November 2014 Newsletter
Table of Contents
Shows and Events
Pala International News
Gems and Gemology News
Shows and Events
Illuminating Atoms: A Fleeting Glance
Readers may have noticed in our publicity of this year's Munich Show that we included a link to the International Year of Crystallography:
To celebrate the International Year of Crystallography, Illuminating Atoms presents a selection of photographs by Max Alexander portraying the inspirational work of crystallographers. Through portrait and documentary photography, Max shows us the life of scientists at the cutting edge of discovery, including some of the world class facilities they use.
For those who cannot attend the exhibit, the Daily Mail last Monday issued an overview of Alexander's work in the area of X-ray crystallography. As Alexander told the MailOnline, art and science overlap in the discipline of crystallography. Thus gemstone and mineral enthusiasts are the beneficiaries of eye-catching efforts by Alexander and others who are promoting the discipline this year.
Hard Table: Louvre Seeks Zellenmosaic Masterpiece
It may come as a surprise to readers that, for more than a decade, the most visited museum in the world has had to foot the bill for many of its expenses. Since 2003, "the Louvre and other state museums have been required to raise money for renovations and other special projects," according to a 2006 Los Angeles Times profile of the landmark. This was reflected in a recent visit to the museum's website, which is calling upon the public to fund just such a "special project" of interest to gemstone and mineral enthusiasts: the acquisition of a sort of periodic table—in the form of a four-legged, oval-shaped table.
About a quarter of the required million euros has been raised for the purchase of The Teschen Table, considered the masterpiece of the court of Saxony's principal jeweler, Johann Christian Neuber (1736–1808). At the end of his career, Neuber was curator of the royal collections in Dresden's Green Vault (Grüne Gewölbe). That treasure chamber, largely destroyed during World War II, has been restored, and a new addition (Neues Grünes Gewölbe) contains a room dedicated to Neuber's work, the Neuber Raum (according to Wikipedia).
The artist (and scientist) Neuber developed a technique known as Zellenmosaic, or cells-mosaic, which he first employed in snuffboxes that featured numbered hardstones from Saxony, accompanied by explanatory booklets. (The Louvre has twelve of these Steinkabinett Tabatierenon display.) The Teschen Table is the technique writ large, with the top, apron and legs inset and adorned by 128 numbered samples of semiprecious stones of the region as well faceted stones and false pearls. It is crafted in three-color gilt bronze on a wooden core. The table was a gift to Louis XVI's ambassador to Vienna, Louis-Auguste Le Tonnelier, Baron de Breteuil, following some dicey negotiations that kept France out of the War of Bavarian Succession in the late 1770s. Commemorating the peace accord, which was signed in Teschen (then in Austrian Silesia; now divided between Poland the Czech Republic), are five Saxony porcelain medallions, painted in grisaille by Johann Eleazar Zeissig (aka Schenau).
While the War is characterized by Wikipedia as a remarkable "war-without-battles," the deployment of troops took its toll, with deaths from raids, starvation and disease estimated in the tens of thousands amongst soldiers and civilians. (There may be a connection here to one of the War's popular names, Kartoffelkrieg [Potato War], since it took place during the potato harvest.) For historians, the War is considered a watershed, foreshadowing warfare to come, in terms of the huge numbers of soldiers conscripted, trained and equipped; the attendant military spending; and what would be an outmoded style of engagement, "in which armies maneuvered sedately at a distance while diplomats hustled between capitals to resolve their Majesties' differences." Reading the fascinating story of this largely forgotten, relatively minor conflict—yet involving powers like France and Russia—we are reminded of 20th and 21st century clashes, large and small.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stone: Tanzanite
In this month's newsletter the featured stone is an impressively large tanzanite. This stone is a beautiful display of tanzanite's excellence. While its deep blue color pulls the spectator in, the stone's luster springs out. Tanzanite is a trichroic stone that displays blue, purple and red colors before faceting. Although the stone is hard enough for setting in jewelry it has but one direction of cleavage, but this has not stopped tanzanite from making its way to the forefront of jewelry display cases.
Relative to their beauty, tanzanites actually are priced lower than consumers might believe them to be. At the moment, in the trade, tanzanite has been flying under the radar due to a rather large supply. This could help you stock up a nice reserve, as tanzanite will surely rise again with mining proving to be more difficult as TanzaniteOne, the major industrial operator, reaches new depths. As many other historical stone supplies have proved, the price will only climb as the mining plunges. While this may pose a problem for dealers it could be a blessing for the average collector.
