contact us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right.

912 Live Oak Park Rd South
Fallbrook, CA, 92028
United States

+1 (760) 728-9121

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

January 2016

January 2016 Newsletter

Vintage Valentine. This ad, from the archives of Pala International's sibling enterprise, reminds us of how much we treasure the clients who have supported us over the decades. Thank you! 

Vintage Valentine. This ad, from the archives of Pala International's sibling enterprise, reminds us of how much we treasure the clients who have supported us over the decades. Thank you! 

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.

Harvard Comes to Tucson

This just in… For more information on this exhibition, contact the UA Mineral Museum.

The Mineralogical & Geological Museum at Harvard University (MGMH) is an internationally renowned archive of geological and mineralogical specimens, an Earth Archive. The specimens figured in American Mineral Heritage are a fine selection from the collection, which dates back to 1784 and provides a glimpse into the superb quality and breadth of mineral species in the museum's collection. As well, the strong history and holdings of the museum's New England, New Jersey and Arizona collections are presented. Also highlighted is how the MGMH's archive of specimens, including rare and type species entrusted into the care of the museum, has led to hundreds of research publications linked to its internationally known repository of specimens. This Ivy-League Spectacle demonstrates that after nearly 230 years of growth and use of the collection, with the aid of generous donations of notable mineralogical and geological specimens and collections, the MGMH collection continues to play a key role in the advancement of mineralogy and earth sciences.


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 GemFair also offers a CAD Design Studio whereby buyers can work with designers to craft a computer-assisted design drawing and/or wax mold for a new creation. The studio is located on the GemHall Floor.

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 11–14, 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.


Paris Museum Gives Visitors the Royal Treatment

Readers of last year's three-part series, "Avarice and Alienation," which looked at prospective sales of the Russian crown jewels, will be interested that the imperial jewels in France actually were auctioned off in 1887. Just as it would be felt necessary during the First Republic to replace the "sacred measures" of the so-called imperial system with the metric system, during the Third Republic the crown jewels, as vestiges of monarchy, also had to go. (See "A Defence of Sacred Measures" by John Michell regarding the former issue.) Fortunately for the 21st-century French public and visitors to Paris, at the time of the sale a parcel of colored gemstones from the crown collection was given to the Imperial School of Mines. Also receiving such donations were the Louvre and the Muséum national d'Histoire Naturelle. These donations were made with the understanding that the jewels "were important from a historic or mineralogical point of view," according to a news release from the school, now known as MINES ParisTech. The crown jewels have a history dating back nearly five hundred years.

Nine days ago, the MINES ParisTech Mineralogy Museum placed on permanent display three new exhibition cases devoted to Gems from the French Crown Jewels. Per its news release: "This permanent exhibit, partially sponsored by the Maison Riondet, will showcase suites of pink topazes and amethysts from the ornaments of the Empress Marie-Louise, as well as emeralds from the Imperial Crown of Napoléon III." The new exhibition joins the existing display of more than 4,500 minerals, gems, meteorites and rocks, culled from a larger collection of almost 100,000 pieces representing nearly three thousand species from around the world. Merci to our good friend Eloïse Gaillou, Associate Curator of the Museum, who notified us of the new display!

Rubis brésiliens. These gemstones were acquired by Napoléon Bonaparte to create an ornament of "Brazilian Rubies"—pink topazes from Minas Gerais—for Empress Marie-Louise. (Photo: © MINES ParisTech – A. Stenger)

Rubis brésiliens. These gemstones were acquired by Napoléon Bonaparte to create an ornament of "Brazilian Rubies"—pink topazes from Minas Gerais—for Empress Marie-Louise. (Photo: © MINES ParisTech – A. Stenger)

About the 1887 Crown Jewels Sale

A New York Times report from the French capital, datelined January 29 the year of the sale, stated, "The crown jewels will be sold from May 5 to 10. Nothing will go very high except the diamonds, for which large orders at almost unlimited rates have already been given. […] People buy precious stones when everything else fails." Another Times article, datelined March 30, reported that "the French crown diamonds are really to be put up at public sale. White posters, official posters—for, be it known, no posters which are not official can be printed on white paper in this land of liberty—huge pale placards, announce urbi et orbi that on the 12th of May next will be scattered over the earth those treasures which France's monarchs had carefully collected during centuries. It is the final liquidation of royalty, a sort of sale after decease, when the auctioneer's mallet will ring on the tables of the Hôtel Drouot like the hammer of the undertaker on a coffin lid."

On April 20, an exhibition of the jewels opened at the Louvre, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. "The palace was thronged with visitors, mainly ladies. No one was allowed to stop and admire the jewels, but persons who were regarded as possible purchasers could obtain orders for a private view. The rooms in which the jewels are displayed are beautifully draped. Orders from America, especially from the wives of United States Senators, indicate the probable destination of the greater part of the jewels."

Four days later, the New York Times reported that a catalog of the jewels had been issued. "The most celebrated of all the diamonds are those called the 'Mazarins'" after the powerful Cardinal-Duke of Rethel, Mayenne and Nevers, Giulio Raimondo Mazzarino. For years, Cardinal Mazarin acted as co-regent with Anne of Austria, mother to the minor Louis XIV, to whom Mazarin bequeathed his famous diamonds. "In the catalogue there are seven diamonds thus designated" Mazarins, "the largest weighing 28 7-16 carats, the smallest 16 carats." The writer doubted whether all the Mazarins would be sold or, indeed, whether some were even still in the State Treasury. "At the time of the first revolution," 1789–1799, "an entrance was made into the Garde Meuble and precious stones, valued then at $5,000,000, were stolen."

