Interview with Mendy Ouzillou from Skyfall Meteorites

The following is an interview with Mendy Ouzillou, founder of Skyfall Meteorites.

One of the things I love the most about what we do is learning about unique esoteric markets that I didn’t even know existed.

Take the podcast Horacio Ruiz did yesterday with Mendy Ouzillou. This guy is a meteorite collector/dealer who left Silicon Valley to found SkyFall Meteorites and now heads up the Global Meteorite Association.

He goes on meteorite hunting trips to the Sahara and Gobi Desert, working with dealers and hunters in Morocco, and navigating complex international laws.

It’s a fascinating market. Tangible, impossible to fake. Interest is growing — especially from the Chinese. How cool would it be to invest in an ultra-rare meteorite?

You can listen to the podcast through Spotify or YouTube.


Intro

Horacio:           Today’s guest will leave quite an impact on you. Yes, pun intended. We’re talking meteorites with the founder of SkyFall Meteorites, Mendy Ouzillou. We’ll get into all sorts of topics like meteorites as an asset class, Mendy’s journey as a meteorite dealer, and his appreciation for the science at the backbone of the hobby. Hope you enjoy today’s crash course on meteorites with Mendy.

                        Mendy, it’s so great to have you on the podcast. I can’t tell you how excited I am for today. Just because I’m learning about something really new for me, obviously, always been curious about meteorites, but so great to talk to an expert.

Mendy:             Thank you very much. I appreciate you reaching out to me, so we could have this interesting conversation.

Horacio:           You’re referred to me by another meteorite dealer. The great thing is that all you guys have these great websites with all these pictures of you guys going to different places. Just a very kind of broad question, how cool are meteorites?

Mendy:             They’re out of this world cool, of course. Is that the right answer?

How Mendy got started in meteorites

Horacio:           Yeah, well, what I mean by it is, what is it about meteorite collecting? Because I know you weren’t doing that for forever. What is it that drew you in?

Mendy:             So, that’s a wonderful question and I do appreciate it. So, a lot of people that I meet that are collectors, has kind of led me to believe that in this world, there’s two types of people, those who like to collect things and those that don’t even get it. And that’s perfectly fine. We need both kinds of people in this world. But for me, I’ve been a collector of all sorts of things since I was a kid. So, from when I was a young boy, hunting around for fossils around where I lived, collecting stamps, and comic books, and obviously rocks and all that.

                        But what really just hooked me hard on meteorites really was that sense of wonder and awe and quite bluntly, smallness that you feel when you hold a rock that’s billions of years old. It kind of puts you in place within the universe, or at least the solar system. I mean, gosh, you’re just holding a piece of stuff from the very beginning of the solar system. So, how can that not be cool.

Horacio:           When you say that you used to collect other things. And it’s funny that in talking to collectors, they have that DNA. They collect different things and they’re passionate about it. And they enjoy doing those things. But then, they find that one thing that really draws them in, and it’s just great to hear those stories and how they got into it. And I referenced this earlier, you haven’t been doing this for your whole life. You had a separate career?

Mendy:             Yeah, it kind of came late in life. I started collecting just about 10 years ago. And I’m 55 now. And for me, what was just something I really appreciated is I’ve always really loved art, and history, and anthropology and just learning about all kinds of different things. And what’s really wonderful about meteorites is that you really get to blend all those things into one. I mean, even to the point of it kind of brings in theological questions. Are we alone in the universe? Is there even some kind of primordial life on other planets? What is our place in the universe? So, you don’t get that with really any other collectible.

                        And that sense of awe and you can also look at meteorites and you can go however deep you want and however high level you want. And one of the things I really enjoy learning about is certainly the scientific aspects and kind of digging into all that to the best of my ability, which of course I didn’t get my PhD as a meteoriticist, not to be confused with meteorologist. Anyways, I ramble. But I think I answered your question.

Horacio:           Kind of off topic here, but I’ve been researching a little bit. And there’s this idea that even meteorites could be responsible for seeding life on Earth. Right?

Mendy:             That’s right.

Horacio:           That meteorites brought in, I guess, some bacteria. I don’t know how to put it. But some cells and that they are kind of responsible for bringing life to Earth. I mean, that’s pretty far out. I mean, that’s something that you don’t think about on a day-to-day basis.

Mendy:             No, you’re absolutely right, certainly about the philosophical aspect. But let’s take a step back here. So, what has been proven is that there was a stage obviously, during the Earth’s accretion and then differentiation. And then as the Earth was being bombarded by all of these different kinds of meteorites, there were certain kinds of meteorites that brought in with them what I’ll call prebiotics. So, basically, it’s the building blocks of life, but not life itself. And I think we need to be very careful when we talk about that.

                        And I’m not even speaking here about religious reasons or anything like that, I’m just saying purely from a scientific standpoint, we know that a lot of these proteins and prebiotic sort of things came here within meteorites. Although there’s a little bit of disagreement there. And I’m not going to get too much into the science piece of it. But then these proteins assembled over time, and then we had evolved into early single cell life forms. And then, the rest of the story is written however you see fit.

