What are Quartz Crystals Worth?
Putting a value on quartz crystals
Several factors enter into determining the "value" of any mineral specimen. Please remember "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." And that "beauty" may be precisely what makes one crystal more pricey than another. The overall appearance counts toward beauty... we may not be able to define it well, but we certainly know it when we see it. We will use quartz for an example.
In gemstones, the 4 "C's" are the determining factors when grading a stone, and to some extent those C's extend to crystals. Clarity, color, carat, and cut are the buzz words for gems. "Cut" is not applicable here, but maybe we could substitute "condition", which would include flaws or breakage.
How transparent is the crystal to light? If milky from tip to base, then the value is less than if the tip or termination is transparent. If the entire crystal is clear from tip to base, then it has more value than if partly milky.
"Crystal clear" either came from quartz crystal or from blown glass crystal ware, but you get the idea.
Aside from its clearness making the crystal more valuable, there are certain colors you will find in quartz. In Arkansas crystals, there are naturally occurring smoky crystals that have a light brown to grey color. This color is caused by radiation, and only certain locations are known to produce these smoky crystals. In this case, color relates to being a more rare specimen, and if it is aesthetically pleasing, it will be more valuable.
Generally speaking of Arkansas quartz, the lack of color, rather than being milky, makes the value of the crystal increase.
Size (or Carat) In both common and rare minerals, size usually does matter. Given all other factors equal, bigger is more expensive. You would expect to pay more for a coffee table-sized quartz cluster than for one you can easily hold in your hand! However, with a truly rare mineral which has never been reported as anything but microscopic crystals, then size of individual crystals is not really so important.
Condition may include these other factors:
If the crystal contains fractures or flaws (cracks), then it is not as valuable as if it is internally flawless.
The key question is: Is it natural and rehealed breakage or did the specimen get damaged due to mishandling by whoever collected and/or cleaned it? Externally flawless specimens from Arkansas are relatively scarce, due to both reasons mentioned above. Anytime you see quartz piled up on a table, it will be difficult to find an undamaged specimen. Very small chips or dings (as they are called) can be tolerated if the specimen is otherwise aesthetically interesting. Natural breakage is due to movements of the earth along fractures and faults. Many of the early-formed quartz veins were in fractures, which because they were in a weak spot in the ground, were reopened by later earth movement. Then more quartz formed.
Regrowth on a natural fracture near the termination of a large quartz crystal. Ron Coleman mine, near Jessieville, Garland County, AR
Unusual forms and highly distorted forms often come from pockets formed by multiple fracture episodes. Rarely, faulted crystals are recovered, sometimes healed back together, but with an offset of the two pieces. Sometimes just two halves that fit back together. Anyway, natural breakage surfaces almost always have some crystal regrowth on the "broken" faces, whereas miner's breakage appears as small to large sites of conchoidal fracture. Miner's breakage reduces the value of the specimen more than natural breakage, especially if it is on the tip or termination of any crystal. Needless to say, a specimen with no breakage is more valuable than one with any type of breakage. Sometimes, if the broken crystal or damaged portion of the specimen is removable, an individual specimen's value may be greatly increased by some careful trimming.
Luster is the amount of light that reflects from crystal faces. Specimens with high luster are more valued than those with lower luster. You want a specimen that is shiny and sparkly, not dull and drab in appearance.
Does the specimen have matrix attached or not? If so, then the less the matrix the higher the value. Matrix adds weight and an opaqueness to the overall appearance of a quartz specimen. Sometimes matrix actually may add value if it allows the specimen to sit nicely without having to use a stand. If there is no matrix present, does the back appear to have been broken naturally or has it been broken by the miner from the host rock? To me, natural breaks are not really damage. Sometimes during late earth movement, entire sections of vein or linings of crystal pockets have been broken loose from the wall rock. These are fun to collect as they are often loose in the pocket and are just easily removed! They often appear as plates of crystals.
Is there something about the specimen that really "grabs" you? Or do you skip right over it when looking through a box of specimens? After more than 30 years of looking at quartz, you might think that I would get bored. Sometimes I do, but you never know what you might see that will "turn you on" to a particular piece. Artists know the quality of aesthetics in mineral specimens better than most collectors. They have an "eye" for what looks attractive.
