A piece of the moon, minerals trendy, collectible


by Anne Gilbert

What would you pay for a piece of a mineral fragment from the moon? While minerals have been collected as decorative objects beginning in antiquity, a new spin includes meteorite minerals. They are chunks of metal and stone that come in all shapes and sizes. In rare cases meteorites can contain material older than the solar system that experts say formed 4.6 billion years ago. Sure, they may be ugly compared to such minerals as jade and crystal, but small versions are still displayed as art. When meteorites sell at auction, prices can be over a million dollars depending on their size and history.

A moon meteorite as sculpture. (photo courtesy of Christie’s Auction Gallery of London)

What turns a meteorite buyer on? One thing is the thrill of owning something possibly older than the solar system, which formed 4.6 billion years ago. Others love the crystalline, jewelry-look and turn them into everything from jewelry to sculptures.

A Christie’s auction in London offered the fifth largest piece of the moon, weighing 29 pounds. It sold for 37,500 British pounds ($51,421.87 American dollars). At the same auction, a two-inch-by-one-inch moon fragment fetched $30,000 - more proof there is a developing collector market for metal and stone objects from outer space. According to James Hyslop, head of the science and natural history department at Christie’s, interest in meteorites rose dramatically after the 1993 movie “Jurassic Park,” which created a demand for dinosaur fossils and other ancient collectibles.

“Moon rock is among the rarest substances on earth, with less than 650 kg. of lunar meteorites known to exist,” Hyslop noted. ”Lunar meteorites arrived on earth after having been blasted off the lunar surface by the collision with an asteroid or comet. All of the moon’s large craters were created by such impacts.”

A Chinese jade carving. (photo courtesy of 1st Dibs)

Earlier in August, at a Heritage Auction in Dallas, a 5-pound chunk of Mars fetched $162,500.
The Chinese have been using such minerals as jade and carnelian as carved decorative, functional and ceremonial objects for centuries. Artisans have been creating jewelry, sculptures and petrified wood into works of art ever since. In Victorian times there were mother-of-pearl
calling card cases, malachite boxes and marble specimen vases.

In the 1960s, craftsmen were polishing slabs of petrified wood and agate and mounting them as sculptures. Petrified wood specimens were embedded into tabletops. Mineral and fossil specimens were turned into lamp bases.

Minerals were used in 19th century jewelry, but not in their raw form. Using them in their natural form, jagged edges and all became popular in the 1970s; pieces were created for Princess Margaret by Andrew Grima, an English designer specializing in minerals. Many of the pieces mixed minerals with precious metals. An example is a Cartier fish brooch, Paris c. 1900, combining gold, tourmaline and aquamarine.
In the mid-20th century, lapidary decorative accessories were created as part of the studio art movement.

CLUES: There are many different types of objects in this category to collect made from minerals. Among them perfume bottles, seashells, boxes, agate slices, boxes, sculptures and raw specimens. You never know when a meteorite will turn up in your back yard.

Anne Gilbert has been self-syndicating the ANTIQUE DETECTIVE to such papers as the Chicago Sun Times and the Miami Herald since 1983. She has authored nine books on antiques, collectibles and art and appeared on national TV. She has done appraisals for museums and private individuals.