                        But here’s one of the beautiful things about meteorites. I kind of view them as a time machine because they allow you to look way back into the very beginnings of the solar system. They’re a portal that allows you to walk through solid matter. Because through meteorites, we’ve learned about the composition of the Earth, from the core all the way up to the crust, because they give us insights into regions of the Earth that we would have literally no access to. Meteorites allow us to understand better how life forms in extreme environments. So, to me meteorites are a little bit of the superhero of the collecting world.

Horacio:           Yeah. And with you saying that, I’m sure, man, I’m sure that there’s going to be somebody listening that’s going to kind of get hooked, because just the things you just described, like the significance and kind of the theories that are bound, with early life and the early solar system in the universe, really fascinating.

Different types of meteorites

Mendy:             I’ll just give you a really quick example about the time machine effect. On the one hand, yeah, it allows you to look back in time, like I said. But there’s another really cool thing in that, as human beings, we have a really hard time understanding very large numbers. But for example, there are iron meteorites that are the remnants of protoplanet, whose core was exposed. And then metallic core cooled at a rate from anywhere from one degree centigrade to 10 degrees centigrade, and sometimes a little bit more, per million years.

                        And because of that incredibly slow cooling rate, many of these iron meteorites will develop crystalline patterns. So, can you imagine that a piece of molten iron can actually form into crystals. And as meteorite collectors, some of us are big fans of these iron meteorites. And long story short, they’re like little miniature works of art that were millions and millions and millions of years old in the making. And that’s really hard to comprehend. I mean, you think about holding a hot object in your hand. And to think that something could cool that slowly and allow the growth of crystals is just mind blowing.

Horacio:           Yeah. Are you referring to, and you correct me, to pallasites? Is that the kind of the classification for that?

Mendy:             So, pallasites are meteorites that belong to one of the three most basic categories, which are stony meteorites, you have iron meteorites, and then you have stony iron meteorites. And pallasites are stony iron meteorites. So, the iron portion of a pallasites can, and usually does, show these Widmanstätten patterns, these crystalline patterns. But what I was referring to earlier is also and more commonly seen in iron meteorites.

Horacio:           And the reason I bring it up is because I’ve been looking at pictures of them. And you’re absolutely right. What you just said was right on, man. They’re beautiful. And I can only imagine what it is like to hold it and kind of see it up close. But just the pictures and then you see the photographer putting it up against the sunlight, I mean, it’s just really cool. You wouldn’t think that the meteorite has those characteristics, that they can look so brilliant.

Meteorites as assets

Mendy:             Well, and since the impetus for this call is to discuss meteorites as asset classes, let me say this, that it’s interesting that you brought up pallasites, because those are the ones that really capture for the imagination of new collectors and highly experienced collectors. And interestingly enough, it’s also one of the meteorite classes that have seen pretty significant increase in value over, I’d say, the last five years.

Horacio:           Just so that we talk about that, and I know that a lot of the pricing is based off of grams or kilograms. Could you give me an idea of what that is, has, over the last five years, would you say prices have doubled per gram let’s say?

Mendy:             Yeah. So, again, whenever we talk about meteorites in their value, it’s critical to understand that like any other collectible, not every pallasite site is created equal, just like, not every painting was created equal. A five-year-old doing a finger paint is not going to sell as much as a Picasso, even if they were to use the exact same materials.

                        When we switched that kind of thinking over to meteorites, quality, rarity, the overall condition, all these things come into play. And certainly, with pallasites, you have what people consider the geminess of the olivine crystals, whether the meteorite itself is stable over the long term or if it requires a lot of maintenance and care to prevent rust. So, there’s a lot of considerations that go into that.

                        Now, to come back to answering your question though, here’s the way I would respond. So, there’s a couple of highly sought-after pallasites, one of them being Esquel and another one called Imilac, for example, which are considered some of the more, if not most beautiful pallasites out there that are certainly available to the general collector. Okay. Those have easily doubled in the last five years. And in some cases, I would even go as far as saying tripled.

Horacio:           When you say, I’m going to try to pronounce here again correctly, Esquel and Imilac.

Mendy:             Correct.

Horacio:           What does that refer to? Is that like a certain … The landfall where the region it was collected in?

How meteorites are named

Mendy:             So, the way meteorites are named really depends on the rules that are put out by the meteoritical society. And the rule state that you need to name a meteorite based on sometimes it’s the closest post office, sometimes it’s the closest land feature, or the name of the region. But overall, the names are certainly tied to a specific location as possible. So, for example, Imilac comes from Chile and Esquel comes from Argentina.

Horacio:           And you mentioned that about that those are two particular collections that are highly sought after. You can’t really forge a meteorite. I mean, let’s say you’re looking for certain collections. If you’re a reputable dealer, you’re not going to sell somebody just a regular old rock.

