Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 09.02.2016 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)


In a valley in the Vosges region of France, the quiet town of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines transforms into a bustling mineral and gem extravaganza every June. This is the most beautiful setting for any of the world’s major annual mineral shows, and attending is a great experience.

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines 2016 mineral show

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, 2016

Although there was much stormy and unsettled weather across France and Germany this year, the towns of this area escaped the more significant flooding damage that affected so many communities elsewhere. The Rhine was certainly swollen with much more water than usual – and thunderstorms left debris on the roads – but for the most part, the rains just meant lots of green across the countryside.

Orschwiller, France

Vineyards, near Orschwiller. Chateau Haut Koenigsbourg is perched above, in the Vosges mountains.

I love the region’s idyllic small towns – quiet, with the calls of blackbirds overhead.

Saint Hippolyte, France

Saint Hippolyte, Haut-Rhin, France

Saint Hippolyte, France

Beautiful Alsace architecture bathed in a warm evening light

In the town of Ste. Marie itself, one of my favourite things about its setting is that the valley is quite steep, and so the forests and pastures form a backdrop for many of the views from down in the middle of the town.

Saint-Marie-aux-Mines, France

Saint-Marie-aux-Mines, Val D’Argent, France

The river and waterways of the town are channeled behind the houses and other buildings – and normally at this time of year there isn’t much water. This year, there was lots!

Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, France

Bubbling water channel running through Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines

One thing that really stood out this year was the temperature – it was HOT! Humid too. Lots of sun and haze… and you also had to watch for the late-afternoon thunderstorms.


Signs of impending rain at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines 2016

So I did see this one coming…


Thunderstorm coming from up the Val D’Argent

…and I thought I had time to make it back to the car, but… ended up sheltering part way there, when the skies opened up!


Rainwater streaming from waterspouts directly into the water channel that runs behind the houses – efficient!

The storms were short and did not make life uncomfortable for long – they were actually refreshing. In fact, there was something that made things far more uncomfortable at the show…


300W halogen lights on stands. It is hard to find a hotter mainstream light source (!) – these were all over the indoor dealer displays.
I love the colour quality of halogen lights, but these things are stoves on sticks.

Sainte-Marie-aux_Mines, France

One of the tent-lined streets at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines

For me the most exciting new find at Ste. Marie was actually not on public display. Tomasz Praszkier brought out the top new Moroccan aragonite specimens and they are truly superb! Aragonite is not a rare mineral, of course, and some aragonite localities are rather abundant producers, so, for example, we typically see lots of aragonite available from Tazouta, Morocco, and also from Minglanilla, Spain. (Even in those instances, truly fine specimens are not the rule, as the vast majority are damaged). These specimens exhibit twinning, with pseudo-hexagonal cyclic twins of aragonite. However, these new specimens from Mamsa are classic, elongated, tapered orthorhombic crystals in groups of radiating spikes and make for dramatic specimens.  Even though aragonite itself is uncommon, it is very hard to acquire high-quality specimens of this most classic habit.

In this case, Tomasz went through hundreds of flats (yes flats (!)) of material in Morocco, and the specimens I acquired from him are all in the top 20 to date (top 20 pieces, not flats!). Almost everything he saw was badly damaged. This bulk of lower quality material will undoubtedly begin to show up at future mineral shows, but – interesting – it was almost entirely absent among the Moroccan dealers in Ste. Marie.

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco – 7.5 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 6 cm

It is notable that the aragonite at this locality does also occur in other habits, including as elongated pseudo-hexagonal twins, so we may see those in future. The locality itself is well-exposed in a barren area north of Sidi Ayed. The difficulty is that the material closer to the surface has been extracted, and this was the matrix that was easier to collect – as they’ve gone deeper, the matrix has been tougher, and the material from these deeper excavations has been damaged. Most collecting there has been by local collectors who are more often digging agates, and of course collecting these delicate aragonite sprays required different techniques and care – hence the high level of damage with most of this material.

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

 Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco – 6.9 cm

As usual, there were many Moroccan dealers with the usual – most had very typical material, in moderate condition. One interesting new find was some purple fluorite, from very narrow seams at a locality Elyachi, near Tatouine.



