Mineral & Gem Asia: A Buyer’s Primer

The Mineral & Gem Asia show is only a few weeks away. For many jewellers this may be the first time at a mineral show. It can be helpful to have a few pointers on what to expect and what to look for when buying a mineral specimen. This is the first of a three part series to familiarize you with the wonders of the mineral world.

Mineral specimens

This refers to examples of stones, usually in a crystalline form. Typically these are natural and displayed as they were found in the earth with varying degrees of human assistance or intervention but the focus is on showing the mineral as close to its original form as possible. At the very least, almost all specimens have undergone preparation such as cleaning to remove dirt or staining and usually are trimmed to make them easy and attractive to display. In some cases there are repairs such as crystals re-glued into clusters or even glued back together in the case of broken crystals. Repairs are fairly common and acceptable but should be disclosed by the seller. Perfect, unrepaired specimens will command a much higher price.

Collectors look for specific minerals, crystal habits, locations, or any combination of features. Decorative specimens are purchased mostly for their beauty. But the distinction between the two is often blurred. Specimens are subdivided by size.


  • Micro-mounts


Micro-mounts are tiny specimens that usually require magnification to see. These are often quite rare minerals or crystals. These are typically displayed in small boxes with magnifying lenses built into the top of the box. Micro-mount collectors are a rare, but passionate segment of the collecting world.


  • Thumbnails


Thumbnail specimens are the next step up in size. You will find these in small plastic boxes that are one to two inches square. Many gem materials such as spinel octahedrons or corundum crystals are common in thumbnail sizes. This size is popular with beginning collectors because nearly perfect specimens are available at very reasonable prices.


  • Cabinet specimens


This is the broadest category of collectable specimens. It encompasses anything from a few inches to one or two feet in size. ..anything that can fit inside a display case. There is considerable overlap between collectable and decorative in cabinet specimens. Many common but attractive materials are available. Collectors will look for rare materials or unusual combinations of minerals. Prices can range from a few dollars to many thousands but are often in the hundreds.


  • Decorator specimens

These are larger than cabinet size and usually bought by interior designers to accent a home or office. Amethyst cathedrals, quartz clusters and large geodes are very popular in this size.


  • Architectural specimens

dave-siskin-20150610-architecturalThese are the giants of the mineral world used as centrepieces in in lobbies, fountains or garden displays. It can be a huge quartz crystal, a very large amethyst cathedral or any number of minerals. Although most are fairly common materials, you can expect high prices due to the difficulty of finding, extracting and transporting them.

The mineral world is fascinating and you’ll find something for every taste. Ask lots of questions while shopping. Most dealers are experts in their particular product lines and are always happy to share their knowledge.


Next week…Fossils!

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