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

December 2015

December 2015 Newsletter

Jingle bell rocks. The necklace at left was created by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1939 for Queen Nazli of Egypt. Set with 217 carats of diamonds, it was described by jewelry historian Vincent Meylan "A Perfect Piece of Jewellery." The ring at right comes from dynasty of Wall Street financier Thomas Fortune Ryan, far less known than his peers, Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, but just as powerful. The ring features a 25.87-carat sugarloaf cabochon natural Kashmir sapphire. Guess which one set a record last Wednesday. (Photos: Sotheby's news release)

Jingle bell rocks. The necklace at left was created by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1939 for Queen Nazli of Egypt. Set with 217 carats of diamonds, it was described by jewelry historian Vincent Meylan "A Perfect Piece of Jewellery."

The ring at right comes from dynasty of Wall Street financier Thomas Fortune Ryan, far less known than his peers, Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, but just as powerful. The ring features a 25.87-carat sugarloaf cabochon natural Kashmir sapphire. Guess which one set a record last Wednesday. (Photos: Sotheby's news release)

Table of Contents

Tucson Time: February 2–14, 2016

After the holidays, we're looking forward to the world's greatest gem and mineral show in February. One-stop general information about individual shows can be obtained from the Tucson EZ-Guide.

Pala International will be represented in Tucson as follows. We look forward to seeing our many friends there. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events.

AGTA GemFair

February 2-7, 2016
Tucson Convention Center
Pala International Booth: 1016

Pala joins nearly 100 exhibitors for this trade-only annual extravaganza.

The event website now features an interactive floorplan allowing you to see who is exhibiting by area of the convention center.

Free seminars by notables in the world of gemstones and pearls are listed.

The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) is an association of United States and Canadian trade professionals dedicated to promoting the long term stability and integrity of the natural colored gemstone and Cultured Pearl industries. The Association pursues its goals through the combined use of educational programs, publicity, industry events, government and industry relations, and printed materials for both the trade and consumer.


15th Annual Westward Look Mineral Show

February 5-8, 2016
Westward Look Resort
Pala International:
Suite 224, Building 20, Upper Level

Pala International and three dozen other world-class mineral dealers shack up at the Sonoran Desert resort.

See Pala International's page on the Westward Look Show site. See also this dealer map.

The poster for this year's show (at right) features a 49-mm-tall heliodor crystal from a private collection, photographed by Joe Budd. It comes from the Yellow Water Mine in Tajikistan. The crystal has a spiral inclusion that reminds us of the "Mascara Stone" that John S. White introduced us to last year, and which we shared with our readers.


62nd Annual Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

February 11-24, 2016
Tucson Convention Center
Pala International:
Booths 926-929

TGMS is the largest gem and mineral show in the country. This year's theme is "Shades of Blue: Minerals of the World."

Wintertime Blues

To whet the appetite for the TGMS theme, be sure to read "Blue Minerals: Exploring Cause & Effect" by Elise A. Skalwold and William A. Bassett in the January/February 2016 edition of Rocks and Minerals.


Fabergé: From a Snowflake to an Iceberg

In June 2012, we told our readers about a traveling exhibition, "Fabergé: Imperial Jeweler to the Tsars," which featured objects from a single holding, the McFerrin Collection. While individual pieces from this collection had been seen in various publications and shows for decades, this presentation, held at Southern California's Bowers Museum, was the first time the collection itself took center stage.

After our recent survey of newspaper articles regarding the fate of the Romanoff jewels in the first part of the twentieth century, we're happy to say that the McFerrin Collection now is being exhibited in Houston, the home of its owners, businessman Artie McFerrin and his wife Dorothy. Fabergé: From a Snowflake to an Iceberg offers not just the six-score objects of the previous exhibition, but more than four times that number.

