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January – April 2015

April 2015 Newsletter

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Grrreat. It's been three decades since Pala International's sibling enterprise, The Collector Fine Jewelry, ran a series of seasonally-inspired ads like this one in which Mom receives a South African tiger's eye beaded necklace.

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Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

Industry News

Special Feature

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Shows and Events

Thirteenth Annual Sinkankas Symposium – Opal

April 18, 2015, GIA World Headquarters and
The Robert Mouawad Campus, Carlsbad

Sinkankas Symposium masthead image

This year's theme focuses on opal. Pala International's Bill Larson will share with attendees the stories behind opals from his personal collection. In addition to opals from other collections, presenters will discuss the gemstone's science, geology, microstructure, history, lapidary, photography, inclusions, and chromatics.

  • Dr. Eloïse Gaillou – An Overview of Gem Opals: From the Geology to Color and Microstructure
  • Andrew Cody – Australian Opals, Especially Fossilized Opals
  • Dr. Raquel Alonso-Perez – Opals, History, and Science of the Harvard University Collection
  • Jack Hobart – Photographic Studies of Mexican Opals
  • Alan Hart – Opals in the Natural History Museum, London
  • Bill Larson – Opals in the Collection of William F. Larson
  • Meg Berry – Lapidary Tricks in Cutting Opal
  • Renée Newman – Matrix Opals and Common Opals, Part 1
  • Helen Serras-Herman – Common Opals, Part 2
  • Robert Weldon – Photographing Opal
  • Nathan Renfro – The Microworld of Opal
  • George R. Rossman – Color in Natural Opal vs. Synthetic Opal, and Additional Remarks
Opal Display photo image
Sneak peek. Selections from Pala International's Bill Larson's opal collection will be displayed at the Sinkankas Symposium this coming Saturday, and will remain on view in the GIA Museum for approximately a month. The display was designed by GIA Museum exhibit developer McKenzie Santimer, and museum's curator Terri Ottaway. Click images to enlarge. (Photos: Terri Ottaway, GIA)
Opal Display photo image

The Sinkankas Symposium is organized by Roger Merk, and co-sponsored by the Gemological Society of San Diego and the GIA (Gemological Institute of America). It will be held Saturday, April 18, 2015, at the GIA World Headquarters and The Robert Mouawad Campus, 5345 Armada Drive, Carlsbad, CA 92008.


The symposium is sold out, but you may want to make a note to check back with the symposium website regarding obtaining a copy of the proceedings when they are published.

Symposium Proceedings images
The proceedings from select previous sympsosia are available. Pictured above are the cover and pages from as last year's symposium, held on the topic of Peridot and Uncommon Green Gem Minerals. See details here.

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Arusha Gem Fair 2015: April 21–23

This year's Arusha Gem Fair will be held April 21–23 in Arusha, Tanzania. Pre-show publicity states that more than 300 buyers from 25 countries will attend, with over 700 participants in all.

Arusha Gem Fair poster image

The show will consist of a exhibition of rough and cut stones, lapidary equipment and demonstrations, seminars and panels, keynote speakers, and mine tours. Presentations of note:

  • April 22, 11 AM – 12 PM – Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide: Join Lotus Gemology's Richard W. Hughes as he guides the audience with a connoisseur's eye, explaining what collectors should look for in corundum. The seminar will also cover the major sources where ruby and sapphire are found.
  • April 22, 3 PM – 4 PM – Gemological Heresies: Heresies are ideas that are contrary to orthodox thinking. Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes will ponder some of these beliefs in the realm of both gemology and geology, taking the audience deep into the earth to discover the relationship between the origins of gems and life on earth, and out into space to discover the origins of human civilization itself.
  • April 23, 11 AM –12 PM – The Findings of Ruby and Sapphire from Mogok Valley in Mogok, Burma. Join Hpone-Phyo Kan-Nyunt as he shares accounts of his mine field visits in Mogok, Burma, and uses of instruments in collection of data.

For more about the speakers, see the show website. [back to top]

Pala at Las Vegas: May 28 – June 1, 2015

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.

What: AGTA GemFair
May 28 – June 1, 2015
Where: South Pacific and Islander Ballrooms in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
   Thursday, May 28 thru Sunday, May 31: 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
   Monday, June 1: 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. [back to top]

14th Rendez-Vous Gemmologiques de Paris:
June 8, 2015

The French Gemology Association is sponsoring an anglophone-friendly gathering on June 8 in Paris, "capitale mondiale des rubis et spinelles" (ruby and spinel capital of the world). See translation below of the following announcement.

Rendez-Vous announcement image

Rubies in all their forms
By speakers from around the world (Australia, USA, Canada, Thailand, etc.)

  • Greenland and Mozambique (amphibolites)
  • Burma (marbles)
  • Australia (basalts)
  • Madagascar and Mozambique belt (metamorphic)

News about rubies and spinels
Markets, mining, processing and geographical origin determination of gems.

The great debate of the Rendez-Vous Gemmologiques de Paris®
[Panel discussion on] the sustainable and rational exploitation of gemstone mines.

We're told that Lotus Gemology's Richard W. Hughes will take part in the panel discussion as well as delivering a lecture on the subject of Rubies and Spinels of Mogok.

The event has a Facebook page. [back to top]

Mineral & Gem Asia: June 27–30, 2015

Mineral & Gem Asia logo image

The June Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair (June 25–28), now in its 28th year, has a little company this time out. Overlapping the fair slightly will be Mineral & Gem Asia, held at AsiaWorld-Expo, June 27–30.

The exhibitor lists are not yet available, but the show hopes to attract "suppliers and buyers from various fields, such as geology, mineralogy, architecture, interior design, art gallery, museum, loose gem traders," according to its website—and, of course private collectors. One of the advantages of attending the Hong Kong shows is the port's duty-free policy. [back to top]

Pala International News

This month we feature a corundum from Burma that lies somewhere between ruby and pink sapphire.

Ruby photo image
Pink ruby, 2.51 carats, cushion cut, unenhanced, 8.48 x 6.88 x 5.07 mm. Inventory #22464. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

There are certain stones that hit the market that are too vibrant and rare in color to be able to quickly attach a pink sapphire label. They posses qualities that pull them toward that of a ruby but are not the classic, more pure red color. You hear the term pink ruby thrown around occasionally and question the validity, but when you actually see stones like this you start to understand why the term was born. This month's featured gemstone is truly a pink ruby, a shocking blend of pink and red that is completely unique. Just as a fine padparadscha is a delightful blend of pink and orange, this gem blends the best of pink and red.

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

Your Collection Deserves a Professional

Pala's Mia Dixon Can Make Your Specimen a Star

Have you recently obtained a gemstone or mineral specimen and want to brag about it long-distance? Want to get top dollar for gems or minerals you're offering? Or simply have a pictorial record of everything that's passed through your hands? Pala International's resident photographer, Mia Dixon, is now available on Saturdays—by appointment only—to provide her services to the general public.

Photography Offer image

You've seen Mia's work in our pages for years now (and in our sibling mineral e-newsletter, Pala Mineralis). Now you have the opportunity to let Mia give your collection the royal treatment. For details and to set up your appointment, email Mia directly. [back to top]

Gems and Gemology News

Research Roundup

This month we take our occasional look at what's up with gemological laboratories and other resources from around the corner and around the world.

GGTL Laboratories

GGTL Laboratories Newsletter cover image

Last month, GGTL sent out announcements of the discovery of a sort of gemological holy grail—synthetic diamonds that were expected to be circulating in the market, but until now had eluded the labs. "In this issue," the lab's cover memo reads for newsletter No. 4, "we [discuss] the first ever described melee sized yellow CVD synthetic diamond discovered by GGTL Laboratories in a parcel of natural diamonds of 1.6mm diameter." CVD stands for Chemical Vapor Deposition, synthetic diamond production facilitated by "creating the circumstances necessary for carbon atoms in a gas to settle on a substrate in crystalline form" according to Wikipedia. It's the opinion of GGTL that much of this material likely will come from China, with a "potential candidate" being India.

While describing the peculiarities of this diamond (including a nitrogen content high even for a CVD diamond), GGTL also was pleased to provide a tour of the equipment that detected it: the DFI Mid-UV Laser+ fluorescence and spectroscopy system that the lab developed in-house.

No sooner had newsletter No. 4 been issued on March 20, than No. 5 (an "alert") was on the way March 24, announcing "the first ever published melee-sized colourless CVD synthetic diamond in a large parcel of natural diamonds." The lab tested the parcel with its proprietary equipment, with which it was exhibiting during the DiamondShow in Basel. GGTL claims to have tested a 10-percent sample of about 15 million colorless melee diamonds over the last five years. The diamond in question was the needle in a haystack of a 6,000-piece parcel of natural diamonds from India.

Lotus Gemology

Enhancement Disclosure Alert

Lotus Gemology issued its own alert the next week, but on a different topic, and one that seems almost quaintly Luddite in the face of high-tech gemological enhancements: oil and resin.

Oil Coagulation photo image
Thar she blows! Giving new meaning to the term fracking, oil coagulates on the surface of a Burmese ruby after gentle heating with the hot point (described in the alert). Note how the oil droplets follow the fissure opening. Reflected light. (Photo: Lotus Gemology)

The Lotus gemologists take an agnostic stance regarding the acceptability of enhancements, which is as it should be. But in the nine months Lotus has been in business, none of its customers had been told by sellers that their stones had been fissure-filled. This led Lotus to believe that even sellers are not aware of the treatment. See "Lotus Gemology Lab Alert for Oiled Gems" as the lab's gemologists take you on their own tour of the detection devices (including streaming video).

Mozambique -bique -bique

(…with apologies to Sœur Sourire)

Look below and you'll see two examples of the gorgeous rubies being produced by the eastern African country of Mozambique. As a relative newcomer to the field, Mozambique has stiff competition from its elders, Burma and Thailand/Cambodia. Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes has spent time in all of these. The richly illustrated "Red Rain – Mozambique Ruby Pours into the Market" allows Hughes to do a little reminiscing and a lot of ruminating on the what-ifs surrounding Mozambique, its mines, its market, its mien, its moment, and more.

Ruby photo imageRuby photo image
Light, dark and something in between, from Mozambique via Pala International. Left, a bright red cushion, Inventory #21626. Right, a handsome emerald cut, Inventory #21396. Both are unenhanced and weigh in at about 2 carats. (Photos: Mia Dixon)
Of Blue Zircon and Bow Ties

In 1988, Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes noticed a gap in how the gemological property of pleochroism was handled in the literature. Hughes defines the term as "a variation of color with direction in doubly refractive gems." On the gemological side, this property had be discussed only as it relates to gemstone identification; on the lapidary side, texts looked simply at orientation. In "Pleochroism in Faceted Gems – An Introduction," an update of his original "Pleochroism and Colored Stone Grading," Hughes focuses on the details of the phenomenon as they relate to appearance.

Bow ties? You'll have to read the article…

Tanzanite photo image
Pleochroism in a 15-carat tanzanite as seen with the naked eye through the crown, side and end. (Photos: Wimon Manorotkul)


Screenshot image

Want a handy chart like the "Optical Crystallography Simplified" grid in the pleochroism item above? IGS, the International Gem Society, has you covered, with charts on Gem Structure, Hardness, Select Gems Ordered by Density, Refractive Index and Double Refraction of Gems, and much more. The charts are but one piece of a Reference Library that includes:

  • An Introduction to Gemology (34 articles)
  • Gemology Tools (26 articles)
  • Physical and Optical Properties of Gemstones (18 articles)
  • Gemstone Testing and Identification (20 articles)
  • Synthetic Gemstones (5 articles)
  • Gemstone Treatments (10 articles)
  • Advanced Gemology Topics (15 articles)
  • The Lighter Side of Gemology (44 articles!)

There are other libraries, too: Jewelry and Lapidary, Gemstone Values, and Gemstone Encyclopedia.


GIA is publishing a series of reports on its 2014 expedition to Brazil, beginning with the emerald mines of Belmont, Canaan, and Montebello, continuing with the Cruzeiro mine's rubellite tourmaline and the copper-bearing tourmaline of Rio Grande do Norte and Paraíba. "An Overview of the 2014 GIA Brazil Expedition," by Duncan Pay, Andy Lucas, Pedro Padua, and Shane McClure, covers a lot of territory, and is nicely illustrated by photos, slide shows, and streaming videos.


The Belmont emerald mine, in the state of Minas Gerais, struck the GIA crew as being the most sophisticated that they toured, it being a "case study" in how to operate an open pit. The end product is emerald, naturally, but it also will consist of restoration of the land "to its former, pristine state." The mine's general manager, Marcelo Ribeiro, explained that, meanwhile, analysis of ore sampling has allowed the operators to create a three-dimensional computer-generated map of the locality's emerald reserves. This cutting-edge prospecting is continually refined as real-time mining progresses. Such an operation, which will spend more on reclamation than extraction, can't afford blind alleys.

Emerald Crystal photo image
This top-quality emerald crystal is an example of the best found at the Belmont mine. (Photo: Duncan Pay/© GIA, courtesy Belmont mine)

After seeing the prodigious particolored tourmaline at the Cruzeiro tourmaline mine, also in Minas Gerais, the GIA visitors moved north, where they were lucky enough to have Heitor Dimas Barbosa as their driver and interpreter. It was in 1988, after years of dead ends, that Barbosa found the first copper-bearing tourmaline, in the state of Paraíba, whose name the stone would bear. In Barbosa's own mine, production of the material that took the gem world's breath away has been limited, but his son Sergio has sunk a new, deeper shaft, and there's renewed hope for the future. Regardless, the past had its spotlight: because no filmed interviews of Barbosa are known to tell the tale of his discovery, GIA achieved a first, interviewing him in a mine!

Heitor Barbosa photo image
Heitor Barbosa, discoverer of Paraíba tourmaline, relaxes on the porch of his Batalha home. (Photo: Duncan Pay/© GIA, courtesy Heitor Barbosa)

Comprehensive as GIA's overview may appear, individual articles go into more depth:

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Industry News

Auction News

One-Stop Shopping at Barnebys

Screenshot image
Users can create a "search alert" for a term; when an item becomes available, you'll be notified by email.

Eagle-eyed reader Patrick Reid sent us a link for a website that collects offerings from all the auction houses and presents them under one e-roof. Barnebys began about three years ago with a Swedish version (don't tell Mia). The firm now offers sites for the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany.

One of the ideas behind the Barnebys venture is to open up the world of auctions to the general public, and also to the connoisseur who might know only the major houses. For instance, we searched on "tourmaline" and the results included everything from a 100-carat kunzite and pink tourmaline necklace offered by Heritage, to a nifty pair of Margherita Burgener mix-or-match tourmaline-and-chrysoprase pendant earrings offered by Phillips, to an art nouveau pink tourmaline flowered pendant/brooch featuring a suspended freshwater baroque pearl offered by Leslie Hindman. Best to keep the credit card in another room when you're browsing Barnebys.

Sotheby's Offers the "Ultimate" Diamond

Next Tuesday, Sotheby's in New York will auction a remarkable 100.2-carat emerald-cut diamond that the auction house is calling "the ultimate," claiming it to be "unlike any diamond offered at auction before," according to a sale overview. Amazingly, the original rough weighed over 200 carats. The anonymous owner spent more than a year studying and cutting it. The diamond's catalog entry likens the diamond to the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.

Streaming Video still image

Worn as a ring on a model's finger, the diamond looks like a plain sort of oversized cocktail ring—until you realize you're looking at a diamond: D color, Internally Flawless, Type IIa (chemically pure, void of nitrogen). Gary Schuler, head of Sotheby's jewelry department in New York, likened the stone to 9 volt battery in terms of size and shape. It is expected to sell for between $19 million and $25 million.

Sapphire Ring photo image
Photo: Sotheby's news release.

Three Kashmir sapphires also will be offered at Tuesday's sale: an 11.90-carat cushion cut (estimate $1.4 million to 1.8 million), a 9.94-carat sugarloaf cabochon (pictured at right; est. $700,000 to $1 million), and a 17-carat octagonal sapphire, the centerpiece of a platinum, gold and diamond brooch in a stylized flower design (est. $750,000 to $1 million). In the emerald department: a 35.02-carat Classic Colombian called The Flager Emerald (est. $1 million to $1.5 million).

