Ralph, I used to tell myself that if I wanted to see something really good, I had to go to Westward Look, a resort in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The next morning we drove together, up a winding driveway, to a cluster of low, ocher buildings hidden in tasteful zero-skapping decor.
Many of the Tucson show dealers work in hotel rooms, placing their displays between the bed and the bathroom to create a strangely intimate atmosphere. At one of the cheap events held at a motorway motel, I wandered down fluorescent-lit corridors that smelled of old smoke and peered into rooms where vendor stands set up glittering displays. It felt weird and mysterious, but not in a bad way. Westward, on the other hand, in his look, the guest room was a luxurious suite presided over by a man in Dirk’s suit. The prospect wandered between the displays without saying anything. Ralph snuggled on my shoulder and whispered their backstory in my ear. This is the Sotheby’s man. This is a former curator of the Natural History Museum in London. This is one of China’s largest collectors. Ralph was the ideal guide, analytical and efficient with a great gossip memory. After we left the traders’ room, Ralph explained that the man was involved in a long-running feud with his brother, who was also a minerals trader. Coincidentally, this merchant was arguing with his brother, who traded minerals in a nearby room.
Mineral specimens are appreciated for their color (the brighter the better), shape and symmetry. Crystals in a matrix – one mineral embedded in another – are especially valuable. Even to my ignorant eyes, the rocks on display at the Westward Look were fantastic, with a kind of charismatic geometry and color suggesting a certain inner depth. However, it seems that there is still a world of phantom crystals that are too special to be exhibited. “I’m not going to look up, up, up,” Ralph said. “They’re hidden. I’ve heard rumors of a dealer who bought a mansion in Tucson that was only used during the Gem & Mineral Fair month. Supposedly, spending $1 million on his wares would make He will invite you to open the safe and show you an unexpectedly wonderful stone. At Westward Look, I began to notice evidence of secret deals. In one room he heard the rustling of tissues and saw two men happily leaning on something in the bathroom. “I need something important,” said one of them. The dealer’s assistant saw me looking. “Show me something good,” he said with a laugh, and took me away.
Mineral City Gem and Mineral Show case.
Wayne A. Thompson prefers to be known as a collector, but he is one of America’s top mineral dealers. He had shoulder-length straw hair and a laid-back demeanor, he told me he didn’t have a computer. “Bar!” he said, shuddering. “Every time I touch them, it drives me crazy.” The rocks were another story. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night and take one out of the showcase just to look at it for a while. – ‘Look how beautiful it is,'” he said in a lustful voice. “My girlfriend is used to it.”
Between customers, he showed me his new acquisition, a purple cube made of Illinois Fluorite. “I bought this from Rob Rabinski. It was one of his first significant stones — he bought it with Bar Mitzvah money,” Thompson said. “Look at this. This is the rock that became an empire.”
An old friend of Thompson’s, a curly-haired German named Horst Burkard, stopped by and the two men immediately began reminiscing about the old days. Primarily American and European, they were legends in the world of mineral exploration, not only as traders but also as adventurers. “If you dig and find a bag, I want one and 40,” Thompson said. “That’s how collectors become dealers.” Their path was somewhat similar: college in the 1970s, an urge to travel the world, and a serendipitous discovery for Thompson in Mexico. For Moroccan bar cards. For others in Brazil and Pakistan. Burkard’s story was good, but just added a bit of self-mythical nostalgia. While traveling across North Africa in a Volkswagen bus, he came across an interesting rock formation. He went from village to village, showing his children stones and asking where they could find more. Eventually someone did and they visited a local mine under cover of night. (Mineral samples are common in mines dug for other purposes. Miners prospecting for copper ore came across pockets of azurite.) On snow-white barite He purchased minerals in Morocco and began bringing them to Tucson.
“In 1970, he had 15 or 20 people he was really looking for. By 1983 he’ll probably have 100,” Thompson said. “I said he sold the mineral in 1972 for $3,000. The same mineral was recently offered at a price in excess of one million. In our lifetime it has become crazy.
With the influx of money and the spread of technology, the days of dusty and dangerous explorations like scouting villages and sneaking into caves are all but gone. Well, as Thompson and Burkard said, as soon as some promising crystals appeared, they were on the internet. Thompson said. “It’s like, ‘Can you come over there tomorrow? Do you have a bag full of money? ”
Technology has transformed business in another way. Mining has always been a particularly asymmetric industry, with low-wage workers doing dangerous work underground while big profits are far away. (The atmosphere at Westward Look, where all the traders I met were white, was at times overtly colonial. ), but thanks to Internet miners, we are increasingly realizing the value of their discoveries. “We went to these places that felt like the end of the world,” Thompson said. Now someone finds something and everyone in the world knows it within 10 minutes. ”
Ralph remains silent as Burkard and Thompson complain that the miners are charging high prices for the samples they find. In the car, on the way back to Mineral Mile, he told me he was hanging out with a big dealership, but most of his copies were his triple digits. “The show is called Westward Look, not Westward Buy,” he said. Ralph was more ambivalent about the democratization of information. “It’s a big, big change,” he said. “Now the guy who took it down has a cell phone. He can contact buyers and sell directly. Every week I get messages on Facebook from miners in Pakistan who are trying to sell me things. and some of them are very good.”
It was easy to forget that the specimen emerged from the dirt in the unusual world of its west-facing appearance. As one of his founders told me, the Miners Corp Rock Show is “a show for miners and crafters” who do their own mining or manufacture their own jewelry. or both. The event took place in the parking lot of the sports complex, where vendors parked their RVs behind stalls and camped for the duration of the event. There were piles of rough stones on tarpaulins sold by the pound, and men with rough hands stood behind boxes of cheap agate slices.
The populist version of the rockhound, with promises of reward hidden in the mud waiting for the appropriate enterprising person to find it, has been at the heart of Western mythology since at least the Gold Rush days. In the United States, anyone can claim legal title to the Bureau of Land Management and start digging. Successful Amazonite miners in Colorado’s Pike National Forest discuss how America’s individualistic, private property-oriented approach to mineral rights underpins the nation’s prosperity and self-esteem. , gave a long speech.
Treasures can appear in unexpected places. Tan-skinned store clerk Trinza Sanders told me she was driving in the desert outside Palm Springs a few years ago when she noticed something strange sticking out of the ground. Did. As she stopped, she saw charred tumbleweed, evidence of a recent lightning strike. A lightning discharge vitrified the nearby sand into a rock called fulgurite, a crystal prized by her healers as a highly energetic stone. She dug up what she could and has been selling it at Rock Show ever since. “It contains the perfect amount of silica, mica and feldspar,” she said.
A few tables down she met Chuck Larson. He introduced himself as “Miner and Treasure Hunter”. He said he found a few nuggets, but his most consistent source of gold is the Salt River, a popular tubing destination east of Phoenix. “Thousands of hippies and teenagers go there, use their hands as paddles, and drink beer,” he said. When the water level dropped in winter, I would sometimes find lost jewellery. Once he found a large ring that belonged to a state senator. It contained 10k full ounces. About $800 worth of gold in scrap metal. Larson was clearly still upset that the Senator only offered him $80. he kept his ring. “They voted for him in 2016,” he said happily. “I wouldn’t choose him. He’s Chi.”