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May – August 2014

August 2014 Newsletter

Why is this man smiling? In October 2013, Berghaus athlete Mick Fowler and his climbing partner, Paul Ramsden, succeeded in making the first ascent of Kishtwar Kailash in the Indian Himalaya. Getting to the basecamp took eight days. It just happens to be the same route to the sapphire mines of Kashmir. We got vertigo just watching. Caveat observator. For info on Kashmir sapphire, see: this article of an 1890 vintage; "Passion Fruit," an article on sapphire by expert Richard W. Hughes; and a discussion of the Kashmir "brand" by Dr. Michael Krzemnicki of Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF.

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

Industry News

Pala Presents

Shows and Events

Tour Mogok and More with the Experts: Nov. 5–19, 2014

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A seven-page brochure provides all the details for this fantastic opportunity.


We've been informed by Eloïse Gaillou, Associate Curator of Mineral Sciences at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, that five spots have opened up for the museum-sponsored "Ultimate Gem and Mineral Tour of Burma." The expedition, which takes place November 5–19, 2014, will include a journey through Mogok, Burma's valley of rubies (and sapphires, spinel and peridot!). While the focus is on gems and minerals, plenty of sightseeing time is set aside as well. The tour will be conducted by geologist and longtime special friend of Pala International, Kyaw Thu, as well as museum staff. [back to top]

The Arusha Gem Fair: November 18–20, 2014

Karibu! is the greeting on The Arusha Gem Fair's home page, meaning "Welcome!" The 2014 event, to be held November 18–20 in Arusha, Tanzania, is the third annual show. (Previously it was billed as The Arusha International Gem, Jewelry and Minerals Fair.)

Arusha Gem Fair image

The show, according to its organizers, "brings together primary gemstone and mineral producers from Sub-Saharan African countries in one forum, along with renowned industry leaders, respected mineral collectors/dealers, lapidary seminars and demonstrations, and round-table discussions with Government Leaders and industry players from our regional African partners."

The show is a more intimate affair than many. Last year's show featured only about 500 buyers, exhibitors and guests, from 29 countries.

For more related to the fair, see:

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See also Will Larson’s First Voyage to Tanzania – Tanzanite – A Stone of Beauty on Pala International’s YouTube channel. Larson plumbed the depths in Merelani's Block C.

Tanzanite Foundation to Close

As reported by JCK on August 13, the Tanzanite Foundation—the first colored gemstone marketing firm devoted to a single stone—will close at the end of the month. The Foundation had dealt with a number of ethical and operational challenges facing the industry. It also had given back to the mining community, building two schools, a clinic, and an orphanage, and providing employment opportunities.

The reason for the closure, according to JCK, is economic, in terms of the stone's current historic low price, and factors such as poor output, illegal mining operations, and theft.

Tanzanite Crystal photo image
Indiglow. TanzaniteOne, the mining company that formed the Tanzanite Foundation, unearthed this 12,000-carat crystal in early 2011. (Photo courtesy TanzaniteOne)

[back to top]

Pala International News

This month we feature a superb Mexican opal carved in flowing freeform by master lapidary Steve Walters.

This exquisite Mexican opal was brought and sold to Pala International personally by the opal's mine owner at the Las Vegas show two years ago. At the time, it was an epic piece of rough. After the purchase, Pala studied it and hoped that Steve Walters would agree to use his considerable talents to carve the lovely rough into a pendant. When Steve saw the piece he agreed, and in the next several months finished this marvelous piece.

Opal photo image
Earth wind and fire. Fire opal from Mexico carved by master lapidary Steve Walters. It measures 29.5 x 20.5 x 12.4 mm and weighs 29.65 ct. Pala Inventory #20393. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Aristotle once said that when what is black is mixed with the light of the sun and fire, the result is always red. This flame-colored opal exhibits orange, yellow and red in a cascading play of colors—a veritable mix of fire and sun.

Fine opal also might be said to embody Aristotle's forebears' notion of the four elements: earth (from whence it came), water (it is hydrated silica, after all), fire (a coveted variety), and air (it is a self-contained world, with its own atmosphere).

This is all of that. This is a true collector's item.

Interested? Select the inventory number above, call (phone numbers below) or email us to inquire.

For more on Mexican opal, see our reprint this month of an article by David Gibson, directly below. [back to top]

Gems and Gemology News

Mexican Opal

A reprint by David Gibson

We are pleased to reprint this article on Mexican opal, by David Gibson, a British collector. It comes from his website, Mexican Amber. The article is © David Gibson, and is used by permission.

Dave Gibson photo image
Dave Gibson at Miguel Tomayo's mine, near Magdalena, fifty miles northwest of Guadalajara.

Opal was known to the Aztecs by the name Vitzitziltecpa, which means hummingbird stone, due to its similarity to the bright iridescent colours of the bird’s plumage. The original mining locations were lost during the Spanish conquest. They were rediscovered sometime in the early 1800s, by Sir Maria Siurab, in the state of Querétaro, some 130 miles northwest of the Mexico City. The first mine was Santa Maria del Iris. Soon other mines were opened: La Carbonera, La Hacienda, La Trinidad, and El Perido being but a few of the first mines. The colonial City of Querétaro became center of the Mexican opal trade. In the late 1950s Alfonso Ramirez of Querétaro discovered opal near the small town of Magdalena about 50 miles northwest of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco. He opened the first mine, La Única, close to the Tequila Volcano. Soon after, prospectors and miners moved from Querétaro to Magdalena. Other deposits were discovered in the municipality of Magdalena (Las Latillas, La Mora, San Simón, Las Cruces, San Martín, El Huaxical and El Cabon being but a few of the early mines. By 1960 there were hundreds of mines around the small town of Magdalena. From the early 1960s to the late 1970s much opal was produced by the mines in the state of Querétaro and the Magdalena area. Nowhere as much mining takes place now. It seems the best deposits were discovered back then and mined out.

Read the rest of the article on Palagems.com, including photos of mining and fine opals, lists of types of opals, opal terminology, gemological information, useful links, and more…

Dave Gibson photo image
Matrix opal containing goethite needles.

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Industry News

Off the Cuff: Ex-Spy Chief Loses Shirt

Today and tomorrow, an auction was scheduled to take place, selling off the jewelry and watches of Vladimiro Montesinos, the head of Peru's intelligences service under president Alberto Fujimori, as reported by the BBC.

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During the 1970s and 1980s Montesinos was in and out of jail and prison—or threatened with them—for having a loose tongue in sensitive governmental matters, but usually was able to finagle his way through. With the election of Fujimori in 1990, Montesinos found himself favorably placed, having given legal representation to the president-elect when he was a political unknown.

That association, however, contributed to his downfall during the Fujimori corruption scandal of 2000. Montesinos fled Peru, but was repatriated the next year.

One hundred fifty-two objects were to be auctioned. The BBC story shows eclectic examples of jewel-encrusted watches and cufflinks, many with monograms. The sale should garner $1 million. The most expensive piece is a Corum watch featuring more than 300 diamonds, worth $160,000, according to Perú.21. [back to top]

Victory Denied

A remarkable 31.34-carat step-cut diamond, a noted lot in Sotheby's Geneva's Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale on May 13, failed to sell. Dubbed the Victory diamond following the allied triumph in World War II, it was faceted from one of three massive roughs found in the 1940s in Sierra Leone's Woyie River. Even prior to its eventual cutting in 1953, the largest diamond from the 770-carat rough was given that name. It is described in great detail by Sotheby's.

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Imogen Foulkes briefly discusses the Victory diamond in this BBC video.

The Victory once was owned by Florence J. Gould, who according to the Sotheby's profile, gave Charles Arpels of Van Cleef & Arpels the idea for the house's minaudières, or compacts for evening, containing all a woman would need, obviating the necessity of a handbag; her own original had been a Lucky Strike tin. She also initiated the trend of wearing baccarat pajamas during the day, their large front pockets being as practical as the cigarette container at night. Abandoning the States for Paris during Prohibition, she and her husband Frank Jay Gould built, among other hotels and casinos, the Palais de la Mediterranée in Nice, the remodeled Juan-les-Pins casino and cabaret, and the Hôtel Provençal. The profile implies that it is one of the couple's unassuming innovations that we all take for granted today: "a new piece of soap for every guest." In the Gould salons held at their villa in Cannes, a who's who of Americans were introduced to their European counterparts. Years later, Florence's arts patronage was acknowledged in 1970 when she was admitted to the Academie des Beaux-Arts, one of only a few women to receive the honor.

Florence Gould was not to be parted from her jewels, regardless of the travel destination, according to the Sotheby's profile. In Japan, she shared them with women in a geisha house; in Angkor and the Cambodian jungle she wore them as if she was strolling on the Champs-Élysées or dining in a Marseilles bayside eatery.

For whatever reason, the Victory diamond was unable to achieve its estimate of $5 to $8 million in the May 13 sale, despite this description, also included in the Sotheby's profile, of the rough from which it was faceted:

The area of this cleavage face is 11.5 sq. cm., and is so clean a fracture that the blow which produced it must have been a sudden, sharp impact in precisely the correct direction. The surface is exceedingly smooth, whereas most cleavage faces show a certain stepping from layer to layer while keeping in the same general direction. The blow need not have been a heavy one, but the marvel of the smoothness of the fracture-face can only be appreciated by those who have tried to cleave a diamond using the cleaver’s tools.

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Online Shopping Comes of Age

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Your editor still remembers the days of late 1990s when pundits pooh-poohed the idea that money could be made from the World Wide Web. Shopping online was considered trendy, but not the basis for any worries by brick-and-mortar businesses. This was in the days when we still browsed the shelves of used bookstores. And Time magazine had more pages in it than a Sunday church bulletin. Well, that was then.

On August 1, the Wall Street Journal remarked on the growth of online jewelry sales. Lest one think that buying jewelry online might appear risky to the contemporary consumer, WSJ states that website Editorialist, featuring goods from four score of designers, brings in half its net from fine jewelry sales. So if we're talking rings, for instance, David Webb's diamond and ruby nail ring, a corkscrewed affair, tops the list for $18,000; Anita Ko's gold, tsavorite and diamond pavé panther is yours for less than $6,000. Net-A-Porter, which sells clothing as well as accessories, has been so successful in online jewelry sales it has snapped up beensie brands like Bibi van der Velden, according to WSJ.

One can imagine that the online shopping experience is not only convenient for the busy buyer, but also confidence-boosting for the bashful buyer. But the picky patron also will find needs met: a Moda Operandi said that after, say, a Nina Runsdorf show, if the color or stone isn't just right, the seller's team is happy to oblige. And although the virtual experience of buying a top-flight colored gemstone, Stone Set's cofounder Jenna Fain reminds the reader that this is not the first generation to buy jewels sight unseen. When the relationship is established between buyer and purveyor, a lot can be forgiven on both sides. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Jaded in Jade Land

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True blue. Five carats. Natural color. Burma sapphire. Inventory #21891. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

On August 11 and August 13, global intelligence firm Stratfor posted two Field Notes blog entries regarding life for people on both sides of the Burma–China border. These people have the same ethnicity: China's Jinghpaw are akin to Burma's Kachin, although the anonymous author found that Jinghpaw see themselves as Chinese first; vice versa for the Kachin. The report contrasts the good old days of jade's "golden age" of border porosity with the present clampdown by Burma's military. Profiled is Xiao Liu who, while only in his early twenties, already has seen a windfall—a three-thousand-dollar investment had paid off x100—and a near-downfall—being detained by Shan soldiers near Myitkyina, which could have cost him his life had the soldiers been Burma military.