And then there's a Cartier "Tutti Frutti" bracelet, ca. 1928, featuring emerald, ruby, and diamond (est. $1.3 million to $1.8 million) as well as the (recently shown at Denver Art Museum) Baron de Rothschild Necklace, ca. 1924, featuring carved Mughal Empire-style emerald and sapphire (est. $1.8 million to $2.2 million).

And back to diamonds—the colored kind. First, a pear-shaped Fancy Purplish Pink, 6.24 carats, flanked by two nearly 2.5-carat Kashmir sapphires (est. $2.5 million to $3.5 million). And, the Monarch Blue Diamond: a 6.06-carat Fancy Blue oval paired with six pink diamonds—a lovely, understated color combination (est. $3.5 million to $4.5 million).

Jadeite Necklace Fetches 20x Estimate

Boston's Grogan & Company offered a little bauble at its March 22 sale, an art deco platinum, jadeite and diamond necklace from a Rhode Island estate. GIA certified the necklaces beads to be natural and untreated. It was expected to go for between $4,000 and $6,000. Gavel price: $120,000. The firm's news release states the necklace generated interest in the room, on the phone, and online. It sold on the phone to a Hong Kong collector.

Necklace photo image
Not only are the jadeite beads beautiful, the necklace's clasp features two diamond and jadeite drops. (Photo: Grogan & Company news release via ArtfixDaily)

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Police and Thieves

Taken to the Cleaners on Vacation

On April 2, NBC's Today Show took an ocean cruise to check out the bargains available to vacationers. Investigator Jeff Rossen accompanied his producer Jovanna to the jewelry stores of the island of Cozumel, near the Yucatán Peninsula. Their first purchase was a sapphire ring valued at $750, at the low price of $350. Gemologist Karen Bonanno (yes, that Bonanno) DeHaas was given the purchases for inspection. The outcome is not too surprising. Diamond-buying in Key West had similar results.

Video still image

One Alarm Is Not Enough

Also on the Today Show a week later, surveillance footage showing thieves waltzing in and out of a vault in London's jewelry district of Hatton Garden. Thieves shimmied down an elevator shaft before drilling through two yards of reinforced concrete to enter the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit company. Beginning at 9:19 PM Thursday night prior to the four-day Easter holiday, the thieves spent about twelve hours hauling out loot. They returned again Saturday night, spending six more hours. One alarm sounded on Thursday, but a guard checked the front door, finding it locked. Items were stolen from dozens out of 999 deposit boxes. (Hmm. 999 just happens to be the UK's emergency number.) Reports were that the heist totaled about €200 million ($300 million) in all, but the Sun quoted James Riley of Gem-A telling BBC that this figure likely was too high.

Video still image

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Mussel Shoals: Tennessee's Perishing Pearls

Quick. Name what Al Jazeera America calls "the hub of the American shell and pearl industry." Why, it's Camden, Tennessee, of course.

Al Jazeera America (AJA) provides a portrait of Camden, its prehistory, history, and the fact that Tennessee River mussel shells were prized in Japan for their mother-of-pearl back-when, and later as nuclei for cultured pearls. The industry in Tennessee used to employ 2,000 people, but today the business is in decline. AJA profiles the sole survivor, Bob Keast, who owns the only freshwater-pearl-culturing farm in the U.S. And it's not even on the river; it's situated in Kentucky Lake, a man-made reservoir.

Pearl Diver photo image
Knee deep in the big muddy. A pearl diver. AJA mentions that the danger of such work, together with the lackluster economy in Camden, is a cause for divers being "nearly impossible to find." (Photo: TenneseeRiverPearls.com)

Reasons for the decline may vary, but the obviation of shell for nuclei by the Chinese (they use mussel tissue now) is one. Another reason is the drop in price; AJA compares a Japanese brand selling for more than ten times the price of a Chinese competitor.

Read the full, sad story here about the Tennessee state gemstone that may become a relic. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Rubies, Blood-Red Beauty…

Ruby photo image
An exceptional stone—exceptional because Pala International doesn't often offer a Burma ruby enhanced by heat treatment. But we'll forgive this beauty, 3.05 carats, Inventory #22465. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

…that's the title of a March 17 story in the International New York Times, whose author Victoria Gomelsky followed dealers and gemologists around this year's Tucson show. Quoted in the article, which is a good introduction for the uninitiated, are Stuart Robertson (GemWorld International), Rahul Kadakia (Christie's Jewelry), Richard Hughes (Lotus Gemology), Shane McClure (GIA), Rolf von Bueren (Lotus Arts de Vivre), dealer Jack Abraham, and Ian Harebottle (Gemfields). The story begins by looking over the shoulder of Chinese entrepreneur Alfred Jiang, whose family owns a "free-form" ruby crystal from Burma weighing 424.84 carats, with a Gübelin Gem Lab cert. Stuart Robinson's take on the crystal was a bit of a downer, however: economically speaking, if the crystal had had promise, it would have been cut already.

Deadly Rockslides in Jade Land

On March 30, a rockslide at a jade mine near Hpakant killed nine miners, and twenty more were being searched for when news was released by state media and then picked up by Reuters and AFP on April 1. Once again, it was miners searching excavated rubble—a pile 300 feet high—who were buried.

A week later, Xinhua reported in a two-line brief that 70 people had gone missing in a similar accident on April 8. This time it was a 50-foot "jade mining burrow" that collapsed near Lonekhin village in Hpakant. The report stated the mine operator was Myayamone Co., Ltd.

Myanmar Times reported on April 2, regarding the first accident, that residents "slammed" the government for its lackadaisical approach towards the rescue effort—even claiming that authorities changed a list of victims to a list of missing persons.

Jade Troubles Don't Deter Foreign Venture

The Irrawaddy reported on March 20 that the jade market in Mandalay is so sluggish, it's a "near halt," according to industry experts. The slump is tied to campaigns against Chinese corruption as well as local conflict halting production.

Weren't we taught in school about supply and demand? The Irrawaddy report has experts opining that the slowdown in production has buyers offering less, not more, for the scarce product, causing sellers to hold back supply. For example, Aung Thein, an industry representative, said that jade lots once valued at 500 million kyats ($482,000) were now going for 150 to 200 million kyats. The number of Chinese traders in Mandalay, he said, has dropped from more than ten per week to only four or five. International sales in Nay Pyi Taw have nearly stopped. That means the June gems emporium likely will be delayed.

Democratic Voice of Burma reported March 19 that sluggish sales are due in part to a weak exchange rate and a drop in export volumes (really?), according to the country's Ministry of Commerce. As for the anti-corruption chill, economist and writer Aung Ko Ko feels things eventually will warm up, as quoted in the above Irrawaddy story.

A British firm evidently felt things were toasty enough—in December—to issue a news release stating it "delivered three applications for mineral exploration licenses to the Myanmar Mining Authorities." Aurasian Minerals Plc (AuM) plans to explore for copper, gold and silver. Acknowledging the security issues, the release states that "authorities have indicated that they will then process the AuM applications after excising the jade and gem mining concessions that currently exist over the areas applied for." Other applications, the firm stated, are in the offing.

A Kachin News Group story regarding AuM's plans states that nearly a quarter of the firm's shares are owned by the world's second largest gold miner, Newmont Mining Corporation, which had a history in Burma until 1997. A deal between the two firms allows AuM to mine Newmont data on Burma, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia.

Jade Market photo image
Past your bedtime? We've written a lot about Chinese dealers in Burma; but the image above is from a 14-photo slide show of Burma traders in China. In this image, a gem merchant from Burma feeds her child in the Delong jewelry night market in Ruili, in southwest China's Yunnan province. According to the slide show introduction, Ruili is one of the largest and oldest jade markets in China.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Myanmar Times: Amber aglow with Korean, Japanese buyers
  • Myanmar Times: Tentative step forward for peace in Kachin
  • Myanmar Times: Burma's first Roman Catholic cardinal hits out at "looting" of resources
  • Myanmar Times: Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association official is the only woman candidate for Mandalay City Development Committee

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Special Feature

Somondoco – A Gift from the Gods

By Kenneth H. Rippere

We're pleased to offer this overview of a famous New World locality, authored by Kenneth Rippere, who happened to have been the roommate of Bill Larson when the two attended the Colorado School of Mines. As Ken told us, "I was a collector before that, so you can't really blame my addiction on Bill."

Very little is known about the discovery and development of the emerald deposit of Somondoco (aka Chivor) in Colombia. It is the only known source of emeralds in the Americas prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, so we must refer to the archaeologists for earlier indications of discovery.

From them, we know of an emerald set into a cast gold pendant (pictured below) dating to between AD 700 and 900 that was found in a burial at Sitio Conte, near Natá, in central Panama. In addition, emeralds have been found in the ruins of Batán Grande (along with amethyst and amber), the Sican capital near Chiclayo in northern Peru. The Sican were dominant in the region between AD 800 and 1100.

Pendant photo image
Jaguar pendant. Coclé culture, Sitio Conte, Coclé Province, Panama, AD 700–900. Large pillow-shaped emerald surrounded by four-part gold edging. Outer ones continuous, inner ones bead-like. Pair of decorative, sinuous, "wings" at back of emerald with loose, thin, moveable gold leaf attached. Four legs and feet projecting foreward, each with five similar curving claws, plus one beneath upcurving. Head with rude open mouth full of teeth above and below. Two flat tongues from mouth curving back and ending in scroll at neck. Very bulging eyes at top, almost spherical. Blunt nose with nostrils to sides consisting of four vertical fine-wire sections. Pair of short pointed horns (ears?) on top of head. Long raised tail of rectangular section ending in pair of fixed spiked "wheels." Between them a third wire with loose thin leaf ornament. Small attached horizontal tube between front legs for suspension on chest. This object was excavated in 1940 by J. Alden Mason, curator of the Penn Museum, after golden grave objects were exposed on the banks of the Río Grande de Coclé. Click to enlarge. (Photo courtesy Penn Museum)
   The pendant can be seen in the Penn Museum's exhibition, Beneath the Surface, featuring more than 200 objects from the 1940 excavation, on view through November 1, 2015. Below, the speck of green identifies the pendant in its display case at the exhibit. Click to enlarge.
Pendant photo image

A large, drilled emerald was excavated from Mata Esmeraldas in Ecuador.

The Calima Indians, who controlled the region where the emeralds are found between AD 1000 and 1500, set emeralds into their ceramics. The Calima also worked a large salt deposit at Zipaquirá and were therefore important to regional trade networks. Extensive trade networks were developing throughout the Americas from around AD 600 onwards: the mound builders of the Mississippi Valley were organizing trade throughout the basin, while the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, controlled the turquoise source at Cerrillos, New Mexico, and exchanged it for such things as Spondylus shells from Ecuador and scarlet macaws from Amazonia between AD 600 and 1000. The Maya, of the Yucatán, Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala, were also important regional traders prior to their collapse around AD 900, but no emeralds have been found in a Maya context. By the turn of the millennium, these networks had spread far and wide. Nevertheless, it is not clear that the Aztecs and the Incas were aware of each other: both had arisen from nothing in the mid-14th century and become dominant in their respective regions only mere decades prior to the arrival of the Spanish.

Columbus, of course, reached the New World in 1492, to begin an historical record, among other things. He was soon followed by numerous other adventurers from Iberia, including Alonso de Hojeda (who had sailed with Columbus) and Rodrigo de Bastidas, both of whom led small flotillas to the Caribbean from Spain in 1499 and 1500, respectively. Amerigo Vespucci sailed with Hojeda, but turned south when Hojeda continued west upon reaching the coast of Guyana. Sailing with Bastidas was Vasco Núñez de Balboa. Both Hojeda and Bastidas reached the coast in the area of modern Maracaibo and Cartagena where they recovered pearls, emeralds and "other jewels" prior to returning to Spain. The emeralds these men brought back to Seville in 1500 and 1502 were the first to be seen by Europeans and the lucky few who saw them must have beheld the lively green stones with wonder.

When Cortés landed on the Gulf coast of Mexico in 1519, the Aztec ruler, Montezuma, had been warned of his arrival and sent an emissary with treasures to buy him off. The collection was such that a Middle American god might appreciate: fine featherwork, textiles, jade, serpentine, turquoise and four finely carved emeralds. Two large carved wooden discs, representing the sun and moon were also in the collection. But the discs were covered with gold and silver and Cortes knew that he must press on: there had to be more where that came from! Cortés sent the goodies back to Spain and King Charles had the magnificently crafted articles displayed from England to Germany (Albrecht Dürer viewed them in Antwerp). Later that year, Cortés reached Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, and took Montezuma captive. Within a few months, Montezuma had sworn allegiance to King Charles V and transferred the wealth of the Aztec realm to Cortés, including numerous emeralds. Just to the northwest of Tenochtitlan was a craft center, Azcapotzalco, where the Indians carved jade, quartz, opal, emerald, obsidian, serpentine, turquoise and other materials. In all, Cortés sent three lots of treasure back to Spain, but the third, shipped in 1522, was captured by Jean Fleury, a French privateer, and briefly displayed at Varengeville-sur-Mer, the estate of Viscount Ango near Dieppe, in 1527. This treasure has never been seen again, perhaps buried someplace on the estate grounds.

After Balboa and his merry band pushed across the Isthmus of Panama in 1513 and learned of riches to the south, expeditions soon got underway, led by Francisco Pizarro. In 1526, he encountered a large balsa raft sailing in the vast Pacific. The raft, crewed by twenty Indians (probably Chincha from the coastal region south of modern Lima), carried textiles of both wool and cotton, many ornaments of gold and silver, and bags of small emeralds, chalcedonies, quartz, and resin for trade with tribes to the north.

In 1521, the Inca ruler, Huayna Capac, led his armies northward to the border of modern Colombia, claiming emeralds from the various tribes he defeated. Huayna Capac died in a smallpox epidemic in 1528 to be succeeded by his son, Huáscar. Another (bastard) son, Atahualpa, then slew Huáscar and claimed the throne for himself. When Pizarro arrived in Cajamarca, in northern Peru, in 1532, he summoned Atahualpa to a meeting. The Inca ruler arrived on a litter borne by loyal troops, wearing a collar of large emeralds and carrying fourteen more. Pizarro, of course, took Atahualpa captive and soon secured the treasure of the Inca Empire for Spain.

Emerald photo image
Emerald, 1.97 carats, Chivor, Colombia. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Meanwhile, far to the north, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, had been shipwrecked on Galveston Island in 1528. He and a few other survivors lived among the local tribes for a few years, where Cabeza de Vaca learned healing skills, before electing to rejoin their countrymen in Mexico. By 1535, the small party had reached the land of the Tarahumara Indians, in the Barranca del Cobre region of northern Mexico. There, Cabeza de Vaca managed to heal some tribesmen and was given five ceremonial arrowheads, fashioned of emerald, in appreciation before the party headed onward to Culiacán.*

In the highlands of modern Colombia, Gonzalo de Quesada subdued the Chibcha (or Muisca) Indians around 1538. By that time the Chibcha had gained control of both the salt deposit at Zipaquirá and the Somondoco deposit. Some 7000 emeralds came into Spanish hands as a result of Quesada's conquest. Also in this region, north of Bogotá, is Lake Guatavita, the scene of elaborate ceremonies prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. One aspect of these ceremonies was the dumping into the lake of quantities of gold and emeralds by the local leader and several of his chieftains.

Accordingly, by that time emeralds from Somondoco had spread from Colombia south to northern Peru, east to Venezuela, and north to northern Mexico in trade. It is reasonable to infer that by around AD 700 or so, Indians were collecting alluvial stones from the gravels of the river at the toe of the hillside deposit. Then, perhaps by around AD 1000, they began to develop the in-situ veins.

