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Palagems Reflective Index - March 2015

March 2015 Newsletter

We couldn't resist bringing back this little guy—from a May birthstone collecting card. Be sure to see the St. Patrick's Day edition of our occasional feature, Emerald Aisle.

We couldn't resist bringing back this little guy—from a May birthstone collecting card. Be sure to see the St. Patrick's Day edition of our occasional feature, Emerald Aisle.

Table of Contents

ICA Congress Lineup Announced

The International Colored Gemstone Association has announced its roster of presenters for its 16th ICA Congress, to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 16–19, 2015. The theme this year is "Sapphire & More…." Speakers include:

  • Coloured gemstones in the consumer market – Mr. David Schwartz
  • History of the ICA – Paolo Valentini, Italy
  • Sri Lanka rich in gemstones, geology, occurrence & distribution of gem deposits – Gamini Zoysa
  • Current status of the industry – Chanaka Ellawala
  • Unique gemstones from Sri Lanka – Sheriff Rahuman Eco friendly gem mining in Sri Lanka – P.G. Dharmaratne
  • History of Sapphires, Historical records – Jack Ogden (former CEO Gem-A, London)
  • Global distribution of Sapphire deposits – Ken Scarratt / GIA
  • Padparadscha Sapphire – Richard Hughes, Lotus Gemology, Bangkok
  • Latin American market & production - Hecliton Henriques (IBGM, Brazil)
  • Spinel, A Royal Gem – Edward Boehm, USA
  • Kashmir Sapphires – Shane Mclure, USA
  • Major gems in coloured gemstone market - Dr Dietmar Schwarz, AIGS, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Treatment of Sapphires – Punsiri Tennakoon, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka
  • Beryllium-diffused corundum in the Japanese market & assessing the natural vs. diffused origin of beryllium in Sapphire - Kentarou Emori, Central Gem Lab, Tokyo
  • Disclosure – an update – Nobuyuki Horiuchi, Tokyo, Japan
  • On gemstone faceting (new trend) – Victor Tuzlukov, Gemstone Artist, Moscow
  • India today in the gem & jewellery trade (an overall view of the industry) – Nirmal Bardiya
  • From sea diving to gem mining & beyond – Lewis Allen – Crown Colour
  • Present China Market – Mr. Yu Xiaojin
     

As always, post-Congress mine tours will allow attendees to take advantage of Sri Lanka's premier status as a gemstone-producing country. Not only will tour members visit the sapphire mines of Ratnapura and Elahera (amongst others), but cultural heritage sites also are on the itinerary. Will your partner be along for the ride, but not so keen on the mines? ICA is providing a "spouse tour" of Colombo and Galle (about 75 miles to the south).

Congress will be preceded, May 15–18, by the Facets Gem Show. This exhibition of more than fifty dealers has been "carefully curated by an expert selection panel" according to ICA publicity.

Sri Lanka is the World's Oldest Sapphire Source

As part of its Sri Lankan public relations for the 2015 Congress, ICA called media's attention to a late-10th century wreck of the ship now referred to as the Cirebon. It's the subject of an article, by Jennifer Henricus, "Ancient Ship Treasure Confirms Sri Lanka as Oldest Sapphire Source," published in the Fall/Winter 2014 edition of ICA's InColor magazine. The adapted story, posted February 25, is available at Colombo's Daily Financial Times.

Roughly cabochon-cut garnets recovered from the 1,000-year-old Cirebon wreck. (Photo: Ken Scarratt)

Roughly cabochon-cut garnets recovered from the 1,000-year-old Cirebon wreck. (Photo: Ken Scarratt)

The wreck is named after Cirebon, the port city in the island of Java's province of West Java, where the ship was discovered by fishermen in 2003. At the invitation of the Indonesian government, the Belgian firm Cosmix Archaeological Underwater Research and Recovery made 22,000 dives over two years to recover the ship's cargo. Amongst hundreds of thousands of articles of trade were 400 sapphires in a variety of colors from Sri Lanka, 4,000 garnets from Sri Lanka or India, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, and 11,000 pearls likely from the Gulf of Mannar, by way of India where they would have been drilled.

Drilled natural pearls recovered from the Cirebon wreck. (Photo: Ken Scarratt)

Drilled natural pearls recovered from the Cirebon wreck. (Photo: Ken Scarratt)

Ken Scarratt, Managing Director for South East Asia and Director of the GIA Laboratory Bangkok, had the enviable task of examining the gems at Christie's warehouse in Singapore. It was he who identified them and he who stated that this thousand-year-old sunken ship confirms that Sri Lanka is sapphire's oldest source in the world.

"Polished rough" sapphires recovered from the Cirebon wreck. (Photo: Ken Scarratt)

World's Oldest Jewelry?

Now that we've seen the world's oldest sapphire source, what about the oldest jewelry? David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology at University of Kansas, along with Croatian colleagues may have put the finger—or talon—on it. It seems that a set of eagle talons, discovered 100+ years ago, went unnoticed for the fashion statement lurking within.

Talon-ted premoderns. In this streaming video, Professor Frayer explains the significance of the "jewelry" find.

Talon-ted premoderns. In this streaming video, Professor Frayer explains the significance of the "jewelry" find.

The talons, found in present-day Croatia, are 130,000 years old and, according to a KU news item last week, feature "several marks and polishing facets that show they were manipulated into a piece of jewelry" by Neanderthals. Frayer points out that not only does this provide yet another indication of Neanderthal sophistication, but also "an advanced level of prowess" to take down three or four eagles.


How to Spend Your Summer Vacation

A seven-week course of interest to gem and mineral lovers will be offered this summer at Harvard University. "Minerals and Gems: Unlocking the Earth's Treasure Chest" will be taught by Raquel Alonso Perez, PhD, Curator of the Harvard Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University, and Gordana Garapic, PhD, Assistant Professor of Geology, State University of New York, New Paltz. Registration for the course is open now through May 18.

"Mineralogical study is interdisciplinary," states the course publicity, "bringing together the fields of chemistry, physics, economics, history, and human appreciation of beauty." The course includes mineral identification and classification, chemistry, physical properties and crystal structure as well as geological processes. Illustrative specimens will be culled from the university museum's collection. Next, the economics of minerals, used for technology, gemstones and jewelry. Finally, the course goes extraterrestrial, with a look at the oldest minerals on earth, meteorites.


Arusha Gem Fair 2015

This year's Arusha Gem Fair will be held April 21–23 in Arusha, Tanzania. Pre-show publicity states that more than 300 buyers from 25 countries will attend, with over 700 participants in all.

The show will consist of a exhibition of rough and cut stones, lapidary equipment and demonstrations, seminars and panels, keynote speakers, and mine tours.

Pala International News

This month we feature a spectacular chrome green tourmaline from Tanzania.

Although copper seems to be the most sought-after chromophore in tourmaline these days, chromium is an exotic player that produces some amazing green hues in tourmaline. Chrome tourmalines outshine your average greens with elevated grassy-to-intense-evergreen hues. These exceptional greens can easily be mistaken with the tsavorite garnet varieties, as they are found in similar areas of east Africa and can be identical in color. Our featured stone exhibits all the best qualities of chrome tourmaline: electric green hue, flawless interior, and a highly brilliant cut.

Trillion Green. A 4.36-carat chrome tourmaline, 10.75 x 10.52 x 6.42 mm. #21636 (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Trillion Green. A 4.36-carat chrome tourmaline, 10.75 x 10.52 x 6.42 mm. #21636 (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Gems and Gemology News

GIT's Virtual Library

Have a new tablet and want to break it in on some eye candy? Visit GIT's Library Digital Collection. You'll find magazine titles like Arte y JoyaCIJ Trends & Colours (pictured below),Canadian JewellerJewellery Focus and more. You can browse auction catalogs from the likes of Dupuis Auctioneers, Freeman's, LH, Lyon & Turnbull, and more.

No tablet? It's all desktop/laptop-friendly. There are even links to traditional online versions of publications like Gems & Gemology (GIA), Prism (AGTA), Solitaire, and Facette (SSEF). Gem trade documents also are listed.

Industry News

Burma Bits

Green Gripes in Rubyland

Pinch insurance. A natural bright green peridot from Burma, 12.93 carats, Inventory #4994. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Pinch insurance. A natural bright green peridot from Burma, 12.93 carats, Inventory #4994. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Over the last month, Mogok has been in the news. In February, hundreds of Mogok residents continued to protest what we noted in January, "plans that would turn iconic parkland next to that rubyland's iconic lake into the headquarters of the Mogok Gem and Jewellery Entrepreneurs' Association and perhaps other structures as well." On February 25, The Irrawaddy reported that as many as 2,000 protesters had been out in opposition to the project. Activist Soe Myint was quoted as saying that the proposed headquarters would impact both the beauty and environment of the city's signature water body. Construction was slated to have started last month. More recently, on March 4, The Myanmar Times wrote that Soe Myint's green group, Mogok Sein Lan, was "still negotiating" with gemstone entrepreneurs, having met with them three times without coming to an agreement. Meanwhile construction materials remain idle as the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society had received 4,000 signatures on a petition against the project.

A more intimate portrayal of Mogok also appeared on the 4th, in the pages of The Irrawaddy. "Mogok Miners Hold out Hope for Remaining Rubies" interviews Krishna, a Burma-born descendant of Gurkha soldiers, who has worked in Mogok for 25 years, obtaining just $1,000 for the gems he's found in the last 20. Interviewees' major complaint is that the mines' glory days are past. Still, they hope. The article's accompanying photos tell their own story.

Rest in pieces. Yet another story from the Mogok region was published last week by The Irrawaddy. "In Shan Hills, an Old British War Cemetery Fallen Victim to Neglect," looks at the crumbling 19th-century British war cemetery in Bernardmyo. The above photo was taken last November during a Gem and Mineral Council of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Council-sponsored tour of Mogok, including the town named after Upper Burma Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Edward Bernard, who founded it for a British army garrison in the early 1880s. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou © NHMLAC)

Rest in pieces. Yet another story from the Mogok region was published last week by The Irrawaddy. "In Shan Hills, an Old British War Cemetery Fallen Victim to Neglect," looks at the crumbling 19th-century British war cemetery in Bernardmyo. The above photo was taken last November during a Gem and Mineral Council of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Council-sponsored tour of Mogok, including the town named after Upper Burma Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Edward Bernard, who founded it for a British army garrison in the early 1880s. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou © NHMLAC)

Ruby miners aren't the only ones in Mogok. Gold miners there on February 27, as reported by Eleven Media Group (EMG), demanded that the government enact legislation that would protect artisanal miners, who they claim are forced to move on by the big boys when they strike gold. If such a problem appears to be overshadowed by Mogok's reputation for ruby, EMG states that about 300,000 small-scale workers mine gold in the region.

Just because legislation is passed doesn't mean it will bear fruit, as explained last month in another Irrawaddy article about environmental quality. In April of 2012, Burma's parliament enacted an Environmental Conservation Law, but quality guidelines weren't being drafted until last February; they still aren't complete, but are expected to be approved by the end of this month. The guidelines will cover mining as well as other industries. Guidelines are sorely needed, as demonstrated by yet another mining disaster, not in Mogok, but the jadeland of Hpakant, per a story by EMG last week (including two demonstrative photographs). A thousand-foot-high "heap" of soil, created by two jade mines, was undermined by a water-filled cave. According to eyewitnesses, a large jade boulder was being examined by the owner and workers, all of whom were buried. At least 50 victims were thought to have succumbed.

