April 2014 Newsletter
Table of Contents
Shows and Events
Pala International News
Gems and Gemology News
- Sotheby's: "Tremendous Trio" Tripped
- InColor Launches Handheld Apps
- Ivory Ban Faces Challenges
- Burma Bits
- Emerald: Twenty-one Centuries of Jewelled Opulence and Power
By Joanna Hardy, Jonathan Self, Franca Sozzani & Hettie Judah
Shows and Events
Viewers will have a very brief window within which to view items of interest in the following two exhibitions.
In 2011, a lost Fabergé egg turned up at a Midwestern flea market, where an anonymous scrap metal dealer came across the objet d'art, snapping it up for about $14,000. He figured he could flip it for $500 more, based on the piece's gold content alone. Prospective buyers balked at the dealer's asking price, however.
The next year, the dealer Googled the terms "egg" and "Vacheron Constantin," the name engraved on the timepiece enclosed in the ribbed egg's interior. The search revealed that in 2011 experts determined that a Fabergé egg, one of fifty created for the Russian royals, had been sold in the U.S. as recently 1964. The revelation was reported by The Daily Telegraph on August 13, 2011, under the title "Is this £20 million nest-egg on your mantlepiece?" The article included a black-and-white image of the lost egg. Place yourself in the shoes of the dealer when his eyes alighted on the photograph of the item in his possession.
The dealer contacted Kevin McCarthy, director of Wartski, the 150-year-old family firm in London that specializes in artworks by Carl Fabergé. McCarthy, who had been quoted in the Telegrapharticle, traveled to the U.S. to inspect the piece. "When he arrived in a small town in the Mid-West," as recounted in a Wartski press release,
he was shown into the kitchen of the owner's home and presented with the egg, which was slightly smaller than the large cupcake positioned next to it. After an examination he confirmed that it was indeed the lost Imperial treasure. It had travelled from the hands of an Empress in the grandeur of Imperial St. Petersburg to a scrap metal dealer in modern day America.
The last time this object was displayed publicly was at a March 1902 exhibition of the royal family's Fabergé collection in St. Petersburg. It will be displayed again only through April 17 at Wartski in London's Mayfair district. See the firm's website for details.
Following the US & International Diamond Week, held in Israel last week, a large collection of fancy colored diamonds will be displayed publicly, but briefly, at the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum through April 26. The three hundred diamonds have been accumulated over forty years by Belgian diamantaire Eddy Elzas.
As Elzas remarked in a press release, "The historical value of this collection cannot be estimated. I started the collection at a time when fancy colored diamonds were regarded as inferior diamonds. These days, of course, are long gone!" As he told Luxe Immo magazine in an undated interview, the collection began about forty years ago when he received a parcel of "three generations" of South African diamonds that weren't marketable.
Now dubbed the "Rainbow Collection," these are the stones that Saudi Arabia's King Khalid, a year before he died, offered to buy as a wedding gift for Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. The impetus behind the sale was not the King's, but rather that of De Beers, which was eager to get diamonds back in the eyes of consumers following a slump, according to the Queen of Color Diamonds blog (via Antwerp Facets News Service). Flattered, Elzas declined. Twenty years later it was rumored that a deal was all but done that would have done the same for Charles and Diana's son William upon his marriage to Kate Middleton. Nope. The collection remains in the hands of Elzas.
Colored diamond lovers also will be interested in a story about Elzas's association with a remarkable pear-shaped stone known as The Koi Diamond, as reported last May by Luxurious Magazine.
Pala at Las Vegas – May 29 – June 2, 2014
It’s time to plan for the JCK Las Vegas show. Pala International will be there in force, with one of America’s largest selections of fine colored gems.
Note: The JCK Show this year will run Friday through Monday.
When: May 29 – June 2, 2014
Where: South Pacific and Islander Ballrooms in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
Thursday, May 29 thru Sunday, June 1:
9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
Monday, June 2: 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Booth: AGTA Pavilion, booth AGTA514
We look forward to seeing our many friends there. Visit the Pala International Show Schedulefor future events.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stones: Taaffeite
This month we feature a selection of taaffeites from Sri Lanka and Burma.
It's sometimes difficult to find a single taaffeite, so this group of graduating sizes is quite a rare sight. Taaffeites are found in conjunction with spinels and are often mistaken and mixed in with spinel parcels. Taaffeites and spinels come from similar areas, have similar properties and come in similar colors. Identifying a taaffeite in a spinel parcel is a real find, since they are very rare and sought-after by the true connoisseur of collectable gems. Taaffeite crystals, like spinel, don't grow very large, so this 8.5-carat pentagon pictured below is rare in every sense of the word.
For more on taaffeite, see Gemdat.