Around 1555, Pedro Valenzuela discovered the source of the emeralds and soon enough, some 1200 Indians were enslaved to work the mine. Further to the north, the Muzo deposit was discovered in 1560 and these stones were added to the shipments that were on their way eastward to Spain and westward to Manila, headed for the Muslim princes of India who were in avid competition for the finest stones. By 1700, King Charles II ordered the mines closed to forestall further inhuman treatment of the Indians. In 1739, Nadir Shah invaded India, looted the territory, and returned to Persia where several gorgeous emeralds reside in the crown jewels of Iran today. Emeralds are sparse in the national treasures of European countries.

* Editor's Note: Adorno and Pautz's 1999 three-volume study of Cabeza de Vaca states the arrowhead material was "precious green stone, possibly a particularly green type of turquoise" (p. 1:231 n1), followed by the reasoning for this choice (pp. 2:332–333). A reason for discounting the stones as actual emeralds is their locality, as given to Cabeza de Vaca: "from some very high mountains that are toward the north" (p. 1:231). A Texas State University profile of Cabeza de Vaca states the material could have been malachite rather than turquoise, a notion likely lifted from a note in Bandelier's 1905 translation of Cabeza de Vaca's report (pp. 156–157 n. 52): "I saw, in possession of a prominent medicine-man from the Pueblo of San Juan, in New Mexico," Bandelier writes, "a plate of malachite shaped like a large, blunt knife, which he said had come from Chihuahua. It was, of course, not transparent, but had a fine emerald hue, with dendrites."
   Author's Note: My objection to calling the material malachite is that only in a few places (Russia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) is it found in quality amenable to chipping arrowheads.


Spring Forward

Article cover image

If the above overview of New World emerald whets the appetite for more, you'll want to peruse a study published last year in a new journal, The Extractive Industries and Society, "devoted to disseminating in-depth analysis of the socio-economic and environmental impacts of mining and oil and gas production on societies, both past and present."

Brian Brazeal, of the Department of Anthropology, California State University, Chico, takes the reader through the centuries in "The History of Emerald Mining in Colombia: An Examination of Spanish-language Sources"(The Extractive Industries and Society, Vol. 1, No. 2 [Nov. 2014], pp. 273–283). The study, written following the death of Emerald Czar Victor Carranza's death, draws on Colombian published, Spanish-language, secondary sources. Special attention is paid to developments in the late 20th century.

And while we're at it…

GIA has developed an Emerald Bibliography, covering the gemstone's "geographic origin, treatments, synthetics, and nomenclature." [back to top]

— End April Newsletter • Published 4/16/15 —

March 2015 Newsletter

Birthstone Collecting Card detail image
We couldn't resist bringing back this little guy—from a May birthstone collecting card. Be sure to see the St. Patrick's Day edition of our occasional feature, Emerald Aisle.

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

Industry News

Special Feature

  • Emerald Aisle – St. Patrick's Day Edition
    • Bloomberg on the "Bahia" Emerald
    • Pala Presents: The Story of the Somondoco Emerald Mines
    • The Green Man
    • Emerald City and the Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes (and Diamonds)

Shows and Events

ICA Congress Lineup Announced

The International Colored Gemstone Association has announced its roster of presenters for its 16th ICA Congress, to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 16–19, 2015. The theme this year is "Sapphire & More…." Speakers include:

  • Coloured gemstones in the consumer market – Mr. David Schwartz
  • History of the ICA – Paolo Valentini, Italy
  • Sri Lanka rich in gemstones, geology, occurrence & distribution of gem deposits – Gamini Zoysa
  • Current status of the industry – Chanaka Ellawala
  • Unique gemstones from Sri Lanka – Sheriff Rahuman Eco friendly gem mining in Sri Lanka – P.G. Dharmaratne
  • History of Sapphires, Historical records – Jack Ogden (former CEO Gem-A, London)
  • Global distribution of Sapphire deposits – Ken Scarratt / GIA
  • Padparadscha Sapphire – Richard Hughes, Lotus Gemology, Bangkok
  • Latin American market & production - Hecliton Henriques (IBGM, Brazil)
  • Spinel, A Royal Gem – Edward Boehm, USA
  • Kashmir Sapphires – Shane Mclure, USA
  • Major gems in coloured gemstone market - Dr Dietmar Schwarz, AIGS, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Treatment of Sapphires – Punsiri Tennakoon, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka
  • Beryllium-diffused corundum in the Japanese market & assessing the natural vs. diffused origin of beryllium in Sapphire - Kentarou Emori, Central Gem Lab, Tokyo
  • Disclosure – an update – Nobuyuki Horiuchi, Tokyo, Japan
  • On gemstone faceting (new trend) – Victor Tuzlukov, Gemstone Artist, Moscow
  • India today in the gem & jewellery trade (an overall view of the industry) – Nirmal Bardiya
  • From sea diving to gem mining & beyond – Lewis Allen – Crown Colour
  • Present China Market – Mr. Yu Xiaojin
Video still image

As always, post-Congress mine tours will allow attendees to take advantage of Sri Lanka's premier status as a gemstone-producing country. Not only will tour members visit the sapphire mines of Ratnapura and Elahera (amongst others), but cultural heritage sites also are on the itinerary. Will your partner be along for the ride, but not so keen on the mines? ICA is providing a "spouse tour" of Colombo and Galle (about 75 miles to the south).

Congress will be preceded, May 15–18, by the Facets Gem Show. This exhibition of more than fifty dealers has been "carefully curated by an expert selection panel" according to ICA publicity.

Sri Lanka is the World's Oldest Sapphire Source

As part of its Sri Lankan public relations for the 2015 Congress, ICA called media's attention to a late-10th century wreck of the ship now referred to as the Cirebon. It's the subject of an article, by Jennifer Henricus, "Ancient Ship Treasure Confirms Sri Lanka as Oldest Sapphire Source," published in the Fall/Winter 2014 edition of ICA's InColor magazine. The adapted story, posted February 25, is available at Colombo's Daily Financial Times.

Garnets photo image
Roughly cabochon-cut garnets recovered from the 1,000-year-old Cirebon wreck. (Photo: Ken Scarratt)

The wreck is named after Cirebon, the port city in the island of Java's province of West Java, where the ship was discovered by fishermen in 2003. At the invitation of the Indonesian government, the Belgian firm Cosmix Archaeological Underwater Research and Recovery made 22,000 dives over two years to recover the ship's cargo. Amongst hundreds of thousands of articles of trade were 400 sapphires in a variety of colors from Sri Lanka, 4,000 garnets from Sri Lanka or India, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, and 11,000 pearls likely from the Gulf of Mannar, by way of India where they would have been drilled.

Sapphires photo image
Drilled natural pearls recovered from the Cirebon wreck. (Photo: Ken Scarratt)

Ken Scarratt, Managing Director for South East Asia and Director of the GIA Laboratory Bangkok, had the enviable task of examining the gems at Christie's warehouse in Singapore. It was he who identified them and he who stated that this thousand-year-old sunken ship confirms that Sri Lanka is sapphire's oldest source in the world.

Sapphires photo image
"Polished rough" sapphires recovered from the Cirebon wreck. (Photo: Ken Scarratt)

World's Oldest Jewelry?

Now that we've seen the world's oldest sapphire source, what about the oldest jewelry? David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology at University of Kansas, along with Croatian colleagues may have put the finger—or talon—on it. It seems that a set of eagle talons, discovered 100+ years ago, went unnoticed for the fashion statement lurking within.

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Talon-ted premoderns. In this streaming video, Professor Frayer explains the significance of the "jewelry" find.

The talons, found in present-day Croatia, are 130,000 years old and, according to a KU news item last week, feature "several marks and polishing facets that show they were manipulated into a piece of jewelry" by Neanderthals. Frayer points out that not only does this provide yet another indication of Neanderthal sophistication, but also "an advanced level of prowess" to take down three or four eagles. [back to top]

How to Spend Your Summer Vacation

A seven-week course of interest to gem and mineral lovers will be offered this summer at Harvard University. "Minerals and Gems: Unlocking the Earth's Treasure Chest" will be taught by Raquel Alonso Perez, PhD, Curator of the Harvard Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University, and Gordana Garapic, PhD, Assistant Professor of Geology, State University of New York, New Paltz. Registration for the course is open now through May 18.

Harvard Summer School title image

"Mineralogical study is interdisciplinary," states the course publicity, "bringing together the fields of chemistry, physics, economics, history, and human appreciation of beauty." The course includes mineral identification and classification, chemistry, physical properties and crystal structure as well as geological processes. Illustrative specimens will be culled from the university museum's collection. Next, the economics of minerals, used for technology, gemstones and jewelry. Finally, the course goes extraterrestrial, with a look at the oldest minerals on earth, meteorites. [back to top]

Arusha Gem Fair 2015

Arusha Gem Fair poster image

This year's Arusha Gem Fair will be held April 21–23 in Arusha, Tanzania. Pre-show publicity states that more than 300 buyers from 25 countries will attend, with over 700 participants in all.

The show will consist of a exhibition of rough and cut stones, lapidary equipment and demonstrations, seminars and panels, keynote speakers, and mine tours. [back to top]

Pala International News

This month we feature a spectacular chrome green tourmaline from Tanzania.

Although copper seems to be the most sought-after chromophore in tourmaline these days, chromium is an exotic player that produces some amazing green hues in tourmaline. Chrome tourmalines outshine your average greens with elevated grassy-to-intense-evergreen hues. These exceptional greens can easily be mistaken with the tsavorite garnet varieties, as they are found in similar areas of east Africa and can be identical in color. Our featured stone exhibits all the best qualities of chrome tourmaline: electric green hue, flawless interior, and a highly brilliant cut.

Chrome Tourmaline photo image
Trillion Green. A 4.36-carat chrome tourmaline, 10.75 x 10.52 x 6.42 mm. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

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

Gems and Gemology News

GIT's Virtual Library

Have a new tablet and want to break it in on some eye candy? Visit GIT's Library Digital Collection. You'll find magazine titles like Arte y Joya, CIJ Trends & Colours (pictured below), Canadian Jeweller, Jewellery Focus and more. You can browse auction catalogs from the likes of Dupuis Auctioneers, Freeman's, LH, Lyon & Turnbull, and more.

No tablet? It's all desktop/laptop-friendly. There are even links to traditional online versions of publications like Gems & Gemology (GIA), Prism (AGTA), Solitaire, and Facette (SSEF). Gem trade documents also are listed.

iPad Magazine image

[back to top]

Industry News

Burma Bits

Green Gripes in Rubyland

Peridot photo image
Pinch insurance. A natural bright green peridot from Burma, 12.93 carats, Inventory #4994. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Over the last month, Mogok has been in the news. In February, hundreds of Mogok residents continued to protest what we noted in January, "plans that would turn iconic parkland next to that rubyland's iconic lake into the headquarters of the Mogok Gem and Jewellery Entrepreneurs' Association and perhaps other structures as well." On February 25, The Irrawaddy reported that as many as 2,000 protesters had been out in opposition to the project. Activist Soe Myint was quoted as saying that the proposed headquarters would impact both the beauty and environment of the city's signature water body. Construction was slated to have started last month. More recently, on March 4, The Myanmar Times wrote that Soe Myint's green group, Mogok Sein Lan, was "still negotiating" with gemstone entrepreneurs, having met with them three times without coming to an agreement. Meanwhile construction materials remain idle as the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society had received 4,000 signatures on a petition against the project.

A more intimate portrayal of Mogok also appeared on the 4th, in the pages of The Irrawaddy. "Mogok Miners Hold out Hope for Remaining Rubies" interviews Krishna, a Burma-born descendant of Gurkha soldiers, who has worked in Mogok for 25 years, obtaining just $1,000 for the gems he's found in the last 20. Interviewees' major complaint is that the mines' glory days are past. Still, they hope. The article's accompanying photos tell their own story.

Gravestones photo image
Rest in pieces. Yet another story from the Mogok region was published last week by The Irrawaddy. "In Shan Hills, an Old British War Cemetery Fallen Victim to Neglect," looks at the crumbling 19th-century British war cemetery in Bernardmyo. The above photo was taken last November during a Gem and Mineral Council of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Council-sponsored tour of Mogok, including the town named after Upper Burma Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Edward Bernard, who founded it for a British army garrison in the early 1880s. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou © NHMLAC)

Ruby miners aren't the only ones in Mogok. Gold miners there on February 27, as reported by Eleven Media Group (EMG), demanded that the government enact legislation that would protect artisanal miners, who they claim are forced to move on by the big boys when they strike gold. If such a problem appears to be overshadowed by Mogok's reputation for ruby, EMG states that about 300,000 small-scale workers mine gold in the region.

Just because legislation is passed doesn't mean it will bear fruit, as explained last month in another Irrawaddy article about environmental quality. In April of 2012, Burma's parliament enacted an Environmental Conservation Law, but quality guidelines weren't being drafted until last February; they still aren't complete, but are expected to be approved by the end of this month. The guidelines will cover mining as well as other industries. Guidelines are sorely needed, as demonstrated by yet another mining disaster, not in Mogok, but the jadeland of Hpakant, per a story by EMG last week (including two demonstrative photographs). A thousand-foot-high "heap" of soil, created by two jade mines, was undermined by a water-filled cave. According to eyewitnesses, a large jade boulder was being examined by the owner and workers, all of whom were buried. At least 50 victims were thought to have succumbed. [back to top]

Emerald Aisle – St. Patrick's Day Edition

"Worthy of a Coen Brothers movie…": Bloomberg
on the "Bahia" Emerald

Last month, in our sibling e-newsletter, Pala Mineralis, we caught ourselves up on the status of the "Bahia" emerald, an 840-lb. specimen from Brazil, which has been the subject of much controversy regarding ownership. Two weeks ago, Bloomberg issued what is perhaps the most comprehensive story on the specimen to date. Via reporter Brendan Borrell, we travel in a time machine to Silicon Valley during the summer of 2001, viewing 50-inch screens costing tens of thousands. As the dot-com crash loomed, Brazil beckoned, with bargain-priced emeralds to be used in an investment scheme—make that schemes.

Emerald Specimen photo image

The subsequent shenanigans surrounding the specimen are astonishing, with the "Bahia" moved from here to there, a new get-rich or stay-afloat stratagem at each destination. In at least one case, an eBay listing provided the platform for an "origin myth" of a months-long jungle journey involving mule-mauling black panthers. Another tale tells of a purported kidnapping by the Brazilian mafia, along with fishtank-gravel sized sapphires.

Finally, in late 2008, the Los Angeles County Sheriffs got involved, and the "Bahia" has been in jail ever since. As we noted last month, with the one-by-one dropping of claimants in court, the end seemed in sight—that is, until the Brazilian government made its own assertion of ownership.

The Bloomberg story ends with a miniature portrait of one of the last holdouts, Ken Conetto, in a South San Jose mobile home, and a punch line on the lips. It ain't over 'til it's over. [back to top]


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.

"The Story of the Somondoco Emerald Mines" is from a promotional booklet published originally by the Colombia Emerald Development Corporation sometime after 1920. The copy in Bill Larson's collection has the firm's name blacked out, replaced by that of Chivor Emerald Mines, Inc. The anonymous author of the booklet refers to a 1910 article by E. B. Latham, stating that the original mines in question (in southern Boyacá Dept.) were closed "because of the cruelties practiced on the Indian workers" and with that closure the mines' location was lost. The market for emerald, however, was incentive enough for Francisco Restropo, a Colombian with no experience, to spend years searching for the mines. "A needle in a haystack would have seemed better advised as far as possibility of success was concerned," Latham wrote. But Restropo's perseverance paid off.

Latham is referred to in another study of Colombian emerald, reprinted on Palagems.com, "The Emerald Deposits of Muzo, Colombia," written by Joseph E. Pogue of the U. S. National Museum, in 1916.

The Story of the Somondoco Emerald Mines

An early 20th-century reprint

Story of Emeralds cover image

The Emerald Mines of Somondoco, from whence came the Emeralds which the Indians on the American continent possessed, were the mines which furnished the rare gems found between Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and Cuzco, Peru. From the Somondoco Mines also came many of the gems which figured in the spoils turned over to the Spanish conquistadores as ransoms on their faithless promises to release Atibaliba, the Inca Chief, and Montezuma, Chief of the Aztecs.

