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Pala International has consistently earned its reputation as the direct source for the finest colored stones.

July 2015

July 2015 Newsletter

 

Loving middle age. Last month, Pala International celebrated 46 years in the business. Above, a vintage advertisement from the 1980s. Click image to enlarge

 

Table of Contents

Photographer Tino Hammid Dies at 63

And what more could I possibly ask as an artist than that your most precious visions, however rare, assume, sometimes, the forms of my images?

— Maya Deren

Noted gemstone photographer Tino Hammid died July 11 after nearly two years of struggle against colon cancer. Tino leaves behind his wife Petra, young twins Antonia and Tobias, and adult daughter Evelyn. Prior to his death, Tino's family sold their Los Angeles home, buying one in New Jersey so he and his children could visit his upstate New York farm house, according to his GoFundMe page. No public funeral will be held in Los Angeles; a private memorial at their New Jersey home will be held later. Petra plans to mount an exhibition of Tino's work in the next year.

Tino Hammid was the son of filmmaker Alexander Hammid (1907–2004; see obituary), who collaborated with his wife, the polymath Maya Deren, on the classic experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), two decades later winning an Academy Award for To Be Alive! (1964, shown on three screens at the New York World's Fair). Tino's mother, Hella Heyman Hammid (1921–1992; see bio), collaborated with both Hammid and Deren as cinematographer and actress before marrying Alexander in 1948 following his divorce. Hella (daughter of artist Lette Valeska) had a career as a still photographer, being included in the 1955 MOMA exhibition The Family of Man and the 1967 World's Fair exhibition The Camera as Witness.

Tino Hammid himself was prone to experimentation, as revealed by a 1995 profile by fellow photographer Robert Weldon, who wrote that Hammid, "who has been photographing gems and jewelry for 15 years, is branching out: he has flung himself into the mysterious world of 'virtual reality'" via Apple's Macintosh computer. Hammid was manipulating his own images using a 3-D rendering application, having begun his exploration in the fall of 1991. On Monday, Weldon and others recalled the photographer's artistry in JCK, with longtime collaborator David Federman calling Hammid "the Richard Avedon of gem photography." Gemologist and author Richard W. Hughes posted his own tribute to his friend on Facebook.

Pala International president Bill Larson remarked on Hammid's passing, "Tino was a good friend to Pala. All of us. We were often honored when he would select and photograph a gem [of ours] for his books."

Even after his cancer diagnosis, Tino Hammid somehow found the stamina to work and work. In July of last year, Tino told me he had contributed many new photographs to the second edition of The Handbook of Gemmology. We leave you with one such image.

From page 553 of The Handbook of Gemmology. This wonderful 39-carat fancy-cut gem sphalerite was sold to Pala International's Bill Larson at last year's AGTA GemFair in Tucson by Tino Hammid, whose hundreds of photographs are featured in the book.

From page 553 of The Handbook of Gemmology. This wonderful 39-carat fancy-cut gem sphalerite was sold to Pala International's Bill Larson at last year's AGTA GemFair in Tucson by Tino Hammid, whose hundreds of photographs are featured in the book.

Editor's Note: The above was written without the benefit of fact-checking; any corrections are welcome.

Shows and Events

Pala at JA New York Summer Show: July 26–28, 2015

Pala International heads to the East Coast later this summer for the trade-only JA New York Summer Show. Stop by to see one of America's largest selections of fine colored gems.

See this list of seminars to be held at the show.

When: July 26–July 28, 2015
Where: Jacob K. Javits Convention Center 
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
   Sunday, July 26: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Monday, July 27: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Tuesday, July 28: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Pala International will be represented by Gabrièl Mattice, Jason Stephenson, Carl Larson, and Alison Collins. They are excited to travel to the East Coast to visit Pala's friends and customers in New York City.

Pala International is in booth 2573. See the JANY website for more information. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events.


First International Emerald Symposium: October 13–15, 2015

Details are forthcoming regarding this symposium, sponsored by Fedesmeraldas, the Federación Nacional de Esmeraldas de Colombia. It will be held in Bogotá at the Sheraton Bogotá Hotel. Visitors to the symposium website can sign up for more information.

Click image to enlarge (a little bit…)


Waddesdon Bequest at the British Museum

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild by Hay (not identified), Vanity Fair, 15 June 1889.

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild by Hay (not identified), Vanity Fair, 15 June 1889.

Last month, the redisplay of a sumptuous collection opened at the British Museum in London. Known as the Waddesdon Bequest, the collection was bequeathed to the museum in 1898, the year of his death, by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, who was a banker, a Member of Parliament and, of course, a collector of art. Born in Paris in 1839 and raised in Vienna, Baron Rothschild eventually became a British citizen. He built Waddesdon Manor, named after the village in Buckinghamshire, to display his collection. In celebration of the redisplay in London, the manor features a special exhibition, "Treasures from the Smoking Room" through October 25. This exhibition looks at the Baron's choice to decorate the Bachelors' Wing in the style of the Renaissance, mirroring much of the contents of the collection.

While several highlights of the Bequest will delight the gemstone enthusiast, let's begin with a masterpiece crafted only in silver. The "Cellini" Bell is from the mid-16th century. Its surface is encrusted with intricate objects and animals both natural and fanciful: berries and leaves; plaited rope; escutcheons bearing pods; scallop shells; land snails; chameleons and other lizards; leonine visages bearing branches; Pan-like grotesques. All of this is overseen, in the form of a loop handle, by a matriarch, Charity, with babes in arms. According to the museum, "The insects, animals and plants on this bell were cast from life." The bell originally was attributed to Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), the Italian goldsmith and polymath. But Sir Hugh Tait, in his multi-volume catalog of the collection, credits Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507–1585), who worked in Nuremburg. The bell was owned by Horace Walpole (1717–1797), who bragged,

I have changed all my Roman medals of great brass, some of which were very fine […] for the uniquest thing in the world, a silver bell for an inkstand made by Benvenuto Cellini. It makes one believe all the extravagant encomiums he bestows on himself; indeed so does his Perseus [Cellini's masterpiece, compared with Michelangelo's David]. Well, my bell is in the finest taste, and is swarmed by caterpillars, lizards, grasshoppers, flies, and masques, that you would take it for one of the plagues of Egypt. They are all in altissimo, nay in outissimo relievo and yet almost invisible but with a glass. Such foliage, such fruitage! In short, it is fit to keep company with your eagle and my Caligula—can one say more!” [As cited by the British Museum]

"Cellini" Bell. Silver, mid 1500s. Height 13.3 cm, diameter at rim 9.7 cm. The Waddesdon Bequest. It is thought that the loop in the handle originally held an inset of some sort, such as found in a similar bell by the actual creator, Wenzel Jamnitzer. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

"Cellini" Bell. Silver, mid 1500s. Height 13.3 cm, diameter at rim 9.7 cm. The Waddesdon Bequest. It is thought that the loop in the handle originally held an inset of some sort, such as found in a similar bell by the actual creator, Wenzel Jamnitzer. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

If the collection has a centerpiece, it could be the Holy Thorn Reliquary, which actually dates from the late Medieval, in the 1390s, but one would be hard-pressed to locate it in the style of that period. (There is nothing stiff or awkward about the figures, as in so much Medieval art.) It is thought to have been created in Paris for Jean, Duke of Berry, whose arms are displayed in panels on the fortress base. The reliquary contains a Thorn supposedly from the "crown" that features in the Christian Passion. And it is front-and-center, seen through a rock-crystal window, mounted vertically on a cabochon sapphire that, by my calculation, measures more than a centimeter in length. Behind, Christ is seated on an orb (the world), displaying each of his five wounds. His Mother and St. John kneel at each side. Above, angels at each side hold the implements of his torture, the spear and the nails; together they hold the crown of thorns aloft. The reliquary's frame is lavishly decorated with alternating rubies and pearls, behind which sit busts of each of the twelve Apostles. God the Father overlooks it all, framed by a starburst accented by rubies, pearls and single sapphire. Below, atop the fortress turrets, angels herald the resurrection of the dead, who escape the confines of their caskets. Above their heads, inscribed on a scroll: Ista est una spinea corone Domini nostri ihesu xpisti (This is a thorn from the Crown of Our Lord Jesus Christ).