Mineral specimens have been preserved to a greater extent since tanzanite prices have remained stagnant, allowing for more gem-clean crystals to survive the cutter's wheel. Dealers have reported that more and more "fancy" colored tanzanites are being found: pinks, yellows, and bi-colors of blue-pink.
Interested? Contact us!
Pala's Gem Spectrum in Chinese Translation
Many moons ago, and well before the genesis of Palagems Reflective Index, Pala's Gabrièl Mattice issued a series of newsletters, The Gem Spectrum, covering a variety of topics of interest to clients and the wider public. We're pleased to begin offering Chinese translations of the newsletters, courtesy of Yan (Dorina) Shen, a language teacher who studied at Nanjing University.
We start stateside, however, with Dorina's translation of American Gemstones, which was issued in English as Gem Spectrum Vol. 2, No. 1 (Jan. 1996). A list of American gemstone deposits by state is introduced thus:
The letter above [dated 01 Jan 1898] is only one of a beautifully compiled collection of correspondence from a book titled Letters to George F. Kunz by Lawrence Conklin. Like the music of the great composers, poignant notes and comments can posthumously capture one’s complete attention and transport the imagination to another place and time. Whether receiving or sending these letters, such respect and kinship was conveyed that one is impressed and humbled by the unpretentious knowledge freely shared by Dr. Kunz and his peers…
This is followed by a brief overview of current (1996) important American deposits in alphabetical order.
Dorina also did a Chinese translation of Pala International's information on demantoid garnet this past July.
Gems and Gemology News
Jewels in the Lotus
Last month, we were still so given pause by the pageantry of the Larson–Nakamura nuptials that we overlooked some items that might have found their way into our occasional Research Roundup review. They come to us by way of the newly formed Lotus Gemology, the Bangkok-based laboratory devoted to ruby and sapphire.
These are reports and articles of interest to gemologists as well as others wishing to dig a little deeper. While we often have pointed to Lotus proprietor Richard W. Hughes's reports on his Ruby-Sapphire.com website, these appear to be new offerings.
- Instrument Review – Presidium Synthetic Ruby Identifier: E. Billie Hughes reviews a tool that might be useful, but in a limited application
- A Geologist Speculates by John M. Saul: The subtitle of this book is On Gemstones, Origins of Gas and Oil, Moonlike Impact Scars on the Earth, the Emergence of Animals and Cancer. Richard Hughes reviews the book: "I have read hundreds of books on gemstones, but I cannot say I’ve read anything quite as remarkable as this."
- Mogok Geology Primer – Rock Talk: Wilawan Atichat, former Director of the Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand, and Richard Hughes look at the big picture surrounding this classic locality
Sri Lanka Enjoys Growth
Sri Lanka's gemstone export value was up 69% in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period last year, according to the Sri Lanka Gem & Jewellery Association. Here are some of the statistics:
- Blue sapphires in carats were up 12% for a total of 396,971 carats; value was up 35%
- Yellow sapphires in carats were up 18%; value was up 83%
- Violet sapphires in carats were up 18%; value rose 203%
- Padparadscha sapphires were down 21% in carats; value was up 21%
- Gemstone exports to the U.S. were down 46%, 199,377 carats (from 372,688 last year); value rose 42%
- Exports to Thailand in carats were up 56%; value rose 12%
- Exports to China in carats were up 37%
- Exports to Switzerland in carats were up 139%; value was up 321%
CIBJO Turns from Supply-Chain to Climate Change
"For many years, our view of Corporate Social Responsibility was almost entirely focused on protecting the integrity of the chain of distribution," CIBJO President Gaetano Cavalieri stated this month after meeting with a key British sustainability figure. "This is critically important, of course, but as members of a greater society we have other obligations as well, and that includes providing a healthy and sustainable environment for future generations." Cavalieri met in London with Lord Deben, chair of the ethical trade consultancy Sancroft. The meeting continues the discussion of a subject that was taken up at CIBJO's congress this past May. Prior to that conclave, CIBJO measured its carbon footprint in order to measure progress.
Our readers likely are aware of efforts in the colored gemstone industry to provide guidance to jewelers and gemologists—like the CIBJO reference guides and LMHC nomenclature standardization—but the same goes for amber. Since 1999, the Board of the International Amber Association has concerned itself with classification of Baltic amber. The most recent revisions to this codification came on September 5. Interested readers can find the changes here along with the classification here.
