best seen in the dark... check out what happens in the video below when the lights go out and a blacklight comes on!
One of the most captivating qualities of hyalite opal is its fluorescent green glow in shortwave ultraviolet light. All minerals can reflect a degree of light, but some have the physical qualities that allow them to temporarily absorb a small amount of light and releases it in a different wavelength.
While the hyalite opal may appear milky to colorless, with certain "electric" hyalites, the change in wavelength is visible to the human eye as a glow that is intensified just by sunlight or moving into a dark room.
Hyalite Opal, like this specimen from Hungary, shows shocking fluorescence under UV lighting!
How the “Bubbles” Are Formed
At a glance, hyalite opal looks like a cluster of milky bubbles on sedimentary rock. This globular mass comes in irregular shapes and sizes, giving it a weak opalescence (play of color) that is a hallmark of other precious opals. The tiny beads of hyalite contain around 3-8% water and are made of hydrated silicate.
Like other opals, the hyalite opal lacks the crystal structure of most minerals. Instead, they form spherules through the layered massing of silica gel. To form hyalite opals, the layered massing of silica must solidify within its gas phase. Most of this activity takes place within irregular crusts of volcanic and pegmatite environments.
When the exposed lava begins to cool and harden, gasses rich in silica and water travel through the cooling lava and the bodies of rock around it. Some of the silica and water rich gas is trapped in fissures and pockets within the rock, continually cooling and lowering in pressure as it turns into a liquid. The byproduct of this process is a bubbled botryoidal crust of hyalite opal that is less hydrated than precious opal.
Gemmy field of lustrous, green, botryoidal Hyalite Opal that has bright fluorescence. From Zacatecas, parts of this Opal are a full half centimeter thick with plenty of cutting material. These fluoresce in the natural sunlight, just holding it outside!
Hyalite opals can be found in precious opal-rich regions around the world like Australia. The most common regions that produce the most hyalite are Central Europe, Northeastern United States, and Mexico. Recently, major discoveries of hyalite opal have been in the Zemplen Mountains of Hungary and Zacatecas, Mexico.
Opals are revered for their wild display of color. While the hyalite may not have the impressive color splashes of the lightning ridge or the striking yellow of a fire opal, their fluorescent glow is vibrant and must be seen to believe it!
Follow the Arkenstone on their many mineral shows throughout the year! Information on the shows we’ll be attending can be found on our Mineral Shows page. We’d love to meet with you and talk about the specimens in our collections!