 

The Holy Thorn Reliquary. Gold, enameled, with sapphires, rubies and pearls, 1390s. Made to display a Thorn, supposedly from the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ at his Crucifixion. Height 30.5 cm, width 15 cm, depth 7 cm. Click image to enlarge. The Waddesdon Bequest. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

 

The Lyte Jewel is a portrait of King James I, painted in about 1610 by Nicholas Hilliard (1537–1619). At the time of its painting, James would have been entering middle age, so the portrait appears to depict the monarch as a younger man. The jewel was presented by the king to Thomas Lyte (1568–1638), an academic and genealogist from Lytescary in Somerset, who laid out James's lineage. It is a pendant fashioned from gold and set with twenty-five table diamonds. When open, as in the view below, colorful enamel work is revealed; when closed, the curtain is decorated by eight diamonds attached to the initial R (Rex) and five more designed as florets linked by enameled bines. James I can be remembered for: having posited the divine right of kings, having presided over the union of Scotland and England, having commissioned what is known as the Authorized Version of the Bible, and, like Horace Walpole, having little to do with members of the opposite gender.

The Lyte Jewel. Enameled gold set with diamonds, 1610. The locket contains a portrait by Nicholas Hilliard of James VI and I of Scotland and England. The Waddesdon Bequest. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

The Lyte Jewel. Enameled gold set with diamonds, 1610. The locket contains a portrait by Nicholas Hilliard of James VI and I of Scotland and England. The Waddesdon Bequest. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

The Hippocamp Pendant depicts a plumed Native American riding a seahorse that's adorned, appropriately, with Colombian emeralds and flecked with transparent chartreuse enamel. In terms of provenance, the British Museum is all over the map, literally. Its origin is given as Spain, late 16th century, and "it is tempting to surmise that this remarkable jewel had been brought to Paris following Napoleon's victorious occupation of Spain (1808–12)." Yet it could be "German, c. 1575." Presenting yet another option, the Museum's Waddesdon Bequest home page states, "It was probably made in Paris in the early 19th century, but is modelled on jewels made in the 16th century that were intended to show off massive deep-green emeralds from Colombian mines in the New World." Regardless, visitors to this collection will enjoy taking a 360-degree view of this lovely jewel. And the pendant is the cover star for a 352-page book about the Bequest, A Rothschild Renaissance, featuring 300 images of the collection's highlights.

Hippocamp Pendant. Enameled gold, emeralds and pearls. Height 7.3 cm, width 6.4 cm, depth 2.4cm. The Waddesdon Bequest. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

Hippocamp Pendant. Enameled gold, emeralds and pearls. Height 7.3 cm, width 6.4 cm, depth 2.4cm. The Waddesdon Bequest. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)


Rock Bands at the Met

Through October 18, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art presents Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffin Collection, at The Cloisters, the Met's adjunct devoted to Medieval art and architecture. The collection is not named for a family, but rather for the fabulous creature pictured in the tapestry at right (c. 1450, Basel). The griffin is a guardian of treasure. Paradoxically, "In Christianity it depicts evil as the Devil flying away with souls, also those who persecute Christians," writes J. C. Cooper in An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols(1978). Yet, "Later, with Dante, it became the two natures of Christ and the role of the Pope as spiritual and temporal power." Both the spiritual and temporal are conveyed in The Cloisters' remodeled Glass Gallery, which has replaced opaque, bulky display cases with the gallery's namesake—freestanding glass cases that allow natural light from the Gothic windows to illuminate the rings and other objects on view. (And the glass is recycled—from a 2013 exhibition at the Met's main building.)

Treasures and Talismans was described by the Wall Street Journal as "a compact but beguiling exhibition," and the following couple of lines from curator C. Griffith Mann sum up the show nicely. The Griffin Collection, which is on long-term loan to the Met,

soon became the spine of an exhibition concept that not only considered rings as a special form of bodily adornment, but also explored the broader themes of goldsmiths' work and the connection between rings and their wearers in the ancient through Renaissance periods. The more than two dozen rings selected for installation were chosen with an emphasis on quality, rarity, and their relationship to other works of art in the Metropolitan's collection.

Several of the Met's departments have contributed to Treasures and Talismans, which focuses on Classical, Medieval and Renaissance objects and artwork. Brief videos demonstrate the craft employed in creating the rings. The intersections of "religion, superstition, love, marriage, and identity"—in the context of finger rings—also are explored.