I look for unusual features on any specimen, such as crystal form, crystal shape, clarity, position of the various crystals, display potential to show a particular feature, and if there are any other interesting associated minerals present, either on the surface or as inclusions. Does the specimen sit up on its own or does it need a stand for it to display properly? It will be worth considerably more if it does not need a stand. Is it an unusually attractive arrangement of crystals or are the crystals unusually large for the overall size of the piece? A sample consisting of a couple of 6-inch long crystals attractively extending from the matrix of a piece coated with 1-inch long crystals is certainly more valuable than the same specimen without the longer crystals. A cluster with points that create a center of interest is very pleasing to look at.
This is a rather difficult characteristic to get a handle on. We do not normally think of quartz crystal as being scarce, but certain forms, habits, and inclusions are. Does the specimen possess some unique or special characteristic, such as fluid inclusions, phantoms, or tabular shape, that increases its value? The presence of any one of these may increase the value of an otherwise mundane specimen. About 1995, a pocket of quartz crystal was recovered from a mine in Saline County that had shiny small galena inclusions, making otherwise typical quartz specimens rather unusual. Most of these specimens made one of the Tucson satellite shows at very inflated prices. A few specimens sold at about 40% of the marked prices near the end of the show. I refused to purchase even a T/N because the base price was too high. I still do not have a single specimen from this pocket in my collection, even though I was the geologist who identified the included mineral as galena. I think the original purchaser of the entire pocket thought the inclusions were native silver! Anyway, since this is the only pocket of galena-included quartz recovered in the past 30 years, it is certainly scarce and worth more than normal quartz. It is really up to the collector to decide if the seller is way out of line on his prices. After all, until you hand over your money, it is your decision to make.
To most beginning rockhounds, a specimen they personally collected has more intrinsic personal value than one they purchased, traded for, or have given to them. The reason is simple. After investing so much time and effort in finding, cleaning, and trimming a specimen, you develop an emotional attachment to it. That is why it is so hard to admit you really should not have bothered with it in the first place and it is really a piece of leaverite! I have known individuals who moved and carried truckloads of this stuff with them from place to place around the country!
As a collector becomes more experienced, he/she soon realizes that it is difficult to collect a truly good quality specimen for several reasons. Therefore, the silver pick at any given rockshop may turn up a specimen which you may never have a chance to collect personally. I do appreciate the individual who wishes to put together a "self-collected" mineral set, but I hope they realize the limitations they put on the potential value of their collection by going down this road.
One individual, now deceased, who was in my local club often talked about needing to dispose of his collection and selling it, but he could not take the time to get it appraised by anyone. After he passed away, I had the sad duty to tell his widow that although her husband had personally valued his collection highly, it really consisted of so much yard rock. I was surprised when she stated that she had suspected it all along and appreciated my honesty. It now resides in several flower beds and she has two extra usable rooms in her home.
Jewelry points bring top dollar
Jewelry points are usually slender clear lustrous points that have clean terminations on one end. Crystals range from 0.5 to 2.5 inches in length. It may take 100 to 300 of these crystals to weigh a pound. Prices range considerably ($30 to $300/pound) from dealer to dealer and so does quality. These points are used, often mounted in sterling silver or gold-plated findings, in necklaces, earrings, or pendants.
An example of buying mine-run quartz
Quartz crystal can be purchased as single pieces or in bulk as uncleaned mine run material from some dealers, for example from Stanley's crystals. Sonny Stanley often puts out recently mined material on screen tables to let the clay dry so he can come back and wash the dried clay off. If you get there after he washes and before he cleans the material in acid, he will sell it right off the table as is. If you want to buy some bulk material in baskets, he usually has baskets stacked in his storage building. You may look around and pick a likely basket or baskets, but no shuffling of specimens from one basket to another is allowed. In years past, baskets have sold for as little as $35 to as much as $75, depending on what he judges the quality of the overall stacked baskets to be.
When purchasing any quartz this way, it takes an educated eye to recognize if the price is reasonable or too high for the general quality you will get. The only way to educate yourself is to purchase a few baskets over time and clean the quartz yourself. If you aren't happy after doing this a few times, then you should realize that you are just not yet experienced enough at grading specimen material. I have done this for several years and still occasionally get a basket that does not measure up to what I thought its potential was.
But sometimes I get a single surprisingly good specimen worth more than the cost of the entire basket. Witness the specimen in the above photograph which came from such a basket. This specimen was actually in two pieces, having come apart along a natural fracture during mining. Because I purchased a basket, I got both halves. I had the two specimens for sale next to each other in a flat in Tucson when I realized that they might fit together. After a couple of minutes of looking, I determined that they did fit together and when I reassembled the cluster, I decided to take it back home and put it in my collection if the flat did not sell. It now graces my quartz case!