Mendy:             So, the short answer is, of course, not. The more detailed answer, and I think it’s important, is this really comes down to just, literally, it doesn’t even have to be collectibles. But if it’s one of those it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. So, knowing who the reputable dealers are is really important. But just as equally important, sometimes a collector will go out and perhaps sell a meteorite, because they’ve already upgraded to a nicer specimen. And you want to make sure that that collector is ethical and honest, and all those things.

                        And by the way, there’s a lot of great collectors and great dealers that are not part of any kind of association. But there are associations out there that provide guidelines and an infrastructure that kind of govern the accepted norms of how you should sell and present meteorites.

                        I happened to be the president and founder of one of those called the Global Meteorite Association. And we’ve got a code of ethics, and are, in fact, even in the process now, of putting together all the guidelines on how to properly describe a meteorite, how do you ensure its authenticity, and what are some common used words and language and how to use those.

                        Because, for example, the word “museum grade” occasionally gets thrown around. But there’s no real meaning behind that. So, we’re trying as an organization to really provide a framework of authenticity, education, community. And like I said, I really want to reemphasize, there are a lot of fantastic dealers that are not members of any association. And they are great people. For someone that’s brand new and you might not know where to go, going to an association like the Global Meteorite Association, and identifying the dealer there certainly gives you an extra level of confidence.

Mendy’s journey from Silicon Valley to meteorites

Horacio:           Absolutely. Mendy, so let’s take it back. You worked in Silicon Valley.

Mendy:             I did.

Horacio:           And that’s kind of where you caught the bug. Right? You started watching Meteorite Men with Jeff Notkin and Steve Arnold. And I started watching the episodes, too, and I could see how you could be drawn to that. And that sparked your curiosity. And then one day, you just decided, “Hey, I’m packing up from Silicon Valley.” And you’re going to become a meteorite dealer, a full-time meteorite dealer, and you moved to Austin.

Mendy:             Correct.

Horacio:           Talk about that. How do you decide to do that?

Mendy:             So, I grew up in Austin, I was originally born in France. And from France, in 1976, my family moved to Austin. And as a nine-year-old, I had no chance but to follow, along with my sister. And I stayed in Austin for a really long time, going to school, going to university at the University of Texas at Austin, had jobs at various places in Austin. And then, my wife and I decided it was time to go and check out some other opportunities. And so, we went to the west coast for a while. But Texas, always hearkened back.

                        And so, when the time came, we decided it’s time to move back, be closer to family. And I had already been really involved in the meteorite community for a while. I was already doing sales and things like that, even as I was working full time. And I realized that I could in fact have two full-time jobs after stepping away from the corporate world.

                        And so, I became a full-time meteorite dealer, as well as a full-time high tech business consultant, which actually was there’s great synergy between the two, because that allowed me to travel the world. And I got to meet a lot of very cool collectors, even when I was on business trips, for example. So, that has just been a wonderful combination for me. And it’s been, yeah, almost six years since doing that. And it’s just been awesome.

Horacio:           So, once you decided to make that jump into becoming a full-time meteorite dealer, you started SkyFall Meteorites, right?

Mendy:             Now, actually, SkyFall Meteorites was around a little bit before that. And by the way, I should also state that I’ve been doing a lot of volunteer work with other and did do a lot of other volunteer work for other meteorite organizations because I want to spread the love of meteorites as a hobby. And so, I just felt like between these two full-time endeavors that I had, I could still squeeze in a good bit of volunteering to help with outreach and education, and anything else that people needed in the community.

Meteorite hunting trips

Horacio:           So, with that outreach, do you go all on meteorites hunting trips with different members of the community? What are your experience? How do you get people involved in, let’s call it a hobby, when you’re starting or the collecting? I would imagine, there’s a big discussion now with growing different hobbies. And it always starts with starting with kids and getting them interested.

Mendy:             So, interestingly enough, and this is one of the things that I feel we must change as a meteorite community. Right now, it’s really dominated by an older group of people. However, you’re absolutely right, that outreach needs to begin at young ages. And so, pre-COVID, I started doing that at my son’s high school, where I gave presentations on meteorites. And at the end of those presentations, the students were allowed to hold a Martian meteorite in one hand and a lunar meteorite in the other. And it was fun to see their expressions and kind of see their eyes open up and go, just wow.

                        I mean, no museum is going to allow you to handle those types of meteorites. So, I really enjoyed doing that. And that is something that I personally would like to do some more. And through my organization, we are absolutely committed to doing that a whole lot more, because we do need to bring in and grow the community.

                        If you look at the size of the meteorite collector community, I mean, I wouldn’t even venture a guess, but it’s probably 1/100 the size of the fossil collecting community, and probably even less for the mineral collecting community. So, there’s a lot of room to grow for us.

                        And kind of tying it back to that whole asset class and investment aspect, meteorites are incredibly rare, even the cheapest, most common meteorites out there is still an incredibly rare thing. Now, not that those really common and cheap ones are going to be something that you’re going to invest in. But the point I’m trying to make is, it’s a very, very limited resource.

