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Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 08.18.2017 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

I’ve added a small number of excellent hematite specimens in this France Hematite Update (click here). I’ve had a few of these in the past, and have managed to obtain a few more. These hematites were excavated from a deposit in the hills just above the town of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. Specimens were collected from this small vein system in the 1970s and 1980s, and these beautiful hematite crystal groups date back to those workings.

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France – 8.6 cm

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France
Close-up of the specimen above, field of view 2.5 cm

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France – 7.3 cm

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France
Close-up of the specimen above, field of view 3 cm

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France

Hematite with quartz, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France- 7.4 cm

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France
Close-up of the specimen above, field of view 2.5 cm

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France
Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France – 6.9 cm

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France

Hematite with quartz,  Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France – 5.7 cm

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France – 6.9 cm

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France

Hematite, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace. France
Close-up of the specimen above, field of view 3 cm

Hematite, Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace, France

Hematite, Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace, France – 5.2 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 07.26.2017 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)

 

In the heart of France’s Vosges Mountains, each June, Mineral World assembles at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace, for what is always a great mineral show.

Alsace is a beautiful place, and this sure is a beautiful time of year.

Saint-Hippolyte, Alsace, France

Saint-Hippolyte, Alsace, with the Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg on the crest of the hill in the background.

SteMarie

Everywhere you look, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines is full of blooms in late June.

Lavender

Lavender is a common sight and scent in Alsace at this time of year.

Ste. Marie’s mining history dates to the 16th century. Located in the Val’D’Argent (“Valley of Silver”), the town was the hub for a vast number of mining operations over a few hundred years that ultimately left approximately 20,000 km of tunnels under and inside these valley hills.

SteMarieHistory

Depiction of historic mining practices in the area of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines

If you are newer to the website and might not have seen prior Ste. Marie reports, I’ve written a bit more on the history in other years’ posts – there are some good photos as well, for example in the Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines 2015 post (click here).

The Show

For a few days each year, this town is transformed, as mineral and gem people from every corner of the globe get together. The centre of town becomes its own little community with tent “streets” and alleyways in all directions.

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines Mineral Show

One of the many tent streets, with the Theatre venue in the background.

Although it is a gorgeous time of year in Alsace, 2017’s European heat wave made for some scorching days at the show. One popular way to beat the afternoon heat was the misting station they had installed for the show at the central hub-intersection, by the theatre.

Misting Towers

It was a great idea. Unfortunately for me, I was always carrying flats full of minerals when I passed this intersection… (cardboard mineral boxes and misting don’t mix!)

Of course, hot days can’t stop the quest… and there were some great finds this year.

There has been a large new find of red zircons from the Astor Valley, in Pakistan. A locality that has sporadically produced small amounts of material in recent years, this  find produced a large number of pieces. However, from all I have seen, fine zircons are few. There are two key reasons for this. First, the zircons are enclosed within solid rock with other hard constituent minerals, such that many zircons were broken when they were collected. Second, and a much more prevalent issue, the zircon crystals seem to have formed more or less contemporaneously with most of the other minerals in the deposit – feldspar, biotite mica, and pyroxene – and as a result, most of the zircon crystals are not fully developed. Instead, most zircon crystal growth was interrupted by the growth of these other minerals, and therefore most zircons are simply incomplete, or malformed. And yet, among the well-over 1000 pieces I went through, there were a few super crystals. The colour ranges from hues of wine-red to intense, vivid deep red, with some occasional gradation to much lighter hues, almost colourless.

I’m including a few photos here, and to see more, I’m including a link below these.

Red Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan – crystal 3 cm across

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan – 2 cm crystal

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan – field of view 2 cm

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan – field of view 3 cm

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan – field of view 2 cm

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan – field of view

These zircon crystals fluoresce yellow under shortwave ultraviolet light.

Zircon, Astor Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

To see more of these zircon specimens, click here.

As a related aside, if you’ve read my mineral show posts before, you will likely have seen that I joke about shows as “urban field collecting”. So here is an example of one kind of urban field collecting. The Astor Valley red zircons arrived in metal shipping containers, and large numbers were as yet still packed up. Meaning… a few hours in the hot sun… I unpacked each and every zircon from this shipment, never knowing whether the next piece in hand might be a worthy specimen (and usually it was not!).

