October 2014 Newsletter
Table of Contents
Shows and Events
Pala International News
Gems and Gemology News
- The Mascara Stone
- Research Roundup
- This Imitation Not Flattery
- Blue Sapphires from Nigeria
- When Unenhanced Is Unimportant
- Amber, Ruby and Sapphire
- Galileo Galilei, Gemmologo
Shows and Events
Mineralientage München 51st Munich Mineral Show: October 24–26, 2014
Pala International's Bill Larson and Will Larson will attend this year’s Munich Show.
When: October 24–26, 2014
Where: Munich Trade Fair Centre
Hours: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM each day
Friday, October 24 (Trade only)
Saturday, October 26 and Sunday, October 27 (Trade and public)
Last year's show had the second highest attendance rate in the event's fifty-year history, according to organizers. This year's special theme is "Meteorites," including the demise of the dinosaurs. "Gifts from the Sky" will be examined, including their divine—or devilish—significance for various religions.
In Gemworld, for the second year, the Munich Show will highlight the work of recent graduates, in Young Designers' Corner. As well as being a showcase, this is a competition: three contestants will be awarded cash prizes as well as a free booth at Gemworld 2015.
Blue Moon: No Longer Alone
Extremely rare diamond to be paired with Butterfly collection
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles' Minblog has been insane for indigo the last two months in preparation of a special exposition featuring the Blue Moon Diamond. Faceted from 29.6-carat rough, the internally flawless 12-carat Fancy Vivid Blue diamond will be paired with the Aurora Butterfly of Peace colored diamond collection (which we touched on in January). Both will be on display through January 6, 2015. See the following blog entries, but allow some time; there's a lot to linger over.
- The Blue Moon Diamond: from rough to cut: Scroll down to see still images of the diamond being faceted
- The Making of the Blue Moon Diamond: A brief four-minute streaming video describing the painstaking process of rough to cut. First, models were made of the rough—30 in all—so each could be cut differently, with inclusions marked and removed. Once a cut was selected it took three months to do the deed
- The Blue Moon Diamond: The Opening of the Exhibit: The gala opening featured blue-themed finger-food and decor; the bubbly—Veuve-Cliquot—remained superbly straw.
Cartier at DAM? Brilliant!
Note: The following article, which we ran back in December, is augmented with the fact that the exhibition's curator, Margaret Young-Sanchez, expects the show to sell out quickly. Tickets are on sale now.
Denverites and visitors can look forward to a holiday treat this fall with a homegrown show, "Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century," produced exclusively at the Denver Art Museum. Focusing on the maison's work from the first eight decades of the 1900s, the exhibition will feature 250 pieces: jewelry, timepieces (including the Egyptian striking clock pictured below) and more, as well as "his" items like cufflinks, cigarette cases, and Cartier's signature tank wristwatch.
DAM director Christoph Heinrich was quoted in a press release about the scope of the show: "The evolution of Cartier takes us on a journey through 20th century history, from the era of the last Czars in Russia to the Roaring '20s in America to the onset of Hollywood glamour as we know it." Heinrich explained to The Denver Post that the museum has never mounted such an ambitious jewelry show, which will include museum-quality creations owned by Elizabeth Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor (and heightened security).
Five years in the planning, "Brilliant" runs from November 16, 2014 through March 15, 2015. Since the show will not travel, you might want to.
See The Jewellery Editor for a slide show that will provide a perspective on the stunning size of the necklace pictured above. Wrap your mind around the 143.23-carat emerald, were it wrapped around the neck of Countess Granard, above.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stones: Topaz
Faceted Topaz Egg with a Nod to John Sinkankas
First off this month, Pala International's Bill Larson fills us in on the story behind a lovely faceted gemstone egg…
Inspired by the magnificent faceted eggs that John Sinkankas cut for the Smithsonian, I asked Meg Berry to do her best and turn the rough topaz crystal from Colorado, pictured (partially) below, into a beautiful egg. She took on this challenge and the result is perfect: over 900 carats of shimmering topaz.