On the same day as Stratfor's second blog entry, The Irrawaddy reported on new fighting in Kachin between the Burma army and the Kachin Independence Army, displacing 200 civilians in Kachin's Hpakant Township. The clash took place at Sabaw Maw, a ruby mine controlled by the KIA. Fighting like this is not unusual, but it causes concern because legal jade mining—suspended in Hpakant since 2012—is scheduled to begin again in September, as noted on Friday by The Irrawaddy. A senior official of Burma's Myanmar Gems Enterprise said that mining operations would resume, regardless of fighting. (Kachin News Group also covered the clash.)

Peace talks had been taking place in July, although the vocabulary to be used in an eventual agreement caused some stumbling, according to the Shan Herald. Ethnic armed groups wished to be called "Ethnic Armed Revolutionary Organizations," paying tribute to fallen insurgents, whereas government negotiators felt the R-word should be omitted, since the new government ostensibly is civilian. A compromise was achieved: no "revolution" will be found in the peace agreement's headings—only in the text itself, as reported by Mizzima.

Despite such peace talks and the Burma government's past reforms, U.S. lawmakers continue to call for continued sanctions. The latest such call, by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, hinges on the constitutional ban on Aung San Suu Kyi's candidacy for president, due to her having foreign nationals in her immediate family.

Jade Land Jump

Jade production, as measured in exports, has steadily increased over the past three fiscal years, per Eleven Media Group on July 29:

  • FY 2011–12: $34.2 million
  • FY 2012–13: $297.9 million
  • FY 2013–14: $1 billion

An August 8 article in The Irrawaddy, about a jade scam, put the jade sales (both legal and illegal) in 2011 at $8 billion (source: Harvard's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation).

Jilted in Jade Land

The Irrawaddy scam story, mentioned above, is remarkable for its scale. Over the past few months, hundreds of people were involved in selling about $160 million in fine jade to a Chinese conman named Zhong Xiong, 33. Zhong had set the stage for the scam by wining and dining his "fellow" gem dealers. The generosity paid off when Zhong obtained the jade, only to disappear without paying. The article states that the setup must have taken years in order to gain gem dealers' trust. Even though Zhong was apprehended, the scam had a cascading effect. One dealer could not return home since he'd involved business partners' jade in his dealings with Zhong, a common practice. The article does not state whether any of the loot had been recovered.

Bite-Sized Bits

First, the sublime…

  • Myanmar Times: Mandalay pagoda, built entirely of jade, nears completion
  • Xinhua: Jade casket found in north China, believed to be connected to a Buddhism branch that flourished in Burma

Next, the serious…

  • Eleven Media Group: Vietnam wants to create an industrial zone in Burma concerned with gems and jewelry manufacture
  • Eleven Media Group: Gas tank explosion in Mandalay gem market causes stones to go missing

Then, the silly…

  • BBC: Jade – the smuggled stone that was once [sic] more precious than gold
  • Eleven Media Group: An uncut "blue emerald" was to be offered at last month's gem emporium for €1 million. We're told by a reliable source that the rough actually was aquamarine and overpriced; possibly worth $10K

[back to top]

Pala Presents

Pala Presents title image

With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the collection of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who will share with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology. And, as with this edition, gemstone-related collectibles.

Sardonyxly Speaking: Birthstone Collecting Cards

August's birthstone is sardonyx, a variety of chalcedony, displaying parallel bands of sard or carnelian, banded with black, white, or both. The banding makes this material perfect for the fashioning of cameos, although you'd not know this from our collecting cards this month, which feature faceted examples of the material.

Appropriately enough, sardonyx cameos have survived Roman Empire founder Augustus himself, for whom our month is named.

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The Blacas Cameo. The cameo employs three layers of sardonyx, for the field, the portrait, and shield (of Minerva). According to the British Museum, the figure's delicate diadem was a replacement for the typical laurel wreath. It measures an ample 9.3 x 12.8 cm.

August's child is fated to die abandoned. Augustus may have as well; it was rumored that his wife Livia poisoned him. It would have been unthinkable for Augustus to wear his own cameo, but could it have saved him from "doubting cruel"?

Birthstone card image
One other collecting card for August is available here.

For more information on birthstones, see Palagems.com. [back to top]

A Votive Agate Axe Head Inscribed, Described

Recently, an Italian researcher queried us regarding a "votive stone axe head," of a 3rd century B.C.E. vintage, that he'd been informed was in the collection of Pala International's Bill Larson. Intrigued, we asked Bill about it. Indeed, he gave us color images of the axe head, fashioned from agate, as well as journal articles and book passages that discuss its enigmatic feature—a cuneiform inscription. We're pleased to share them with our readers.

From The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
by George Frederick Kunz, 1913.

Included in the chapter Religious Uses of Precious Stones, Pagan, Hebrew, and Christian.

Stefano Borgia portrait
Cardinal Stefano Borgia, who originally came into possession of the axe head.

One of the rarest and most significant specimens illustrating the use of valuable stones for religious ceremonial purposes in the pagan world is in the Morgan-Tiffany collection. It is an ancient Babylonian axe-head made of banded agate. So regular, indeed, is the disposition of the layers in this agate that one might be justified in denominating it an onyx. Its prevailing hue is what may be called a "deer-brown"; some white splotches now apparent are evidently due to the action of fire or that of some alkali. This axe-head bears an inscription in archaic cuneiform characters, and presumably in the so-called Sumerian tongue, that believed to have been spoken by the founders of the Babylonian civilization. The form of the inscription indicates that the object dates from an earlier period than 2000 B.C.

While the characters are clearly cut and can be easily deciphered, the inscription is nevertheless exceedingly difficult to translate. It is evident that the axe-head was a votive offering to a divinity, probably on the part of a certain governor named Adduggish; but whether the divinity in question was Shamash (the sun-god), or the god Adad, or some other member of the Babylonian pantheon, cannot be determined with any finality. The French assyriologist, François Lenormant, who first described this axe-head in 1879, and Prof. Ira Maurice Price, of the Semitic Department of Chicago University, both admit that it may have been consecrated to Adad. As the weather-god, the thunderer, the axe-symbol would have been more especially appropriate to him in view of the usage, almost universal among primitive peoples, of associating stone axe-heads or axe-shaped stones with the thunderbolt, and hence with the divinity who was believed to have launched it toward the earth.

Axe Head photo image
This photograph of the axe head shows the inscription on the object’s reverse at left. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

This Sumerian axe-head measures 134.5 mm. in length (5.3 inches), 35.5 mm. in width (1.4 inches), and 31 mm. in thickness (1.22 inches). It was originally secured by Cardinal Stefano Borgia (1731–1804), for some time secretary of the College of the Propaganda [Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, or Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide] in Rome, who probably acquired it from some missionary to the East. From the cardinal's family it passed for 15,000 lire ($3000) to the Tyszkiewicz Collection, and when the objects therein comprised were disposed of at public sale, the writer purchased it for the American Museum of Natural History in New York, April 16, 1902.*


*For a fuller description of this valuable relic, and a discussion of the meaning of the inscription, see "On the ancient inscribed Sumerian (Babylonian) axe-head for the Morgan Collection in the American Museum of Natural History," by George Frederick Kunz, with translation by Prof. Ira Maurice Price and discussion by Dr. William Hayes Ward. Bulletin of the Museum, vol. xxi, pp. 37–47, April 6, 1905.

Since you axed…

In his collection, Bill Larson has four additional references on the Babylonian axe head, three of which we reprint in full.

And while we're on the subject of carvings…

Last month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the acquisition of an elaborately carved porphyry vessel dating from first to early second centuries C.E., according to a press release.

The vessel probably held the cremains of a VIP. It intentionally is shaped like a situla (wine bucket), featuring two masks of Silenus, who was Dionysus's companion and tutor. Rather than swing handles, this vessel has two large ear-shaped handles. It measures 10 inches in height by 9 inches in width. It's believed to have been crafted in an Alexandrian or Roman workshop.

Axe Head photo image
Porphyry vessel with bearded masks. Roman, Early Imperial, 1st–early 2nd century C.E. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Acquisitions Fund, The Jaharis Family Foundation Inc. Gift, Philippe de Montebello Fund, Philodoroi and Renée E. and Robert A. Belfer Gifts, The Bothmer Purchase Fund, and Mr. and Mrs. John A. Moran, Nicholas S. Zoullas, Patricia and Marietta Fried, Jeannette and Jonathan Rosen, Aso O. Tavitian, Leon Levy Foundation, and Barbara and Donald Tober Gifts, 2014 (2014.215) (Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Regarding the material, the press release states,

Porphyry is a rare hard, purple-red stone that was highly prized in antiquity for its distinct color. Because purple was considered the imperial color, porphyry was regarded as a royal stone. Under Roman rule, the quarrying of porphyry in the remote eastern desert of Egypt was an imperial monopoly. The stone's hardness made it difficult to quarry, and the need to transport the stone long distances added to its value as a luxury material.

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— End August Newsletter • Published 8/18/14 —

July 2014 Newsletter

Demantoid Document image
Information on demantoid garnet from Pala International has been kindly translated into Chinese by Yan (Dorina) Shen. She is a language teacher who studied at Nanjing University. We're grateful for the gesture.

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

Industry News


Pala Presents

Shows and Events

Pala at JA New York Summer Show
July 27–29, 2014

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Pala International heads to the East Coast later this month for the trade-only JA New York Summer Show. Stop by to see one of America's largest selections of fine colored gems.

See this list of seminars to be held at the show.

When: July 27–July 29, 2014
Where: Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
   Sunday, July 27: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Monday, July 28: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Tuesday, July 29: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Pala International is in booth 2573. See the JANY website for more information. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events. [back to top]

MAD Man: John Hatleberg at NYC Biennial

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This past January we looked at the work of John Hatleberg who, in addition to creating original works of art, has made exact replicas of the world's most famous diamonds. We pointed to a Public Radio International profile of Hatleberg that was accompanied by a series of photographs, one of which is of his workstation. This is not your ordinary jeweler's bench. It's a work of art in its own right: a baldachin, or canopy that tops an altar, throne or doorway. The word comes from Baghdad, source of the brocade that originally would have been used. Bernini's famous Baldacchino in Rome's St. Peter's retains the look of rich fabric.

When your editor toured with a Catholic volunteer choir in 1985, our local clerics in California pulled some strings, and we were honored by singing in St. Peter's Basilica, the famous mosaicked cathedral in Venice. I don't think I'd ever seen an "altar screen" before, separating the pews from the presbytery, site of the altar. The screen consists of eight red marble columns topped by fourteen sculptures, themselves considered Gothic masterpieces, by Pier Paolo and Jacobello Dalle Masegne, with a towering, massive crucifix. Behind the screen, over the altar, is a great, ornate baldachin, known as a ciborium. Bas-relief decorations adorn its columns. To get a taste of 14th-century attention to detail (along with some 21st-century sarcasm), here are a few lines from the Basilica website's description of the canopy.

