December 2014 Newsletter
Table of Contents
Shows and Events
Pala International News
Gems and Gemology News
- Understanding Rough Gemstones
By Shyamala Fernandes and Gagan Choudhary
To our mineral collecting colleagues: Sixty specimens from Desmond Sacco's world-class collection were stolen from his home in Johannesburg a week ago. Please review the image below in order to keep an eye out for them. Contact us immediately with any information. For more details, see this thread on Mindat.
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.
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
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 second generation mineral dealers, including Pala International's Will Larson
- 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
61st Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show
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
Tucson Transit Tips
Many shows will offer their own shuttles. View your transit and parking options here.
East by Southwest: Native American Jewelry
As we note in this month's Pala Presents below, turquoise is one of December's several birthstones. So it's only appropriate that travelers to, and denizens of, both coasts will have a chance to feast their eyes on exhibitions of Native American jewelry this holiday season and beyond.
San Francisco: Evolving Traditions
In San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, on display indefinitely at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS), is Evolving Traditions: Southwest Native Pottery and Silver, an exhibition of Southwest Native American artistry. Dozens of examples of turquoise and coral jewelry are featured, as well as ceramic figurines and pottery, such as redware and carved blackware. Cultures represented include Navajo, Hopi and Zuni.
While pottery has been crafted by Native Americans in the Southwest for two millennia, jewelry employing silver is relatively recent. Prior to metalworking, turquoise had taken the form of only beads and pendants, as explained by Russ Hartman, Senior Collections Manager of Anthropology at CAS. And it wasn't silver, but rather iron and copper that first were worked, beginning about 1850. Navajo and Zuni artisans eventually crafted in silver, later trading their art and artistry with the Hopi. Only following World War II did the three cultures diverge stylistically, which Hartman goes on to describe. Yet no Native American language has a word for "art," Hartman notes; the visual creativity of the jeweler, potter, clothier is an integral aspect of the finished material.
New York: Glittering World
In New York, the Smithonian's National Museum of the American Indian focuses on the jewelry of a single Navajo family in an exhibition that is up through January 10, 2016. Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family takes the viewer through the work of this award-winning Gallup, New Mexico institution: Lee Yazzie, his younger brother Raymond, their sister Mary Marie, and nine other siblings. "You're never going to be a master in the time that you work on what you make," says Raymond in a streaming video produced for the exhibition. "Because, you know, we all learn something new every day. We teach ourselves something new every day."
According to an Al Jazeera America profile, Lee Yazzie originally had aspirations other than jewelry making: the life of a lowly silversmith was far less appealing than that of a professional accountant. Having to drop out of school for surgery, however, Lee was forced to support himself, so he learned the jeweler's craft from his mother. This was in 1968; it wasn't until twenty years later that he thought of himself as having talent. Lee's eventual ascent from lowly to masterly is reflected in the the exhibition's title, which comes from the Navajo creation story (Diné Bahane'), wherein the People emerged from worlds black, blue and yellow, eventually coming to the white or "glittering world."
The Yazzies are conversant with traditional designs, demonstrated by Lee Yazzie's intricate belt buckled pictured above. As his brother Raymond told Al Jazeera America, in the early days he could not afford Lone Mountain turquoise, but he always could afford coral.
Employment of coral in jewelry designs can be stunning, as in Raymond Yazzie's bold bracelet, above. But it's also sobering, with the realization that coral is endangered, having been placed on a list by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1985, as reported in a 1998 article in JCK magazine. (A search on "coral" at California Academy of Sciences returns thousands of hits.)
Brilliantly bridging the divide between traditional and contemporary is Lee Yazzie's bracelet above, reminiscent of the Fertility Corn fashioned from pearls by New York artist John Hatleberg, which had its roots in Incan "gardens of noble metals."
The American Museum of Natural History discusses Raymond Yazzie's blessings bracelet, pictured directly above. It is crafted from nearly 500 separate stones. Although Yazzie is Navajo, the bracelet incorporates Hopi imagery: a katsina maiden as well as five katsina masks.