Interested? Contact us!
Mia Dixon's Cover Stars
Two recent publications, pictured below, feature the photographic work of Mia Dixon, Pala International's resident photographer. We thought we'd show them off.
Also by Mia Dixon is an image gracing the cover of the proceedings of the just-completed Twelfth Annual Sinkankas Symposium on the subject of Peridot and Uncommon Green Gem Minerals. The full color, soft cover, perfect bound volume is 147 pages copiously illustrated with 172 color photographs, illustrations and maps. Eleven articles cover topics including mineralogy and crystallography, gem archaeology of peridot, historically significant peridots, and two of the most important peridot sources of the past two decades—Myanmar and Pakistan—as well as an article on pallasites, a selected bibilography of the literature on peridot, and a pictorial gallery of peridots and other uncommon green gem minerals from the collection of Bill Larson.
Butterfly Gets Its Wings
Late last month we received a note from jeweler Skip Colflesh, owner of The Jeweler's Bench in Hershey, Pennsylvania. And no, it had nothing to do with our news item in February about Chocolate Diamonds®. It was to let us know about how he had employed demantoid garnets from Pala International in the design of a butterfly brooch. It's probably best told in his own words. "We fabricate a lot of nature themed jewelry," he told us, "but this was one of our most intricate designs." No kidding…
A client from Hagerstown, Maryland came to the shop asking me to design a life-size butterfly pin to be as lifelike as possible. We chose a photo of a "Moorland Clouded Yellow" male from a book I had.
The client was adamant that he wanted demantoid garnets and that they had to be Russian. That led me to Pala. Jason Stephenson helped me acquire parcels in the sizes I needed. All of the darker gems are black diamonds.
The branches were cast from a birch in my yard and the leaves were hand formed. The body was designed and sent to friend to do a CAD-CAM wax figure. He was nice enough to make me an extra wax in case I'm crazy enough to try another!
Dr. Eduard Gübelin Research Scholarship
A not-for-profit component of the Gübelin Group known as the Dr. Eduard Gübelin Association for Research & Identification of Precious Stones last month announced an annual grant "to be allocated to an innovative research project in the field of gemmology," according to a press release. The scholarship comes after the centenary of Dr. Eduard J. Gübelin's birth last year and marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Gübelin Gem Lab. From the press release:
The scholarship is directed at MSc/PhD students or post-doctoral researchers in the fields of earth sciences (mineralogy, geology, geochemistry), crystallography, chemistry, physics, material sciences, archaeology, biology, and related fields. The successful project proposal has to be truly innovative, with demonstrable novel thinking; it must venture into new areas, test new concepts and methods, and hence contribute to the advancement of gemmological knowledge.
The scholarship will be awarded in the amount of CHF 30,000 ($33,000) and entail use of the Lab's own resources. Several leading academics comprise the scholarship's Scientific Committee, which will make the selection. The deadline for application is June 30, 2014, with the successful applicant to be announced in September. Details available here.
Sotheby's: "Tremendous Trio" Tripped
In March, Sotheby's announced an April 7 Hong Kong sale of "Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite," shining the spotlight on a "Tremendous Trio": "three highly important necklaces representing the ultimate in diamonds, gemstones and jadeite in phenomenal proportions." Expectations were high, but only one of the three proved to be truly tremendous.
The first of the triad was a Spectacular Diamond Necklace by Nirav Modi totaling 85.33 carats. It featured 17 graduated brilliant-cut diamonds weighing 10.51 to 1.27 carats. It was touted as the first necklace to appear at auction in Asia consisting of only Type IIa, Triple X main stones, with the largest 10+ carats. A nice little niche. But the buyers weren't, mm, buying it, with its estimated cost of between $7.3 and $8.3 million.
The magnum in the middle was The Red Emperor, a necklace decked out with 60 pigeon's blood rubies from Mogok—104.51 carats in all—created by James W. Currens for Fie Dee. This piece, which also featured 59.06 carats of diamonds, did sell—smack dab in the middle of its pre-sale estimate of between $8.7 and $11 million.
If the performance of the first two jewels was underwhelming, the third in the trio lived up to its hype. The Hutton-Mdivani Jadeite Bead Necklace revealed its pedigree in its name, having been in the jewelry boxes (or vaults) of both Woolworth heir Barbara Hutton and Hutton's sister-in-law Nina Mdivani, whose second husband was a son of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The necklace, by Cartier (to which it would return), was "composed of twenty-seven graduated jadeite beads of highly translucent bright emerald green colour, completed by a clasp set with calibré-cut rubies and baguette diamonds, mounted in platinum and 18 karat yellow gold," according to the lot description.