                        Once a fall is done or once a find that all the different pieces have been found, they’re not making any more of that. So, that limited quantity, and especially if the quality or the rarity of the type, or all these other things come into play, by growing the size of the community, there’s going to be a demand for a supply, which is incredibly limited.

How meteorites are sourced

Horacio:           Yeah. So, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about we’re talking about before about SkyFall Meteorites. When you’re dealing with meteorites, how do you source them? And I guess I’m kind of interested in the origin of it. So, I read somewhere that about 75% of all meteorites in the world come from Northwest Africa, right?

Mendy:             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Horacio:           What is that, I guess, that pipeline, where it goes from the locals living in that area, and then with dealers coming into the area, and then sourcing them? Could you give me an idea of how that works? I don’t know if it’s changed over the years.

Mendy:             In a lot of ways, it hasn’t changed. And in some ways, it’s changed a lot, especially with now the availability of the internet to anyone with a handset with a cell phone. But let me take just a little step back there, because I think this is really an important part of talking about the “value” of a meteorite.

                        So, there’s plenty of meteorites, like I said, that are common, and you can easily, easily get. But there’s a whole lot of meteorites that, like I said before, they have fairly limited quantities. Like a couple of pounds of a meteorite is kind of typical. I mean, it can be a lot bigger than that. There’s some meteorites that are a ton rover. And there’s some that it’s like 10 grams. But what’s really, really important to understand is that meteorites have incredible scientific value. And there is a wonderful symbiotic relationship between the meteorite hunters and those people in the scientific community who gets to study those.

                        So, we didn’t talk very much about the scientific institutions. But they do play a critical role in this entire ecosystem because they’re the ones that have the ability to do the analysis. And to say, not only is this a meteorite, but it is this kind of a meteorite. And what they get out of it is, of course, because of that, they get to see an incredible number of new meteorites.

                        Because it’s not like, I don’t want to say this never happens. But it’s unusual for scientists to go out and hunt for meteorites on their own, even if it’s a new fall. The only place that happens really, to the exclusion of private citizens is in Antarctica. And there are international groups that go out there and collect meteorites from Antarctica.

                        But you’re absolutely right about the Northwest Africa, or just call it North Africa region. And what’s interesting now is the Chinese Gobi Desert is also seeing meteorites coming out of it. And the reason is, is that with shifting sands, new material is not only exposed all the time. But the shifting sands, just based on the fact that it’s a desert, the heat helps protect meteorites from decomposing into the soil or the sand.

                        So, the way things started out is in about the early 1990s, a few meteorite collectors slash dealers went to North Africa, specifically Morocco, and started educating some of the Bedouins and nomads that traverse the great Sahara Desert into what a meteorite looks like. What’s wonderful about these nomadic tribes is that they don’t really recognize any borders. If it’s the Sahara, they just cross it and have been doing so for, I would expect, millennia. So, they come across areas of the desert that are just not normally traveled by people that are not doing what they’re doing.

                        So, by training them to identify meteorites, it has created an amazing opportunity for science and for collectors, and certainly for dealers. And so, some wonderful examples of meteorites that have literally changed the way we think about the science of meteorites or meteoritics, have come out of the hot desert of the Sahara. And by the way, so that part of it really hasn’t changed much. What’s changed in the last, I would say, probably five years.

                        And by change, I mean, a dramatic change is that now with the internet being available, the folks that are in North Africa can now communicate directly through Facebook, or WhatsApp, or whatever, and connect with collectors and dealers directly. So, that’s made a big change in terms of the “middleman” and kind of shortened the transaction chain.

Horacio:           Is that something that you as a dealer do? Because have you build up those relationships? Or do you find that you’re still working with the middleman?

The meteorite supply chain

Mendy:             It’s a little bit of both. In reality, the middlemen now have effectively shifted their location from western countries to Morocco. In other words, it’s Moroccan citizens that are now performing the job of really being the middleman. And a lot of them were always there, but it’s certainly strengthened over time. So, what happens is, is that nomads will seek them out, sell them their goods, but then it goes immediately into the hands of dealers and collectors and anybody else who desires it. And certainly, as well, the scientific community, just depending on various routes it takes.

Horacio:           You mentioned obviously Northern Africa as a hotbed. You mentioned China, the Gobi Desert, and the way the sands kind of preserve the meteorites. And there’ve been landfalls in South America. I was just curious, because you see this in the news where civilizations take things from other countries and the countries want to back because it’s part of their heritage as part of their culture, their history. Are there any laws or is there any sort of advocacy to treat meteorites in that way where they’re kind of part of the relic of a national identity?

Mendy:             The answer is yes and no. The laws change country by country and sometimes even state by state. So, one needs to be cognizant of those laws and be respectful of those laws. There are organizations that are trying to make sure that proper science is conducted on the meteorites and that those scientists from those countries certainly get to participate. But let me say this is that international laws are incredibly complex.