If you're in Denver for the Cartier exhibition, extend your visit to the Denver Art Museum and take in its American Indian and pre-Columbian collections. The latter is a 3,000-piece teaching collection that includes ornaments made from jadeite, gold, turquoise, shell, obsidian, serpentine and more. Nearly the entire holdings are open for permanent viewing—inventively accessible via cruciform display cases that make for efficient use of space. Its "encyclopedic" Costa Rican array of objects is considered the finest in the United States.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stone: Spinel from Burma
This month we feature a lovely, bright, older fine-colored red spinel from Mogok, Burma with a weight of 7.33 carats. This fine gemstone was purchased in Denver this past September. Pala has since given the stone a nice re-polish. If this spinel looks familiar, it accompanied our Burma Bits column in October; we thought it deserved some more attention.
The gem is very reasonably priced, as it has natural inclusions. For all of its large size and color it's quite affordable. We believe that once this gem is mounted the inclusions will not disturb the viewer's vision and may add intrigue to the gem's lore.
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 offer Chinese translations of the newsletters, courtesy of Yan (Dorina) Shen, a language teacher who studied at Nanjing University.
We continue this month with Dorina's translation of Maw-Sit-Sit, which was issued in English as Gem Spectrum Vol. 3, No. 1 (May 1997).
Tucson, February 1997 was the first time many people had ever seen it. At first glimpse one gets the impression that this opaque, vivid, mossy green, material is somehow related to jade; and although it does indeed form within the jade deposits of Hpakan, Upper Burma, maw-sit-sit is a very different cousin.
It was in 1962 when Dr. Edward Gübelin first noticed the material was being referred to as maw-sit-sit, which was in fact, the mining area from where it originated. Then, as well as today, classification would prove to be quite a challenge due to maw-sit-sit's unique composition. In this issue of the Gem Spectrum, we will attempt to help you understand this most unique gem material.
Does that get the juices flowing?
Gems and Gemology News
By Ana Vasiliu
Two and a half years ago, researcher Ana Vasiliu contributed to our pages "White Flames Anonymous: Matching flame patterns on pearls and shells," which we summarized as a study of "pearl-to-host matchmaking," a sort of species-of-origin fingerprinting of natural pearls. Since that time, Vasiliu has continued her work with Biomineralix, an interdisciplinary network studying biogenic mineralization, and its application to natural pearls. The result is "Pearls Revisited."
In this new article, Vasiliu suggests that the photomicrographs she provides could be "the first images of natural pearl nuclei since electron microscopy came about." At the same time she feels it should be "improbable that they had vanished from the ever-increasing mass of academic work on nacre and shell materials." Examining references from the early 20th century through the 2000s, Vasiliu proposes that "today it would be possible—and great fun—to update the detailed plates of H. L. Jameson* and others, with beautiful microscopy showing what is possible in natural pearls."
* Jameson, Henry Lyster. "Studies on Pearl-Oysters and Pearls.—I. The Structure of the Shell and Pearls of the Ceylon Pearl-Oyster (Margaritifera vulgaris Schumacher): with an Examination of the Cestode Theory of Pearl-Production." Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1912. (archived here)
Last month, GIA shone the spotlight on a ruby (and sapphire) locality in Malawi that began production in 1958, making it one of Africa's oldest. Yet almost nothing has been published about gemstone production in the area, called Chimwadzulu Hill, which lies 145 kilometers south of the nation's capital Lilongwe. In an effort to bring more information to light, in late September GIA Field Gemologist Vincent Pardieu, videographer Didier Gruel and expedition guest Stanislas Detroyat traveled to Chimwadzulu to collect research samples as well as document their findings. The results will be published in an upcoming edition of Gems & Gemology; field reports and video documentaries also will be posted. For now, readers can have a glimpse via "Unearthing Ruby and Sapphire in Malawi."