The exquisite stone known as the "Mother Emerald," said to have been worshipped by the Incas of Peru, and the smaller stones surrounding it, called "Daughters," all came from the mines of Somondoco, or rather it is reasonable to suppose that they did, for no other source of supply was then known.

In addition to the foregoing historical mention of the discovery of the Somondoco emerald mines, references to it are to be found in Benedetti's History of Colombia, in the Compendio del Descubrimiento de Nueva Granada, by General Joaquin Acosta, and in Jose Antonio de Plaza's Memories [sic] Para la Historia de la Nueva Granada. In fact all the historical narrators of the early settlement of Colombia describe considerable importance to the discovery of these mines, and make mention of it similarly.

Emerald photo image
The length of this crystal is approximately 4.3 cm.

Germans Obtain Option on Them

Previous to the World War a German syndicate held an option on this property, and the eminent German geologist, Professor Robert Scheibe, was sent to Colombia to study the formation of these mines and to report on them. As a matter of fact, representatives of the German syndicate were on the property, and in the vicinity, for several years, and still held the option to purchase it when the World War compelled them to return to Germany. During the war their option expired and they were unable to renew it.

Mine Workers photo image
Cutting away the overburden.

Pan-American Bulletin

On page 1036 of the Bulletin of the International Bureau of the American Republics (1909, Vol. XXVIII) the following reference is made to these mines:

"It is not known how long the Somondoco mines were worked by the Indians before the Spanish conquest of Colombia, but the number of valuable emeralds in the hands of the natives and buried in the graves of their chiefs indicates that much labor must have been expended in their exploitation.

"After the Spaniards had seized the mines, 1,200 men were employed in them, and remittances of gems were made to the Spanish Crown every three months. The emeralds were carried to the coast on the backs of Indians, and it is reported that on one occasion a stone of such size, color, and brilliancy was forwarded to the King of Spain that he ordered the finder rewarded by release from further bondage in the mines.

"The Spaniards continued work for about one hundred and fifty years, when the mines, together with those of the Muzo district, were shut down by order of Charles II of Spain.

"The site of the mines was subsequently concealed under the mantle of the dense forest.

"Between eleven and twelve years ago, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the mines were rediscovered mainly through the description of their situation given by Fray Pedro Simon, the ditches, reservoirs, and extensive workings brought to light sufficiently identifying them with those so glowingly described by the writer.

"Experts have given the opinion that although the emeralds of Muzo and Somondoco are similar in most respects, those of the latter mines exceed in brilliancy."

Mine Workers photo image
Exposing the Emerald formations.

Mining Engineers Give Opinions

The following portion of an article entitled "The Newly Discovered Emerald Mines of Somondoco," by E. B. Latham, in The School of Mines Quarterly, Vol. XXXII, No.3, April, 1911, is interesting:

"The continued increase in the values of emeralds during the past ten years—until at present they outrank diamonds—lends considerable interest to the recent rediscovery of one of the old authentic Indian emerald mines in the South American Andes which were lost for over a century. The facts as to emerald production generally are of interest.

["]As everyone knows, the emerald has been the most prized gem of Eastern countries for centuries, and now is in high favor in Europe and the United States. The monarchs and rajahs and Oriental courts of such nations as India, Persia and Turkey have always furnished a ready market for the superior stones and the less distinguished inhabitants are equally good purchasers of less costly stones."

Mine Workers photo image
Cutting the steps.

The article gives an account of the closing of the mines because of the cruelties practiced on the Indian workers, and states that subsequently the Somondoco mines were entirely lost, and continues:

"The lust for exploration and search for lost treasure dwells ever in the heart of every Spaniard and for several years a Colombian named Francisco Restrepo, guided only by a few hints contained in ancient Spanish parchment maps in the government archives in Popoyan, wandered far and wide looking for the lost emerald mines of Somondoco. The proverbial search for a needle in a haystack would have seemed better advised as far as possibility of success was concerned, especially as Senor Restrepo knew nothing of geology or emeralds; yet in 1896 he came upon traces of ancient workings and later uncovered very extensive workings which proved to be the real treasure trove, the lost emerald mines of Somondoco, which give every promise of duplicating the wonderful record of Muzo, estimated at two million dollars to four million dollars annually for a century.

"As the property has been fully confirmed as the bona fide Somondoco Emerald Mines of legend, and will probably produce a hundred million of gems and possibly vastly more, a brief description follows: The mine is situated upon a sectional ridge of the great eastern range of the Andes Mountains in Colombia. I found the old Spanish ditch, which once conducted water to the mines, to be some twelve to fifteen miles long. The reservoirs were on top of the mines and constructed in part of dressed sandstone brought from a distance. The open cuts or quarries were gigantic and tunnels are to be found in different places all over the emerald zone which was found to extend about six miles east and west, and three miles north and south. There were some thirty tunnels which in every case had been driven in pursuit of an emerald vein which had outcropped. Mr. Christopher E. Dixon, formerly engineer in charge of the Muzo mines, personally extracted over a pound of emeralds by scratching about in one place and another. The tunnels are generally in excellent preservation after a lapse of more than one hundred years."

Charles Olden, a member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, on December 21, 1911, submitted for discussion a paper entitled "Emeralds, their Mode of Occurrence and Methods of Mining and Extraction in Colombia." He opened his remarks as follows:

"With the exception of those occurring in the Republic of Colombia, there are no known deposits of emeralds in South America, notwithstanding statements to the contrary. It is quite true that Spaniards in ancient times appropriated stones from private owners in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and as far north as Mexico, but, despite much searching in those countries, no emeralds have been mined, except they came originally from Colombia, as they do today."

A Gem Expert's Opinion

The following excerpts are taken from pages 312 and 313, of Dr. Max Bauer's interesting book "Precious Stones."

"Besides the Colombian deposits there is no other well authenticated occurrence of emeralds in South America. This being so, it has been suggested that the emeralds found by the Spaniards in the possession of the natives of Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador, were all derived from the Colombian deposits. The term 'Peruvian Emerald,' except when used to describe the quality of a stone, is therefore misleading, South American emeralds being more strictly described as Colombian. Whether emeralds ever existed in Peru and other parts of South America or not, it is certain that at present the Colombian emeralds are the only deposits known."

Mine Workers photo image
Working on hillside.

Destiny Favors Americans

The hand of destiny which originally disclosed these mines in such a spectacular manner, also brought about their closure, kept them adroitly hidden for more than two centuries, then drew aside the curtain which had so effectually concealed them. The present stage setting is much the same as it was in those olden days, but the characters and methods in the three acts strikingly illustrate the march of progress—the advancement of human thought—the evolution of man.

With the many advantages of the marvels of invention and the wonders of modern science, the men who are today directing and carrying on the operation of these mines should be able to thrill the world with their product, as the Indians were charmed and the Spaniards enchanted in their day.

Due to the dry climate of the country, and the fact that the mining is open cut work and not operated by underground shafts and tunnels, as is necessary in most mining operations, it was possible for American Mining Engineers who recently visited the property to report the great extent of the lodes exposed, ready for immediate operations, and to form concise opinions of present vein formations. Costs of mining development, etc., have been definitely established, based upon modern methods of mining.

The property was quite recently examined by a very well known American mining authority, Mr. Wilson E. Griffiths of Pittsburgh, Pa., for many years one of the chief authorities in mining properties, specializing in coal, gold and petroleum, who states that "the method of mining which is now universally employed in reaching the emerald bearing formations, exposing them to minute inspection, is most simple and consists in cutting down a series of steps or benches along the face of the deposits and washing the unproductive material, by means of water flush, into the valley below. * * * The type of labor, which is ample, is almost entirely native Indian."

Mr. Griffiths further states: "On the whole I believe the property contains all the elements of a very successful mining venture * * * and the large amount of untouched emerald bearing formation, and the ease with which it can be reached at minimum expense should, to a great measure, minimize the hazard. The market for the product is seemingly capable of absorbing any emeralds which might be produced."

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Click to see map detail.


The Green Man

A reprint from 1973 by William Sansom

William Sansom (1912–1976) was an author of fiction and non-fiction, children's books, and even an illustrator of a children's picture alphabet. An eventual fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Sansom didn't begin writing until about 1943. He'd spent World War II in London as a firefighter—experience that provided much material for the full-time writing he did after the war. Sansom also did travel writing, publishing South: Aspects and Images from Corsica, Italy and Southern France in 1948, the first of many travelogues. One such later book, Grand Tour Today (1968), is a guidebook, the title of which hearkens back to the edifying surveys of Europe undertaken by young men of means from the late 17th through mid 19th centuries. (The convention-stretching female protagonist of Forster's Room with a View [1908] would not come along for another generation or two.) The book was published by Hogarth Press, founded by Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard, who issued works by the Bloomsbury group.

If the leisurely Grand Tour languished with introduction of rail to nearly all of Western Europe by 1850, so too did the popularity of the magazine for which Samson composed "The Green Man," featured below. Réalités was a glossy French monthly (with an American edition) that published from 1946 to 1979, and its target audience would have been just those same men who took the Tour, with its blend of current affairs, culture, travel, fine dining and curiosities. The magazine's Wikipedia entry claims its journalistic model was "replaced by television." The tone of "The Green Man," which dwells on a nephrite carving of Maori origin, itself comes off as transitional, with Sansom making tentative connections between the barbarity of the primitive and the civilized.

The Green Man

This loris-eyed little fellow is a New Zealander, of true-green Maori blood. Green? Because he is made of pounamu. Pounamu? A substance loosely called "greenstone" by white settlers, but in fact a jade known as nephrite—calcium-magnesium silicate to you. The Maoris, still neolithic in the 18th century, used laboriously to carve this hard stone into many objects needed for lasting use, from a war club to an adze to an amulet like this pertly tilted, heart-mouthed little charmer.

Nephrite Carving photo image
Greenstone (nephrite) hei-tiki of Maori workmanship. (Photo: Roger Guillemot)

He was worn on a string round the neck as a charm against evil spirits. Called simply a hei-tiki, meaning "neck ornament in human form," he was immensely venerated, and handed down in the family from mother to daughter. His importance might rise, for instance, if the woman-wearer were pregnant, when his job was to see that all invisible malignancies were frightened away. One theory is that he represents the human embryo. The spirits of unborn children were thought to be particularly malicious because of their impatience to take their place on earth.

At first the little figure—usually about four to six inches in height—looks quite appealing. With head archly tilted, with those goo-goo big eyes, with his squat small body in a passive position, he makes no aggressive gesture; nor are there any of the obvious terror tricks of masks, no snarling fangs nor brows bristling with anger. But in the last few minutes I have been looking at him very, very closely indeed—addressing him, in fact, with my perhaps evil and certainly foreign presence. And I do not any longer find him appealing. Only powerful. He has indubitably stared me out and warded me off. And there is something finally sinister in that heart-shaped mouth, in those nasal volutes rising into what is ultimately a heavy and convex frown. And is the head so archly or pertly tilted? Is it not rather cocked suspiciously to one side, like that of a crouching beast whose every sense is on the absolute alert?

Deep as his Maori maker. Compared with the usual conception of other old-time Pacific islanders, noses pierced by hideous quills, and with their other sharp ornaments of tusk and shark and porpoise teeth, the Maori presented a subtly dignified appearance. He specialized in painting and tattooing, and the intricate curves and whorls of colour covering the entire face give to the layman uninitiate a sensation of some form of involuted art work—a frieze, a fine brocade—rather than of a design for terror. Perhaps to the Maori significances ran deeper. Personally, I find it all charming, like a face made of osprey feathers. Such a cleverly demarcated puss topped a long and dignified flaxen cloak, the whole an essay in ritual and rectitude. Priest, more than warrior. Though in fact he carried a nasty little jade club, danced with his tongue sticking out, and both killed and ate his tribal enemy. Captain Cook, who was the first white to parley peacefully with him (1769), was kindly not eaten; the great navigator had to wait some years until he was on Hawaii to be clubbed to death, after which only half his body was ever found for burial, the other half presumably having danced down the digestive tracts of his clubmen.

The Maoris had a strict and industrious communal life within the tribe. Many a tapu [taboo], much mutual work, wonderfully carved wooden architecture. Not unexpectedly; like many semiprimitive peoples, they fought a lot between each other. Arrived no one knows when by various canoe drifts from distant islands such as Tahiti, one report I read states that "They intermarried and they fought": whether these two functions were really one, as in the civilized West today, is not made quite clear. Only a hei-tiki could answer that one, the cunning old jade.

Nephrite Club photo image
Mere club. This nephrite club, pronounced "meh-reh" by the Maori—the indigenous of New Zealand—, has a beautifully carved butt, which would have aided in its handling. Such clubs are typically 10 to 20 inches in length; like the hei-tiki, the mere is considered to possess a spiritual quality, and are passed from generation to generation. In combat, the club was used with a jabbing, thrustiing motion rather than swinging. From the collection of Pala International's Bill Larson. (Photo: Mia Dixon)


Emerald City and the Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes
(and Diamonds)

My mother, Phyllis J. Hughes, is a genealogist, so her second home is the Denver Public Library, and her home-away-from-home is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. (Through her I have learned many a trick about tracking down details that wind up in these pages and in other personal projects.) She's taken one pass through every book in our central library, looking through indexes in pursuit of her prey, and now is embarked on a second circuit armed with Google Books on an iPad to search through the index-less volumes. But even a surveyor of the stacks must take a break. It was during a couple of recent recesses, idly leafing through old magazines (purged from Periodicals), that she ran across the articles in Réalités above and Vogue below. Her other son (I guess that would make him my brother as well—where's an emoticon when you need one?), Richard Hughes, rounded it out by pointing me to the BBC. For all of this I am grateful! –David Hughes

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Sunday, Vogue online posted "7 Pieces of Emerald Jewelry to Dazzle in for St. Patrick's Day" and the editors reprised one of Annie Liebovitz's "Wizard of Oz" images of Keira Knightley-as-Dorothy walking down the yellow brick road towards a stylized Manhattan-as-Emerald City. The jewels pictured include the real thing—emerald—but like Dorothy, they also wander afar: green glass crystals, horn, chrysoprase, tsavorite and tourmaline.

We happened across the above while looking for "Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes" by author Maureen Seaberg, which was featured in the December 2014 edition of Vogue. Seaberg has a genetic potential for enhanced perception of color, known as tetrachromacy. She begins her story, appropriately for the present purpose, on a visit to Ireland. When asked by the bed-and-breakfast owner if she could see "the 40 shades of green" in the fields, Seaberg replied that there were many more, and then recited them, using gemstone names, like the ones in "7 Pieces of Emerald Jewelry" above. Only later did she come to find that her color consciousness was extraordinary.

Think of it this way: typical color perception is like the RGB of a computer display, tri-chromacy. Imagine adding another element, say, Y to that trio: tetra-chromacy. Your display produces pigment; your eyes are receptors of pigment, using (usually) three classes of receptors called cones. Seaberg explains that tetrachromats have the potentiality of seeing 100 times greater than the mere million hues seen by the rest of us mortals. And all these supplementary seers are women. About twelve percent of females have the genetic disposition, but it can be latent. Like a muscle, it can atrophy if not used; thus the women who usually become aware of their gift are artists, photographers, designers and such. To that list we can add jewelers and gemologists. If none of this comes off as all that practical, Seaberg mentions the work of Dr. Jay Nietz, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is using the results of his study of tetrachromacy to cure a deficiency that affects nearly one out ten in the other half of the species: color-blindness.

Don't have your copy of Vogue handy (Seaberg's piece is not online)? See this detailed look at the science on BBC.

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Solo. Musician Marina Diamandis—stage name Marina and The Diamonds—may not be Irish, but this Brynmawr-born singer-songwriter is Celtic. And she seems to have a thing for bling: her first collection was "The Family Jewels," and her stark "Solitaire" graces a new album, Froot, released yesterday. She's also profiled in Vogue, and like the author of the "Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes," Diamandis has been diagnosed with synesthesia.