Fluorite, Elyachi, nr. Tatouine, Meknes-Tafilalet, Morocco – 8.2 cm

One last note from Morocco is that the production of the beautiful blue barites from Sidi Lahcen (these ones) is reportedly finished. Although we always have to be skeptical when we are told that a locality is exhausted, the marketplace confirmed it in Ste. Marie this year, with almost no truly high-quality specimens available.

Speaking of high-quality specimens one cannot track down… I had hoped to bring back a few more of the bright yellow stilbite ball specimens from Mali (if you aren’t familiar with them, some are here). Although there were some at the show, they were all too damaged for our collections – I’m not sure that any were new. I suspect that most were the low-quality pieces from the original collecting of this material. I continue to keep an eye out for them, as they are some of the nicest yellow stilbite specimens I’ve ever seen, and they look so great in the cabinet. We’ll see what the future brings. In the meantime, I was able to pick up some excellent prehnite/epidote specimens from Mali, along with a sharp, lustrous vesuvianite.

Prehnite Mali

 Prehnite, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali – 4.3 cm

New from France, French collector Grégoire de Bodinat recently collected some beautiful specimens at the Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France. The Mésage Mine was originally explored in the early-nineteenth century for iron, and the underground workings have been abandoned since the late-nineteenth century. Grégoire had a nice selection of high quality specimens from this classic region – siderite with quartz, ankerite crystals, and sharp bournonite crystals with white barite.

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France – 6.6 cm

Pyrite and Quartz on Siderite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Pyrite and Quartz on Siderite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Siderite with Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Siderite with Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France – 4.9 cm

Bournonite, Barite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Bournonite, Barite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

The Mésage Mine specimens are on the website here.

Finally, another great new find is from the Rudna Mine, Lubin District, Lower Silesia, Poland. This is of gypsum, var. selenite, with inclusions of herbertsmithite (a rare copper chloride mineral), making the specimens a vibrant green colour. These are gorgeous cabinet specimens! There were not many of these, and only a handful were top quality – I acquired all of the top quality ones.

Gypsum, var. Selenite, Herbertsmithite, Rudna Mine, Lubin District, Lower Silesia, Poland

Gypsum, var. Selenite, with inclusions of Herbertsmithite, Rudna Mine, Lubin District, Lower Silesia, Poland
Crystals up to approximately 3 cm


The Saint-Marie-aux-Mines show has hosted super displays in recent years.

This year, the main theme was Minerals and Wines (“Origines Pierres et Vins”), with some cases dedicated to matching mineral colours and wine colours, and others featuring the wines and minerals of a particular region.

Rioja, Spain – home of great wines and the incomparable pyrites of Navajun
Display by Pedro Conde

The minerals and wines of the Chessy-les-Mines, Rhône

The Chessy case had some amazing specimens – here is a closer look at a few:


Cuprite crystals, Chessy-les-Mines


Azurite, Chessy-les-Mines – a gorgeous specimen,approximately 9 cm

From the Origines Pierres et Vins cases, I loved this Chanarcillo Prousite from the Collection of the Museum National d’Histoire Natural in Paris.


Proustite, Chanarcillo, Atacama, Chile – approximately 4 cm

The exposition also included a few cases dedicated to colours in minerals, explaining what causes the colours in certain minerals. These cases included many stunning specimens and here are a few.


This adamite was an amazing hue – approximately 5 cm

This next one looks at a glance like it’s a classic from Amatitlan, Guererro, Mexico, but look at the label… (!)


Amethyst, Traversella, Piedmont, Italy, approximately 20 cm

This photo doesn’t do this crystal justice – an astounding, lustrous, old-time Red Cloud wulfenite, pristine…

Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, La Paz Co., Arizona – crystal approximatey 4 cm
Collection of the Musée Mineralogie de Mines, Paris Tech

And finally, while we’re on the subject of the causes of colour in minerals, and leaving the displays… I wandered into one dealer with new crystals of “Amegreen” (!). These are Uruguayan amethysts that have been subjected to radiation in a lab, to turn them green. Blech!! (At least the dealer was openly disclosing the origins of the colour.)


Quartz, originally var. amethyst, tortured and turned green in a lab using radiation – marketed as “Amegreen”
Artigas, Uruguay

 Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines is such a great show. I already can’t wait for next year, and hope to see you there!

