RESTORING THE BEAUTY – CLEANING AND REPARING MINERAL SPECIMENSWe are frequently complimented on how beautiful our specimens appear, especially our amazonite and smoky quartz. (Thank you!) This article is an attempt to share some of our standards and efforts to returning specimens to their original state when they first crystallized and were at their best. It deals mostly with what we predominately mine—amazonite and smoky quartz. Since they formed nearly a billion years ago and have been on a destruction spiral for nearly that long, it is impossible to completely return them to their pristine state, and for most it’s impossible to make any significant improvement. But our goal is to do our best and for some pockets, we can do remarkable work. In a way, we like to think by seeing our pieces you are being transported back a billion years to when they formed. Because the most significant specimens we are talking about are the combination amazonite with smoky quartz specimens, this article will predominately address those pieces.
There are reasons the Pikes Peak Batholith specimens are cleaned and repaired. Without doing so, significant pieces would not exist. They simply would not be satisfactory nor sufficiently aesthetic or beautiful for humankind to collect and preserve. There are numerous mineral species that do not require much post-mining preparation or very little preparation. Collectors are familiar with these and are accustomed to seeing them on the market. A repaired piece of these more common materials then, is less desirable than an unrepaired piece. Pikes Peak Batholith specimens are the opposite. Very few—ALMOST NONE—of the significant pieces are not repaired. ALL OF THEM go through some process of cleaning and preparation. It is no wonder that most mineral labs recognize these specimens as the most ornery and difficult specimens to work with.
Of note. For amazonite and smoky quartz combination specimens in general, the test of whether or not a repaired or unrepaired piece has lesser or greater value is this: If the repair or preparation process does not detract from the overall aesthetics of the piece, it does not diminish its value. On the other hand, if the piece shows distinct repair lines, fills, saw marks or other detracting aspects, then the value will be less than for one without these distractions. If a repaired piece is aesthetically equal in all respects to an unrepaired piece, the value is the same. (This article does not attempt to address factors which affect value otherwise—only the cleaning and repair aspect.)
From these pieces above to this piece to the right.
Lucky Monday pocket “The Forest.”
STARTING CONDITIONI often say there is more that can go wrong with an amazonite and smoky quartz pocket than with any other mineral species. And what can go wrong usually has. Despite the discovery of dozens of pockets in a given season by all the miners in the district, this is the primary reason above all else that these critters are rare! Starting conditions are horrible for preserving or creating fine specimens. Pockets formed nearly a billion years ago and immediately following crystallization, the specimens begin breaking down. Pockets themselves most often implode upon final crystallization. Like water which expands upon crystallization into ice, the rock granite that is crystallizing from the pluton is also expanding. Therefore, pressure within any open cavity within this crystallizing rock increases as this expansion occurs. When eventual rupture of the pocket takes place, it often does so violently and damages many, if not all, of the crystals. We have opened numerous pockets that contain only shards of amazonite and smoky quartz. The smoky quartz, incidentally, is in dangerously sharp fragments and appear as if they broke yesterday. Quite frequently, we recover only a few single amazonite or smoky quartz crystals from this type of pocket. In the crystallization process, different minerals crystallize at different points. Many of the rare elements tend to concentrate in the final magma as the more common minerals, quartz and feldspar crystallize out of the melt. This is good because this gives rise to some macro crystals of rare minerals. Unfortunately, this is bad because some clay-type minerals that crystallize near the final stages (not those that leach into breached pockets) reach a chemical point before crystallization where they quench, like glass forming. They then instantly coat the already crystallized minerals within a pocket. Frequently, these quenched minerals cannot be removed either chemically or mechanically. Although there may be fine crystals under the surface of these mineral coatings, they can never be recovered.
The above specimen has great crystals of good color amazonite and black smoky quartz but is heavily covered by goethite and cryptomelane drippings. With a ton of work, they can be removed but likely the oxides penetrate the amazonite and will leave blotches of red and black, making it unlikely this will become a great specimen despite the nice crystals.
RETURNING THE BEAUTY AFTER RECOVERYThe first rule we follow is to cause no further damage upon discovering a pocket. We have perfected our collecting techniques. We keep good records of the pockets and the location of pieces within a pocket. We have a high-quality lab that gives us access to technology and equipment to help improve the possibility of recovering fine specimens. In general, we wash every piece and then lay them out to attempt to find fits. Often, it’s a short-lived experience because the damage or discoloration or other aspects take the pocket back off the table. When we do discover a good candidate pocket, we find the broken pieces and missing fits and temporarily attach them. Sometimes it is a year-long or longer process, but eventually, we will “call” a pocket. That’s when we trim specimens and decide what makes a good group or doesn’t. That’s where we consider repairs. We prefer no or very few repairs and if the specimen is a Frankenstein with thirty repairs, we’ll decide on a couple of smaller specimens. Repairs are difficult to make disappear so the fewer we have to do, the better. After the fitting stage, the pieces are taken back apart and sent through the cleaning process. I don’t share the cleaning process largely because it has taken us thirty years and a lot of study to perfect our techniques. Also, each pocket will require a certain set of procedures. What works for one of our specimens may not work for yours. The discovery process for the set of procedures also takes a month of lab work as well so this stage is ongoing. The general process is chemical cleaning followed by some mechanical cleaning. The chemical is designed to remove all the oxides. The better you can do this, the better the original color is revealed. The second stage is mechanical. This is designed to remove the last minerals that quench onto the surfaces of the original crystals. Most often this is a secondary feldspar or a secondary quartz or clay mineral. Each takes a different process. We use a soft abrasive that won’t damage the primary crystal. Each primary mineral is different and therefor, each abrasive for that mineral is different. Even with these techniques, it may be impossible to remove the final coatings. There may be some nice crystals, but they won’t ever be more than average. Photos to the right show some of our collecting procedures. We start the fit-finding in the field. It is easier then to find a critical fit than back at the lab.