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— End March Newsletter • Published 3/17/15 —

February 2015 Newsletter

Sapphire photo image
Crystal cut in rhomboid. The Great Sapphire from the crown jewels of Louis XIV. This gem made a grand appearance at the opening of the mineralogical and geological hall of the national history museum in Paris. See more images of the sapphire and more below. (Photo: Carl Larson)

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Industry News


Recycle Bin

Shows and Events

Luxury Then and Now

Two exhibitions currently on view examine excess—the root of the term luxury—from different angles. The Getty presents a French collection in a traditional fashion, as befits the flagship entity of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world's wealthiest art institution. The Victoria & Albert, which apparently succeeds at its mission "To be the world’s leading museum of art and design," takes a frankly conceptual approach to an international exhibition of everything from fabricated plastic to an inscribed golden ready-made, with that quintessential de luxe—an ecclesiastical crown—taking center stage.

Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville

The tale of the Berthouville Treasure reminds us of the parable about the lucky sharecropper found in the Christian scriptures, "Our father's country is like a buried treasure turned up by a plow in the field: the farmer who finds it sells all that he owns to buy that field." [1] Fast-forward to the waning days of winter 1830, when a Normand farmer acquired a field near the village of Berthouville in northern France.

Intaglio photo image
Gem with Achilles Playing the Cithara, 75–50 B.C.E. Signed by Pamphilos (Greek, active first century B.C.E.) Amethyst intaglio, H: 1.7 x L: 1.4 cm (11/16 x 9/16 in). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris. In Book 9 of the Iliad, Achilles is portrayed as accompanying himself on this instrument, which means "guitar" in modern Greek. Taking on the role of bard—conveyor of an oral tradition, of which the Iliad was one—Achilles can be seen as writing his own history, according to one writer.

On March 21—a Sunday, and the vernal equinox—the farmer, "appropriately" named Prosper Taurin (as noted in a Getty blog that explores the farm's environs), struck his plowshare on an ancient tile. Doing a little digging, Taurin discovered a brick-lined chamber filled with temple treasure weighing 55 pounds (25 kg). Melted down, this silver would have provided the farmer with a tidy sum, but instead he took the advice of a relative and showed the hoard to authorities. Had the farmer been as bullheaded as his surname suggests (Taurin = bullfighting) we would have been the poorer.

Ring photo image
Above, Ring with an Inscription, 100–300 C.E., Roman. Gold and nicolo (a type of onyx used for engraving). Object (ring): H: 1.6 x L: 3.2 cm (5/8 x 1 1/4 in). Object (intaglio): H: 1.2 x L: 1.6 cm (1/2 x 5/8 in). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris.
   Below, Ring with a Double Portrait, 200–300 C.E., Roman. Cornelian intaglio and gold. Object (ring): H: 1.8 x L: 2.1 cm (11/16 x 13/16 in). Object (intaglio): H: 1.4 x L: 1.9 cm (9/16 x 3/4 in). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris.
Ring photo image

Unlike scripture, the provenance of which will be contended for the foreseeable future by scholarly exegetes, the Berthouville hoard appears to be neatly chronicled (search on "Berthouville") in the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the country's National Library, which actually houses the treasure. The archive even includes the bill of sale between Taurin and Désiré-Raoul Rochette, curator of the Cabinet des médailles et antiques of the Bibliothèque royale (precursor of the Bibliothèque nationale). The entire find was sold by Taurin for 15,000 francs. [2]

Cameo of Emperor Trajan, about 100 C.E., Roman. Sardonyx set in a seventeenth-century gold, enamel, and ruby mount, H: 8.8 x L: 6.3 cm (3 7/16 x 2 1/2 in). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris. Typographers (if the breed has not died out) and layout artists will recognize the Emperor's name as that of an elegant serif typeface based on the inscription on the column that celebrates Trajan's victory in the two Dacian Wars of the early 100s C.E.

For the past four years, the Getty has been engaged in meticulous conservation and research of the hoard, resulting in the exhibit, Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville, which is on view at the Getty Villa through August 17, 2015. We include here examples of jewels that were found amidst the exquisite silver objects.

1. Found in Matthew 13:44 and the sayings gospel of Thomas 109. I use a simplified version rendered by Guy Davenport and Benjamin Urrutia (The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus, Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996, p. 5).

2. A modern comparison is perhaps best performed by using figures as recorded in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (via the Carpe Horas blog): 1 franc would buy you 20 loaves of bread; Bishop Myriel's annual stipend was 15,000 francs, the same as the sale price of the Berthouville Treasure.

What is Luxury?

"This exhibition is not focused on luxury consumption," declares a blog entry accompanying the V&A exhibition, What is Luxury? "Given that the V&A is located in one of the most consolidated areas of luxury consumption from food to property, we curators felt that adding to that would contribute little to the current luxury debate," continues co-curator Jana Scholze. By presenting a series of themes—Creating Luxury, A Space for Time, A Future for Luxury, and What is Your Luxury?—the curators hope the viewer comes away with a personal take on the title question.

Time for Yourself photo image
Time for Yourself by Marcin Rusak and Iona Inglesby, 2013. (Photo: © Marcin Rusak)

Artists Marcin Rusak and Iona Inglesby created perhaps the most luxurious piece in the exhibition, at least for those of us tied to modern conveniences that allow—demand—work to be done anywhere, anytime. "It is almost impossible to get truly lost these days," they write on Rusak's online portfolio. "Time for Yourself" makes it impossible to do otherwise—what a luxury!—with its

  • faceless watch with a pewter finish, which the sun heats and the night cools, "hinting" the time of day by touch
  • an inkless pen; had you a map, you couldn't mark it
  • a salt-crystal pendant for relaxation; a copper-ore bracelet for healing
  • a directionless compass
  • a blanket for warmth and to contain the "tools"
Crown photo image
Crown made of diamonds, emeralds and rubies set into a gold crown with rococo scrolls, about 1750 [sic]. (Photo: © The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the V&A)

The ecclesiastical crown pictured above certainly is sumptuous, with its diamonds, pink rubies and teal emeralds. It was crafted in Portugal and is dated 1726 on an interior headband. With a height of 21 cm and a diameter of about 11.5 cm, it could have adorned a statue somewhat smaller than life size. The crown contains eight bejeweled half-arches incorporating rococo scrolls, gathered together by three tiers of sculpted knobs and diamond dangles, thereby lifting the monde (orb) quite high—fitting for the bird perched thereupon. But these details raise a couple of observations.

Traditionally, the orb is surmounted by a cross, symbolizing the Christian God's dominion over the world. Could the bird be a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit? Might the crown have been placed atop an image of Our Lady, alluding perhaps to the Annunciation? Intriguingly, the crown has an antecedent: one of two scepters commissioned for the coronation of Charles II in 1661 includes the monde surmounted by a cross upon which an enameled dove rests with outstretched wings (see image and article). A second observation concerns the characterization of the "rococo" scrolls, which appear to refer to time period rather than style. Typically, what sets the late baroque—aka rococo—apart from the earlier baroque is the employment of asymmetrical patterns. Yet, those employed in the crown are quite symmetrical; indeed were they not, the crown would be a curiosity in addition to being a masterful creation. In any case, this crown is an example of luxury at the service of a celestial, rather than terrestrial, monarch. That it would be separated from its state and sacred setting, and reside in the collection of an expatriate subject (and knight) of the British Crown, Sir Arthur Gilbert, augments the question, What is Luxury?

Headphone Jack photo image
Headphone Jack, from A Comprehensive Atlas of Gold Fictions, by Aram Mooradian, 2011 (Photo: © Aram Mooradian)

Architect and writer Aram Mooradian graduated from the Architectural Association in 2011 with honors for his project A Comprehensive Atlas of Gold Fictions, from which "Headphone Jack" is taken. "The Atlas of Gold Fictions catalogues the strange infrastructures of the gold economy," Mooradian writes, "from its source in the mines of Australia to the web of precious artefacts scattered across the globe." The virtual nature of gold-as-commodity provides a launching pad for the artist's flights of fancy. The gold-plated headphone connector, above, is embedded with "an aboriginal songline from the place its gold was abstracted," Mooradian writes elsewhere. Gold extraction disturbs the land; the songlines move with the gold. Stretching a bit, Mooradian likens the embedded songlines to the "secret tracks" of pop songs—think of the "clues" embedded in Beatles songs and imagery that inspired the "Paul is dead" urban legend. Continuing the theme of animating the inanimate, Mooradian created "Heirloom Pendant," a "gold nugget" necklace with its own "player," the stylus of which reads the grooves of the pendant, emitting sounds of "laughter and little sayings" of the couple who have exchanged the chains.

Bubble Bath photo image
Bubble Bath, necklace, by Nora Fok, 2001. (Photo: Heini Schneebeli, courtesy of the Crafts Council)

What is Luxury? is the third and final exhibition in a triennial series created in collaboration with the UK's Crafts Council, which aims: "To make the UK the best place to make, see, collect and learn about contemporary craft." The first in the series was 2007's Out of the Ordinary which looked at the work of eight artists creating from everyday objects. With 2011's Power of Making, the craft of creation took center stage. British artist Nora Fok's creations are so versatile, they would have fit in both exhibitions—she did show in the latter. (She also appeared in Pearls, which just closed at the V&A.) A close look at her "Bubble Bath" necklace, above, demonstrates her own power of making. The airy orbs actually are hand-knit and stitched together. According to a profile of the piece, Fok knits nylon monofilament, using her son's toy marbles as templates. (It seems that, while at school, a tutor who also was an angler brought in the fishing line that would become Fok's signature medium.) Once again, Fok's work, like that of Rusak and Inglesby above, raises the subject of the luxury of time—in her case, for the creation of the ethereal.

What is Luxury? is on view through September 27, 2015. [back to top]

Rouges & Noirs

The brochure for the exhibition contains an introduction in four languages and information about upcoming special events in French.

Rouge et Noir (Red and Black) has been applied to many things: a solitaire card game for two decks, a novel in two volumes by Stendahl, an artisan cheese from Petaluma, a Japanese manga (comic) series, a single by '80s French pop sensation Jeanne Mas ("En Rouge et Noir"), the Algerian football team, the roulette wheel, and a mid-century French anarchist journal (Noir et Rouge), amongst others. It also is the title—in plural, Rouges & Noirs—for an exhibition of red and black gemstones currently on display in the southern Belgian province of Namur. The color scheme has a special significance for Namur's inhabitants: its provincial flag colors are… red and black.

Rouges & Noirs is mounted by TreM.a (Musée des Arts anciens du Namurois = Museum of Ancient Arts of Namur) and its subtitle provides the content: "Ruby, garnet, onyx, obsidian and other red and black minerals in art and archaeology." A catalog by the same title* is nearing publication; it will be No. 67 in the series of Monographies published by TreM.a and the Archaeological Society of Namur (not yet posted; see list of 2014 titles). We've had a chance to browse one of the catalog entries, "Garnet Mines in Europe," by H. Albert Gilg and Jaroslav Hyršl. This 30-page overview (in English) looks at mines from Spain to Scotland to Sweden and is lavishly illustrated. Even the Teschen Table that we profiled last fall makes an appearance, in relation garnets from Zöblitz (Saxony)—rarely employed in jewelry—being used to decorate the table.

Rouges & Noirs is available for viewing every day through April 12, 2015.

*Details on the monograph from the brochure: J. Toussaint (sous la dir.), Rouges & Noirs. Rubis, grenat, onyx, obsidienne et autres minéraux rouges & noirs dans l’art et l’archéologie, coll. Monographies du TreM.a, n° 67, comprenant 376 pages (29,7 x 21 cm) illustrées de nombreuses photos et documents coul. et N/Bl. Ouvrage relié. Prix: 35 € (+ frais de port).

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The Virtual Museums

American Museum of Natural History

More and more museums are taking themselves into the virtual realm by posting images from their collections online. The American Museum of Natural History has scads of shots from their numerous holdings, including the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals and the J.P. Morgan Hall of Gems; see them on Pinterest.

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If you're craving more, check out the lovely snow crystal images in the collection, Winter at the Museum.

Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy

Last week we received the newsletter of the Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy, which promotes its own archive of images and documents.

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Need a portrait of Alfred Lacroix, professor of mineralogy at the Paris museum we profile below? Look no further than the Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy.

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Tucson: Rosy as a Pair of Tourmaline Glasses

Was this year's AGTA GemFair in Tucson a success? Doug Hucker, the association's CEO was quite sanguine: "I can’t say that I have ever experienced traffic to this extent, especially for the first two days." Okay, you might expect that from the show's head honcho. But there was some empirical evidence, too. "We actually had to temporarily close down the escalators leading to the GemHall floor to prevent a crush of people leading into the downstairs entries." And the weather cooperated as well; no frozen fountains this year.

Pala Booth photo image
3 + 1. Pala International's Carl, Bill and Jeanne Larson at the AGTA GemFair with Julius Petsch, a famous dealer from Idar-Oberstein, Germany.
GIA Booth photo image
On loan. The GIA booth at AGTA GemFair features images of crystals from the collection of Bill Larson, such as the lovely imperial topaz crystal, above left. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Display photo image
Ivy League. From the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Above, a display from the Mineralogical & Geological Museum at Harvard University with several examples of rough-and-cut stones from U.S. localities. Below, the elbaites from the same display. (Photos: Will Larson)
Elbaite photo image
What's your impression? The original sapphire specimen is from Sri Lanka and measures 5.5 x 2.2 x 2.0 cm, and weighs 47.5 g. It features intriguing, impressionistic horizontal streaking, providing inspiration for the superimposition of the painter's image. Collector Brent Lockhart received two awards at last year's Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, including Best Single Specimen. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Larsons photo image
Good reception. Rika and Will Larson enjoy a refreshing glass at the Gem-A party. (Photo: Gloria Staebler, Lithographie)
Jeff Scovil photo image
Photo op. Pala International's resident photographer, Mia Dixon, attended Jeff Scovil's three-day photography course at the Arizona Mineral & Fossil Show held at the Hotel Tucson City Center. The course was a collaboration between mineral publisher Lithographie, Jeff Scovil and photographer Michael Bainbridge. (Photos: Mia Dixon)
Elbaite photo image
Sculptures photo image
Balancing act. Mineral sculptures line a walkway leading to the barbecue pavilion at the Arizona Mineral & Fossil Show. (Photos: Mia Dixon)
Sculpture photo image
Christophe Gobin photo image
Aviator-style. Christophe Gobin dons tourmaline glasses crafted by Denver designer Naomi Hinds. We featured another pair in the December edition of our mineral newsletter.
Bill Larson photo image
Shady. Bill Larson upon receiving the 2015 American Mineral Heritage Award at the Westward Look Show. And he's wearing Naomi Hinds's tourmaline glasses! (Photo: Will Larson)

Eight Reasons to Buy and Stock Colored Gemstone Jewelry

AGTA recently interviewed industry insider Bill Boyajian about the advisability of jewelers stocking colored gemstones, and he's posted his responses on his website. He characterized his remarks as being "basic," yet most retail jewelers don't seem to have much of an inventory in colored stones. Amongst Boyajian's observations regarding the stocking of colored gemstone jewelry: it will set you apart from your competitors, it can showcase your gemological knowledge, and colored stones have a history that can be played up (compared with diamonds), as attested by our items this month on luxury and the Paris museum. [back to top]

Pala International News

This month we feature a pair of exceptional pumpkin-orange spessartites from Tanzania. This impressive pair weighs in at 16.52 carats total weight and are perfectly matched with ideal-cut cushion faceting.

Spessartite Garnets photo image
Spessartite garnet from Tanzania, 16.54 tcw, cushion cut, 11.7 x 10.6 x 7.5 mm. Inventory #21636. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Spessartite (aka spessartine) has seen quite a change in the marketplace. Demand has continued to go up as collectors expand into the more rare varieties of garnet. There are still some spessartites from the long exhausted Nigerian deposit on the market, but inventories are diminishing and prices are rising. The new Tazanian deposit has started to fill in the gap on spessartite supply with a range of sizes and beautiful mandarin and pumpkin colors. The material tends to have some clarity issues but we have seen some cleaner stones popping up recently. We have a large selection from both deposits and even a few from Namibia and San Diego County. For more on this material, see our Spessartite Buying Guide.

