Jewelry and art have long captivated collectors and the general public alike, but lately, fine minerals — topaz, quartz, calcite, and more — have also emerged.
Case in point: Masterpiece London multidisciplinary art fair, held from June 30 to July 6 at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, will feature a new exhibition from New York-based Fine Minerals International, which sells, buys and mines rare minerals. It will be the first time that the more than ten-year-old fair will present minerals in a special display. 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 grenade in our neighbor’s front yard and was so struck by how beautiful it was,” he said. “My lifelong quest for fine minerals began at that time.”
Mr. Trinchillo described a mineral as a naturally formed chemical compound with a crystalline form. He said the five most sought-after varieties were tourmaline, aquamarine, crystallized gold, fluorite and rhodochrosite.
The exhibition at Masterpiece London coincides with a time when interest in fine minerals is growing.
For example, Christie’s now has two annual online auctions devoted to fossils, meteorites and fine minerals, according to James Hyslop, the chief of science and natural history, who oversees those sales. When Christie’s started selling the objects in 2011, they were available at various auctions once a year. At the time, the total sales volume was $500,000, but in the most recent auction, which closed in late May, that number 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, there are more than 5,000 fine minerals on display, and it is one of the most visited areas of the museum, according to spokesman Scott Rohan.
In a recent interview from Idar-Oberstein, Germany, a global center for stones and gems, Mr. Trinchillo spoke more about fine minerals and their burgeoning popularity. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Why is now the right time to bring fine minerals to Masterpiece London?
Minerals have increased significantly in importance and value over the past decade. The first time I sold a mineral for $1 million was in 1999, but now it happens regularly.
Historically, collectors emerged 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 brilliance, transparency, crystal shape and geometry of a mineral.
How and why did the interest in collecting them grow?
Fine Minerals International now sells $25 to $50 million a year in minerals, compared to ten years ago when we had half that number – and we’re just one dealer out of thousands. Collectors look for items in categories that aren’t as saturated, and minerals provide that. The entrance fee is also reasonable: you can build an entry-level mineral collection for a few thousand dollars.
What makes some minerals so rare and how is their value determined?
Rare minerals are minerals with a complicated chemical structure. They also have certain characteristics, including the quality of the crystals, translucency and the color – stones that are richly colored tend to have more value.
Gloss is also important: if the surface is glassy and has a mirror-like quality, it is more desirable. Then there is the shape – the more geometric a stone, the more valuable. A rock that looks like a blob isn’t that valuable.
Crystals that are more clearly defined and not muddled together – this quality is called crystal isolation – also get more money.
How are minerals extracted?
There are certain countries that 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 in San Diego County, where there are numerous gem mines.
But you don’t have to go 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 an excavation fee for it. Located a few hours from New York, Herkimer Diamond KOA Resort is one of my favorite ways to spend a day with my kids.
What is the size range of fine minerals and are the 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 melon. You can also find them in micro-sizes — like the size of your thumbnail — or as large as 200 pounds.
What about the pricing? What is the point of entry and the upper limit?
A million dollars is now common for top quality minerals, but they go up to $40 million.
What are some notable stones from the exhibition and what features make them exceptional?
We show a blue-capped tourmaline that was found in 1972 in a mine in San Diego County. It is about the size of a soda can and over half a billion years old. The crystals are large and so sharp that they look like they were cut by a machine. They have a rich red hue and are topped by a sapphire blue.
Stibnite from Hunan Province in China is another highlight. It is a basketball-sized metallic mineral with sulfur and antimony and looks like a burst of crystal. The three-dimensional quality is exceptional. It’s probably worth about $125,000.
My third pick is a crystallized gold from a mine near Sacramento, California. The shine is super shiny and brilliant. It’s worth almost $500,000.
What advice do you have for buyers new to or interested in collecting fine minerals?
Before you buy anything, familiarize yourself with minerals as best you can – seeing them is the best way, so it’s worth going to a mineral show or gallery. You can also browse a site like mindat.org, which tells you about different types of minerals worldwide, or even peruse eBay.
The more you know, the better you can think of what appeals to you and where you want to put your money.
My other tip would be to buy what you love and not because you think it’s a good investment. Minerals are beautiful objects to be admired. As an owner you have to appreciate them in the first place.