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Condor agate was discovered and named by Luis de los Santos in 1993. It is found in the mountains near San Rafael, in Mendoza Province, Argentina. This agate exhibits vibrantly colorful bands and patterns, and has become a popular stone among collectors and jewelry designers.
Argentina-born Luis interest in minerals reaches back into his childhood when he collected odd and attractive pebbles. Like some many youngsters, Luis was not able to keep his random collection, but his love of minerals lingered. When Luis grew up, he studied acting and work in construction. As he handled the wood used in construction, he began to collect wooden object, in particular wooden eggs. Then he saw an egg carved from Argentina’s famous banded red Catamarcan rhodochrosite; this renewed his interest in rocks and minerals, specially rhodochrosite, with its varied and attractive patterns and colors.
On one of Luis visits to Catamarca Province, he happened to talk with and old friend of Dr. Franz Mansfeld, a German geologist noted for his contributions to the literature on the Catamarca rhodochosite deposit. This friend told Luis of an agate field that Mansfeld had seen in the Northern limit of Patagonia. Luis realized that finding the agate field would be both exciting and fruitful, so he made repeated visits to Northern Patagonia and Mendoza region, asking questions of the locals in hope he might obtain information about Dr. Mansfeld’s travels, the routes he followed and the areas he explored.
On one of his trips, he saw a broken piece of a banded agate being used as a doorstop in a small hut in a remote area. By talking to the locals ranchers, he finally tracked down the deposit, a broad area of low hills where agates were scattered over the surface of several rhyolite and andesite outcrops. Such rock formations are typical sources of agate. Realizing he had made an important find, Luis collected what he could and brought this initial load to the United States. It sold instantly, and he immediately returned to collect again.
Since the region is remote, the agates have to be hand collected and packed out for long distances on horseback . Early on, Luis realized not all the agates were choice and colorful, many were severely damaged from natural causes. So he carefully examined each agate, setting up a selection process right on site. This was far more productive, as he bagged the better agates and left the less attractive agates in place. Horses transported the agates to a road, where they could be loaded on a truck for trans-shipment to Buenos Aires where Luis lived. From there, he could ship his product to the United States.
Luis soon realized he could do better in the agate business if he cut and polished his finds. So he moved to America and learned the necessary techniques, all the while going to more and more shows to sell what he now was calling Condor agates after the native birds that were abundant in the agate region.
In the early days of Condor agate collecting, a typical month of effort would yield 1 ton of good agates. Currently, excavation is require to find the agates, so an extra effort is needed to supply the ever growing demand for these superb gems. Initially, the agates were found scattered loose over the landscape and were readily harvested in quantity. Today, surface collecting is no longer prolific, so these agates are collected from shallow diggings in the cold agate fields in Mendoza province, Argentina.
- Pabian, Roger, et al. "Agates. Treasures of the Earth". Buffalo, New York, Firefly Books, 2006
- Faith E. Riesen, "Rock & Gem Magazine, Condor agate", Ventura, California, Miller Magazines, March 1993
- Bob Jones, "Rock & Gem Magazine, South American Condor agate", Ventura, California, Miller Magazines, September 1995
- Si & Ann Frazier, "Lapidary Journal, Soaring from Patagonia, Condor agate", December 1996, Interweave Magazines, Loveland, Colorado