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

Larsons Loan Dreher Gem Carvings for GIA Display

The Dreher family of Idar-Oberstein, Germany has been carving gemstones for five generations in a region where the tradition goes back 600 years. GIA students and the general public will have the chance to view their oeuvre courtesy another family—Pala International's Larsons—who are loaning Dreher examples from their personal collection for a special exhibition. Generations of Mastery: Gemstone Carvings by Dreher opens February 19, continuing through summer 2015.

Behind each creation by the Drehers is an immense amount of study. "The Drehers are known for their extensive study of animals and other creatures," as stated in a GIA news release, "drawing from as many as 500 photos of each subject to create the superb detail in their works of art."

Carving photo image
Poised. Carving by Gerd Dreher, 17 x 10 cm, from a single piece of multicolored agate. Courtesy of the Larson family. (Photo: Robert Weldon; © GIA)
Carving photo image
Sneak peek. Above and below, we're given a taste of the Dreher family exhibition at GIA. (Photos: Bill Larson)
Carving photo image
Carving photo image
Carving by Patrick Dreher, 7 x 5 cm, from a single crystal of smoky quartz. Courtesy of the Larson family. (Photo: Robert Weldon; © GIA)

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Industry News

Crater Yields Two Carats

A lucky visitor to Arkansas's Crater of Diamonds State Park came upon a 2.01-carat yellow diamond on February 3, as reported by CNN. Dean Filppula, from Shreveport, Louisiana, became the proud owner of the diamond, the largest by far found this year. (Yes, they keep track here and here.) A half inch of rain had fallen two days before Filppula's visit, which may have aided in uncovering the diamond, as well as park staff having plowed the area. He plans to sell the stone, but that didn't keep him from naming it: Merf, after his mother's initials.

An assortment of diamonds found at the park. (Photo courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism)

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Burma Bits

Rubyland Report

Spinel photo image
Saucy spinel. A natural reddish pink spinel from Mogok, 2.45 carats, Inventory #1733. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

This past November, the Gem and Mineral Council of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Council sponsored a trip to Burma, with the prize destination of the Mogok Stone Tract. The group's guide was Dr. Kyaw Thu, a geologist and proprietor of Macle Gem Labs in Yangon. He also is a longtime special friend of Pala International's Bill Larson.

The groups travels have been lavishly documented by Eloïse Gaillou, Associate Curator of Mineral Sciences, on the museum's MinBlog.

The group began its journey with three days in the central city of Bagan, which is considered to be on par with Cambodia's Angkor Wat in terms of its archaeological riches. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, a forerunner of modern Burma.

The group then moved on to Mogok. It was a very long, bumpy ride, but worth it. There they visited an alluvial ruby and sapphire mine, Shunt-pan, moving on to Lin-yaung-chi, which has both alluvial (secondary) and host-rock (primary) mines. The next day, a visit to a mineral dealer's home brought a mob of sellers figuring the foreigners to be buyers. Next stop, the Aung Thit Lwin gem market at which some specimens were purchased, after which they visited primary sapphire and ruby mines in Kyauk Saung. At the office they viewed rough being trimmed and cut. The following days brought visits to more mines as well as other local sights, then on to Mandalay and Yangon. If you're salivating over the gemstones, you'll be doing so also for the food…

Jeweled Flower photo image
Posy. A jeweled flower composed of gold and rubies. It decorates the base of one of a pair of statues of the Buddha on which devotees apply gold leaf in Mogok's largest pagoda. Not surprisingly, the Buddha images have been removed from the valuable bases, which now are in a vaulted case. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou © NHMLAC)

Fighting in Jadeland Scuttles Peace Deal

Government forces and the Kachin Independence Army clashed at about the time our January newsletter was released, according to a January 19 story by Myanmar Times. The fighting took place near Hpakant, a jade-rich area of Kachin State. The story said that locals claimed the government army wanted to secure the jade mines for the Myanmar Economic Corporation, which is operated by the military.

Such clashes jeopardize Burma's intent to become a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, as noted today by The Irrawaddy. It's a challenge to be transparent when outsiders are banned for their own safety. Specifically mentioned were last month's clashes in Hpakant, which led one to two thousand villagers to flee the fighting. The Irrawaddy went on to critique the poor state of infrastructure, schools and hospitals in Kachin; the region generates "vast sums of money," which is not spent locally.

While mining operations were not officially halted last month, local reports stated that, as of February 4, jade mines had been "burnt," according to The Irrawaddy, which also reported that "hundreds" still were displaced as of a week ago. The fighting appears to have scuttled a ceasefire agreement, at least for now, which was planned for signing on Burma's Union Day, February 12; one minister claimed the fighting purposely had that intent.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • The Irrawaddy: Smuggling to China, Thailand on the rise
  • Mizzima News: Authorities seize 975 kg of illegal jade
  • Mizzima News: China upset by NY Times editorial, "The Plunder of Myanmar"
  • Kachin News Group: Kachin group opposes monument to Aung San as premature, with the independence hero's promises unfulfilled; "the jade and timber are gone" and "people are degenerating"

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Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide

eBook edition by Renée Newman

Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide cover image

Renée Newman's acclaimed Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide just got smaller. It now fits on your iPhone (via iTunes Store), making it a super-handy reference for gemstone shopping. The guide also is available Barnes & Noble NOOK and Amazon Kindle. If the size is right, so is the price—less than half that of the paperback, which itself was quite reasonably priced.

Here's what you'll see inside:

  • A brief overview of colored stone price factors; why the 4 C's can't adequately determine price; more on price factors
  • Gem treatments explained and precautions regarding the purchase of expensive stones
  • Synthetics and imitations; deceptive practices
  • Colored gemstones from Alexandrite to Zircon
  • Diamonds and price factors
  • Gems from living organisms; pearl price factors; amber, coral, ivory
  • Precious metals and terminology
  • Jewelry craftsmanship; mountings and settings
  • Notable gem sources by continent and region
  • Euphemisms, marketing terms and misnomers
  • Commissioning jewelry
  • Choosing a jeweler
  • Making the purchase; credit cards vs. debit cards; when problems arise
  • Choosing an appraiser; insurance appraisal
  • Gem lab documents
  • Customs and duty rates

All this packed into 156 pages! Too good to be true? Here's what three industry journals had to say:

  • "Brilliantly planned, painstakingly researched, and beautifully produced, yet it is small enough that it fits easily into a purse, pocket, or palm…" – John S. White, in Lapidary Journal
  • "Essentially this small traveller's guide summarizes the important content of the author's previously published guides. Importantly this inexpensive book also supplies additional clearly presented information…" – Australian Gemmologist
  • "As always with this author, the presentation is immaculate and each opening displays high-class pictures of gemstones and jewellery…" — Journal of Gemmology

On that note, we'll leave you with three examples of the gemstone photographs that Pala International supplied author Renée Newman.

Spinel photo image
Red spinel from Burma, 3.23 ct, 9.78 x 7.66 x 5.92 mm. Ask for Inventory #20075. (Photo: Mia Dixon)
Tourmaline photo image
Golden tourmaline from Mozambique, 11.19 carats, 15.01 x 12.08 x 9.31 mm. (Photo: Jason Stephenson)
Topaz Suite photo image
Topaz suite: Pink cushion 4.97 ct, imperial cushion 22.49 ct, rose tapered emerald cut 4.76 ct, golden cushion 53.80 ct, yellow emerald cut 4.11 ct, light blue emerald cut 9.76 ct, blue pear shape 10.74 ct. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

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Recycle Bin

Below are recent items from our sibling publication, Pala Mineralis, that will be of interest to colored gemstone enthusiasts.

"It became necessary to destroy the town desert to save it"

Rockhounds Object to Ill-Conceived Energy Plan

Brochure cover image
This brochure is available for downloading and printing.

What do conservation groups, off-road vehicle (ORV) clubs, gem-mineral societies and rockhounds share in common? They are joining a growing chorus of voices challenging California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). What? They're anti-green energy? Really? No. Really, they're not. But they are part of a groundswell that includes nature lovers, hydrologists, geologists, paleontologists, residential communities, small businesses and recreational users of public lands, who share the same concern that the DRECP is a blank check greenlighting the unfettered industrialization of public lands and some of California's last unspoiled wild areas. Says Lisbet Thoresen, San Diego Mineral & Gem Society's editor, "We're not anti-green. We think distributed energy generation such as rooftop solar is a more sensible and economical alternative, creating and delivering energy near where it will be used. DG is sustainable and it does not come at the unnecessary cost of sacrificing the desert to produce and transmit energy to urban areas many miles away." On projects built to date, Thoresen observes,"Project scale, site selection, and unpredictable weather have been critical factors that have made a mirage of creating a green energy oasis in the desert landscape. The natural dust and heat of the Mojave may be intractable obstacles to success, while the impact on wildlife and habitat exacts a disastrous toll."

The DRECP is a California state-mandated directive, a 25-year plan focused on developing renewable energy projects (wind, solar, geothermal) in the California desert, an area encompassing 22.5 million acres. Said SDMG board member and American Lands Access Association president Shirley Leeson, "The DRECP has gotten very little input from our community, so if we don't tell the DRECP what needs to be changed in this flawed document, then rockhounds can look forward to being fenced out of collecting areas, and we will become ghosts of the desert."

The DRECP is an 8,000-page document. It is much too large and complicated for any one group to review and redress in just 115 days (the comment period closes Feb 23, 2015). Since most people have a dim awareness of what the DRECP is and what its impact will have on them, getting a critical mass of effective comments submitted to the DRECP by February 23rd is a big challenge. Together with other gem-mineral clubs and desert advocacy groups, SDMG is trying to elevate public awareness. SDMG's website has useful resources, tips, and calls to action. Anyone who wants to help get the word out, will find brochures and posters that can be downloaded and printed from the SDMG Press Room or ordered (print-on-demand) at very, low cost from the SDMG online news stand.

Poster image
This poster is available for downloading and printing. Other resources are available here.

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Worth the Wait: Trésors de la Terre

For ten years, a sleeping giant had undergone a meticulous face-lift. Finally, last November, Pala International received an invitation to the long-awaited opening of the mineralogical and geological hall (Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie) at the Múseum national d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. This is the same museum that Carl Larson works at part-time in gemological pursuits such as browsing the collection of René Just Haüy (see "An American in Paris"). Fortunately, Pala's president Bill Larson was able to adjust his busy schedule and attend the opening. His reflections regarding the hall's inaugural exhibition, "Trésors de la Terre" (Treasures of the Earth) follow.

My various Paris curator friends at this museum—François Farges, Cristiano Ferraris and Giancarlo Parodi—have been working on this new exhibition hall for several years now, so I was excited to see the museum reopen its rich mineralogy history to the public. The date worked for me: December 19, an evening opening.

I soon found out that a couple of good friends from outside France would attend, among them Raquel Alonso-Perez (Curator of the Harvard Mineralogical & Geological Museum), Wayne Leicht (dealer in fine minerals from USA) and Alan Hart (Head of Earth Science Collections at The Natural History Museum, London). So I booked my trip. Five days in Paris in December is not difficult to plan. I also asked Patrick Dreher, the famous carver, if he'd like to come down from Idar-Oberstein and he said that would work out fine. We had several projects to discuss together, so that was a great excuse to meet up.

Trio photo image
Triade n° 1. From left, Alan Hart, Raquel Alonso-Perez and Patrick Dreher window-shop with Bill on the Place Vendôme. (Photo: Bill Larson)

My first itinerary item was to look at a private gem collection on Monday; Raquel was invited as well. On Tuesday, Raquel, Alan and I were invited to lunch with the famous John Saul whose writing has been discussed in these pages [see the tanzanite monograph published by Mineralogical Record and mention of his 2014 book A Geologist Speculates]. The luncheon was excellent. We were able to go over a lot of East African history with John who had first-hand information which was very useful for both the curators in our party. We set up to meet again at the opening of the museum on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, Patrick was able to arrive. He and I joined up with Raquel and Alan for lunch at which he showed them some of the work he was doing for us at Pala International. One of the projects is to bring Patrick over to GIA for a lecture and an accompanying exhibition for students and the interested public of the fantastic natural beauty carved in gemstones by his family [see caption of the above image for details]. The afternoon consisted of a visit by the four of us through Place Vendôme to look at the various famous jewelers' windows filled with different designs of colored-stone and diamond jewelry. We found the most curious piece was in Buccellati's: a matched pair of large fine pink gems mounted in earrings. Well we all guessed wrong at first. Alan went inside and and found out they were kunzite. No one thought that kunzite would be on display in the sun. But perhaps these windows had UV protection.

Hall photo image
Hall. Even when the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie is not playing host to champagne-supping receptioneers, it has a stately presence. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Invitation photo image
L'invitation. The five speakers listed above "are pleased to invite you to the opening of the exhibition." (Click to enlarge)

The next order of business was to meet up at 7 o'clock for the opening! We arrived on time and saw that there was a large crowd of well over 100 people already. In the old museum display area there was a podium set up and, as you see on the invitation above, a few speeches were given. With the ribbon being cut in a timely fashion we were given numbers for entry so the crowd could work its way through and would not be pushing.

Giants photo image
Giants n° 1. Crystal giants create a central theme around which more intimate exhibits beckon. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Giants photo image
Giants n° 2. Above, museum-goer peruses a cauldron of Brazilian agate beside a steeple of quartz. Below, another view of the same hall, with the agate at lower right. (Photos: Bill Larson, above; H. Fanthomme, © Paris Match, below)
Giants photo image

The first thing that was obvious was that the great collection of crystal giants created a central theme around which the various displays had been set up. I found one of the most interesting displays was demonstrating that minerals had been used as powder to create pigments for painting and they had many examples. Obviously, many people know that azurite powdered is used for blue watercolor, but they had many others, with turquoise and malachite well represented.

Garnets photo image
Giants n° 3. Cardioid and carved garnets along with cut-and-set examples. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Garnets photo image
L'émeraude. This brilliant emerald was an eyecatcher. (Photo: Bill Larson)

As one went around the central giants we came onto the gemstone collection, many of which are quite historic. The most famous to me of course is the 135-carat parallelogram blue sapphire, which my son Carl was involved in the study of this past October. Like the French Blue (now the Hope Diamond) this belonged to Louis XIV but it is almost unknown to most Americans. With the new forms of communication hopefully this fabulous piece will now take its place as an important historic gemstone.

Sapphire photo image
Wooden Spoon-Seller's Sapphire. From the exhibition caption: Corundum sapphire of Louis XIV, called "Great Sapphire"/ Crystal cut in rhomboid/ Sri Lanka (acquired and cut in 1669)/ Formerly in the collection of the crown jewels/ This sapphire called "Grand Sapphire" (and formerly identified as the Ruspoli), is the most beautiful sapphire in the world in the seventeenth century. Louis XIV, who enjoyed blue gems, made it one of the main pieces of the crown jewels.
   Hughes (1997, 238) attributes this sapphire's original moniker to S. M. Tagore, who wrote that it was found by a spoon seller in Bengal. A Roman prince named Ruspoli later sold it to the salesman from whom it was acquired by Louis XIV. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Sapphire photo image
Crown jewels. The Great Sapphire is taken from its storage place, above. The text inside the lid reads, "Precious Stones of the Collection of the Crown/ Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires, Topazes, Opals, Amethysts, Pearls." This group of four photos, as well as our introductory image above were taken while Pala International's Carl Larson was studying the sapphire in Paris last fall. (Photos: Carl Larson)
Sapphire photo image
Sapphire photo image
Worth a closer look. Above, Carl Larson examines the Great Sapphire. (Photos: Bill Larson, above; Carl Larson, below)
Sapphire photo image

As we continued our viewing of the new hall we came across a large case of golds which should be a crowd pleaser. Also continuing in the gemstone area, we took in a few superb minerals from the famous Louis Vésignié collection, including the fine gold photographed below.

