Noble stone or curse? Coins come straight from the surface

Written by By Adam Seaman, CNN One of the most expensive commodities on earth is black and shiny — but is it a gem or a precious metal? It’s a question many in the…

Noble stone or curse? Coins come straight from the surface

Written by By Adam Seaman, CNN

One of the most expensive commodities on earth is black and shiny — but is it a gem or a precious metal?

It’s a question many in the emerald world will be thinking about as the price of cobalt skyrockets.

On February 1, the Daily Mail reported that the price of cobalt had hit $15,000 a kilogram — up from $5,000 in 2015 — and prices are expected to keep rising.

Three-dimensional cobalt sculpture Hideo Arai wears. Credit: Hideo Arai, feng shui artist

The BBC reports that the price of cobalt has tripled in the last five years, and has doubled since 2016. Demand for the highly valuable chemical alloy is being driven by demand for electric batteries.

Small mines are cut out of tundra

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Most cobalt comes from small mines in Africa, where activists have blamed child labor for committing a crime against the earth.

But in the extreme north, in the Faroe Islands, another seemingly powerless landlocked outpost, the harsh landscape is being ingeniously transformed by artists, who have since 1994 cut out tiny clusters of cobalt.

In this case, this requires a lot of dynamite, and steep banks into which the powder is hurled.

Risky business

Playground sculptures make most sense here. Credit: Gerold Lehmann, anglo-american painter

To test whether a rock exists inside, experts need only insert a “diamond chip.”

“Once the diamond hits the cobalt, it remains the same color,” says Peter A-J Jones, geologist at the Royal School of Mines in Norway, who inspects the mines, the dendrites and tunnels of which date back to 1854.

On February 4, Norwegian authorities became the first to test cobalt outside the country.

Jamie Fuhrman was chief among them, for a month this fall, including the day of his inauguration at the pristine Princess Briga Island, a part of Norway’s scenic Shetland archipelago which lies a short crossing over the icy sea from Britain.

By stopping by the locked 4,000-foot tunnel, which was being scrutinized by experts, Fuhrman took a giant leap into the unknown.

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“We are re-imagining the surface of the Earth,” says William de Valk, dean of the School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Bergen, “without regard to the local geology and climate.”

To do so, he says, is essential because people “do not realize there are materials similar to cobalt underground, but different from those mined.”

“In my work,” he says, “I’m trying to tell the world that we have not explored these things yet.”

What follows is a detailed breakdown of how the mine is crafted, and what it takes to make them.

Experimenting with earth

His work is a homage to both science and art, as well as to the remote island where he lives in extreme conditions of isolation.

“I used to get excited when I was a kid,” he says. “I used to admire the moonscape, the pines and volcanoes.”

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