mineral picture
mineral picture

About the Collection

Over 1000 faceted gemstones mounted in hand-made wire prongs with accompanying rough gem crystals, all in neatly labeled plexiglass bases, were displayed as the Vargas Gem Collection at venues in the western U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s until the collection found a permanent home in the early 1990s at the University of Texas at Austin's Department of Geological Sciences. An even larger number of gems and mineral specimens were donated to the Department in smaller allotments from 1987-2002. Glenn and Martha Vargas assembled their gem and mineral collections over a period of about 60 years beginning in the mid-1930s. For several decades they visited gem localities and gem centers in South America, Mexico, Australia, southeast Asia and Africa to obtain gem rough that they sold to faceters through Glenn’s mail order business. During the same period, they kept and faceted many of the best pieces for themselves; it is these gemstones, along with representative uncut crystal counterparts, which comprise the heart of the gem collection. Mineral specimens of the collection, both gem and non-gem, were also collected during this period, many from now classic localities in California, the western U.S. and Mexico.

Although the collection contains many outstanding gems, it is perhaps most notable for the variety of faceted minerals represented, many of which are seldom faceted. Equally unique is a faceting reference collection of 200+ quartz gemstones that were cut to verify faceting diagrams prior to publication of the Vargas and Vargas “Diagrams for Faceting” three-book series. Interesting “collections within the collection” also include mineral pseudomorphs, twinned crystals, synthetic gems and an extraordinary collection of gem quartz with inclusions. All can be viewed by using a sub-collection search option on the search page.

With the advent of digital cameras, photography of the collection began in 1999. Photography and a digital specimen inventory were completed in 2008. Using funds available from the Vargas Endowment for Gem and Gem Mineral Instruction, and under the supervision of Dr. Mark Helper, undergraduate geology students were employed throughout this period for database entry and photography. These included David Burns, Michael Michaelides, Hunter Danque, Tiffany Hedayati, Tamara Kahn, Stacey Bilich, Stephanie Mills, Moses Tsai and Martha Altobelli, many of whom were also recipients of the Vargas Gemological Scholarship.

The Vargas collection Web site is an outgrowth of two student multimedia projects supervised by faculty and staff at the University of Texas at Austin’s Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment. Funding for completion of the site was provided by the Jackson School of Geosciences.

A portion of the collection is on permanent display in the University of Texas at Austin Jackson Geoscience Building. For visiting hours and further information about visiting the collection please contact the Department’s administrative offices.