'Celebration of Agates' draws rock collectors from around the world to Twin Cities.
Gemstone cutter Klaus Schäfer is eager to pull his latest agate out of his pocket, talk to an audience and swap rock-hunting stories with whoever will listen.
He flew in from his home in Germany to join other agate lovers for the Celebration of Agates, the first international gathering of its kind to be held in Minnesota.
From Germany, India and that "Mecca for agate hunters" -- Minnesota's North Shore -- rockhounds will display and discuss their semi-precious gemstones. Because they have to.
There's a unique bond between agate lovers, Schäfer said: "They bring the mafia together."
Hosted by the Minnesota Mineral Club, the event is expected to draw hundreds of people to the Lindbergh Center at Hopkins High School.
Michael Carlson, a full-time agate dealer from Minneapolis, said the state's agate community is strong. The Minnesota Mineral Club boasts 450 members. After all, the state gemstone is the Lake Superior agate.
But the community extends beyond our borders, because agates are found throughout the world.
'Something man can't make'
"They are kind of like natural art," said Katie Bauer, who has been on the committee that has been planning for the past two years. "It's something that man can't make."
Agates are semi-precious gemstones that develop in nature and cannot be replicated in a lab, unlike other gems such as diamonds. They vary in appearance based on the minerals in the area and can range in value from pocket change to as much as $50,000.
Silica is the basic building block of agates, but the colors, patterns and shapes vary with where they're found.
In India, dendritic agates have a pattern that looks more like an intricate painting than a rock formation, causing many to question the agates that Tarun Adlakha gathers from his family-run mine in Uttar Pradesh. He laughed and said if he could paint with that much detail people would call him Michelangelo.
Adlakha is known for having the best dendritic agates in the world. He said his agates are in every major museum in the world. But he also sees the science within these delicate-looking rocks.
A former biotechnologist, Adlakha revived the family mining business 15 years ago and said the convergence of art and science make agates "food for thought."
But there's also a sense of mystery that captivates agate-lovers.
"From the outside you don't know what's inside," Schäfer said.
Interest in agates grows
While some agates have designs on their exterior, others are defined by the unexpected beauty in colorful banding or crystal pockets beneath a normal-looking shell.
Schäfer teaches gemstone mineralogy, lapidary and goldsmith classes at a college in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, and will give two presentations this weekend. While he enjoys the thrill of finding agates, he said he is also overwhelmed by the number of Minnesotans and others who share his interest.
On Thursday morning he stood at the entrance, shaking hands with as many people as he could and remembering a few from other events he's been to in the United States.
"I didn't have enough hands!" he said. "It's like being in a bunch of friends."
It's agate fever, Carlson joked. Once you start hunting for agates it's hard to stop.
Carlson said he's seeing a resurgence in interest in agates, which dropped off after a heyday in the '50s and '60s. It's a trend he hopes will continue.
"I don't drink, I don't smoke, but I'm crazy about rocks," Carlson said. "It's a healthy addiction."
Asha Anchan • 612-673-4154