Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rock Ramblings of Rick

For me, the joy and satisfaction of collecting minerals comes from a knowledge and appreciation of the minerals.  Some of the appreciation is from knowing just how and where they form.  Some of it comes from knowing of their chemical makeup or why the crystals make the shapes they do.   Minerals with rare earth elements are uncommon in nature and even though they are usually black and ugly they enjoy a status among collectors.  Minerals like orpiment and realgar have a duel appeal.  They are bright colors and their chemical formula is interesting.  Realgar is made up of arsenic and sulfur making its formula AsS. 
Sometimes the appreciation comes because of their beautiful color, form and shape, rarity, or clarity.  And sometimes it is because I feel a personal connection to them.  The one factor I pay the least attention to is price or value.  Price doesn’t reflect MY true appreciation of a specimen.   I can really appreciate a specimen without owning it.
Any specimen from Utah will always get my attention.  I love the variety Utah has to offer.  I also have a connection to Texas specimens.  This comes from being stationed there for 2.5 years in the Army and getting to field collect on a regular basis.
I went to Montana College of Mineral Science & Technology in Butte for a couple of years.  You cannot go to school in Montana and not develop a deep appreciation for copper minerals and all the variety Montana has to offer.  Here are some ramblings on different minerals I like and why.  This list is not comprehensive.  There are plenty of minerals I like and for different reasons.
I like topaz for several reasons.  One is high quality specimens come from Utah and can be collected with a moderate amount of work.  Another of the reasons I like Utah topaz is that it comes in clusters that often resemble star bursts.  Utah topaz is unique in this way.  The same kind of topaz that is found in Utah is found in a band of similar rhyolite flows that stretch from Utah to northern Mexico.  But the Utah occurrence is unique because of the mineral association.  Here in Utah topaz is associated with pseudobrookite, bixbyite, garnets pseudomorphed to hematite, ilmenite, holfertite, andesine, quartz, fluorite, and opal plus a few other uncommon minerals.
Topaz forms in 2 different environments;  granite and rhyolite.   Rhyolite topaz are the rarest and Utah provides the best examples of this type of topaz-easily!  Granite-type topaz deposits produce the largest crystals and in a greater array of colors.  One reason to appreciate topaz from the Solarwind claim is that it produces topaz with bixbyites attached to them.  Not only do they make a beautiful combination but the bixbyites from this location are considered the best in the world with some reaching over an inch.  All the topaz from Utah will fade from the sherry (brown) color to clear (colorless) when exposed to sunlight.  Except the topaz from the Solarwind Claim which tends to fades to a dusty rose pink!  Click Here To See Our Expedition Schedule to the Solarwind Claim.  
True pink, vivid pink topaz is common at the jewelry store.  In nature it is extremely rare.  Much of the common topaz can be treated to produce pink topaz just like the pale blue topaz can be treated to make stunning blue topaz.  The best of the best pink topaz comes from Katlang, Mardan district, Pakistan.  These are highly prized for their rarity and color.
I like topaz from all over the world.  Blue topaz is one I have a personal connection to.   Old Man Lewis, the guy who got me started when I was about 9, showed me a crystal that will stick with me for the rest of my life.  One day while poking around his store, he pulled a prized specimen out of an old torn up box.  It was wrapped in newspaper from Taiwan.  The crystal must have weighed ten pounds if it weighed an ounce.  It was an incredible aquamarine blue.  After I cleaned up the drool, he showed me several more that HE had just acquired in Taiwan while searching for specimens for several museums.
That specimen is seared deep into my mind along with a peridote crystal of the same size and many rubies and sapphires.  Lewis was famous for his adventures into the wild and bringing back world class specimens. I also have a deep appreciation of topaz from the Zapot claim in Nevada.  This topaz is from a pegmatite and is associated with amazonite and smoky quartz and some shorl.  But my connection is they often fluoresce yellow under UV light. The topaz from Idaho also fluoresces but it fluoresces dark neon green.  Both yellow and green are the rarest colors topaz will fluoresce.  I am not the only one to have an obsession with topaz.  The ministry of mining building in Johannesburg, South Africa was designed after a large single topaz crystal.
Another of my favorites is chalcedony. Chalcedony is variety of quartz.  It is what most of us call agate.  It alone holds a special place of stature because of its variety.  The many forms and internal patterns and huge array of colors makes agate so desirable that many collectors specialize in collecting just agate.
Chalcedony is not appreciated for its rarity.  It is one of the most common minerals on earth.  For those who are not agate enthusiasts, it may be hard to understand why it is so popular.  But when you ponder the variety of patterns, textures, and colors it doesn’t take long to start to see the beauty involved with agate.  The patterns alone have caused scientists to theorize for decades how they could form.  Today we are no closer to understanding agate patterns than we were a decade ago.
Chalcedony is a common replacement in fossils preserving wood, bone, shells, and many other things for all time.  Utah has a many different agates from lots of locations.  One of the most famous is the Green River agate beds of central Utah.  If you need help understanding the attraction to agate, just visit a rock shop.  Or better yet, visit an agate bed and collect some and you will quickly discover that no two pieces are alike.
Copper and Copper Minerals
Many people like the appearance of metals.  Copper, aka the red metal, is very popular with mineral collectors as much as with interior decorators.  I personally love the aesthetics of the red metal and have built a large collection with pieces from all over the world.  The red metal comes in a huge variety of forms including nuggets, crystals, wires, dendrites, and more.  Each is as interesting as the other.
Copper is very reactive with other elements because it copper can mix with oxygen, sulfur, carbonate, water, arsenic, selenium, gold, silver, and many others.  One of the major properties of copper minerals is they tend to be very attractive in form and color.  Copper minerals come in every shade of blue and green and every combination of the two! Of the roughly 4300 mineral species about 1/4th of them are copper minerals. I find the variety of copper minerals as interesting as their beauty, and color.
Quartz
Quartz is one of the most common minerals on earth and is one of the most collected. Quartz comes in over 200 crystal habits, a wide variety of colors, and many very aesthetic forms.  Quartz comes in purple (amethyst), pink (rose), yellow or brown (citrine), dark brown to black (smoky), red (ferruginous), lemon yellow, blue, green (chrysoprase), clear, white, to name a few. Another wonder of quartz is the amount and type of inclusions quartz can contain.  Inclusions are one mineral trapped inside another.   Minerals like goethite, ajoite, fluorite, pyrite, rutile, and tourmaline  are common inside quartz.  So is water.  There are dozens of other minerals that have been found as inclusions inside quartz. Quartz has many crystal or structural habits.  Adjectives like scepter, reverse scepter, cathedral, hopper, cactus, cubic, gwendle, along with many others are used to describe the way a quartz crystal can appear.
A couple of other favorites are the beryl family and the garnet family, but that is another story.
There is a small list of minerals I don’t have an appreciation for.
Cut diamonds are much more common than marketers would let you believe.  Even thought diamonds are the hardest and have a very high refractive index, they can be easily replaced with synthetics or simulants without much notice.  We have a joke in our family that white cut diamonds are about as interesting as white cut glass.  In my opinion, diamonds are overvalued.  Colored diamonds and natural diamond crystals are a different story!
Gold specimens are highly sought after many by collectors.  It represents a pure element and it has an appeal about it because of its warm yellow color.  Its value is long rooted in history but and with more of it available the appeal has been lost.  The more it is used in jewelry the more “intrinsic” value it will gain.  For me it is over used and overvalued.

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