A blue tourmaline, just one little item in Laura Belfiore’s collection of gemstone specimens, crystals, minerals, meteors and fossils in all of their forms.
Passion, energy, excitement. The thrill of the hunt. It seems that everyone infected with the collecting bug shares these same traits! True enthusiasts—or “über-collectors” —spend endless hours building their perfect collections and becoming experts in their areas of interest. To celebrate this form of remarkable commitment, WorthPoint is initiating a series of interviews with über-collectors from across North America so we can all learn what makes them, and what they collect, so interesting. Our third conversation is with a woman from the East Coast who specializes all forms of ancient and natural earthly—and beyond—treasures.
WorthPoint: Please tell us your name, where you live, and your profession.
Über-Collector: My name is Laura Belfiore and I live in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. Besides my full-time job as a mother to my 19-month-old daughter, I also operate two separate shops online at Esty.com: Yesterday’s Sihlouette, in which I sell vintage items, and Dumb Bunny Designs, where I sell gemstones and handmade jewelry. Whenever I can, I also freelance for a local online news publication. I’m a pretty busy gal!
WP: Wow, it sounds like it for sure! Please tell us about what you collect and why you are interested in it. How many of these items do you have in your collection?
ÜC: I collect gemstone specimens, crystals, minerals, meteors and fossils in all of their forms. I prefer “rough” natural pieces, but there is plenty of room in my heart for those stones that have been polished, faceted, carved, etc. The only things I don’t seek out are man-made specimens or stones that have been color-treated to enhance their original appearances.
‘Surrounding myself with fossils and crystals that have taken hundreds, thousands or even millions of years to grow helps me put into perspective the short time any human actually spends on earth, and serves as a quiet reminder of my own mortality.’
What fascinates me the most about collecting these items is their natural beauty as well as the environmental influences and intricacies that cause their creation. Holding a fossil in my hand that is 350,000,000 years old is equally intriguing, and gives me a sense of being connected to all that has come before me. Surrounding myself with fossils and crystals that have taken hundreds, thousands or even millions of years to grow helps me put into perspective the short time any human actually spends on earth, and serves as a quiet reminder of my own mortality. I would estimate that I have more than a thousand individual pieces in my collection, with hundreds of different stones represented in multiples.
WP:It sounds like your collection has a wonderful spiritual nature to it! Can you tell us how you got interested in collecting these natural treasures?
Laura Belfiore, über-collector of gemstones, minerals, fossils and such, with one of her favorite collection displays. Laura began collecting when she was 17 and has since put together an impressive collection.
ÜC: I always collected rocks as a child, as I’m sure many of us did, but I didn’t get serious about it until I was about 17. I began dating my boyfriend, who is also a collector, when I was 20 and I then set out on a mission to trump his impressive collection. (And I think I might have done it)! I got into selling gemstones in 2003 to help finance the cost of building my own collection.
WP: That makes a lot of sense; it is not uncommon for enthusiasts to “morph” also into dealers for financial and collecting reasons. So, given your very impressive collection, what are your favorite top three items in your collection, and why?
ÜC: That’s like asking me my favorite Grateful Dead song; how could I ever pick when they’re all so different and beautiful for their own reasons? Plus, often times I forget about a piece only to have my love for it reborn when I open a case I haven’t peeked into for a while.
That all being said, here are a few pieces in my accessible collection that I’m particularly enjoying at the moment:
A rainbow of gems from Laura’s collection.
(From R to L) Pink Cobaltoan Calcite, Green Pyromorphite, Amethyst Geode with Apophyllite, Rutilated Quartz, Smokey Quartz Cluster.
The first is a fossilized Mercinaria clamshell (about 4 million years old), filled with golden yellow dog’s tooth calcite crystals. A friend from college mined a bunch of these herself in Florida and graced me with one for my collection. I love it because it’s a full shell. A lot of the ones you find for sale are portions of the clam; this one is complete with both top and bottom halves still intact. There’s a small hole in the side of it where you can peer in to see these perfectly pointed golden crystals filling the clam.
