Sunday, November 11, 2012

Azurite: A Closer Look at Nature’s Masterpiece


Many of the pretty minerals and crystals used as accents in home décor are larger versions of the same gemstones used in making jewelry.  However, not all minerals are exclusively used as gems to decorate people and houses. Though they are all popular as accessories and collection pieces, astonishingly, some of them were significant materials to some famous paintings in the past. One of these minerals used to grace the world of arts is Azurite.
Azurite/Malachite Specimen
 from the Morenci Mine in Arizona
Azurite is a carbonate mineral famous for its deep blue color and has been popular since ancient times. Although it is considered as a minor copper ore, this mineral is a collector’s item because of its attractive royal blue color. The term “azure” came from the Arabic word meaning “blue”. The amazing blue color of Azurite is a very appealing characteristic and gave it a place in art history. 
The popularity of Azurite flourished during the Middle Ages and at the height of Renaissance era. Azurite was used to ad robust blue colors to paint used in Middle Age paintings.. It was mixed with oil and used to create different shades of blue in several masterpieces. One of these is Raphael’s painting Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints currently on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The artist used the Azurite’s pigment in giving life to the Virgin’s mantle in the painting. Though originally colored in Azurite blue, it is now darkened and greenish due to oxidation of the azurite.  Many of the notable renaissance paintings displayed in museums and art galleries today owe their distinctive azure color to paints colored by azurite.
Azurite Stone in Sterling Silver Ring
Azurite is formed through the weathering of copper ore deposits and is closely associated with Malachite. At room temperature, Azurite is stable, but when exposed to open air for very long periods oxidation will eventually convert it to Malachite. Azurite is sensitive to high heat so it is best stored in a cool environment.  Azurite is occasionally used in jewelry since it is considered a semi-precious gem.

Notable amounts of Azurite are found in Namibia, Morocco, France, Greece, Germany, Australia and Mexico. Excellent Azurite crystals often come from Tsumeb, Namibia and the Moroccan district of Touissit and Kerrouchene province. In the US, Azurite is found in the copper rich localities of Arizona. and Utah.
In addition to its impressive color, Azurite’s association to our artistic past makes this mineral an interesting find. Though rarely used in coloring nowadays, it still gave one of the most distinctive colors in our history. Touchstone Gallery, has a collection of Azurite specimens found in the state of Arizona. Get a chance to take a closer look at their Azurite collection and find out more by visiting their website.


 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chrysocolla : The Blue Green Copper Gemstone


Chrysocolla is one of the most beautiful gemstones found in jewelry and is a valuable décor accent. Due to its famous bluish green color, it is considered an attractive find in the world of minerals and gemstones. Though pleasing to the eye, most people know very little about Chrysocolla and its origins. Often confused as Turquoise, it is a silicate mineral usually formed through the oxidation of copper ores. Its distinctive and exquisite blue, blue-green and green color with streaks of white to blue green makes it a favorite ornamental stone often used in jewelry. The name Chrysocolla was first coined in 315 BCE by Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher and student of Aristotle. The term Chrysocolla is the combination of two Greek words -- chrysos meaning gold and kola meaning glue.

Chrysocolla Necklace
Featuring Stones from the Ray Mine in Arizona


Polished Chrysocolla
from the Bagdad Mine in Arizona

 
Chrysocolla is usually found near other secondary copper minerals.  High quality Chrysocolla is considered valuable due to its attractive color and ability to take an attractive polish.  It has a hardness of 2.5 – 3.5 out of 10 on Moh’s scale.
Since it is a secondary copper mineral and usually found in copper oxidation zones, it replaces other secondary minerals like quartz, malachite, limonite, cuprite and azurite. Although it is considered as a minor ore of copper, it is also one of the most prized gemstones and is often used as an ornament. Aside from its famous lush blue-green color, it can also form in blackish blue and brown colors, although the blue green color remains to be highly popular. Chrysocolla can be considered as one of the most attractive gemstones in the world of mineral and fossils due to its glassy appearance which makes it a fitting ornamental stone.

Since it forms in regions with high copper oxidation, it can be found in countries or locations with copper deposits. In Europe, Cornwall, England is noted to have high occurrence of Chrysocolla formations. In South America, Chile is a notable source location and in Africa, it can be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the US, several states were identified to have significant occurrence of Chrysocolla formation. These states include Pennsylvania, Utah, New Mexico and the most notable source location in the US is Arizona.

Since the formation and composition of Chrysocolla itself is a wonder in the mineral and gemstone world, unless you’d purchase Chrysocolla jewelry, this is a gemstone that may not come along your way every day. Touchstone Gallery is fortunate to be able to showcase this outstanding gem and we’re inviting you to visit us and see the specimens of Chrysocolla up close and personal.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Woolly Mammoth Fossils

Woollies are really famous.  They have appeared in numerous movies, cartoons, books and TV/cable specials.    A partial list of “credits” include: Ice Age and Ice Age: The Meltdown, Walking With Beasts (BBC), Prehistoric Park, and even two of the Transformer toys (Big Convoy and Universe) turn into Woolly Mammoths.

Woollies  went extinct about 11,500 years ago…living on today in films and literature, legend and ancient cave art, and of course as highly prized fossils.  Fossils range anywhere from a whole skeleton… taking up an entire room in space, to a single molar/tooth that can be easily held in one hand.  The most popular woolly fossil is probably a fully intact tusk…making a dramatic statement in any space it is displayed.  Often small pieces of tusk are recovered and cut and polished to form ancient ivory jewelry pieces.  Less frequently whole bone fossils are found, with leg bones making a particularly dramatic statement in far less space than required for a tusk.