The four monolithic shafts in oriental alabaster, worked in pairs by an outstanding Maestro with less able helpers, are divided into nine sections separated by horizontal strips which are in turn divided into nine small arches containing one or more figures in high relief. The dark background of the niches gives an almost total plasticity to the scenes. In the 324 niches there are an overall 108 scenes with one or more figures representing the life of the Virgin and the life and passion of Jesus Christ. In several detailed cycles, set out in a horizontal or vertical reading sequence, there are individual episodes from the canonical and apocryphal Gospels.

In his apartment across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Hatleberg has repurposed a small, carved-wood, polychromed baldachin into a work surface. The table has legs fashioned as Solomonic (helical) pillars, the same forms as the iconic columns of St. Peter's Baldacchino. Perched atop the horizontal surface are four sculpted, arched flourishes, creating their own virtual canopy beneath which might have stood a three-dimensional image of Our Lady.

Hatleberg's workstation, together with various small items on it that serve as his muses, are now available for viewing as part of the inaugural "NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial" at New York's Museum of Arts and Design. Also displayed is one of the end-products of his meticulous labor upon the beautiful bench—the Koh-i-Noor diamond replica, which took six months of faceting to accomplish. He will be without these sources of inspiration until the show closes on October 12.

The exhibition brings together the work of 100 or so artists, designers and artisans from all of New York's five boroughs. Hatleberg is among quite a crowd that runs the gamut from high art to low, including filmmaker Sally Potter, Wigstock founder Lady Bunny, artist/musician Yoko Ono, and performance artists Karen Finley, Laurie Anderson and Meredith Monk. Oh, and the faux-er than thou sparkly art of Raúl de Nieves. [back to top]

Haute Joaillerie at the Biennale des Antiquaires

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On the other side of the pond, an eleven-day biennial will be held September 11–21, 2014, in Paris's Grand Palais. The Biennale des Antiquaires (Antiques Biennial) will feature premier jewelers, as shown by several sneak peeks via online magazine Blouin ArtInfo. The number of purveyors of haute joaillerie has jumped from 2012's ten to fourteen this year.

For Cartier, the Biennale will be the only chance to see its "Royal Collection" of 100 unique pieces that won't be available in their boutique, according to Pierre Rainero, the firm's image and heritage director. Colored gemstones and diamonds in regal sizes will be front-and-center, in settings that allow for versatility: a 30.21-carat pear-shaped diamond can grace a necklace or ring, or can attach to a 17.40-grain pearl. An 8.3-gram pearl—the Royal Pearl, once owned by Queen Mary, wife of George V—can attach to a necklace that doubles as a tiara. A cushion-shaped 26.6-carat Colombian emerald can be the centerpiece of an elegant necklace or a simple pendant. The 15.29-carat Mozambique ruby can be removed from the ornate necklace pictured above—and its red choker can be removed, too.

Fabergé will debut its Rococo collection, with some of the designs only hinting at the Baroque-on-steroids excesses of its namesake. The homage is in full flower, however, with a Zambian emerald ring set with scores of stones in pink, yellow, blue green, purple, and orange, with the ornate curves punctuated by larger round stones. An egg pendant is a-swirl with multicolored curlicues.

Other sneak peeks:

  • Piaget celebrates 140 years in the business with "Extremely Piaget"
  • Van Cleef & Arpels retells the 17th-century "Donkeyskin" fairytale with a collection called "Peau d’Âne raconté par Van Cleef & Arpels"
  • Wallace Chan unveiled four drawings for pieces titled "Fleur de la Dynastie Tang," "Now & Always" (which employs Chan's signature 3-D carving technique), "Redcliff Romance" and "Vermilion Veil"
  • Boucheron goes nouvelle vague with "Rêves d’Ailleurs" (Dreams of Elsewhere)—i.e., Japan, China, India, Russia, and Persia—including the Rivage Necklace in the form of a giant wave, complete with seafoam
  • Chaumet also takes a dip in the water with its "Lumières d’eau" (Water lights), thus many shades of blue and violet sapphire and, appropriately, white opal from Ethiopia
  • Dior pays homage to itself with jewels inspired by its classic couture: the Bar Suit, the Francis Poulenc dress, the Songe dress, the Junon dress; in all, 11 dresses inspiring 44 jewelry designs in the "Archi Dior" collection, which will be displayed with versions of the clothing, naturally

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Copious Cartier

Exhibition at Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, in DC

Can't get to Paris for the Biennale to catch Cartier? Well, jewels from a stateside collection actually traveled to the Grand Palais last winter for "Cartier—Style and History" and are now being shown in "Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post's Dazzling Gems." This takes place until December 31 at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens. The present show expands on the jewels shown in Paris, "offer[ing] new perspective on the taste and refinement that characterized Post's style, her criteria for collecting, and her way of life," according to a press release.

Necklace photo image
This diamond and sapphire necklace is the reworking of two such bracelets. As with some of the jewels in the Cartier collection to be featured in the Biennale, the center cushion-cut sapphire is removable and may be worn as a brooch. (Photo: Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens press release)

Marjorie Merriweather Post was the heir of C. W. Post, owner of the Postum Cereal Company. At 27 years of age, she took the company's reins following her father's suicide in 1914. (He had been plagued by an inoperable stomach ailment that foiled even the Mayo brothers.) Following her marriage to E. F. Hutton in 1920, the couple began ten years of acquisitions, of forgotten names like Jell-O, Minute Tapioca, Maxwell House, and Birdseye. (They also had one child, Nedenia, who would be known as actress Dina Merrill, with a career spanning nearly 50 years, from 1955 to 2003.) Also in the 1920s Post became a patron of Cartier, and one of the maison's most loyal and important, up until her death in 1973. In 1964, she donated several significant pieces to the Smithsonian—pieces that are being reunited in the Hillwood exhibition.

Marjorie Merriweather Post photo image
For this 1942 portrait of Post (or, rather, Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton Davies), her photographer, C. M. Stieglitz, finds her all-business, accessorized with pearls, brooch, and ring and Koh-i-Noor No. 2 pencil. (Photo: Library of Congress)
Picture Frame photo image
Post commissioned picture frames to complement her small photographs and artwork. (Photo: Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens press release)

"Though the astounding jewels were statement makers for Marjorie Post, these and her whole collection of Cartier luxury objects really speak to her impeccable way of life," explains Hillwood executive director Kate Markert in the press release. "Marjorie didn't just purchase jewelry off the shelf. She was a connoisseur who knew gems and chose only those of the highest quality. She recognized great design and knew how to wear her jewelry to show it to its best advantage," Markert continued. Indeed the photographs and paintings of Post on the museum's website portray a very elegant woman who knew her way around both showroom and boardroom.

Brooch photo image
This brooch includes seven 17th-century Mogul cut emeralds with a total weight of 250 carats. In the display it is paired with a necklace on loan from the National Museum of Natural History that "features 24 baroque-cut emerald drops, each topped with a smaller emerald bead," according to the press release. "It was originally a sautoir—a longer necklace that could be worn with the brooch as a pendant—that she had shortened to adapt to new fashion dictates in 1941." (Photo: Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens press release)

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Cafesjian Carvings and More – September 16 Sale

Preview at Denver Show

Attendees of the Denver Gem & Mineral Show, September 12–14, 2014 will have a chance to preview impressive gemstone carvings and mineral specimens from the collection of the late Gerard L. Cafesjian, prior to their sale on September 16. Cafesjian, who passed away in September 2013, gathered hundreds of of objects in a collection that included fine art, jewelry, gems and mineral specimens. According to a July 6 story in the Denver Post, a portion of the fine art now resides in the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Yerevan, west central Armenia. More than 900 items of jewelry from the collection were auctioned in April at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago. The September 16 sale will consist of more than 700 pieces of carvings and mineral specimens. (We'll feature a sampling of the latter in our sibling mineral newsletter, which will be delivered on or about August 1.) Interested parties are welcome to contact Leslie Hindman Auctioneers for preview appointments from August 11–September 15, and the public preview will be open September 1–16.

Chameleon Carving photo image
Above, a sitting chameleon chrysocolla carving, Gerd Dreher for Asprey, Idar-Oberstein, Germany, 5.5 x 3.75 x 3.25 in. Below, a set of carved jasper toad and matching rough jasper specimen, Gerd Dreher, Idar-Oberstein, Germany, 10.2 cm. and 7 cm. (Photos courtesy Leslie Hindman Auctioneers)
Toad Carving photo image

Providing background on the collection, Alexander Eblen, Director of Natural History at the auction house, told us, "Mr. Cafesjian's passion for color and whimsy was first embodied in a world-class assemblage of art glass including many works by his good friend Dale Chihuly." Coincidentally, Chihuly's work currently is on display—al fresco—at the Denver Botanic Gardens through November 30. "Over time," Eblen continued, "this fascination with contrasting colors and unusual forms led to an interest in the Natural History world."

Kingfisher Carving photo image
A gold and multi stone carving of "The Kingfisher," Manfred Wild, Idar-Oberstein, Germany, height: 19.7 cm. (Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers)

Offered in the sale will be dozens of fine lapidary art carvings by Idar-Oberstein masters such as Gerd Dreher, Manfred Wild, Gerhard Becker and others. But the sale won't be limited to carvings and specimens, Eblen told us. "The auction fully encompasses the decorative arts, including intricate stone inlaid boxes and tables, various polished stone objects and sculptures by leading contemporary artists."

Scent Bottle photo image
A rubellite, rock quartz crystal, 18 karat yellow gold and citrine scent bottle, Emil Becker, Madagascar, height: 10.2 cm. (Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers)

The provenance of almost every object is documented, Eblen said, "and the property will be offered at very conservative prices to entice bidding." The lots will be available for view at the Leslie Hindman Auctioneers website closer to the time of the September 16 sale, which is the firm's inaugural Natural History auction.

Lion Carving photo image
A citrine carving of a lion, Gerhard Becker, Idar-Oberstein, Germany, 7 x 4.5 x 4.5 in. (Photo courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers)

Pala International has a personal connection with this collection, having once owned the citrine lion carving pictured above. Says Pala's Bill Larson, "We bought the citrine rough in Brazil and commissioned Gerhard Becker to carve it."

Pala International, of course, also will be offering mineral specimens at the Denver Fine Mineral Show, September 6–9. We hope to see you there. [back to top]

Pierre Pix from Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines

As is her modus operandi, Eloïse Gaillou, Associate Curator of Mineral Sciences at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, always returns from gem and mineral shows with a camera-full of images. There was no exception after visiting last month's show in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Alsace, France. She has posted dozens of photos on the Museum's Minblog, and we've lifted a couple to whet l'appétit.

Tanzanite photo image
Au naturel. Some unheated colorful tanzanite faceted gemstones. They come in all colors, the pink and purple ones being the rarest. Seen at Valerio Zancanella's booth. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou)
Tasty troika. Crystal Classics, as usual, had some sexy specimens, such as this triple crystal of tanzanite. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou)
Crystal and Model photo image
Crystal and model. Cuprite pseudomorphed into malachite from Onganja, Namibia, with its crystallographic wood model. Natur Musée collection. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou)
Larsons et al. photo image
À votre santé. Will Larson raises a beaker of gluten-free ale surrounded by family and friends: Bill Larson, Carl Larson, Toastmaster, Malte Sickinger, Marcus Walter, Mark Kaufman, and George Hickox. No doggy bag needed for the foie gras. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou)

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Pala Pix Redux: Las Vegas

Another round (or two) from the AGTA GemFair held in Las Vegas May 29 through June 2.