Baby, it's cold outside. In 2012 we featured an image of the Nobel Ice Egg and its accompanying "Surprise" Watch Pendant. This is a pendant on the same theme: Ice Crystal Pendant by Fabergé, workmaster Albert Holmstrom, St. Petersburg, ca. 1913. (Image courtesy the Houston Museum of Natural Science)

Baby, it's cold outside. In 2012 we featured an image of the Nobel Ice Egg and its accompanying "Surprise" Watch Pendant. This is a pendant on the same theme: Ice Crystal Pendant by Fabergé, workmaster Albert Holmstrom, St. Petersburg, ca. 1913. (Image courtesy the Houston Museum of Natural Science)

In 2013, Dorothy McFerrin told Associated Press how her passion for Fabergé began ten years before, when she was in the market for French chandeliers. Instead she purchased what she thought to be a genuine Fabergé Easter egg. While costing several thousands of dollars, it was an imitation. McFerrin quickly got a lesson in authenticity, leading to her and her husband amassing one of the largest collections of Fabergé in the United states. Their interest has moved beyond the iconic eggs; they have many other objets d'art as well as Romanov photo albums. Even a pillowcase in which some items were spirited out of Russia has its place.

Brrrr. (Or would that be Grrrr?) Sea Lion by Carl Faberge, ca. 1900. (Image courtesy the Houston Museum of Natural Science)

Brrrr. (Or would that be Grrrr?) Sea Lion by Carl Faberge, ca. 1900. (Image courtesy the Houston Museum of Natural Science)

The current exhibition adds 150 more objects to Fabergé: A Brilliant Vision, which opened early last year. In conjunction with that exhibition, a day-long symposium on the subject was held to celebrate the debut of the McFerrin Collection. It featured Tatiana Fabergé, Switzerland (granddaughter of Peter Carl Fabergé); Tim Adams, USA; Alice Ilich, Australia; Galina Korneva, Russia; Christel McCanless, USA; Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, Finland; and Annemiek Wintraecken, the Netherlands.

Royal Collection Contains Royal Collectible

One of the most simply elegant objects in the McFerrin Collection is the Imperial Diamond Trellis Egg. It was fashioned for Tsar Alexander III in 1891 by workmaster August Holmström under the supervision of Peter Carl Fabergé for presentation to Tsarina Maria Feodorovna on Easter 1892. Its unelaborate exterior belies its "surprise." Just as the Nobel Ice Egg (created for a nephew of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize) contains a trapezoidal watch within, the Trellis Egg originally contained an automaton. The two were separated, however; the automaton, in the form of an ivory elephant, wound up in the royal collection in Buckingham Palace, as reported November 13 by the Telegraph

Imperial Diamond Trellis Egg, St. Petersburg, 1891. (Image courtesy the HMNS)

Imperial Diamond Trellis Egg, St. Petersburg, 1891. (Image courtesy the HMNS)

Elephant and Castle. This automaton was made as the "surprise" for the Diamond Trellis Egg. More images and information are available at the Royal Collection Trust.

The elephant is modeled on "the badge of the Danish Order of the Elephant, the most senior order of chivalry in Denmark," according to the Royal Collection Trust. Images of the badge are available here. As the Danish princess Dagmar before her marriage to the Tsar, both she and her sister were members of the Order from birth, according to Alastair Bradley Martin (The Guennol Collection, Volume II. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982, 46).

The Trellis Egg was sold in 1930 by the Soviet government; no record exists regarding the sale of the elephant. It's likely the automaton was sold to George V, ironically Alexander III's nephew by marriage. Buckingham Palace curator Caroline de Guitaut suspected the link between the two objects; she found the Fabergé mark inside the tiny tower on the little elephant's back. 


Postscript: Kunz Collection Reveals Lost Romanoff Jewels

Colored gemstone enthusiasts likely are aware of George Frederick Kunz's association with Tiffany & Co., but might not know that he was a special agent for the United States Geological Survey between 1883 and 1909. Thus it is fitting—although perhaps not "right"—that his personal library, the Kunz Collection, resides in the special collection of the USGS Library in Reston, Virginia, rather than at an academic institution.

At this time of year three years ago, on December 18, 2012, the USGS Library announced it had discovered four photographs of previously undocumented Russian crown jewels, not surprisingly in the Kunz Collection. They were found in the 1922 photo album, Russian Diamond Fund, featuring eighty-eight plates illustrating the jewels. Readers of the first in our three-part series on the Romanoff jewels would have seen the volume's elaborate, hand-colored title page (see the "Czars Catalog" section).

