The Allure of Crystals & Geological Specimens

Double-terminated tourmaline crystal, obtained in Pech Valley, Afghanistan. Minerals Paradise image

The Allure of Crystals & Geological Specimens

Crystals and natural specimens are some of the most stunning and scientifically fascinating non-living objects in the universe. There is often remarkable symmetry within the way their atoms responded to time, pressure, and heat during the “growth” process of these beautiful objects of nature.

Crystals are comprised of a pattern of ions, atoms, and molecules that evolve within various states. Jeffrey Post, Ph.D., is curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He states in an article about the Smithsonian Gem and Mineral Collection, for the Gemological Institute of America, one of the goals in maintaining such a collection is to provide a way in which people can “…think about the earth in a different way.”

A matrix of opaque and soft translucent gray quartz crystals, offset by rod-like inclusions of rich black manganese, with a spray of aquamarine crystal rods three inches long, 6 x 5 x 3½ inches overall. Sold for $45,000 during a 2014 auction. I.M. Chait Gallery and Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image.

At this current time in history, when information about nearly anything can be gathered quickly and easily, the discovery of crystals and other non-living mineral specimens in the field requires time, focus and dedication. There’s a lot of ground to cover, as it were, when it comes to “rockhounding.” People who “rockround,” or dig for, discover and collect crystals, rocks and mineral specimens, are part of a lineage that dates back centuries. Rockhounds have varied goals. For some it’s about creating a collection; for others, it’s to study the scientific aspects of specimens. Still others incorporate geological specimens into lapidary art, or turn to crystals and other natural specimens for their reputed healing properties. Thanks to rock, gem and mineral shows; as well as various retail outlets, collectors don’t necessarily have to dig to acquire the objects they desire.

To gain a better understanding of this collecting interest, we turned to self-confessed rockhound and dealer Muhammad Majid, of Minerals Paradise (, to share some insight. Majid’s father, a pioneer of the gem and mineral market, started the family business in Namak Mandi Peshawar, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. It is one of the world’s largest markets for mineral specimens. The Majid family specializes in tourmalines, morganites, aquamarine, topaz, and many lesser-known stones including tantalite, microlites and herderites.

An etched Heliodore crystal specimen from Wolodarski-Wolynski, in the Ukraine, a gem beryl “floater” crystal of saturated, slightly greenish yellow hue and excellent transparency, natural surface etching with complex crystal faces, 12.70 x 5.10 x 3.80 cm, sold for $19,000 during a 2014 auction. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image

How would you describe today’s collecting market for crystals and geological specimens? How has it changed in the past few years?

Majid: The market has changed drastically. We had buyers who were buying rare minerals in the past, but now most collectors prefer the common minerals such as tourmalines, morganites, and aquamarines, among others. Prices have also gone sky high in recent years.

What advice would you give someone who is just discovering an interest in collecting crystals and specimens?

Majid: In my opinion, one should not just start collecting crystals and minerals; they should study them, their characteristics, and also their pricing, because minerals have no fixed value.

Physical properties minerals to consider:


    Luster (assists with determining if a mineral has a metallic or non-metallic luster and is light-reflective or dull)


    Hardness (for comparison of density from one mineral to another)


Rose quartz, “La Madona Rosa” specimen, discovered in the Lavra Berilo Branco mine in Brazil in the late 1950s, given the name for its resemblance to the artistic depictions of the Virgin Mary, measuring 15½ x 8 inches. Sold for $662,500 during a June 2013 auction. Heritage Auctions image.

What are some of the most helpful tools for collectors of crystals and natural specimens?

Majid: Having an idea about the pricing of a mineral is the most important thing. As I said, minerals and crystals have no fixed value. For this purpose, I think the Internet is the best available source.

In recent years, which two crystals or specimens that you’ve sold were most memorable and why?

Majid: I sold one 4 kilogram double-terminated and undamaged aquamarine specimen to one of my regular buyers. It was a significant deal and I had to go to the Nagar mines twice in one week to acquire the specimen. It’s a 22-hour drive from our city to the Nagar mine.

Also, in February of this year, I sold a morganite specimen. I made a deal with my buyer, but then the miner refused to give the specimen to me, even though I had paid half in advance. I wanted to get that specimen for my buyer at any cost because it would destroy my reputation if I were unable to do so. The buyer had paid $15,000 for that specimen, and I had to pay $17,000 to the miner to get it for the buyer.


Tourmaline with albite crystal specimen. Minerals Paradise image

Crystals and geological specimens may be enjoyed in public exhibitions around the world. Among the places within the United States where sizable collections of crystals, minerals, and other geological specimens are displayed include:

• Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.:
• Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals, Hillsboro, Ore.:
• Natural History Museum, Los Angeles, Calif.:
• American Museum of Natural History, New York, N.Y.: (Renovation is currently under way at the new Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals. The halls will open in the fall of 2019.
• Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, Calif.: