Palagems Reflective Index - February 2015
February 2015 Newsletter
Table of Contents
Shows and Events
Pala International News
- Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide
eBook edition by Renée Newman
Editor: David Hughes
Shows and Events
Luxury Then and Now
Two exhibitions currently on view examine excess—the root of the term luxury—from different angles. The Getty presents a French collection in a traditional fashion, as befits the flagship entity of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world's wealthiest art institution. The Victoria & Albert, which apparently succeeds at its mission "To be the world’s leading museum of art and design," takes a frankly conceptual approach to an international exhibition of everything from fabricated plastic to an inscribed golden ready-made, with that quintessential de luxe—an ecclesiastical crown—taking center stage.
Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville
The tale of the Berthouville Treasure reminds us of the parable about the lucky sharecropper found in the Christian scriptures, "Our father's country is like a buried treasure turned up by a plow in the field: the farmer who finds it sells all that he owns to buy that field."  Fast-forward to the waning days of winter 1830, when a Normand farmer acquired a field near the village of Berthouville in northern France.
On March 21—a Sunday, and the vernal equinox—the farmer, "appropriately" named Prosper Taurin (as noted in a Getty blog that explores the farm's environs), struck his plowshare on an ancient tile. Doing a little digging, Taurin discovered a brick-lined chamber filled with temple treasure weighing 55 pounds (25 kg). Melted down, this silver would have provided the farmer with a tidy sum, but instead he took the advice of a relative and showed the hoard to authorities. Had the farmer been as bullheaded as his surname suggests (Taurin = bullfighting) we would have been the poorer.
Unlike scripture, the provenance of which will be contended for the foreseeable future by scholarly exegetes, the Berthouville hoard appears to be neatly chronicled (search on "Berthouville") in the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the country's National Library, which actually houses the treasure. The archive even includes the bill of sale between Taurin and Désiré-Raoul Rochette, curator of the Cabinet des médailles et antiques of the Bibliothèque royale (precursor of the Bibliothèque nationale). The entire find was sold by Taurin for 15,000 francs. 
For the past four years, the Getty has been engaged in meticulous conservation and research of the hoard, resulting in the exhibit, Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville, which is on view at the Getty Villa through August 17, 2015. We include here examples of jewels that were found amidst the exquisite silver objects.
1. Found in Matthew 13:44 and the sayings gospel of Thomas 109. I use a simplified version rendered by Guy Davenport and Benjamin Urrutia (The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus, Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996, p. 5).
2. A modern comparison is perhaps best performed by using figures as recorded in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (via the Carpe Horas blog): 1 franc would buy you 20 loaves of bread; Bishop Myriel's annual stipend was 15,000 francs, the same as the sale price of the Berthouville Treasure.
What is Luxury?
"This exhibition is not focused on luxury consumption," declares a blog entry accompanying the V&A exhibition, What is Luxury? "Given that the V&A is located in one of the most consolidated areas of luxury consumption from food to property, we curators felt that adding to that would contribute little to the current luxury debate," continues co-curator Jana Scholze. By presenting a series of themes—Creating Luxury, A Space for Time, A Future for Luxury, and What is Your Luxury?—the curators hope the viewer comes away with a personal take on the title question.
Artists Marcin Rusak and Iona Inglesby created perhaps the most luxurious piece in the exhibition, at least for those of us tied to modern conveniences that allow—demand—work to be done anywhere, anytime. "It is almost impossible to get truly lost these days," they write on Rusak's online portfolio. "Time for Yourself" makes it impossible to do otherwise—what a luxury!—with its
- faceless watch with a pewter finish, which the sun heats and the night cools, "hinting" the time of day by touch
- an inkless pen; had you a map, you couldn't mark it
- a salt-crystal pendant for relaxation; a copper-ore bracelet for healing
- a directionless compass
- a blanket for warmth and to contain the "tools"
The ecclesiastical crown pictured above certainly is sumptuous, with its diamonds, pink rubies and teal emeralds. It was crafted in Portugal and is dated 1726 on an interior headband. With a height of 21 cm and a diameter of about 11.5 cm, it could have adorned a statue somewhat smaller than life size. The crown contains eight bejeweled half-arches incorporating rococo scrolls, gathered together by three tiers of sculpted knobs and diamond dangles, thereby lifting the monde (orb) quite high—fitting for the bird perched thereupon. But these details raise a couple of observations.
