December 2015 Newsletter
Table of Contents
Shows and Events
- Tucson Time: February 2–14, 2016
- Fabergé: From a Snowflake to an Iceberg
- A Museum Manifesto
- Arusha Gem Fair: April 19–21, 2016
Pala International News
Gem and Gemology News
- Burma Bits
- Wyoming Jades Revisited
An article by Roger Merk
Editor: David Hughes
Shows and Events
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.
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.
15th Annual Westward Look Mineral Show
February 5-8, 2016
Westward Look Resort
Suite 224, Building 20, Upper Level
Pala International and three dozen other world-class mineral dealers shack up at the Sonoran Desert resort.
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
TGMS is the largest gem and mineral show in the country. This year's theme is "Shades of Blue: Minerals of the World."
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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
Pala's Featured Gemstones
This month we feature two rare collectable gems, a chrysoberyl from India and a spessartite from Nigeria.
Chrysoberyl from India
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.
Spessartite from Nigeria
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Kachin Landslide Kills Scores
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.
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
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.
- 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
Wyoming Jades Revisited
An article by Roger Merk
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.
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.
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.
— 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.