REPAIRSWe use a permanent epoxy that is suitable for jewelry work. Some people like to use a super glue. Others even use a water-soluble adhesive. We want a permanent repair that for pegmatite minerals will hold up if you wish to wash them or lightly clean them. (Over time, specimens, especially feldspars, get dusty and dull.) We work hard to disclose the work that we have done on specimens. Typical work that can be done on specimens includes color enhancements, surface coatings, and repairs. We avoid everything but repairs. (Unfortunately after we began bringing the our brightly colored amazonite onto the market, there have been some people that claim we have altered the color. We have not in any respect. We just clean things better. The color is there or it is not!) For repair work, we mark our specimens on the bottom with a small label that indicates: stabilized, repaired x, restored x, or reconstructed x, with x signifying the number (for example repair 1x). We also keep records on significant specimens so if you happen across one of our pieces without any label, we can give you the missing data. (It is unfortunate, but some parties deliberately remove our labels and attempt to resell specimens as unrepaired. Even if a repaired specimen does not have a lesser value, not disclosing repairs is misleading.
Most people do not consider stabilizing a specimen in the category of a repair, especially if it is a matrix that is stabilized. When we stablilize a specimen we will often label it on the bottom of the specimen.
I do not have a specimen which shows a reinforcement. By definition, they are noticeable except possibly on the underside of the matrix.
FIT REPAIRMost of our repairs are fit repairs. The nature of amazonite and smoky quartz is such that they frequently separate along the contacts. The chemistry of each mineral causes them to slightly repel each other during crystal growth (like magnets of like-polarity). This sets up rapid separation when the pocket becomes ruptured. The nice feature is that these contact surfaces can (sometimes) be found. If there has been only slight regrowth in a pocket, they will fit perfectly like a jigsaw puzzle piece. THERE IS NO VISIBLE REPAIR LINE. There won’t be any guessing of the fit because they are solitary and unique. On a group of amazonite crystals, it is not unusual to have ten or more crystals separate from each other but which will perfectly link back together. The specimen to the left has three fit repairs where the two smokies fit back onto the amazonite crystal group and the outside amazonite crystal fit back to the smoky. This is exactly how this specimen formed. None of the crystals were otherwise damaged and in a sense, not broken, but fit back.
Of course both the amazonite and smoky quartz crystals can be found broken in the pocket (We could break one as well but this is a rare case for us because we are so good in the mining process. ) A smoky is most frequently broken off the matrix. Amazonite most frequently cleaves. These cleavage lines are often mistaken for repairs which they are not. Quartz will fracture internally, and these lines can also be mistaken for repairs. But if the piece is a clean break all the way through, and if the separate pieces can be found, these pieces generally repair nicely and without any evidence OTHER THAN A SLIGHT REPAIR LINE. We can usually make this repair line disappear or become almost invisible. These are all simple repairs (not necessarily simple to do, but simple damage).
In the phtograph of the pale amazonite to the right, you can see that the crystal has been cleaved. This is a SIMPLE REPAIR in that, after cleaning, it can be simply glued.
Sometimes there is a gap along the repair line or a divot or small missing piece from a crystal. If it is not too large, these gaps can be filled and made to almost match the crystal. We try to avoid restorations except those at the base or near the base of a crystal or where the crystal attaches. These restorations are less noticeable. The difference between a repair, a restoration and a reconstruction is the size. If there is less than a sixteenth of an inch gap along a repair line, it will most often be labeled a repair. If the gap is larger, then it is a restoration. If the gap includes two crystal surfaces, it will still be labeled a restoration if the surfaces are defined by the remainder of the crystal. However, if the surface cannot be fully defined, for example, a missing tip, then it becomes a reconstruction.
The gap in the break where the smoky quartz is repaired in the photo to the left will be filled. This will properly be termed a RESTORATION. We use a permanent epoxy for restorations.
By nature, the distinction between a restoration and a reconstruction can be argued from the eye of the beholder and the person doing the work. Essentially a reconstruction is rebuilding a crystal when defining information is not present and significant guesswork must be done. We can do reconstructions, but we try to avoid them. We will make a specimen smaller or remove a crystal before going this route.
In general, reconstructions are reserved for important minerals. A good number of gem tourmaline crystals now have both restorations and reconstructions. Common minerals almost never do. I recall one of the largest blue topazes from Brazil which had a nick out of the top of the crystal that took in three crystal faces. This area was reconstructed. Since there were defining faces, it could be argued that it was a restoration, but who knows, maybe there was an extra step in the crystal face. We have had some immense specimens ourselves where a tip had been broken off and it was going on display in a museum. For those reasons, we reconstructed the tip. Even then, it was likely defined by the remaining crystal faces and could be labeled a restoration. If you have a sentimental specimen and you want a tip reconstruction we can do it.
I do not have a photograph of a reconstruction at this time.