Traditionally, the orb is surmounted by a cross, symbolizing the Christian God's dominion over the world. Could the bird be a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit? Might the crown have been placed atop an image of Our Lady, alluding perhaps to the Annunciation? Intriguingly, the crown has an antecedent: one of two scepters commissioned for the coronation of Charles II in 1661 includes the monde surmounted by a cross upon which an enameled dove rests with outstretched wings (see image and article). A second observation concerns the characterization of the "rococo" scrolls, which appear to refer to time period rather than style. Typically, what sets the late baroque—aka rococo—apart from the earlier baroque is the employment of asymmetrical patterns. Yet, those employed in the crown are quite symmetrical; indeed were they not, the crown would be a curiosity in addition to being a masterful creation. In any case, this crown is an example of luxury at the service of a celestial, rather than terrestrial, monarch. That it would be separated from its state and sacred setting, and reside in the collection of an expatriate subject (and knight) of the British Crown, Sir Arthur Gilbert, augments the question, What is Luxury?
Architect and writer Aram Mooradian graduated from the Architectural Association in 2011 with honors for his project A Comprehensive Atlas of Gold Fictions, from which "Headphone Jack" is taken. "The Atlas of Gold Fictions catalogues the strange infrastructures of the gold economy," Mooradian writes, "from its source in the mines of Australia to the web of precious artefacts scattered across the globe." The virtual nature of gold-as-commodity provides a launching pad for the artist's flights of fancy. The gold-plated headphone connector, above, is embedded with "an aboriginal songline from the place its gold was abstracted," Mooradian writes elsewhere. Gold extraction disturbs the land; the songlines move with the gold. Stretching a bit, Mooradian likens the embedded songlines to the "secret tracks" of pop songs—think of the "clues" embedded in Beatles songs and imagery that inspired the "Paul is dead" urban legend. Continuing the theme of animating the inanimate, Mooradian created "Heirloom Pendant," a "gold nugget" necklace with its own "player," the stylus of which reads the grooves of the pendant, emitting sounds of "laughter and little sayings" of the couple who have exchanged the chains.
What is Luxury? is the third and final exhibition in a triennial series created in collaboration with the UK's Crafts Council, which aims: "To make the UK the best place to make, see, collect and learn about contemporary craft." The first in the series was 2007's Out of the Ordinary which looked at the work of eight artists creating from everyday objects. With 2011's Power of Making, the craft of creation took center stage. British artist Nora Fok's creations are so versatile, they would have fit in both exhibitions—she did show in the latter. (She also appeared in Pearls, which just closed at the V&A.) A close look at her "Bubble Bath" necklace, above, demonstrates her own power of making. The airy orbs actually are hand-knit and stitched together. According to a profile of the piece, Fok knits nylon monofilament, using her son's toy marbles as templates. (It seems that, while at school, a tutor who also was an angler brought in the fishing line that would become Fok's signature medium.) Once again, Fok's work, like that of Rusak and Inglesby above, raises the subject of the luxury of time—in her case, for the creation of the ethereal.
What is Luxury? is on view through September 27, 2015.
Rouges & Noirs
Rouge et Noir (Red and Black) has been applied to many things: a solitaire card game for two decks, a novel in two volumes by Stendahl, an artisan cheese from Petaluma, a Japanese manga (comic) series, a single by '80s French pop sensation Jeanne Mas ("En Rouge et Noir"), the Algerian football team, the roulette wheel, and a mid-century French anarchist journal (Noir et Rouge), amongst others. It also is the title—in plural, Rouges & Noirs—for an exhibition of red and black gemstones currently on display in the southern Belgian province of Namur. The color scheme has a special significance for Namur's inhabitants: its provincial flag colors are… red and black.
