The Rock Hound meets Nature's Geometry

As an ethical jeweller, The Rock Hound’s always on the look out for gemspiration from fellow trailblazers. This summer, Susi caught up with Tuscon-based Brian Cook of Nature’s Geometry over a quick cuppa…

Up in Morty & Bob’s cafe in Netil House, Brian shows Susi some of his larger quartz pieces. He specialises in a particularly fine type of rutilated quartz which he mines in the Bahia region of Brazil.

B. This is my most groovy piece right now.

S. Wowsers, so pretty. It’s beautiful. And that’s from your mine? No, is that the natural back?

B. Oh yeah totally. Very flashy. You know a big piece like that, I’m not gonna cut it.

S. Like a little disco going on in there.

B. And that’s even in terrible light.

RUTILATED QUARTZ from Bahia. Rutile is a mineral composed mainly of titanium oxide. In quartz, it usually appears as golden, straw-like or wispy inclusions, although colour and form vary. This exceptional piece weighs in at a hefty 2.8 kg.

As Susi checks out an array of amazing crystals, Brian explains how rutile and quartz get together.

B. So it all starts from that point, the haematite. The rutile orients on that. The rutile coming out are actually big fat crystals. So imagine these fine threads are probably going way out here and God knows how far they stretch but these wisps of rutile get caught by the quartz here.

S. And what’s the chemistry then? Is it taking something from the hematite to become rutile?

B. No it’s actually three elements that are all oxides. The iron oxide is the hematite, the titanium oxide is the rutile and the silicon oxide as the quartz. So as these elements are coming out of the solution and crystallising, they’re all doing that at the same time. The titanium, rutile, orients on the hexagonal axis of this haematite. So iron’s coming into this concentrated crystal and the rutile aligns on the axis – it’s called epitaxial crystal growth – and it goes shooting off like a sun ray. All that’s happening like a dance. And the quartz is capturing it at the same time.

S. Yeah, but then this quartz solution would come in later, wouldn’t it?

B. No at the same time. It’s all happening. It’s just a wild dance going on in there, deep deep deep in the earth. And this happened about five hundred million years ago.

S. Five hundred million years ago. Just recently! So mad, isn’t it?

Brian’s eyes light up when he talks about the experience of small-scale mining. There’s something magical about unearthing a crystal for the first time...

B. And think about it. Those crystals remained in utter darkness for that long, until they weather out or someone plucks them out. It’s pretty amazing.

S. Yeah, amazing.

B. They’re made for light.

S. Yeah, like all gemstones are made for light.

B. Exactly. It’s one of the most exciting things for me when you’re mining. I tap into that.That these crystals are seeing the light for the first time.

B. So here’s the full moon batch. I’m keeping that so whenever I cut that I will have the story of the full moon and the date.

S. Yeah, people love that kind of thing.

B. That’s what I plan to do more of.

S. The energy and that kind of thing and tying it into when it first sees the light and the light is the full moon.

B. Yeah that was pretty amazing. They stayed up all night and didn’t even go to bed - just worked through the night.

Inside the Pyramid Mine. These quartz veins are approx. 500 million years old.

Although amazingly beautiful, rutilated quartz hasn’t always been fashionable or valuable. Brian tells Susi a little about its history.

S. So when did mining first start?

B.  In the colonial days for gold. And then in the 1940s with the search for optical electronic grade quartz. Vast exploration started in South America and Africa etc. So that’s when the crystal mining began. Right up until the 60s, optical grade quartz was the thing. It was so abundant at the surface the men started by just picking bits off the ground and then when that was gone they started looking at the soil layers. But the bits with the gold in it they couldn’t sell because it wasn’t optical, so they just tossed it aside. Until finally some of the material made it to Governador Valedares and Teofilo Otoni stone centres and some Germans saw it and said wow, thats cool.

S. Oh so that’s how it started.

B. Even into the 70s and 80s, a lot of labels just said Minas Gerais, because they didn’t know. I saw a specimen in the Smithsonian that was mislabelled. I told them. They didn’t mind - old label.

S. So stuff like this only comes from there?

B. Madagascar produces wonderful rutilated quartz. The Alps, California. You find little bits of it in places but it’s only sparse and random...very few economically viable sites. Platinum rutile from Minas Gerais - which is pretty - but this golden one is almost exclusive to this mountain range.

S. So your initiative, if it kicks off how do you see it working?

B. Well my initiative will be small scale and that I think will make it viable and successful. The idea is to create a model that works and show by example. To spread the idea that growing good food while mining is going to benefit everybody and be sustainable. We’re going to regenerate the soil rather than deplete it. It’s what the world needs to be doing. So if I can do it and inspire other miners or communities to copy that idea, then it benefits everybody. And for us in the jewellry industry it offers more and more points of source with that story and connection to where it’s actually coming from. Because that’s the most difficult part to see. I think people now want to know where things are from and what their money is going into.

The old paradigm is of some adventurer going into a remote place and stumbling on a community that has something valuable, giving his binoculars to the locals in exchange for some bad ass ruby that they don’t even know what it is. Bringing it back and selling it for tonnes and not telling anyone where you got it. That’s the old way of doing it.That’s impossible now. Even the miners can be online. So we have to show the benefit to the community and keep it traceable. That’s the challenge. Hopefully my idea will inspire the industry to follow suit.

...and ploughing back in. You know all the women and kids they go picking through the piles of low grade stuff after the guys have finished mining. And they sell those pieces, 5 10 bucks.I want to set up a lapidary to teach them how to cut out the good stuff. Make beads and then they can make more money themselves. Nobody does cutting there yet. So that’s the initiative really.

Brian envisages three stages of development to the plot of land he has already acquired. In Phase 1 he’ll set up a lapidary with his own cutting staff providing the training to local women. In Phase 2 the garden will be cultivated with sustainable methods. Children from the local elementary school will be invited to get involved and this will hopefully generate interest: something to invest their skills in once the mining opportunities run out. Phase 3 involves building a residence for a full time manager, along with some visitor accommodation. The idea is to encourage cross pollination opportunities with other actors in the luxury sector. For example, a perfumer could visit and investigate exotic plants grown on site that could be used in cosmetics or fragrance.

Brian’s vision is a sustainable mining operation that caters to the local population’s needs both now and in the future. His site is close to the village Remedios of Novo Horizonte district, seen here.

Once the last crumbs of chocolate cake have been washed down, Brian and Susi pack away their crystals, happy in the knowledge that these little gems have been brought into the world with care and the promise of a bright future.

The Rock Hound stocks a selection of pieces from Nature’s Geometry, including rutilated quartz, Aroma Jewels and Wheels of Light.