Wooly Mammoth Femur/Leg Bone

Inlaid Wolly Mammoth Ivory Pendant
Many of the so called mega-fauna (really big animals!) of the last ice age experienced a gradual global extinction between 5,000 to 40,000 years ago.  The changing climate forever altered the nature of their habitat, changing the amount and kinds of food sources available.  Where there had previously been pasturelands, forests began to grow…… severely impacting the woolly mammoth and other large herbivores.  Woollies were simply unable to adapt at the speed their changing environment required….the average gestation period for a baby woolly was almost two years, and the mother mammoth often raised the calf for around three years before she again got pregnant.  This total time of five years per infant cycle slowed the animals adaptation to its changing environment, with a result that woolly mammoths were extinct in all but a tiny Siberian island around 11,500 years ago…..and even the tiny band of Siberian island mammoths ceased to be around 4,000 years ago.

Woollies were quite large, mammoth in fact.  An adult male stood up to eleven feet tall at the shoulder and weighed in around six tons.  An adult female was bit daintier at around nine feet tall, weighing in at a svelte 3-4 tons.  Everything about the animals was large…including an appetite that required eating 400 pounds of food a day…giving rise to a nearly as large amount of dung at the end of the eating cycle.  Adult male tusks were typically around eight feet long for a male and 4-5 feet long for an adult female.

Bull woolly mammoths lived a mostly solitary life once they reached adulthood in their early teens, visiting females only during the mating cycle and otherwise shifting for themselves.  Female woollies on the other hand were very social animals, living together in small herds following the lead of the oldest, most experienced matriarch and working together to raise their young.

Woolly mammoth tusks are often called fossil ivory.  Much like a modern elephant, the woollies tusks were made of ivory and after lying in the permafrost for a few tens of thousands of years are occasionally in good enough shape to make some very unique ivory based jewelry.  Unlike elephant tusks there are no legal issues or restrictions in using fossil woolly mammoth tusks.  And while jewelry is a very pretty and elegant use of the tusks, the most dramatic use is when an entire male mammoth tusk is put on display in an office or den.  An eight foot tusk weighs about 100 pounds and makes an incredibly beautiful addition to any man cave décor.
Male Woolly Mammoth Tusk

Touchstone Gallery offers a wide variety of woolly mammoth fossils including entire tusks, leg bones, molars/teeth, jaw sections, slices of mammoth tusks, and some very pretty pendants of polished mammoth ivory inlaid with gold or semi-precious gemstones.  Visit us online at www.touchstonegalleries.com or in person at one of our four galleries during your next visit to Santa Fe, Taos, Sedona or Scottsdale.  We look forward to a chance to share our love of these magnificent animals and the wonderful fossils they have left behind to help tell their story.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Amethyst Geodes, Specimens and Jewelry

Amethyst is a truly amazing crystal.  Just ponder amethyst’s stunningly gorgeous purple color, combined with affordable price ranges over a wide variety of sizes and forms.  Amethyst is such an attractive crystal form, that the ancients believed the amethyst to be a precious stone worthy of gracing royalty.  The tradition of royal purple persists even today.

Modern discoveries of large amethyst deposits in Russia and Brazil have increased availability and kept pricing at truly affordable levels for even fine grades of amethyst.  Amethyst is popular in all types of jewelry and is especially appealing to people who were born in February, since amethyst is February's birthstone. Especially popular are amethyst rings and amethyst necklaces, although other types of amethyst jewelry abound. For a great example of an amethyst necklace visit Contemporary Amethyst Necklace .  Specimens, ranging from small clusters of crystals up to an entire geode are highly popular to both collectors and as uniquely natural décor accents.

Many of the world’s best amethyst crystals are harvested from geodes regardless of their final use.  Geodes are large natural pockets of crystals inside of larger pieces of hollow stone.  A geode can hold anywhere from a few ounces to hundreds or even thousands of pounds of crystals.  The next few paragraphs will help you understand how geodes come to be and how they get to you.

Mother Nature’s Part – Almost all amethyst geodes began life when a volcano erupted.  As the lava flowed to the surface, gas pockets were entombed in the solidified lava, usually in a form of volcanic rock called basalt.   Deep below the solidified basalt, Mother Nature continued to maintain a very hot molten lava structure.  From time to time, super-hot fluids would rise from the molten lava area and find their way to the gas pockets through small cracks and crevices in the basalt.  These liquids carried with them the mineral components to build a beautiful crystal.

Over millions of years, Mother Nature would typically do many cycles of this super-hot, mineral carrying liquids inundation process.  Depending on the exact mineral composition of the liquids at various times, many colors of crystals and indeed different mineral crystals could be formed.  Very often, the quartz that forms in a geode could include large amounts of clear or milky white quartz in addition to the purple amethyst. Less often, entirely different kinds of crystals can be formed on top or embedded in the quartz……most often this takes the form of very interesting, accenting crystals of calcite.  Usually the calcite crystals are clear or white, but occasionally they are a very attractive hue of pink.

Where on Earth Are the Geodes Found? – In principle, geodes can be found anywhere on earth where volcanos helped shape the earth’s crust.  Volcanos are important mountain range builders, and most existing sources of geodes are in or near mountains.  For amethyst, some of the most important deposits are found in South America.  A huge area in southern Brazil contains large basalt structures, many of which contain geodes of varying qualities.  Brazil is by far the largest exporter of amethyst geodes by volume.  Across the border in Uruguay, a much smaller area contains important deposits of some of the world’s very best colored amethyst geodes.  Also nearby, in eastern Bolivia, there are a few mines that contain amethyst deposits that include cavities with enormous crystals.  It is impractical to extract these large crystals in complete geodes owing to the massive quantities of rock involved, but from time to time clusters or individual crystals extracted from those structures make their way to the USA.

So How Did Man Extract the Geodes? – Extracting geodes is a well refined mining process.  Although the process involves heavy equipment and explosives to reach geode producing areas in the basalt, all of the main work involves a hefty dose of manual labor.  The geodes are first exposed through mining efforts.  The basalt is removed revealing the shape of a geode in the floor, wall or ceiling of the mine.  The next step is to examine the interior of the geode to determine if the crystals are of high enough value to pay for the manual effort required to extract the geode.  This is most often done by cutting an inconspicuous hole in the geode and inserting a small light and viewing device that resembles a flexible periscope. 



