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What is Blue Lace Agate? 

Contents

1. Blue Lace Agate: The Whole Story
2. George Swanson South African Cowboy
3. Blue Lace Agate | End of the Road
4. Article Photos

Blue Lace Agate: The Whole Story

Blue Lace Agate is a rare variety of the mineral chalcedony.  It's characterised by distinctive blue and white wavy bands.  Although some material can resemble blue agate, it's not the same stone.

For many years, the vast majority of Blue Lace Agate came from Farm 254, Ysterputs, Karasburg West, Southern Namibia.  The deposit is not far from the border with South Africa.

The surrounding area is incredibly dry and barren, and rain is exceptionally rare.  By day, the temperature can be almost unbearable but at night, it can drop to below freezing.

The deposit where Blue Lace Agate is found is believed to date back approximately 54 million years.

Blue Lace Agate is synonymous with George Swanson who it's claimed, discovered the mine around 1962.  That's not quite accurate however, because it was actually discovered by Willy Preiss.

Preiss lived 400 miles away in Namibia's capital Windhoek, which made managing operations at Ysterputs very difficult.

When George Swanson was given the opportunity to run the mine from his home in Springbok (South Africa) which is much closer, he worked hard to make it a success.

In 1969, Preiss and Swanson struck a deal to transfer ownership. Once transferred, the deposit remained under George Swanson's control until his death in 2010.Mining Blue Lace Agate was never easy.  The stone is located deep inside a narrow trench and was initially extracted by hand.  As recently as 2015, miners were climbing down chain-ladders to access it.

After being removed with chisels and jackhammers, the stone was raised to the surface in buckets. The buckets were attached by chains to a crane at the side of the pit.  For this reason, large pieces of Blue Lace Agate are extremely rare.

Mining operations are believed to have started in 1962, but the first official production figures didn't appear until three years later. For the next fifty years, huge quantities of Blue Lace Agate were excavated and traded around the world.

Following his death, George Swanson's son took over the business but due to lack of interest, poor management or a bit of both, mining operations were dramatically scaled back.

Since 2017, no Blue Lace Agate has been mined from Ysterputs on Farm 254.  Visitor access is forbidden.

The first time I bought Blue Lace Agate for Stone Mania was in Jaipur in India in 2004.  The cabochons which we had mounted as pendants were always popular.

During my first trip to South Africa in 2010 to buy rocks and minerals for Stone Mania, Blue Lace Agate was high on my list.  I bought many amazing pieces but the amount available decreased with every subsequent visit.

By 2014, apart from tumbled stones, there was nothing left worth buying.  Only then did I learn where Blue Lace Agate came from.

After George Swanson passed away in 2010, mining operations were quickly scaled back.

George Swanson - South African Cowboy

In 2023, I found someone in South Africa with a limited quantity of Blue Lace Agate.  I asked him about George Swanson and the situation with the Ysterputs mine.  He told me this story and gave me permission to publish it;

"Mrs Swanson was a pioneer in the Northern Cape in the heyday of hunting for minerals.  George followed in her footsteps and developed the industry further.  He moved with his family to South Africa from America while very young but later returned to study agriculture.

Upon returning to South Africa, he became interested in minerals and prospecting for rare stones.  His mother's is likely to have influenced this change in direction. 

George was one of the founding members of the Cape Town Gem and Mineral Club.  By the time I met him, he was already an old guy.  He was a classic cowboy as he looked exactly how you'd expect a cowboy to look.  He always wore a bolo tie and massive belt buckle, both of which had a Blue Lace Agate.  He also wore a large hat.During the early years, he struggled to sell the newly found Blue Lace Agate.  That changed when a celebrity saw one of his polished spheres at the Tucson Mineral Show.  They said it looked like the view of Earth from space and that comment put George on the map.

All of the Blue Lace Agate mined at Ysterputs was taken back to his yard in Springbok.  There, it was cleaned and processed before being sold to dealers across South Africa and around the world.

Visitors were welcome but he wasn't an easy man to do business with.  We stopped by the yard every now and then to see what he had. He was a tough bugger and we paid good money for the stone.  He rarely gave discounts, especially to people like us because we only bought in small quantities.

With some haggling, we would sometimes get a few cents off in the end if we were lucky. 

Many bad things were said about old George, but each month, he made the long drive to the Cape Town Gem and Mineral Club to sell his Blue Lace Agate.  He was totally committed.  He did many fairs, even if he did sometimes turn up a day or so late.     

After George passed away, his son Lionel took over the running of the business.  I believe he now lives in the USA. He quickly sold everything off and not much has been heard from him since.polished blue lace agate stoneThe ownership of the Blue Lace Agate mine in Ysterputs is now in dispute between different parties.  Nothing has been done about it for many years.

Going back to the mine was really scary, it was left in a terrible state.  Anyone taking over will have huge health and safety concerns to contend with which is likely to make future mining for Blue Lace Agate extremely difficult.

The supervisors who still live there are trying to make ends meet.  They're not allowed to mine or remove any of the stone.  That leaves them with a material known as Crazy Lace which, although quite good, is not amazing.

They're struggling to get by but are coping.  Later this year, there's a field trip in the area and a few of the guys will pop in to make sure they're okay.

The Blue Lace Agate from Ysterputs is really fantastic.  It cuts and polishes very well, the colour is deeper than the Zambian or Malawi material and, in terms of finish, once polished it's much better than anything from anywhere else.

Good old George, a tough bugger but a character none of us will forget."

two rough pieces of blue lace agate

Blue Lace Agate | End of the Road

The Blue Lace Agate that I subsequently received was really outstanding.  Sadly, there's now almost nothing left available to buy.  

"Namibian Blue Lace Agate" is an amazing website worth visiting.  It features information and many incredible photos.  However, it's only for information purposes, so stone cannot be bought online or from the owner directly. 

Article Photos

The photo of George Swanson was taken sometime before 2001.

The Blue Lace Agate is from our collection. 

The photo of the rough stones is clickable and redirects to the original image. 

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