April 2015 Newsletter
Table of Contents
Shows and Events
- Arusha Gem Fair 2015: April 21–23
- Pala at Las Vegas: May 28 – June 1, 2015
- 14th Rendez-Vous Gemmologiques de Paris: June 8, 20
- Mineral & Gem Asia: June 27–30, 2015
Pala International News
Gems and Gemology News
- Somondoco – A Gift from the Gods
By Kenneth H. Rippere
Editor: David Hughes
Shows and Events
Thirteenth Annual Sinkankas Symposium – Opal
April 18, 2015, GIA World Headquarters and
The Robert Mouawad Campus, Carlsbad
This year's theme focuses on opal. Pala International's Bill Larson will share with attendees the stories behind opals from his personal collection. In addition to opals from other collections, presenters will discuss the gemstone's science, geology, microstructure, history, lapidary, photography, inclusions, and chromatics.
- Dr. Eloïse Gaillou – An Overview of Gem Opals: From the Geology to Color and Microstructure
- Andrew Cody – Australian Opals, Especially Fossilized Opals
- Dr. Raquel Alonso-Perez – Opals, History, and Science of the Harvard University Collection
- Jack Hobart – Photographic Studies of Mexican Opals
- Alan Hart – Opals in the Natural History Museum, London
- Bill Larson – Opals in the Collection of William F. Larson
- Meg Berry – Lapidary Tricks in Cutting Opal
- Renée Newman – Matrix Opals and Common Opals, Part 1
- Helen Serras-Herman – Common Opals, Part 2
- Robert Weldon – Photographing Opal
- Nathan Renfro – The Microworld of Opal
- George R. Rossman – Color in Natural Opal vs. Synthetic Opal, and Additional Remarks
The Sinkankas Symposium is organized by Roger Merk, and co-sponsored by the Gemological Society of San Diego and the GIA (Gemological Institute of America). It will be held Saturday, April 18, 2015, at the GIA World Headquarters and The Robert Mouawad Campus, 5345 Armada Drive, Carlsbad, CA 92008.
The symposium is sold out, but you may want to make a note to check back with the symposium website regarding obtaining a copy of the proceedings when they are published.
Arusha Gem Fair 2015: April 21–23
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. Presentations of note:
- April 22, 11 AM – 12 PM – Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide: Join Lotus Gemology's Richard W. Hughes as he guides the audience with a connoisseur's eye, explaining what collectors should look for in corundum. The seminar will also cover the major sources where ruby and sapphire are found.
- April 22, 3 PM – 4 PM – Gemological Heresies: Heresies are ideas that are contrary to orthodox thinking. Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes will ponder some of these beliefs in the realm of both gemology and geology, taking the audience deep into the earth to discover the relationship between the origins of gems and life on earth, and out into space to discover the origins of human civilization itself.
- April 23, 11 AM –12 PM – The Findings of Ruby and Sapphire from Mogok Valley in Mogok, Burma. Join Hpone-Phyo Kan-Nyunt as he shares accounts of his mine field visits in Mogok, Burma, and uses of instruments in collection of data.
For more about the speakers, see the show website.
Pala at Las Vegas: May 28 – June 1, 2015
It's time to plan for the JCK Las Vegas show. Pala International will be there in force, with one of America's largest selections of fine colored gems.
Note: The JCK Show this year will run Friday through Monday.
What: AGTA GemFair
When: May 28 – June 1, 2015
Where: South Pacific and Islander Ballrooms in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
Thursday, May 28 thru Sunday, May 31: 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
Monday, June 1: 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Booth: AGTA Pavilion, booth AGTA514
We look forward to seeing our many friends there. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events.
14th Rendez-Vous Gemmologiques
June 8, 2015
The French Gemology Association is sponsoring an anglophone-friendly gathering on June 8 in Paris, "capitale mondiale des rubis et spinelles" (ruby and spinel capital of the world). See translation below of the following announcement.
Rubies in all their forms
By speakers from around the world (Australia, USA, Canada, Thailand, etc.)
- Greenland and Mozambique (amphibolites)
- Burma (marbles)
- Australia (basalts)
- Madagascar and Mozambique belt (metamorphic)
News about rubies and spinels
Markets, mining, processing and geographical origin determination of gems.
The great debate of the Rendez-Vous Gemmologiques de Paris®
[Panel discussion on] the sustainable and rational exploitation of gemstone mines.
We're told that Lotus Gemology's Richard W. Hughes will take part in the panel discussion as well as delivering a lecture on the subject of Rubies and Spinels of Mogok.
The event has a Facebook page.
Mineral & Gem Asia: June 27–30, 2015
The June Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair (June 25–28), now in its 28th year, has a little company this time out. Overlapping the fair slightly will be Mineral & Gem Asia, held at AsiaWorld-Expo, June 27–30.
The exhibitor lists are not yet available, but the show hopes to attract "suppliers and buyers from various fields, such as geology, mineralogy, architecture, interior design, art gallery, museum, loose gem traders," according to its website—and, of course private collectors. One of the advantages of attending the Hong Kong shows is the port's duty-free policy.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stone: Ruby from Burma
This month we feature a corundum from Burma that lies somewhere between ruby and pink sapphire.
There are certain stones that hit the market that are too vibrant and rare in color to be able to quickly attach a pink sapphire label. They posses qualities that pull them toward that of a ruby but are not the classic, more pure red color. You hear the term pink ruby thrown around occasionally and question the validity, but when you actually see stones like this you start to understand why the term was born. This month's featured gemstone is truly a pink ruby, a shocking blend of pink and red that is completely unique. Just as a fine padparadscha is a delightful blend of pink and orange, this gem blends the best of pink and red.
Your Collection Deserves a Professional
Pala's Mia Dixon Can Make Your Specimen a Star
Have you recently obtained a gemstone or mineral specimen and want to brag about it long-distance? Want to get top dollar for gems or minerals you're offering? Or simply have a pictorial record of everything that's passed through your hands? Pala International's resident photographer, Mia Dixon, is now available on Saturdays—by appointment only—to provide her services to the general public.
Gems and Gemology News
This month we take our occasional look at what's up with gemological laboratories and other resources from around the corner and around the world.
Last month, GGTL sent out announcements of the discovery of a sort of gemological holy grail—synthetic diamonds that were expected to be circulating in the market, but until now had eluded the labs. "In this issue," the lab's cover memo reads for newsletter No. 4, "we [discuss] the first ever described melee sized yellow CVD synthetic diamond discovered by GGTL Laboratories in a parcel of natural diamonds of 1.6mm diameter." CVD stands for Chemical Vapor Deposition, synthetic diamond production facilitated by "creating the circumstances necessary for carbon atoms in a gas to settle on a substrate in crystalline form" according to Wikipedia. It's the opinion of GGTL that much of this material likely will come from China, with a "potential candidate" being India.
While describing the peculiarities of this diamond (including a nitrogen content high even for a CVD diamond), GGTL also was pleased to provide a tour of the equipment that detected it: the DFI Mid-UV Laser+ fluorescence and spectroscopy system that the lab developed in-house.
No sooner had newsletter No. 4 been issued on March 20, than No. 5 (an "alert") was on the way March 24, announcing "the first ever published melee-sized colourless CVD synthetic diamond in a large parcel of natural diamonds." The lab tested the parcel with its proprietary equipment, with which it was exhibiting during the DiamondShow in Basel. GGTL claims to have tested a 10-percent sample of about 15 million colorless melee diamonds over the last five years. The diamond in question was the needle in a haystack of a 6,000-piece parcel of natural diamonds from India.
Lotus Gemology — Enhancement Disclosure Alert
Lotus Gemology issued its own alert the next week, but on a different topic, and one that seems almost quaintly Luddite in the face of high-tech gemological enhancements: oil and resin.
The Lotus gemologists take an agnostic stance regarding the acceptability of enhancements, which is as it should be. But in the nine months Lotus has been in business, none of its customers had been told by sellers that their stones had been fissure-filled. This led Lotus to believe that even sellers are not aware of the treatment. See "Lotus Gemology Lab Alert for Oiled Gems" as the lab's gemologists take you on their own tour of the detection devices (including streaming video).
Mozambique -bique -bique
(…with apologies to Sœur Sourire)
Look below and you'll see two examples of the gorgeous rubies being produced by the eastern African country of Mozambique. As a relative newcomer to the field, Mozambique has stiff competition from its elders, Burma and Thailand/Cambodia. Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes has spent time in all of these. The richly illustrated "Red Rain – Mozambique Ruby Pours into the Market" allows Hughes to do a little reminiscing and a lot of ruminating on the what-ifs surrounding Mozambique, its mines, its market, its mien, its moment, and more.