                        And it’s something that I really try hard to understand, but I am not an expert. And as far as that goes, I would just have to say people need to do their own kind of research and ask your dealer. Are there any issues? Where did this actually come from? Is it okay to own it?

Country-specific laws

                        Because like I said, laws change country to country, state by state. So, for someone new coming into this hobby, and certainly someone that’s looking to spend the amount of money to invest into meteorites as an asset class needs to be really well aware of that and work with someone who they really trust.

Horacio:           Not to put you on the spot. But are there any meteorites or from any location that you can think of right off the top your head where it’s kind of like, those you kind of want to stay away from because the laws are really kind of there, being enforced a little more heavily than from other regions?

Mendy:             Oh, yeah, there’s an easy one. And that’s Antarctica. Antarctica, you can almost think of it, but I’m just coming up with this analogy. So, hopefully, it’s okay. But you can think of Antarctica almost like the moon. You can own meteorites from the moon, but you can’t own moon rocks. Okay. And there is a distinction there.

                        Just like a few meteorites that are found in Antarctica, because the expeditions are conducted by governments and therefore, paid for by that country’s taxpayers, as collectors, we can’t own any meteorites that come from Antarctica that predate the Treaty of, I believe, 1976. It could be a little bit later. I’m not 100% sure on that. And by the way, that makes those pre-treaty meteorites highly sought after because there’s just very, very few of them. But that’s just one example and one that most people are aware of.

Horacio:           This is just so cool. And so, if there were meteorites discovered on Earth prior to the treaty, they’re okay. And they could float around the market anytime. Is that correct? But if the fall was after the treaty, those really should not be in circulation? Is that correct or?

Mendy:             Sort of. Let’s be very clear. It has to do as to when they were recovered. If they were recovered before the treaty, all good. If they were recovered after the treaty, not good.

Horacio:           And I imagine that there’s gray area there.

Mendy:             No, there’s absolutely not. It’s very, very clear. Because all of the Antarctic meteorites, I should say all, I’m not 100% sure. But many of the Antarctic meteorites, their name includes the year in which they were recovered.

Horacio:           Let’s talk a little bit more about that. You mentioned this before you went and you spoke at your school and you had the kids hold the asteroids. I’m sorry, the meteorites. What is that difference between holding a meteorite from the moon, a Martian meteorite or a meteorite from another part of the solar system? How do people collect these? Are there people that solely collect Martian meteorites? What do you find is the trend or the more popular meteorites to collect? And give us some insight on that.

Meteorite collecting trends

Mendy:             Sure. What people like to collect is an incredibly individual desire. And usually, as people get more and more into the hobby, their desires change. But what I can say is that if you were to ask collectors how did they get started, it’s usually with a very famous meteorite from Russia called Sikhote-Alin that fell in Russia in 1947. It was a gigantic fall. And a lot of material came out. And it was a highly affordable, gorgeous iron meteorite. And that really got a whole lot of people hooked.

                        And to this day, a lot of people love to collect Sikhote-Alin because it can be just a beautiful meteorite. There’s other meteorites, certainly that people have collected to get them started. But it really just comes down to what was the first interaction you even had with meteorites. So, it could have been from a gem and mineral show at the local auditorium. So, yeah, you can get meteorites in a lot of different places.

                        What happens next is, do you want more? Do you want to learn more? Do you want to get involved in the hobby? Is it just like, “Hey, I bought this one cool thing one time and that suffices?” So, it really depends. To become a collector of the moon or Mars, that does require, just because again of their rarity, that does require a bigger investment, and not typically one that a new collector would make.

Horacio:           What’s a newer personal collection … Can you give some insight into how do you go from collecting and then deciding on what it is that you want to sell as a dealer? Because sometimes I imagine that collectors have this … No, they have trouble letting go of things.

Mendy:             Yes, I definitely suffer from that myself. I mean, sometimes it’s really hard. And I certainly speak personally here to separate yourself from what you have purchased and that you appreciate, and then have to let go. But there’s also a lot of pieces, which are what I would say are cool, but common pieces or really special, unique, rare pieces, but you have two of them because you did do an upgrade.

                        So, the way I’ve run my business is, I mean, it sounds really incredibly basic. But it’s buy low, sell high. I became aware of what I call the bathtub curve in meteorites. And what happens is, perhaps there’s a new fall, the price is really high, a lot more material is found, the price bottoms out, then supply ends and the price goes back up. So, there’s money to be made at every step there of the pricing dynamics.

Going on meteorite hunting trips

Horacio:           And you talk about the fall comes through. Do you personally ever go out? Are you ever tempted to go out and search for meteorites from recent falls?

Mendy:             Absolutely. But there are people out there that are far, far more experienced than I am. And I’ve gone hunting for new falls a couple of times, and I have an absolute blast. However, for me, I treat it as a vacation, not as a business trip. Because what a lot of people don’t realize is that hunting for meteorites is extremely hard work. And it’s not unusual to come back empty handed. And so, it’s expensive to travel. There are sometimes risks that are you may go into territory that’s not super friendly.

