In Memoriam: Longtime Gemstone & Jewelry Collector and Dealer Dr. Gary Ralph Hansen Dies

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

Respected and passionate gem and specimen dealer and estate jewelry purveyor Gary Ralph Hansen, Ph.D., died peacefully at home in St. Louis on Feb. 2, 2024. He was 83. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and four sons—Benjamin, Matthew, Michael, and Jonathan—as well as his twin sister, grandchildren, and other relatives.

Hansen was born and raised with his sister in South Dakota. In his youth, he collected Agate, Jasper, and fossils, planting the seeds for a love of minerals. Later, he studied chemistry at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, ultimately obtaining a Ph.D. in it from the University of Iowa. For years, he worked as an organic chemist as well as teaching the subject at the University of Idaho. While straddling the academic and professional worlds of chemistry, he and Barbara and their four sons moved to St. Louis for the Monsanto Company. Around that time, in the late 1960s, he debuted a small mineral business called Hansen’s Hut, a nod back to that budding interest born during his days in his home state, which also had some bigger rocks—Mount Rushmore.

In Memoriam: Longtime Gemstone & Jewelry Collector and Dealer Dr. Gary Ralph Hansen Dies

“He worked summers there as a baker,” says Barbara, revealing they had just celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary on Jan. 3. “He also had a rose Quartz [the state mineral of South Dakota] claim that we used to take the kids to. He loved mining and did some himself. He could teach others how to recover gold from sludge piles.”

Hansen’s passion for minerals and gemstones grew so much that he traded chemistry for full-time rockhounding. He changed the business’s name to Hansen Minerals and began field collecting and dabbling in various mining operations all over the U.S. As he acquired more knowledge and understanding of the field, he became a resource and authority for many, including high-profile museums like the Smithsonian Institute. The Mineralogical Record also leaned on his savvy in the 1970s and 1980s to serve as an auctioneer for fundraising events. They took place in Arizona, during the Tucson gem shows, where he also became involved with AGTA. In the formative days of the association, Hansen manned a booth at the DoubleTree Hotel Tucson Reid Park. At GemFair Tucson, he met organization founders like Ray Zajicek of Equatorian Imports, among others. He attended GemFair Tucson every year up until just a few years ago.

David Cohen of Rafco International Gem Corp. met Hansen in Tucson in the early days. “He was honest, knowledgeable, a good listener, and handled some important gemstones,” he recalls. “He loved Sapphires, and I even sourced a 10.52 no-heat padparadscha Sapphire for him in 2022.”

The Winter Egg by FabergéPhoto: Christies
The Winter Egg by Fabergé Photo: Christies

In the 1980s, his focus shifted more to high-end colored stones and estate jewelry. He and Barbara traveled extensively throughout the world. They loved the arts and did a fair amount of business in Paris. A career highlight? Handling the sale of the “Winter Egg” from Fabergé, made in 1913 and featuring 3,000 Diamonds. Hansen worked with an auction house to broker the sale to a private collector.

A trip that Barbara sat out was a no-frills affair to China in the 1980s. “He was invited by the Chinese government to inspect the potential of an alluvial deposit of Diamonds before Tiananmen Square [the massacre],” she says. It was a remotely located find, with spartan accommodations, but he was able to buy some samples to bring home.

A padparadscha Sapphire from The Rare Gem
A padparadscha Sapphire from The Rare Gem

Son Michael Hansen will run the family business, as he’s already been a fixture in it for 30-plus years. “[My dad’s] knowledge of gemstones opened doors for him in the estate jewelry world,” he says. “He had a passion for colored stones.”

Hansen did not want a funeral, so his family will organize a celebration of life later this year in St. Louis. In lieu of flowers, the family requests any donations be made to the charity of your choice.

Reach Michael Hansen, Hansen’s Minerals, at 314-569-0842.

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