I obtained the topaz rough in exchange from then-Smithsonian curator Paul Desautels in the late 1970s. The crystal was not perfectly terminated (see below handwritten note on label: "etched incomplete crystal") but internally it was very good. And the provenance was wonderful. It was found by legendary collector Ed Over (covered this month in our sibling e-publication) in 1935 and retained by his partner, Arthur Montgomery, until his collection was donated without encumbrance. Paul selected something of importance for the Smithsonian from me and I kept the topaz for many years until I thought perhaps it was time to try to fashion it into a gemstone egg. The fact that it is from Colorado—Over's adopted home—just made this so much better.
Meg spent an enormous amount of time working on the design and perfecting the shape. Then the many many hours of grinding and polishing. All the while trying to maximize size. The finished gem is a true work of art and a great rarity.
Egging Meg On
Master faceter Meg Barry also explained things, from her point of view…
When Bill Larson asked me to facet his mondo topaz crystal into an egg, I was paralyzed! I had never attempted anything that large, much less an egg. So I started at the source: John Sinkankas. I looked at pictures and read his articles about cutting it, and dived in.
The shape couldn't have quite the same bulk around the middle as the prototype, but I was able to achieve what I considered a nice egg shape, or oversized briolette, as it has been called. I went with smaller facets that Sinkankas, for many reasons, including the fact that it is much easier to control the shape that way. Smaller facets are also easier to polish, and twinkle more.
I encountered the cleavage plane twice, once on each side, and was able to confuse it out of being a problem. The total time it took to complete the cutting was 90 hours! I may have missed Bill's target weight of 1,000 carats, but I came close, at 930. And Bill says he is thrilled that it is over 900 carats.
Rare Replay: Imperial Topaz
Also this month, we feature a wonderful vintage imperial topaz showing a perfect marriage of red and orange in a clean, large emerald cut gemstone. This is rare to find in the marketplace today. Pala International sold this gem in the 1970s and was delighted to be offered it again this month.
Interested? Contact us!
Nuptials in Napa: Will and Rika
Pala International's Will Larson and Rika Nakamura were wed last Saturday in California's Napa Valley attended by family and friends. Congratulations to the newlyweds!
Gems and Gemology News
The Mascara Stone
Just before the Denver shows, your editor was asked by John S. White to obtain contact information for fellow Denverite William "Bill" Ryan, the owner of a unique Brazilian topaz. Fortunately this was not difficult. Contact was made, as the two images we present here attest. Ryan, while not a collector of gems or minerals, is happy to possess the topaz as an objet d'art.
Before John retired from the Smithsonian Institution in 1991, where he was the curator-in-charge of the National Mineral and Gem Collection of the U.S. National Museum of Natural History, he had seen the topaz via its then-owner Thomas Harth Ames, the master gemstone carver who also calls the Denver area his home. (Ames is the creator of the exquisite contra luz opal carving "Aurora Borealis over Mt. Rainier.") Hoping to bring the topaz to the Smithsonian, John attempted a trade for a blue topaz, but the negotiations broke down.
A couple of decades ago Ryan, in turn, befriended Ames, and noticed the topaz. It's an abraded river boulder that had two of its sides removed by breaking them off along natural cleavage planes, just the way Ames had received it. It was not cut or polished; the windows are perfectly natural. "There are probably a hundred other delicate, spider-web-like inclusions in the stone," Ryan told me. White elaborated: "The topaz features at least a dozen other perfectly straight inclusions parallel to the large one. Some appear to be simple tubes, while others have very fine spiral-like features."
As Ryan explained, "Ames didn't want to destroy the stone and its inclusions but needed money to buy a new piece of topaz. So, as a favor to Thomas, I bought the stone for $4000 and have kept it in a box all these years." Fast-forward to the fall of 2014 and the request from John White, who is preparing a paper on spiral inclusions with Prof. John Rakovan of Miami University's Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science. When he was in town for the Denver shows, White called Bill Ryan and cajoled him into bringing the topaz to the Colorado Mineral & Fossil Show at the Ramada so Jeff Scovil could photograph it. By this time the topaz had received its "Mascara Stone" moniker. We're grateful to everyone involved for letting us share it with our readers, and we look forward to the White/Rakovan paper as well.
For another topaz featuring a corkscrew-shaped inclusion, please see this month's Burma Bits, below.
