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A story about color rock

Last Updated: 29th Aug 2019

By Rock Currier

Back in 1991 Stan Esbenshade showed me a tiny fragment of hematite that appeared to be granular in nature and sort of flat like it was from some sort of sedimentary deposit. You could scrape grains off of it with your fingernail. What was interesting about it was that it had some sort of iridescent coating on it that made it very colorful. He said that he was given the piece by Neil Prehn, who worked for a mine development company. Neil had visited this iron mine near Belo Horizonte Brazil and had picked up a few pieces of the material and brought them back to the USA. It was so colorful that he thought it might even be salable as color rock that rock shops could sell to tourists. He showed it to Stan and a few other Arizona dealers who agreed that the rock/hematite had some sales potential. To realize this potential however they would need to make a trip down to Brazil and try and make arrangements with the mine to dig a bunch of it and send it back to the United States. Well, all of this was going to cost not a small amount of money and at least a couple of weeks of their time. Who was willing to do that? It turned out that no one in Arizona who had seen the specimens was willing to do that. Finally after some time had passed, Stan finally showed me the specimen. I said, since I was going regularly to Brazil that I could look into it and see if I could do anything with the stuff. After all, it was only color rock, right?

So on my next trip to Brazil, bright and early on my first day in Belo Horizonte I went to visit my main man in that part of Brazil; Orsoro Neto who ran a company called Colorgems there. Neil Prehn had given me the name of the mine, their phone number and the name of the Geologist who he thought might help us. In an hour or so we were driving to the mine which was near Belo and just after lunch the Geologist took us around the mine and showed us the outcrop of this colorful material.

An outcrop of hematite color rock at the Andrade Mine, João Monlevade,Minas Gerais, Brazil
Osorio Neto and hematite color rock at the Andrade Mine, João Monlevade, Minas Gerais, Brazil
An outcrop of hematite color rock at the Andrade Mine, João Monlevade,Minas Gerais, Brazil
Osorio Neto and hematite color rock at the Andrade Mine, João Monlevade, Minas Gerais, Brazil
An outcrop of hematite color rock at the Andrade Mine, João Monlevade,Minas Gerais, Brazil
Osorio Neto and hematite color rock at the Andrade Mine, João Monlevade, Minas Gerais, Brazil

It was certainly very colorful color rock

While scrambling around on the inclined slope of the bench of the big iron mine where this outcrop was located, piles of these shards would pile up around my feet. In the bright sunlight it was a bit like standing in a pile of peacock feathers. I think the geologist was a little surprised that we thought it was so interesting and that we wanted to fill up a shipping container of it and send it to the USA. They had never thought very much of it. Every year, there was a festival in the local village and the mine used to fill up a dump truck full of the stuff and take it to town and sprinkle it around on the street to add color to the festival.

At that time we were involved in mining quartz in the hills near Joaquim Felicio near just north of Corinto in Minas, so Osorio had his guys come down with a truck load of empty 55 gallon barrels and filled them up and shipped them up to me in a container. Eventually they arrived and we tried to sell the stuff by the barrel for $3 per pound without very much luck. I guess the stuff was not colorful enough on an average. The individual pieces sold pretty well however.

That year in Tucson we arrived to find some guy had rented a big billboard and was selling the stuff as the latest and greatest metaphysical and jewelry item One guy was backing little pieces of the stuff with obsidian and selling earnings made from the stuff for $90 a pair. Boy did I feel stupid. We quickly selected out the pieces that now had graduated from color rock to jewelry grade material and sold a lot of it as jewelry pieces, so at least we made good money on those.

Stories were around about this guy or that guy who was going to bring in large amounts of the material or about this other guy who was selling it for less than we were. I never expected to have an exclusive on the stuff, given the nature of the mineral market and the near impossibility of having an exclusive on anything. But to the best of my knowledge we were the only one who ever had the stuff and the stories about others selling it always seemed to lead back to someone to whom we had sold a barrel of the stuff. I even had a Brazilian dealer come up and congratulate me, shake my hand and tell me how he admired how I had pulled it off under the noses of so many Brazilian dealers. That was particularly gratifying. We tried to get another container of the hematite, but to get more it would have undermined some of the mine haul roads in the big open pit, and so that was an end to this interesting material. Today you hardly ever see a piece of this material even though we had thousands of pieces of it.

George Rossman of the California Institute of Technology did some work on the stuff and found that the thing that made the hematite iridescent was a new phosphate mineral, but the IMA did not approve it because it was one of those nano size minerals and whether the mineral will ever get an official name is not know. A curator of a major eastern museum didn't see the stuff when we had nice hand size pieces of it and complained to me that why didn't I let him know we had the stuff. To keep the peace I raided one from my own collection and sent it to him free of charge.

So as it has been pointed out many times before, what is one mans trash is another's treasure. What is color rock to one man is gem rough to another. I sometimes think that if you know too much about something you in some ways limit your imagination of what is possible.
[Rock Currier 2012]

Article has been viewed at least 19323 times.

Discuss this Article

4th Apr 2012 17:53 BSTRob Woodside Manager

Thanks Rock. I had no idea this stuff was so interesting

5th Apr 2012 19:52 BSTJohn Montgomery Expert

A good story!
Thanks Rock
Ref colorful Hematite from Belo Horizonte
You are indeed a master story teller.
I dont know how many such interesting places you have visited
in your mineral related work spanning almost half a century
And how many such interesting stories you still have to tell.
Keep it up

5th May 2012 22:01 BSTBruce Ueno

Great story, Rock!

I guess it's as true for minerals as for any other product- it's all about the marketing!
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