Of Blue Zircon and Bow Ties
In 1988, Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes noticed a gap in how the gemological property of pleochroism was handled in the literature. Hughes defines the term as "a variation of color with direction in doubly refractive gems." On the gemological side, this property had be discussed only as it relates to gemstone identification; on the lapidary side, texts looked simply at orientation. In "Pleochroism in Faceted Gems – An Introduction," an update of his original "Pleochroism and Colored Stone Grading," Hughes focuses on the details of the phenomenon as they relate to appearance.
Bow ties? You'll have to read the article…
Want a handy chart like the "Optical Crystallography Simplified" grid in the pleochroism item above? IGS, the International Gem Society, has you covered, with charts on Gem Structure, Hardness, Select Gems Ordered by Density, Refractive Index and Double Refraction of Gems, and much more. The charts are but one piece of a Reference Library that includes:
- An Introduction to Gemology (34 articles)
- Gemology Tools (26 articles)
- Physical and Optical Properties of Gemstones (18 articles)
- Gemstone Testing and Identification (20 articles)
- Synthetic Gemstones (5 articles)
- Gemstone Treatments (10 articles)
- Advanced Gemology Topics (15 articles)
- The Lighter Side of Gemology (44 articles!)
GIA is publishing a series of reports on its 2014 expedition to Brazil, beginning with the emerald mines of Belmont, Canaan, and Montebello, continuing with the Cruzeiro mine's rubellite tourmaline and the copper-bearing tourmaline of Rio Grande do Norte and Paraíba. "An Overview of the 2014 GIA Brazil Expedition," by Duncan Pay, Andy Lucas, Pedro Padua, and Shane McClure, covers a lot of territory, and is nicely illustrated by photos, slide shows, and streaming videos.
The Belmont emerald mine, in the state of Minas Gerais, struck the GIA crew as being the most sophisticated that they toured, it being a "case study" in how to operate an open pit. The end product is emerald, naturally, but it also will consist of restoration of the land "to its former, pristine state." The mine's general manager, Marcelo Ribeiro, explained that, meanwhile, analysis of ore sampling has allowed the operators to create a three-dimensional computer-generated map of the locality's emerald reserves. This cutting-edge prospecting is continually refined as real-time mining progresses. Such an operation, which will spend more on reclamation than extraction, can't afford blind alleys.
After seeing the prodigious particolored tourmaline at the Cruzeiro tourmaline mine, also in Minas Gerais, the GIA visitors moved north, where they were lucky enough to have Heitor Dimas Barbosa as their driver and interpreter. It was in 1988, after years of dead ends, that Barbosa found the first copper-bearing tourmaline, in the state of Paraíba, whose name the stone would bear. In Barbosa's own mine, production of the material that took the gem world's breath away has been limited, but his son Sergio has sunk a new, deeper shaft, and there's renewed hope for the future. Regardless, the past had its spotlight: because no filmed interviews of Barbosa are known to tell the tale of his discovery, GIA achieved a first, interviewing him in a mine!
One-Stop Shopping at Barnebys
Eagle-eyed reader Patrick Reid sent us a link for a website that collects offerings from all the auction houses and presents them under one e-roof. Barnebys began about three years ago with a Swedish version (don't tell Mia). The firm now offers sites for the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany.
One of the ideas behind the Barnebys venture is to open up the world of auctions to the general public, and also to the connoisseur who might know only the major houses. For instance, we searched on "tourmaline" and the results included everything from a 100-carat kunzite and pink tourmaline necklace offered by Heritage, to a nifty pair of Margherita Burgener mix-or-match tourmaline-and-chrysoprase pendant earrings offered by Phillips, to an art nouveau pink tourmaline flowered pendant/brooch featuring a suspended freshwater baroque pearl offered by Leslie Hindman. Best to keep the credit card in another room when you're browsing Barnebys.
Sotheby's Offers the "Ultimate" Diamond
Next Tuesday, Sotheby's in New York will auction a remarkable 100.2-carat emerald-cut diamond that the auction house is calling "the ultimate," claiming it to be "unlike any diamond offered at auction before," according to a sale overview. Amazingly, the original rough weighed over 200 carats. The anonymous owner spent more than a year studying and cutting it. The diamond's catalog entry likens the diamond to the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.