In this video, the USGS Library's then-director, Richard Huffine, discusses the discovery of "new" imperial jewels as well their significance.

In 1925, the 1922 album received a reprint of sorts, a catalog titled Russia's Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones, including twenty-two of the photographs from the earlier album. But the four images in question were not included in the 1925 catalog: an emerald necklace, a sapphire and diamond bracelet, a bow-shaped sapphire and diamond brooch, and a nine-sapphire tiara designed of elegant semicircular shapes that dangle drop diamonds.

Because the only known copy of the 1922 album is in the Kunz Collection, no one up until this point had known of the four "new" imperial objects. Subsequently, research has shown that the brooch was purchased at a London sale in 1927. At the time of the USGS announcement about its find, the location of the other jewels was not known.


A Museum Manifesto

Orhan Pamuk outside his own Museum of Innocence. (Photo courtesy The Museum of Innocence)

Orhan Pamuk outside his own Museum of Innocence. (Photo courtesy The Museum of Innocence)

In October, your editor's eye was caught by Getty Museum education specialist Peter Tokofsky's response to Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk's "A Modest Manifesto for Museums." As someone who loves museums, I found Pamuk's declaration particularly apt to an instance here in Denver. While none of what follows involves gemstone museums and collections specifically, some of the ideas Pamuk raises could be considered in that light.  

When Orhan Pamuk left Istanbul and explored, as he puts it, "the backstreets of European cities," he became intrigued by their smaller museums, in contrast to those of his home city that were mainly "historical monuments" on the one hand, and "places with an air of a government office" on the other. If the powerhouse museums such as the Louvre and the Prado can be likened to the nations for which they have become symbols, Pamuk posits, the smaller museums can be seen as individuals, accessibly so. He warns against patterning future museums on the tourist destinations of the past. Rather, smaller museums not only remove much of the factors of intimidation and underwriting, they "tell stories on a human scale."

In Denver we have a little jewel in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, named the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. Therein is its conundrum. First and foremost, it is homage to its namesake, Vance Kirkland (1904–1981), whose career virtually tells the story of painting in the twentieth century, having begun with "designed" realism, moving seamlessly into surrealism, on to "hard edge" abstraction, and then to the abstract expressionism and his iconic "dot" paintings that can be seen inside museums and other public venues around Denver. (Kirkland also had the condition called synesthesia, which we touched on briefly in March; see "Emerald City and the Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes.") But the Kirkland also is a Museum of Decorative Art, housed in Kirkland's home/studio and art school building as well as an adjunct building only completed in 2002. All of this is jammed full of not only Kirkland's work, but furniture, ceramics, metalware, tableware, glassware, and much more. Ironically, the Kirkland, which ostensibly exists on Orhan Pamuk's "human scale" at five thousand square feet, is a claustrophobe's nightmare. Perhaps to remedy that, exactly three months ago today, ground was broken on a new, 38,500-square-foot museum; the studio and school will be moved to the new site in the Golden Triangle Museum District that includes the Denver Art Museum and Clifford Still Museum. But if Kirkland's work and life already are diluted now, what of the new arrangement? Hopefully there's an opportunity to use the decorative (and visual) arts to place Kirkland in context without overwhelming the viewer. 

The last item in Orhan Pamuk's eleven-point manifesto reads, "The future of museums is inside our own homes." The tenth critiques the "monumental buildings that dominate neighborhoods and entire cities," claiming that our humanity is not engendered thereby but rather quashed. "Instead, we need modest museums that honor the neighborhoods and streets and the homes and shops nearby, and turn them into elements of their exhibitions." Food for thought.


Arusha Gem Fair: April 19–21, 2016

Next year's Arusha Gem Fair will be held April 19–21 in Arusha, Tanzania. Last year more than 300 buyers from 25 countries attended, 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 two rare collectable gems, a chrysoberyl from India and a spessartite from Nigeria.

Our first featured stone may be hard to sight-ID at first, because this particular color is quite unique for the chrysoberyl family. This 15.13-carat gem shines with an intense, almost neon-like greenish-yellow hue. Pala International's Bill Larson has had this stashed away since he purchased it in the 1970s from the deposit in Orissa, India. Exceptional color, size, and cut from the locality.