If rubies from Malawi might have been overlooked, such stones from Mozambique appear to be getting their due. A Hong Kong auction conducted by Tiancheng International on December 7 featured a pair of ruby and diamond pendant earrings whose main stones had a total carat weight of 14.18. SSEF, GRS and Lotus Gemology issued reports on the earrings, with Lotus giving them its proprietary "Royal Red" distinction, stating that each ruby would have been quite impressive on its own, but the fact that the stones are so well matched color-wise only adds to the value. The lot fetched $1.7 million—not bad—but well within the savvy pre-sale estimate.
In September, GIA researchers Vincent Pardieu, Tao Hsu and Andrew Lucas visited the Montepuez, Mozambique ruby deposit—Pardieu's third visit since 2009—with Pardieu remarking that the deposit was "uniquely situated to succeed," according to a detailed report titled "Mozambique: A Ruby Discovery for the 21st Century.
Natural Black Opal from Ethiopia
Gubelin Gem Lab (GGL) announced in its December 5 e-newsletter that new black opal from Ethiopia had come through its doors. As we noted three years ago, much black opal has been treated, by a smoking process, to achieve its alluring appearance. In fact, the stones received by GGL were candidates for suspicion, but the lab's staff received an invitation to visit the source, which they accepted, obtaining samples that proved the material to be natural.
Without revealing the location, the newsletter stated that "it lies in the vicinity of the white opal deposit and its geological setting correlates with the same layer within the stratigraphic sequence." Being a siginficant deposit, this Ethiopian black opal is expected to challenge the Australian market.
GGL's chief gemologist, Dr. Lore Kiefert, was scheduled to give an oral presentation on this material last week at the 4th International Gem and Jewelry Conference in Bangkok.
Yahoo! Travel editor-in-chief Paula Froelich recently visited the jade market in Mandalay from her home town of New York where, she writes, every street corner has thousands of jade bracelets going for about $5. It came as some surprise to try on a $300,000 bracelet and see fingernail-sized stones going for five grand. While it's essentially a fluff piece ("Forget Diamonds—in the Far East, Imperial Jade is a Girl's Best Friend") the article does contain a fun rags-to-riches story (if true), told by her guide Aul: To support herself a poor girl from Mandalay had to take a job as nanny for a Chinese jade mine owner up north. One day, boys threw rocks at the family's dog, and the girl picked up one of the rocks, saving it, not thinking about it until she returned to Mandalay six months later. "The girl is now a millionaire," Aul told Froelich.
If Froelich needed further proof of jade's charm, she could have perused the pages of last month's Fine Jewels & Jadeite sale in Hong Kong by Sotheby's. On offer were a $700,00–$800,000 jadeite bangle, not sold, and the disc pendant pictured at right, which was—for nearly $284,000, far surpassing the pre-sale estimate that topped out at $193K. The description of the pendant is worth reprinting here:
This circular jadeite disc of extremely fine quality is carved as a simplistic circle with a hole in the centre, free from intricate carvings, symbolising the modest wish for a sense of peace. It is believed that this form bears similarity to the ancient ritual object bi, granting its wearer blessings from heaven. The outer and inner circles are also the perfect representation of completeness and wholeness, ideals of supreme importance in Chinese tradition.
On December 3, Forbes looked at the colored gemstone market in general, illustrating itself with a crowd of corundum in a host of hues, pink, blues, red, yellow and orange, all of which were set for online sale by Auctionata last Tuesday, but none of which appears to have sold. The shopping and buying advice given in the article actually might have cautioned as many readers as might have browsed—and otherwise bought—at the auction site. The article insightfully compares the "narrow margins" of the diamond trade with colored stones' "Wild West" market, and an interesting statistic is dropped along the way: 98% of today's colored gemstones have been heated.
Al Jazeera and NY Times: Bah, humbug…
Burma received two lumps of coal within two days early this month. On December 2, the New York Times delivered the happy headline, "Searching for Burmese Jade, and Finding Misery," accompanied by a just-as-jolly video feature, "Jade's Journey Marked by Drugs and Death." Even the aforementioned Paula Froelich, after all her kid-in-a-candyshop enthusiasm, felt compelled to add a postscript, citing the Times article:
I should note—as with most industries that involve mining—the actual mining of jade is a dirty, dangerous business. Made especially so by the abundance of opium in the area. This article is not about that. It is about the actual jade market.