Rouges & Noirs is mounted by TreM.a (Musée des Arts anciens du Namurois = Museum of Ancient Arts of Namur) and its subtitle provides the content: "Ruby, garnet, onyx, obsidian and other red and black minerals in art and archaeology." A catalog by the same title* is nearing publication; it will be No. 67 in the series of Monographies published by TreM.a and the Archaeological Society of Namur (not yet posted; see list of 2014 titles). We've had a chance to browse one of the catalog entries, "Garnet Mines in Europe," by H. Albert Gilg and Jaroslav Hyršl. This 30-page overview (in English) looks at mines from Spain to Scotland to Sweden and is lavishly illustrated. Even the Teschen Table that we profiled last fall makes an appearance, in relation garnets from Zöblitz (Saxony)—rarely employed in jewelry—being used to decorate the table.
Rouges & Noirs is available for viewing every day through April 12, 2015.
*Details on the monograph from the brochure: J. Toussaint (sous la dir.), Rouges & Noirs. Rubis, grenat, onyx, obsidienne et autres minéraux rouges & noirs dans l’art et l’archéologie, coll.Monographies du TreM.a, n° 67, comprenant 376 pages (29,7 x 21 cm) illustrées de nombreuses photos et documents coul. et N/Bl. Ouvrage relié. Prix: 35 € (+ frais de port).
The Virtual Museums
American Museum of Natural History
More and more museums are taking themselves into the virtual realm by posting images from their collections online. The American Museum of Natural History has scads of shots from their numerous holdings, including the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals and the J.P. Morgan Hall of Gems; see them on Pinterest.
If you're craving more, check out the lovely snow crystal images in the collection, Winter at the Museum.
Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy
Last week we received the newsletter of the Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy, which promotes its own archive of images and documents.
Tucson: Rosy as a Pair of Tourmaline Glasses
Was this year's AGTA GemFair in Tucson a success? Doug Hucker, the association's CEO was quite sanguine: "I can’t say that I have ever experienced traffic to this extent, especially for the first two days." Okay, you might expect that from the show's head honcho. But there was some empirical evidence, too. "We actually had to temporarily close down the escalators leading to the GemHall floor to prevent a crush of people leading into the downstairs entries." And the weather cooperated as well; no frozen fountains this year.
Eight Reasons to Buy and Stock Colored Gemstone Jewelry
AGTA recently interviewed industry insider Bill Boyajian about the advisability of jewelers stocking colored gemstones, and he's posted his responses on his website. He characterized his remarks as being "basic," yet most retail jewelers don't seem to have much of an inventory in colored stones. Amongst Boyajian's observations regarding the stocking of colored gemstone jewelry: it will set you apart from your competitors, it can showcase your gemological knowledge, and colored stones have a history that can be played up (compared with diamonds), as attested by our items this month on luxury and the Paris museum.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stones: Spessartite from Tanzania
This month we feature a pair of exceptional pumpkin-orange spessartites from Tanzania. This impressive pair weighs in at 16.52 carats total weight and are perfectly matched with ideal-cut cushion faceting.
Spessartite (aka spessartine) has seen quite a change in the marketplace. Demand has continued to go up as collectors expand into the more rare varieties of garnet. There are still some spessartites from the long exhausted Nigerian deposit on the market, but inventories are diminishing and prices are rising. The new Tazanian deposit has started to fill in the gap on spessartite supply with a range of sizes and beautiful mandarin and pumpkin colors. The material tends to have some clarity issues but we have seen some cleaner stones popping up recently. We have a large selection from both deposits and even a few from Namibia and San Diego County. For more on this material, see our Spessartite Buying Guide.
Larsons Loan Dreher Gem Carvings for GIA Display
The Dreher family of Idar-Oberstein, Germany has been carving gemstones for five generations in a region where the tradition goes back 600 years. GIA students and the general public will have the chance to view their oeuvre courtesy another family—Pala International's Larsons—who are loaning Dreher examples from their personal collection for a special exhibition. Generations of Mastery: Gemstone Carvings by Dreher opens February 19, continuing through summer 2015.