Chrysoberyl from Orissa, India, 15.13 carats, 17.99 x 14.75 x 7.55 mm. Inventory #22929. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Chrysoberyl from Orissa, India, 15.13 carats, 17.99 x 14.75 x 7.55 mm. Inventory #22929. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

 

Our second featured stone seems to become increasingly rare as time goes on, and its Nigerian deposit has long since dried up. This exquisite 7.54-carat precision-cut round is hitting on all marks for a fine spessartite garnet. Ten years ago there appeared to be plenty of fine spessartites from Nigeria on the market, but now it seems hard to find a nice one over 5 carats. Many spessartites have popped up out of the Tanzania deposit, but they just don't seem to have the flawless clarity like these, now classic, ones from Nigeria do.

Spessartine garnet from Nigeria, 7.54 carats, 10.61 x 10.59 x 7.81 mm. Inventory #22852. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Spessartine garnet from Nigeria, 7.54 carats, 10.61 x 10.59 x 7.81 mm. Inventory #22852. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Gem and Gemology News

A Research Collection of Natural Pearls

An article by Ana Vasiliu

After a good couple of years of hoarding samples of natural pearls—there is a paper trail of my work in older Pala International newsletters—it is high time to put the pile in order as a bona fide research collection. (See last December's "Pearls Revisited"and its accompanying slide show; 2012's "White Flames Anonymous"; and 2011's "BioMineralix Studies the Nacre of the Beast.")

The Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra—IACT (Granada)—has made available an appropriate cupboard, and gave me a short year to make sense of these pearls for filing purposes, and write the labels—preferably the kind that will give some sense of what is to be expected from natural pearls, and invite future use of the collection. Inasmuch, the impending labels ought to be fairly hefty records connected to current research. The job sure does have a certain ring to it, and a hell of a caveat: the pearl files already drafted look not unlike this:

Shell in Pearls. Poster presented at the XIIIth International Symposium on Biomineralization (BiominXIII), Granada, September 2015. The title is a play on words: the poster shows some of the more interesting modifications of shell materials deposited as natural pearls, but not the standard types. Even so, a classical feature of natural pearls—their "onion" layers often visible in the tomography used in pearl gemology—is quite visible, in intricate detail. (Click for PDF)

Shell in Pearls. Poster presented at the XIIIth International Symposium on Biomineralization (BiominXIII), Granada, September 2015. The title is a play on words: the poster shows some of the more interesting modifications of shell materials deposited as natural pearls, but not the standard types. Even so, a classical feature of natural pearls—their "onion" layers often visible in the tomography used in pearl gemology—is quite visible, in intricate detail. (Click for PDF)

Admittedly, the poster was meant as a prop for water-cooler chatter on natural pearls, with the present authors of cited references; it served its purpose. A stand-alone publication needs meat on the bone.

Of course, pearls will be destroyed for the record. Details, which are often mentioned as a signature of natural pearls in gemological circles, stand out as changes of shell structure in pearls (hence the poster title); the onion layers of classical pearls, and the subtle changes in the early mineralization associated with grafting are major targets of investigation. The fine detail required to compare natural pearl nucleation and growth with shell—as it is studied today—cannot be accessible for the kinder, non-destructive gemological investigations. This resolution gap will be there, a chore of interpretation.

There is a price to pay for destruction: quarrying through natural pearl shards—often as complex as any interesting geological formation, if on a dinky scale—takes time, hence such work can only make so many victims… More pearls are always better, as the say: "experts are only as good as the sum total of what they have seen" (Souren Melikian, from the New York Times). Of the immense variety of natural pearls, some samples simply bring in that much more news. There are obvious gaps in the current holdings and new work usually calls for more. The mail often contains pearls—the hunt for academically illuminating samples does have its appeal... These are the easy calls that I already know to make; calls for samples do get answered, be it a week, a season or years later, when the right material happens to happen. The hard calls are those I do not know I ought to be making, and I am hoping to see ever more unexpected pearls while the catalogue of the collection expands and records are published.