Emerald Aisle – St. Patrick's Day Edition

"Worthy of a Coen Brothers movie…":
Bloomberg on the "Bahia" Emerald

Last month, in our sibling e-newsletter, Pala Mineralis, we caught ourselves up on the status of the "Bahia" emerald, an 840-lb. specimen from Brazil, which has been the subject of much controversy regarding ownership. Two weeks ago, Bloomberg issued what is perhaps the most comprehensive story on the specimen to date. Via reporter Brendan Borrell, we travel in a time machine to Silicon Valley during the summer of 2001, viewing 50-inch screens costing tens of thousands. As the dot-com crash loomed, Brazil beckoned, with bargain-priced emeralds to be used in an investment scheme—make that schemes.

The subsequent shenanigans surrounding the specimen are astonishing, with the "Bahia" moved from here to there, a new get-rich or stay-afloat stratagem at each destination. In at least one case, an eBay listing provided the platform for an "origin myth" of a months-long jungle journey involving mule-mauling black panthers. Another tale tells of a purported kidnapping by the Brazilian mafia, along with fishtank-gravel sized sapphires.

Finally, in late 2008, the Los Angeles County Sheriffs got involved, and the "Bahia" has been in jail ever since. As we noted last month, with the one-by-one dropping of claimants in court, the end seemed in sight—that is, until the Brazilian government made its own assertion of ownership.

The Bloomberg story ends with a miniature portrait of one of the last holdouts, Ken Conetto, in a South San Jose mobile home, and a punch line on the lips. It ain't over 'til it's over.


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.

"The Story of the Somondoco Emerald Mines" is from a promotional booklet published originally by the Colombia Emerald Development Corporation sometime after 1920. The copy in Bill Larson's collection has the firm's name blacked out, replaced by that of Chivor Emerald Mines, Inc. The anonymous author of the booklet refers to a 1910 article by E. B. Latham, stating that the original mines in question (in southern Boyacá Dept.) were closed "because of the cruelties practiced on the Indian workers" and with that closure the mines' location was lost. The market for emerald, however, was incentive enough for Francisco Restropo, a Colombian with no experience, to spend years searching for the mines. "A needle in a haystack would have seemed better advised as far as possibility of success was concerned," Latham wrote. But Restropo's perseverance paid off.

Latham is referred to in another study of Colombian emerald, reprinted on Palagems.com, "The Emerald Deposits of Muzo, Colombia," written by Joseph E. Pogue of the U. S. National Museum, in 1916.

The Story of the Somondoco Emerald Mines

An early 20th-century reprint

The Emerald Mines of Somondoco, from whence came the Emeralds which the Indians on the American continent possessed, were the mines which furnished the rare gems found between Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and Cuzco, Peru. From the Somondoco Mines also came many of the gems which figured in the spoils turned over to the Spanish conquistadores as ransoms on their faithless promises to release Atibaliba, the Inca Chief, and Montezuma, Chief of the Aztecs.

The exquisite stone known as the "Mother Emerald," said to have been worshipped by the Incas of Peru, and the smaller stones surrounding it, called "Daughters," all came from the mines of Somondoco, or rather it is reasonable to suppose that they did, for no other source of supply was then known.

In addition to the foregoing historical mention of the discovery of the Somondoco emerald mines, references to it are to be found in Benedetti's History of Colombia, in the Compendio del Descubrimiento de Nueva Granada, by General Joaquin Acosta, and in Jose Antonio de Plaza's Memories [sic] Para la Historia de la Nueva Granada. In fact all the historical narrators of the early settlement of Colombia describe considerable importance to the discovery of these mines, and make mention of it similarly.

The length of this crystal is approximately 4.3 cm.

The length of this crystal is approximately 4.3 cm.

Germans Obtain Option on Them

Previous to the World War a German syndicate held an option on this property, and the eminent German geologist, Professor Robert Scheibe, was sent to Colombia to study the formation of these mines and to report on them. As a matter of fact, representatives of the German syndicate were on the property, and in the vicinity, for several years, and still held the option to purchase it when the World War compelled them to return to Germany. During the war their option expired and they were unable to renew it.

Cutting away the overburden.

Cutting away the overburden.