 If the crystal is an ordinary color like milky white quartz, the geode will be bypassed and often destroyed in subsequent mining efforts.  If the crystal is amethyst of a good color, then the geode will be manually chipped out of the basalt a little at a time.  This process can take days of labor for a single geode.  Once the geode has been removed from the base basalt, it is then carried to a workshop some distance from the mine.  This typically involves using a wheel barrow to manually remove it from the mine itself, and then a wagon, narrow gauge rail car, or truck to carry the piece to the workshop. 

At the workshop any remaining basalt is removed and the geode is cut open to display the crystals.  Often geodes are of a broadly columnar shape.  These will be cut vertically along the longest portion of the geode.  These pieces are then prepared as a form known as a cathedral. To see a great example of an amethyst cathedral visit Amethyst Cathedral.  The geode at this early stage has an exterior surface that contains many, many sharp protrusions of the base level of the quartz.  These are dangerous to both the workers and to the ultimate customer.  To avoid the attendant danger of cuts, the geode is coated in a thin layer of cement to cover the sharp points.  The cement is then ordinarily painted with a flat black color to enhance the aesthetics of the purple amethyst crystals.  If the piece is to be displayed as a cathedral there will often also be a small fill of cement at the bottom of the piece to form a level structure on which to stand the piece.  Any remaining sharp quartz points along the entrance to the geode are then polished to a smooth surface for both appearance and safety reasons.

Sometimes, the crystals will be of such high quality the geodes will be displayed on steel stands.  This is often the case with geodes from Uruguay, which is world renowned for the extraordinarily rich deep color of its amethyst.

How Do the Geodes Get Delivered? – Geodes are heavy.  A single cathedral that stands 40 inches or so tall, will typically weigh over a hundred pounds.  They are also vulnerable to breakage.  Remember the geode is a relatively thin exterior of quartz with a large empty space inside.  This structure makes the geode vulnerable to breaking, especially when exposed to the shipping process…... which sometimes feels like it attracts all of the world’s 800 pound gorillas.

To protect the geodes, they are individually packed inside of wooden crates  Crating costs are relatively inexpensive in Brazil where hundreds are made for a single shipment to the USA.  These crates are built for a single use and shipped strapped together to combine the strength of all of the crates.  In the USA, crating costs of $200-300 for a 40 inch geode….. made to order for a single geode in one of our locations is quite common.  This does not include the cost of shipping the piece, which varies a lot based on distance and the delivery type on the receiving end……where residential costs more than commercial, and “white glove delivery” inside of the home or office costs more than curbside delivery in your driveway.

How To Choose the Best Amethyst – The short form of this is based entirely on stunningly good looks!  High quality amethyst makes for very attractive jewelry pieces, small specimens and small to large geodes that are suitable for use as exquisite accents in your home or office décor.  The dramatic good looks make a choice for only very high quality amethyst  a great decision. Brazilian geodes of the highest qualities, have great color and very little ordinary colored quartz in their bases.  These geodes are great choices if you want to add a dramatic piece to your décor.  Very high quality Uruguayan geodes make even more dramatic choices when they can be sourced.  These are often displayed on polished steel stands.  Uruguayan amethyst has some of the best color of any amethyst found on earth.  To visit an Uruguayan amethyst geode click here Uruguayan Geode.

We invite you to view our current offerings in our Touchstone Galleries in Santa Fe, Scottsdale, Sedona and Taos, or online at www.touchstonegalleries.com.   Touchstone Gallery's Sedona location is currently offering a stunning Uruguayan amethyst geode for sale. This geode weighs in at over 1,400 pounds and is a deep, rich purple. You can visit this amazing piece at Monster Amethyst Geode.  Touchstone also offers a wide variety of amethyst geodes and amethyst jewelry for sale at its locations in New Mexico and Arizona. Bolivian, Brazilian and Uruguayan amethyst cathedrals and geodes are featured, as are amethyst necklaces, bracelets, rings, ear rings and pendants.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Summer Spectacular Art Walk in Scottsdale

Touchstone Gallery of Scottsdale & Operation Homefront of AZ are teaming up for a Summer Spectacular Art Walk.  The Summer Spectacular will feature fun, refreshments, a raffle and a chance to support our military families while earning a discount on your purchases.
July 5th from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Join us for a special evening of refreshments and a showcase of the
best of our Red, White & Blue Minerals, Jewelry and Gift Items. 


We will also have a Raffle Drawing with all proceeds benefiting Operation Homefront of Arizona.  You need not be present to win. 

Want to know more about Operation Homefront?  Follow this link to check out the wide range of support this fine organization provides to the families of our military heroes. Operation Homefront Information
Raffle Tickets are $10 each or 3 for $25.

Raffle ticket purchases entitle you to a chance to win your choice of a pair of slumped glass oil lamps by Prescott's Mark Hines, or a drusy pendant by Sedona's Starborn Creations, or a meteorite watch by Starborn Creations.  A raffle ticket also qualifies you for special discounts for Touchstone merchandise purchased during the evening.
Heroes Helping Heroes

Drusy Pendant by Starborn Creations

Slumped Glass Oil Lamps by Mark Hines

Meteorite Watch by Starborn Creations
For those customers not able to join us July 5th we encourage you to purchase your raffle tickets over the phone from June 1st through July 5th and help support our troops, their families and returning wounded warriors.
We will be happy to extend the discount offer to phone orders as well.  Call 480.874.8385 to make your purchase today!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Green River Fossil Fish

The Green River Formation is a collection of lake beds in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah that is known for its fish fossils. This prime fossil discovering site is known for its well preserved fish, plants, and the occasional amphibian or even mammal unearthed by professional and amateur fossil hunters. Fishing for fish fossils is the favorite pastime of those who attempt to dig up answers to the past from this collection of fifty million year old lake beds.