My best pearls are new pearls, especially accompanied by the field experience of their first owners. Many pearls received from such primary sources will be thoroughly destroyed, with exhaustive documentation. The kind of pearls shown in the poster make great reference to recognizing difficult details of the classically beautiful, and to track the "perfect storm" of events at the origin of pearls.

The flow of notes is only now getting good enough to write up: hence, the coming year of pearls will get blogged. [Editor's Note: Pala International is providing Ana Vasiliu with her own blog on Palagems.com.]

My first paper on natural pearls received open access status courtesy of GIA's Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library; it will be available from the publisher's website and from the Library early next year; it is provisionally accessible here. [Editor's Note: We published the abstract of this paper in our June 2015 edition.]


Ex Libris GIA

When your editor was in high school in the early 1970s, in Boulder, Colorado, a teacher offered a course titled Patterns of the Future. Our "textbook" was Alvin Toffler's classic Future Shock (as in "too much change in too short a period of time"). But we looked at the past and present as well, reading Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward and B. F. Skinner's Walden Two. Near the end of our course we were asked to envision our own future world. I don't remember much of what I wrote, but I do remember conjuring a sort of stripped-down version of the Internet. I had never touched a computer; that was for those nerds who played chess and wrote pi out to the gazillionth digit. I didn't foresee the Internet's connectivity, but I figured at some point, all of human knowledge surely would be accessible at the press of a power button. And here we are.

Quilatador de la Plata, Oro, y Piedras (Assayer of Silver, Gold, and Stones) by Juan de Arfe y Villafañe, 1572. 

Quilatador de la Plata, Oro, y Piedras (Assayer of Silver, Gold, and Stones) by Juan de Arfe y Villafañe, 1572. 

John Sinkankas: the third book contains "some of the earliest reliable, detailed information on weighing, sizing, and valuing precious gems."

John Sinkankas: the third book contains "some of the earliest reliable, detailed information on weighing, sizing, and valuing precious gems."

Helping us achieve this end, GIA plans to digitize one hundred of its rarest books each year, making them accessible via Archive.org, the Internet Archive. The books come from GIA's Cartier Rare Book Repository and Archives and have been lovingly imaged in the institution's Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library and Information Center by a spine-saving BC100 Book capture system.

In Lorenzo Pignoria's Vetustissimae tabulae aeneae sacris Aegyptiorum simulachris coelatae accurata explicatio..., published in 1605, the author examines the meaning of what now is known as the Bembine Table using, in part, engraved gemstones loaned to him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. Peiresc, in turn, hand colored his copy of this page to reflect the stones' actual hues, as noted by Peter N. Miller.

In Lorenzo Pignoria's Vetustissimae tabulae aeneae sacris Aegyptiorum simulachris coelatae accurata explicatio..., published in 1605, the author examines the meaning of what now is known as the Bembine Table using, in part, engraved gemstones loaned to him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. Peiresc, in turn, hand colored his copy of this page to reflect the stones' actual hues, as noted by Peter N. Miller.

The Liddicoat Library's holdings span more than five hundred years. One hundred one titles already are in GIA's Archive.org collection. Here are some of the highlights selected by the staff:

  • Pliny's Natural History (1496): Naturalis Historia, by Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE), is one of the earliest and most celebrated academic treatises of all time. Its content dates back to 77 CE and was considered the foundation of all science until the Renaissance. It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire.
  • Marbode's Book of Precious Stones (1511): Marbode (1035–1123), Bishop of Rennes, originally wrote this manuscript in the form of a 742-line poem between 1061 and 1081, and only 100 copies are known to have been made. This edition of his treatise, called a lapidary, was the first Marbode work printed using Gutenberg's process of movable metal type.
  • Haüy's Treatise of Mineralogy (1801), in five volumes + atlas: René Just Haüy (1742–1822) was an ordained priest, botanist and mineralogist. His genius lay in his ability to describe the laws that govern the structure of crystals. After accidentally dropping a calcite crystal, Haüy observed its crystal shape from the broken pieces. His curiosity led him to study minerals and create a system to indicate the different faces of crystals. Haüy's law is known as the law of rational indices.
  • Sowerby's British Mineralogy (1804–1817), in five volumes: James Sowerby (1757–1852) documented the minerals of Great Britain and drew hundreds of specimens. These images were printed using copper plates and then were hand-colored. Sowerby published his illustrations as periodicals sold by subscription. They were later compiled and sold in sets—fewer than 100 complete sets exist today.
  • Proby's British Mineralogy (1840): Victorian gentlewoman, Martha Proby (1783–1864), created this two-volume set of commonplace books based on Sowerby’s work. Proby meticulously hand-copied selections and illustrated her books with original watercolor paintings, making this set truly one-of-a-kind.
  • Frémy's Synthesis of Ruby (1891): The work of Edmond Frémy (1814–1894), a French chemist and professor, is documented and beautifully illustrated in this book. Frémy's interest in synthetic crystal growth led to his groundbreaking work with Auguste Verneuil in growing synthetic rubies using the flux technique.
Red Oxide of Copper. From Martha Proby's British Mineralogy (1840). In her text she gives the locality of this specimen as Cornwall.