Behind each creation by the Drehers is an immense amount of study. "The Drehers are known for their extensive study of animals and other creatures," as stated in a GIA news release, "drawing from as many as 500 photos of each subject to create the superb detail in their works of art."
Crater Yields Two Carats
A lucky visitor to Arkansas's Crater of Diamonds State Park came upon a 2.01-carat yellow diamond on February 3, as reported by CNN. Dean Filppula, from Shreveport, Louisiana, became the proud owner of the diamond, the largest by far found this year. (Yes, they keep track here and here.) A half inch of rain had fallen two days before Filppula's visit, which may have aided in uncovering the diamond, as well as park staff having plowed the area. He plans to sell the stone, but that didn't keep him from naming it: Merf, after his mother's initials.
This past November, the Gem and Mineral Council of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Council sponsored a trip to Burma, with the prize destination of the Mogok Stone Tract. The group's guide was Dr. Kyaw Thu, a geologist and proprietor of Macle Gem Labs in Yangon. He also is a longtime special friend of Pala International's Bill Larson.
The groups travels have been lavishly documented by Eloïse Gaillou, Associate Curator of Mineral Sciences, on the museum's MinBlog.
The group began its journey with three days in the central city of Bagan, which is considered to be on par with Cambodia's Angkor Wat in terms of its archaeological riches. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, a forerunner of modern Burma.
The group then moved on to Mogok. It was a very long, bumpy ride, but worth it. There they visited an alluvial ruby and sapphire mine, Shunt-pan, moving on to Lin-yaung-chi, which has both alluvial (secondary) and host-rock (primary) mines. The next day, a visit to a mineral dealer's home brought a mob of sellers figuring the foreigners to be buyers. Next stop, the Aung Thit Lwin gem market at which some specimens were purchased, after which they visited primary sapphire and ruby mines in Kyauk Saung. At the office they viewed rough being trimmed and cut. The following days brought visits to more mines as well as other local sights, then on to Mandalay and Yangon. If you're salivating over the gemstones, you'll be doing so also for the food…
Fighting in Jadeland Scuttles Peace Deal
Government forces and the Kachin Independence Army clashed at about the time our January newsletter was released, according to a January 19 story by Myanmar Times. The fighting took place near Hpakant, a jade-rich area of Kachin State. The story said that locals claimed the government army wanted to secure the jade mines for the Myanmar Economic Corporation, which is operated by the military.
Such clashes jeopardize Burma's intent to become a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, as noted today by The Irrawaddy. It's a challenge to be transparent when outsiders are banned for their own safety. Specifically mentioned were last month's clashes in Hpakant, which led one to two thousand villagers to flee the fighting. The Irrawaddy went on to critique the poor state of infrastructure, schools and hospitals in Kachin; the region generates "vast sums of money," which is not spent locally.
While mining operations were not officially halted last month, local reports stated that, as of February 4, jade mines had been "burnt," according to The Irrawaddy, which also reported that "hundreds" still were displaced as of a week ago. The fighting appears to have scuttled a ceasefire agreement, at least for now, which was planned for signing on Burma's Union Day, February 12; one minister claimed the fighting purposely had that intent.
- The Irrawaddy: Smuggling to China, Thailand on the rise
- Mizzima News: Authorities seize 975 kg of illegal jade
- Mizzima News: China upset by NY Times editorial, "The Plunder of Myanmar"
- Kachin News Group: Kachin group opposes monument to Aung San as premature, with the independence hero's promises unfulfilled; "the jade and timber are gone" and "people are degenerating"
Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide
eBook edition by Renée Newman
Renée Newman's acclaimed Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide just got smaller. It now fits on your iPhone (via iTunes Store), making it a super-handy reference for gemstone shopping. The guide also is available Barnes & Noble NOOK and Amazon Kindle. If the size is right, so is the price—less than half that of the paperback, which itself was quite reasonably priced.