Multiple types of fish fossils have been found in the Green River Formation. Approximately 60 vertebrate taxa have been unearthed in the Green River Formation, and around 95% of the fish fossils that are unearthed are Knightia fish. These fish are so commonly discovered at Green River that the Knightia has been named Wyoming's state fossil. Other types of fish fossils that are often found at the Green River Formation are Diplomystus, Priscacara, Mioplosus, and Phareodus.



Most of the fish fossils unearthed at Green River are removed from two main sedimentary layers; one layer is referred to as the 18 inch layer and the other is known as the split fish layer.

Other types of fossils are often found at the Green River Formation; fish may be the main attraction, but other types of life forms are unearthed there all the time. Sycamore leaves, river reeds, and wood specimens have been found there, as have stromalites, reptiles, mammals, and primates. The oldest recovered flying mammal fossil was unearthed at Green River; the Icaronycteris index was a bat that was recovered in full, complete with wing membranes and cartilage. Although quite rare, crocodiles are occasionally found as well..

Fish fossils may be the main draw for fossil hunters who dig in the Green River Formation, but an extraordinary horse fossil was recently unearthed at Green River by a fossil quarry master. This Protorohippus venticolum fossil is one of the oldest and most complete fossil specimens of its type; its finder estimates that the fossil is 95 to 97% complete. This rare fossil was also found and preserved in its extremely rare fully natural articulation.  The fossil has also been professionally authenticated by top paleontologists.  More info on the horse. This amazing fossil can be purchased for $2.25 million; and has been verified by professionals and is already prepared for display as a wall sculpture. Four fossilized fish have also been captured in this formation, making this rare Protorohippus venticolum a truly one-of –a-kind piece for serious horse lovers.

This extraordinary Protorohippus venticolum fossil as well as fish and leaf fossils are for sale by the Touchstone Gallery of Arizona and New Mexico. Customers interested in procuring fish fossils or other fossil types from the Green River Formation should visit the store locations in Sedona, Scottsdale, Taos, or Santa Fe or contact the gallery online.  Visit touchstone online.  Sting rays, fish, and palm leaves from the Green River Formation are waiting to be purchased from Touchstone Gallery by fossil collectors.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Shapes & Forms of Petrified Wood

Petrified wood is alluring to many fossil collectors. Stone appearing in a wood pattern is unusual and beautiful.  The petrified wood itself is made from the replacement of organic materials with natural sediments and crystals such as quartz and onyx. Much of the appeal of petrified wood lies in its age and in the beautiful patterns the crystals often make in tandem with the wood patterns. There are different types of petrified wood for sale, each one appealing to collectors in its own way.

A very impressive form of petrified wood is the slab or slice. Some particularly nice petrified wood specimens are so well preserved that they can be cut into individual slices perfect for display on a mantle or wall. Larger slabs can also be used to make tabletops, countertops, and other such flat surfaces. Arizona slices and slabs in particular are known for their beautiful variety of swirling rainbow colors and look great when made into a desk or a table.
Petrified wood is also sold as polished logs or stumps. The appeal of this method of displaying petrified wood is in the three-dimensional nature of the pieces. This form allows people to truly appreciate the fossil-like nature of petrified wood as the piece was obviously once a tree. These are often left rough on the outside but are polished on top to best bring out the beautiful quartz impurities created by various elements and oxides. They can rest on a mantle if they are small enough, but they can also be displayed on pedestals or tables.
Others prefer to collect petrified wood as chunks. These have the virtue of being more affordable than larger specimens and of being small enough to comfortably hold in the hand. Collectors can observe the swirls and whorls of green, black, blue, yellow, and red up close and can feel the texture of the petrified wood in the palm of the hand. For those who want a piece of petrified wood but who do not want to pay a lot for it, this is a good choice.
Petrified wood is also sold in various types of jewelry. The most popular method of making petrified wood jewelry is to tumble and smooth small pieces of petrified wood and mount them in necklaces, brooches, rings, and earrings. Petrified wood can also be used to make bookends, sculptures, and other items which creative and gifted people conceive.
Much of the commercially available petrified wood comes from Arizona, but there are petrified forests in many geographical locations. Some black and brown petrified wood comes from Vietnam, and Europe, Asia, Australia. While wood can take as little as a hundred years to petrify, many of the most valued petrified wood specimens--including those from Arizona--are hundreds of millions of years old.
Touchstone Gallery of Arizona and New Mexico has a variety of chunks, polished logs, and slices of petrified wood. Most specimens come from privately owned areas of Arizona and are beautifully polished and shaped to show the natural contours of the wood design. Those interested in purchasing petrified wood from the Touchstone Gallery can visit one of the store locations in Sedona, Scottsdale, Taos, or Santa Fe or contact the Touchstone Gallery at www.touchstone-gallery.net.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Trilobites

Trilobite fossils are desirable collector's items due to their age, diversity, and prehistoric appearance. They can be traced all the way back to the Cambrian Period over 500 million years ago and lasted in their various forms until the end of the Permian Period roughly 250 million years ago. There are ten different trilobite orders, each one producing fascinating fossils fit for any collection and each one boasting a unique and distinctive feature such as antennae or eyes.
Xenasaphus devexus Lower Ordovician
Wolchow River, Northwest Russia
The trilobites themselves were remarkable, hard-shelled predators of the Earth's ancient seas. They went extinct before dinosaurs even came into existence.  Trilobites were among the earliest complex life forms that helped establish the foundation of life as it is today. Although dinosaurs are the most well-known fossil animals, trilobites are also a favorite among those familiar with the development of life on Earth.