Worn as a ring on a model's finger, the diamond looks like a plain sort of oversized cocktail ring—until you realize you're looking at a diamond: D color, Internally Flawless, Type IIa (chemically pure, void of nitrogen). Gary Schuler, head of Sotheby's jewelry department in New York, likened the stone to 9 volt battery in terms of size and shape. It is expected to sell for between $19 million and $25 million.
Three Kashmir sapphires also will be offered at Tuesday's sale: an 11.90-carat cushion cut (estimate $1.4 million to 1.8 million), a 9.94-carat sugarloaf cabochon (pictured at right; est. $700,000 to $1 million), and a 17-carat octagonal sapphire, the centerpiece of a platinum, gold and diamond brooch in a stylized flower design (est. $750,000 to $1 million). In the emerald department: a 35.02-carat Classic Colombian called The Flager Emerald (est. $1 million to $1.5 million).
And then there's a Cartier "Tutti Frutti" bracelet, ca. 1928, featuring emerald, ruby, and diamond (est. $1.3 million to $1.8 million) as well as the (recently shown at Denver Art Museum) Baron de Rothschild Necklace, ca. 1924, featuring carved Mughal Empire-style emerald and sapphire (est. $1.8 million to $2.2 million).
And back to diamonds—the colored kind. First, a pear-shaped Fancy Purplish Pink, 6.24 carats, flanked by two nearly 2.5-carat Kashmir sapphires (est. $2.5 million to $3.5 million). And, the Monarch Blue Diamond: a 6.06-carat Fancy Blue oval paired with six pink diamonds—a lovely, understated color combination (est. $3.5 million to $4.5 million).
Jadeite Necklace Fetches 20x Estimate
Boston's Grogan & Company offered a little bauble at its March 22 sale, an art deco platinum, jadeite and diamond necklace from a Rhode Island estate. GIA certified the necklaces beads to be natural and untreated. It was expected to go for between $4,000 and $6,000. Gavel price: $120,000. The firm's news release states the necklace generated interest in the room, on the phone, and online. It sold on the phone to a Hong Kong collector.
Police and Thieves
Taken to the Cleaners on Vacation
On April 2, NBC's Today Show took an ocean cruise to check out the bargains available to vacationers. Investigator Jeff Rossen accompanied his producer Jovanna to the jewelry stores of the island of Cozumel, near the Yucatán Peninsula. Their first purchase was a sapphire ring valued at $750, at the low price of $350. Gemologist Karen Bonanno (yes, that Bonanno) DeHaas was given the purchases for inspection. The outcome is not too surprising. Diamond-buying in Key West had similar results.
One Alarm Is Not Enough
Also on the Today Show a week later, surveillance footage showing thieves waltzing in and out of a vault in London's jewelry district of Hatton Garden. Thieves shimmied down an elevator shaft before drilling through two yards of reinforced concrete to enter the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit company. Beginning at 9:19 PM Thursday night prior to the four-day Easter holiday, the thieves spent about twelve hours hauling out loot. They returned again Saturday night, spending six more hours. One alarm sounded on Thursday, but a guard checked the front door, finding it locked. Items were stolen from dozens out of 999 deposit boxes. (Hmm. 999 just happens to be the UK's emergency number.) Reports were that the heist totaled about €200 million ($300 million) in all, but the Sun quoted James Riley of Gem-A telling BBC that this figure likely was too high.
Mussel Shoals: Tennessee's Perishing Pearls
Quick. Name what Al Jazeera America calls "the hub of the American shell and pearl industry." Why, it's Camden, Tennessee, of course.
Al Jazeera America (AJA) provides a portrait of Camden, its prehistory, history, and the fact that Tennessee River mussel shells were prized in Japan for their mother-of-pearl back-when, and later as nuclei for cultured pearls. The industry in Tennessee used to employ 2,000 people, but today the business is in decline. AJA profiles the sole survivor, Bob Keast, who owns the only freshwater-pearl-culturing farm in the U.S. And it's not even on the river; it's situated in Kentucky Lake, a man-made reservoir.
