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Las Vigas, Veracruz, México

Las Vigas is a small town nestled in the mountain about 90 kilometres from Xalapa, the capital of the state. Situated in the mountains of the Sierra, the cold and humidity give the area an aspect of silent sadness. When the sun heats the rooftops and gives life to the fields, a mist rises from the canyons and filters through forests and plantations into the narrow streets of the town. The Volcano Citlaltepetl, or Pico de Orizaba, rises in the distance to a height of 5800 metres above sea level, providing an ethereal atmosphere to the landscape. It is the third highest mountain in North America. The first ranch was established in 1524, next to a little bridge made of wooden beams that crossed a stream. This is why when the town was formed it was simply called Las Vigas (the beams). It was a community that maintained itself with the production of timber, marble and bovine products such as milk and cheese. In recent times it has not only become tourist destination but also an important centre for mineral collectors. Since fifty years ago, after various beautiful amethyst crystals reached the market, the name Las Vigas Mine has been ranked in several exhibitions and prestigious mineralogy magazines.

Las Vigas has participated in several collections with specimens of exceptional beauty. The crystals, although they are not of a particularly remarkable size, exhibit unique developmental characteristics and a good violet colouration. There are some notable crystals of amethyst that grouped together to form clusters of high aesthetic composition.
The area where these crystals are extracted is situated near the town of Piedra Parada. The area is characterized by the deep gullies that cut through the Sierra Madre from the east. The deposit of amethyst was discovered by a stroke of luck after a miner’s son from Queretaro, Alfonso Ontiveros arrived to the town after having acquired some pieces of amethyst that had been found in the region. The pieces were so interesting that he began to purchase any available specimens and soon after the area became renown among collectors.

At first, the amethysts were collected from shallow mantles that were soon depleted. It was then that excavations began in the volcanic rock of Piedra Parada. They followed the veins of crystal quartz incrusted in the rock in order to reach the area of the amethysts. As one mine was exhausted the miners would move to a new, more promising location. And so the amethysts of Las Vigas have been regularly available in the mineral market and often mentioned in various reports (White, 1970; Wilson, 1976; Robinson and King, 1991; Moore, 1995).
In 1980, Peter Green arrived to the town to establish a business for extracting specimens using a hammer drill. Up until this year, there had only been a small group of local families selling amethysts in Las Vigas. Since they could not rely on sales to the sporadic buyers they preferred to make their living from livestock production. For this reason the American decided to create a business that would help the miners to extract the minerals in a systematic way.
In 1983, some unusual, brilliant crystals were found, that were identified as brown to green andradite garnets. Peter Green, together with his partner Chris Boyd, decided to search for this species, which until now had only been found in communist countries and was difficult to extract. These demantoid gems were very rare and expensive in the United State of America, so when they realized that there were deposits of garnet underneath the layers of amethyst, they began more formal excavations. This deposit is the only one of its kind in the world according to the Gemological Institute of America.
On account of the characteristics of the terrain it is hoped that they will continue find new and extraordinary deposits in the rocks of volcanic andesite. At 300 metres down the mantle of amethyst is located and between 500 and800 metres down is a formation of marble that is mined industrially. The greenish garnet crystals are found in isolated cavities between the marble and the andesite. The amethysts from Las Vigas vary in their intensity of colour. The crystals from different clefts, including those of the same specimen, can be colourless or a deep purple colour.
The pale crystals, generally attached to the walls of the cavities, were the first to be formed and those that grew later exhibit graduated shades of violet. The purple colour is the result of radiation and the presence of iron in its crystal lattice. There are minimal amounts of gamma radiation present in all igneous rocks that have accumulated over a period of hundreds of thousands of years. When examined under a microscope, nearly all quartz crystals, including the pale ones, possess some degree of lepidocrocite or ruby mica, and although all are found in ferrous solutions, the presence of iron itself is not a factor that alters the tone of the crystal, rather the ability of the quartz to assimilate it. This is due to the different thermal conditions they went through during millions of years. The wonderful outcrop of spectacular amethysts of Las Vigas has built its reputation and will continue to impress collectors for many years.

Luis Lyons photo

Luis Lyons photo

Luis Lyons photo