One of the general allures of fossils is their age; people often get a thrill from owning something that was once alive hundreds of millions of years ago. Trilobites are old, well-known fossils and are found on all continents due to their longevity. The United Kingdom, Russia, the United States, Germany, China, and other nations all have trilobite deposits somewhere within their borders. The widespread nature of trilobite fossils leads to larger availability of fossils for sale than may be found with fossils that can only be found in one or two locations.
An upside of trilobites is the immense diversity represented by these fossils. There were ten orders of trilobite that branched out into 20,000 different species, each one present for hundreds of millions of years. More diversity means more types of trilobite fossils for sale and different types of trilobites for people to collect. Given the potential for feature variety even within a trilobite species, the collecting possibilities are nearly endless. Trilobites also vary in appearance, ranging from small and relatively smooth to half a foot long with antennae and complex eyes.

The simple yet often complex appearance of trilobites makes them desirable collector's objects in various forms. One of the most popular forms of trilobite collecting is to obtain a trilobite partially embedded in rock and to have an expert carefully remove excess rock and dirt with air-abrasion techniques. Many trilobite fossils are available for sale displayed in rock blocks or as part of a sculpture. Fully-removed trilobites are also sold, although most of these are the simpler kind as extracting a more complex trilobite with antennae could lead to specimen damage. Some trilobites can also be sawed in slices or polished smooth and worn as a necklace or brooch. The trilobite shape is so intriguing that some people even make trilobite molds and pour silver, gold, bronze, or another metal inside the mold to make talismans.
Touchstone Gallery of Arizona and New Mexico has a great variety of trilobite fossils for sale. Many of these are high quality fossils unearthed in Russia, the Western United States and Morocco. These excellent trilobite specimens are ensconced in handsome display rocks meant to showcase these fascinating fossils. Touchstone's trilobites exemplify the company purpose of offering amazing merchandise at fair prices in a unique and fun atmosphere. Anyone interested in purchasing trilobite fossils from the Touchstone Gallery should visit one of the physical locations in Sedona, Scottsdale, Taos and Santa Fe or contact the Touchstone Gallery via www.touchstone-gallery.net for more information.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ammonites

Ammonites are fossils of underwater predators that lived from 400 to 65 million years ago. The first animal to be classified as an ammanoid was the Goniatite from the Devonian Period 400 million years ago; the Ceratites came into existence during the Triassic Period 250 million years ago, and what most people refer to as ammonites developed during the Jurassic Period roughly 145 million years ago. All three types of ammanoids are sold as jewelry, individual fossils, and showpieces that are desired by collectors for their prehistoric appearance and for their beauty.

Goniatites are the earliest known predecessors of ammonites; they are small, ranging in diameter from 2 to 6 inches. One popular form of jewelry for all ammonites is the polished pendant, and goniatites are no exception. Their small size makes them ideal for wearing in pendants and necklaces, although they are desired by collectors in loose fossil form as well as embedded in rock slabs for showpieces. Goniatites can be found in Europe, North America, Australasia, and North Africa in areas that would have been subtropical during the time of the ammanoids' lifetimes.
Ceratites are a rarer form of ammonoid and are collected primarily as sculptures or individual fossils. Most ceratites are found in Germany due to the fact that the area was covered in water during the lifetime of this ammonite predecessor. Known for their four-lobed chambers, ceratites make a good addition to an ammonoid collection.
Ammonites are the most advanced form of ammonoid and are the most sought-after ammonoid from a collectible standpoint. These make excellent pendants and necklaces, especially when sawed down the middle and polished to showcase the ammonite's beautiful chambers. Ammonites are deposited in North America, Europe, Asia, and other places that were under the sea during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. They reached larger sizes than their ancestors, sometimes achieving 2 feet in diameter. Such large ammonite specimens are sought-after collectibles, as are smaller ammonites still caught in either a block of stone or stone that has been formed into a sculpture.
One of the most desirable forms of ammonite is ammolite, a high-quality gemstone formed from the shells of ammonite. Ammolite can only be found in the Rocky Mountains of North America, and the vast majority of all ammolite comes from Korite International out of Alberta, Canada. A few small private companies also mine a small amount of ammolite, along with small amounts of surface finds around the Rockies. Ammolite is collected in jewelry form in necklaces, rings, and other forms of jewelry as well as in rarer shell form. The beautiful stained-glass patterns present in full-shell form make full shells desired by ammonite collectors.
Touchstone Gallery of Arizona and New Mexico has a wide variety of ammonites and ammolites for sale. These stunning loose and stone-mounted ammonites and ammolites would make a fine addition to any ammonite or fossil collection.  www.touchstone-gallery.net

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Arizona Petrified Wood

Vertically Sliced Petrified Wood
     
                Horizontally Sliced Petrified Wood               


Arizona Petrified Wood – started as ancient wooden logs which have been preserved for millions of years because all the organic materials were replaced by quartz.
Over 200 million years ago, these large conifer logs were buried quickly and deeply by massive amounts of sediment.  The petrifaction process began when the wood was buried under that sediment, which delayed natural decay processes due to a lack of oxygen.
Mineral-laden water then flowed through the sediment, depositing numerous forms of quartz crystals in the plant's cells…….. and as the plant's tissues slowly decayed away, a near perfect stone crystal mold formed in the tissues’ place. Petrified wood can preserve the original structure of the wood in exquisite detail, including microscopic level tissues. Such details as tree rings and cell tissues can be observed in many specimens.
Petrified wood found in Northern Arizona is made up of nearly solid quartz. Each piece is like a giant semiprecious crystal, aglow with the natural sparkle of clear quartz, purple amethyst, red jasper, lavender chalcedony, yellow citrine, dark smoky quartz and solid black onyx.   The rainbow of colors that Arizona petrified wood is famous for is produced by minor impurities in the quartz. Typical examples include:
carbon - black                    cobalt - green/blue                
chromium - green/blue       copper - green/blue   
iron oxides - red, brown, and yellow manganese - pink/orange  
manganese oxides - black/yellow
Most of the petrified trees found in Arizona come from an ancient species known as Araucarioxylon arizonicum. Woodworthia and Schilderia are two other petrified genera also found  although in the area....... although much less frequently due to their rarity.
Petrified wood is the official fossil of the state of Arizona, provincial stone of Alberta and is also the state gem of Washington.
Cut and polished petrified wood can make a dramatic and interesting contribution to the décor of an office or home.  A very small group of artisans, who specialize in handling this extremely hard substance, transform the raw logs and chunks found on private ranches into tabletops, small-to-large polished slabs and slices, bookends and freeform table and mantle pieces.  Each piece brings with it both stunning beauty and a fascinating story that bridges the most recent 225 million years of Arizona’s history.  Perhaps you could imagine a 20 or 30 inch slice of semiprecious gemstone with a wonderful story hanging on a wall near you.
touchstone gallery offers a nice variety of these remarkable pieces and we invite you to visit any of our four locations to view our amazing selection of petrified wood décor……… or stop by electronically and view a small selection of our offerings at www.touchstonegalleries.com. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Natural Beauty Of Amber