Urban Field Collecting

This sure isn’t so different from collecting on mine dumps: (1) Each piece you have in hand has no direct relationship to the one next to it. (2) Any piece can be great. and (3) If you don’t keep going through as much material as humanly possible, you will miss the good specimens. So, on you go…

Next, from the well-known locality, Paprok, Afghanistan, there has been new production of some excellent spodumene crystals. Many are bicoloured, light pink and green, while some are one colour or the other. Some of these are very nicely formed!

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan – 5.0 cm (photographed section)

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan – 4.5 cm (photographed section)

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan – 5.0 cm

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan – 4.0 cm (photographed section)

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan

Spodumene, Paprok, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan – 2.5 cm (photographed section)

A “new” find of clinochlore has come from Arrondissement Diako, Mali. I say “new” because they are new to us, but were actually collected a while back. The information relayed to me is that these were found six years ago by a geologist prospecting for economic ore minerals. The clinochlores were not considered specimens by the prospector, but have now been tracked down. A very soft mineral, excavated by a commercial prospector, you can imagine that most from the lot are not fine mineral specimens at all, but a very few are really nice, particularly under good lights, where the green becomes visible. Good clinochlore specimens are really not easy to come by, so I was really pleased to find these.

Clinochlore, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali

Clinochlore, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali – 3.3 cm

Clinochlore, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali

Clinochlore, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali – 4.0 cm

Clinochlore, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali

Clinochlore, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali – 2.5 cm crystal

A few years ago, I managed to acquire a few hematite specimens from just outside the town of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines itself. These are the hematites from  Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. I’ve tracked down a few more. Specimens from this locality were collected in the 1970s and 1980s. These are really great, distinctive hematite specimens, from a now classic locality.

Hematite, Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France

Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France – field of view 4.0 cm

Hematite, Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France

Hematite with quartz, Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France – 5.8 cm

Hematite, Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France

Hematite, Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France – 8.7 cm

Hematite, Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France

Hematite, Brezouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France – field of view 5.0 cm

The Show Exhibits

As always, the exhibits were fantastic. This year’s theme was Minerals and Volcanism, with cases dedicated to mineral specimens from volcanic deposits around the world. Of course, they featured many basalt-hosted specimens from localities around the world. Some of these are very well represented by specimens and photographs throughout the world – examples include the Deccan Traps in India and the beautiful amethysts from Artigas, Uruguay – while others are localities and minerals that we rarely see represented. With one exception, I’ve chosen to include photos of a few of the latter for this post. To me, that is often the most amazing part of the Ste. Marie exhibit experience.

Beginning with France, I loved the way this particular display was set up. It was dim, with LED illumination under the five specimens (four corundum crystals and an orange zircon), and did they ever jump to life!

Exhibit 1

From top left, clockwise: Two green-blue corundum crystals from Espaly-Saint-Marcel, Haute Loire (Collection of the Museum of Natural History, London);
Orange zircon from Riou Pezzouliou, Espaly-Saint-Marcel, Haute Loire (Collection of Alain Martaud);
Blue corundum, var. sapphire, from Riou Pezzouliou, Espaly-Saint-Marcel, Haute Loire (Collection of Alain Martaud); and
Blue corundum, var. sapphire, from le Coupet, Haute Loire (Collection of Louis-Dominique Bayle)

This is one of the world’s finest (if not the single finest) specimens of phillipsite. The cruciform twin at the top is about 2.5 cm, and the crystals are sharp and lustrous.

Phillipsite, Alter Stein Quarry, Allendorf, Hessen, Germany - Andreas Leinweber Collection.

Phillipsite, Alter Stein Quarry, Allendorf, Hessen, Germany (Collection of Andreas Leinweber)

This next one is not a rare mineral, but a really classy specimen from an unfamiliar locality.

Aragonite

Aragonite, Gergovy, Puy de Dome, France (Collection of Alain Martaud)

While we’re in Europe, a couple of true classics from Italy:

These are just gorgeous crystals for nepheline.

Nepheline

Nepheline, Mt. Somma, Campania, Italy – crystals to about 1 cm
(From the Struver Collection, 1888, in the Collection of the Museo Universitaria di Scienze della Terra, Italy)

And this vesuvianite is sharp with great lustre.

Vesuvianite

Vesuvianite, Latium, Italy – crystal about 1 cm
(From the Spada Collection, in the Collection of the Museo Universitaria di Scienze della Terra, Italy)

With apologies for the very poor photograph quality (white zeolites really need extra lights and/or reflectors), I wanted to include this specimen despite the photo, because the piece blew me away. It’s a superb analcime from any locality, but check out this locality!