As explained by Jeffrey Spier, the Getty Museum's senior curator of antiquities, rings in antiquity actually had their critics. [1] Roman author Pliny the Elder (25–79 C.E.) wrote that the wearing of rings, and jewelry in general, was a sign of Rome's corruption and decline. During the early years of the republic (5th and 4th centuries B.C.E.) only diplomats donned gold rings, and only while on their missions abroad. But the conquest of Greece and the birth of the Empire gave Rome's citizens a taste for luxury goods. Even if no jewels had survived the ages, we have the many mummy portraits from Roman Egypt that depict the departed draped in jewels. [2]

The subject of this mummy portrait (110–120 C.E.) was named "The Jewellery Girl" by Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, who excavated the portrait at the archaeological site of Hawara in Egypt's Fayum Basin, southwest of Cairo (Walker 2000, 52). In her coiffure, the sitter wears a hairpin of pearls and garnets. The topmost necklace matches the hair ornament, but includes other stones that may be aquamarines or sapphires. Below that, a necklace and plaited chain both feature emeralds.

The subject of this mummy portrait (110–120 C.E.) was named "The Jewellery Girl" by Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, who excavated the portrait at the archaeological site of Hawara in Egypt's Fayum Basin, southwest of Cairo (Walker 2000, 52). In her coiffure, the sitter wears a hairpin of pearls and garnets. The topmost necklace matches the hair ornament, but includes other stones that may be aquamarines or sapphires. Below that, a necklace and plaited chain both feature emeralds.

The "key ring" below embodies several aspects of jewelry discussed by Spier. As time passed, styles changed, with innovations cropping up in the late 2nd and 3rd centuries, including openwork as well as key rings. Originally crafted in bronze with functioning, unlocking appendages, gold and silver key rings largely were symbolic, signifying that the wealthy wearer had something at home worth protecting. The stone in this ring is "nicolo,"which almost certainly was the product of treatment applied to improve a natural sardonyx or create a "sardonyx" layer on common chalcedony. Characteristically, it is a near-black substrate overlaid with a white or bluish white layer, often engraved, sometimes unengraved, and popularized in Roman glyptic (engraving) beginning about the mid-1st century B.C.E. but also popular later, in Byzantine and Christian glyptic (5th–7th century C.E.). This intaglio depicts winged Victoria (Victory) carrying a laurel wreath and a palm branch (?). The inscription around the ring's band, per Spier, reads: M[ULIER] SUI P[UBLII] MARCI DAPENI HOMONOEA ("Homonoea, wife of Publius Marcus Dapienus").

Late Roman Key Ring "Homonoea," Roman Empire, late 3rd- to early 4th- century. Gold and nicolo. Griffin Collection. Bezel 13 x 18 x 2 mm. (Photo: Richard Goodbody)

Late Roman Key Ring "Homonoea," Roman Empire, late 3rd- to early 4th- century. Gold and nicolo. Griffin Collection. Bezel 13 x 18 x 2 mm. (Photo: Richard Goodbody)

We know that the couple depicted on the marriage ring below was of elevated status due to their garb, as described by Spier: the man, left, wears a fibula, a decorative fastener of clothing; the woman is adorned with pendilia, the sort of ornamental pendants that might be seen dangling from the crowns of Byzantine monarchs on coins. The inscription below the couple reads OMONOIA ("concord"); Concordia is the Roman goddess representing harmony in marriage and in society. Eventually, as Spier tells us, Concordia would be replaced by Christ, who would join the two in what had become a sacrament of the Church.

Gold Marriage Ring, Byzantine, 6th–7th century. Griffin Collection. Bezel 9.7 x 9.1 mm. (Photo: Richard Goodbody)

Gold Marriage Ring, Byzantine, 6th–7th century. Griffin Collection. Bezel 9.7 x 9.1 mm. (Photo: Richard Goodbody)

The image of the aquamarine ring below does not show off the breadth of its lovely design (we were unable to obtain permission to reprint other images by e-press time). Trapezoidal panels of the center bezel, framed by jutting corner prongs, lift the stone from the band, each of the panels featuring a single, conical gadroon, themselves mirrored by the conical bezels of pearls at left and right. (The pearls can be seen peeking from behind these forms.) The design is further enhanced by granulated gold accents.