Kelly, Mattice and Darenius photo image
On the floor. From left, Jeanne Cole Kelly, Pala International's Gabrièl Mattice and Betsy Quinn Darenius. (Photo: Bill Larson)
In the pub. The more refined patrons imbibe their porter in the snug of the public house, rather than at the bar, as does Miles Kvalheim in the Rí Rá in Mandalay Place. Miles is a friend of Pala international's Larson boys. Yes all three of them; and currently taking more GIA classes after receiving his Graduate Gemologist diploma May 17, 2013 with Carl Larson. (Photo: Gabrièl Mattice)
___ and Larson photo image
At the table. On the other side of the table are Collector Fine Jewelry's Alison Collins and Pala's Carl Larson. Since they don't appear to be drinking, they must be taking in the furnishings of the Rí Rá, which were salvaged from various Irish locales: the former Foley's in Timoleague, West Cork (1880s); the Jockeys Room at Kildare's Curragh Racecourse; Mick Collins pub in Redcross, County Wicklow (ca. 1900); Dublin's original Olympia Theatre. (Photo: Gabrièl Mattice)

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Pala International News

In the early 2000s, fine rubellites with unique color were mined simultaneously with the various other colors from the Shalawa deposit in Mozambique. While these colors are not the classic paraiba blue, their pink-red is also very bright, vibrant and electric. These fine elbaite tourmalines are now very desirable, since the deposit seems depleted. They also can be certified as copper-bearing to pinpoint their Mozambique origin and untreated colors.

Tourmaline photo image
Prêt à porter. There's still a lot of summer sun to be caught in this 17.24-carat natural copper-bearing tourmaline from Mozambique. Inventory #14283. (Photo: Wimon Manorotkul)

See the following articles on copper-bearing tourmaline from Mozambique on Palagems.com:

Interested? Select the inventory number above, call (phone numbers below) or email us to inquire. [back to top]

That's Gneiss: Mineral Monikers for Swedish Streets

Pala's Mia Dixon has been spending her summer vacation with her family in her native Sweden. Her father just moved to a newly constructed complex in Kungsbacka, on the central western coast, just south of Gothenburg. The street names happen to be of minerals. Talk about taking your work home with you…

Street Names photo image
Tourmaline Way in a new section of Kungsbacka, Sweden. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

We looked at a map and found roads named Ruby (Rubinvägen), Quartz (Bergkristallvägen), Amber (Bärnstenvägen), Opal (Opalvägen), Brilliant (Briljantvägen), Emerald (Smaragdvägen), Topaz (Topasvägen), Tourquoise (Turkosvägen), Aquamarine (Akvamarinvägen), Amethyst (Ametistvägen), Diamond (Diamantvägen), Onyx (Onyxvägen), Gemstone (Ädelstensvägen), Rose-cut—usually applied to diamond (Rosenstensvägen), Beryl (Beryllvägen)—and others Google Translate couldn't handle.

Street Names photo image
At the corner of Gneiss Way and Sapphire Way in Kungsbacka, Sweden. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

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Dragonfly Pin Lost in Vegas

Reward offered

On Thursday, May 29, Jeanne Larson was at the JCK Show at Mandalay Bay, wearing the dragonfly pin as shown in the photo below. She was on the Luxury Show floor until 12:30 pm. She was aware it was on her jacket at that point. She proceeded out of the show, down the escalators to the first floor and out the front red-carpeted area to depart the show. She got into the taxi line, headed for the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Upon arrival at the Greek restaurant in the hotel, she noticed the pin missing.

We are offering a reward. Please contact Bill Larson.

Dragonfly Pin photo image

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Gems and Gemology News

For Fabergé Fans

Website, newsletter, symposium

Screenshot image

Aficionados of the artistry of Carl Fabergé, crafter of the famous Easter eggs and more, have a clearinghouse for their pursuit: the Fabergé Research Site. The site is curated by Christel Ludewig McCanless, author or co-author of a number of books on the subject, including Fabergé Revealed: At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (2011), Fabergé: The Hodges Family Collection (2009), and Fabergé Eggs: A Retrospective Encyclopedia (2001).

The mountain of information, is divided into the following areas: auctions and dealers, audio-visuals, pointers on authenticity, a bibliography (McCanless is the author of Fabergé and His Works: An Annotated Bibliography of the First Century of His Art, 1994), a listing of collectors, information about the eggs, exhibitions, and workmasters and their marks. Visitors to the site also can subscribe to a quarterly newsletter, co-edited by Annemiek Wintraecken, curator of another Fabergé enthusiast website, Mieks Fabergé Eggs.

Prominently featured in the Summer 2014 edition is news regarding the Third International Fabergé Symposium to be held this coming October 2–4 on the theme of "The World of Fabergé in St. Petersburg 100 Years Ago." It will be held in the Fabergé Museum of "The Link of Times" Collection, restored Shuvalov Palace in St. Petersburg (and we're not talking Florida). [back to top]

Lapidario en Lima

Screenshot image

Earlier this month we received the July edition of Some Times, the lapidary newsletter from Ultra Tec, manufacturers of faceting equipment. The newsletter features new company representatives as they are added. One such rep looked pretty familiar, but his location did not: Ed Bancroft, of Lima, Peru. Ed and his wife Libi are living in Callao, the country's main seaport.

Ed is the son of Peter Bancroft, author of the classic Gem and Crystal Treasures. The Bancrofts gifted their collection of minerals and gem crystals to UC Santa Barbara. A website devoted to the collection allows users to experience it as well. [back to top]

Industry News

Getting Your Hands Dirty in the Pala District

Screenshot image

Barely a week goes by that the Pala International staff are not asked if travelers can come by the mine and purchase a bucketful of gravels to poke through in the hope of taking home a tourmaline crystal or three. Were they to peruse the page attached to Pala's Mining link, they'd read the following:

  • Pala International does not offer mine tours or buckets of mine gravels
  • See below for other mine tour options

That link points to the Oceanview Mine and Gems of Pala. The Oceanview experience for dilettante dirt divers was profiled on July 5 by the San Diego Union-Tribune with a story and brief video. (The Oceanview Mine is in San Diego County, just east of Pala, California.)

In the story, mine owner Jeff Swanger describes the "onerous" bureaucracy mine operators face, saying he has to report how much coal he produces each year, and that the boots he wears on his living property are regulated due to the mine's proximity. This is the reason, he says, why the mines stay dark.

In the video, however, he describes the delight he takes in telling a girl she has $10,000 in her hand. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Emporium Sets Record

Spinel photo image
Grab it. A natural Burma spinel, 2.20 carats. Inventory #18980. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

The annual Myanma Gems Emporium, held earlier this month, brought in $3.4 billion, $1 billion more than the same sale last year according to stories by The Irrawaddy and Xinhua. Some of the stats:

  • Jade lots sold: 74 (Xinhua) or 6,000 out of 7,160 (The Irrawaddy)
  • Gemstone lots offered: 400
  • Pearl lots offered: 200
  • Commercial tax gained: $1,020 million
  • Total merchants attending: 4,000
  • Foreign merchants attending: 2,000
  • Highest-valued lot (unsold): 233-kg rough jade valued at about €46 million ($62.5 million)

On June 25, Eleven Media Group (EMG) reported on some of the notable items for sale:

  • An uncut blue emerald valued at €1 million ($1.4 million), by Aung Htay
  • A €90,000 ($122,000) ruby ring and a €40,000 ($54,000) ruby necklace, by Arrow Brothers Company
Gem Merchants photo image
Illuminating. Merchants examine jade during this month's Myanma Gems Emporium. See four more images here. (Photo: Xinhua)

But EMG reported the same day that only 1,500 items of jewelry were displayed this year, compared with 18,000 pieces last year. The same story led off with this:

Mogok, where most priceless gems are mined, is famous both in Myanmar and all over the world. But news reports about Mogok are alarming. Gem mining has diminished and the market is quiet. Is this the aftermath of years of uncontrolled exploitation?

According to The Irrawaddy on June 26, the less frequent sales, with less being offered, is the government's strategy to hold back jade for value-added, in-country processing.

Other Stats

Some new production stats also were included in the above stories for Fiscal Year 2013–14: 15,061 tons (13,663,109 kg, down about 30 million kg from FY 2011–12, the last year we have figures for).

A July 7 Eleven Media Group story stated that Burma had exported $1.1 billion in jade for the 2013–14 fiscal year. This compares with only $297.9 for the previous fiscal year.

Gemstone statistics for Burma, spotty as they have been for the last couple of years due to removal of the government statistics website, are posted on Palagems.com.

Mining News

Burma's Ministry of Mines announced it will open jade mining in four townships in Kachin State, after a two-year suspension, as reported by The Irrawaddy, The Myanmar Times and Eleven Media Group. Miners in Lonekhin, Phar Kant, Mawluu-Maw Han and Khanni townships will be allowed to return following the monsoon season, on September 1.

The monsoon season is in full swing, as reported by DVB on June 30. Three neighborhoods in Kachin's Hpakant were flooded on the 29th.

Prior to the mining hiatus, about 700 mining companies worked in Kachin's Hpakant and Lone Khin areas, according to a Myanma Gems Enterprise official, who also said he hoped increased production would lead to two emporiums next year. (Of course, this contradicts the government strategy mentioned above.) The resumption of mining is possible, according to the EMG story, because of peace negotiations in the area between government and insurgents. But a Kachin News story on Monday stated, ominously, that troops are building up in Hpakant.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • The Myanmar Times: Take a walk through Mandalay's jade market
  • The Irrawaddy and EMG: Yet another story about the black hole that is the black market, with the statistic that 3.9 billion kyat ($3.9 million) of jade and gems have been intercepted since FY 2011–2012
  • The Irrawaddy: Banned tycoon sneaks into ASEAN delegation, as director of Yadanar Taung Tann Gems Co., Ltd.
  • Mizzima: A profile of The Hope Centre, which serves people with TB and HIV/AIDS in Kachin State's Myitkyina

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The Handbook of Gemmology, 2nd Edition

By Geoffrey M. Dominy with photos by Tino Hammid

Handbook of Gemmology cover image

The second edition of The Handbook of Gemmology has been released by its author Geoffrey Dominy, with photography by Tino Hammid. As I noted in our review of the 2013 edition, "One of the most exciting aspects of digital technology is its revisability, and Dominy is taking full advantage of this by offering the reader a new edition at a preferred price every year beginning in May 2014." I will refer our readers back to that review, concentrating here on the enhancements of the new edition.

Following the 2013 review, Dominy told me, "The software company wants to showcase our book on their website because they are amazed we have been able to do this type of book with their software. It's actually quite interesting that we have shown them what their product can do." That edition consisted of 650 pages; the current edition adds 210 more pages. New sections include:

  • Magnetism – Five pages of text and two pages of Hammid's lovely images
  • A page on Electrical Properties
  • Specific Gravity – Four pages on new techniques: sodium polytungstate & lithium metatungstate, amber test, heft, and weight estimation formulas
  • How to turn your smart phone into a portable microscope
  • Diamond Grading – Fifty-five pages, fully illustrated, including the dolphin, ballerina and baseball batter inclusions; some of this material previously had been embedded with colored gemstones
  • Colored Gemstone Grading – Now a stand-alone chapter of 100+ pages, including many images
  • The pages on synthetic diamonds have been increased, with added images
  • Fancy Colored Diamonds – Two new pages
  • Revised information on gemstone treatments
  • Index – This is now hyperlinked; Dominy told me previously that index links had to be manually entered, that's why they weren't done in the first edition. It's a dirty job, and somebody had to do it…

Tino Hammid, whose photographs beautifully complement the science, told me that the 2014 edition adds more than two hundred photos and illustrations to last year's 700. Three hundred of the photos are Hammid's—a 100% increase over last year. Also added are more inclusion photomicrographs, diamond clarity photographs, and images of gem mining and cutting in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Screenshot image
A screenshot from the Laboratory Created Gemstones section. Tom Chatham, of Chatham Created Gemstones, commented that he'd never seen such depth on the subject. Almost too much; it could breed new competitors.

