Sunday, April 3, 2011
Simkev Minerals: The Only Enterprise of its Kind
Maureen Campeau, pictured above, is CEO of Simkev Minerals, which she describes as "our niche." She believes Simkev to be the world's only full time business enterprise that caters exclusively to the definitive product of this visually spectacular and joyously myopic mineralogical venue. A definition from late Neal Yedlin, perhaps the most renowned micromounter ever, is quoted in Quintin Wight's The Complete Book of Micromounting, Tucson, 1993, as follows:
Micromount: a natural mineral specimen , preferably in distinct crystals, mounted, properly labeled, and requiring magnification for meaningful observation.
Since many, if not most, of the approximately 4400 known mineral species require magnification to be meaningfully observed or appreciated, the micromount aficionado likely owns a significantly greater number of different species than most mineral collectors. Of no less significance, micromounts typically enjoy immunity to the dings and imperfections borne by the vast majority of hand specimens. Even better, they cost less and usurp minimal space. A binocular or trinocular microscope and a viable light source are all that's required.
A micromount specimen must be small enough to be fit within the confines of the approximately one square inch base of a two piece plastic micromount display case that's usually 3/4 of an inch to an inch in height. While many micromount collectors prefer to mount their own pieces, much of the material they are likely to be seeking has already been mounted.
Maureen's partner, Rodney Lee, who founded the business over 30 years ago (1979), mounts approximately 85 per cent of the Simkev specimens. Maureen mounts the remaining 15 per cent when time permits. Rod then photographs a sample specimen through a binocular scope attached with an adapter to his Canon Rebel, then writes up the locality and a brief visual description. All locations are verified prior to being labeled by Maureen.
While the Internet accounts for most sales, established customers not privy to the Internet receive printed mailings heralding new inventory. Maureen noted that these mailings receive an amazingly high 95 per cent response rate. She describes her clientele as "nearly all men, about 50 per cent European-American, and the rest international.”
Maureen, who is responsible for the business end of the operation, likes to think of herself more as "chief cook and bottle washer," than CEO. She is the person who responds to all email inquires, invoicing, order processing and mailings. If you have a question that needs addressing, she will get the answer or find someone who can. Recently, she became more active in (personal) sales, and marketing in the United States as well as Canada. In the past year she attended the East Coast Gem and Mineral Show in West Springfield, Massachusetts last August, actively worked the Baltimore Mineral Society's Desautels Micromount Symposium in Elkridge, Maryland, this past October, schmoozed for two weeks in February at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, and most recently worked the Atlantic Coast Micromount Symposium April 1 and 2. The Rochester (NY) Mineralogical Symposium April 15, 16, and 17 is next.
More conventional mineral dealers and serious field collectors provide most of the minerals that Rodney trims into mounts. Acquiring inventory can be a challenge but Simkev prides itself in selecting only that material that is aesthetic and reasonable to purchase for resale. Rod and Maureen do their best to acquire new and rare material at a reasonable price. It is important that all specimens have visual appeal even if it only becomes apparent under the scope. "A lot of what we get are three inch rocks that either Rod or I will trim down," notes Maureen.
Working with a tabletop trimmer, Rod and Maureen separate and isolate pieces that best display the crystals in matrix. They try to make sure that most specimens have at least three quarters of an inch of matrix with each specimen. Crystals in matrix look much better than an individual crystal alone. Sometimes they have no choice, but in most cases the three-quarter inch rule applies. Rod uses mineral tack to mount all but the tiniest and most fragile specimens, which he glues to a cork pedestal that he affixes to the micromount case base. The only exceptions are occasional mounts to be considered "vintage" or with such added-value provenance as to have previously been mounted by or from collections of those with legendary stature among micromounters.
As for pricing, Maureen notes two factors: "The first consideration," she says, "is what we paid. The second is rarity and aesthetics.” In the past year, she and Rodney have sold over ten thousand mounts encompassing over 600 species. The highest price they ever charged was $75.00, which represents only three or four specimens in those ten thousand mounts. Many, perhaps most, sell for as little as $8.00. "What's most important, regardless of price" Maureen emphasizes, "is quality---and, of course customer service." Simkev prides themselves on quality and service.
Many times Maureen can receive a request for specimens in the morning and the "pretties" are on the way to a new home that same afternoon.