Byzantine Gemstone Ring. Byzantium, Constantinople, 12th-13th century. Gold, aquamarine, and pearls. Bezel 23.5 x 19mm. Griffin Collection. (Photo: Richard Goodbody)

Byzantine Gemstone Ring. Byzantium, Constantinople, 12th-13th century. Gold, aquamarine, and pearls. Bezel 23.5 x 19mm. Griffin Collection. (Photo: Richard Goodbody)

Three gallery talks are offered at The Cloisters next month: "The Industry of Art Production in the Middle Ages" (twice on August 8) and "A Goldsmith in His Shop: A Close Look" (August 15).

References

1. Spier, Jeffrey. Byzantium and the West: Jewelry in the First Millennium. London: Paul Holberton, 2012. All references to Spier come from this volume. I am indebted to Lisbet Thoresen for bringing this text to my attention.

2. Walker, Susan (ed.). Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt. New York: Metropolitan Museum of New York and Routledge, 2000.


Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty in Denver

For the next six months or so, Denver residents and visitors can take in a retrospective by visual artist Marilyn Minter, whose imagery beckons the viewer: stop, look and listen. There is a surface sheen that grabs the eye, a double-take that averts, and a perusal that yearns to behold beauty, if that be possible. It is embodied in the multiple meanings of the exhibition's title, Pretty/Dirty.

For instance, the earliest images, when Minter was 21, are from a series of black and white photos titled Coral Ridge Towers (1969), named after a Fort Lauderdale residential high rise complex. Depicted is Minter's mother, primped on pills with liver spots, reflected in a gilt mirror clad in dressing gown and comely wig, getting ready, but never ready enough. It's as if Minter glimpsed behind the scenes of a society fraying at the edges. In the series Big Girls, Little Girls(1986–87), Minter portrays young girls on canvas, this time reflected with social distortion—in fun-house mirrors—ever with their eye self-consciously on their form. Also in that series, a girl is juxtaposed with one of the most famous "big girls"—Jane Mansfield.

We can't help but be reminded of the fact that it is a woman, and a feminist, who has created these works of art, which comment on Woman's Day (and night). Variations of the word criticalappear nine times in the exhibition's news release. Minter's explorations into the realm of skin and sex in the early '90s earned her the label of "traitor" from many feminists. Yet this alienation from the majority provided introduction to a minority of women artists, filmmakers and journalists who met to engage in discussions of, well, critical theory. Since the 2000s, Minter's oeuvre has employed elements of popular culture as well as haute couture. Last year, in an interview with HuffPost cultural critic Malcolm Harris, she said that one advantage of becoming more recognized is being able to borrow various accouterments directly from designers (although the state in which they are returned might pose a question). In the 2007 monograph Marilyn Minter, the artist told painter/sculptor Mary Heilmann that fashion photography was her "biggest inspiration." But her images are like outtakes: freckles before makeup's masking, pimples and perspiration under the lights, goop and grime, lipstick on teeth. An iconic example is the painting Strut (2005), a bejeweled pump, complete with Christian Dior logo, topped by a well-traveled human heel ("It's only dirt," she told Heilmann), the skin at the ankle creased from flexion. While a common sight in our cityscapes, it was Minter who chose to compress it into a painting eight feet tall. In this regard she can be seen as a pop populist.

The three examples of Minter's work below are from the triad of her elected media: painting, video and photography. If her paintings—executed in enamel on metal—appear to be replications of her photographs, Minter explains in the above monograph that this is not the case, and that the up-close nature of the focus of the paintings renders them, instead, abstract—the opposite of the stance taken by the "original photorealists." Thus she refers to herself as a "photo-replacer."

For those who wish to dig deeper, a new monograph accompanies the retrospective, and includes a lengthy interview of Minter by critic and novelist Linda Yablonsky as well as texts by artist K8 Hardy, musician/writer Richard Hell, and poet/writer Eileen Myles, among others.

Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty is on view through January 2016 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which co-organized the exhibition with Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. The retrospective travels to Newport Beach, Brooklyn and Kansas City.

Marilyn Minter, Torrent, 2013. Enamel on metal, 96 x 60 inches. Private collection, Palm Beach, FL.

Marilyn Minter, Torrent, 2013. Enamel on metal, 96 x 60 inches. Private collection, Palm Beach, FL.

Marilyn Minter, Still from Smash, 2014. HD digital video, 7:55 minutes. Courtesy the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles. See a teaser for the video.

Marilyn Minter, Still from Smash, 2014. HD digital video, 7:55 minutes. Courtesy the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles. See a teaser for the video.

