Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tucson 2014

Today is the last day of the action. I've been here for two weeks. Each year the show(s) are much the same: the same kind of merchandise and mostly the same dealers work the same tents and motel rooms. At the end of that fortnight, from Thursday through Sunday and always on the second weekend of February, the "Big Show," sponsored by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society, happens at the Tucson Convention Center. Except for having a different theme each year, the Big Show too differs little from year to year. This year, to mark the 60th Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, its theme was diamonds.

More than anything, these two weeks in Tucson are like a bazaar where people buy and sell minerals, gems, fossils,and   meteorites, along with a range of other artifacts.Since the Mineral Bliss blog is about minerals, they are our focus---even though our most recent post from Tucson several days ago was about rare gems. Prices of  minerals as well as their quality cover a wide range that goes all over the map, and this year the gap was wider than ever. Specimens similar in every pertinent respect to what  one dealer is selling for $1,000, another dealer could be selling for $50. Anyone lacking the experience to be able to ascertain what a mineral specimen should be worth is well advised to do plenty of looking before making a purchase.Just as significant and regardless of the absurd extent to which the prices vary, they get higher every year, this year particularly so.

The climax of the whole two weeks was last night's banquet in the Copper Room of the Convention Center. As in the past, this event featured a silent auction to support Rocks and Minerals Magazine, a live auction, a buffet, and finally the presentation of awards, all leading up to the ultimately prestigious Carnegie Award for outstanding contributions in mineralogical preservation, conservation, and education that match ideals advanced in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems. This year's most deserving honoree was Gloria Staebler  for her work as pulbisher and editor at Lithographie, LLC and its English language series of monographs. At right she is shown holding the associated bronze medallion and certificate of recognition with Marc L. Wilson, the Mineral Collection Manager for that esteemed institution in Pittsburgh. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rare Gems: A Niche to Behold

From Tucson:
For a couple years, the rare gems niche of mineral collecting has intrigued me. The only thing
holding me back from getting involved was lack of knowledge about and exposure to the hobby, neither of which has advanced much yet. The catalyst for throwing my hat in the ring was a 5.7 carat faceted cadmium-included smithsonite shown at right  that Jaroslav Hyrsl  was selling out of his room at Hotel Tucson City Center/lnn Suites.

Jaroslav is one of my favorite sources for rare mineral species. He is regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on that subject and co-authored with Jan H. Bernard in 2004 the 824 page Minerals and their Localities , which bears descriptions of 4,300 mineral species and 8,500 localities. Keeping this classic book current, they recently  released a supplement covering the more than 800 species described in the ten years since.

 It was serendipitous that my next stop was to see another favorite dealer for rare minerals, Alfredo
Petrov, whose room was just a few doors away. Among the items  Alfredo was selling were a few rare cut gems,of which I purchased, the manganotantalite shown at left.

The next day an email arrived from Alfredo advising that he'd found my checkbook when straightening his room. Admitting that he'd used one of the checks to purchase a new car, he allowed that the remaining ones would be available to me in his room the next day Arriving at an early
hour before it had become jammed with buyers, Alfredo tood the time to enlighten me a bit on this rare gems niche that had so piqued my interest.

"The more unwearable it is," Alfredo proclaimed, "the more it is appreciated by the rare gem collector." Every bit if not more important than the rarity of the species being cut or polished., he added, is the level of skill that has been demonstrated by the cutter. Alfredo explained how the softest gems are the most difficult to polish or cut, noting that the slightest touch on the wheel can ruin the piece.Because of their softness, selenite, vivianite, and realgar are  the most notoriously difficult to cut.

Alfredo surmised that less than a handful of people on the planet have ever been successful at cutting  such stones. One cutter, he said, managed to cut a piece of vivianite (hardness between 1 and 2) by coating the entire piece with a crust of hard epoxy and then cutting through it for all 54 facets. Once cut, the reason that stones softer than more typical gems can be unwearable is the issue of potential for damage from the metal prongs that secure them. Alfredo continued  to hold forth with stories, many that mentioned Jaroslav, whom he implied was probably  the world's foremost player in mineralogy's rare gem niche.

After purchasing a pair of  nearly matching cut yellow cassiterites and two of what Alfredo believed to be among the only boracite cabochons in existence, I headed back to Jaroslav's room. Though busy by now, he had time to share with me that 25 years ago, after having taught mineralogy at Charles University in Prague, he went to Germany to study gemology at Idar Oberstein to earn his FGG + EG. Ever since, he's been active in the rare gem arena. Rather than cut or polish stones himself, Jaroslav employs others to do so according to his specifications, while he stays busy appraising as well as  testing gems at his lab in Prague.

While in Europe, Jaroslav deals primarily with collectors; in Tucson, he sells mostly to dealers. His table of rare gems for sale graces  but a small corner of a room otherwise heavily stocked with flats bearing rare minerals most of which are anything but gemmy, and surmised that no more than ten people currently in Tucson actually specialized in rare gems. Of more significance, he sensed, were yet smaller niches within the rare gem arena. Some buyers, he noted, limited their purchases to cut or polished stones bear inclusions or exhibit changes in colour under different lighting conditions.  Others, he said, collect only within a given mineral group, sometimes in conjunction with a suite of such minerals. The garnet group, he notes, is particularly popular. Fluorite, which is softer and comes in just as many colours, could be an even better example.

The message is pertinent to just about everything that's collectible. You can't have it all. For that matter, one who specializes even within an arena as arcane as rare gems, has a better chance of accumulating a significant and worthy collection.