The only glitch I noticed was pages failing to load when I clicked their links in the Index. When I turned the page and went back to it, they loaded with no problem. I was a little skeptical about loading the book onto my iPhone (I don't have an iPad), but the text actually renders better than on my 20-inch desktop display (connected to an old laptop). Yes, you need to do a little side-to-side scrolling, but all that information in your pocket! You can't beat it.

Screenshot image
A screenshot from the Gemstone Treatments & Enhancements section provides a sample of the lovely photography of Tino Hammid. Pictured are two Mozambique tourmalines, before (left) and after (right) heat treatment.

Registered owners of last year's model receive a 60% discount—generous savings on the modestly priced single- or multiple-file options. The book is offered for PC, Mac, iOS (iPad, iPhone), Android and most e-readers. Details are available at The Handbook of Gemmology website.

Screenshot image
From page 553 of The Handbook of Gemmology. This wonderful 39-carat fancy-cut gem sphalerite was sold to Pala International's Bill Larson at this year's AGTA GemFair in Tucson by Tino Hammid, whose hundreds of photographs are featured in the book.

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Pala Presents

Pala Presents title image

With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the collection of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who will share with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology. And, as with this edition, gemstone-related collectibles.

To lull the carking thorns of jealousy, just apply Ruby: Birthstone Collecting Cards

July's birthstone is ruby. Both of our collecting cards that contain verse speak of doubt, anxiety, thorns of jealousy, and doubt, all of which are lulled and freed by the stone.

But perhaps not just any ruby will do. In the excerpt of Tagore's Mani Málá appended to Richard W. Hughes's Ruby & Sapphire (1997, 487–489), the Bengali polymath writes, "The authorities mention sixteen kinds of shade, four good and eight bad properties of ruby." Stay away from the saugandhika, whose "milky luster blights wealth." Seek instead the padmarága "which, upon being cast into a quantity of milk a hundred times its bulk, makes the white mass one entire sheet of red, or sends out a red flame." It is "nonpareil."

Birthstone card image
Two other collecting cards for July are available here.

For more information on birthstones, see Palagems.com. [back to top]

— End July Newsletter • Published 7/16/14 —

June 2014 Newsletter

Multicolored Amethyst
We hear Katy "Roar" Perry uses rose quartz to attract, amethyst to calm. What might she do with this? Inventory #16839. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

Industry News

Pala Presents

Shows and Events

Mineral & Gem à Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines:
June 26–29, 2014

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines image

The 51st Sainte-Marie show will be held June 26–29, with the first two days limited to trade only. This year, Bill, Will, and Carl Larson will attend the show along with friend and fellow gem dealer Mark Kaufman.

Details are still forthcoming for the 51st Sainte-Marie show in June, but we thought we'd point to our friend Alain Martaud's limited-edition book, The Minerals of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. Alain discovered the Sainte-Marie mining district at age 14 and over the years has built strong relationships with collectors and museums, allowing the reader to access to a treasure trove of specimens and more.

The 208-page book, signed by the author, contains 356 photos of the minerals found in Sainte-Marie's Val d'Argent in the last millennium. The book also includes illustrations, maps and historic documents. The text is trilingual: French, English and German.

Book cover image

The book is available from the show's online store. [back to top]

Pala at JA New York Summer Show
July 27–29, 2014

JA NY image

Pala International heads to the East Coast later this summer for the trade-only JA New York Summer Show. Stop by to see one of America's largest selections of fine colored gems.

See this list of seminars to be held at the show.

When: July 27–July 29, 2014
Where: Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
   Sunday, July 27: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Monday, July 28: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Tuesday, July 29: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Pala International is in booth 2573. See the JANY website for more information. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events. [back to top]

GIA: The Beauty of Science and the Science of Beauty

Exhibition fêtes the institution's oak anniversary

GIA is celebrating its four-score years as an institution with a gala exhibition, "The Beauty of Science: Gems and Gemology Celebrates 80 Years, Featuring the Artistry of Harold & Erica Van Pelt." The show, for which a reception was held last week, assembles jewelry, gems, minerals and sculptures that have graced the cover of Gems & Gemology, as photographed by the Van Pelts.

Ring, Necklace and G&G Cover photo image
G&G Winter 1988: An intense rubellite ring (13.8 carats) and necklace (18.5 carats) – both designed by Jeanne Larson – from the Tourmaline Queen Mine in San Diego County. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Orasa Weldon, left; © GIA; Cover Photo by Harold & Erica Van Pelt)

In case you didn't see the above-pictured preview of cover and cover star at Tucson, now is your chance—through December 2014—to view fifteen side-by-side examples of arresting artistry. The Van Pelts' work appeared on 93 covers over nearly three of GIA's eight decades, from 1981 to 2009. Quoted in a press release, Erica Van Pelt said, "In our work with G&G, we were able to photograph some of the finest, most valuable, and most unusual gems, minerals, and jewelry in the world. It was both a challenge and a privilege. We are delighted to be part of this exhibit honoring G&G’s 80th anniversary."

The pieces being exhibited are on loan from several individuals and institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Van Pelts, The Collector Fine Jewelry, Pala International and private collectors. You can take a virtual (and pixelated) tour of some of the exhibition with GIA instructor Larry Larson via Fox 5 San Diego: look in video 1 at 2:18 for Pala's blue-cap tourmaline, and the above-pictured suite at 4:07; video 2 features gorgeous emeralds and a lovely vase carved from a single piece of multicolored jadeite.

The Science of Beauty

In 2001, when Vincent Pardieu, now senior manager of field gemology at GIA's Bangkok laboratory, was still a gemology student in Yangon, Burma, he was shown some remarkable red spinel crystals. The spinels led to his very first field expedition, not to Mogok but to Namya, east of the jade mine at Hpakant, in Kachin state. The next year he was hired to find a bright, 10-carat spinel from Namya, but learned to beware inferior stones' "dark side," thereby dubbing his quarry the "Jedi" spinels, after one of the Star Wars films. From there his quest took him to Mogok and beyond.

Nowadays, Pardieu scours markets and mines for exemplary specimens for laboratory examination and for a home in GIA's reference collection. Last fall he traveled again to Mogok. And the Force was with him…

Read the entire story in the current edition of Gems & Gemology, entitled "Hunting for 'Jedi' Spinels in Mogok."

Spinel Crystal photo image
This fine "Star of David" spinel crystal, 1.1 ct, is a macle, reportedly from the Pein Pyit/Pyant Gyi area east of Mogok, which was known for producing such crystals between 2000 and 2005. No processing, slicing, or polishing was performed on this specimen; it is 100% natural. (Photo: Vincent Pardieu, © GIA)

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Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: Fabergé

Currently at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is "Fabergé, Jeweller to the Czars," the first Canadian exhibition ever devoted to Fabergé. Works exhibited come from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), the largest Fabergé collection outside of Russia.

Fabergé Egg photo image
Carl Fabergé (1846–1920), Fabergé workshop, Mikhail Perkhin (workmaster). Imperial Peter the Great Easter Egg, 1903. Egg: gold, platinum, silver gilt, diamonds, rubies, enamel, watercolor, ivory, rock crystal. Surprise: gilt bronze, sapphire. Egg: 12 x 7.9 cm, Surprise: 4.7 x 6.9 cm, Stand: 7.7 x 6.9 cm, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Bequest of Lillian Thomas Pratt. Click images to enlarge. (Photos courtesy The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)
Fabergé Egg photo image

The Fabergés' association with jewelry and the Russian Tsars begins with father Gustav who, according to RussArtNet, apprenticed to Andreas Ferdinand Spiegel in St Petersburg and worked for Johann Wilhelm Keibel in the 1830s. In 1941, he achieved master status and opened a workshop by the Fabergé name in a St. Petersburg cellar the next year. After marrying that same year, to Charlotte Jungstedt, the couple had several children, including Peter Carl in 1846.

Brooch photo image
Carl Fabergé (1846–1920), Fabergé workshop, Saint Petersburg, Carl Fabergé (workmaster). Scarab Brooch, about 1900. Garnet, gold, diamonds, rubies, enamel, silver. 2.8 x 3.8 x 1.9 cm. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Bequest of Lillian Thomas Pratt. (Photo courtesy The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)

Carl Fabergé (1846–1920), as he is best known, studied and apprenticed in Dresden, Britain, Italy and France before returning to his father's workshop in the 1870s, training there with Peter Hiskias Pendin. With Pendin he assumed ownership of his father's workshop in 1882 and hired his younger son Agathon as a designer. Three years later he received the title of official purveyor to the imperial court, the first of a series of laurels that can be accessed at RussArtNet.

Crown Brooch photo image
Carl Fabergé (1846–1920), Fabergé firm, St. Petersburg, Henrik Wigstrom (workmaster), Vasili Zuev (miniaturist). Column Portrait Frame with a Miniature of Nicholas II, Imperial presentation gift, 1908. Gold, silver, diamonds, ivory, watercolor. 15.2 x 5.5 x 5.5 cm; miniature: 3.1 x 2.5 cm. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Bequest of Lillian Thomas. (Photos courtesy The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)
Crown Brooch photo image

The present exhibition consists of 240 objects from the VMFA, including four of the 43 iconic Easter eggs that were commissioned by the Romanovs. As the museum website explains,

The exhibition also features a wealth of documentation on the history and traditions of Orthodox Russia, on the techniques of the House of Fabergé and those who forged its works, and on the fall of the czarist regime which brought about that of the jeweller. The enamelled picture frames, the gold jewellery encrusted with precious stones, the miniature hardstone animals, the rock-crystal flower vases, the silverware and the icons give a picture of the luxurious lifestyle of the time of the czars in a layout designed by Hubert Le Gall.

The work of French desinger Le Gall is worthy of its own exhibition; sometimes whimsical, often elegant, always interesting. "Fabergé, Jeweller to the Stars" is up through October 5, 2014.

Carl Fabergé (1846–1920), Fabergé workshop, Mikhail Perkhin (workmaster). Miniature Easter Egg Pendant, about 1900. Chalcedony, gold, white gold, diamonds. 3.2 x 2.2 cm. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Bequest of Lillian Thomas Pratt. (Photo courtesy The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)
Carl Fabergé (1846–1920), Fabergé firm, St. Petersburg, Julius Rappoport (workmaster), Bratina, about 1900. Silver gilt, enamel, sapphires, emeralds, rubies, garnets, blue topaz, pearls. 14.3 x 15.6 cm. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Bequest of Lillian Thomas Pratt. Click to enlarge. (Photo courtesy The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)

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Pala Pix: Las Vegas

A candid shot or two from the AGTA GemFair held in Las Vegas May 29 through June 2.

