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Photos: Meteorite hunter lands partnership with jewellery maker

Steve Arnold has made a career out of tracking, dealing and collecting debris from outer space. He even scored his own TV show, Meteorite Men, on Discovery Science. His latest entrepreneurial endeavour includes a partnership with Zanis & Co., a jewellery and watch business.

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Twenty years ago, in an attempt to learn more about treasure hunting using a metal detector, Steve Arnold came across a story of a woman who sold a meteorite to the University of Kansas in 1890. “If meteorites were worth something in the 1800s," he said, "and I think they have metal in them, I bet a metal detector would pick them up!"

Courtesy of Steve Arnold

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After determining that meteorites are largely composed of metallic iron-nickel, Mr. Arnold began visiting areas where meteorites had previously been found. It's a general rule that when a meteorite hits the Earth's atmosphere, it breaks apart and falls in a predictable pattern.

Sergey Nivens/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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While the location of buried treasure such as gold, silver and gems is sometimes falsified, it’s a different story when it comes to meteorites. Due to the scientific value they hold for researchers, their locations are often accurately documented and widely available. For example, if there's an area where 55 pieces of meteorite have been discovered in the past, there's a good chance that there's a 56th piece hanging around somewhere, Mr. Arnold explains.

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Mr. Arnold faces a number of challenges when hunting for meteorites, including physical ones like extreme cold, heat or rain. He says it's also frustrating to spend days or weeks looking for a meteorite, only to come up empty. Furthermore, even when he locates one, it's not always easy to find a buyer.

Courtesy of Steve Arnold

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Meteorites that come from the moon (Lunar) and Mars (Martian) are the most desired, with valuable, rich histories as far as their formation goes. Mr. Arnold describes these as "little time capsules that contain important information." Nearly 50,000 meteorites have been verified and identified: 85 come from the moon and approximately 75 are from Mars.

Fred Lum for The Globe and Mail/A piece of meteorite that originated form Mars. The space rock was ejected from the planet after something impacted the surface

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Mr. Arnold and his wife are the co-owners of Arnold Meteorites And More, a retail store in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It’s the only meteorite store in North America (the world's other two are located in France and Moscow). One happy customer on TripAdvisor said: “This place absolutely ROCKS!!!”

Photo courtesy of photographer Doug Wertman (doug_wertman) of Flickr/An old water tower on display at the Eureka Springs and Northern Arkansas Railway station in Eureka Springs, AR on May 8, 2009

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Some customers are “totally unimpressed” by what they find in the shop, says Mr. Arnold. But others stare at the rocks in awe. "It's fun to step back and watch how different people respond." Every meteorite has a story of how it formed in the solar system and what changes it's gone through. And that's what the scientific mind is attracted to.

Courtesy of Arnold Meteorites and More

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A typical week for Mr. Arnold may include a few days at the retail shop, and a weekend attending a gem and mineral show. But then there are those special, unpredictable events that have him packing his bags. Roughly three to four times a year, he explains, there's an 'event' that's promising enough to warrant dropping everything. But like breaking news, which shows up when you least expect it, "fireballs aren't things you can schedule," he says.

Courtesy of Steve Arnold

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Mr. Arnold got his big break in October, 2005, when he discovered the Brenham meteorite, a pallasite – an extremely rare class, accounting for only 1 per cent of meteorites, according to World Record Meteorite. The discovery was made near Haviland, a small town between Wichita and Dodge City in Kansas. Mr. Arnold excavated the complete, 650-kg oriented pallasite from its resting place two metres underground. It was the largest pallasite ever recovered in the United States, and the largest oriented pallasite in history.

Courtesy of Steve Arnold

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The discovery changed his life in many ways, setting off a series of dominoes – including coverage in national newspapers, appearances on NBC's Today show and his own television show, Meteorite Men, on Discovery Science. "There was something about it," he says. "Maybe it was a really slow news day – it got some traction and it really did pick up a lot of interest in the media."

Courtesy of Steve Arnold

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Given the time constraints imposed by its shooting schedule, Mr. Arnold admits the show was “a bit problematic.” Expected to find a meteorite in each episode, Mr. Arnold and his partner Geoffrey Notkin would sometimes spend four or five days searching without much luck. But rather than stay an extra day or two on the hunt, they would have to move on to the next location, where flights and interviews were lined up. By the third season it was very difficult to find something in every episode, he says.

Courtesy of the Science Channel

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Though he doesn’t regret taking part in the show, which has concluded after three seasons, he says he feels liberated not being tethered to a film crew. The lighter schedule has also given him the chance to pursue other avenues, including a unique partnership with a jewellery and watch startup based in Toronto.

Courtesy of Steve Arnold

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Zanis & Co. manufactures jewellery and timepieces out of Moon dust, Mars dust and space crystals. John Kanakis is the CEO of the company, which he incorporated in 2012. He says: “There has been a revival in space travel and exploration these days and we were wondering, 'how could the Nuvati Watch be part of this?'”

Zanis & Co.

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Inspired by the innovative Elon Musk, Mr. Kanakis thought to himself: if Space X can be the first private company to fly to Mars, then Zanis & Co. could be the first company to put the universe on someone’s watch.

AP

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The Nuvati Watch is the company’s signature piece. It includes three celestial elements, as well as diamonds, which represent the start of the universe, randomly floating in the watch face. The watches retail from $1,200 to $5,000.

Zanis & Co.

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Mr. Arnold oversees the sourcing of the meteorites to ensure that Zanis & Co. obtains them from ethical and credible sources. He also reviews and approves their third party authentication process. “Steve brought the experience and level of confidence we needed to proceed with this project,” says Mr. Kanakis. “We needed to be 100 per cent confident that the pieces used in the Nuvati Watch are authentic. Steve's credibility and documented findings of rare meteorites was very important for us, thus he became a shareholder and partner in Zanis & Co.”

Zanis & Co.

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“When John started telling me about their vision of infusing space and time,” says Mr. Arnold, “I got excited.” He also appreciated the fact that Zanis & Co., through its luxury watches, exposed new segments of the population to the story of meteorites. “It’s not your typical rock collector who would be buying one of these watches,” says Mr. Arnold.

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Though Mr. Arnold is deeply immersed in the world of meteorites, an encounter with a reporter made him realize how truly strong their pull can be to a wider audience.

Courtesy of Steve Arnold

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In 2005, the Wichita Eagle wrote a follow-up story about a month after his major discovery of the Brenham pallasite. The reporter covering the story told Mr. Arnold that his meteorite discovery got more page views on the website than any other story in the history of the newspaper. “Who would’ve thought?” says Mr. Arnold, dumbfounded. “Yes, [the meteorite] was unique and valuable, but in Kansas, people win the lottery every week…”

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And although Mr. Arnold can’t explain why his story resonated so strongly with readers across the world, he offers a theory: “Maybe it’s that a meteorite could, and does, land anywhere on the planet, randomly, so someone could have one in their backyard. Obviously we’re all on this ball buzzing around the sun in space. And we all have space in common.”

Courtesy of Steve Arnold

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