By Rachneet Randhawa, November 20 2021—
Welcome to the world of gemstones. The mineral kingdom came alive at the Big Four Roadhouse from Oct. 28–31 at the Rock N’ Gem show hosted by Silver Cove Ltd. — the largest company of its kind in Canada which specializes in every aspect of mineral trade including rock hunting and prospecting, manufacturing and design, education and evaluation and getting the finished product to the end consumer.
The show itself displayed everything from mineral specimens, fossils, crystals, jewelry and so much more. The Gauntlet sat down with the owner and operator of Silver Cove, mineral relocation technician and show promoter, Chris Robak, to learn more.
According to Robak, a gem is a rare crystallized item that mother nature has produced. The difference between a regular rock versus a mineral is all in the crystallization of which gems are a polished version of.
“You’ve got special temperatures that took place to create something rare.,” says Robak. “A lot of them are created by hydrothermal activity. Some of them are created from sedimentary events or occurrences.”
Currently, Robak owns 56 sites in British Columbia and several in Alberta in which they hunt for minerals and gemstones. Robak’s passion for rocks and gems began early as it was a big part of his childhood.
“My mother and father actually owned an ammolite manufacturing facility in Rimbey. And I got into it. When I was in grade five, my mother and father launched their own little rock and gem business out of their basement. Backyard geology is something that I’ve specialized in for years,” says Robak.
Robak launched his company Silver Cove in 2006 alongside his wife, which started as a hobby at casual farmer market displays. From there, it morphed into a storefront at the mall to eventually become an independent store. He claims that according to Phil Curry, a well-known Canadian Paleontologist and museum curator who helped found the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, only five per cent of the fossil record has been discovered on Earth.
“I’m really hoping that what we’ve been doing over the years will encourage people to get more into geology or more into the paleontology fields,” says Robak.
As for how Robak secures partnerships with international vendors, he claims that unlike his company, most minerals are not ethically sourced except for some small vendors at farmer’s markets. Robak himself has personally travelled the world scavenging for gems from mines outside of Casablanca, southern parts of Brazil, Seoul and even Madagascar in which a Queen owns the mineral deposits from which they excavated — he has nearly 27 COVID tests to prove it.
He fosters genuine relationships with local vendors across the world. For example, when he goes to Brazil, he meets up with one of the vendors who takes him around to the major dealers — which leads to more authentic, personal business.
This is crucial as we see unethical practices on social media like posts on Facebook that speak of the harsh conditions miners are facing. Robak claims he’ll never carry an unethical product. As both a business owner and consumer you want to ensure you are being accountable and transparent with what you buy and sell.
“When your business gets to a certain level in this industry, you become a family with the miners.”
However, doing business in a foreign country is not always smooth. In places like India, many new workers come on as apprentices and learn the trade, like cutting Merkaba on the factory floor, only to default to another factory nearby in a couple of weeks resulting in copycat outcomes.
Despite having travelled the world, Robak has his sights set on looking in his own backyard of Canada and excavating more locally.
“I travelled to mineral deposits for a full year in Canada, or at least for two full seasons,” he says. “And that was when I really realized that there needs to be a need to get this to market.”
As for how his team ensured to follow all COVID regulations for the show, they decided to use the vaccine passport and a negative COVID test which is the standard for admission to most venues including exhibition parks.
If not for the regulations, COVID actually helped to put things into perspective for Robak, including spending time with loved ones. Before COVID, they were hosting 26 shows a year from Vancouver to Ottawa.
“COVID taught me what’s more important in life,” says Robak. “I was able to reflect and be able to spend some time down for three months, stores were shut down, shows were shut down. So for pre-COVID, we did 26 shows a year. Now after COVID rolling into 11.”
The biggest challenge of organizing such a large event was ensuring the minerals are priced and labelled correctly and organized promptly.
“That’s probably 260 tables in here right now of our product and sourced from all over the world. And the hardest part is definitely the labelling and pricing. But beyond that, it’s getting it set up and getting it torn down in a timely and organized fashion,” says Robak.
How does an event such as this shape the culture of the city? Robak says that rocks and gems are always trending. Their product is unique in the sense that they are introducing so much Canadian content to the Calgary market and they provide diversity compared to other stores in Calgary which only cater to international destinations.
As for what one can do to get the most out of events like this, Robak replied that it depends on individual tastes.
“If minerals are something you want to get into, you got to figure out what interests you because walking into a room like this full of crystals and minerals and not knowing how you want to get into it or what it is you like, can be a little overwhelming.”
As for how events like this support local businesses, including vendors at the show, times are difficult but they are making momentum once more.
“I know vendors that have run into a lot of financial trouble because the shows have been shut down,” says Robak. “I know full exhibition companies that are on the brink of going under because they keep cancelling events. When you’re running an exhibition-based company and you have no way to pay your staff — it’s been two years, we were lucky enough that we have the stores, we have the online sales, we sell [on] our Facebook, 8–12 hours a day.”
As for future projects, Robak aims to donate a portion of his mining sites to up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
“I have 56 claims in British Columbia,” he says. “I’m going to give away 40 of those sites to young entrepreneurs that want to get into rock hunting and mineral and gem hunting and digging.”
For those interested in learning more about exciting new gem discoveries you can check out the Silver Cove website and follow Chris Robak on social media including Instagram and TikTok. Next time the Rock N’ Gem show is in town, be sure to check it out and perhaps even grab a stone or two.