St. Hippolyte, France

 Beautiful summer evening in Alsace

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 07.02.2014 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)


Nestled in the Val d’Argent, in Alsace, France, the town of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines hosts one of the world’s largest minerals shows, with character and class unto itself.


Alsace is dotted with picturesque villages…





The vineyards near Saint-Hippolyte

… and forests, hills and castles.


Château du Haut Koenigsbourg

The towns are small and picturesque, with distinctive architecture.


Roses on a home in Saint-Hippolyte


Quiet afternoon in Saint-Hippolyte


First morning sunlight in Saint-Hippolyte

The Sainte Marie show itself is centred on the old theatre in the centre of town, with a small group of dealers hosted inside, and many more outside, based in white tents, lining tent “streets” in the mineral dealing area. (There are also other large buildings full of dealers).


Theatre, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines


Exhibits inside the theatre


A glimpse of some of the tents on one of many “streets” of dealers

Of course, with so many dealers and others in mineral world all coming together in one place like this, one hopes that there will be interesting minerals to see, and Sainte Marie 2014 did not disappoint. If you have time for a glimpse into a small number of highlights, here are a few.

For a couple of years now, we have been seeing the pale blue barites from the Sidi Lahcen Mine, Nador, Nador Province, Morocco. These are delicate and can be outright spectacular, but alas many are quite badly damaged and lots do not have good colour. A small number with the better colour have survived the mining/collecting, prep work, shipping and travel – and these are wonderful specimens.


Barite, Sidi Lahcen Mine, Nador, Nador Province, Morocco – 7.7 cm


Barite, Sidi Lahcen Mine, Nador, Nador Province, Morocco – 5.8 cm

Some super new dioptase specimens have been collected very recently at Mindouli, Mindouli District, Pool Department, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville).  As always, it remains very hard to obtain specimens from this area, as it lies at the heart of the border area between DRC and Brazzaville, and conflict continues. However, these have been brought out and are beautiful.


Dioptase with Plancheite, Mindouli, Mindouli District, Pool Department, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) – crystal 1.2 cm


Dioptase with Plancheite, Mindouli, Mindouli District, Pool Department, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) – 5.3 cm

Another new African find is quite intriguing. The now well-known Bendougou vicinity in the Kayes Region of Mali has been producing fine specimens of green prehnite balls and epidote for many years. A new locality among the many within the district  – Diamonkara – recently produced super specimens of yellow stilbite. One dealer was adamant that these are stellerite, and then suggested that some are stellerite and some are stilbite, but the consensus assumption by many of us (granted, from observation alone) is that they are in all likelihood all stilbite. They are primarily “balls” and “wheels” of crystals, up to about 6 cm, some of which are associated with epidote and even prehnite. Unfortunately a few that could otherwise have been nice were terribly damaged, but the fine specimens are really sweet! I obtained the fine ones I could find available.


Stilbite, Diamonkara, Bendougou, Kayes Region, Mali – 3.7 cm


Stilbite with Epidote, Diamonkara, Bendougou, Kayes Region, Mali – 3.5 cm

Finally, I would feel strange coming back from Ste Marie without anything fun from France… and I managed to find a small group of interesting pieces, including bournonite from Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, and some very cool hematite specimens from Le Haïcot, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France.


Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France – 7.0 cm


Hematite,  Le Haïcot, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France – 5.0 cm

As with other top-level large international mineral shows, the Sainte Marie show included educational presentations and a display area. The theme of the display area was copper minerals and it included many jaw-dropping specimens from France and all over the world, assembled from the collections of museums and private collectors. I feel that photographing these through glass with inappropriate photo lighting would be tantamount to insulting these gorgeous specimens (and the collections in which they are housed). I mean it’s hard enough taking good accurate photos of azurite and dioptase as it is (!). Suffice it to say, I sure returned to this area more than once. (Did I kneel down in front of any cases?  Well I guess you may never know…) Beautifully done!

Minerals from the show will be available on the website in updates coming over the next few weeks.

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines 2014 was a great show – a sincere thank you to the organizers and display contributors. If you have not yet been, it is a show like no other. À la prochaine!