Reasons for the decline may vary, but the obviation of shell for nuclei by the Chinese (they use mussel tissue now) is one. Another reason is the drop in price; AJA compares a Japanese brand selling for more than ten times the price of a Chinese competitor.
Read the full, sad story here about the Tennessee state gemstone that may become a relic.
Rubies, Blood-Red Beauty…
…that's the title of a March 17 story in the International New York Times, whose author Victoria Gomelsky followed dealers and gemologists around this year's Tucson show. Quoted in the article, which is a good introduction for the uninitiated, are Stuart Robertson (GemWorld International), Rahul Kadakia (Christie's Jewelry), Richard Hughes (Lotus Gemology), Shane McClure (GIA), Rolf von Bueren (Lotus Arts de Vivre), dealer Jack Abraham, and Ian Harebottle (Gemfields). The story begins by looking over the shoulder of Chinese entrepreneur Alfred Jiang, whose family owns a "free-form" ruby crystal from Burma weighing 424.84 carats, with a Gübelin Gem Lab cert. Stuart Robinson's take on the crystal was a bit of a downer, however: economically speaking, if the crystal had had promise, it would have been cut already.
Deadly Rockslides in Jade Land
On March 30, a rockslide at a jade mine near Hpakant killed nine miners, and twenty more were being searched for when news was released by state media and then picked up by Reuters and AFP on April 1. Once again, it was miners searching excavated rubble—a pile 300 feet high—who were buried.
A week later, Xinhua reported in a two-line brief that 70 people had gone missing in a similar accident on April 8. This time it was a 50-foot "jade mining burrow" that collapsed near Lonekhin village in Hpakant. The report stated the mine operator was Myayamone Co., Ltd.
Myanmar Times reported on April 2, regarding the first accident, that residents "slammed" the government for its lackadaisical approach towards the rescue effort—even claiming that authorities changed a list of victims to a list of missing persons.
Jade Troubles Don't Deter Foreign Venture
The Irrawaddy reported on March 20 that the jade market in Mandalay is so sluggish, it's a "near halt," according to industry experts. The slump is tied to campaigns against Chinese corruption as well as local conflict halting production.
Weren't we taught in school about supply and demand? The Irrawaddy report has experts opining that the slowdown in production has buyers offering less, not more, for the scarce product, causing sellers to hold back supply. For example, Aung Thein, an industry representative, said that jade lots once valued at 500 million kyats ($482,000) were now going for 150 to 200 million kyats. The number of Chinese traders in Mandalay, he said, has dropped from more than ten per week to only four or five. International sales in Nay Pyi Taw have nearly stopped. That means the June gems emporium likely will be delayed.
Democratic Voice of Burma reported March 19 that sluggish sales are due in part to a weak exchange rate and a drop in export volumes (really?), according to the country's Ministry of Commerce. As for the anti-corruption chill, economist and writer Aung Ko Ko feels things eventually will warm up, as quoted in the aboveIrrawaddy story.
A British firm evidently felt things were toasty enough—in December—to issue a news release stating it "delivered three applications for mineral exploration licenses to the Myanmar Mining Authorities." Aurasian Minerals Plc (AuM) plans to explore for copper, gold and silver. Acknowledging the security issues, the release states that "authorities have indicated that they will then process the AuM applications after excising the jade and gem mining concessions that currently exist over the areas applied for." Other applications, the firm stated, are in the offing.
A Kachin News Group story regarding AuM's plans states that nearly a quarter of the firm's shares are owned by the world's second largest gold miner, Newmont Mining Corporation, which had a history in Burma until 1997. A deal between the two firms allows AuM to mine Newmont data on Burma, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia.
- Myanmar Times: Amber aglow with Korean, Japanese buyers
- Myanmar Times: Tentative step forward for peace in Kachin
- Myanmar Times: Burma's first Roman Catholic cardinal hits out at "looting" of resources
- Myanmar Times: Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association official is the only woman candidate for Mandalay City Development Committee
Somondoco – A Gift from the Gods
By Kenneth H. Rippere
We're pleased to offer this overview of a famous New World locality, authored by Kenneth Rippere, who happened to have been the roommate of Bill Larson when the two attended the Colorado School of Mines. As Ken told us, "I was a collector before that, so you can't really blame my addiction on Bill."
Very little is known about the discovery and development of the emerald deposit of Somondoco (aka Chivor) in Colombia. It is the only known source of emeralds in the Americas prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, so we must refer to the archaeologists for earlier indications of discovery.