Red Oxide of Copper. From Martha Proby's British Mineralogy (1840). In her text she gives the locality of this specimen as Cornwall.

Industry News

Burma Bits

Kachin Landslide Kills Scores

Through December 19. This past summer, six photographers examined Burma's extractive industries sector. They looked at oil drilling near the Irrawaddy River, followed up on a copper mine protest crackdown, and traced the black market in jade. Unearth is the result, and it is the backdrop to Burma's first report to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is to be issued by the end of this month, as reported by The Irrawaddy. The report is being eagerly awaited by the likes of Spectrum, a local transparency group, per Myanmar Times.

Through December 19. This past summer, six photographers examined Burma's extractive industries sector. They looked at oil drilling near the Irrawaddy River, followed up on a copper mine protest crackdown, and traced the black market in jade. Unearth is the result, and it is the backdrop to Burma's first report to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is to be issued by the end of this month, as reported by The Irrawaddy. The report is being eagerly awaited by the likes of Spectrum, a local transparency group, per Myanmar Times.

At about 3:00 a.m. Saturday, November 21, a landslide near a mine in Kachin State killed scores of people. It was a mine "dump" that collapsed. Given the hour, many of the people—jade miners—were asleep in huts when the ground gave way, as reported by The Irrawaddy and other news sources. On November 24, The Irrawaddy reported that two hundred more miners, living nearby, had been told to move immediately.

On Wednesday, November 25, the search for bodies ended, with 113 confirmed dead, but with about a hundred more unaccounted for, per Associated Press. AP reported that the mine dump was two hundred feet tall, and smothered seventy makeshift huts filled with itinerant workers who scavenge jade. The families of seventy-two victims were being offered compensation, according to a Kachin State minister. But the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), which has long campaigned for jade mining reforms, urged the relatives to reject the offer, according to Myanmar Times. The group said it would contact the mine operator directly to discuss increased compensation and improved safety. On November 26, Myanmar Times wrote that KDNG had submitted a complaint against operator Tit Thone Lone Company, whose tailings pile collapsed.

On December 1, Myanmar Times reported that recovery of bodies still was underway, and that meanwhile three cracks had been seen in another tailings pile, according to MP U Khet Stain Nan. He also complained that the practices that led to the disaster had been destroying the environment for more than forty years. In 2011, he had proposed sustainable mining practices; last year he proposed allowing local residents to work in jade mining on a long-term basis. But both proposals were tabled due to fighting in Hpakant. Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability pointed out that existing laws just need enforcement. (The Irrawaddy reported on MATA and others' environmental concerns on November 26.) The Ministry of Mines said that safety rules need not be upgraded since mining companies are not breaking the law, according to Myanmar Times on November 26. This was contradicted by Kachin's Environmental Conservation Department. For her part, MP Aung San Suu Kyi blamed "no rule of law" and a "lack of consideration for the safety of people's life and property," as reported by The Irrawaddy. A National League for Democracy spokesperson said on November 24 that it planned to tighten safety controls at the jade mines, according to a Reuters story. On December 3, the chief minister of Kachin State told jade mining operators to dispose of mine waste under the watch of local residents, according to Myanmar Times, reversing course on a previous statement that it had no plans to improve safety. On December 7, Parliament pledged a safety review, per The Irrawaddy.