Gold Specimen photo image
One of a cast of thousands. Above, gold from the collection of Colonel Louis Vésignié, who so far has bequeathed nearly 5,000 exceptional specimens to the Múseum in the 1960s. Ten years following his death, his heirs offer for sale 15,000 additional pieces. Below, Giancarlo Parodi directs the placement of another gold. (Photos: Bill Larson, above; H. Fanthomme, © Paris Match, below)
Gold Specimen photo image

After completing our tour of the new hall, champagne and fine wine were served. We all had a great time until realizing that we hadn't eaten except for hors d'oeuvre. A group of us followed Giancarlo to a French club that was open late and had charcuteries with unlabeled wine. Needless to say a great time was had by all.

Trio photo image
Triade n° 2. What, no embarrassing images of Giancarlo? Bill Larson is flanked by Raquel Alonso-Perez and Alan Hart. (Photo: Patrick Dreher)

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— End February Newsletter • Published 2/17/15 —

January 2015 Newsletter

Hugheses photo image
Catching everyone's best side. A candid moment at "Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century." From left, Billie Hughes frowns at the excesses of a maharajah (Bhupinder Singh), Richard Hughes shakes his head at the display case (many of the maharajah's jewels, below, having been replaced by replicas), and Wimon Manorotkul winks at the camera. (Photo: David Hughes)
Hugheses photo image

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

Industry News


Shows and Events

Tucson Time: February 3–15, 2015

After the holidays, we’re looking forward to the world’s greatest gem and mineral show in February. One-stop general information about individual shows can be obtained from the Tucson EZ-Guide.

Pala International will be represented in Tucson as follows. We look forward to seeing our many friends there. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events.

AGTA GemFair

AGTA GemFair image

Pala joins nearly 100 exhibitors for this trade-only annual extravaganza.

Event: AGTA GemFair
When: February 3–8, 2015
Where: Tucson Convention Center
Pala International Booth: 1016

The event website now features an interactive floorplan allowing you to see who is exhibiting by area of the convention center.

Free seminars by notables in the world of gemstones and pearls are listed.


14th Annual Westward Look Mineral Show

Westward Look poster image

Pala International and two dozen other world-class mineral dealers shack up at a Sonoran Desert resort.

  • Collector Day (Sat) features Raquel Alonso-Perez, Curator of the Harvard Mineralogical & Geological Museum, who will present "Over 200 Years of the Harvard Mineral Collection"
  • Fine Mineral Collecting and the Second Generation (Sun) features a panel of mineral dealers with at least one preceding generation behind them, including Pala International's Will Larson; others on the panel are Evan Jones, Christophe Kielmann, Krystle Dorris and Brian Kosnar
  • Also on Sunday evening, we're told that Pala International president Bill Larson will receive Mineralogical Record's fourth annual American Mineral Heritage Award; prior recipients are Ed Swoboda, Wayne Thompson and Bryan Lees

Event: 14th Annual Westward Look Mineral Show
When: February 6–9, 2015
Where: Westward Look Resort
Pala International Suite: 224, Building 20, Upper Level

Larsons photo image
Tag team. Pala International's Will Larson, right, is included in Westward Look's Sunday night presentation, "Fine Mineral Collecting and the Second Generation." Also that evening, Bill Larson, left, will receive Mineralogical Record's fourth annual American Mineral Heritage Award. (Photo: George Shen at the inaugural Changsha Mineral and Gem Show, 2013)

See Pala International’s page on the Westward Look Show site. See also this dealer map.



61st Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

TGMS image

TGMS is the largest gem and mineral show in the country. This year’s theme is “Minerals of Western Europe.”

Event: 61st Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show
When: February 11–15, 2015
Where: Tucson Convention Center
Pala International Booth: 926–929

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Tucson Transit Tips

Many shows will offer their own shuttles. View your transit and parking options here. [back to top]

Glamour of the Gods

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston currently has two exhibitions of interest to gemstone enthusiasts.

Gold and the Gods

Mention Sudan and thoughts of recent and enduring conflicts come to mind. Of course, such conflicts are nothing new, as is demonstrated by warrior artifacts uncovered from the region's ancient past, when it was known as Nubia. Today's combatants may wind up in unmarked graves, but in Nubia's Classic Kerma period (1700–1550 BCE), its warriors were buried with adornments such as large, stylized fly pendants, thought to have been inspired by the aggressive Nilotic fly—decorations of valor, perhaps. Their swords and daggers were replicated in miniature with precious metals, likely ceremonial. These artifacts and scores of other jewels are available for view in Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts for the next two years.

MFA's collection is the largest outside Khartoum, and is in part the result of a 20th-century archaeological expedition by the Museum with Harvard University. In addition to the gold of the exhibition title, Nubian artisans crafted with lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, blue chalcedony from Turkey, amethystine quartz and carnelian, as well as enamel and glass. The latter two materials were novel technologies at the time. Denise Doxey, Curator, Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art at the MFA calls Nubians the "greatest ancient civilization you’ve never heard of." Their territory ranged from Aswan in the north (now in Egypt) and Khartoum in the south.

Necklace photo image
Magical. Above, necklace with cylinder amulet case, 1700–1550 BCE. Silver, glazed crystal, carnelian, and faience (a ceramic glaze for quartz beads). Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. Below, string of beads with a glazed quartz pendant, 1700–1550 BCE. Faience, glazed quartz. Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. (Photos © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Necklace photo image

Above are two examples of Kerma period necklaces employing beads of blue-glazed quartz, both translucent and opaque. According to the exhibition news release the process by which the beads were created was challenging. The amulet case on the uppermost necklace could have contained magical texts inscribed on papyrus or metal.

Pendant photo image
Preggers. Hathor-headed crystal pendant, Nubian, Napatan period, reign of Piankhy (Piye), 743–712 BCE. Gold, rock crystal. Harvard University—Boston MFA expedition. (Photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Jewels of Ancient Nubia cover image
The exhibition's accompanying monograph was reviewed last month by Dr. Cigdem Lule for GIA. It is available at MFA's online museum shop.

Many of the objects uncovered on the Harvard–MFA expedition were in immaculate condition, such as the above pendant. It is the only such example incorporating the image of deity Hathor, whose attributes include love and motherhood. It was found in a queen's tomb at el-Kurru, located on the Nile just as it makes its last bend before its march to the Mediterranean. This was the burial place of the Napatan period (mid-eighth to late fourth centuries BCE) early rulers. The pendant is an amulet case, in an elegantly different form from that of the translucent-beaded necklace pictured further above. Hathor also inhabited other guises such as a celestial bovine, alluded to in the horns that hold the sun orb. The pendant's crystal shape is the essence of fecundity. Above Hathor's brow sits Uraeus, the depiction of yet another deity, Wadjet, associated with royalty as a protector of monarchs and birthing women—like the queen of the el-Kurru tomb.

Maat, pictured below, is the manifestation of the concepts of truth, justice and the law. The gilded silver pendant loop actually is an ostrich feather, emblem of Maat's first two attributes. Osiris, lord of the dead, wears two such feathers in his crown. Maat also has her own association with the underworld, in which she weighs the hearts of the dead—containing their souls—against her feather; a light heart-soul proceeds to paradise, whereas a heavy heart is devoured by the tripartite demon Ammit, condemning the deceased to remain below.

Amulet of Maat photo image
Arbiter. Amulet of Maat, 743–712 BCE. Gilded silver and malachite. Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition* Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

For an in-depth overview of the treasures of Nubia, see this essay by Yvonne Markowitz and the aforementioned Denise Doxey, authors of the above-referenced monograph, in Ornament Magazine.

Hollywood Glamour

The years of the American Great Depression and the subsequent World War coincided with "the most glamorous years of Hollywood film," according to the news release for another MFA exhibition, Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen. And while the stars were "dripping with diamonds and shimmering in satin" on the silver screen, in the 1930s their work lives were anything but glitzy, as recalled by film director Ken Orzatti in 1995:

Imagine working on a film with unrestricted hours, no enforced turn-around and no required meal breaks. Imagine working under a seven-year contract that you cannot break and more than likely will be forced to renew, for a producer who can tell you who you can marry, what your morals must be, even what political opinions to hold.

It wasn't until the late '30s, with the formation of the Screen Actors Guild and resistance by Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, as recalled by Orzatti, that the studios were forced to make concessions. In fact, it was the vigor of Hollywood studio strife in the '40s that caused labor to be reined in by Congress, as noted by revisionist historian Gerald Horne (Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930–1950). "The formulators of the Taft-Hartley legislation, which has been criticized as antiunion by some on the left, were influenced profoundly by the startling scenes of violence from Hollywood…," Horne writes. Working conditions may have changed, but constraints on so-called morals persist. While entertainment industry insider Samuel Bernstein credits the scandal sheet Confidential with having opened closet doors, without a lot of backlash to the outed in the 1950s, Newsweek entertainment writer Ramin Setoodeh has more recently retrograded that actors should not reveal themselves, er, thus. "The fact is," Setoodeh holds forth, "an actor's background does affect how we see his or her performance," and then, as if we needed an exclamation point: "which is why the Denzels or the Tom Hanks-es of the world guard their privacy carefully." Meow!

Okay, let's hearken back to an earlier age, when men were men and women were… men. (Oops. Wrong show: Marlene Dietrich's accessories are featured at DAM.)

Aquamarine Suite photo image
Goodness had nothing to do with it. Aquamarine Suite of Mae West. Platinum, diamond, and aquamarine. Neil Lane Collection. (Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Appropriately, we begin with Mae West, who herself has been called the greatest female impersonator of all time. We're reminded by professor Pamela Robertson Wojcik (Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna) of West's accomplishments prior to the film career that would overshadow them. Eight of her twelve plays already had been produced before she went to Hollywood in 1932, including 1927's The Drag, characterized by Robertson Wojcik as "a serious attempt to represent the plight of homosexuals in a hypocritical society…." In The Pleasure Man (1928), West rails at the opportunistic title character—who impregnates, abandons and assaults a woman—via one of the backstage drag queens: "If you're a man, thank God I'm a female impersonator." If the F-word in Robertson Wojcik's subtitle appears gratuitous, note that even in the small role West had in her first film, Night After Night, she was able to rewrite her lines. In publicity pix from the film, West is the one wearing the jewels, as she does in this scene, when a hat-check worker exclaims, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds," to which West replies, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." In her second film, She Done Him Wrong, she adapted the role of her Broadway hit, Diamond Lil, as Lady Lou. Wearing a necklace with a handsome centerpiece featuring a large round stone set in a square surround, West delivers her famous "come up and see me sometime" line. The plot itself includes elements of sex work, counterfeiting (the means for Lou's diamond habit), pickpocketing, undercover ops, jail visitation, attempted murder, accidental murder, intentional murder—and redemption. Just as the studio violence of the '40s contributed to Congress's labor crackdown, Mae West's story lines and double-entendres—and Marlene Dietrich's cross-dressing, on and off-screen—contributed to the Motion Picture Production Code. Unfazed by such sanitation, West deliberately inserted inflammatory footage in her films, knowing it would be cut, thus allowing other content, tame by comparison, intact.

Sapphire Necklace photo image
Heliotrope. Multi-use necklace of actress June Knight, late 1930s. Trabert & Hoeffer, Inc.-Mauboussin (1936-1953). Platinum, engraved sapphire, and diamond. Neil Lane Collection. (Photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Like Mae West, June Knight (née Margaret Rose Valliquietto) also saw her share of time on Broadway, beginning with the Ziegfeld Follies, but she started her life as a sickly child who was not expected to live that long. But while Mae West entered film at age 40, Knight began at 17, in 1930. Having debuted Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" on B'way in '35, by '36 interest was such that her peculiar fashion sense was being covered in the Washington Post during her appearance in the nation's capital. "Clothes of June Knight Based on Numerology," the headline read (reminiscent of the consultations of another actress, Nancy Davis Reagan). "'Vibration Colors' Year in and Year Out Explained by Actress; Yellow and Heliotrope Fit Her Personality." The article explains that Knight's aunt "worked it all out for her by taking her birth date, counting the number of vowels in her name"—her assumed name, that is—"and figuring out the [color] vibrations by numerology." Admitting to be superstitious, Knight brought out for the reporter a yard-long charm bracelet: "miniature pitchers, vases, monkeys, a flat iron, a small Mahatma Gandhi (bearing a pearl in his arms), a gold carriage with the Dionnes peeping out, silver boxes and hearts, some set with precious stones, others elaborately carved." The year before, however, Knight's luck went south. Under the ruse of offering an advertising tie-in, two men entered her Central Park South apartment, bound and gagged her and her maid, and made off with $5,000 in jewels and cash, most of it in the form of a $3,500 five-carat diamond ring. And, no, it was not a publicity stunt, her attorney explained to reporters. Chastened, she made use of the apartment-hotel's vault thereafter, and so the necklace pictured above has survived.

Parure photo image
Andy's Babies. Joan Crawford suite of jewelry, about 1935. Verger Frères (French, founded in 1911). Gold, diamond, and aquamarine. Promised gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. (Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Joan Crawford is the other bookend to Mae West's formidable female form. As professor Robertson Wojcik writes, in 1971 when Playboy magazine asked West for her definition of camp, she replied, "Camp is the kinda comedy where they imitate me." This, Robertson Wojcik writes, makes West at once a producer of camp and a camp object. It would have been fun to get Joan Crawford's response. In his encyclopedia of the subject, Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth, Philip Core uses Crawford as an exemplar of his title's thesis. Crawford's insecurities—"social, sexual and artistic"—led her to exaggerate a stringent exterior. Images of her early on—she too hoofed it on Broadway, under her birth name of Lucille Fay LeSueur—are unrecognizable from the Joan Crawford that she would become. But Crawford was Crawford. MGM screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas recalled in Mick LaSalle's Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood that Crawford was a gum-chewing, heavily made-up "strumpet… Crude as she was, everything about her seemed to say, 'Look out. I'm in a hurry. Make room!'" Core remarks that the Crawford of 1928's Our Dancing Daughters—"wholesome good looks… pure Americana"—had in forty years become "a couture dummy with a mouth like a shark." In his obligatory reference to daughter Christina Crawford's Mommie Dearest, and its film adaptation, Core finds it odd that the public couldn't get enough of the cruel Crawford:

The value of camp lies in the fact that, for all the repellent quality of a mask, if it fits well we can discern through it the lineaments of the true face beneath. Thus, in rather the same way we could glimpse a good actress beneath the portrait of Joan Crawford painted on Faye Dunaway's face by make-up artists, the unhappy, the flamboyant, or the whorish, [we] can glimpse beneath Miss Crawford's enamelled features their own failings and insecurities. This quality makes a star, camp or not, and Joan Crawford was that, first and foremost.

And a star in the '30s must have jewels. The diamond and aquamarine parure pictured above was profiled by JCK magazine as its "The Way We Wore" feature in October 2011. Quoted is Stephen Burton of London jeweler Hancocks (which owned the suite at the time), who said that photos of Crawford document the fact that she wore all or part of the trio for the rest of her life, after acquiring it circa 1935. Andy Warhol, "a very astute collector" according to Burton, purchased the suite from Crawford's estate following her death in 1977. It was sold in Sotheby's sale of Warhol's jewelry and watches in 1988. Even without its provenance, Burton said, the suite's artistry places it in a class of its own.

Hollywood Glamour is on display at MFA Boston through March 8, 2015. In conjunction with the exhibition is Hollywood Glamour and the Birth of the Cool, a four-session course beginning on February 3. A companion exhibition of the celebrity photography, Karsh Goes Hollywood, featuring twenty fine examples of the work of Yousef Karsh (including Joan Crawford, sans stones), also runs through March 8. [back to top]

Clamoring for Cartier

On a crisp afternoon in late December, the Richard, Robert and David Hugheses took in Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century at the Denver Art Museum. The show was well attended, made manageable by time-specific tickets. Each visitor was given a self-directed audio guide that answered questions such as how the floating hands in a Cartier "mystery" clock stayed afloat. Below is a tiny taste of the treasures in store for museum-goers.