Here's what you'll see inside:
- A brief overview of colored stone price factors; why the 4 C's can't adequately determine price; more on price factors
- Gem treatments explained and precautions regarding the purchase of expensive stones
- Synthetics and imitations; deceptive practices
- Colored gemstones from Alexandrite to Zircon
- Diamonds and price factors
- Gems from living organisms; pearl price factors; amber, coral, ivory
- Precious metals and terminology
- Jewelry craftsmanship; mountings and settings
- Notable gem sources by continent and region
- Euphemisms, marketing terms and misnomers
- Commissioning jewelry
- Choosing a jeweler
- Making the purchase; credit cards vs. debit cards; when problems arise
- Choosing an appraiser; insurance appraisal
- Gem lab documents
- Customs and duty rates
All this packed into 156 pages! Too good to be true? Here's what three industry journals had to say:
- "Brilliantly planned, painstakingly researched, and beautifully produced, yet it is small enough that it fits easily into a purse, pocket, or palm…" – John S. White, in Lapidary Journal
- "Essentially this small traveller's guide summarizes the important content of the author's previously published guides. Importantly this inexpensive book also supplies additional clearly presented information…" – Australian Gemmologist
- "As always with this author, the presentation is immaculate and each opening displays high-class pictures of gemstones and jewellery…" — Journal of Gemmology
On that note, we'll leave you with three examples of the gemstone photographs that Pala International supplied author Renée Newman.
Below are recent items from our sibling publication, Pala Mineralis, that will be of interest to colored gemstone enthusiasts.
"It became necessary to destroy the town desert to save it"
Rockhounds Object to Ill-Conceived Energy Plan
What do conservation groups, off-road vehicle (ORV) clubs, gem-mineral societies and rockhounds share in common? They are joining a growing chorus of voices challenging California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). What? They're anti-green energy? Really? No. Really, they're not. But they are part of a groundswell that includes nature lovers, hydrologists, geologists, paleontologists, residential communities, small businesses and recreational users of public lands, who share the same concern that the DRECP is a blank check greenlighting the unfettered industrialization of public lands and some of California's last unspoiled wild areas. Says Lisbet Thoresen, San Diego Mineral & Gem Society's editor, "We're not anti-green. We think distributed energy generation such as rooftop solar is a more sensible and economical alternative, creating and delivering energy near where it will be used. DG is sustainable and it does not come at the unnecessary cost of sacrificing the desert to produce and transmit energy to urban areas many miles away." On projects built to date, Thoresen observes,"Project scale, site selection, and unpredictable weather have been critical factors that have made a mirage of creating a green energy oasis in the desert landscape. The natural dust and heat of the Mojave may be intractable obstacles to success, while the impact on wildlife and habitat exacts a disastrous toll."
The DRECP is a California state-mandated directive, a 25-year plan focused on developing renewable energy projects (wind, solar, geothermal) in the California desert, an area encompassing 22.5 million acres. Said SDMG board member and American Lands Access Association president Shirley Leeson, "The DRECP has gotten very little input from our community, so if we don't tell the DRECP what needs to be changed in this flawed document, then rockhounds can look forward to being fenced out of collecting areas, and we will become ghosts of the desert."
The DRECP is an 8,000-page document. It is much too large and complicated for any one group to review and redress in just 115 days (the comment period closes Feb 23, 2015). Since most people have a dim awareness of what the DRECP is and what its impact will have on them, getting a critical mass of effective comments submitted to the DRECP by February 23rd is a big challenge. Together with other gem-mineral clubs and desert advocacy groups, SDMG is trying to elevate public awareness. SDMG's website has useful resources, tips, and calls to action. Anyone who wants to help get the word out, will find brochures and posters that can be downloaded and printed from the SDMG Press Room or ordered (print-on-demand) at very, low cost from the SDMG online news stand.