Pan-American Bulletin

On page 1036 of the Bulletin of the International Bureau of the American Republics (1909, Vol. XXVIII) the following reference is made to these mines:

"It is not known how long the Somondoco mines were worked by the Indians before the Spanish conquest of Colombia, but the number of valuable emeralds in the hands of the natives and buried in the graves of their chiefs indicates that much labor must have been expended in their exploitation.

"After the Spaniards had seized the mines, 1,200 men were employed in them, and remittances of gems were made to the Spanish Crown every three months. The emeralds were carried to the coast on the backs of Indians, and it is reported that on one occasion a stone of such size, color, and brilliancy was forwarded to the King of Spain that he ordered the finder rewarded by release from further bondage in the mines.

"The Spaniards continued work for about one hundred and fifty years, when the mines, together with those of the Muzo district, were shut down by order of Charles II of Spain.

"The site of the mines was subsequently concealed under the mantle of the dense forest.

"Between eleven and twelve years ago, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the mines were rediscovered mainly through the description of their situation given by Fray Pedro Simon, the ditches, reservoirs, and extensive workings brought to light sufficiently identifying them with those so glowingly described by the writer.

"Experts have given the opinion that although the emeralds of Muzo and Somondoco are similar in most respects, those of the latter mines exceed in brilliancy."

Exposing the Emerald formations.

Exposing the Emerald formations.

Mining Engineers Give Opinions

The following portion of an article entitled "The Newly Discovered Emerald Mines of Somondoco," by E. B. Latham, in The School of Mines Quarterly, Vol. XXXII, No.3, April, 1911, is interesting:

"The continued increase in the values of emeralds during the past ten years—until at present they outrank diamonds—lends considerable interest to the recent rediscovery of one of the old authentic Indian emerald mines in the South American Andes which were lost for over a century. The facts as to emerald production generally are of interest.

["]As everyone knows, the emerald has been the most prized gem of Eastern countries for centuries, and now is in high favor in Europe and the United States. The monarchs and rajahs and Oriental courts of such nations as India, Persia and Turkey have always furnished a ready market for the superior stones and the less distinguished inhabitants are equally good purchasers of less costly stones."

Cutting the steps.

Cutting the steps.

The article gives an account of the closing of the mines because of the cruelties practiced on the Indian workers, and states that subsequently the Somondoco mines were entirely lost, and continues:

"The lust for exploration and search for lost treasure dwells ever in the heart of every Spaniard and for several years a Colombian named Francisco Restrepo, guided only by a few hints contained in ancient Spanish parchment maps in the government archives in Popoyan, wandered far and wide looking for the lost emerald mines of Somondoco. The proverbial search for a needle in a haystack would have seemed better advised as far as possibility of success was concerned, especially as Senor Restrepo knew nothing of geology or emeralds; yet in 1896 he came upon traces of ancient workings and later uncovered very extensive workings which proved to be the real treasure trove, the lost emerald mines of Somondoco, which give every promise of duplicating the wonderful record of Muzo, estimated at two million dollars to four million dollars annually for a century.

"As the property has been fully confirmed as the bona fide Somondoco Emerald Mines of legend, and will probably produce a hundred million of gems and possibly vastly more, a brief description follows: The mine is situated upon a sectional ridge of the great eastern range of the Andes Mountains in Colombia. I found the old Spanish ditch, which once conducted water to the mines, to be some twelve to fifteen miles long. The reservoirs were on top of the mines and constructed in part of dressed sandstone brought from a distance. The open cuts or quarries were gigantic and tunnels are to be found in different places all over the emerald zone which was found to extend about six miles east and west, and three miles north and south. There were some thirty tunnels which in every case had been driven in pursuit of an emerald vein which had outcropped. Mr. Christopher E. Dixon, formerly engineer in charge of the Muzo mines, personally extracted over a pound of emeralds by scratching about in one place and another. The tunnels are generally in excellent preservation after a lapse of more than one hundred years."