How dealers price
You may be buying directly from the miner, or from a dealer who resells minerals. Part of the price they charge depends on how much they had to pay for the material, how long they have had it, their intended market, and the overhead of running their business. Its a function of supply and demand, or what the market will bear. Unlike a value on the stock market, or the gold standard, there is no set price that quartz sells for. If you are buying at a show, you might get a price break on the last day, when the dealer faces the prospect of packing the material to take it home!
Commercially speaking, dealers sell quartz by the pound either wholesale or retail. Uncleaned mine-run specimen material may cost from $4-$6 per pound. To pick off a table of this material with some of the clay washed off, may cost you $8-$10 per pound. Cleaned clear specimens in small sizes often cost between $10-$15 per pound. Aesthetic pieces in the same size range run from $25-$50 per pound. Then come "collector" specimens. These specimens generally have all the positive characteristics mentioned in this article and are in some way thought to be aesthetically attractive (at least to the dealer). Pick carefully if you decide to purchase from this type of quartz, as we are talking around $100 per pound. I really put my "critical eye" to the test when I see specimens priced in this category.
Wholesale and retail
I also must say something about wholesale versus retail. With some quartz dealers, this entire situation is a joke, and to others it is a very serious matter. You can tell some dealers think it's a joke if they do not ask for a tax number, but just say, "Yep, all our prices are wholesale."
When you look to buy one or two cleaned and prepared specimens don't expect to get a truly wholesale price, even though the dealer may tell you it is. They may actually reduce the price 50% if you pull out a verifiable tax number. But they still have to make their profit above the expenses of a mining contract, mining equipment and labor costs, and for their time involved in cleaning and grading the material.
If you want to purchase 100 to 1000 baskets of uncleaned mine run quartz, then you will really see what the true wholesale price is. Generally for equal quality specimen material, the more you purchase from a dealer in a single lot or sale, the cheaper the unit price will be. Price will vary for the same quality material from dealer to dealer, so it pays to take some time and visit several shops before making major purchases.
Getting your collection appraised
As you get older and more experienced, you may begin to wonder: "What would happen to my wonderful collection if something happened to me?" The first step to the real answer to this question is to recognize that there is probably no one in your family, even your rockhounding significant other, that is as interested in your collection of "special pieces" as you are. Also, you are not qualified to do an appraisal because you are emotionally attached to the collection. You need outside assistance!
The place to start is your local rock dealer. For a fee, many are willing to make a written appraisal of your collection. To get the highest appraised value possible, you must have the collection well organized and cataloged properly, otherwise the appraiser may waste a lot of time and not see everything in the collection. Don't ask someone whose time is worth $30 per hour to spend days looking over your accumulation of years! The appraiser's bill could exceed the "collection's" value. Appraisals are extremely important to have. The only way you can get an insurance policy rider on a collection of rocks and minerals is through an appraisal by someone the insurance company considers a competent expert. Why have an insurance policy? Only rarely do we encounter a rock or mineral thief, but the odds are relatively high that some natural disaster will affect your possessions during your lifetime. It could be a flood, fire, tornado, hurricane, or perhaps simply vandals. If such an event should take place, you would have proof of what your collection's value was and, although you will never be able to replace those exact specimens, you would not suffer serious financial loss (It will hurt your mind, but not your pocketbook!)
However, a word of warning about appraisals: Don't expect that because you have an appraisal stating that your collection has a value of $40,000 (for example), that you could go out and sell it that day for the appraised value. If you had to liquidate a collection, selling the best pieces for a premium price to individual selected collectors will get you the most money. But how many of us have a collection that only is top quality pieces? No collector I know. Therefore, be prepared to recognize that if you sell the entire collection, you will be lucky to find a buyer that will give you 20 cents on the appraised $1 value. So for a $40,000 collection, you will be lucky to find a buyer willing to pay $8,000; in reality, expect to get $5,000 or less if the bulk of your specimens are neither rare in species or quality. I have had to tell this to several bank estate officers who requested an appraisal of some deceased person's collection. Viewing the situation in the light of reality helps you understand the tax advantages of donating the collection to a college geology department, a museum, or some other non-profit organization. See my write up on Since you can't take it with you... called what to do.
Putting a value on a crystal is an inexact thing. This article is presented to show current trade practices as we have experienced them. If you have an insight you'd like to share, please contact us!