From them, we know of an emerald set into a cast gold pendant (pictured below) dating to between AD 700 and 900 that was found in a burial at Sitio Conte, near Natá, in central Panama. In addition, emeralds have been found in the ruins of Batán Grande (along with amethyst and amber), the Sican capital near Chiclayo in northern Peru. The Sican were dominant in the region between AD 800 and 1100.
A large, drilled emerald was excavated from Mata Esmeraldas in Ecuador.
The Calima Indians, who controlled the region where the emeralds are found between AD 1000 and 1500, set emeralds into their ceramics. The Calima also worked a large salt deposit at Zipaquirá and were therefore important to regional trade networks. Extensive trade networks were developing throughout the Americas from around AD 600 onwards: the mound builders of the Mississippi Valley were organizing trade throughout the basin, while the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, controlled the turquoise source at Cerrillos, New Mexico, and exchanged it for such things as Spondylus shells from Ecuador and scarlet macaws from Amazonia between AD 600 and 1000. The Maya, of the Yucatán, Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala, were also important regional traders prior to their collapse around AD 900, but no emeralds have been found in a Maya context. By the turn of the millennium, these networks had spread far and wide. Nevertheless, it is not clear that the Aztecs and the Incas were aware of each other: both had arisen from nothing in the mid-14th century and become dominant in their respective regions only mere decades prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
Columbus, of course, reached the New World in 1492, to begin an historical record, among other things. He was soon followed by numerous other adventurers from Iberia, including Alonso de Hojeda (who had sailed with Columbus) and Rodrigo de Bastidas, both of whom led small flotillas to the Caribbean from Spain in 1499 and 1500, respectively. Amerigo Vespucci sailed with Hojeda, but turned south when Hojeda continued west upon reaching the coast of Guyana. Sailing with Bastidas was Vasco Núñez de Balboa. Both Hojeda and Bastidas reached the coast in the area of modern Maracaibo and Cartagena where they recovered pearls, emeralds and "other jewels" prior to returning to Spain. The emeralds these men brought back to Seville in 1500 and 1502 were the first to be seen by Europeans and the lucky few who saw them must have beheld the lively green stones with wonder.
When Cortés landed on the Gulf coast of Mexico in 1519, the Aztec ruler, Montezuma, had been warned of his arrival and sent an emissary with treasures to buy him off. The collection was such that a Middle American god might appreciate: fine featherwork, textiles, jade, serpentine, turquoise and four finely carved emeralds. Two large carved wooden discs, representing the sun and moon were also in the collection. But the discs were covered with gold and silver and Cortes knew that he must press on: there had to be more where that came from! Cortés sent the goodies back to Spain and King Charles had the magnificently crafted articles displayed from England to Germany (Albrecht Dürer viewed them in Antwerp). Later that year, Cortés reached Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, and took Montezuma captive. Within a few months, Montezuma had sworn allegiance to King Charles V and transferred the wealth of the Aztec realm to Cortés, including numerous emeralds. Just to the northwest of Tenochtitlan was a craft center, Azcapotzalco, where the Indians carved jade, quartz, opal, emerald, obsidian, serpentine, turquoise and other materials. In all, Cortés sent three lots of treasure back to Spain, but the third, shipped in 1522, was captured by Jean Fleury, a French privateer, and briefly displayed at Varengeville-sur-Mer, the estate of Viscount Ango near Dieppe, in 1527. This treasure has never been seen again, perhaps buried someplace on the estate grounds.
After Balboa and his merry band pushed across the Isthmus of Panama in 1513 and learned of riches to the south, expeditions soon got underway, led by Francisco Pizarro. In 1526, he encountered a large balsa raft sailing in the vast Pacific. The raft, crewed by twenty Indians (probably Chincha from the coastal region south of modern Lima), carried textiles of both wool and cotton, many ornaments of gold and silver, and bags of small emeralds, chalcedonies, quartz, and resin for trade with tribes to the north.