Charles Olden, a member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, on December 21, 1911, submitted for discussion a paper entitled "Emeralds, their Mode of Occurrence and Methods of Mining and Extraction in Colombia." He opened his remarks as follows:

"With the exception of those occurring in the Republic of Colombia, there are no known deposits of emeralds in South America, notwithstanding statements to the contrary. It is quite true that Spaniards in ancient times appropriated stones from private owners in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and as far north as Mexico, but, despite much searching in those countries, no emeralds have been mined, except they came originally from Colombia, as they do today."

A Gem Expert's Opinion

The following excerpts are taken from pages 312 and 313, of Dr. Max Bauer's interesting book "Precious Stones."

"Besides the Colombian deposits there is no other well authenticated occurrence of emeralds in South America. This being so, it has been suggested that the emeralds found by the Spaniards in the possession of the natives of Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador, were all derived from the Colombian deposits. The term 'Peruvian Emerald,' except when used to describe the quality of a stone, is therefore misleading, South American emeralds being more strictly described as Colombian. Whether emeralds ever existed in Peru and other parts of South America or not, it is certain that at present the Colombian emeralds are the only deposits known."

Working on hillside.

Working on hillside.

Destiny Favors Americans

The hand of destiny which originally disclosed these mines in such a spectacular manner, also brought about their closure, kept them adroitly hidden for more than two centuries, then drew aside the curtain which had so effectually concealed them. The present stage setting is much the same as it was in those olden days, but the characters and methods in the three acts strikingly illustrate the march of progress—the advancement of human thought—the evolution of man.

With the many advantages of the marvels of invention and the wonders of modern science, the men who are today directing and carrying on the operation of these mines should be able to thrill the world with their product, as the Indians were charmed and the Spaniards enchanted in their day.

Due to the dry climate of the country, and the fact that the mining is open cut work and not operated by underground shafts and tunnels, as is necessary in most mining operations, it was possible for American Mining Engineers who recently visited the property to report the great extent of the lodes exposed, ready for immediate operations, and to form concise opinions of present vein formations. Costs of mining development, etc., have been definitely established, based upon modern methods of mining.

The property was quite recently examined by a very well known American mining authority, Mr. Wilson E. Griffiths of Pittsburgh, Pa., for many years one of the chief authorities in mining properties, specializing in coal, gold and petroleum, who states that "the method of mining which is now universally employed in reaching the emerald bearing formations, exposing them to minute inspection, is most simple and consists in cutting down a series of steps or benches along the face of the deposits and washing the unproductive material, by means of water flush, into the valley below. * * * The type of labor, which is ample, is almost entirely native Indian."

Mr. Griffiths further states: "On the whole I believe the property contains all the elements of a very successful mining venture * * * and the large amount of untouched emerald bearing formation, and the ease with which it can be reached at minimum expense should, to a great measure, minimize the hazard. The market for the product is seemingly capable of absorbing any emeralds which might be produced."

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge


The Green Man

A reprint from 1973 by William Sansom

William Sansom (1912–1976) was an author of fiction and non-fiction, children's books, and even an illustrator of a children's picture alphabet. An eventual fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Sansom didn't begin writing until about 1943. He'd spent World War II in London as a firefighter—experience that provided much material for the full-time writing he did after the war. Sansom also did travel writing, publishing South: Aspects and Images from Corsica, Italy and Southern Francein 1948, the first of many travelogues. One such later book, Grand Tour Today (1968), is a guidebook, the title of which hearkens back to the edifying surveys of Europe undertaken by young men of means from the late 17th through mid 19th centuries. (The convention-stretching female protagonist of Forster's Room with a View [1908] would not come along for another generation or two.) The book was published by Hogarth Press, founded by Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard, who issued works by the Bloomsbury group.

If the leisurely Grand Tour languished with introduction of rail to nearly all of Western Europe by 1850, so too did the popularity of the magazine for which Samson composed "The Green Man," featured below. Réalités was a glossy French monthly (with an American edition) that published from 1946 to 1979, and its target audience would have been just those same men who took the Tour, with its blend of current affairs, culture, travel, fine dining and curiosities. The magazine's Wikipedia entry claims its journalistic model was "replaced by television." The tone of "The Green Man," which dwells on a nephrite carving of Maori origin, itself comes off as transitional, with Sansom making tentative connections between the barbarity of the primitive and the civilized.

