Behind booth 201, a woman points to a rock donning a $900 price tag. “This one’s spoken for,” she informers her co-worker, “The guy gets his tax refund in three weeks.” She is wearing a baseball cap and a snugly fit tanktop emblazoned with the logo for Prospectors, a new reality show on the Weather Channel about “upstart” miners in America’s Rocky Mountain region searching for gold and gems. Stars from the show are purportedly on site. A few booths over, a middle-aged woman ogles a milky, blue-green hunk of fluorite mantled in a display case under florescent lights. “We don’t need anymore fluorite,” chides her husband, who then drifts toward a collection of fiery red wulfenite specimens, each with a four-figure asking price. The MC then takes to the loudspeaker, reminding visitors not to bypass the life-size models of dinosaurs used in the film Jurassic Park.
Enter the NY/NJ Gem and Mineral Show—the largest event of its kind outside of Tucson, now boasting its second year. So well attended was the previous year’s event that the show has been moved to a mammoth, 150,000-foot exhibition hall at the end of a sprawling industrial park in Edison, New Jersey. On the surface it’s an unlikely destination for some of the earth’s most rare and alluring treasures. Yet the place is teeming with visitors, an odd mix of natural history buffs, new age healers, cowboys, geophysicists, amateur paleontologists, little boys dressed as Indiana Jones, one guy dressed up sort of like an astronaut, and rock collectors, oodles of them, who have made the pilgrimage from all corners of the country.
Minerals, apparently, are the great equalizer. Their mysterious beauty lies in having come—as one friendly miner from Upstate New York put it—“from the ground.” How is it possible, you ask yourself, that these crystalline structures in colors so mesmerizing and shapes so complex come not from the hands of men, but from the very ground we walk on? Bubbly green smithsonite crystals that resemble a cluster of grapes. Rhodochrosite brighter pink than any neon sign. Juicy watermelon tourmaline with hues so tantalizing you almost want to take a bite.
If that doesn’t blow your mind, there are plenty of other gems on display: dinosaur fossils, trilobites, glow-in-the-dark rocks under UV lights, jars full of shark teeth and furniture constructed of petrified wood. For this reporter, though, it is the dazzling array of gemstones and minerals that truly delights the eye. You are supposed to call them specimens, by the way—not rocks—but there’s not a single snob in the room to correct you.
Photos by Rory Gunderson