Analcime

Analcime, Kerguelen Islands, French Southern and Antarctic Lands – crystals to 5 cm
Collection of the Museum of Natural History, London

I mentioned one exception for a specimen from a more commonly represented locality, and this is from the abundant deposits in Rio Grande do Sul. It is spectacular! It glistens and sparkles throughout the cavity and was a favourite for many at the show.

Amethyst

Quartz, var. amethyst, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil – approximately 30 cm
Collection of the National Museum of Natural History, Paris.

And finally I’ll end with what was a great case, a display of specimens from volcanic deposits from the collection of French mineralogist René Just Haüy, generally regarded as the “father of modern crystallography”. These specimens are from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

ReneJustHauy

Until next year, so long for now to the beautiful towns and gardens of Alsace…

 Window boxesSaint-Hippolyte, Alsace

Hollyhock

Saint-Hippolyte, Alsace

TwoTowers

Saint-Hippolyte, Alsace

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.

Storm3

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

So I did see this one coming…

Storm1

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!

Storm2

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…

Halogen

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.

TatouineFluorite

 

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

Displays

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.

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

DisplayChessy4
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:

DisplayChessy1

Cuprite crystals, Chessy-les-Mines

DisplayChessy2

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.

DisplayProustite

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.

DisplayAdamite

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… (!)

DisplayAmethyst

Amethyst, Traversella, Piedmont, Italy, approximately 20 cm

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

DisplayWulfenite
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.)

Amegreen

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 07.08.2015 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)

Morning sun on cobblestones, flowers spilling out of window boxes, the sounds of church bells and songbirds, swallows dipping and weaving through the village, the smell of fresh baked goods wafting from the boulangerie… fine cheeses and wines, scenic hills of vineyards and lavender-filled gardens… I mean really, what could be better than France in June?

Riquewihr2

Minerals in France in June. (Obviously.)

The annual mineral show at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines is so different from all others. Sure, we all love the large exciting mineral-filled halls and general mineral mayhem of the large shows, and the hotel shows in Tucson and Denver. But Ste Marie’s character and charm, from the theatre and the tent-lined streets within the show, to the town and the countryside beyond, make this an experience not to be missed.

Ste Marie is in Alsace, a region known for its beautiful small towns, distinctive architecture, hills, valleys and vineyards.

Riquewihr1Alsace village of Riquewihr

Beyond the gardens and planters, there are beautiful wildflowers.

Foxglove2

Wild foxglove (digitalis) at the edge of the forest

The woods and countryside are beautiful, home to a variety of animals. I wasn’t close enough for a good photo of the two deer grazing at the edge of the trees one morning, but I did catch this scene (granted, not so deep in the forest!)

StorksStorks, Alsace

The town of Ste Marie itself is situated in the heart of an historic mining district, the Val d’Argent (the Valley of Silver). This region’s mining history is remarkable, with underground mines dating to the 16th century. They say that within the greater valley and all its hills, there are more than 20,000 km of underground tunnels (!) – not sure how anyone would have calculated that, but even a lesser fraction of that would be astounding, as there is of course almost no evidence of this above-ground.

SteMarieShield

Such a great coat of arms.

Certain of these historic mines have been opened for organized visiting, and it’s well worth the time to go and explore. One such mine is Tellure. Major work has been done at this site to make it accessible to the public, with a modern interpretation centre and underground infrastructure to facilitate tours of small groups. Today, access to the old workings is via an adit which has been driven into the hillside to intersect older workings at various places – an amazing undertaking. This is well done – visitors experience workings of various vintages, from the 16th to the 19th century.

Most of the 16th century workings are irregular and require a small bit of clambering to walk through, as they were cut using only hand tools, advancing at an average of 15 cm per day in the hard rock areas. The workings from this era are narrow and not as high, as the miners were typically not as tall as we are today.

Tunnel16thc

An unusually straight 16th century working, through softer rock – this one is believed to have been exploratory, in search of the extension of the silver vein.

More recent workings were larger in scale, of course, as equipment and blasting were used.

Tunnel19thc

A section of 19th century workings, with supports.

Hoist

19th century hoisting apparatus

The museum at the Tellure interpretation centre includes many artifacts, although the collection of local minerals is currently very basic/elementary. A highlight at the Tellure interpretation centre was a temporary display – this year, a local collector of mining lamps had put on a super exhibit, absolutely first class in all respects.

Miner's Lamp, Saint-Marie-aux-Mines

 In the exhibit, many historical photographs were used together with the lamps, showing the given types of lamps
in use. Featuring the French symbol of the rooster, this lamp was used in the Val d’Argent.