This month we take a look at reports from some of the world's gemstone laboratories.
This Imitation Not Flattery
GGTL Laboratories, in their September newsletter, examined two colorless diamonds and their accompanying reports. The examination uncovered an elaborate scam. It involved obtaining GIA report information, inserting it into poorly counterfeited reports, cutting HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) treated stones to match the specs in the reports, and laser-inscribing the stones' girdles with the initials of GIA and the report numbers.
If a certain amount of attention to detail was paid in the scam, it was sloppy around the edges. Amongst the flubs: the observed inclusions did not match the plotting diagrams and the report could have benefited from a spell check, as shown here.
Blue Sapphires from Nigeria
In August, the GIA Laboratory, Bangkok issued a report titled "Blue sapphires from the Mambilla Plateau, Taraba State, Nigeria." The report comes after the appearance this past spring of large, clean sapphires of good color and considerable size—some as large as 300 carats—in Thailand and Sri Lanka, purportedly originating from Nigeria. As the report's title explains, the material was coming from the country's Mambilla Plateau in eastern Nigeria. Mambilla had been the site of earlier sapphire production, with the "classic" rough being darker than the new material. GIA had planned a field expedition to the new locality for April, but it had to be postponed. Accordingly, the present report is based on samples received by GIA in Bangkok. This preliminary report will be completed following an anticipated visit to the region. The samples studied in the report were from trusted West African sources in Bangkok. Regardless of the expedition delay, the report includes images of the deposit, obtained from a contact at the company holding the mining license, Gendutse Investment.
Despite being a preliminary report, this one contains all the information that you'd expect from the lab and its authors, Vincent Pardieu, Supharart Sangsawong, Jonathan Muyal, and Nicholas Sturman. The report leads off with a section on the background of Nigerian sapphires and their deposits, followed by a description of the rough sapphires from the new deposit. A new parcel came into the lab on June 5, and these ranged in color from light blue to deeply saturated blue. Results of scientific study are given, and many photomicrographs accompany the report, showing the internal world of these sapphires. Also discussed are the challenges associated with determining the geographical origin of the stones.
Speculation regarding a typical application of heat treatment on the sample pictured above, based on the its chemical composition, resulted in a warning from the authors: what might appear to be the perfect candidate for heat likely would produce a very dark blue to black stone. The upside is that the samples' low iron content holds the promise that these stones, once faceted, will be less likely to take on a greenish or grayish appearance.
Over the years, we've looked at the travels of Pardieu and his colleague Richard Hughes to many far-flung localities, including Madagascar. For a look at that land's waning sapphire mining, published in February, see "A Plague of Sapphires" by Aaron Ross, writing for Roads & Kingdoms/Slate.
Also in sapphire news: While Apple didn't employ synthetic sapphire in its new crop of iPhone as many had speculated, Denver-based Sapphire Technology is developing use of the material in dentistry, according to an October 7 press release. The firm's instrument line will utilize optically clear sapphire-tipped instruments that, due to their hardness, will reduce "pull-back" when used with photo-cured resin composite fillings. Metal-tipped instruments can cling to such fillings, creating gaps that "can trap bacteria, provide opportunity for further tooth decay, and provide micro-leakage pathways for post-filling hot and cold sensitivity issues," according to the release.
When Unenhanced Is Unimportant
Last spring, at the JCK Show, emerald dealer and author Ron Ringsrud was asked to speak on the mining and marketing of emeralds. Also included in his presentation were the following remarks on emerald gemology. This appeared in Ringsrud's occasional newsletter; you can sign up to receive it here.
Emeralds: Perfect Gems with Minor Enhancement
In Europe, the treatment or enhancement of emeralds is an afterthought. Yes they prefer cedarwood oil, it is well understood and it's low tech. But they pay attention to the gem; its rarity, fineness and uniqueness. The enhancement is not given that much importance; it's noted and then they move on. In the USA and China however, it's as if they never even see the emerald; they get lost in the certificates as well as endless discussions that I won't bore you with.