                        So, for me, I’d rather have relationships with the meteorite hunters and buy from them when they’re on the ground. If there’s a fall that I can get to, absolutely, I’ll go hunt it and have fun with it. But like I said, I treat it as a fun vacation slash expedition, not as a trip where I’m going to go collect meteorites so I can sell them.

Horacio:           Could you describe to me what it’s like to be on a meteorite hunt?

Mendy:             Sure. It’s kind of like you do a heck of a lot of walking. And it’s really exhausting. And so, at some point, you may get disheartened or you feel bored or you want to give up. But then that’s punctuated by that moment, if you’re lucky enough to actually find a specimen. And you just forget everything else. Because that is just so incredibly exciting. But I’ll tell you what’s a really cool part of going out hunting for meteorites, is you get to meet a lot of people doing the same thing.

                        And even though there’s a lot of competition, there’s also a lot of camaraderie. And I’ve met people and made friends who I’m still in contact with today. So, again, there’s a wonderful social aspect. And if you don’t take yourself too terribly seriously, you can have a lot of fun.

Horacio:           Definitely. So, I live in New York State. I look at a big hillside. And I’m like, I wonder if there’s any meteorites out there. And I decided to just take my metal detector and go up into the hills, part of the Adirondacks. What are the chances of finding a meteorite there? Or is that just like a waste of time?

Mendy:             Well, is playing the lottery a waste of time?

Horacio:           I’m not going to answer that one.

Mendy:             Well, because that’s what you’re doing. If you’re going out there, because you’re telling yourself, “I’m going to find a meteorite.” Let’s just say, “Go play the lottery, you’ll have better luck.” But I mean, if there has been a fall reported, then absolutely, you’ve got a good chance of finding it. But you can’t be afraid to put in truly walking the miles. And there’s a lot of things you have to know about before you recover any meteorites. Because there are laws in the US that have to be respected in terms of land ownership and potentially government ownership. And so, you just have to understand what you’re walking into.

                        But if you’re doing like what you said, which, “Hey, I’m taking a metal detector, and I’m going into the Adirondacks,” then, yeah, just go out there to have fun, not to find meteorites. And if you do find a meteorite, it’s probably actually a meteor-wrong. And I get daily emails and text messages from people claiming to have found meteorites, and it’s usually slag, manmade slag, or it’s hematite, or most often magnetite. And sometimes they take it personally and sometimes they’re thankful for the analysis.

Horacio:           You do the hard work. You buy a meteorite, something that you do research, you bought it, and you hold it in your hands. And it feels amazing. But then I came to realize from your site that meteorite deterioration is a thing, which makes sense, because a lot of these are made out of iron and iron rusts. Have you encountered that a lot where people bought the meteorites, left it out in the open, let’s say, even if it’s just in their home, and they found that it wasn’t the same as when they bought it?

Mendy:             Short answer is yes. You have to pay attention to your meteorite and its environment, which again, is not all that unusual. With any other collectible, you certainly want to keep them under conditions that are going to ensure their long-term stability. So, with meteorites, the biggest issue is typically humidity. And so, if I were to sell a meteorite to someone that lives in Hawaii, I would give them potentially different advice on buying a different meteorite.

                        Or if that’s the one that they want, I would also provide information about how to store it, compared to someone who lives in Arizona, for example, like in the Tucson or Phoenix area, where you don’t really have much to worry about, because the relative humidity is so low, you can pretty much leave everything out in the open and it’s not a problem. I personally live in the Central Texas area, so I’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that all of my material is properly curated and preserved, so that it looks as good today as it will five years from now.

Meteorite services

Horacio:           Absolutely. I want to get into your business, SkyFall Meteorites and kind of the services that you provide because you do more than just buying some meteorites. Like you mentioned before, you’ve talked about the whole podcast. There’s a whole scientists involved. There’s analysis involved. Could you talk about your business, how it has developed over time, and tell us about the services that you provide?

Mendy:             Sure. Let’s start first with perhaps the one that ties back into the intent behind the podcast, which is treating meteorites as an asset class. So, one of the things that I provide, even my non-customers I even help people out who are not my clients, is kind of answering the question, is this particular meteorite worth it in terms of value or location or scientific importance, or all those things. Because I mean, let’s face it, it is a collectible, and you do want to be able to hopefully resell it sometime in the future or pass it on to your family. And you certainly don’t want to lose money.

                        So, one of the things I really help people do is to help curate their collection and to figure out what’s the right meteorite for them to accomplish their goals. And by the way, I do this as well for museums and institutions. I just have wonderful relationships with scientists around the world. And sometimes like for a new fall, there may be different buying opportunities for them. And even if I can’t help them out because I don’t have that particular meteorite, I’m certainly happy to offer advice as to what’s the best way for them to acquire something.

Horacio:           Yeah. And then also, you have ties with scientists. You talked about analyzing the meteorite. You take photographs of meteorites as well.

