Make space for the new collectables
The trainers made of meteorite that cost £10,000 – and the other space collectables that are out of this world and up for auction
- Elon Musk, Steven Spielberg and Nicolas Cage are among the A-list collectors
- READ MORE: Star Wars toy collection fetches out-of-this-world £322,000 at auction as figures sell for up to £11,400 each
What do you buy the man who has everything? A chunk of the cosmos is a good place to start.
What price a tiny sphere of iron formed in the molten core of an asteroid 4.4 billion years ago? Or Libyan ‘desert glass’ created 29 million years ago when a comet struck Earth’s prehistoric dunes?
From Christie’s auction halls to Ebay dealerships, the market for meteors is booming, as auction records keep tumbling.
Elon Musk, Steven Spielberg, Nicolas Cage, Yo-Yo Ma, Uri Geller and James Taylor are among the A-listers who have splashed fortunes on hunks of the heavens.
The crypto crowd go wild for glittering pallasite star falls, peppered with winking yellow ‘space gems’, or curved obsidian lumps of cosmic iron, baked beneath a tortured ‘fusion crust’ hewn by the heat of atmospheric entry that reaches a red-hot 1,800 degrees celsius.
From Christie’s auction halls to Ebay dealerships, the market for meteors is booming, as auction records keep tumbling
A slice of meteorite proven to have fallen from the moon can sell for between £180,000 and £250,000.
The most valuable on record, a specimen of the monolithic Fukang meteorite, found in a mountainous area of China in 2000, sold last year for £525,000. And the market is only getting madder.
A tin dog kennel struck by a meteorite in Costa Rica in 2019 sold for £220,000 (the dog, a german shepherd, was unharmed).
Shavings of the Seymchan meteorite, found in Russia in 1967, with semiprecious amber olivine embedded in shimmering iron-nickel metallic crystals, were fitted into the design of a New Balance shoe by the Manchester-based sneaker designer Matt Burgess and sold at auction for £10,000 (it was a commission by Netflix to celebrate the release of Hollywood film Don’t Look Up).
‘It’s mind-blowing,’ says Burgess. The meteorite in question had hurtled through space for 4.5 billion years. ‘You cannot fathom that amount of time.’
Think about it: the oldest thing in the universe sparkling on a blingtastic trainer.
‘They’re great gifts,’ says Mitch HunterScullion, CEO of London-based Asteroid Mining Corporation, a tech start-up that procures and analyses meteors to stake claims on their deep-space parent asteroids, in the hope that one day we’ll send rockets up to mine them.
They’ve spent more than £10,000 on meteorites over two years, and Hunter-Scullion likes to give out cheaper samples to friends, business contacts and, in one case, his girlfriend’s former boss as a leaving present. It certainly beats a bottle of wine.
‘If you give someone a meteorite they will think about space, asteroids and their position on the planet compared to the entire solar system around them,’ says Hunter-Scullion.
‘How it’s a dynamic place. How there’s much more going on out of sight, behind clouds, than they probably were considering. I think that leads people into knowing their place in things. That’s why I like meteorites.’ (I asked the former boss about the alien gift: she’d lost it.)
Yours for £10,000: The New Balance Dibiasky 550 trainers, which contain real meteorite
Prices fluctuate wildly. Take the fireball that exploded above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on 15 February 2013 and buried itself like buckshot across miles of frozen countryside, arguably the extraterrestrial event of the century: an airburst 30 times brighter than the sun that shattered windows for 200km, creating a shockwave that went around the Earth twice.
Google it to witness astonishing dashboard camera footage of the incident, above a city going about its daily business; 1,100 people were injured, most by shattered glass, some by ultraviolet burns and temporary flash blindness.
Christie’s sold a fragment roughly the size of a pepper shaker for £11,250.
Alternatively, you can pick up what purports to be a sliver on Ebay for as little as £7.97 (or ground-up meteorite – a thimbleful of stardust – for £4 to £10). Demand outstrips supply, hence so many frauds (known in the trade as ‘meteor-wrongs’) pockmarking the market.
Meteorite hunters recover just eight to ten fresh falls a year, and these vanishingly rare hauls splinter and spread like fragments of the True Cross. Little wonder. Space has rarely felt closer.
Commercial companies from China and India to Russia and the West are driving humanity’s greedy clutches at a clip not seen since the Cold War.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is aiming to launch 100 rockets this year, having fired one of its nifty machines into space (and back) once every six days in 2022. And emerging markets are creating new, ultra-wealthy hobbyists.
Naveen Jain, an Indian billionaire who is attempting to build spacecraft to mine gold and platinum on the moon, has accrued Earth’s largest private meteorite collection, valued at more than £3.6 million. (He collects only meteorites that someone has seen streaking through the atmosphere, known as ‘witnessed falls’.)
Cyberspace geekery is a factor, too. ‘Another reason the market has exploded, we noticed during lockdown, is that a lot of crypto clients were coming to meteorites,’ says James Hyslop, Christie’s specialist for Science & Natural History, who hosts the auction house’s Deep Impact meteor auctions (in 2015 the house brought in around £187,000 in meteor sales; three years later that had more than doubled).
And the average age of buyers has plummeted. ‘I think there’s something about the divisibility and the rarity of meteorites that appeals to some of that crypto crowd,’ says Hyslop.
‘There’s a parallel with Bitcoin. ‘But I also think lots of people looking to make a killing on crypto simply want to have something real.’ See also: the mega-competitive elite looking to blow away their rivals.
‘Among ultra-high-net-worth collectors, there’s a trend towards having three or five of the very best examples, rather than what collectors looked for 30 years ago, which was a more encyclopedic collection of meteorites,’ says Hyslop.
How do you value a space rock? ‘The diamond industry uses the four Cs: cut, colour, clarity and carat, but for meteors I use the four Ss: size, shape, science and story,’ says Hyslop.
Double the size means twice the price. Shape comes down to its ‘sculptural quality’: does the parabolic curve of a fragment convey the quality of a Henry Moore masterpiece? Does the mangled iron latticework evoke an angular Giacometti?
Then there’s science: some Martian meteorites have elements of water locked inside; some meteorites predate the dawn of the solar system itself, containing the building blocks of life as we know it.
Aside from all the destruction, there’s a certain romance to the sky falling on our heads. Stars excite us: no one wishes upon a stalactite.
There are facts I love too: that meteorites may smell like blood (the high iron content), tar, gunpowder or rotten eggs; that the collective weight of every known meteorite is less than the world’s annual output of gold; that much of London is built of meteor falls (Irongate House in Aldgate is made from rock hit by a meteorite three billion years ago; traces of the impact are visible in black veins across the stone); that they create as well as destroy, wiping out the dinosaurs but providing the elements for life on Earth.
Men aren’t from Mars. But I’d bite your hand off for a chunk of it.
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