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Smoky Quartz

Although it gets so little respect from mainstream dealers it could be Rodney Dangerfield’s birthstone, smoky quartz boasts a small, fervent following among cutters and collectors. Today’s passion for brown has also given the gem a new following among trend-conscious designers. Even so, jeweler acceptance of this abundant brown gem remains what it has always been: an uphill battle.

But, then again, uphill battles are something boosters of smoky quartz are used to. Literally. Since many deposits of this gem are found at high altitudes, quartz hounds often risk and sometimes lose, their lives in dangerous pursuit of a gem for which they are usually paid pennies per carat in its in hewn form. One of the most desirable strains of smoky, as some call it, occurs in the Swiss Alps where miners must be mountain climbers willing to hang on ropes thousands of feet in the air while they search for quartz veins along rock walls or dig for crystals once deposits are found.

Conditions are a tad less hazardous on the well-combed cliffs of Scotland’s Cairngorm mountain. There, intrepid quartz lovers poke and pick for the few remaining specimens from the world’s most prized pockets of smoky quartz. But for all their bravery, these mountaineers usually face a comedown of meager rewards relative to the risks. That is why some cutters think these crystal gatherers are in it mostly for the adventure.

This isn’t to say that foraging for smoky quartz can’t provide a decent living. But the trick of making money with it lies in milking the typically wide spreads between its rough and ready states. When all is said and done, smoky quartz is perhaps the lapidary world’s ultimate value-added gem, 99% of its worth often stemming from the cutting artistry it inspires. This fact of life enables a Canadian geologists stationed on Baffin Island, 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle, to charge locals $50 per carat—big bucks for smoky quartz—by sending crystals he finds there to soft-stone specialist Art Grant, Hannibal, N.Y., then selling the well-wrought end-results as native gem material.

Meanwhile, as influential cutters like Grant and world-renowned sculptors like Michael Dyber, Rumney, N.H., begin to derive incomes from smoky quartz, their work slowly earns respect for this gem from the establishment.

LEARNING CURVES

It isn’t as necessary as it once was to proselytize on behalf of smoky quartz among the lapidary world’s young bloods. For years, they have seen this gem as an essential medium in which to first learn the basics of their craft and then refine and personalize it.

Cutter Arthur Anderson, Ashland, Ore., says he does not know how he would have developed his unique style if it weren’t for the plentitude of large, flawless and affordable rock and smoky quartz crystals.

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Smoky Quartz