Many people think of the 1990s blockbuster Jurassic Park when they hear the word "amber," but this lovely gem's appeal reaches much farther back than the 90s. Amber jewelry has been traced back as far as the Stone Age and the ancient Greeks thought amber was formed by the sun. Found predominantly near the Baltic Sea and the Dominican Republic, amber comes in several different colors and is sold in several different forms.

Amber comes in shades of white, yellow, red, green, blue, and black, and those who produce and appreciate it are almost as diverse. Amber is fossilized tree resin (not sap), which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, sold raw, in slabs, in polished specimens, and as jewelry.
While some of it washes up on shore or in seaweed, much of it is mined from the so-called "blue earth" of Kaliningrad Oblast. Baltic Amber is used to make bracelets, broaches, necklaces, earrings, and other pieces of jewelry. Some of the Jurassic Park-style trapped organism specimens are found in Baltic Amber, but the majority are found in a less mature version of fossilized tree resin known as copal and in Dominican Amber.

The Ancients established what they referred to as the "Amber Road," an amber trade route that ran from Europe to Asia and back. This figurative road transported the finest Baltic Amber to eager Greeks and Romans. Today, Baltic Amber is still the most widely used amber for jewelry because of its fine coloring and its high level of succinic acid (from which Baltic Amber derives its Latin name of succinite).
Dominican Amber is clearer than most Baltic Amber specimens and is thus best for viewing trapped organisms and other traces of organic matter. There are some truly outstanding examples of insects and even the rare vertebrate entrapped in Dominican Amber that can quite often sell for more than the average piece of Baltic Amber jewelry. Dominican Amber can be used for jewelry as well, although its pure, clear color is not usually as highly desired as is the more opaque Baltic Amber. It is often mined by the dangerous method of bell pitting which leads to high on-the-job risk.

The rarest type of amber is Blue Amber, which is a type of Dominican Amber. In order to see this amber as blue, the light must hit it a certain way. For this reason, Blue Amber is often sold in a rough, natural form. Other types of amber can be sold in the rough form as well either for the appeal of the roughness or of the ability to shape the rough amber into a design of the owner's choosing.
Chiapas Amber comes from Mexico and is not as readily available as Baltic or Dominican Amber. Known for its purity of color and relative youth, it makes beautiful amber jewelry when available.
Touchstone Gallery of Arizona and New Mexico has a wide selection of beautiful amber jewelry for sale. These bracelets, rings, earrings and amber necklaces are made of high-quality Baltic Amber.  These pieces exemplify their company purpose, which states, "We love and sell minerals, fossils and jewelry! We offer amazing merchandise at fair prices in a unique and fun atmosphere." Each of the four Touchstone Gallery locations can be contacted by anyone who is interested in one of their pieces, with contact details available on the website www.touchstonegalleries.com . Touchstone Gallery has locations in Sedona, Scottsdale, Taos and Sante Fe and ships anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Meteorites

Iron/Nickle Meteorites
Meteorites hold an otherworldly appeal for collectors all over the world. Not only are collectors fascinated by the concept of owning a piece of rock and metal that is from outer space, but they also enjoy meteorites for their aesthetic appeal. Some like the craggy outward appearance of an uncut meteorite, but others appreciate the beauty that can be hidden beneath the rugged exterior.

Many meteorites are found in desert areas where climate, high visibility, and lack of foliage lead to higher levels of discovery. The Sahara Desert and the Arabian Peninsula boast high amounts of meteoric finds, while Australia, Antarctica, and the American plains and Midwest have also had numerous meteorites discovered. Once on the earth's surface, meteorites experience weathering, meaning they are exposed to moisture, wind, and other elements. Meteorites are often found by nomadic people searching for them in the desert so they can sell the meteorites to collectors.

86 percent of meteorites are rocky, stone-like chondrites. They are called chondrites because of the round grains called chondrules that were formed from once-molten droplets in space. Chondrites are sold whole or in slices and are purchased by collectors who appreciate the meteorite's outer fusion crust and inner metallic flecks. The can also be smoothed and shaped into sculptures or jewelry. A sub-type of stony meteorite is the achondrite, so called because this meteorite does not contain chondrules. This stony meteorite is rarer than chondrite; only 8 percent of meteorites are achondrites. They have an igneous, basaltic appearance like that of moon rocks, are also sold whole and in slices, and are admired for their more crystalline interior.
Iron meteorites are rare, representing only 5 percent of meteorites. They have ingrowths of iron-nickel metals and are known for their silvery, metallic appearance. These meteorites can be purchased whole or carved down and sculpted to form metallic sculptures. They are also used to make various types of jewelry such as rings, watches, and pendants.