Record-setting Ruby and Sapphire Sales
One day after the record-setting sale of a remarkable timepiece, Sotheby's set a few more records in the realm of colored gemstones. One November 12, the "Graff Ruby," an 8.62-carat Burmese ruby, fetched $8.6 million, a record world auction price for a ruby as well as a per-carat record-setter for ruby ($997,727). The ruby returns to its namesake, Laurence Graff, who said after the sale, "It was a natural thing to do. Graff deals in the finest gemstones in the world and this is the finest ruby in the world. We are very proud to have it in our possession for the second time." The ruby was offered from the collection of Dmitri Mavrommatis. Also offered by the collector was a second record-breaker, a 27.54-carat step-cut Kashmir sapphire. An unnamed Asian buyer obtained the sapphire for nearly $6 million, a world record for a Kashmir sapphire, or $217,000 per carat, another record, as announced by Sotheby's.
For sapphire, however, another Geneva sale stole the show the day before. Christie's sold a huge, 392.52-carat Sri Lankan sapphire, the "Blue Belle of Asia," to a private collector in the room for about $17.3 million. It is a new world auction record for any sapphire.
Want to keep tabs on these world records? Lotus Gemology lists them for ruby, sapphire and spinel.
Wisdom of Pearls
Margaritologia: A New Pearl Newsletter by Elisabeth Strack
Elisabeth Strack, author of Pearls, has issued the first edition of Margaritologia, a newsletter devoted to all aspects of natural and cultured pearls, "from natural science to history and new developments, pearl farming, pearl grading, testing procedures, price information and market situations," according to a news release. The author's aim is to "create a forum for sharing her observations with a worldwide circle of pearl enthusiasts."
The first edition of the quarterly publication, with a focus on cultured pearls from Vietnam, covers:
- Pearl topics at the International Gemmogical Conference in Hanoi, October 2013
- DNA Fingerprinting of Pearls for origin determination
- Spondylus Pearls
- A Mikimoto '3.5 Momme' graduate necklace
- Exhibition at the Schwerin Museum in 2013
Subscription information is available here.
"[W]hile the term 'sustainable mining' is actually an oxymoron, meaning two words with essentially opposite meanings—like 'open secret' or 'seriously funny'—'sustainable aquiculture' most definitely is not." So said CIBJO president Gaetano Cavalieri during an address before the Sustainable Pearl Forum in Hong Kong on June 21. Taking his lead from the 2005 World Summit on Social Development, Cavalieri expounded on economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, and stakeholder or community sustainability.
Efforts regarding pearl sustainability are being spearheaded by Sustainable Pearls, which organized the Sustainable Pearl Forum (see presentations and videos here) as well as the Pearl Forum in Munich (see videos here). The organization's website has an array of information available, from a history of pearls and pearl types to sustainability principles and case studies to research publications and videos.
The Pearl Fishers of Arabia
BBC is giving readers, viewers and listeners "tales from Britain's rule in India and beyond," such as a look at pearl harvesting in the Persian Gulf, in the first half of the 20th century, prior to the discovery of oil.
- An account by Australian explorer Alan Villiers of the "last gasp" of the pearl-diving industry, accompanied by his photographs
- Documents such as a vocabulary of diving terms, to wit: Azal. A diver who goes out in some Nakhuda's [Boat Captain] boat, but dives independently, keeping his own catch, paying the Nakhuda one fifth of his profits and paying his own keep…
- Performances of sea shanties lovingly sustained by members of the old pearling families
As we were preparing this month's newsletter, a gaggle of goodies flew by the editor's desk…
Swell Phones and Serpentine Lines
Last month, JCK gave its readers a look at five "over-the-top bejeweled phones" of the cell variety, beginning with a line of eleven Android smart phones announced by Geneva-based jeweler, Savelli.
"It's a precious jewel… but I don't wear it," reads Savelli's marketing tag line, taken from the lips of an au courant fashionista. But the jewel's 21st-century design has 18th-century roots, having been inspired by the (conveniently) S-shaped "Line of Grace." Also known as the Line of Beauty, it was discussed in The Analysis of Beauty(1753) by English polymath William Hogarth, perhaps best known for his pictorial social satires. "The eye hath this sort of enjoyment in winding walks, and serpentine rivers, and all sorts of objects, whose forms, as we shall see hereafter, are composed principally of what, I call, the waving and serpentine lines," wrote Hogarth in Chapter V, Of Intricacy. He liked the line so much, it appears on the book's title page, pictured above.
The eye certainly finds much to enjoy as it wanders the undulations of the Savelli smart phone collection. JCK illustrates this nicely with the jeweler's Merveilleuse Diamond Night case, encrusted with 305 white diamonds (3.99 tcw) in its oscillating frame of 18-carat rose gold, before turning to four phone creations of yesteryear.