Pala Booth photo image
Behind the counter. From left to right, Josh Hall, Gabrièl Mattice, Rika Nakamura, Will Larson (obscured) and Carl Larson tend to client needs. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Boehm and Larson photo image
Blues Brothers. Edward Boehm, left, with Pala International's Bill Larson. (Photo: Gabrièl Mattice)
Candid Camera image
What happens in Vegas… The boss takes a bathroom break and this is what happens?

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Pala International News

Pala International continues its quest to bring fine Russian demantoids into the U.S. markets and beyond.

As one source for demantoids seemed to be drying up, a new source has emerged in recent years providing Pala with a new selection of gem-quality material. From electric green melée to world class 10-carat sizes—mining in Russia's Ural Mountains is heating up again.

Via our mining projects, which spanned from 1997 to 2004, Pala has unearthed, processed and sold massive amounts of Russian demantoid around the world. As our demantoid inventory has been depleted over the years this recent influx of exceptional gems has elevated our stock again and caught the eyes of demantoid connoisseurs. This month we feature a couple of outstanding demantoids from our new source.

Demantoid Garnet photo image
No horsing around. Demantoid garnet, 2.09 carats, cushion cut, 7.38 x 4.81 mm. Inventory #21913. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

The first is a 2.09-carat square cushion-cut with an electric green hue. This is a top color for demantoid, even taking on a neon lime-green glow in the daylight. Upon closer inspection the silky feel of the stone reveals an amazing horsetail spray radiating from the center.

Demantoid Garnet photo image
Fir sure, this is a very important gem: evergreen-hued demantoid, 9.61-carat round, 13.02 x 8.2 mm. Inventory #21909. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

The second demantoid is a world-class 9.61-carat round brilliant. Even fine 2-carat Russian demantoids can be scarce, so to have such a massive gem is beyond rare. On top of that the color is a rich saturated evergreen that opens up in the daylight. This stone also has interesting inclusions including the classic horsetail sprays. A true wonder of nature on the inside and a feast for the eyes on the outside.

Interested? Select the inventory number above, call (phone numbers below) or email us to inquire. [back to top]

Gems and Gemology News

Purple to Reddish Purple Chrysoberyl from Brazil

A study by Dr. Karl Schmetzer, Dr. Jaroslav Hyršl, Dr. Heinz-Jürgen Bernhardt and Thomas Hainschwang

Over the years we have looked at several studies by Dr. Karl Schmetzer of natural and synthetic chrysoberyl, especially the alexandrite variety, regarding which he has written the definitive reference. This month we review "Purple to Reddish Purple Chrysoberyl from Brazil," co-authored with Jaroslav Hyršl, Heinz-Jürgen Bernhardt and Thomas Hainschwang, and appearing in Journal of Gemmology, 34(1), 2014, pp. 32–40 (abstract).

Search on "Minas Gerais" in Mindat and you will receive scores of hits, so rich is this state in gems and minerals, including alexandrite, which was discovered in 1975 near the town of Malacacheta in the eastern area of the state. Rare purple to reddish purple chrysoberyl (aka "red" chrysoberyl) from Malacacheta has only briefly been discussed prior to the present study.

In this study, Dr. Schmetzer and his colleagues begin with a summary of pleochroism and color-change of typical chromium-bearing chrysoberyl, i.e. alexandrite. The new study's two samples consisted of a 1.91-carat twinned crystal obtained in the Malacacheta area and a 0.49-carat faceted stone from a private collection with the locality of "Brazil." The faceted chrysoberyl, which measured 2.4 mm in thickness, was compared with a 0.11-carat alexandrite from Hematita, not far from Malacacheta, a thickness of 1.8 mm. The alexandrite displayed purple in incandescent light and intense blue-green in daylight. In comparison the crystal and cut stone appear very dark violet-purple or purple in reflected daylight and reddish purple or red-purple in reflected incandescent light, as shown below, whereas fiber-optic illumination showed them to be nicely transparent and intensely colored.

Red Chrysoberyl Samples photo image Red Chrysoberyl Samples photo image
These two purple to reddish purple chrysoberyls were studied for this report, and are shown here in daylight (top) and incandescent light (bottom). The faceted stone weighs 0.49 ct and the crystal is 1.91 ct. (Photos: Karl Schmetzer)

As can be seen from the images above, the crystal specimen is twinned. The morphology is described in the report and is found to represent growth "that is typical for pegmatitic chrysoberyl from many localities, such as Sri Lanka."

The faceted stone also is twinned, as is shown in the study using immersion and two different lighting methods. It contains birefringent platelets, which previously have been described in Malacacheta alexandrite, but are not usually seen in Hematita samples. The growth structures in the reddish purple chrysoberyl samples also differ from those seen in Hematita alexandrite, but are similar to Malacacheta alexandrites.

Given that both samples are twinned, the researchers were unable, without immersion, to view them parallel to each of the a, b and c axes so that light could pass through a single individual of the twin. Using the immersion microscope, enhanced by polarized light, it was possible to achieve the optimum light path in order to correctly observe the colors of X, Y and Z. The greatest divergence of the reddish purple chrysoberyl samples from typical alexandrite was found for Y in polarized light, being yellowish orange in daylight and reddish orange in incandescent light for the former samples, compared with yellow-green or yellowish green in daylight and yellow-orange to orange in incandescent light for typical alexandrite.

Crystal drawing image
This idealized crystal drawing (clinographic projection) of the twinned chrysoberyl crystal from Malacacheta shows a tabular habit with a dominant a {100} pinacoid (the other forms are listed in Table I in the report). (Drawing: Karl Schmetzer)

Chemical and spectroscopic analysis found chromium levels to be much higher in the two reddish purple chrysoberyls than for the Hematita alexandrite. As stated in the report's abstract, "The high Cr content is responsible for a reduced transmission in the blue-green range of the visible spectrum, which causes a shift in the daylight coloration from blue-green for typical Cr-bearing chrysoberyl (alexandrite) to violet-purple or purple for such samples with distinctly higher Cr values." If more aluminium in the chrysoberyl structure is replaced by chromium, a new mineral is formed, which was recently discovered in the emerald-alexandrite deposits in the Urals, Russia. The name of this non-gem mineral is mariinskite.

Iron levels in the two specimens were found to be similar to alexandrites from the Hematita. Because the duo's inclusion pattern, growth structures and trace-element levels are consistent with Malacacheta alexandrites, and inconsistent with those of Hematita alexandrites, the authors concluded that the latter locality was an unlikely origin for the reddish purple chrysoberyls.

Crystal photomicrograph image
The chrysoberyl crystal is colour zoned, with a dark reddish purple core and an almost colourless overgrowth; the edges of the core are somewhat rounded. Immersion, incandescent light, view perpendicular to the a-axis (crystal measures 8.8 × 3.3 mm). (Photomicrograph: Karl Schmetzer)

One feature not yet mentioned above, but which is obvious from the image of the reddish purple crystal is its colorless overgrowth. The authors remark that colorless chrysoberyl are very rare, mainly coming from Sri Lanka and Burma's Mogok. Such a colorless overgrowth on a dark, chromium rich core was hitherto unknown to the authors. This distinct color zoning indicates two different growth steps for the twinned crystal.

For the colored gemstone enthusiast, curiosity is piqued regarding this rare material when the authors provide this tempting appraisal: "The colour and colour variation between daylight and incandescent light resemble some dark purple or purplish red garnets of the pyrope-almandine series, or some purplish rubies." [back to top]

Justice, Jewels in the Jungle

On May 27, the four-year ordeal of Ann Maxim Patton, accused of killing her husband John Felix Bender in their home in a Costa Rica jungle, ended with her conviction. In the course of investigating Bender's death, police found "undocumented gems" worth millions, according to Outside magazine writer Ned Zeman's 8500-word article on the case published a year ago.

Bender had been a Wall Street billionaire, meeting Patton in 1998. The two found they both had a love of animals and conservation. In 2000 they moved to Costa Rica after having only visited previously. By October of 2004 they had built a massive 80,000-square-foot home with an Olympic-sized bedroom (see video), where Bender died in 2010 amid a collection of 550 Tiffany lamps. Their property also included an animal refuge and a preserve on which a new species of orchid was discovered.

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Still image from a Spanish-language video report by Costa Rica's Repretel media firm. The report takes the viewer through the lavish home of Ann Patton and John Bender as well as to a brief interview with Patton, posted a week before her conviction.

Both partners battled bipolar disorder, and Patton claimed to have Lyme disease amongst other ailments. After the death of her husband she had more challenges: she was accused of smuggling the gems. According to writer Zeman, diamonds, rubies and opals had been found by the investigators, some in custom-made display cases, others lying on counters or squirreled away in backpacks. None were accompanied by receipts or evidence of tariffs paid, although Patton told Zeman she could produce the paperwork. She showed Zeman photos that the police had taken to catalog the collection—a red diamond bought in a 2.2-million-dollar lot, diamonds and opals valued at $8.5 million—$15 million in all.

Patton was acquitted in a January 2013 trial. "With good reason," Zeman wrote, since the prosecution provided little evidence, no motive and much speculation. But prosecutors appealed; a new trial began May 19 this year. The English-language Costa Rica online newspaper Tico Times outlined the prosecution's new case—still minus a motive—which convinced three judges of her guilt. She was sentenced to 22 years in prison, but first was remanded to a psychiatric facility for preventive detention. According to a "Free Ann" website, she was transferred to prison ten days ago. [back to top]

Industry News

PSMSWG: A Solution In Search of a Problem?

Trade group goes mining for responsible sourcing

In March we noted the formation of a relatively new trade group known as the Precious Stones Multi-Stakeholder Working Group (PSMSWG), billing itself as "an open, non-exclusive coalition of companies, associations, NGOs and governments sharing an interest in responsible sourcing and supply-chain due diligence for precious stones." The group is investigating application of due diligence guidelines by entities such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The intent is to mirror existing guidelines regarding the responsible sourcing of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Given that Signet, a major stakeholder that does 75% of its business in diamonds via brands like Jared, and given also the prominent presence of the State Department, the working group's efforts are seen by some as an indirect attempt to enhance the Kimberly Process.

According to the summary of a meeting held May 26 in Paris, organized by the PSMSWG, the aim is to break the links between minerals and violent conflict and human rights abuse. The summary then goes into elements and issues of due diligence, process and next steps. What seemed to be missing in the background section, however, are any examples emblematic of the need for such guidelines in the first place.

Here's an example, an article published last month by the Canadian newsweekly Maclean's with the lurid headlines (Web posts often have more than one), "Blood stones: Terrorism, drug smuggling and Pakistan's gemstone trade / The dangerous world of Pakistan's gem trade." The article's author Adnan Khan, who has penned a string of doom-and-gloom pieces for Maclean's, also posted a video covering the same subject. After suggesting that laundered cash from gemstones mined in a Taliban-controlled village is packing the arsenals and storehouses of Taliban commanders, Khan discussed the problem with Muneer Ahmad, an investigator with Pakistan's financial monitoring unit, but Ahmad couldn't be bothered because the problem is too small, relatively speaking.