However, in March this year at the Basel Gem, Jewelry and Watch show, I witnessed something that surprised me: the flood of requests for emeralds with no oil or enhancement. This is both good and bad. The surprising volume of requests for no-oil emeralds is a clear sign that there are many beginners and "newbies" coming into the colored stone world. They don't understand the subtleties of gemstone enhancement and they have plenty of money so they ask for no-enhancement emeralds. This is good; we want new people buying gems.
But it is also bad. It is bad in that the power of this new money is strong-arming established dealers to beg for (and sometimes demand) no-oil emeralds. These established dealers, in my opinion should turn aside those requests and bring the attention of the customer to the fineness and rarity of color and of transparency, regardless of whether the certificate says no-oil, minor or even moderate. Two years ago I sold a 10-carat cushion emerald for $300,000. It had a moderate degree of enhancement according to one gem lab. How did I sell it? I educated the customer about rarity. Rarity is not found in a lab certificate but in the unique combination of color, transparency and cut.
I have to roll my eyes when I think of all the rare, special and fine emeralds that have been passed over because a customer blindly demanded emeralds with certificates stating "no enhancement." If my emerald inventory has few or zero no-oil emeralds I don't see it as my problem; it is the problem of the customer. The customer needs to educate himself and become a connoisseur. He needs to buy for beauty and rarity and let the certificate be secondary.
The 10-carat cushion emerald with the moderate degree of enhancement could have been sent to another lab and it probably would have come out "minor" but I didn't bother. My customer and I were very happy that such a rare and special stone came across our path so we could buy it. It was the stone that thrilled us; not the subjective opinion from a gem lab—an opinion by the way, that the lab specifically states on the legal disclaimer that they are not liable for ("errors, omissions, or … negligence of employees"). Gem labs are not being criticized here; the problem is that the emerald enhancement determinations are much more difficult than, say, diamond clarity calls.
Want more of the same, er, treatment? Peruse this vintage article by Richard W. Hughes, "Cloak and Dagger: The Politics of Opticon."
Amber, Ruby and Sapphire
Six authors, led by Thanong Leelawatanasuk of The Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (GIT) issued a report on Indonesian amber, published in The Australian Gemmologist ("The Characteristics of Amber from Indonesia," 25:4, 142–145). The mind does not turn to Indonesia when thinking of amber, but the report states that this is changing, with this material appearing more and more at major gemstone shows.
Ten samples were studied, all purportedly from the westernmost island of Sumatra. The color ranged from yellow to brownish yellow to brownish red. Some samples, when viewed in strong sunlight, take on a bluish sheen similar to that of blue amber from the Dominican Republic.
When compared with reference stones from the Baltic, Dominican Republic and Burma, the Indonesian ambers featured prominent round-to-oval droplet inclusions in numbers not seen in those from the other localities. The Indonesian samples came from three different donors, but their Mid-IR and Raman spectra patterns were identical. This, again, is in contrast with the patterns from other localities. The researchers suggest that this is because each locality would have its characteristic plant species, from which amber is fossilized; and, of course, the species would have been laid down in differing geologic ages.
Ruby and Sapphire
Authors Thanong Leelawatanasuk, Wilawan Atichat, Visut Pisutha-Arnond and Pornsawat Wathanakul, all from GIT, provided a well-illustrated guide to ruby and sapphire grading tools in the pages of InColor this past spring ("Ruby and Sapphire Grading Tools," Spring 2014, 46–51).
The article begins with a comparison of the "4 Cs" (color, clarity, cut, carat weight) between varieties of corundum, with clarity in yellow sapphire being typically being higher than blue sapphire, which is higher than ruby. Next, GIT's quality assessment system is described, and is noted to be in a process of constant refinement. That said, GIT's standards are based on the Munsell system, which converted common Thai color names into its own color codes. GIT also has taken the somewhat amorphous but classic terms like "pigeon's blood" and "royal blue" and created its own master sets for comparison. Likewise, GIT has done the same with cut and proportion. "Unfortunately, due to very high value of such stones, cutters are forced to maximize weight retention," the authors observe. "Hence, very few stones possess ideal proportions." Finally, clarity is discussed briefly, once again noting the differences between corundum varieties.