Worth the Wait: Trésors de la Terre
For ten years, a sleeping giant had undergone a meticulous face-lift. Finally, last November, Pala International received an invitation to the long-awaited opening of the mineralogical and geological hall (Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie) at the Múseum national d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. This is the same museum that Carl Larson works at part-time in gemological pursuits such as browsing the collection of René Just Haüy (see "An American in Paris"). Fortunately, Pala's president Bill Larson was able to adjust his busy schedule and attend the opening. His reflections regarding the hall's inaugural exhibition, "Trésors de la Terre" (Treasures of the Earth) follow.
My various Paris curator friends at this museum—François Farges, Cristiano Ferraris and Giancarlo Parodi—have been working on this new exhibition hall for several years now, so I was excited to see the museum reopen its rich mineralogy history to the public. The date worked for me: December 19, an evening opening.
I soon found out that a couple of good friends from outside France would attend, among them Raquel Alonso-Perez (Curator of the Harvard Mineralogical & Geological Museum), Wayne Leicht (dealer in fine minerals from USA) and Alan Hart (Head of Earth Science Collections at The Natural History Museum, London). So I booked my trip. Five days in Paris in December is not difficult to plan. I also asked Patrick Dreher, the famous carver, if he'd like to come down from Idar-Oberstein and he said that would work out fine. We had several projects to discuss together, so that was a great excuse to meet up.
My first itinerary item was to look at a private gem collection on Monday; Raquel was invited as well. On Tuesday, Raquel, Alan and I were invited to lunch with the famous John Saul whose writing has been discussed in these pages [see the tanzanite monograph published by Mineralogical Record and mention of his 2014 book A Geologist Speculates]. The luncheon was excellent. We were able to go over a lot of East African history with John who had first-hand information which was very useful for both the curators in our party. We set up to meet again at the opening of the museum on Thursday.
On Thursday morning, Patrick was able to arrive. He and I joined up with Raquel and Alan for lunch at which he showed them some of the work he was doing for us at Pala International. One of the projects is to bring Patrick over to GIA for a lecture and an accompanying exhibition for students and the interested public of the fantastic natural beauty carved in gemstones by his family [see caption of the above image for details]. The afternoon consisted of a visit by the four of us through Place Vendôme to look at the various famous jewelers' windows filled with different designs of colored-stone and diamond jewelry. We found the most curious piece was in Buccellati's: a matched pair of large fine pink gems mounted in earrings. Well we all guessed wrong at first. Alan went inside and and found out they were kunzite. No one thought that kunzite would be on display in the sun. But perhaps these windows had UV protection.
The next order of business was to meet up at 7 o'clock for the opening! We arrived on time and saw that there was a large crowd of well over 100 people already. In the old museum display area there was a podium set up and, as you see on the invitation above, a few speeches were given. With the ribbon being cut in a timely fashion we were given numbers for entry so the crowd could work its way through and would not be pushing.
The first thing that was obvious was that the great collection of crystal giants created a central theme around which the various displays had been set up. I found one of the most interesting displays was demonstrating that minerals had been used as powder to create pigments for painting and they had many examples. Obviously, many people know that azurite powdered is used for blue watercolor, but they had many others, with turquoise and malachite well represented.
As one went around the central giants we came onto the gemstone collection, many of which are quite historic. The most famous to me of course is the 135-carat parallelogram blue sapphire, which my son Carl was involved in the study of this past October. Like the French Blue (now the Hope Diamond) this belonged to Louis XIV but it is almost unknown to most Americans. With the new forms of communication hopefully this fabulous piece will now take its place as an important historic gemstone.
As we continued our viewing of the new hall we came across a large case of golds which should be a crowd pleaser. Also continuing in the gemstone area, we took in a few superb minerals from the famous Louis Vésignié collection, including the fine gold photographed below.
After completing our tour of the new hall, champagne and fine wine were served. We all had a great time until realizing that we hadn't eaten except for hors d'oeuvre. A group of us followed Giancarlo to a French club that was open late and had charcuteries with unlabeled wine. Needless to say a great time was had by all.
— End February Newsletter • Published 2/17/15 —
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.