Mendy:             I do. The meteorite community has an unusual opportunity to get much closer to scientists. And what I would guess is in other collectibles of natural history items, there is a relationship that is in place that because we must have scientists analyze a meteorite, we get to know those scientists. And I know there are certain scientists that will often answer questions on my Facebook page that I run to help educate people.

                        So, the relationship I have with scientists is not necessarily unique. But I think it is unique in the world of collecting meteorites that we do have, oftentimes, pretty close access to some wonderful people in the scientific and museum communities. And for me, as a lover of science and really wanting to make sure that scientists gain access to as much material as possible, I love helping them out. And here’s what’s really cool is sometimes, it goes the other way around.

                        So, this last summer, I was able to work with a wonderful scientist, working out of the University of Alberta called Dr. Chris Herd. And he helped me with some analyses that required to be done.

                        Because I’ve been working on this idea that King Tutankhamun’s dagger, which has been shown to be made of meteoritic iron, was in fact, possibly forged using forging techniques that are smelting techniques used for bronze. Anyways, it gets kind of complicated. We’re way off topic. But I guess I just wanted to share that there are opportunities for collectors, dealers, and scientists to work together in some really wonderful ways.

Horacio:           And just in listening and giving some hints into the depth of knowledge that you have, we can probably talk for another couple hours. But yeah, I mean, just the fact that … So, you’re saying to me, I’m just saying this out loud. You’re saying that something that King Tut was buried with, one of those artifacts was actually made out of meteoritic material?

Mendy:             That’s correct. And this was discovered quite some time back. Though the question that has not quite been answered is, well, how did they manipulate the meteoritic iron to get it into the shape of the dagger. And so, I’ve been thinking about that question and came up with some ways that we could try and answer that question. And I presented a poster at the last Meteoritical Society Conference in Chicago in August with the help, like I said, not just the help, but guidance, wisdom and tremendous support from Dr. Chris Herd and the University of Alberta.

How to start collecting meteorites

Horacio:           So, let’s say that someone wants to start collecting, even somebody that wants to put their money into an alternative asset. And we talked so much about this now because of there’s platforms dedicated and man, you would believe there’s so many different classes. So, you’re talking about wine, whiskey, trading cards, comic books, video games, NFTs, domain names. So, there’s so many different things. So, in the past, when you thought about an alternative asset, you thought maybe real estate, maybe farmland.

                        And those assets are still obviously alternative assets. They’re not like your typical stocks bonds. And I guess we’re going into something that’s more tangible. Because you can hold these assets in your hand. You can hold a bottle of wine. You can hold a trading card. And same with meteorites that you can hold. Is it a viable asset class to where you can buy a meteorite that if you do your research, you are kind of talking about a recession proof appreciating asset over the long term? Or is that just sort of a big old speculation?

Mendy:             So, there’s a lot to unwrap in that question. But let me start with this. If you’re a new collector, just buy what you love. Don’t worry about the long-term value and don’t worry about it being an asset class. Just buy what inspires you, what will drive you to learn more, and to share it with your friends. There’s some meteorites that you can buy that are literally maybe $10 for an ounce, 50 cents for a gram. It doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. So, again, if you buy what you love, you’ve never made a bad investment. So, I think that’s a really critical piece of advice.

                        Before we spoke here, today, I listened to another podcast. And it was really interesting to me to hear so many similarities and pieces of advice given as I would like to offer, which is education, education, education. Buying things because you think it’s going to go up in value is not something for the faint of heart.

                        And it’s certainly not something to be done without expertise that you have or expertise that you can leverage from somebody else such as myself. It’s like, if you didn’t even know what a stock was, would you go off and just buy a stock because someone told you, “Hey, this is a cool thing, some penny stock no one’s ever heard about.” Long story short, I would say hopefully not.

                        So, with meteorites, it’s the details that matter. And sometimes a very small detail can have an oversized impact on the long-term value of a particular specimen. I’ll tell you an interesting story about maybe seven, eight years ago. The Chinese market for meteorites really started turning on. And there was great interest in some sense repatriating some Chinese meteorites. People wanted a specific kind of meteorite because it was a Chinese meteorite.

                        But the Chinese market really fell in love with iron meteorites. So, with the increased demand from, and I should say, greatly increased demand from the Chinese market, the value of these iron meteorites, specific ones, really went really high. And you could easily have 10x’ed your money over five years. And like we discussed previously, once something gets all bought up or placed in institutions, it just doesn’t become really accessible to the market. And so, you could have great demand for little to no supply. And of course, then that drives up the price of a particular specimen or a meteorite.

                        But we need to talk about a different dynamic also, which is today the number of meteorite collectors in the world is really pretty small. Like I said before, it’s way smaller than fossil collectors, mineral collectors. I’m willing to bet that there are far, far, far more collectors for dolls than there are for meteorites. Nothing bad against dolls. I know that they can be a great asset class. But I’m just trying to show that the collecting of meteorites is still a really pretty new thing.