In 1521, the Inca ruler, Huayna Capac, led his armies northward to the border of modern Colombia, claiming emeralds from the various tribes he defeated. Huayna Capac died in a smallpox epidemic in 1528 to be succeeded by his son, Huáscar. Another (bastard) son, Atahualpa, then slew Huáscar and claimed the throne for himself. When Pizarro arrived in Cajamarca, in northern Peru, in 1532, he summoned Atahualpa to a meeting. The Inca ruler arrived on a litter borne by loyal troops, wearing a collar of large emeralds and carrying fourteen more. Pizarro, of course, took Atahualpa captive and soon secured the treasure of the Inca Empire for Spain.
Meanwhile, far to the north, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, had been shipwrecked on Galveston Island in 1528. He and a few other survivors lived among the local tribes for a few years, where Cabeza de Vaca learned healing skills, before electing to rejoin their countrymen in Mexico. By 1535, the small party had reached the land of the Tarahumara Indians, in the Barranca del Cobre region of northern Mexico. There, Cabeza de Vaca managed to heal some tribesmen and was given five ceremonial arrowheads, fashioned of emerald, in appreciation before the party headed onward to Culiacán.*
In the highlands of modern Colombia, Gonzalo de Quesada subdued the Chibcha (or Muisca) Indians around 1538. By that time the Chibcha had gained control of both the salt deposit at Zipaquirá and the Somondoco deposit. Some 7000 emeralds came into Spanish hands as a result of Quesada's conquest. Also in this region, north of Bogotá, is Lake Guatavita, the scene of elaborate ceremonies prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. One aspect of these ceremonies was the dumping into the lake of quantities of gold and emeralds by the local leader and several of his chieftains.
Accordingly, by that time emeralds from Somondoco had spread from Colombia south to northern Peru, east to Venezuela, and north to northern Mexico in trade. It is reasonable to infer that by around AD 700 or so, Indians were collecting alluvial stones from the gravels of the river at the toe of the hillside deposit. Then, perhaps by around AD 1000, they began to develop the in-situ veins.
Around 1555, Pedro Valenzuela discovered the source of the emeralds and soon enough, some 1200 Indians were enslaved to work the mine. Further to the north, the Muzo deposit was discovered in 1560 and these stones were added to the shipments that were on their way eastward to Spain and westward to Manila, headed for the Muslim princes of India who were in avid competition for the finest stones. By 1700, King Charles II ordered the mines closed to forestall further inhuman treatment of the Indians. In 1739, Nadir Shah invaded India, looted the territory, and returned to Persia where several gorgeous emeralds reside in the crown jewels of Iran today. Emeralds are sparse in the national treasures of European countries.
* Editor's Note: Adorno and Pautz's 1999 three-volume study of Cabeza de Vaca states the arrowhead material was "precious green stone, possibly a particularly green type of turquoise" (p. 1:231 n1), followed by the reasoning for this choice (pp. 2:332–333). A reason for discounting the stones as actual emeralds is their locality, as given to Cabeza de Vaca: "from some very high mountains that are toward the north" (p. 1:231). A Texas State University profile of Cabeza de Vaca states the material could have been malachite rather than turquoise, a notion likely lifted from a note in Bandelier's 1905 translation of Cabeza de Vaca's report (pp. 156–157 n. 52): "I saw, in possession of a prominent medicine-man from the Pueblo of San Juan, in New Mexico," Bandelier writes, "a plate of malachite shaped like a large, blunt knife, which he said had come from Chihuahua. It was, of course, not transparent, but had a fine emerald hue, with dendrites."
Author's Note: My objection to calling the material malachite is that only in a few places (Russia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) is it found in quality amenable to chipping arrowheads.
If the above overview of New World emerald whets the appetite for more, you'll want to peruse a study published last year in a new journal, The Extractive Industries and Society, "devoted to disseminating in-depth analysis of the socio-economic and environmental impacts of mining and oil and gas production on societies, both past and present."
Brian Brazeal, of the Department of Anthropology, California State University, Chico, takes the reader through the centuries in "The History of Emerald Mining in Colombia: An Examination of Spanish-language Sources" (The Extractive Industries and Society, Vol. 1, No. 2 [Nov. 2014], pp. 273–283). The study, written following the death of Emerald Czar Victor Carranza's death, draws on Colombian published, Spanish-language, secondary sources. Special attention is paid to developments in the late 20th century.
And while we're at it…
GIA has developed an Emerald Bibliography, covering the gemstone's "geographic origin, treatments, synthetics, and nomenclature."
— End April Newsletter • Published 4/16/15 —
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.