A quartz cluster from Brazil.

Crystalworks

Family formations.

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There are still many mysteries surrounding crystals. Divination, healing and mystical uses aside, scientists are still trying to understand crystalline structures and their properties. Crystals are defined by their molecular arrangement, a pattern that repeats in all three dimensions. Their recognizable shapes—commonly flat faces and sharp angles—are an expression of this internal order.

There’s an extraordinary gem in Vancouver tucked just off Burrard Street on West 3rd Avenue. A world class mineral gallery, Crystalworks is a family-run business operated by mother Susan Lipsett and daughters Karen Lipsett-Kidd and Andrea Lipsett. They carry a diverse selection of rare crystals, minerals, and fossils from across the globe.

For over 25 years now, the women have cultivated relationships with miners and mineral dealers, many of whom refer to them affectionately as “the girls”. Having established a high level of respect amongst their peers in the industry, the women have made their way to the front of many miners’ minds when they discover something remarkable. This has allowed them to acquire rare and unique specimens, which typically disappear into private collections or are quickly acquired by museums.

The pair also take care to ensure that everything at Crystalworks has been ethically mined. “The people that we buy from mine carefully. They don’t blast or strip the land, leave it barren, or with toxic substances like mercury leeching into the earth,” Lipsett-Kidd explains. “We also don’t sell dyed or radiated crystals or stalactites and stalagmites because, if left in their environment, they’d continue to form.”

Just like the minerals they carry, the company, comes from a modest beginning. Lipsett-Kidd’s fascination with crystals can be traced back to her childhood. “My dad was an optical physicist and used to work with quartz, rubies and other minerals,” she explains. After spending much of her youth rockhounding with her parents and making jewellery, Lipsett-Kidd embarked on a momentous buying trip with her mother to visit some mines in Arkansas. There, they encountered large crystals for the first time in their lives, and soon began selling them out of their home in Vancouver.

MONTECRISTO: Crystalworks

A tower of tourmaline, ringed with purple mica, from Liberia.

Today, Crystalworks operates out of a small and serene gallery space on West 3rd, which was custom designed by Lipsett-Kidd. “If we were going to sell things from the earth, we also have to honour the earth by treading lightly,” she maintains. As such, the gallery has been outfitted with exclusively sustainable materials.

Each and every specimen, large or small, in the Crystalworks gallery has been hand selected. “We look for pieces that are sculpturally interesting, or that move us in some way. Sometimes it’s because of the extraordinary colour of a piece, or that there’s an unusually large specimen,” says Lipsett-Kidd.

Among the collection are many incredible formations, including an Australian chrysoprase nugget—a geological anomaly as the mineral tends to form in thin veins. When geologists visit the gallery, which they often do, it is the giant Liberian tower of tourmaline, surrounded by purple mica, that astounds them most; coloured by lithium, it appears black but when under a strong light it glows a deep red. Another incredible specimen is a part of a tree that grew in Madagascar some 120 million years ago. Buried for eons, silica solution slowly replaced the organic material, turning the wood to stone, creating what is commonly known as petrified wood. Crystalworks also carries a fantastic selection of rare quartz formations.

Just like crystallography’s abundant applications—everything from nuclear power and semi-conductor technology to medicine—Crystalworks caters to a diverse clientele. “Some people use this place like a museum. Some are looking for something to match the drapes in their home or to put in their alcove. Others are looking for a piece to set the energetic focus in their home, or for a meditation room,” says Lipsett-Kidd. “Feng shui groups come in here, but so do geologists, organic chemists and their students.”

It’s bewildering to consider that, given a particular solution and immense heat and pressure, something exquisite and entirely unique can form over thousands, or millions, of years. To behold the crystals, minerals and fossils in the Crystalworks gallery is a humbling experience. With their splendid colours, strangely geometric forms and myriad applications, it’s no wonder that people have long considered them magic.

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March 18, 2012