                        And through efforts with education, outreach, all those kinds of things, I think there is amazing potential to increase the number of people that collect meteorites. Now, whether you consider this a good thing or a bad thing, I’ll leave up to your listeners. But what will be an undeniable impact is that the price of particular meteorites as the size of the market grows will probably disproportionately grow as well.

Horacio:           Yeah. You talk about that education. And I want to go back to your origin story there with meteorites and where your interest got sparked with a TV show, right?

Mendy:             Yes.

Horacio:           I’d be willing to bet, because in reading different things, all these collectors cite that show in one form or another. And I’m willing to bet that that show was responsible for creating a whole bunch of new collectors, whether they went into it full time or even just as still as a hobby. I’m sure that that sparked a huge part of the industry. And I’m wondering if that’s all it takes is one interesting, well-produced show to spark an industry.

Mendy:             You’re absolutely right as you stated. That was certainly for me something that absolutely hooked me almost immediately. But I do want to make a small distinction. One of the aspects of the show was to assign values to all these different meteorites. And that’s all well and good. That was a decision probably that was made for the producers or how the show was presented.

                        But for me, what really hooked me was not about, oh, my god, this meteorite is worth X amount of money. What really hooked me and drove me to be a passionate collector was, “Oh, wow. You mean, I can hold and collect and own a rock from space.” That’s what opened my eyes was that realization that these extraterrestrial visitors are, in fact, something that anyone can own. And so, that makes it something that’s accessible to everybody.

Mendy’s favorite meteorites

Horacio:           I’m going to ask you one more kind of off topic question. And then I want to respect your time, Mendy. I’m sure you’re a busy guy. Can you describe to me your favorite impact or landfall historical impact? And I’m going to be a little silly here. And I’m going to say, did a meteorite kill off the dinosaurs? And is there definitive proof of where that is? And I know I’m asking two different questions. But that always fascinated me that this outer space rock was responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs, because I loved my dinosaurs when I was a kid. So, that’s one thing.

                        But then the other thing is, in your study, you with the hobby and getting to know the industry or the history, the science behind it, everything behind it, what is your favorite landfall impact?

Mendy:             Impossible for me to answer that last question. I actually have many favorites. And some of them have to do with the rarity or it has to do with the beauty, or it has to do with the incredible scientific significance. So, you’re asking an impossible question of me. Unfortunately, I’m going to beg off answering that question.

                        It’s been proven that, yes, an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs. The proof of it is in the Chicxulub crater that’s in the Gulf of Mexico. An additional research was done. And there was a layer, an Iridium layer that was found to have come from a meteor in sedentary layer in the KT boundary layer, I believe.

                        So, I think it’s pretty well established that there was an extinction level event. The proof of it and the remnants of it can be found in the Gulf of Mexico and in structures as well on land. And the discovery of that Iridium layer that is meteoritic iridium, and they can figure that out because of its isotopic composition kind of goes to that.

Horacio:           For people listening, where can they find you?

Mendy:             So, there’s three main ways to contact me. So, my website is skyfallmeteorites.com, all one word. Another easy way to get ahold of me is on Facebook. I’m the only Mendy Ouzillou in the entire world. So, I’m not hard to find, and certainly as well through the Global Meteorite Association. And the name of that group is G-M-E-T-A dot O-R-G, so gmeta.org. Those are the various ways people can find me. Just type in Mendy Ouzillou, I’m not hard to find.

Horacio:           Absolutely. Thanks for spending the time with me and for educating me and the listeners.

Mendy:             Listen, it’s really my pleasure. And let me just close it by saying this, is that I think we have through meteorites a wonderful opportunity to encourage kids to enter STEM careers.

                        As someone who is so passionate not just about collecting meteorites, but about science and education, I should also kind of say, I want to say a big thank you to the researchers, scientists and curators out there that make our ability to even collect meteorites really possible, because they’re the final arbiters of the science. And yeah, I’d love to talk to you further about this. I think we kind of barely, barely scratched the surface. There’s a lot bigger story to be told.

Horacio:           Definitely. Again, thanks a lot and have a good night, Mendy.

Mendy:             Will do.

Horacio:           Mendy’s passion for meteorites really comes out. And I’m always fascinated by the enthusiasm and knowledge that collectors have. I was also struck by the respect Mendy has for his craft and the role he plays as a meteorite dealer in tandem with the scientific community. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, let others know about it. We find our guests so interesting and knowledgeable and I know others will too. Or leave a review or hit the follow button. Until next time, take care.

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Author

Horacio Ruiz

Horacio Ruiz

Horacio is a veteran math teacher of the New York City public school system. Prior to teaching, he lived in New Orleans where he worked in sales for the New Orleans Hornets before joining The Institute for Sport and Social Justice to rebuild homes in the Lower Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish. He currently lives in Staten Island with his wife, Alicia, his three sons; Oliver, Henry, and Jacob, and their pitt-mi,x Tipitina. In 2019, Horacio published a biography, The White Knight: Calvin Patterson and the Integration of Florida State University Football.

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