My mother says I was bringing rocks into the house when I was only two years old. Of course I have no memory of this, but we can assume that they were probably flint nodules, being as there wasn't much else in the fields of southern England. (Fascinating stuff, flint - I still like it.) My own memories of more serious mineral hunting start at around eleven years old, when I found an old Dana textbook and the british edition of Fred Pough's Field Guide in a bookstore. By that time I had progressed from flint nodules in the fields to gypsum crystals in a clay pit, and my mineralogical repertoire didn't really diversify until I moved to Ethiopia at 14 years old and got exposed to the volcanic activity of the Rift Valley. High schools in Ethiopia had real chemistry labs for students to play in, not like the insipidly “safe” versions that kids are offered nowadays, so at 16 years old I got experience wth old-fashioned quantitative wet chemical analysis on my specimens.
At 18 I moved to California and studied geology at San Diego State. Formal academic studies took a long time, to the consternation of my parents, as I was frequently diverted into taking semesters off for adventures in places like Bolivia, Mexico, Belize... even more exotic places like Idaho, where I learned useful skills like panning and sluicing from an old gold prospector. My student years also provided part-time work experience in the mineral department of the San Diego Natural History Museum. After graduation I moved to Japan for 4 years, as proofreader and editor of research papers at various universities, helping scientists suffering from the language barrier to get their papers published in international journals and improve their international conference presentations. But the chance to get out of the city and do field work again was irresistible, so I moved to Bolivia for the next 12 years and lived in a high-altitude valley in the Andes mountains.
My third year in Bolivia, working on a geological reconnaissance project in some poorly explored lowland jungles, I found many hundreds of double-terminated danburite crystals - the first time I'd ever found a mineral in a quantity too large to absorb into my own collection or give away and swap with my friends. Finding a dealer to take these off my hands was my introduction to the commercial market for mineral specimens. Large (in all senses of the word) California mineral dealer Rock Currier (yes, his real name) became my mentor and sponsored my first trips to the international mineral and gem show that takes place every February in Tucson, Arizona, which seemed a much more fun way to earn a living than filling out field trip reports for bureaucrats.
And so, quite unintentionally, I became a supplier of exotic rocks to a growing clientele of mineral collectors, museums, researchers... and more unusual markets like paint manufacturers, mystical healers, alternative medicine, bonsai gardens, aquarium landscapers... There seems to be no limit to the new uses people dream up for stones. Anyone need microscopic crystals of an extremely rare mineral composed of exotic elements? ...or perhaps just a smooth pet rock?
Between mineral mining expeditions and going to mineral shows in the USA, Japan, and Europe, I also organize collecting tours in Bolivia, Japan, Canada and the USA, for those who want to go find rare minerals in the field themselves. (I have a collecting partner, the intrepid Frank de Wit, who does the same for those who want to chisel away at rocks in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Iceland, Greenland, Switzerland and other places.) And I often give talks to mineral clubs and museum groups on mineralogical topics, mainly collecting trips to exotic destinations.
And so as not to waste time during the many hours spent at airports and on ships and trains, I still do translations, in case anyone has a mineralogical article or book in german or spanish that you'd like to publish in english.
The latest development in my life came about because of the death of my good friend and teacher Rock Currier in September 2015. Jewel Tunnel, the company he founded back in the 1970s, asked me to revive the mineral section of the business. Rock used to travel the world hunting for beautiful and exotic minerals in remote countries. The section of Jewel Tunnel that famously dealt with mineral specimens for collectors and museums went into a decline when Rock became too elderly to travel internationally, but the staff at Jewel Tunnel (incidentally no connection to jewelry but rather named after a railroad tunnel in India with lots of glittery zeolite crystals) hope to increasingly bring you exotic rocks from around the world again.