An undated post-landslide story by Eleven Media stated that 130 people had been killed and that there had been thirty-six landslides in Hpakant so far this year. More than 300 civil society organizations urged the government to take action against those responsible. Eleven reported elsewhere that on November 16, more than forty residents in Hpakant signed a petition against jade mining operations that dump soil into Ever Lake. The mining companies agreed to dump away from the lake, but within a week more waste was dumped in the lake, which is in danger of disappearing.

Other Hpakant locals bypassed petitioning, forming a roadblock to keep trucks from dumping mine waste in local villages, as reported by The Irrawaddy yesterday. One resident said more than a hundred trucks had come to dump. Others said the trucks had no license plates. The amount of waste transport is unprecedented, leading one observer to wonder whether the five hundred jade mining companies in the area are boosting production ahead of the installation of the new government.

The November 21 landslide slowed trade in Hpakant, according to Democratic Voice of Burma, November 26. Even before the disaster, business was on the wane, with jade prices in Kachin State falling as much as seventy percent, Myanmar Times reported on Friday, November 13. The culprit was a Chinese government crackdown on value-added jade for which tax had not been paid previously.

Myanmar miners continue to risk their lives despite a deadly landslide in search of precious jade stones. Julie Noce reports for Reuters.

Mogok Slow-Go

As mentioned above, jade prices have plummeted in Hpakant. But the demand for rubies also is off, according to a November 18 story by Myanmar Times. The ruby trade in Mogok is so sluggish, some miners have moved to quartz mines in Tanai township, Kachin State. Slow growth in China is thought to be a factor.

Five days later, Myanmar Times reported that Mandalay gem traders were hopeful that the new government would grant more mining operation licenses to local companies. Large companies that dominate operations sell directly to the gem emporium, bypassing the local markets, said Mogok trader Ko Kyaw Soe.

And yet, a mining bill has been introduced that would open up that sector to more foreign investment, which some say would cause small local businesses to fail, according to Myanmar Times on November 27.

Emporium Shows "Overall Resilience"

While the gemstone-producing regions may be seeing a downturn, the gem emporium held December 7–13 showed "overall resilience," as reported by The Irrawaddy on December 10. Nearly as many jade lots this year (6,826) were offered as last year (6,982).

SHE-Smith Project Projected

Silver and stone brooches like this fund Akhaya Women. Someday they will be fashioned by those of the group's namesake. (Photo courtesy Akhaya Women)

Silver and stone brooches like this fund Akhaya Women. Someday they will be fashioned by those of the group's namesake. (Photo courtesy Akhaya Women)

There is a tradition in Burma (as elsewhere?) that women are not suited to the trade of smithing silver and gold. Civil society organization Akhaya Women wants to change all that. This month, the group received help—from a man. Austrian artist and photographer Christian Hainzl has spent five years in Burma, and during the first weekend in December he hosted an exhibition of his work to benefit Akhaya Women's project to help poor women become silversmiths. (The organization is known for its Whistle for Help campaign against sexual harassment on public transportation.) Ironically, the group's funding heretofore has come from the sale of silver jewelry crafted only by men. Akhaya Women's director, Ma Htar Htar, met Hainzl through their daughters; he is a senior United Nations Development Programme official. Hainzl decided to help her through his own artistry with his exhibition titled The Future is Here and Now. Ma Htar Htar will choose five women without a regular income but who have the ability to commit to the training.

Bite-Sized Bits

Stacks upon stacks. Hong Kong is famous for its cemeteries, where the dead crowd the living for limited space, as noted in a December 4 story in The Irrawaddy. But remember our story in September about memorial diamonds? It's an option being offered by one funeral service in Hong Kong, via a South Korean laboratory. Even though many Chinese feel human remains, in whatever form, can attract spirits, the space shortage may eventually trump tradition.

Stacks upon stacks. Hong Kong is famous for its cemeteries, where the dead crowd the living for limited space, as noted in a December 4 story in The Irrawaddy. But remember our story in September about memorial diamonds? It's an option being offered by one funeral service in Hong Kong, via a South Korean laboratory. Even though many Chinese feel human remains, in whatever form, can attract spirits, the space shortage may eventually trump tradition.