Marilyn Minter, Vampire, 2004. C-print, 86 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Marilyn Minter, Vampire, 2004. C-print, 86 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Pala International News

This month we feature a stunning yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka. This intense 6.40-carat sapphire exhibits the best qualities of yellows from this dominant source of fancy colors. Fine yellow sapphire can range from pastel yellow to intense golden varieties with a stronger orange component. Demand for yellow, purple, green, white, and many variations of sapphire hues has increased as curiosity beyond the standard blue and red (ruby) varietals has surged. With so many unique colors of sapphire to explore, the market has been growing and appreciating. Our yellow sapphire is featured below with a golden mountain lily flower, which was recently plucked from above the Mountain Lily mine here in San Diego County, where Pala International is currently mining.

Not a mellow yellow. The 6.40-carat yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka rests next to a mountain lily taken from the hills of Pala International's Mountain Lily Mine. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Not a mellow yellow. The 6.40-carat yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka rests next to a mountain lily taken from the hills of Pala International's Mountain Lily Mine. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Interested? Contact us! 

Gems and Gemology News

GSA 2015 Call for Abstracts: Gemological Research in the 21st Century

Once again this fall, The Geological Society of America (GSA) includes a major session devoted to gemology, under the sponsorship of GIA (Gemological Institute of America). Abstracts are being accepted for this session and must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., Pacific Time, 11 August 2015. The session title is "T131. Gemological Research in the 21st Century: Exploration, Geology, and Characterization of Diamonds and other Gem Minerals" (see full list here). GSA 2015 will be held November 1–4 in Baltimore, Maryland.

The session's conveners are Dona Dirlam, Jim Shigley, and Wuyi Wang of GIA, with distinguished advocates Lee Groat, Thomas Stachel, Barb Dutrow, Howard Coopersmith, Nancy McMillan, and Skip Simmons. Posters and oral presentations are being solicited.

As Cornell University's Elise Skalwold wrote in our pages at the conclusion of her report on the 2013 session:

While not the first time that individual gem and gemology related topics have been presented at the GSA—notably such papers as Annibale Mottana's 2006 "Italian gemology during the Renaissance: A step toward modern mineralogy" (see abstract)—2013 marks the first time a session exclusively devoted to the science of gemology has been officially part of the GSA meeting. This is an auspicious and historic event in its own right within the larger context of the GSA's history and statement of purpose. Future such participation in this and other mainstream geo-science conferences could lead to wider formal acceptance of gemology as a science unto to its own, with all the advantages of such status, including the conferring of academic degrees and awarding of funding for gemological research, all of which will benefit the gem industry. In any event, more people will come to recognize the value of gem materials and related topics to a variety of academic and pedagogical pursuits.

Now that GSA's arms are open, we encourage the gemological community to embrace this opportunity.


Diamond News

Pig Pen Yields Diamond Porker

obbie Oskarson of Longmont, Colorado was rummaging around what is affectionately known as the Pig Pen area of Arkansas's Crater of Diamonds State Park on June 24, searching for what the park is famous for: diamonds. In a news release, Park Interpreter Waymon Cox said, "Ms. Oskarson and her boyfriend Travis Dillon saw the Crater of Diamonds State Park on an Arkansas highway map while in the nearby town of Hot Springs and decided to visit the park. And what a lucky first visit it was for her!"

Oskarson had it made in the shade, so to speak, having taken shelter from the sun near some trees. After only twenty minutes of digging in the Pen (so named for its muddy condition after rainfall), she found an 8.25-carat colorless diamond. Oskarson has named her find the Esperanza Diamond, after her niece, and has no plans to sell it. Interpreter Cox described the stone as "about three-quarters of an inch long and as big around as a standard No. 2 pencil."

The park, which tracks such things, said the Esperanza is the seventh largest diamond to have been found in the area, two of those being unearthed prior to the state park's formation.

