For the last fifty-six years, the StMarie Aux Mines mineral show has attracted visitors from every corner of the World. The event takes place toward at the end of June. It is a mecca for everyone involved in every aspect of minerals.
This is the first of three articles about this event:
One – Overview of logistics and the show.
Two – I follow Carol Wallace and Liz Clark as they venture through the hundred of stands exhibitors.
Three – Carol and Liz post-show interview.
StMarie aux Mines is to be discovered in the Alsace region of France. It is near the French/German/Swiss borders. There is an airport at Colmar, although if you are buying minerals of any quantity, the only option is to drive. From the U.K this is a long trek. For us, it is 200 miles from home to the Channel Tunnel and then a four- hundred mile journey to our final destination.
Here is conservative expenses breakdown:
We set out on Friday morning and arrive mid-afternoon on Saturday. There is a feeling our Isuzu pick up knows it will have its work cut out on the return journey. The round trip of 1500 miles (including travelling around the area) means we burn around fifty-five gallons of fuel and at an average of six pounds to the gallon this year the total is 330 pounds. Incidentally, this is the first time in thirty plus years of travelling in Europe where the fuel prices far exceed the U.K. The tunnel, road tolls, accommodation and food soon has the expedition costing well over fourteen hundred.
Local accommodation is horrendously expensive over the week, and visitors are advised to book a year in advance. We stay in a beautiful village some miles away from the town: and this year our residence was shared with Campbell and Carol Wallace. I do not have the interest in crystals that Liz, Carol and Cam have, so I stay at home for three of the days and have the food ready for when they return. I visit for one day, and this was enough to follow Carol and Liz as they select their items and for me to accumulate the information for this series of articles.
The show attracts around thirty thousand visitors, and the majority descend on the town over the weekend. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are trade and early-bird days, and this is when the deals and bulk purchases are made. The weekend is for the general public, and they are rewarded with an incredible array of specimens from around the World.
From my perspective, the public days are tough, and involve queues and waiting. For example on our way home on Saturday morning we have the drive near to StMarie, the traffic jam down to the park and ride area meant we had a one hour wait before we came to our exit roundabout.
If you are early-bird or trade, the show also means long walks from the car parks to the show areas. Yes, there is parking near to the zones, however, these soon fill, so the only alternative park and walk. If you make many purchases, this will entail an arduous trek at the end of an exhausting day.
What can be expected during a visit? The first consideration is the event takes over the whole of the town. There are two zones, zone Gem and zone Mineral. Within the zones, there are smaller areas which are focussed on more specific aspects of the zone. In the Gem zone, you’ll find raw and cut precious gemstones, and cutting and polishing equipment. Another area is dedicated to beads and fittings. In the zone Mineral, the visitors will see everything from a one euro tumble to a 48000 euro sphere.
We all have differing perspectives. It is felt that for anyone who has a significant interest in minerals or gems it is worthwhile to consider the show. One must remember it is almost certain the weather will be scorching (38-40 degrees this year), and there is little option but to walk around the stalls. I saw some electric wheelchairs, but access is, in some areas, very tight indeed.
That being written, it is still recognised as a World class exhibition. Not only does the visitor have the opportunity to buy from an eclectic choice, but there are also hundreds of talks, seminars and presentations. It is suggested, everyone interested in gems and minerals should consider the visit as worthwhile. If one is visiting at the weekend as a member of the public, do not think you will be entering a haven of bargains and ‘knock down’ prices: Remember, there are tens of thousands of people visiting the show, the dealers do not have to haggle, there are plenty who will pay the displayed price.
Flying into Colmar and then onto the show is a good option. Even so, the visitor would still have to hire a car to get to StMarie. Of course, you could only bring back purchases up to the airline baggage allowance. As already written, to my mind, this is not a good option if you desire to purchase trade stock. Flying to the destination is an option if you are a weekend visitor. Like everything in life, ‘You make a choice and pay for it’.
See You Soon