Not to be outdone in the cheer department, Al Jazeera the next day delivered "Myanmar's Jade Curse" with the subtle subtitle "China's jade obsession drives a multi-billion dollar black market that fuels a drug-infested jade mining industry." And last month, the day after we pointed to a Kachin News Group story of the death and possible murder of a man killed "on the job," The Irrawaddy characterized the deceased as a jade picker. Well, yes, sifting through mining rubble could be considered the dead man's "job." On December 7, Democratic Voice of Burma's Roadshow visited Mogok, with ruby workers interviewed. One woman, from the hills, remembers fleeing from fighting with only a bag of clothes, the only shelter for years was beneath a villager's house. This was 15 years ago, and more recently things have gotten better.
Fighting in jadeland resumed just after our last newsletter, with Burma army soldiers killing 20-some rebel cadets, as reported by The Irrawaddy November 19, scrapping the monthly peace talk in Myitkyina. (Photos of the cadets coffins spread on Facebook.) Eleven Media Group reported on other incidents. And for the history lover on your gift list, The Irrawaddy has provided a helpful chronology of Kachin conflict. God rest you merry, gentlemen…
- Eleven Media Group: A more festive view of life in the rubyland of Burma's Shan State
- The Irrawaddy: Shan State's Muse Central Economic Zone project makes progress
- Myanmar Times: A chat with U Yone Mu who took over as rotating chair of the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Enterprise Association from U Tay Za
- Myanmar Times: After renovation, the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association has re-opened its gem shops in Yangon's Myanmar Gems Emporium Hall, with a gem lab to follow
- The Irrawaddy: More resistance by Mandalay gem merchants against gem market move to city outskirts
- EMG: On the one hand, $140,000 of contraband seized, including "jade" bracelets worth… brace yourselves… $1.25 thousand
- EMG: On the other hand, authorities have nabbed more than $3.5 million in smuggled gems and jade since mobile inspection teams were deployed in 2012—but—"Statistics show the rate of contraband increased in 2014"
Understanding Rough Gemstones
By Shyamala Fernandes and Gagan Choudhary
We've been asked to call to your attention to a book that should be getting some, since it fills an interesting gap. Until the publication of Understanding Rough Gemstones, by Shyamala Fernandes and Gagan Choudhary, no book covered the subject of its title, according to gemologist and author Richard W. Hughes, in his favorable review.
While we've not seen the book, we can lay out the contents, which appear to be quite comprehensive.
- Evaluating, Buying and Assorting Rough Gemstones
- Geographical Locations of Gemstones
- Gemstone Species
- Gemstone Simulants
- Core Principles for Understanding Gemstone Rough
a. Crystallographic Features
b. Physical and Optical Properties
- Synthesis and Enhancement
a. Man-Made Gem Materials
b. Enhanced and Treated Gem Materials
- Ready Reference Tabulations
a. Classification – Group/Species/Variety
b. Classification – Composition
d. Specific Gravity
f. Crystal Systems
g. Refractive Index
h. Inclusions in Some Specific Gemstones
j. Terminology in Hindi
- Reality Matters [anecdotes from the rough gemstone trade]
In other reviews of the book, Dr. Michael Krzemnicki, director of Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF, states that Understanding Rough Gemstones would be useful for people who are visiting mines, where they'll be exposed to rough material. Author and gemologist Antoinette Matlins feels that the book gives the reader insight into all the steps involved in mine-to-market.
The book is very reasonably priced and is available hardbound or softbound. For ordering information see the book website.
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: December
This month, we offer turquoise as the last in our series of twelve birthstone collecting cards.
But Santa stuffed our stocking with a half-dozen more. And his elves are making cameo appearances.
For more information on birthstones, see Palagems.com.
— End December Newsletter • Published 12/15/14 —
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.