It was sunny most of today on Wednesday, January 26th and the temperature reached a high of 70°. Later in the afternoon the weather became cloudy and windy with occasional gusts up to about 25 mph. Many who live here are hoping for some rain, as this winter has been our fourth driest on record. Today I returned to the Mineral and Fossil Co-op to finish acquisition work I started there late yesterday at Ron Coleman Crystals.
Ron Coleman owns and operates a large quartz crystal mining operation 14 miles north of Hot Springs, Arkansas. He provides facilities and fee-digging at his mining operation, and Ron's crystal mine is a popular vacation destination for many rockhounds. Ron has established a major presence at the rear of the Co-op building. Shown above left is a view outside his glass walled showroom of numerous crates open for display and tables loaded with flats of quartz crystals, clusters and plates from his mine. Even though I backed all the way up into a vantage point in the corner of the building with a wide angle lens, I was only able to frame and take in about half the crystals Ron was showing on the floor.
Some large and pricey quartz spheres were displayed just outside the entrance to Ron's showroom. These spheres are imported and originate from Chile. The smallest sphere at the far left was about 15 inches in diameter and carried a $15,000 price tag. The middling sized one next to it wanted $25,000. The large sphere just to the left of the big point was about 20 inches in diameter and it was tagged at $35,000. That humongous point was $25,000, and the spheres on the other side of it were priced at $34,000 and $20,000.
The spheres weren't the only big pieces displayed here. Above left is a quartz crystal covered bolder sitting a top a five foot wide pallet. I put my hat on top of it to help give some scale to the image. At right is a close-up of some of the points with a 3.5" floppy disk included for scale. One of the more prominent crystals on this piece measured about 14 inches long. $35,000 buys this one. Looks like the buyer better plan on spending a little more to get this one home... ;)
Above is another large piece covered with quartz crystals. It was approximately a meter taller than the top of the base pedestal, which was contour cut to fit around the base of the rock. Note the floppy disk at the base to help establish scale in the image. I didn't see a price marked on this chunk yet, but you can bet it is also a five figure rock. At right is a close up of some of the crystals along top of it, easily averaging about 4 inches in length.
Ron's display room was L-shaped with a long glass wall facing the isle inside the Co-op building. Shown above left is a view down some rows of tables and shelves piled high with hundreds of large specimens of Arkansas quartz. A sign above them provides color keyed per pound prices with corresponding colored tags on each piece which were marked with the specimen's weight, making it easy to determine the cost of any particular piece. This scheme recognized three basic quality levels at $25, $50 and $100 per pound. The specimens on these tables were $25 and $50 per pound material.
Here's a view down the other and longer leg of the L-shaped display room where there were yet more tables and shelves covered with $25 and $50 per pound specimens. I asked Ron if he would care to venture a ballpark guess as to how many specimens he had in Tucson and he replied that he really didn't know. As you can see, whatever that number might be, it is 'a lot'. Note the room within this room on the other side of the glass wall at the end of it. That's Ron's $100 per pound room, where the most aesthetic and highest quality specimens are displayed.
At right is a Bob sized point with a floppy placed beside it for scale. This single, $50 per pound class point is about 7 or 8 inches in diameter and weighs in at 32.9 pounds - the math works out to $1645. Unfortunately, that's quite a bit bigger than Bob sized money...
The Arkansas crystal mines do produce some smoky, but none of the natural material is anywhere as dark as these. The shelves along one wall inside the showroom were covered with once clear Arkansas specimens that had been exposed to an artificial source of gamma radiation to blacken them and create plates and clusters of artificial smokies. Ron Coleman sends these to a meat packing plant in Fort Worth, Texas where they are exposed to the same radiation source that is used to sterilize meat and food products - but for longer. Ron related it takes about 36 hours of exposure to blacken quartz like these specimens.
The artificial smokies were priced at $25 per pound. The 12 inch cluster above right weighed 15.6 pounds, which works out to $390.00. Most mineral collectors wouldn't have much to do with these due to the artificial origin of their color, but they are pretty striking visually and there are upscale decorator markets for this material. The 58.6 pound plate of crystals at right had already been sold to a decorator who purchased it for a client's home - at $25 per pound that's a $1465 chunk of decor.
The $100 per pound room beckons, and of course I had to check out some of the crystal in there. I think that Arkansas quartz, aka "rock crystal" or just "crystal", from the Hot Springs and Mount Ida localities in the Ouachita Mountains in particular, is not accorded the recognition it deserves by many mineral collectors because average pieces are relatively ubiquitous and readily acquired. Tourists to the Hot Springs area have been buying crystal as collectibles and souvenirs for over a hundred years. However, just as with other minerals, there's crystal and then there's crystal. The best quality Arkansas specimens occur as crystallized fillings which were formed through hydrothermal processes in cavities in sandstone formations.
Above are several hand sized specimens which I considered particularly handsome. At left is a .80 pound cluster featuring a spray of numerous smaller crystals adjacent to a single, predominant point. This piece was about 12 cm across. Above right is cluster of somewhat larger crystals, which had a light (natural) smoky complexion. This specimen measured about 15 cm across. It weighed in at 1.51 pounds and the longest crystal was about 8 cm in length.
Here's two more that called out to me and I thought fine. Above left is a 13 cm wide cluster that weighed 1.61 pounds. The clarity of the crystals on this particular piece was superior and very striking. At right is a 12 cm cluster with long, clear crystals and exceptional aesthetics to my tastes. This specimen weighed 1.04 pounds and it would have gone with me had it not been for a ding on the termination of one of the more minor crystals (at lower right in the picture).
At the very back of the $100 room are a wall of locked display cabinets with super primo specimens which are priced by the piece. These can run considerably higher than $100 on a per pound basis. At left is a piece I photographed through the case glass which consists of an intersecting spray and several larger crystals - note that the horizontally oriented crystal is doubly terminated. This piece was about 12 cm overall and it wanted $300. I don't expect it or the other pieces I've shown from the $100 room to last long. One thing I've come to appreciate about Tucson and shows in general is that quality sells and the best of the best is often the first to go, even though it is invariably more costly than lesser brethren.
Ron Coleman Mining, PO Box 8219, Hot Springs, Arkansas 71909 Phone: 501.984.5396 Fax: 501.984.5443