The final type of meteorite is the also the rarest, representing only 1 percent of all meteorites. Stoney iron meteorites are a mixture of iron-nickel metal and silicates; in addition to being rare, the highest-quality stony iron meteorite contains top-grade olivine (or Peridot). When properly sliced with a wet saw into pieces, collectors can enjoy the stained-glass nature of the olivine pallasite. Peridot can also be extracted from stony iron meteorites and cut into gem stones to be place in rings, necklaces, earrings, and other types of jewelry.
Meteorites come in different types and are collected in raw, whole form, in slices, and in jewelry. Many collectors appreciate the variety present in the different types of meteorites and collect multiple meteorites in their various forms.

Monday, February 20, 2012

One of the oldest and most complete horse fossils in existence

Protorohippus venticolum
One of the oldest and most complete horse fossils in existence discovered in Wyoming
Recently, an extremely rare horse fossil was discovered in the Green River Formation of Wyoming while fossil experts were looking for fish fossils.   This Protorohippus venticolum is considered by experts in the field to be one of the earliest species of horse, at the base of the evolutionary tree for this group of animals. This rare horse fossil is currently for sale for $2.25 million.
Protorohippus venticolum is one of the earliest species of horse that lived in the wooded areas of the Northern Hemisphere in areas including North America, Europe, and Asia. Scientists have been able to determine that the little horse stood 12" at the shoulder and had four hooved toes on its front feet and 3 hooved toes on its hind feet. The fossil has earned the nick name "Dawn" and was determined to be 52 million years old from the Eocene period.
What makes this fossil so extraordinary, and worth so much money, is the fact that it is the most complete fossil of Protorohippus venticolum ever found. Not only is "Dawn" the most complete Protorhippus ever found, estimated by its finder to be 95 to 97 percent complete. Notably, there is a missing piece of its tail that could possibly be hidden under the limestone fossil.  This fossil comes with a certificate of authenticity, and is verified by the experts. Lance Grande, Senior Vice President, Field Museum of Chicago expert vertebrate paleontologist, verified this fossil, which was expertly prepared by one of the foremost preparators in the United States.
This proto-horse fossil was discovered by a third generation fossil quarry master. It was discovered in the Green River Formation (which is adjacent to Fossil Butte National Monument), and is therefore a rare national treasure from this area of Wyoming. The fossil was discovered in and unearthed from the 4 inch Snail Layer, embedded in a 400 foot bluff. The fossil plate measures 30 inches by 28 inches and is four inches thick.
Thanks to fossils like this, paleontologists have been able to piece together the evolutionary history of the horse more closely than any other animal group. While modern horses did not arrive in North America until their introduction by Spaniards in the late 1400’s, ancient horse ancestors were present on the continent for millions of years before. Protorohippus venticolum is believed to be one of the first animals that can truly be considered a horse, and while now extinct, thrived in North America (as well as Asia and Europe) about 50 million years ago, during the Eocene era of our planet's history. Protorohippus venticolum is more colloquially known as Eohippus, or the Dawn Horse, in recognition of its ancient beginnings.
This little horse ‘Dawn’ has been widely studied, and the discovery of such a complete fossil adds a significant amount of information to the history of the horse, and to the fossil record in general. As we continue to learn more about the ancient times of our planet, more clarification will be reached about the evolutionary lineage of not only the horse, but all animal life on our planet.
Source: For more information about this rare fossil contact ‘touchstone gallery’  - a natural art gallery offering museum class fossils and minerals with locations in Sedona, Scottsdale, Sante Fe, and Taos. www.touchstonegalleries.com

Sunday, February 12, 2012

So Where Did That Amethyst Geode Come From?

Mother Nature’s Part – Almost all amethyst geodes began life when a volcano erupted.  As the lava flowed to the surface, gas pockets were entombed in the solidified lava, usually in a form of volcanic rock called basalt.   Deep below the solidified basalt, Mother Nature continued to maintain a very hot molten lava structure.  From time to time, super-hot fluids would rise from the molten lava area and find their way to the gas pockets through small cracks and crevices in the basalt.  These liquids carried with them the mineral components to build a beautiful crystal.  In the case of amethyst, these involved the components of silicon dioxide (SO2, the chemical formula for quartz) and small amounts of iron ions.  As the quartz crystalized, small impurities of the iron ions would take the place of silicon in some of the molecules, providing the basis for amethyst coloring.  If the molecules were then also subjected to relatively high heat levels and small amounts of radiation, a beautiful purple amethyst crystal would be born.  Heat most often would come from the adjacent lava structure, and the tiny amounts of radiation required would often come from rocks like granite or phosphorus that give up small amounts of radiation as they slowly decay.

Over millions of years, Mother Nature would typically do many cycles of this super-hot, mineral carrying liquids inundation process.  Depending on the exact mineral composition of the liquids at various times, many colors of crystals and indeed different mineral crystals could be formed.  Very often, the quartz that forms in a geode could include large amounts of clear or milky white quartz in addition to the purple amethyst. Less often, entirely different kinds of crystals can be formed on top or embedded in the quartz……most often this takes the form of very interesting, accenting crystals of calcite.  Usually the calcite crystals are clear or white, but occasionally they are a very attractive hue of pink.

Where on Earth Are the Geodes Found? – In principle, geodes can be found anywhere on earth where volcanos helped shape the earth’s crust.  Volcanos are important mountain range builders, and most existing sources of geodes are in or near mountains.  For amethyst, some of the most important deposits are found in South America.  A huge area in southern Brazil contains large basalt structures, many of which contain geodes of varying qualities.  Brazil is by far the largest exporter of amethyst geodes by volume.  Across the border in Uruguay, a much smaller area contains important deposits of some of the world’s very best colored amethyst geodes.  Also nearby, in eastern Bolivia, there are a few mines that contain amethyst deposits that include cavities with enormous crystals.  It is impractical to extract these large crystals in complete geodes owing to the massive quantities of rock involved, but from time to time clusters or individual crystals extracted from those structures make their way to the USA.