The necklace, pictured above in an unflattering press photo, was expected to sell for more than $12.9 million, but sold for more than twice that—$27.4 million—setting two records: auction record for any jadeite jewelry and also for a Cartier jewel. Eight bidders in person and on the telephone drove the price up for nearly 20 minutes. The excitement was such that, lost in the commotion, another record might have been overlooked: the world auction record for a ruby. This was achieved by the sale of a Cartier 29.62-carat cushion-shaped oval Mogok ruby and diamond ring, pictured below in a more complimentary press image. That record was almost a foregone conclusion. Its pre-sale estimate was $6.4 to $7.7 million; it went for a little less than $7.4 million.
InColor Launches Handheld Apps
InColor is a quarterly that appeals to gemstone lovers of all levels, from those with a casual interest to the industry professional. Experts are tapped for in-depth reporting on issues from gemology to market trends, from fashion to education.
We downloaded the free iPhone app, and it was placed within iOS's built-in Newsstand app. From the InColor app readers can subscribe to the magazine or buy individual issues.
We purchased the Fall/Winter 2013 edition. The table of contents page isn't hyperlinked, so navigation within the pages is done via thumbnails—Thumbelina-sized—that are displayed by tapping anywhere on the screen. Tap the tool icon to get a raft of larger thumbnails that can be viewed in landscape.
Otherwise, the app's display orientation always is portrait, so, on an iPhone, you can only zoom in so far before cutting off text. Fortunately InColor's two-column format allows zoomed text to be readable (barely, for this set of aging eyes). Obviously, this would not be an issue on a tablet.
When you're done reading, tap the Shelf icon. When you return, you're where you left off in your previous session. The app is great to have, but when grabbing your iPhone, grab the reading glasses too.
Ivory Ban Faces Challenges
In mid-February, the White House announced a ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory. All commercial imports of African elephant ivory are prohibited, including antiques. Export of "bona fide" antiques (100+ years old) are allowed, as are some noncommercial items, and under some exceptional circumstances. Sales across state lines are limited to bona fide antiques. Intra-state sales are allowed only if the seller can prove an item was imported lawfully prior to 1990 for African elephant ivory and prior to 1975 for Asian elephant ivory, with some exceptions. Read the announcement at The Roskin Gem News Report.
In his introduction to the White House announcement, Gary Roskin asks whether the ban will do any good. That's a fair question in the face of the enormity of the challenge. BBC reported on February 13 that WWF estimates the entire black market in animals to be $19 billion a year. (The White House ban also covers wildlife trafficking.) BBC wrote that tens of thousands of elephants, rhinos and tigers are being killed each year, according to unnamed conservationists. All this was in the context of an announcement in London that the leaders of Botswana, Gabon, Chad and Tanzania have agreed to honor a ten-year moratorium on ivory sales. The announcement came out of an international conference on the trafficking.
Last month, The Irrawaddy took readers on a trip to Burma's jade land in Kachin State's Hpakant. Photojournalist JPaing documented the journey. You'll see mining small- and large-scale, the jade market, the crazy road leading in, a heroin rig. The work now is artisanal due to the suspension of mechanized mining, and is dangerous, the writer was told, due to risk of injury, and risk of arrest, since the mining is illegal. The danger was echoed by a Bloomberg Businessweek story, March 25.
While the mining may be illegal, it contributes to a booming border trade, as reported by The Irrawaddy on April 9. The Myanmar Times (MT) March 31 puts the illegal trade figure in the billions of dollars. (MT also reported on the billions—$3 billion, or 5% of Burma's gross domestic product—that is tied up in the umbrella atop Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda.) Small dents are made in the dark trade from time to time, like an interception on March 20 of $143,000 worth of jade. Another story put the total intercepted at $6 million for FY 2013–14.
Burma's gem lands are dangerous also due to natural disasters (a jade mine landslide last month), infrastructure (a large fire in ruby land due to a short circuit this month), and war. And National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi may be suggesting some risk herself when on March 24 she called for citizens in ruby land to demonstrate for changes in Burma's constitution.
Emerald: Twenty-one Centuries of Jewelled Opulence and Power
By Joanna Hardy, Jonathan Self, Franca Sozzani & Hettie Judah
Emerald, a new book under the Thames & Hudson imprint, is one of those coffee-table tomes that rivals the table in both mass and magnitude. The publisher celebrated its 110th birthday last year, and whereas hard-copy publishing has suffered in recent years, T&H is not showing the strain by scrimping. The thick, nearly cardstock quality pages of Emerald are a pleasure to peruse, mirroring the book's subtitle: Twenty-one Centuries of Jewelled Opulence and Power.