In September, we noted the speculation regarding the (non)employment of synthetic sapphire in the display panels of the latest batch of iPhones. Turns out that GT Advanced Technologies, which ran a synthetic sapphire manufacturing operation for Apple, was unable to meet production goals. Apple, in turn withheld some cash, and GT filed for bankruptcy. To repay debt, GT was selling 2,000+ "Advanced Sapphire Furnaces" on the open market. For more, drill down beginning with this October 23 story by AppleInsider.
Synthetic sapphire is used in Apple products' Touch ID sensor and iSight camera lens, but the source is unknown. According to Apple, the material will be used in most Apple Watch models to be released next year. As with past devices, the responsiveness of the watch surface will be sensitive enough to distinguish between "a tap and a press."
It may not have the functionality of Apple Watch, but last week the public's imagination was captured by The Supercomplication, an old-school analog timepiece made by Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe in 1932. Following its sale last week by Sotheby's, appropriately in Geneva, Daryn Schnipper, Chairman of Sotheby's Watch Division, and Tim Bourne, Sotheby's Worldwide Head of Watches, said jointly,
This stellar result confirms the "rockstar" status of The Henry Graves Supercomplication. It is more than a watch. It is a masterpiece which transcends the boundaries of horology and has earned its place among the world's greatest works of art. The fascination it has attracted over the past few months, as Patek Philippe celebrates its 175th anniversary, is a fitting tribute to the genius of the Swiss manufacturer.
The Supercomplication was commissioned by New York banker Henry Graves in 1925. In addition to collecting watches, Graves accumulated artwork impressive enough to warrant its own sale in 1936 by a Sotheby's predecessor, titled "Masterpieces of Engraving and Etching: The Collection of Henry Graves, Jr.," at which was sold Albrecht Dürer's famous Adam and Eve.
The Supercomplication was the result of a competition between Graves and car manufacturer James Ward Packard, who both used Patek Philippe to outdo the other in terms of horological "complications"—features added to the workaday timekeeping function of a timepiece. Graves's commission, which took seven years to complete, resulted in The Supercomplication with its 25 complications—a number unsurpassed for 56 years. In 1989, on the occasion of the watchmaker's 150th anniversary, the firm issued the Calibre 89, with 33 complications. For more on the history and details of this historic timepiece, see the lot description at Sothebys.com.
No Smoking Gun
Henry Graves was introduced to Patek Philippe by his family jeweler, Tiffany & Co., which produced its own horologes, as covered by John Loring in his 2004 monograph Tiffany Timepieces (Abrams). But Tiffany also crafted other, sometimes overlooked, luxury items: firearms. Last week, CNN Style profiled the arms, which were produced beginning in the 1850s, peaking during the Civil War, then dropped off in the 1910s. (CNN states it was a 1911 New York gun control law that halted production; Nevada Museum of Art states they were produced until about the end of World War I.) Tiffany began crafting them again in about 1982, for about ten years. These weapons would have been considered to be ornamental rather than utilitarian.
When Pala International's Bill Larson came across the CNN story, he was reminded of Tiffany pistols in his own collection, but of a different sort. He first saw them in the 1980s with his friend Sy Ellenhorn, a New York gem dealer and owner of CF Firearms—a most interesting business combination. Sy loved colored gemstones, especially spinels, and CF was famous for renting weapons to Broadway theaters and movies shot in the New York area. When Sy retired he sold CF Firearms and Bill Larson asked him to see if the new owners would part with these two Tiffany pistols, since they were not for sale when Sy owned them. A deal was made and the two pieces shipped to Fallbrook.
These revolvers were actually used for security at Tiffany & Co. in the early 1900s, probably when George F. Kunz was a vice President. They appear to not have been fired. The "diamond office" weapon is in mint condition. When the American Museum's "Diamonds" exhibit (curated by Dr. George Harlow) traveled to the San Diego Natural History Museum in the 1990s, these two pistols were featured as part of special local additions to the exhibit. They remain in Bill Larson's collection today as favorites of Will and Carl Larson.
Projecting an Image
If the first pistol pictured above might be considered to be a virtual weapon, by virtue of the fact that it would never be fired, we now turn our attention to virtual jewelry, which is not traditionally worn because it doesn't really exist. Neclumi (as in neck illumination) is a line of light-based necklaces that interact with the wearer, as conceived and executed by panGenerator, an interdisciplinary group from Warsaw, Poland. Neclumi uses an iPhone app interfaced with a picoprojector that casts its lightform on the wearer's neck. Static images don't do the interactivity justice; see for yourself in the streaming video below. For more information on the technology, see JCK.