What Other Crystals Form in Solidified Lava? – Many kinds of crystals form in the pockets and crevices that gas pockets created in solidified lava.  In the rock type basalt, several kinds of zeolite minerals also form lovely geodes.  Amongst these are brilliant green or crystal clear apophyllite, often accompanied by peach colored stilbite or white scolecite which are found in large quantities in the Decca Flats area in India.  Also commonly forming in basalt structures are other forms of quartz like agate, chalcedony, onyx and jasper.  In granite pegmatites (granitic lava that solidified underground, often in a columnar structure) many of the world’s finest gemstones crystalize.  These include diamonds, emeralds, topaz, tourmalines, and exquisite individual quartz crystals.  These granitic structures are also found in areas shaped by volcanos.

What About Citrine Cathedrals? – Citrine is a relatively rare, naturally occurring version of quartz that has a yellow or yellowish brown coloring.  These are most often found in moderately large single crystals.  However, there are also geode/cathedral forms of citrine that were created when Brazilian miners exposed medium grade amethyst geodes to high heat…which permanently and attractively changes the color to yellow to yellowish orange.  The resulting citrine cathedrals make very attractive décor additions, where their unique color is of interest.  All such citrine cathedrals are the result of this high heat treatment process, so if someone offers you a “natural citrine cathedral” you should be skeptical.

So How Did Man Extract the Geodes? – Extracting geodes is basically a well refined mining process.  Although the process involves heavy equipment and explosives to reach geode producing areas in the basalt, all of the main work involves a hefty dose of manual labor.  The geodes are first exposed through mining efforts.  The basalt is removed revealing the shape of a geode in the floor, wall or ceiling of the mine.  The next step is to examine the interior of the geode to determine if the crystals are of high enough value to pay for the manual effort required to extract the geode.  This is most often done by cutting an inconspicuous hole in the geode and inserting a small light and viewing device that resembles a flexible periscope. 

If the crystal is an ordinary color like milky white quartz, the geode will be bypassed and often destroyed in subsequent mining efforts.  If the crystal is amethyst of a good color, then the geode will be manually chipped out of the basalt a little at a time.  This process can take days of labor for a single geode.  Once the geode has been removed from the base basalt, it is then carried to a workshop some distance from the mine.  This typically involves using a wheel barrow to manually remove it from the mine itself, and then a wagon, narrow gauge rail car, or truck to carry the piece to the workshop.

At the workshop any remaining basalt is removed and the geode is cut open to display the crystals.  Often geodes are of a broadly columnar shape.  These will be cut vertically along the longest portion of the geode.  These pieces are then prepared as a form known as a cathedral.  The geode at this early stage has an exterior surface that contains many, many sharp protrusions of the base level of the quartz.  These are dangerous to both the workers and to the ultimate customer.  To avoid the attendant danger of cuts, the geode is coated in a thin layer of cement to cover the sharp points.  The cement is then ordinarily painted with a flat black color to enhance the aesthetics of the purple amethyst crystals.  If the piece is to be displayed as a cathedral there will often also be a small fill of cement at the bottom of the piece to form a level structure on which to stand the piece.  Any remaining sharp quartz points along the entrance to the geode are then polished to a smooth surface for both appearance and safety reasons.

Sometimes, the crystals will be of such high quality the geodes will be displayed on steel stands.  This is often the case with geodes from Uruguay, which is world renowned for the extraordinarily rich deep color of its amethyst.

How Do the Geodes Get to Me? – Geodes are heavy.  A single cathedral that stands 40 inches or so tall, will typically weigh over a hundred pounds.  They are also vulnerable to breakage.  Remember the geode is a relatively thin exterior of quartz with a large empty space inside.  This structure makes the geode vulnerable to breaking, especially when exposed to the shipping process…... which sometimes feels like it attracts all of the world’s 800 pound gorillas.

To protect the geodes, they are individually packed inside of wooden crates….both for shipment to touchstone and for shipment to a customer’s location after they choose a geode they like.  Crating costs are relatively inexpensive in Brazil where hundreds are made for a single shipment to the USA.  These crates are built for a single use and shipped strapped together to combine the strength of all of the crates.  In the USA, crating costs of $200-300 for a 40 inch geode….. made to order for a single geode in one of our locations is quite common.  This does not include the cost of shipping the piece, which varies a lot based on distance and the delivery type on the receiving end……where residential costs more than commercial, and “white glove delivery” inside of the home or office costs more than curbside delivery in your driveway.

How Are Amethyst Geodes Graded? – Brazilian amethyst in particular goes through a grading process.  The Brazilian system uses a 1-14 grading system that values:
          1.)    A very thin or complete absence of ordinarily colored quartz as the base of the crystals.
          2.)    Deep rich purple coloring
          3.)    Large, perfectly shaped individual crystals.
          4.)    Uniform color from the tip to the base of individual crystals.

How Does touchstone gallery Choose the Geodes it Markets? – touchstone sees its role as supplying very attractive geodes that are suitable for use as exquisite accents in your home or office décor.  As a result, we choose only very high quality geodes to market.  We are always marketing Brazilian geodes of grades 10 -12 which have great color and very little ordinary colored quartz in their bases,……. and when we can get them, we include a few of the quite rare grade 14 geodes in the mix.  These geodes are great choices if you want to add a dramatic piece to your décor.

touchstone also provides very high quality Uruguayan geodes when they can be sourced.  These are often displayed on polished steel stands.  Uruguayan amethyst has some of the best color of any amethyst found on earth.

We also mostly limit ourselves to what we call “two man rocks”.  Only rarely do we choose pieces that two men cannot lift as a team.

We invite you to view our current offerings in our galleries in Santa Fe, Scottsdale, Sedona and Taos, or online at www.touchstonegalleries.com. If you are looking for something you do not see at one of our galleries or on our website AND you have the time to wait for a sourcing process that can take months, let one of our gallery team members know and they will help begin the search process.