The Green Man

This loris-eyed little fellow is a New Zealander, of true-green Maori blood. Green? Because he is made of pounamuPounamu? A substance loosely called "greenstone" by white settlers, but in fact a jade known as nephrite—calcium-magnesium silicate to you. The Maoris, still neolithic in the 18th century, used laboriously to carve this hard stone into many objects needed for lasting use, from a war club to an adze to an amulet like this pertly tilted, heart-mouthed little charmer.

Greenstone (nephrite) hei-tiki of Maori workmanship. (Photo: Roger Guillemot)

Greenstone (nephrite) hei-tiki of Maori workmanship. (Photo: Roger Guillemot)

He was worn on a string round the neck as a charm against evil spirits. Called simply a hei-tiki, meaning "neck ornament in human form," he was immensely venerated, and handed down in the family from mother to daughter. His importance might rise, for instance, if the woman-wearer were pregnant, when his job was to see that all invisible malignancies were frightened away. One theory is that he represents the human embryo. The spirits of unborn children were thought to be particularly malicious because of their impatience to take their place on earth.

At first the little figure—usually about four to six inches in height—looks quite appealing. With head archly tilted, with those goo-goo big eyes, with his squat small body in a passive position, he makes no aggressive gesture; nor are there any of the obvious terror tricks of masks, no snarling fangs nor brows bristling with anger. But in the last few minutes I have been looking at him very, very closely indeed—addressing him, in fact, with my perhaps evil and certainly foreign presence. And I do not any longer find him appealing. Only powerful. He has indubitably stared me out and warded me off. And there is something finally sinister in that heart-shaped mouth, in those nasal volutes rising into what is ultimately a heavy and convex frown. And is the head so archly or pertly tilted? Is it not rather cocked suspiciously to one side, like that of a crouching beast whose every sense is on the absolute alert?

Deep as his Maori maker. Compared with the usual conception of other old-time Pacific islanders, noses pierced by hideous quills, and with their other sharp ornaments of tusk and shark and porpoise teeth, the Maori presented a subtly dignified appearance. He specialized in painting and tattooing, and the intricate curves and whorls of colour covering the entire face give to the layman uninitiate a sensation of some form of involuted art work—a frieze, a fine brocade—rather than of a design for terror. Perhaps to the Maori significances ran deeper. Personally, I find it all charming, like a face made of osprey feathers. Such a cleverly demarcated puss topped a long and dignified flaxen cloak, the whole an essay in ritual and rectitude. Priest, more than warrior. Though in fact he carried a nasty little jade club, danced with his tongue sticking out, and both killed and ate his tribal enemy. Captain Cook, who was the first white to parley peacefully with him (1769), was kindly not eaten; the great navigator had to wait some years until he was on Hawaii to be clubbed to death, after which only half his body was ever found for burial, the other half presumably having danced down the digestive tracts of his clubmen.

The Maoris had a strict and industrious communal life within the tribe. Many a tapu [taboo], much mutual work, wonderfully carved wooden architecture. Not unexpectedly; like many semiprimitive peoples, they fought a lot between each other. Arrived no one knows when by various canoe drifts from distant islands such as Tahiti, one report I read states that "They intermarried and they fought": whether these two functions were really one, as in the civilized West today, is not made quite clear. Only a hei-tiki could answer that one, the cunning old jade.

