Update: The large specimen of crystallized gold sold for $156,250.
What you see: A large (379-gram) specimen of crystallized gold, found relatively recently in Brazil. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $200,000 to $300,000.
The expert: Craig Kissick, director of nature and science for Heritage Auctions.
What is crystallized gold, and how is it different from standard gold? Some 98 percent of all gold ever mined on earth is refined. Gold in its natural form is rare already. Even a one-ounce nugget is rarer than a five-carat diamond. Crystallized gold is, basically, where the gold occurs naturally, but in a leafy form where you can see the crystallization.
So, all gold has crystals, but in crystallized gold, the crystals are visible? In layman’s terms, that’s essentially true. And crystallized gold has very high purity, at least with the ones from South America. It’s darn near 99.9 percent pure, which is pretty much unheard of.
How does crystallized gold form? That’s above my pay grade, but a lot of that hard science is known. Most crystallized gold tends to occur with quartz–the quartz will be a matrix, or a host rock it attaches to. But you do have examples of crystallized gold with no other visible constituents.
The lot notes describe this specimen as being “extremely rare and desirable for gold”. Why is that the case? Very little gold exists in its natural mined form. A lot doesn’t necessarily have the intrinsic aesthetic value of crystallized pieces. It’s a subset of a rare pot.
This specimen of crystallized gold weighs 379 grams, which is relatively hefty. How much of its value comes from its weight? Crystallized gold is looked at for its aesthetic beauty rather than its inherent value. With a crystallized specimen, it’s “How pretty is it?” With a gold nugget, it’s “How big is it?”
So inherent value doesn’t really play a role here, because no one in their right minds would melt a piece of crystallized gold? One hundred percent correct. It’s valued for its form over its melt price. Crystallized gold commands a premium well beyond the commodity value of industrial gold.
And crystallized gold gains its shape and appearance directly from the process of crystallization? Yes, it’s a natural function. Samples are cleaned to make sure they have the most lustrous appearance, but they’re nature’s art, not man-made art.
How often do samples of crystallized gold of this size come to auction? This might not be fair, because I’m a big guy, but samples that are palm-sized or bigger are pretty rarified air. We see maybe half a dozen per year.
What is it like to handle this specimen of crystallized gold? Is it heavy? When you pick up a 40-ounce gold nugget, the size of a softball, you say, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m holding so much gold! I don’t want to drop it on the floor.” With crystallized gold, you don’t have any heaviness. It’s delicate. It’s foil-like, very leafy. Gold is the most malleable metal on earth. You can bend gold, but you can’t break it.
It sounds like you want to be extra-careful when handling crystallized gold, for fear of bending or distorting the little branches. I would say that’s not a bad idea. You don’t want anything to come off. It’s naturally thin and delicate.
So how did the photographer get the specimen to safely stand on one end to take the picture? We’ve got ways to finagle things. You can lean it against a sheet of plexiglass and magic it away in Photoshop. Or you might stick something very small [on the end you’re standing it on], something that wouldn’t impact or damage the specimen, to keep it vertical long enough to take the shot.
And I’m guessing it’d be a very silly idea to try to make jewelry out of crystallized gold, then? It’s just not done? You really don’t. Gold nugget jewelry was a rage for a while there, but crystallized gold would probably be too soft for that. Some samples of crystallized gold are more durable than others, but [making it into] something you’d wear every day and touch all the time–you don’t want to do that.
The lot notes say this specimen was “found by sheer luck in a farm field in Brazil”. Can you tell me more? [Laughs] A lot of times, luck trumps science. It was probably a farmer in a field who realized it was gold, started a mine, and found more examples. This piece was also displayed recently at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
Is it possible to say when it was found in that field in Brazil? This is a relatively new thing, a phenomenon of the last five years. It’s probably someone who wasn’t a gold prospector who came across it, brought it to town, and then word got out. It ultimately made its way to our auction. That’s more story than we get for most, but it came from a very reputable source. There’s no doubts there, no reason to question the provenance of this piece.
You said earlier that weight doesn’t really matter much with a piece of crystallized gold. Yet its 379-gram weight is clearly stated in the lot notes. How much does its weight matter, really? You can see individual crystal faces on it, but it’s also like a nugget, because it’s a really solid piece. It has some dimensionality to it. 379 grams… keep in mind that there’s 31.103 grams in a troy ounce. This is over 12 ounces. That is a lot of gold.
Is the specimen more interesting because it’s nugget-like? I’d say this variety of gold, which has been coming from South America, is very complex but robust, and the purity of the material is unusually high. This specimen is 12 ounces of darn near pure gold. It’s something special.
What is the specimen of crystallized gold like in person? It’s intricate and complex and rather robust–it’s not a flat piece. You can look at it from any angle. You can see how the crystals go from top to bottom, all around. If
I only have one photo of the crystallized gold specimen, from one angle. What does the other side look like? My recollection from seeing it is it’s pretty similar on the other side. Some specimens have a pretty side and a side that’s no use to anybody. This has a three-dimensional presentation.
The headline for the lot includes several place names: “Serra do Caldeirão claims. Pontes e Lacerda, Mato Grosso. Brazil”. What do they mean here? “Claims” is akin to a mine. The others are simply geographic, like we’re doing city, county, state, and country. Pontes e Lacerda is like the city, Mato Grosso is the region, and Brazil is the country. That’s important information to collectors.
What condition is the specimen in? It’s in pristine condition. I don’t see any flaws in it. If there was a big break in it, it’d definitely be problematic.
How does this specimen of crystallized gold compare to others you’ve handled? Another one in the sale is a little bit larger and is not as aesthetically idyllic as this is. I’ve seen spectacular examples from South America, but I’ve rarely seen pieces this large. These are two of the largest I’ve handled, for sure.
Why will this piece of crystallized gold stick in your memory? It’s one of the newer finds from Mato Grosso. I’m used to seeing small pieces of high value. This is massive compared to others from that place. And it’s striking. Anytime I see a superlative singular specimen of gold, of course I’m going to remember it. And I hope it’s going to sell for a high amount, and that will be what I’m going to remember.
Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
Craig Kissick has appeared on The Hot Bid once before, discussing a matched set of bull mammoth tusks.
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