  • Myanmar Times: Jade mining company tries hand at Yangon real estate
  • The Irrawaddy: Caterpillar disputes illicit jade ties
  • Myanmar Times: Global Witness shines another spotlight
  • Myanmar Times: Former minister denies Global Witness's previous report
  • The Irrawaddy and DVB: Obama administration to ease some sanctions on firm with roots in drug trade as a boost to Burma's opposition party
  • Bloomberg: Other bans remain in place

Special Feature

Wyoming Jades Revisited

An article by Roger Merk

Roger Merk, left, with Pala International's Bill Larson, at this year's Sinkankas Symposium  speakers dinner.

Roger Merk, left, with Pala International's Bill Larson, at this year's Sinkankas Symposium  speakers dinner.

Pala International is pleased to publish the following article on Wyoming jades by the late Roger Merk. We're grateful to his family for granting us permission to share it with our readers. Roger prepared the article in the summer of 2015, not long before he died. It is a fitting testament to his enthusiasm for a subject that he held dear.

The history of Wyoming jade (nephrite) is very short. There are many urban legends that describe how Chinese railroad laborers discovered Wyoming jade in the late 1800s and sent this fine-grained nephrite back to China. Bob Frey conveyed to me that while he lived in Hong Kong he saw many Chinese jades, carved during the Victorian era, in shops that appeared to be carved from Wyoming jade.

Jade, the Wyoming State gemstone, was first described in the Granite Mountains area of central Wyoming in 1936. Much exploration followed right after the publication in February 1945 of Popular Science containing a short article titled "'Green Gold': How prospectors are finding a fortune in boulders of high-grade American green jade." The most intense jade exploration and mining activity occurred there between about 1940 and 1960.

This twelve pound slick boulder of "apple green" jade was found by a sheep herder in 1948. This boulder is precisely what caused the jade hunters to flock to Wyoming after World War II and search for "Green Gold." Unfortunately very few jades found were of this caliber. Ben Nott of San Francisco owned this beauty for about 50 years, but sold it at the 2013 Big Sur Jade Festival. (Photo: Robert Weldon)

This twelve pound slick boulder of "apple green" jade was found by a sheep herder in 1948. This boulder is precisely what caused the jade hunters to flock to Wyoming after World War II and search for "Green Gold." Unfortunately very few jades found were of this caliber. Ben Nott of San Francisco owned this beauty for about 50 years, but sold it at the 2013 Big Sur Jade Festival. (Photo: Robert Weldon)

By the mid-1960s, beautiful green, inexpensive British Columbian nephrite came on the North American market and destroyed the more expensive Wyoming jades. From the mid-1960s to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there was very little interest in Wyoming jade. Following the 2008 Olympics, a large BC jade Buddha was carved for a small monastery in Australia and the demand for nephrite increased significantly. Concurrently, nephrite carving from Santa Barbara, California to British Columbia increased significantly and was showcased at the annual Big Sur Jade Festival. All these events resulted in a shortage of top quality nephrite being offered for sale. A few jade dealers began bringing more varieties of the best Wyoming jades to the Big Sur Jade Festival, so in the last ten years there has been a revival of interest in these jades.

Above is a 3-inch pendant carved by Peter Schilling from Edward's claim Wyoming black jade with some of the rind shown. (Photo: Robert Weldon)

Above is a 3-inch pendant carved by Peter Schilling from Edward's claim Wyoming black jade with some of the rind shown. (Photo: Robert Weldon)

My interest began in the early 1980s and continues to fascinate me. I make several buying trips to Wyoming annually. One side note: for the past 40-plus years I have looked for a Wyoming jade carved Indian artifact. I have purchased dozens of pieces promised to me as Wyoming jade arrows, for example, but was disappointed with all. The majority of these "Wyoming jade arrowheads" were formed from a greenish chert common in the area. I am almost certain that there are no Wyoming jade artifacts due to difficulty in forming this material with primitive tools.

This article is meant to show the many color varieties of beautiful green to olive green, to some that are almost black as well as the many pattern jades. In addition, a few of the carvings being produced by Western carvers will be shown.

Read more »


— End December Newsletter • Published 12/15/15 —


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.