Is there a rock in our hands? In darkness in space, is this a glowing red thing beneath our feet?
So begins a wide-ranging interview with the man who found two tiny pieces of glittering stones under a couple of rocks in his back garden. It ended with sunrises across the globe, pinpricks of moonlight against a blazing summer sky, and a burst of cheers as the man was named as “the world’s greatest hunter of rare rocks”.
David Skleos’ girlfriend, Debbie Witteveen, hadn’t been out of the house in years. In her delight, however, she spied a sparkling rhododendron outside a stone recycling plant on the outskirts of London. When Skleos discovered two glimmering cylinders under two rocks, he told her: “You know what? This can’t be a pretty plant.”
How do you get grains of sand or stones out of the sandpit? And what do you do when you find a handful of unidentifiable stones?
These are among the questions which have been put to Skleos, an antique hunter who’s known as the world’s greatest collector of fine minute rocks. He will share details of his adventures with viewers across the globe on Monday night, when he records his latest episode for the BBC Nature series, Nature’s Hidden Wonders.
So how does he go about finding these rocks? Essentially, he has as much luck as throwing a stone down a mine shaft. A parent rocks, which are too broken to hold any grains of sand, are stripped off. Then carefully heaps stones back together, letting loose tiny shiny grains which, the conservation organisation Natural England informs him, are almost 100 times the size of a grain of sand. The glittering amber-tinted dots on the surface of the rocks “can be the size of a penny or your fist”, Skleos said.
“They’re very faint but you just notice a little dot, a little spark, and it’s shiny.”
Why are there so many colours in the rock? “If I’m going to spend time looking at an object that has a light-coloured tinge, then I should spend the time understanding the minerals that were involved,” Skleos said. Some rocks with silica they have layers of gold, silver, silver, of hematite, hematite with chromium and platinum, and germanium.
“The planets are shining too. Because of the amount of light reflected, I want to know the minerals that had a role in processing those light-coloured crystals into the red-coloured crystals.”
The coolest part of the project is “when it’s dark out in space, in darkness in space,” he said. “In darkness in space, anything can fall on to Earth.”
The rocks, he says, are “almost like diamonds”. Gold, silver, titanium and bronze, carbon, and iridium. He said: “If you have a magnet, a walnut in your hand, for example, it doesn’t behave like a diamond and it doesn’t act like a rock. It’s a pear.
“Everything is different. I call them forks and spoons, which kind of take in everything in terms of what’s interesting to see. They’re probably two-thirds food and one-third minerals.”
The gorgeous iridium colour makes Skleos and his girlfriend’s home in Lowestoft on the Norfolk coast look like a magnet which has magnetised lots of rocks to its surfaces. They have an impressive collection of gemstones, including a lady’s finger gemstone which the pair will never be able to wear without sunglasses.
“You pick them up out of the ground, which they certainly were in our case, and you hold it in your hand and you’re suddenly surrounded by gravel. And I see these stones shining at night and I say, how can I be getting them by a circuit breaker? I have to wonder about my life.”