Consider the statistics that Khan himself uses. The global trade in gemstones: $10 billion. Pakistan's legal trade in gemstones: less than $50 million. Other statistic cited: $3.4 million in reported gem exports (according to Pakistan Gems and Jewellery Development Company) with perhaps $300 million from Pakistan unreported. Compare these with the gross revenue of Royal Dutch Shell for the 12 months ending March 31, 2014: $448 billion. As everyone knows, 95% of the gemstones mined are of no to very little value. Even if a small percentage was being paid to Taliban this would not add up to enough money to be an important source of funds for their operations. As one industry insider told us after reading Khan's article, "The gem business is a tough business even for those in it. Terrorists do not know the business so it would be doubly difficult for them. They might actually lose money." (Note that the Maclean's article's pictured "ruby specimen extracted from one of [Afghanistan's] top producing mines" is worthless.)

Web shot image
Direct from Peshawar, 799 ct for a ten-spot offered on eBay. Alas, this sale "was ended by the seller because there was an error in the listing."

Khan's article goes on to discuss Afghan emeralds winding up in Colombia, being passed off as Colombian; Afghan rubies showing up in Bangkok being marketed as Burmese. A problem, yes, but not of the human rights variety.

Assuming that there is a mine-to-market verification need, PSMSWG is set up to explore methodology. In pursuit of this goal, a draft report was prepared and was supposed to be issued last month in Paris. We're told it was so poorly written and documented that the PSMSWG sent it back for major revision and did not present it in Paris. The new draft is scheduled to be prepared in two months for eventual presentation to the OECD. Issues that we reported on in March still remain, with more being articulated in particular by Dana Schorr, a member of the organization's Communications Committee. "I have asked for a set of all the minutes of the Committee," he told us last Thursday. "After four months I'm still waiting." Schorr has been sending out his own communications to interested parties. We received eight in May alone including concerns raised by ICA, AGTA, Antwerp World Diamond Center, CIBJO President Dr. Gaetano Cavalieri about being edged out of the "non-exclusive coalition" in one way or another. On May 19, a week prior to the Paris meeting and also a prospective confab at the Las Vegas show, Schorr issued eight questions he hoped might be addressed. Only No. 8 was answered, in the negative. "Leaders of PSMSWG constantly state that they are not interested in, nor promoting, new due diligence or legislation," Schorr told us. "There is no other reason to involve OECD," which has taken part in PSMSWG negotiations, "except to get new due diligence and legislation." [back to top]

Friday the 13th: A Lucky Day for Diamonds

Petra Diamonds, owner of the Cullinan mine in South Africa, chose Friday the 13th to announce the "recovery" of a remarkable blue diamond. At 122.52 carats, it could vie for the top spot in the pantheon of blue rough, but JCK mentions a 620.14-carat light blue that was found in South Africa in 1984, and that the Hope is estimated to have come from a rough of 112 carats.

Blue Diamond photo image
Blue nice. This 122.52-carat blue diamond was uncovered at South Africa's Cullinan mine. It's about the size of a walnut. Wouldn't it be wonderful if it could be saved as a crystal in the Smithsonian? (Photo courtesy Petra Diamonds)

The rough will not be sold before the end of Petra's fiscal year, June 30, because it's value cannot be assessed without further study. Petra provided the following list of important blues uncovered since acquiring the Cullinan mine in 2008.

  • A 39.9 carat diamond which sold for US$8.8 million (or US$220,551 per carat) in 2008.
  • A 26.6 carat diamond which yielded a fancy vivid blue and internally flawless 7.0 carat polished stone. Sold for US$9.49 million (or US$1.35 million per carat) at a Sotheby's auction in 2009; at the time this was the highest price per carat for any gemstone sold at auction and the highest price for a fancy vivid blue diamond sold at auction. It was subsequently named the 'Star of Josephine' by its new owner.
  • A 25.5 carat diamond which sold for US$16.9 million (or US$663,144 per carat) in 2013.
  • A 29.6 carat diamond which sold for US$25.6 million (or US$862,780 per carat) in February 2014.

JCK points to a Reuters piece that quotes finnCap analyst Martin Potts as saying he thinks this could be a record-breaker in terms of price. JCK also quotes Natural Color Diamond Association educational director Thomas Gelb as saying this could be the biggest blue faceted diamond ever. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Kachin Krackdown

Sapphire photo image
For the discriminating collector. A natural Burma ruby, 3.01 carats of perfection. Inventory #21892. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

As we have noted in this column before, jade mines in Kachin state supposedly were closed in 2012 due to fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government forces. This created a vacuum, filled by thousands of artisanal miners. Now, the government is cracking down in big way. As reported by the Myanmar Times (MT) last week, a President's Office special task force has arrested 1300 miners and seized equipment between mid-March and the end of May. The equipment included 1312 generators, 10 water pumps, 142 stone punch machines and more. Some miners are receiving protection of armed ethnic groups, however and some illegal miners in Hpakant threatened to break into jade storehouses. The President's task force, consisting of police, military and government officials, was mandated on February 2 to take action—and did.

The Irrawaddy published a profile of displaced Kachin villagers May 16. They had been told they could return within three months; it's been a year, and no return. National Geographic published a story May 20 reporting that the KIA used to fund its operation by charging a road toll for shipments of gold and jade; now it is for timber trafficking.

The trickle in jade from Kachin has caused Mandalay's trading center to slow due to the dearth of fine jade, according to another MT story, May 18. Chinese buyers—key to the success of the market—have been staying away since February. Democratic Voice of Burma on May 28 gave another reason for Mandalay's doldrums: China's suspension of loans to its jade merchants. Yet Hong Kong is taking steps to facilitate even more trade with Burma; it already is Burma's third largest investor. As another May 18 MT story states, Hong Kong is interested in Burma's jade and jewelry, and agricultural products.

Also on May 18, MT reported on jade trader's secret weapon that doesn't seem to be doing too well: paying homage to the spirit of the Mother Naga (mother serpent), known as Naga Mae Daw. At the turn of the last century, legend has it, a jade trader visited Wat Kangyeema, near Mandalay, and his daughter was possessed by the serpent spirit, who gave great advice, leading to the traders great fortune in trading.

In other jade news, it appears that the Hpakant-Moegaung that was to be paved partly with the cash of gem mining companies will move forward—without the companies' contribution, as reported by MT yesterday. Reluctance on the part of the companies had led to a literal roadblock of their vehicles and a ban or their local sale of jade. Companies appealed to the President, who agreed with them; only the Ministry of Construction will be responsible for the project.

Other Industry News

On June 2, Eleven Media Group (EMG) reported that the Burma government is planning to exempt small businesses, that earn less than $15,000 a year, from taxes. Also, an export tax set at 30% for raw gems would be suspended. The tax will be replaced with value-added tax.

The Ministry of Science and Technology is advocating laws "to protect unique Myanmar products like teak, thanaka (sandalwood), lotus flower, handicrafts, precious stones such as jade and rubies, so that their value might increase in world markets," as stated in a May 30 story by EMG. A protective law may be enacted as soon as this month.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Two beensie bits from Mizzima News: 1) 7500 gems will be displayed for sale at the Myanmar Gems Emporium in Nay Pyi Taw on June 24, and 2) half a million dollars worth of smuggled electronics, gems and cars were seized by officials between April 1 and May 20 (yawn…)
  • The Irrawaddy: World Bank to continue its strong support for Burma
  • What if France had colonized Burma? Scholars took up the speculation at a conference, as reported in "L'histoire spéculative de France en Birmanie" courtesy MT

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Pala Presents

Pala Presents title image

With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the collection of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who will share with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology. And, as with this edition, gemstone-related collectibles.

Agate: Birthstone Collecting Cards

June's birthstone is agate, and when we think of this material manipulated by Man we think of the famous agate carvings of Germany's Idar-Oberstein. As noted by the Smithsonian Institution, the cities' production of these carvings ground to a halt in the early 1800s when local supply of agate played out. Fortunately, at about the same time an alternate supply of agate and quartz was found in Brazil. German ships thus were able to ship cargo abroad, bringing back quartz and agate as ballast, reviving a flagging industry. The region had a third boom after World War II, cutting stones from Brazil and also Africa. Today gemstone aficionados are lured to Idar-Oberstein by the Intergem trade fair, which celebrates its 30th year this coming October.

Birthstone card image
This card features an embossed horseshoe studded with agate ovals. Two other collecting cards for June are available here.

For more information on birthstones, see Palagems.com. [back to top]

— End June Newsletter • Published 6/17/14 —

May 2014 Newsletter

Carl Larson and Teacher photo image
Last week, Pala International and The Collector Fine Jewelry hosted a visit by forty-two members of the San Diego Retired Teachers Association. Above, Pala's Carl Larson chats with one of the tourees. (Photo: Geri Vigil)

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Industry News

Pala Presents

Take It or Leave It

Shows and Events

Pala at Las Vegas – May 29 – June 2, 2014

AGTA GemFair Las Vegas graphic image

It's time to plan for the JCK Las Vegas show. Pala International will be there in force, with one of America's largest selections of fine colored gems.

Note: The JCK Show this year will run Friday through Monday.

When: May 29 – June 2, 2014
Where: South Pacific and Islander Ballrooms in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
   Thursday, May 29 thru Sunday, June 1:
      9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
   Monday, June 2: 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Booth: AGTA Pavilion, booth AGTA514

We look forward to seeing our many friends there. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events.

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The JCK Mobile app is avialable here.

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Mineral & Gem à Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines:
June 26–29, 2014

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines image

The 51st Sainte-Marie show will be held June 26–29, with the first two days limited to trade only. This year, Bill, Will, and Carl Larson will attend the show along with friend and fellow gem dealer Mark Kaufman.

Details are still forthcoming for the 51st Sainte-Marie show in June, but we thought we'd point to our friend Alain Martaud's limited-edition book, The Minerals of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. Alain discovered the Sainte-Marie mining district at age 14 and over the years has built strong relationships with collectors and museums, allowing the reader to access to a treasure trove of specimens and more.

The 208-page book, signed by the author, contains 356 photos of the minerals found in Sainte-Marie's Val d'Argent in the last millennium. The book also includes illustrations, maps and historic documents. The text is trilingual: French, English and German.

Book cover image

The book is available from the show's online store. [back to top]

Lecture, Workshop at Bowers May 24

London photo image

Next Saturday, May 24, the Bead Society of Orange County (BSOC) is sponsoring two events at the Bowers Museum. From 11 a.m. to 12 noon gemologist Mark London will present a free lecture titled "Story of the Oregon Sunstone," regarding the state's official gemstone. London is an award-winning jewelry designer and maker. According to the BSOC website, London's talk

will include a slide show and video on the mining and production of the very unique and beautiful "Oregon Sunstone." He will share information about the cutting, varieties and valuation of the Oregon sunstone and show some examples of the rough mineral as well as cut and carved sunstones and Oregon sunstone beads. The faceted Oregon Sunstone beads with copper inclusions (creating the unique schiller) are simply gorgeous. Mark will welcome questions from the audience and will be available to show the examples and explain their attributes.

London's appearance at the Bowers will begin with a meet-and-greet from 10 to 11 a.m. Following the lecture, from 1 to 4 p.m. BSOC will host a jewelry workshop, "Filigree Ribbons Necklace." Details regarding fees and reservations are available at the Bowers and BSOC websites. [back to top]

Jewels of India in Moscow thru July 27, 2014

Three hundred examples of Indian jewelry, royal garb, and objets d'art, spanning five hundred years currently are on exhibition at the Moscow Kremlin Museums, through July 27. "India. Jewels that Enchanted the World" is a collaboration between the Museums and about two dozen institutions, jewelry firms, and private collections.