The second piece is a small piece of blue Tourmaline. This was one of my first pieces of Tourmaline added to my collection. It’s a beautiful specimen, but my adoration for it comes from the story behind it. When I first began vending gemstones, I was working a music festival and a young man who had had a little too much to drink that afternoon visited my booth and left his book bag behind. I put it to the side and figured he’d be back. When he returned the next day he was relieved to be reunited with his bag, and proceeded to open it and pull out a case of some of the finest gems I had seen at that point in my life. He then offered me my choice of the case’s contents as a reward for the safe keeping of his bag.
Thirdly, I have a piece of Cobaltoan Calcite from Africa that’s amazingly awesome. For starters, its bright pink—the “girly-girl” in me loves that. Secondly, besides the fact that is an uncommon specimen to begin with, the piece exhibits a druzy formation atop a botryoidal growth. What that means is there’s a ton of tiny pointy crystals that make the piece sparkle like glitter in the sunlight and those crystals are growing on top of bubbly circles.
Phantom Quartz and Tourmalinated Quartz points. No two are ever the same.
(From L to R) A few of the most fun pieces to show off: Two pieces of Fulgurite, the product of lighting striking sand. The sand takes the shape of the bolt when the extreme heat turns the sand to glass; pink Halite, more commonly known as salt; Orpiment, a.k.a arsenic; and a 4 million year old fossilized Mercinaria clamshell with interior yellow Dog’s Tooth Calcite.
WP: Such amazing specimens and the stories behind them are equally, as, well, sparkly, (in the best way possible!). So, how do you display your collection? Do you keep everything out at the same time, or do you rotate displays?
ÜC: At this point I keep most of my collection packed away. Smaller pieces are stored in sectioned plastic cases like what people might use to keep beads or fishing lures in. Medium sized pieces go into stands with drawers, like those plastic drawers people will keep in their garage filled with nuts and bolts and such. Larger pieces are stored in gun cases or tool cases. I do keep some of my collection on display, mostly medium sized specimens. Large pieces take up too much room to keep them out, and if you try to display too many small pieces dusting will become a nightmare. It’s better for the specimens to keep them packed up anyway because over time dust and sunlight can severely damage certain ones.
WP: I didn’t realize that about dust and sunlight. They don’t seem to be good for just about any type of collection it seems. So, how do you stay current with what is happening in your area of interest and expertise? Are there meetings or events you attend or publications or websites you regularly read?
ÜC: I travel to a lot of shows where I meet other vendors like myself, and that’s a great time to “talk trade” and keep up on what’s going on with the scene. Personally, I find it hard to extract accurate information online and have found word-of-mouth to be my most reliable source. For identification and general information purposes, websites such as the Mineralogical Society of America is a good reference for rough stones and the Gemological Institute of America is good for those looking to learn more about more precious stones such as diamonds and facet-quality gems. Both sites are a trustworthy starting point to begin your research and each offer many links to additional resources. As far as events go, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is an event like no other that I have ever attended. I am looking forward to returning to it again in 2012.
Keeping individual pieces in bead boxes keeps them safe and clean.
WP: Tell us a brief story about how you went out of your way to get a very special item for your collection.
ÜC: I think it involves trespassing, so maybe I shouldn’t say.
WP: Gotcha. Is there a “holy grail” item you would love to add to your collection?
ÜC: I’m not sure if it’s possible to occur in nature, but I’d love to have a specimen with garnet, aquamarine and peridot growing all together on the same matrix. That’s mine, my daughter’s and my boyfriend’s birthstones.
WP: Well, if it’s out there, I have no doubt you will find it. Please let us know when you do! Laura, it goes without saying your collection and passion really rock out . . . thank you for sharing both with us today!
Are you an über-collector? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about your collection and we may feature you and your collection in an upcoming article.
Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.
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