Locals-Only Jade Sales Set Records
Statistics for two jade sales limited to local traders in Burma were reported on October 21 by The Irrawaddy. We seem to have missed such a sale in January, which brought in 70 billion kyat (about $70 million as of Jan. 31). The article states that this was a record high (presumably for a locals-only jade sale).
A sale that ran from October 14–20 set a new record, with 126 billion kyat in jade sold, or about $126 million. Such sales to local traders began in 2011, but ceased last year due to fighting in Kachin State, which also halted legal jade production. Jade in the October sale came almost entirely from Kachin's Hpakant, which resumed jade mining, according to The Myanmar Times yesterday. The most expensive jade lot in the recent sale was valued at 50 million kyat, or about $50,000.
The kyat-only sales allow the local currency to flow into the market, according to Min Thu, the assistant director of the Myanmar Gems Enterprise sales committee. The hope also is that locals will export value-added product rather than raw jade, again benefiting the local economy. The challenges to this economy were explored by The Myanmar Times yesterday in an article titled, "Chinese Stampede Upsets Markets." The volatility of the jade market is discussed in an October 21 article, "Good Fortune is 50/50 Luck and Vision."
Meanwhile, Burma's first finished and cut-gem market, on the grounds of Yangon's Myanma Gems Museum, was scheduled to open earlier this month, as reported by Eleven Media Group late last month. Originally scheduled for an October opening, the jade sale is said to be the cause of the delay. The market will include a gem lab, and plans are afoot to open similar markets in Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw.
Also in play is the revision of a gem industry oversight law, first enacted in 1995. According to a November 7 story by Mizzima News, Burma lawmakers are trying to balance government control with gemstone industry and labor interests.
Resumed jade mining in Hpakant, mentioned above, comes after clashes in Shan State between ethnic-backed Federal Union Army (FUA) troops and Burma armed forces, beginning on October 15, as reported by Kachin News Group (KNG). A few days later, the Karen National Union, Burma's oldest armed ethnic group, pulled out of the United Nationalities Federal Council, which commands the FUA, per an October 30 story by KNG. The ticklish peace process is discussed in an October 21 opinion piece in the Shan Herald, followed up by an October 28 editorial that noted the visit to Kachin of the U.S. Ambassador to Burma, Derek Mitchell. (The Irrawaddy covered the visit on October 27.) President Obama played it relatively safe, visiting Burma because of two regional summits being held in Nay Pyi Taw. The Irrawaddy opined that Obama's Burma visit would not be consequential because U.S. sanctions essentially prohibit American business engagement with the country, which might impress Burma's leaders far more than calling for a free election in 2015.
Prior to yesterday's report of resumed jade mining in Hpakant was a November 3 story by Eleven Media Group (EMG) stating that the jade market there "has ground to a halt." Fighting in the past had not affected the market, but current woes may be due to a drop in Chinese business and a crackdown on cross-border smuggling. Small-scale miners have dropped from 70 to 10. Regarding the smuggling crackdown, EMG reported on October 22 that more than half of the contraband seized at or near the border gates have consisted of timber, jade or gems. Jade and gems seized in fiscal year 2011–12 amounted to nearly $2 million. Fiscal year 2012–13 netted only about $160,000 worth, while this past year saw $1.7 million confiscated. A detailed report about the Muse customs zone was published by The Myanmar Times on November 10. Muse will have its jade market in as little as six months, according to Mizzima News on October 24.
- Kachin News Group: Hpakant jade company offers compensation for the death—murder?—of a worker
- Kachin News Group: We've mentioned the collection of taxes on jade mining in ethnic areas before, but now a KIO accountant who was doing the collection has been arrested
- Mizzima News: "The Game" – An opinion piece on the effect on trade of the war economy in Burma
- Mizzima News: How donations are spent at Shwedagon Pagoda (Nov 6), and the "Valley of Fancy" across from that landmark's west entrance, with its purveyors of gemstones and jade (Oct 19)
- Myanmar Times: Famous "Stilwell Road" to get upgrade with jade company help
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: November
The words from one of this month's birthstone cards, featuring fiery topaz, ring true, at least to your editor in Denver. No sooner did we lose an hour—"No sun, no light"—than we went from spring-like weather—near the 76°F record on Sunday the 9th—to setting four record lows in a row, Monday through Thursday—"no warmth, November!"
For more information on birthstones, see Palagems.com.
— End November Newsletter • Published 11/17/14 —
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.