Minerals are growing in popularity to admire and collect


Jewelry and art have long captivated collectors and the general public, but recently fine minerals – topaz, quartz, calcite and more – have also made an appearance.

Case in point: the multidisciplinary art fair Masterpiece London, which runs from June 30 to July 6 at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, will host a new exhibit from New York-based Fine Minerals International, which sells, buys and mines rare minerals. It will be the first time that the fair, which is more than ten years old, will present minerals in a dedicated exhibition. Sixty of these rare objects will be on display, including an amethyst from the Goboboseb Mountains in Namibia, a rhodochrosite from Colorado and a tourmaline cluster from Brazil.

Fine Minerals International founder Daniel Trinchillo said he started collecting the stones when he was 8 years old. “I found a garnet in our neighbor’s front landscaping and was so struck by its beauty,” he said. “My lifelong quest for fine minerals began then.”

Mr. Trinchillo described a mineral as a naturally formed chemical compound with a crystalline form. He said the five most sought-after varieties included tourmaline, aquamarine, crystallized gold, fluorite and rhodochrosite.

The exhibition at Masterpiece London coincides with a time when interest in fine minerals is increasing.

Christie’s, for example, now holds two annual online auctions for fossils, meteorites and fine minerals, according to James Hyslop, its science and natural history manager, who oversees those sales. When Christie’s began selling the objects in 2011, they were available once a year at various auctions. At the time, the total sales volume was $500,000, but at the last auction, which ended in late May, that figure was closer to $15 million.

The American Museum of Natural History also opened a redesigned 11,000 square foot space for gems and minerals last June. Called the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, it exhibits more than 5,000 fine minerals and is one of the most visited areas of the museum, according to spokesperson Scott Rohan.

In a recent interview with Idar-Oberstein, Germany, a world center for stones and gemstones, Mr. Trinchillo spoke more about fine minerals and their burgeoning popularity. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Why is now the time to bring refined minerals to Masterpiece London?

The interest and value of minerals has increased dramatically over the past decade. The first time I sold an ore for $1 million was in 1999, but now it happens regularly.

Historically, collectors came from scientific backgrounds and valued minerals for both their complex chemical structures and their colorful crystallization. Now they value beauty and aesthetics over composition and consider the luster, transparency, crystal form and geometry of a mineral.

How and why did interest in collecting them grow?

Fine Minerals International now sells between $25 and $50 million worth of minerals a year, whereas a decade ago we only had half that figure – and we’re just one dealer out of thousands . Collectors are looking for items in categories that aren’t so saturated, and minerals offer that. The price of entry is also reasonable: you can build up an entry-level mineral collection for a few thousand dollars.

What makes certain minerals so rare and how is their value determined?

Rare minerals are those that have a complicated chemical structure. They also have certain characteristics including crystal quality, translucency and color – richly colored stones are generally more valuable.

The luster is also important: if the surface is glassy and looks like a mirror, it is more desirable. Then there is the shape – the more geometric a stone is, the more valuable it is. A stone that looks like a drop is not as valuable.

Crystals that are more clearly defined and don’t grow together in a mess – this quality is called crystalline isolation – also fetch more money.

How are minerals extracted?

Some countries produce more minerals than others – China, Brazil, Pakistan and many countries in Africa including Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Zambia and Madagascar. In the United States, you can find them in Arizona and San Diego County, where there are tons of gemstone mines.

But you don’t have to travel far from home to find minerals. There are quarries all over the country where you can find calcite, quartz, and pyrite. It’s a super fun activity to spend an afternoon mining, and you pay a mining fee to do so. Herkimer Diamond KOA Resort, which is a few hours outside New York City, is one of my favorite ways to spend a day with my kids.

What is the size range of fine minerals, and are larger ones more valuable?

There is no direct correlation between size and value. The most popular size and sweet spot for most collectors ranges from an orange to a small cantaloupe. You can also find them in micro sizes – such as your thumbnail size – or up to 200 pounds.

What about pricing? What is the entry point and the upper limit?

A million dollars is now common for premium minerals, but they cost up to $40 million.

What are the most remarkable stones in the exhibition and what characteristics make them exceptional?

We are displaying a blue capped tourmaline that was found in 1972 in a mine in San Diego County. It’s about the size of a soda can and over half a billion years old. The crystals are large and so sharp that they appear to have been cut by a machine. They have a rich red hue and are capped with a sapphire blue.

Another highlight is the stibine from Hunan province in China. It is a basketball-sized metallic mineral containing sulfur and antimony that looks like a crystal shard. Its three-dimensional quality is exceptional. He’s probably worth around $125,000.

My third choice is crystallized gold from a mine near Sacramento, California. The luster is super shiny and shiny. He is worth nearly $500,000.

What advice do you have for buyers new to fine mineral collecting or looking to do so?

Before buying anything, familiarize yourself with minerals as much as possible – seeing them is the best way, so it’s worth going to a mineral exhibition or gallery. You can also browse a site like mindat.org, which tells you about different species of minerals around the world, or even browse eBay.

The more you know, the more you can determine what appeals to you and where you want to put your money.

My other advice would be to buy what you like and not because you think it’s a good investment. Minerals are beautiful objects that are made to be admired. As the owner, you must above all appreciate them.


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