OK, on to the main event – Ste. Marie 2015!

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Ste. Marie – the river channel behind buildings and homes.

Of course, as one of the world’s premier mineral shows, Ste. Marie has the strengths that come with this reputation in Mineral World. Top dealers and smaller dealers from all over the world offer specimens of all kinds. In particular, Ste. Marie includes truly stunning thematic displays. At the same time, Ste Marie reflects other regular trends in Mineral World too – scarcity of new material and lots of high prices.

This year the show’s tents and exhibits opened under sunny skies, with lots to look through.

Tents

 One of the many tent “streets”.  There is no grid or obvious pattern to the layout (as it is in the old part of town)
so navigation back to that particular specimen you remember is a good challenge.

Theatre

The theatre rises above the surrounding tents. Hidden in the deepest shadows in the centre of this photo
is Alfredo Petrov, who was visible when I was waiting for the break in pedestrian traffic to take this shot.
Does he not want to be seen? What mineralogical secret has compelled him into the darkness?

If you’ve read other reports of mine from past shows, you may have noticed that I am regularly baffled by the torture to which some mineral specimens are subjected. It’s one thing to toss tumbled agates together, but here is the Ste Marie 2015 winner, for me – the two flats of reddish material at upper right and lower left.

TorturedCuprites

 Yes, this one is pretty low. Those are – or were – cuprite crystals from Rubstovskoe.
Sure, to be fair, they were undoubtedly not the top ones, but there were good
crystals among them and I just can’t see how this could ever be a good idea.

Searching the show, I found a few excellent things.

Despite the host country, the show is truly not full of French mineral specimens, given their relative scarcity. The ones that are there are highly prized. Nonetheless, I was able to acquire a few really interesting French pieces.

There are beautiful deep golden barite crystals from a find at La Côte d’Abot, near Saint Saturnin, Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne, France. This was in fact a sizeable find however it seems that the pockets were either collapsed or at least partially collapsed well before human eyes ever reached them – many of the broken surfaces have faint recrystallization textures on them.  As in so many cases in mineral collecting, even the most careful of collecting cannot help specimens that were damaged by nature, so I did not acquire many, but the ones I did pick out are very cool specimens. Many demonstrate late-stage layered crystal growth, to create sceptres and capped sections – really neat crystallization patterns on these.

Barite, La Côte d’Abot, Saint Saturnin, Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne, France

Barite, La Côte d’Abot, Saint Saturnin, Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne, France – 7.1 cm

Barite, La Côte d’Abot, Saint Saturnin, Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne, France

Barite, La Côte d’Abot, Saint Saturnin, Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne, France – 4.3 cm

I also found a small stash of bournonite crystal groups from the contemporary classic locality, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France. As with the barites, many of the broken rear surfaces have faint recrystallization textures (and even micro crystals, in some cases) on them, and so again with these pieces there is the problem that many of them detached with just too little that was complete or in excellent condition. I did manage to come up with a very small number of great ones.

Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France – 6.8 cm

Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France – 6.1 cm

From Buxières-les-Mines, there was one fluorite specimen that really caught my eye.  We are used to seeing fluorite from occurrences where the habit is one of stacked cubes, but how often do we get to see stacked dodecahedra?

Fluorite, Buxières-les-Mines, Allier, Auvergne, France

Fluorite, Buxières-les-Mines, Allier, Auvergne, France – field of view approximately 3.0 cm

One last item of interest from France – from an uncommon locality for fine mineral specimens, some brilliant, sharp alpine hematite.

Hematite, L'Alpe d'Huez, Oisans, Isère, France

Hematite with quartz, L’Alpe d’Huez, Oisans, Isère, France – 10.1 cm

Ste Marie regularly includes a large number of sellers from Morocco. However, one really has to dig to find truly excellent specimens – they are few and far between!

Bou Azzer has for many years been known as the locality for the world’s finest erythrite specimens, but specimens are sporadic, and the quality is usually poor (to be fair, this is a very soft mineral and hard to bring from mine to market without damage.) This year a seller had a small lot of erythrite specimens of exceptional quality.

Erythrite1(8.8cm)

 Erythrite, Bou Azzer District, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – 8.8 cm

Erythrite2(xls to 1cm)

Erythrite, Bou Azzer District, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – crystals to 1 cm

One other Morocco item – in my Tucson 2015 post, I mentioned some beautiful arite crystals from Bou Nahas. There has been a fair bit more material from this locality, but most of the barite groups and crystals are not particularly distinctive – and in fact I don;t find much of this material to be interesting. However, the isolated crystals and crystal pairs can be pretty special, and I found three more of those at the show – here’s one of them.