Making the Grade (a bit too high)

JCK news director Rob Bates reported on July 1 about industry efforts to halt the practice of over-grading diamonds. "Sell a bad cert, you might get hurt," he wrote, following the adoption of a one-page grading agreement at this year's biennial Presidents' Meeting of the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB), held last month in Tel Aviv. The agreement also was endorsed by the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO). Two key bullet points in the document read:

  • Within current industry expertise, the industry-accepted standards and nomenclature based on master color sets (D-Z scale) of the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) and the IDC (International Diamond Council), the development of new technology and present code of best practices, the WFDB, CIBJO and IDMA stipulate that the color grading of a diamond more than one grade from a broadly accepted industry benchmark, is unacceptable.
  • In the event of a complaint, or a challenge to a report brought before the authorised body of a Bourse (including mediation or arbitration), the authorised body will determine the broadly accepted industry benchmark (GIA and IDC standards). In addition, the authorised body will submit the diamond to a leading, respected laboratory or to three (3) recognised expert gemologists or diamantaires, qualified to provide a report on any diamond in question in terms of which it shall determine whether the color grading exceeded accepted industry benchmark (GIA and IDC standards) by more than one grade.

Bates points out that the agreement is mute on the issue of clarity. In his July 6 follow-up, Bates was cautiously optimistic that the agreement will have teeth in the industry, but he also bemoaned the absence of a universal, consumer-friendly diamond grading scale.

Making the Grade (really high)

About a month before the Presidents' Meeting, GIA announced an oddity discovered at its laboratory in the Tel Aviv area. "GIA reasonably suspects that approximately 500 colorless to near colorless diamonds submitted primarily to our laboratory in Israel potentially were subjected to an undisclosed temporary treatment," reads a May 12 lab alert. GIA believes that the treatment could lead to an erroneous elevation of as many as three grades by temporarily masking the "inherent color" of a diamond. The lab alert lists reports numbers for stones that are suspected of having involved this treatment.

Shortage? What Shortage?

One of the issues discussed at the Presidents' Meeting in June was profitability. As Israel Diamond Exchange president Shmuel Schnitzer said, "We touched on the very serious issues confronting the industry. The most crucial part is lack of profitability. No business can last in such circumstances. We mentioned this to the diamond producers to see what they and we can do to improve the situation."

A July 3 Bloomberg article discusses the issues of supply, demand, and pricing. Titled "The Missing Diamond Shortage," it addresses the fact that aging sources, and lack of new ones. have not had a lasting effect on pricing.

Industry News

Seeking to Influence: Action and Ethics

JAPAC

Did you know that the jewelry industry has its own political action committee? Trade organization Jewelers of America has set up JAPAC and, according to its website, has held annual face-to-face meetings with legislators in the nation's capitol, and over the last two election cycles has supported 75 Congresspersons. A June 23 news release details this summer's annual fly-in to D.C., which took place on June 17. Issues dear to dealers included: "e-fairness," or the sales tax disparity between online and brick-and-mortar jewelers; repeal of the accounting method known as LIFO (last-in, first-out, discussed here); and extension of 15-year leasehold improvements depreciation (versus the current 39 years).

AGTA Ethics

In 1983, two years after its inception, AGTA crafted the first iteration of its Code of Ethics and Fair Business Practices. Last week the gemstone industry group released a revision of the Code, which each member must endorse annually in order to remain in good standing. In brief, by signing the Code, the member pledges to:

  1. Have the knowledge of and to inform their customers of all treatments, natural origin and all areas necessary for legal compliance and to allow the purchaser to make informed choices
  2. Operate in full compliance with all laws, local, state and federal, and to comply with Federal Trade Commission and other applicable industry guidelines and standards
  3. Operate in full compliance with the laws of the countries from which we import and distribute, including those laws relating to labor and environmental protection
  4. Shall not support nor participate in any activities that are illegal or in support of terrorism, smuggling or theft

The full text of the Code of Ethics is available here.


BBC: Sapphire Mining in Madagascar

Blue buy, you? Natural blue emerald-cut sapphire, 1.43 carats, from Madagascar. Inventory #22471. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Blue buy, you? Natural blue emerald-cut sapphire, 1.43 carats, from Madagascar. Inventory #22471. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

On the United States of America's Independence Day, citizens browsing the news of the Old Country via BBC came across a brief pictorial look at sapphire mining in Ilakaka, Madagascar. Sapphire was discovered in the area in 1998, turning a rural village into a boom town of tens of thousands.

BBC's reportage begins in the river, with workers sifting sediment through sieves. Then to the mines, which fill with gas that must be flushed out using a manual bellows crafted from plastic sheeting. Even so, miners can only stand the atmosphere for thirty minutes at a time.