Galileo Galilei, Gemmologo
Galileo Galilei is well known to school children as the father of astronomy, but like so many medieval and Renaissance investigators his pursuits were manifold: mathematics, physics, engineering, philosophy—and gemology. In a free-access edition of Journal of Gemmology ("Galileo as Gemmologist: The First Attempt in Europe at Scientifically Testing Gemstones," 34:1, 24–31), Prof. Annibale Mottana shows that at least one of Galileo's challenges was the same as that facing the modern gemologist: many of his samples were simulants.
Galileo was a university dropout who dared to use the vernacular rather than Latin in an early essay on hydrostatic buoyancy of precious metals, which he then applied to gemstone materials. It was only published posthumously—and incorrectly, omitting three pages due to a copyist's error—in 1644 by a follower, and even then, Mottana writes, care had to be taken to escape the Roman Inquisition, which had ensnared the essay's writer. The missing pages contained the results of Galileo's gemstone testing, and weren't located until 235 years later.
Mottana takes the reader through a fascinating analysis of la tavola and its accuracies and inaccuracies—such as mistaking what might have been topaz for diamond; at 141.5 carats such a diamond was worth nearly twelve large houses.
Business Press on Jewelry and Diamonds
In July, when we highlighted the Biennale des Antiquaires, Paris's biyearly showcase of haute joaillerie, we mentioned a collection by Wallace Chan, who was the first fine jewelry brand from Asia and China to be invited to the Biennale. Chan likely is best known for the "Wallace Cut," introduced in 1987, a technique of intagliated gemstone carving that takes advantage of a stone's faceting to display multiple images of a single cameo-like image. The September 6 edition of The Economist published a profile of Chan, explaining that it took 13 years to develop his signature cut. This came after leaving home in Hong Kong in about 1967 at age 13 to help support his poor family, becoming a sculptor's apprentice in about 1970, going on to study European techniques, and opening his own workshop in 1974.
Chan went on to use his background to craft sculptural jewelry employing titanium rather than gold, in order to lighten the load on the wearer. As arresting as his gemstone portraits are, these sculptural figures—insects, fish, starbursts and more—also compel the eye, as can be seen in the article's accompanying slide show.
Three weeks before the Chan profile, The Wall Street Journal took note of the falling price of diamonds—six consecutive months in August—due to lukewarm sales. The factors discussed in the article are a drop in sales of larger sizes by Chinese customers and the fact that sales surged during the last financial crisis as an investment hedge.
Jade and Gem Sale Under Way
Burma is in the midst of the third jade and gemstone sale this year, at the Maniyadana Jade Hall in Nay Pyi Taw, according to stories by Myanmar Times (MT) and Eleven Media Group (EMG). EMG called the sale "massive" while MT said the sale was "set for low-grade sparkle" since it consists of lower-quality jade offerings. (Xinhua called it a "utility jade" sale.) U Aung Naing Oo, a spokesperson for the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association, told MT that low-end prices would be in the range of 1 million kyat, or about $1,000. Seven thousand lots are being sold by 341 companies, according to EMG, 230 of which are private firms. Gem lots number far less: 160 lots offered by 22 companies. Mogok is represented by 14 profit-sharing firms selling 72 gem lots, and 85 such lots offered by seven private companies. Only local dealers have been invited to the sale.
Speaking of Mogok, on September 19, MT posted a travelogue on the area written by Stuart Alan Becker. And China's People's Daily profiled Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda last month, with its roof of gold, surrounded by 664 rubies, 551 emeralds and 443 diamonds.
Jade mining has resumed in Kachin State's Phakhant Township after a two-year suspension, as reported by EMG on October 7. Two large companies have moved more than 100 machines by river, with more expected, said a trader who felt that business was back to normal. A jade merchant told EMG that miners had left the area because both government troops and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) forces were taxing them, and the merchants couldn't afford to pay both levies—which raises the question of what arrangements the present companies have made.