Panthers Bracelet and Statuette photo image
Purr-fect. Some of the exhibition components are arranged thematically. Above, an articulated bracelet "leaps" as a statuette looks on. (Photos: Richard W. Hughes, top; David Hughes)
Panthers caption image
L'Après-midi d'une émeraude. Color-wise, this is perhaps the most arresting piece in the exhibit although my image doesn't do it justice. The emeralds are very vivid Goldilocks-green: not too dark, not too light. This brooch is one of the Cartier creations inspired by the Ballets Russes. It was crafted in 1913, when Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed for the dance company. It features a 11.90-carat emerald in center; pearls, platinum and onyx. (Photo: David Hughes)
Hugheses and Sapphire photo image
Something(s) missing. Other displays in the Ballets Russes suite were not as successful, such as Marie of Romania's 478-carat blue sapphire, which is the size of a small egg. Richard Hughes, above, noticed that a piece of the sapphire's pavilion appears absent; it was cut for size, not splendor. Below, Billie Hughes's chin can be seen through the gap that a superior stone would not have had. Perhaps with this in mind, the exhibition designers positioned this piece against a busy photomural of garish Ballets Russes dancers. This display reminded the Hugheses—whose Lotus Gemology laboratory specializes in ruby and sapphire—that "Brilliant," aside from its many examples of lovely jewels, does not have a lot to offer cravers of corundum. (Photos: David Hughes)
Billie Hughes and Sapphire photo image
Cocktail Set photo image
Tippling, schooning and scribbling. Practical items also are included, such as the travel cocktail set above. Space-saving flasks for spirits surround the shaker. At back a citrus reamer with shot glasses. Upended, the reamer attaches to the shaker, making it long-necked, and acting as strainer. The tray is dedicated to William Kissam Vanderbilt II and his second wife, on the occasion of their trip around the world in 1928. (Vanderbilt was an avid yachtsman.) Vanderbilt is addressed in the inscription as "Commodore," a rank he appears to have shared with his great grandfather, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the family fortune. Below, a pen with its own source of illumination, if not inspiration. (Photos: David Hughes)
Pen photo image
Wimon Manorotkul photo image
And the stars… Of course Hollywood is well represented in "Brilliant." Above, Wimon Manorotkul takes in film clips with Cartier cameos (so to speak). Below, design for Elizabeth Taylor's La Peregrina necklace. Not long after receiving the pearl, Taylor came across a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots and took pictures of the painting to Cartier. (Photos: David Hughes)
Elizabeth Taylor Necklace photo image

Cutting 'Cue

Another Denver institution is currently attracting crowds: the National Western Stock Show. Although it's now in its 109th year, 2015 saw the show's first-ever BBQ Throwdown last Saturday. Here's how the Denver Post led off an article on the competition, by William Porter, the newspaper's food writer, to whom your editor owes at least some of his prospering paunch: "Donny Bray bent over a table bearing a slab of beef brisket, muttering to himself while pondering how to cut and arrange the meat. It was like watching a master gem cutter calculating the facet configuration of a five-carat diamond." [back to top]

Pala International News

This month we feature an exceptional blue zircon from Cambodia. Weighing in at 36.11 carats, this zircon is quite a large specimen, as most blue zircon are found under 5 carats; over 10 carats is quite rare for this type of color. Not only is the size impressive but the color hits the sweet spot for zircon. The swimming-pool blue is reminiscent of a fine paraiba and invites you to dive in. Blues of this size are often too dark or off-color. The strong doubling shows up more in the photo than in hand, but it's a good optical tool to identify zircon.

Zircon photo image
Wonderful large, clean blue cushion-cut zircon from Cambodia, 36.11 ct, 17.89 x 15.89 x 12.69 mm. Inventory #22357. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Our new supplier continues to bring in beautiful zircons, and the last lot yielded this rare beauty. We continue to hold good stock in blue zircon with a wide variety of shapes, sizes and matched pairs. Check out our previous post on the blue zircon connection.

Zircons photo image
Nice Pair! A sample of the great new selection of blue zircons at Pala International. Rounds range from 6.4 to 8 mm, cushions are 9.8 mm. (Photo Mia Dixon)

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

Himalaya Holler

Tourmaline photo image
A natural multicolored tourmaline from the Himalaya Mine. Emerald cut, 7.93 carats, 28.7 x 5.64 x 5.17 mm. Inventory #21855. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Pala International has commissioned Southern California independent researcher Lisbet Thoresen to collaborate on a history of San Diego County's famous Himalaya Mine. The study likely will be issued in two volumes. Volume One will include the mine's history, from its discovery in 1898 through its 100-year anniversary (and party) in 1997. Volume Two will consist of Himalaya Mine mineral specimen paintings by artist Gamini Ratnavira and superb images by noted photographers.

"I'm putting out a call for interesting stories, photos and archival material" related to the Himalaya Mine, Pala International president Bill Larson told us. Mineral enthusiasts who wish to contribute can contact Pala International directly.

Pala Pic is Cover Star for Tourmaline Profile

A photograph by Wimon Manorotkul was chosen by gemstone networking website GEMHUB for its Focus on Tourmaline, published just before Thanksgiving. Shown below, the photo neatly demonstrates the wide color variation found in the tourmaline family. And speaking of family, for more on Manorotkul and her talented family, see "Tiny Lights," below.

Tourmalines photo image
This image by Wimon Manorotkul is included in the Tourmaline Buying Guide by her husband Richard W. Hughes, found on Palagems.com and its sibling retail site CollectorFineJewelry.com.

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Gems and Gemology News

Don't Do This at Home, Kids

Last month, we featured an article by Ana Vasiliu, "Pearls Revisited," in which she provided photomicrographs of pearl nuclei. Of course, to get to a nucleus one must crack a pearl. For our interested readers, we have assembled a 67-frame slide show telling how it's done.

Below, from the slide show: (Top) a group of Bahraini Pinctada radiata pearls about the size of poppy seeds, awaiting (hopefully) creative destruction. In the center, a minute attached pearl shows how transparent a thin layer of nacre can be—the reddish mass inside is a richly mineralized organic material sometimes deposited first as pearls start forming. Diverse qualities of nacre show even among such small samples…. We do not condone the destruction of fine pearls... despite considerable temptation! (Bottom) One of several mineral spherulites found among the earliest deposits in another pearl of this lot. Landscapes of intricate mineralization in pearls are often worth shooting for pleasure, but the best is to be had at fairly high magnification (1600X here), which makes destruction inevitable—it is not possible to get comparable detail by non-destructive methods: a serious technical gap between the study of shell materials and pearl gemology, until further notice. Again, we do not condone the destruction….

Pearl photo image
Photos by Ana Vasiliu from this slide show. See above for descriptions.
Pearl photomicrograph image

Pen Pearls

We've all heard of melo pearls, non-nacreous, shimmery orange-yellow orbs the size of pigeon's eggs (see melo pearls from Vietnam and Myanmar). There is another variety of non-nacreous pearl: pen (Pinna) pearls. While pen pearls also can come in sunny shades, they often lend themselves to cracking, so use in jewelry is not really an option. Their shape and earthy color sometimes is reminiscent of the lingam, the object of devotion associated in Hinduism with the deity Shiva.

Pen Pearls photo image
These 20 completely non-nacreous pen pearls, from the group of 22 samples in the GIA study, are set against a pen shell displaying both nacreous (left) and non-nacreous areas (right). (Photo by Lhapsin Nillapat; © GIA)

Pala International's Bill Larson contributed pen pearls from his own collection to a study conducted in Bangkok by GIA's Nicholas Sturman, Artitaya Homkrajae, Areeya Manustrong, and Nanthaporn Somsa-ard. "Observations on Pearls Reportedly from the Pinnidae Family (Pen Pearls)" is available for reading on the GIA website. [back to top]

Industry News

Ethics Heckling: Digging Deeper, Sustainably Speaking

Last June we looked at a colored gemstone industry-ethics "solution in search of a problem," namely the Precious Stones Multi-Stakeholder Working Group (PS-MSWG) dealing with "responsible sourcing and supply-chain due diligence for precious stones." A report on the issue was to be issued by the group last May, but it was so problematic it was sent back for a rewrite; whether it will be issued at all is now in doubt.

Poster image

But another report was released—albeit with no fanfare, and in December 2013. For whatever reason, it has languished until a couple of months ago when it came to the attention of ethics gadfly (and PS-MSWG Communications Committee member) Dana Schorr. Titled "Responsible Sourcing of Colored Gemstones," it was issued by The Graduate Institute of Geneva, a world affairs institution, partnered with Richemont (the Swiss holding company for Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, among others) and Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC; a supply chain certification group). From the executive summary of the 67-page report:

Understanding the risks and weaknesses of colored gemstones supply chains is essential to evaluate initiatives, which are developed by different multi-stakeholder groups to make the colored gemstone sourcing and their supply chains more sustainable and transparent. This study analyzes the supply chain of colored gemstones and connected risks and assess the opportunities and challenges for existing as well as potential initiatives.

Last week, Schorr issued his own take on the report, asking the pesky questions he feels should have been considered in any comprehensive consideration of ethics. Our favorite is one of the most obvious—but perhaps an awkward one for an industry that is exposed to report after report by gemstone labs worldwide of new and improved ways of conning the consumer:

The authors claim a part of the purpose of this study is to “…explore, map and compare the different paths a gemstone travels from the mine to the jewelry end-consumer...” (Page 12 ¶ 3) However, they leave a gaping hole, since there is no study of the gaps and risks within the retail sector itself.

Schorr then lists the relevant issues, including everything from retail fraud to unethical treatment of suppliers to employee degradation.

As we noted last June, the PSMSWG ostensibly was to be a "non-exclusive coalition," but key stakeholders felt themselves sidelined. In a similar vein, RJC's Responsible Jewellery Practices contain several mentions of the importance of "transparency" but, as Schorr points out, the "experts" consulted in The Graduate Institute study are not named. "Since these students presumably know nothing about our trade," Schorr asks, "how did they determine who was an expert?"

Evidently The Graduate Institute report will be presented at next month's Sustainable Luxury Forum, to be held in Geneva February 4–6 and hosted at… The Graduate Institute. (As we noted in November, CIBJO president Gaetano Cavalieri has pointed out the unsustainability of mining.) Presenting on the report will be one of its coauthors, Léa Collet—now with OECD, interestingly—and Dr. Gilles Garbonnier, a professor at The Graduate Institute. The attendees will have their hands full as they engage the issues raised by the Forum's theme: "Luxury in a VUCA* World: How to Address Soaring Inequalities, Scarcities and Complexities?"

* Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous.

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Prizewinners from Birkenfeld and Bangkok

Lunar Lovelies

In October we reported that Pala International's Bill Larson had been asked to join the jury for two gemstone competitions held in Idar-Oberstein, in Rhineland-Palatinate's Birkenfeld District, Germany. This month we bring you images of the winning entries. Crank up the Pink Floyd…

Pendant photo image
The Other Side of the Moon by Llyn L. Strelau, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Pendant jewelry made of white and black engraved agate, diamonds, white gold and ruthenium blackened white gold. (Photo-collage: Lichtblick Foto-Design, Hiltrud und Jurgen Cullmann, Schwollen)

The winning entry "The Other Side of the Moon" by the Canadian Llyn L. Strelau was, according to the unanimous opinion of the jury, the best of the entries submitted in 2014 for the German Award for Jewellery and Precious Stones, Idar-Oberstein. The jury summarized its verdict thus:

Great show! Just take a look at this necklace: This softness, these classic lines which remind one of silk, of wonderful flowing, fringed Charleston dresses, the exciting contrast between the two faces, the glamour radiated by this piece, the fact that it can be worn during the day and in the evening, never mind whether you feel great or miserable. Without any doubt, this deserves the first prize.

On something of a roll, the jury chose another lunar-themed pendant for its second prize.

Pendant photo image
Moonlight by Manfred Wild, Kirschweiler, Germany. Pendant made of citrine, girasol, brilliants and yellow gold. (Photo: Lichtblick Foto-Design, Hiltrud und Jurgen Cullman, Schwollen)

Second-place "Moonlight" plays with both the crescent and face of Earth's satellite. The citrine intaglio's textures recall silk brocade. Starbursts provide a mid-century modern counterpoint to the moon's neo-Victorian façade.

Jade Pendant photo image
Color coordinated. Erika Van Pelt certainly takes first prize as best-dressed judge. Above left she wears a massive rutilated quartz star pendant, tastefully cut off-center, with rays beaming below. Below center she sports an oblong pentagon pendant featuring three multicolored tourmaline cut stones from Pala International's former Himalaya Mine. Click to enlarge.
Jade Pendant photo image

Tiny Lights

Sometimes your editor is the last to learn about the accolades heaped upon members of his own family, so reticent are they to toot their own horns. Thus it was during a Yuletide (and Cartier-tide) visit when I was informed that in November, at the annual Gem-A Conference, niece E. Billie Hughes, and brother Richard W. Hughes, received awards for their photomicrographs, as noted in the captions below.

Pyrite in Rock Crystal photomicrograph image
Black & (fool's) gold. Pyrite in rock crystal quartz. This photo was awarded 2nd place in the Gem-A's 2014 photo competition. (Photomicrograph: E. Billie Hughes, Lotus Gemology)

Billie Hughes follows in the footsteps of her mother, Wimon Manorotkul, who was Pala International's resident photographer prior to her return to Southeast Asia in 2008. Manorotkul is the subject of a FotogFocus profile, Pala International's occasional look at the artist behind the lens. Billie's photographs are featured in Terra Spinel (2010) and Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide (2014).

Inclusion photomicrograph image
Yin and yang. A mobile bubble floats in petroleum in a negative crystal in Pakistani quartz. This photo was awarded 3rd place in the Gem-A's 2014 photo competition. (Photomicrograph: E. Billie Hughes, Lotus Gemology)

Richard Hughes's photographs appear throughout the Pala International website, Palagems.com, as well has his own Ruby-Sapphire.com and, of course, the above-mentioned books. For two samples of images from his popular live presentations, see Pala International's YouTube channel.

Trapiche Sapphire photomicrograph image
Trapiche sapphire. Specimen courtesy of Jeffery Bergman. This photo was awarded an honorable mention in the Gem-A's 2014 photo competition. (Photomicrograph: Richard W. Hughes, Lotus Gemology)

Results of the Gem-A competition were published in the November 2014 edition of Gems & Jewellery and also will be published in the Journal of Gemmology. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Deaths and (Market) Destruction

Spinel photo image
Snow white. A silvery spinel from Burma, 3.50 carats. Inventory #22236. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Last week, the bodies of four people were pulled from the rubble of a jade mine in Kachin State's Hpakant township. A landslide had occurred when the rubble was weakened by rains. Originally, as many as 50 people were thought to have been caught by the landslide per The Irrawaddy, but a search was called off when all were accounted for, according to AFP on January 9. Had the slide occurred in the daytime—it happened in the early evening—more people would have been affected.

In other jade news, the Myanmar Times reported that trade in Burma jade is forecast to be uncertain due to a market dominated by Chinese who are making low offers. Other factors leading to anxiety are armed clashes, leading to scarcity, which one would think would drive up the price, but the reality differs.

Protests from Mandalay to Mogok

People continued to protest a prospective move of Mandalay's gem market, this time on December 23, according to The Irrawaddy. Tens of thousands gathered in the city's center to resist the move, which would locate the market five miles to the south. One concern is the safety of dealers and couriers who would be moving gems over that distance. The market currently consists of over a thousand showrooms—1,117 per the Myanmar Times—and thus no small move.

In Mogok, residents objected to plans that would turn iconic parkland next to that rubyland's iconic lake into the headquarters of the Mogok Gem and Jewellery Entrepreneurs' Association and perhaps other structures as well, as reported by the Myanmar Times. Because other gemstone trading centers have their own gem associations—Yangon, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw—it's argued that Mogok should, too. Khin Zaw Win, writing in The Irrawaddy, mused on what Burma loses if environmental concerns in the region are not addressed. Jared Ferrie, writing for Reuters, looked at the challenges facing Burma as it opens its mining opportunities. Eleven Media Group highlighted a specific instance of an injured river, the Uru creek in which mining waste has been dumped, being further insulted by construction of a mining road, narrowing the river even more. Happy New Year!

Bite-Sized Bits

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— End January Newsletter • Published 1/15/15 —

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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.