Various regions of India are represented in the exhibition as well as items from the Mughal Empire. Beginning in the mid 19th century, European designers like Cartier, Chaumet, Lacloche Freres, Mauboussin, Mellerio, and Van Cleef & Arpels turned to Indian clients, fashioning jewels in appropriate styles using their own techniques.

Website screenshot image

Contemporary jewelry houses also have their artistry displayed. Viren Baghat blends subcontinental and continental styles in the few dozen jewels that he creates each year. The Gem Palace, Jaipur, founded in 1852, has the distinction of having its own permanent display at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Upon India's independence, Maharajahs were compelled to begin selling some of their treasures, some of which happened to have been created by the Kasliwal family of The Gem Palace; the firm thus was able to re-acquire its own creations.

Visit the Museums website to view images of some of the treasures on display. [back to top]

Pala International News

This month we feature an extremely rare multi-colored tourmaline from Brazil. A 10.59-carat elongated emerald-cut accentuating a variety of colors from dark green to indicolite to pink and white then back to a fine blue-green blue hue. Complex and colorful tourmalines like this sometimes are harder to find than paraiba…. Truly a one-of-a-kind, this piece was the prize out of a collection we bought recently. This jewel is most likely from Araçuaí, Minas Gerais, Brazil, where fine indicolites have been know to come from.

Taaffeites photo image
Count the colors. Rare multi-colored Brazilian beauty, 10.59 ct, 24 x 8 x 6mm. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Interested? Call (phone numbers below) or email us to inquire. [back to top]

Industry News

Sotheby's Sets Records

Sotheby's New York set another record on April 29 with its Magnificent Jewels sale. A world auction record for per-carat price for any sapphire was set by the sale of a Kashmir sapphire and diamond ring. The sapphire was purchased by the auction house more than thirty years ago. "Since that time," a press release states, "new records have been set and broken for sapphires, with the most recent, both in terms of total price and price-per-carat, set in November 2013 at Sotheby's Geneva by The Richelieu Sapphires, a pair of Kashmirs both in excess of 20 carats (US$ 8,358,520 total, US$ 175,821 per carat)."

Ring photo image
Photo: Sotheby's press release

The record-setter in question is a 28.18-carat sapphire exhibiting the velvety blue of the classic Kashmir variety. It is mounted in an Oscar Heyman & Brothers platinum setting, surrounded by tapered baguette diamonds. Its pre-sale estimate was $4–5 million; it fetched about $5.1 million—$180,731 per carat. The proceeds were to benefit a charitable foundation.

Also offered in the sale were many diamonds from the estate of entertainer Eydie Gormé. She received them as gifts from her husband and stage partner Steve Lawrence. According to a press release,

Eydie dreamed of owning a diamond in every shape, and when she received her 15.44 carat pear-shaped diamond ring the couple fondly nicknamed it "The Enterprise". The other diamonds in the collection include an emerald-cut Harry Winston stone of 17.40 carats, a marquise-shaped D color, Internally Flawless diamond ring received on the occasion of her tenth wedding anniversary, and a 5 carat round diamond in a polished gold mount. Lawrence once gifted Gormé with a gold jeweler's loupe lovingly engraved, "To Flawless, love VVS2," further testament to one of the great, enduring romances in show business history.

The moniker "VVS2" actually is the diamond clarity grade Very Very Slightly Included, meaning the inclusions are difficult to identify by a skilled grader at 10x magnification.

Ring photo image
Photo: Sotheby's press release

On Tuesday, Sotheby's set seven world records. Two involved a specific offering, the "Graff Vivid Yellow," pictured above: world auction record for a yellow diamond and for a jewel by Graff. The 100.09-carat cushion-shaped Fancy Vivid Yellow diamond brought in $16,347,847. As is not uncommon, the record practically set itself, since the pre-sale estimate was $15-$25 million. World auction records also were set for:

  • Price per carat for a round colourless diamond at $246,710
  • Price per carat for a Fancy Pink diamond at $601,228
  • Price per carat for a Fancy Light Pink diamond at $393.071
  • A various owner jewelry sale at $143,135,770
  • A jewelry sale at $143,135,770

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An Engaging Ring


Speaking of big yellers, celebrity Jenny McCarthy sported a substantial sapphire when she announced on The View that she is engaged to be married to Donnie Wahlberg. Her fiancé, no stranger to theatricality (he was an original member of New Kids on the Block before moving into film), enlisted the help of McCarthy's son Evan to pop the question in an unusual way; you can see her tell the story for yourself.

Southern Beauty Blog used the occasion to provide readers with a roundup of ten memorable engagement rings on the fingers of women, from the Duchess of Cambridge to Mariah Carey. [back to top]

Bonhams Offers Largest Ruby Crystal

Next Tuesday, Bonhams Los Angeles will feature the largest ruby crystal ever to be offered at auction. It hails from the Longido Mine, Arusha, Tanzania. It weighs 100.53 lbs (228,000 ct) and measures 16 x 12 x 11 in.

Photo: Bonhams press release

The Bonhams lot details recount the story of the Longido claim by Tom Blevins and the purchase of another large crystal from Blevins by Ed Swoboda. This is the same story Ed provided us with before his death. See "Longido Ruby" on Palagems.com. The above-pictured ruby is seven times larger than the one Ed obtained. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Rights Groups Urge Obama to Extend Sanctions

Sapphire photo image
This natural Burmese red spinel weighs 2.94 carats. Inventory #18981. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Last week, 29 human rights groups signed an open letter to President Obama urging him to extend the policy of "national emergency" that would keep in place the few remaining sanctions against Burma.

Ironically, this call for sanctions comes only two months after the U.S. State Department issued its "2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," which reads in part:

During the year the government’s human rights record continued to improve, although authorities had not fully or consistently implemented legal and policy revisions at all levels, particularly in ethnic-minority areas. Observers reported marked decreases in systemic human rights abuses committed by the government, such as torture, disappearances, and the forced use of civilians to carry military supplies in some ethnic border areas.

Upon the report's release, Secretary John Kerry remarked:

As today’s report makes clear, Burma still faces the normal challenges, from reforming an undemocratic constitution to ending discrimination and violence against religious and ethnic minorities, but we must continue to encourage progress even as we speak honestly about the problems that persist.

Trade and Economic News

Burma's trade deficit hit a new record high of $2.65 billion, due to strong import figures during the 2013–14 fiscal year, as reported by Eleven Media Group (EMG). This is in stark contrast with FY 2012–13, when the figure was about $91 million. Burma had a trade surplus of $100 million in FY 2011–12.

EMG also reported that China was Burma's top trading partner during FY 2013–14, at $7 billion, accounting for 30% of Burma's trade. Thailand came in second at $5.5 billion.

Foreign investment in Burma could be enhanced with the anticipated passage of mining reforms, according to The Myanmar Times on Monday. The reforms would amend a 1994 law that contains uncertainties and bureaucracies considered to be unattractive to investors. The amendments also will deal with tax income enhancement and a process for legalization of small-scale and illegal miners.

Fighting in jade-rich Kachin state could be quelled by a peace monitoring commission set up by the Kachin Independence Organization and Burma's government, it was reported Tuesday by The Irrawaddy. The article stated that some residents of the area believe that when a ceasefire broke down in 2011, the logic behind it was for the government to seize control of local natural resources like jade and timber.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Inter Press Service: In a story about Burmese migrant workers, it was stated that "Myanmar is the world’s largest exporter of teak, jade, pearls, rubies and sapphires" (emphasis ours)
  • The Myanmar Times: In a story about timber smuggling, it was noted that more than 8 tons of black-market jade were seized in Htone Bo village, Sagaing District, Sagaing Region, in central Burma
  • Eleven Media Group: A little less jade—229 kg, worth about $100,000—was seized on the Mandalay–Muse highway

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Pala Presents

Pala Presents title image

With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the collection of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who will share with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology. And, as with this edition, gemstone-related collectibles.

Thrice-Blessed: Birthstone Collecting Cards

In some Christian traditions, May is the month of Mary, mother of Jesus. Her feast day, May 31, celebrates the visit she made to her cousin Elizabeth at which time the child Elizabeth held in her womb leapt in recognition of the child Mary carried. One of the scriptural readings for the feast, Luke 1:39–56, contains passages that would become enshrined in Christian liturgy, the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) and the Magnificat ("My soul magnifies the Lord…").

Tradition has it that April 6, 2014, was the 410th anniversary of Mary's revealing her "preferred" title of Mater Ter Admirabilis (Mother Thrice Admirable) to the Jesuit Fr. James Rem, in Ingolstadt, Germany. This notion has been extended to conceive of Mary as thrice-blessed, some interpreting the blessings as Mary: Mother of God, Mother of the Redeemer, Mother of the Redeemed (believers).

Our birthstone card below mentions the child of May being thrice-blessed. In Buddhism, the tradition is that three major events in the Bodhisattva's life occurred on the full moon in the month of May (Vesak): his birth, his enlightenment, and his death. This day is observed by many as the thrice-blessed day.

Birthstone card image
Two other collecting cards for May are available here.

For more information on birthstones, see Palagems.com. [back to top]

Take It or Leave It

Venus in Bling: Bryan Ferry Allures, Offends, Endures

Interview cover image

Your editor recently re-viewed video compilations of musician Bryan Ferry and his band Roxy Music from 1973 through 1994. I was struck by the video imagery displayed and how it is mirrored in much of the Ferry/Roxy album artwork. It's awash in gemstones and jewelry (amongst other elements of fashion), in uncomfortably stale and meticulously staged images of women—deluxe if not delightful (to parody a song from the second Roxy album), especially when Ferry's appreciation for Third Reich representations is taken into account.

Ferry turns 70 next year, but rather than wait for that occasion to craft a critique of his superficial side, I'll do it now. For the record (so to speak), I've been influenced by him as much as by anyone else in the arts, but also have been ired by his employment of women as mute mannequins. Back in Roxy's heyday (their last studio album was released in 1982), one might be likely to pick up a copy of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, as I did in early '81, vandalized by a "THIS INSULTS WOMEN" sticker. I wonder how many Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry albums received the same treatment…

In the essay that follows, I take a cursory look at Ferry's employment of the female form, and his use of gems and jewelry in the photography of his album covers and promotional videos. For those not familiar with his work, this will be an introduction to one of the most influential musical and representational stylists of the last forty years. Read the full essay here.

Olympia cover image
Model Kate Moss was Bryan Ferry's muse for his 2010 album. He took his inspiration from Édouard Manet's painting by the same name, swapping the original's velvet choker for an antique aquamarine necklace.

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— End May Newsletter • Published 5/16/14 —

2015.3 | 2015.2 | 2015.1
2014.3 | 2014.2 | 2014.1 | 2013.3 | 2013.2 | 2013.1 | 2012.3 | 2012.2 | 2012.1
2011.3 | 2011.2 | 2011.1 | 2010.3 | 2010.2 | 2010.1 | 2009.3 | 2009.2 | 2009.1
2008.3 | 2008.2 | 2008.1 | 2007.3 | 2007.2 | 2007.1 | 2006.3 | 2006.2 | 2006.1
2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000

Note: Palagems.com selects much of its material in the interest of fostering a stimulating discourse on the topics of gems, gemology, and the gemstone industry. Therefore the opinions expressed here are not necessarily those held by the proprietors of Palagems.com. We welcome your feedback.