Yesterday, however, as reported by The Irrawaddy, the government army ordered more than 1,000 people from three villages near Hpakant (alternate spelling) in anticipation of renewed fighting between the two armies. Ironically, the villages are under KIA control; the KIA troops were ordered to leave by the Burma army. Kachin News Group (KNG) reported today that KIA troops refused to leave. Incidentally, KIA spokesman La Nan told The Irrawaddy that only large companies—those with 30–40 mining blocks—were "asked" to pay the KIA. That is, unless an individual had a large strike. A tax-related incident, apparently involving KIO and fisherman, was reported by KNG on September 24. Meanwhile, on Monday, after citing Burma beauty queen Ma May Myat Noe's absconding from Korea with a valuable tiara of Swarovski crystals, economist Mari Oye asked the following question in an MT op-ed piece: "What is sexier than revising gemstone taxation policies?"
In other jade news, on October 4, Mandalay jade merchants formed a 72-member committee to advise the government regarding an upgrade to the city's Mahar Aung Myae jade center, even as a substitute is being built outside the city. An MT story on Monday stated that jade trading there is "booming," with the number of traders growing from a few hundred to thousands since 2008. That boom is the reason for the new center, which will be completed next year. Its location, of course, is not as convenient as the existing center. The regional government announced on October 1 that there are no plans for an upgrade. Traders told MT that they would appeal to the national government in that case.
Also in Mandalay, traders were to submit a petition to the Myanmar Gems Emporium Organising Committee on October 7 calling for heightened supervision of foreign investors, according to an October 6 story by Mizzima News. The traders claim that these investors masquerade in order to enter sales such as the present one, open only to local traders.
- Mizzima News: Looking for a way out – How will the U.S. frame further lifting of its sanctions?
- The Irrawaddy: World Bank says Burma's economy growing faster than expected, urges tax increase and decreased borrowing
- Myanmar Times: For decades, Burma's gemlands have been plagued with the use of hard drugs (Shan state grows 92% of Burma's poppies); the Ministry of Home Affairs has announced a review of drug sentences
- Myanmar Times: We've looked at the intersection between the gemstone boom and real estate before (see last month's Burma Bits); one player in that game has a foot in both: Than Htike Lu Gems, Minerals and Construction
- The Irrawaddy: We thought this was pretty much a thing of the past, but today it was reported that three journalists and two owners of a defunct journal were sentenced to two years in prison; the story they ran actually was in error
- Myanmar Times: Buying habits in Mandalay jewelry stores are examined; "Our customers often buy sets of diamonds, rubies or sapphires"
After seeing the Mascara Stone (above), Pala International's Bill Larson was reminded of a similar topaz in his own collection…
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.
Birthstone Collecting Cards: October
This month we feature two birthstone cards for the month of October and its stone of opal. The card pictured below includes a hanging-vine-like flower that doesn't resemble marigold or Calendula, the traditional flowers for the month. But it does incorporate one of the other stones attributed to October, aquamarine or tourmaline.
According to the verse that appears on our other card for October (originally the Roman calendar's eighth month), opal can help take the chill out of the seasons' change.
Bill Larson Judges German Gemstone Competitions
The following item came in two days after the publication of the September edition of Palagems Reflective Index. We shared it with readers of our sibling publication, Pala Mineralis, on October 2.
Today, before the opening of the 30th annual trade-only Intergem exhibition in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, October 3–6, two gemstone competitions were held, for which Pala International's Bill Larson was tapped in his capacity as an expert in the field. The following is a translation of a German-language article in the Rhineland-Palatinate newspaper Rhein-Zeitung, which announced Bill's participation. See images of last year's winners: here and here.
"Country & People": Gemstone expert
is part of the jury
The American Gem expert Bill Larson is part of the jury that will decide on Thursday, Oct. 2, about the award of prizes for the 45th German Award for Jewellery and Precious Stones Idar-Oberstein and the 26th German Young Talent Competition for Gemstone and Jewellery Design Idar-Oberstein. Larson, President of Pala International Inc., is the world renowned expert on colored gemstones, mainly for rubies and sapphires. In the late 1960s, he and a business partner founded Pala Properties Int. Inc. and bought three gemstone mines, including the world-famous Pala mine. Since 1969, he has had two exceptional jewelry stores in Fallbrook and La Jolla in California. Larson also has one of the finest gem and mineral collections in the world. He is a founding member of AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) and ICA (International Colored Gemstone Association).
— End October Newsletter • Published 10/16/14 —
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.