Mere club. This nephrite club, pronounced "meh-reh" by the Maori—the indigenous of New Zealand—, has a beautifully carved butt, which would have aided in its handling. Such clubs are typically 10 to 20 inches in length; like the hei-tiki, the mere is considered to possess a spiritual quality, and are passed from generation to generation. In combat, the club was used with a jabbing, thrustiing motion rather than swinging. From the collection of Pala International's Bill Larson. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Mere club. This nephrite club, pronounced "meh-reh" by the Maori—the indigenous of New Zealand—, has a beautifully carved butt, which would have aided in its handling. Such clubs are typically 10 to 20 inches in length; like the hei-tiki, the mere is considered to possess a spiritual quality, and are passed from generation to generation. In combat, the club was used with a jabbing, thrustiing motion rather than swinging. From the collection of Pala International's Bill Larson. (Photo: Mia Dixon)


Emerald City and the Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes (and Diamonds)

My mother, Phyllis J. Hughes, is a genealogist, so her second home is the Denver Public Library, and her home-away-from-home is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. (Through her I have learned many a trick about tracking down details that wind up in these pages and in other personal projects.) She's taken one pass through every book in our central library, looking through indexes in pursuit of her prey, and now is embarked on a second circuit armed with Google Books on an iPad to search through the index-less volumes. But even a surveyor of the stacks must take a break. It was during a couple of recent recesses, idly leafing through old magazines (purged from Periodicals), that she ran across the articles in Réalités above and Vogue below. Her other son (I guess that would make him my brother as well—where's an emoticon when you need one?), Richard Hughes, rounded it out by pointing me to the BBC. For all of this I am grateful! –David Hughes

Sunday, Vogue online posted "7 Pieces of Emerald Jewelry to Dazzle in for St. Patrick's Day" and the editors reprised one of Annie Liebovitz's "Wizard of Oz" images of Keira Knightley-as-Dorothy walking down the yellow brick road towards a stylized Manhattan-as-Emerald City. The jewels pictured include the real thing—emerald—but like Dorothy, they also wander afar: green glass crystals, horn, chrysoprase, tsavorite and tourmaline.

We happened across the above while looking for "Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes" by author Maureen Seaberg, which was featured in the December 2014 edition of Vogue. Seaberg has a genetic potential for enhanced perception of color, known as tetrachromacy. She begins her story, appropriately for the present purpose, on a visit to Ireland. When asked by the bed-and-breakfast owner if she could see "the 40 shades of green" in the fields, Seaberg replied that there were many more, and then recited them, using gemstone names, like the ones in "7 Pieces of Emerald Jewelry" above. Only later did she come to find that her color consciousness was extraordinary.

Think of it this way: typical color perception is like the RGB of a computer display, tri-chromacy. Imagine adding another element, say, Y to that trio: tetra-chromacy. Your display produces pigment; your eyes are receptors of pigment, using (usually) three classes of receptors called cones. Seaberg explains that tetrachromats have the potentiality of seeing 100 times greater than the mere million hues seen by the rest of us mortals. And all these supplementary seers are women. About twelve percent of females have the genetic disposition, but it can be latent. Like a muscle, it can atrophy if not used; thus the women who usually become aware of their gift are artists, photographers, designers and such. To that list we can add jewelers and gemologists. If none of this comes off as all that practical, Seaberg mentions the work of Dr. Jay Nietz, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is using the results of his study of tetrachromacy to cure a deficiency that affects nearly one out ten in the other half of the species: color-blindness.

Don't have your copy of Vogue handy (Seaberg's piece is not online)? See this detailed look at the science on BBC.

Solo. Musician Marina Diamandis—stage name Marina and The Diamonds—may not be Irish, but this Brynmawr-born singer-songwriter is Celtic. And she seems to have a thing for bling: her first collection was "The Family Jewels," and her stark "Solitaire" graces a new album, Froot, released yesterday. She's also profiled in Vogue, and like the author of the "Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes," Diamandis has been diagnosed with synesthesia.

Solo. Musician Marina Diamandis—stage name Marina and The Diamonds—may not be Irish, but this Brynmawr-born singer-songwriter is Celtic. And she seems to have a thing for bling: her first collection was "The Family Jewels," and her stark "Solitaire" graces a new album, Froot, released yesterday. She's also profiled in Vogue, and like the author of the "Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes," Diamandis has been diagnosed with synesthesia.

— End March Newsletter • Published 3/17/15 —


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