Sotheby’s Specialist Alexander Eblen and minerals experts Bill and Will Larson discuss Hester Diamond’s unique collection and offer advice for those starting or expanding their own.
T he beautiful minerals that Hester Diamond proudly displayed in her home offer yet another insight into her passion for beauty in all its varied forms. Her collection offers a rare opportunity to experience natural wonders sourced from over a century of important discoveries across the globe. While the shocking colors and geometrics of these specimens instantly capture our attention, there is a wealth of lore behind each that is known only to a few.
To explore these stories and share some helpful advice for hopeful collectors, I spoke with two experts in the field. William “Bill” Larson and his son Will operate Pala Minerals along with their adjacent colored gem business, Pala International, run by Bill’s son Carl. Bill has a storied history with gems and minerals, notably discovering some of the most important tourmaline specimens in North America which are displayed in the Smithsonian’s exceptional mineral collection. Bill has spent decades working with a huge range of clients ranging from mineral prospectors and private collectors to the esteemed Harvard Mineralogical Museum. His sons Will and Carl now proudly represent the next generation, each pursuing their respective passion.
Alexander Eblen: I first want to thank you both for the opportunity to discuss Hester Diamond’s minerals. As I have worked with the collection, my colleagues and I have so many questions about where these treasures come from, how they were first discovered, how they form, etc. I am excited for those in our audience who have never experienced minerals like this before. What direction can you offer new collectors when they are first starting to explore?
Will Larson: For the beginner, learning context is so rewarding. If you simply look at something and like it, we have the base roots of collecting. The aesthetics of minerals are easy to enjoy but without context to appreciate, we miss out on so much richness and depth that make collecting so much more rewarding. Minerals also offer the opportunity, across all values, of collecting “one of one” due to their inherently unique nature. Literally no two are alike!
AE: I know that has been especially true for the specimens I recovered personally, it makes you really appreciate their rarity and the thrill of discovery is so memorable. Can you give me an example of how context has factored into your collecting over the years?
WL: Absolutely. For instance, I had the privilege of being exposed to the Japanese culture from a very early age and realized as I got older how rarely Japanese minerals showed up in Western collections. When I started specifically seeking out and collecting Japanese minerals around 2004, I learned that a large percentage of existing Japanese mineral specimens were recovered between the 1600’s and 1800’s with a few scarce, more recent finds. It has become a real passion of mine to seek out these older examples and they are a prized part of my personal collection.
AE: Had either of you heard about Hester’s collection before Sotheby’s announced the auction?
WL: I was aware of the collection from the in-depth profile that the Mineralogical Record had published years ago with some great photographs showing how she displayed her minerals in her home, very interesting.
Bill Larson: I particularly enjoy that Hester Diamond represents someone who approached their mineral collecting from her Art History background, with that trained eye for aesthetics, balance and form. What an opportunity for your audience to connect with minerals through that lens! We have looked at each item in this collection and feel it offers a quite unique opportunity.
“I particularly enjoy that Hester Diamond represents someone who approached their mineral collecting from her Art History background, with that trained eye for aesthetics, balance and form.”
AE: Can you each talk about a few examples that stood out to you in the collection and why?
WL: The impressive aquamarine is significantly large for this source from Pakistan, and the complex termination is attractive. As huge fans of gem crystals, the emerald specimen has attractive aesthetics with nice isolation, good color and size.
Will’s Top Picks from Hester Diamond's Collection
BL: We really enjoy Hester’s taste in tourmalines. Several examples here have the kind of impressive size, form and lovely pink color reminiscent of the material we mined in San Diego county. The bicolor tourmaline has excellent delineation of color in the transitions, very collectible. Lot 159, as an unrepaired specimen with multiple large crystals aesthetically placed on a well-defined smoky quartz is one of the best in the collection in our opinion.
Bill’s Top Picks from Hester Diamond's Collection
AE: Another area of Hester’s collection we have been talking about are her very attractive rhodochrosites from various localities. Can you share your opinion on those?
BL: The stalactite slice has remarkable color and great size for this source which is now exhausted. Very difficult to get something of this quality now. The Sweet Home “rhodo” plate is just a true classic for any serious collector, large size and pleasing color.
AE: Yes, anyone interested in exploring the complex, often frustrating and (very rarely) rewarding story of what a mining venture is really like should read up on the Sweet Home mine. Starting as a silver mine, the later discovery of these glowing crimson red rhodochrosite crystals really had a profound impact on the mineral collecting world. I was so pleased to see that Hester also had an example from the much more recent Chinese find which you do not see often.
WL: Yes, the discovery of rhodochrosites from the Wutong mine dates from the early 2000’s but for quite some time the truth of where specifically these crystals were coming from was obscured. Production was extremely brief, and everything was quickly absorbed by the market.
AE: Speaking of Chinese minerals, one of the many aspects I enjoy about Hester’s collection is the prevalence of newer Chinese sources it represents. Can you speak to the importance of these discoveries in today’s market?
BL: China has had a strong recent run of producing exceptional minerals but due to depletion at many sites and strong local collectors willing to pay top dollar, there is significantly less available today. As is always the case, what initially appears to be a rich supply of fine specimens from a new discovery at attractive prices will, inevitably, quickly disappear. Today the market of collectors is broader than ever.
WL: To that point, the pyrite on calcite from Xianghualing was another find from a small, single location. For obvious reasons, these very attractive examples are very popular and were quickly absorbed by collectors and are no longer available. This is a particularly large example with great form.
AE: I know we all share a love of quartz and its nearly infinite variations. Can you discuss any favorite examples?
WL: Two stand out immediately in my mind. The smoky quartz with amazonite from Pikes Peak is, like the Sweet Home rhodochrosite, another absolute classic North American specimen always in high demand from serious collectors.
BL: Definitely one of our favorite pieces in the entire collection.
WL: I am also fond of the smoky quartz gwindel. This is another niche I personally collect and enjoy; this happens to be a large example of this rare form of Quartz. For context, most Swiss specimens are found on the side of mountainous cliffs at high elevation and are extremely dangerous to collect. Numerous prospectors, locally known as “strahlers”, lose their lives each year attempting to extract them.
AE: One prominent aspect of Hester’s collection we have not yet touched on are her exceptional Spanish and Peruvian pyrites. Any thoughts you can share on these?
WL: Honestly our favorite piece in the entire collection is the pink fluorite on pyrite from Peru. These are an extremely rare find and the pink fluorite with subtle green color zoning at their core are this locality’s signature. Pink is the most sought-after color of the ever-popular fluorite and the aesthetics on highly lustrous golden pyrite cubes are incredible. This is a long-depleted find, very rare and fine.
AE: A wonderful note to end on. Gentlemen, thank you for sharing your insights with me and with our audience. We sincerely appreciate it.