And Opulence abounds. The frontispiece is a vintage head shot of Audrey Hepburn by Irving Penn for Vogue, November 1964. It almost looks hand-tinted, with Hepburn sporting a Givenchy velvet basket-ball hat and limpid, pale green emerald drop earrings byTiff, er, Cartier.
You want Power? Turn a page or two, and you're greeted by the 1951 wedding portrait of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and Queen Soraya, in an impossible Dior gown, accessorized by emerald necklace, earrings and (of course) tiara by Boucheron.
The authors, Joanna Hardy, Jonathan Self, Franca Sozzani and Hettie Judah take the reader through 250 pages and 400 images (all in color, even the b&w) and a millennium or two of the most sumptuous colored gemstone designs, accompanied by contemporary portraits and sketches. Sozzani, editor of Vogue Italia, starts it off with a preface discussing the personal relationship between wearer and worn. Art and fashion writer Hettie Judah provides the introduction, remarking how times have changed from when an icon would dress to please herself, to nowadays, "dressed to please armchair critics who check endless Instagram feeds from the red carpet, waiting eagerly for a faux pas."
Joanna Hardy then spends 160 pages providing a historical overview of emerald, from Ancient Civilizations and The Cheapside Hoard to the Power Houses of couture and The New Artisans. She calls upon her experience as a goldsmith and Sotheby's expert and auctioneer, as well as her current enterprise as a teacher.
Writer Jonathan Self follows with 90 pages that offer a travelogue of the few localities that produce gem-quality emerald, taking us time-traveling as well: Cleopatra's mines; myths, legends and astrology (the birthstone meme began with 1st century historian Josephus, who may, or may not have written about Jesus); emerald in literature and such (beginning with Mesopotamian bills of sale); emerald in empire building (Spain, Mughal, Portugal). Self then makes extended visits (in person) to Colombia, Zambia, and Jaipur. He ends with a chapter that is sure to vex and/or charm the scientifically minded, titled "Healed By an Emerald: A Power that Medical Science Can Not Explain," in which Self the skeptic encounters an Indian gem-healer (and we're not talking cedar oil).
The book ends with a two-page bibliography (notable for some omissions) and the tack-on of a few pages of inclusion photomicrographs. For all its heft, narrative and imagery, Emerald is affordable. It will engage the eye as well as the mind.
With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the collection of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who will share with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology. And, as with this edition, gemstone-related collectibles.
Mighty Diamond: Birthstone Collecting Cards
This month we feature a collecting card from Liebig Company, manufacturer of a meat extract that preceded the popular OXO bullion cubes. The product was canned in Villa Independencia, Uruguay, using beef that might have otherwise been discarded in the production of leather (Wikipedia).
For more information on birthstones, see Palagems.com.
Below is a recent item from our sibling publication, Pala Mineralis, that will be of interest to colored gemstone enthusiasts.
Excellent Birds: Carvings of the Klein Family of Idar-Oberstein
Pala International has commissioned a new gem carving collection: hummingbirds. Bill Larson explains…
The project came about because of my boys Will and Carl. They asked about the wonderful miniature bird carvings collection we have from Gerhard Becker, from the famous gemstone town of Idar-Oberstein in southwestern Germany. (For an example of Becker's work, see the tail end of this story.) I was able to tell them that the carvings were designed and created by Gerhardt Becker but were carved by the Klein family. We happen to know the Kleins; these days the next generation of Kleins—Stephan and Gabi—are running the show.
We had many parrots and other birds in our collection, but my sons noted that we only had one hummingbird, and these of course are the favorite of most everyone in California. So it was simply a matter of inviting Stephan over for the 2012 Denver show, via California, where he selected many different colors and pieces of tourmaline rough I still had from the Himalaya Mine as well as several aquamarines from Nigeria. We shipped the material to Idar-Oberstein and reviewed several different design ideas—all by the Kleins and slightly modified by our resident bird expert Gamini Ratnavira, the wonderful wildlife artist from Sri Lanka. Our project had started to take life: the creation of several hummingbirds sculptures on rock crystal orchids.
I'm happy to report that after about a year and a half we now have four new and wonderful sculptures that complement, extraordinarily well, the miniature tourmaline bird sculpture collection from 30-plus years before.
All this talk about tiny birds reminds us of the hummingbird inclusion enshrined in Harold Van Pelt's freeform crystal carving, which Pala's Mia Dixon highlighted three years ago this month.
Something to Crow About
In other avian news, a world record for Chinese porcelain was set April 8 when The Meiyintang Chenghua "Chicken Cup" was sold for $36.05 million. It will grace the exhibition space of Liu Yiqian's Long Museum in Shanghai, bringing a Chinese treasure back to China. See the lot description for more information.
— End April Newsletter • Published 4/15/14 —
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.