Dealer Faranirina Tandu, pictured examining a yellow stone, told BBC that the quantity of the most valuable stones has diminished over the last ten years. Declining output and the risk of disability or death has not deterred the hopeful, who continue to take the plunge, either into the river or into the pit.

Madagascar has multiple gemstone-producing localities. Above, a large blue sapphire seen in Didy, from our December 2012 newsletter item "Giddy in Didy – Part Two." (Photo by Vincent Pardieu. © GIA)

Madagascar has multiple gemstone-producing localities. Above, a large blue sapphire seen in Didy, from our December 2012 newsletter item "Giddy in Didy – Part Two." (Photo by Vincent Pardieu. © GIA)

For an in-depth examination of mining in Ilakaka, see Vincent Pardieu's "Update on Sapphire Mining in Ilakaka-Sakaraha, Madagascar," published two years ago by GIA.


Burma Bits

Emporium Concludes; Sales Drop

Burma's 52nd Annual Myanma Gems Emporium, held June 24 through July 6, was expected to flounder even before it started, as reported by The Irrawaddy on opening day. The proceedings concluded with a sales total less than half that of a year ago, according to Xinhua and others. The combined sale of gem and jade lots brought in €949 million, or $1.262 billion, down from $3.4 billion last year. Sold were 126 gem lots and more than 1,000 jade lots. (Democratic Voice of Burma reported that nearly 9,000 jade lots and 323 gem lots were offered.) About 4,600 foreign and domestic merchants attended; of those, 2,000 were from China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Israel. A drop of 63% in jade sales, according to DVB, was caused by the armed conflict in Kachin State's jadeland. (See DVB's July 6 video news report for some of the sights and sounds of the sale, along with a litany of why the sale slumped.)

A week before the sale, 200 villagers in Hpakant were forced from their homes due to the conflict, as reported by the Myanmar Times. Two days later a church was destroyed, per Myanmar Times. On June 28, the Times reported that shelling neared the main crossing between Burma and China, called Muse. On July 1, an explosion occurred at a joint venture jade company in Hpakant, Myanmar Times wrote. By contrast, a portrait of Shan state soldiers away from the conflict—on Loi Tai Leng, Tai Mountain—was posted by Myanmar Times on June 17. And the prospects of new mining—and proximity to war zones—was discussed in a June 18 Myanmar Times story.

A merchant inspects a jade boulder at the emporium, June 24, 2015. See a brief streaming video about Hpakant jade mining produced by Democratic Voice of Burma. DVB produced a video in the same series that profiles the artisan workshops of Mandalay.

A merchant inspects a jade boulder at the emporium, June 24, 2015. See a brief streaming video about Hpakant jade mining produced by Democratic Voice of Burma. DVB produced a video in the same series that profiles the artisan workshops of Mandalay.

A highlight of the annual emporium was a pair of rough rubies that sold for €801,000, or $884,000—the highest bid of the sale, as reported by the Myanmar Times. The Mogok rubies weighed 79.00 carats. The runner-up was a rough ruby from Mongshu, which went for €370,000. A rubellite tourmaline with the highest floor price of €5 million did not sell.

As always, see our Burma Gem Sales and Statistics for cumulative figures on the country's trade.

Mogok: "Mecca," Monk

Last week, Yangon-based French academic Amaury Lorin wrote a brief travelogue focusing on Mogok, posted in the Myanmar Times. Lorin called the city of rubies "More secret than Mecca and harder to access than Lhasa," due to its location in the Burmese jungle.

Ten days earlier, Myanmar Times had reported local reaction to the June 9 arrest of a monk, Yay Pu Sayadaw, for illegal mining in Mogok. As of June 17, the monk had been defrocked (Myanmar Times stated he was "forced to disrobe") and residents were petitioning to protest his arrest.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Kachin News Group: Jade king Tay Za's wife is removed from U.S. sanctions roster; could he be next?
  • The Irrawaddy and Myanmar Times: Coca-Cola director has a link to Burma jade business—a breach of U.S. sanctions
  • Mizzima: Gems and jade account for $4 billion out of $8 billion in seized contraband
  • Myanmar Times: Nay Pyi Taw's hotels, built for two regional events, are in trouble
  • Kachin News Group and Myanmar Times: UK gold mining firm sees delays in jade permitting

— End July Newsletter • Published 7/17/15 —


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.