BariteBouNahas(5.0)

Barite, Bou Nahas, Oumjrane mining area, Alnif, Er Rachidia, Morocco – 5.0 cm

You may recall that the beautiful yellow stilbite balls from Mali made their debut at Ste Marie last year. There almost none of these in Denver 2014, and I saw no high quality ones in Tucson this year (maybe I missed them?), so I wondered what the story was. Early after my arrival in Ste. Marie, I caught up with the same sellers from last year and went through their specimens. It turns out that the one digging, known simply as Diamonkara, has produced a number of further specimens over the past year, and although most were damaged, I was able to acquire some excellent pieces.

If you read about Diamonkara on my site last year, or if you were in Ste Marie either last year or this year, you may have noted that there has been a push to sell these as specimens of stellerite. When I asked one of the sellers last year as to what had been done to confirm that identification, I was told that “they look like stellerite” (because they often occur in the habit of spherical aggregates). Clearly, that is not enough to label them stellerite – not to mention, there are wheat-sheaf aggregates and individual crystals of this material too.  So yet again this year in Ste Marie, the name stellerite was used. I am aware of one set of analyses that was unable to demonstrate that any of these are in fact stellerite – this is second-hand information, but it is certainly consistent with the prior identifications of stilbite from the deposits of the region.

As for the specimens themselves, the good Diamonkara pieces are absolutely some of the nicest and most distinctive stilbites I’ve ever seen from anywhere, with beautiful colour and form. They are perhaps not yet appreciated for what they are – these are striking display specimens of a mineral that is often pale and drab.

StilbitePrehnite(6cm)

Stilbite, prehnite and epidote from Diamonkara, Bendougou, Kayes Region, Mali – 6 cm

Of all of the minerals that have been caught up in the rise of specimen prices, sadly, elbaite tourmaline stands out. It would be hard not to love a fine tourmaline, but these days it is hard to find excellent quality tourmaline specimens that can be purchased for prices that can be justified by that love. In Ste. Marie I was fortunate to be able to acquire a small number of wonderful-quality specimens from the classic Pakistan locality, Stak Nala. The seller’s family had mined these very recently.

Elbaite Tourmalin, Stak Nala, Pakistan

 Stak Nala, Gilgit-Skardu Road, Northern Areas, Pakistan – 4.5 cm

Moving on from the dealers, the thematic displays this year were spectacular. The theme was minerals of the Alps, and many kinds of mineralogical environments were represented, including the classic alpine deposits and many others situated in the region. Just a couple of photos to give a glimpse:

RedFluorite

Fluorite, Massif de l’Aiguille Verte, Chamonix-Mont Blanc, Haute-Savoie, France – approximately 12 cm.
Collected by J. Couttet in 2004. Now in the Musée des Cristaux in Chamonix.

 Titanite

Group of twinned yellow titanite crystals – approximately 7 cm.

Jordanite

Famous (world’s finest) jordanite crystal from Lengenbach Quarry, Fäld, Finn Valley, Wallis, Switzerland –
approximately 7 cm. British Museum of Natural History collection.

Needless to say, I revisited the display area a few times, just to soak it all in.  The organizers and contributors did an amazing job – thank you!

Until next time, goodbye to the Val d’Argent.

Val d'Argent Val d’Argent, Alsace, France

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 07.24.2014 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

A small number of excellent French specimens have been added in this France Update, including beautiful groups of sharp hematite crystals from the Brézouard Massif. This is a locality in the hills adjacent to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. There are also fine specimens of bournonite from Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-le-Minier, Gard, and a very nice faden quartz from the French Alps.

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Hematite with Quartz, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France – 5.4 cm

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Hematite and Quartz, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France – field of view approximately  3.0 cm

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Hematite with Quartz, Brézouard Massif, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France – field of view approximately  3.0 cm

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Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Rousillon, France – 7.0 cm

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.

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Alsace is dotted with picturesque villages…

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Rodern

vineyards…

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The vineyards near Saint-Hippolyte

… and forests, hills and castles.

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Château du Haut Koenigsbourg

The towns are small and picturesque, with distinctive architecture.

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Roses on a home in Saint-Hippolyte

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Quiet afternoon in Saint-Hippolyte

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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).

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Theatre, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines

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Exhibits inside the theatre

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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.

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

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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.

100464(2)

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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!

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