The French government's American agents for the sale were the Messrs. Tiffany & Co. of New York. Forty-eight lots were listed in the catalog. The Times reporter singled out the following: "If diamonds are in profusion so are emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. Pearls are innumerable. The most famous are to be found in lot No. 42, a brooch mounted with pearls and diamonds. There are in this brooch four pearls as pendants, each one weighing 100 grains, and a huge central one four times as big, which is known as 'la Régente.' A pearl diadem decorated with diamonds has 478 pearls, which weigh 3,432 grains. One parure of pearls, consisting of various charms, bracelets, and clasps, has in it over a thousand pearls, which weigh 21,700 grains."

Check. Another classic locality is represented by these emerald from Muzo, Colombia. The emeralds, about 1 carat each,  are from the coronation crown of Napoléon III, made by Lemonnier in 1855. (Photo: © MINES ParisTech – A. Stenger)

Check. Another classic locality is represented by these emerald from Muzo, Colombia. The emeralds, about 1 carat each,  are from the coronation crown of Napoléon III, made by Lemonnier in 1855. (Photo: © MINES ParisTech – A. Stenger)

Regarding colored stones: No. 27, Diadem, Emeralds, and Brilliants—1,031 brilliants, 1,076 carats; 40 emeralds, 77 carats. No. 34, One Bertha [a type of collar]—581 brilliants, 185 7/8 carats; 27 rubies, 18 1/8 carats; 15 sapphires, 11 1/8 carats; 35 emeralds, 25 carats; 29 hyacinths, 46 garnets, 41 turquoises, 48 amethysts, 2 chrysoprase, 10 topazes, 765 rose diamonds.

No. 38 was a grab bag of jewelry and headwear consisting of 3,837 brilliants weighing 568 3/16 carats, and 66 sapphires averaging nearly 12 carats apiece. No. 45 was similar, but with rubies, 399 in all weighing an average of 1 carat each.

Violaceous. These rare purple gems come from an ornament made with 235 amethysts crafted by François-Regnault Nitot in 1811 for the Empress Marie-Louise, second wife of Napoléon Bonaparte. Louis XVIII had the ornaments undone to reuse some of the gems; the rest were kept in the collection of the French crown jewels. In 1887, the majority of the unmounted amethysts were given to the School of Mines and twelve were deposited in the National Museum of Natural History. These gemstones likely come from the Ural Mountains region of Russia. (Photo: © MINES ParisTech – A. Stenger)

Violaceous. These rare purple gems come from an ornament made with 235 amethysts crafted by François-Regnault Nitot in 1811 for the Empress Marie-Louise, second wife of Napoléon Bonaparte. Louis XVIII had the ornaments undone to reuse some of the gems; the rest were kept in the collection of the French crown jewels. In 1887, the majority of the unmounted amethysts were given to the School of Mines and twelve were deposited in the National Museum of Natural History. These gemstones likely come from the Ural Mountains region of Russia. (Photo: © MINES ParisTech – A. Stenger)

In the end, the sale was depicted as somewhat of a dud by the snooty New York Times Paris correspondent in a story datelined May 24. "The Crown jewels have fetched a fair price, and seven millions [presumably of francs] fully represent their market value, for, as I have already written, finer specimens can be obtained by persons minded to pay enough at any of the great jewelers' shops in London or Paris or Amsterdam; but their value resulting from association cannot be estimated, and it is surprising that so little desire for their acquisition should have been manifested […]. Never at any moment, either before or during the sale, has there been as much interest exhibited nor was competition as lively as when Sarah Bernhardt's creditors came down upon her paraphernalia and scattered the gewgaws of that crazy actress to the four corners of Paris, at the Hôtel Drouot, where the realization of any well known private individual's assets will always collect together a more elegant assembly of intending purchasers than was seen in the Pavillon de Flore. In the foreign sense of the terms, not a dozen gentlemen or ladies ever graced the Pavillon de Flore with their presence from the 12th to the 23d of May. Tradesmen and newspaper reporters only were on hand, and from the outset it was apparent that dealers would have it all their own way and that the arrangement made were such, as they always are at every French auction, that outside barbarians, meaning those not belonging to the guild, should be carefully excluded."

More emeralds from Muzo. This string of emerald beads entered the French Crown Jewel collection between the inventory of 1791 and that of 1811. The gems most likely come from the seizures during the revolutionary period. Emerald beads were rarely created at that time, and contribute to the extraordinary character of this necklace. (Photo: © MINES ParisTech – A. Stenger)

More emeralds from Muzo. This string of emerald beads entered the French Crown Jewel collection between the inventory of 1791 and that of 1811. The gems most likely come from the seizures during the revolutionary period. Emerald beads were rarely created at that time, and contribute to the extraordinary character of this necklace. (Photo: © MINES ParisTech – A. Stenger)

The reporter went on to say that the dealers attending did so only to be able to say that they had. "The million paid on Friday by Messrs. Tiffany has done more to insure their reputation than did those exquisite specimens of goldsmith's work which won such well merited eulogium from all connoisseurs at the Exposition of 1878." Continuing, "There were several reasons for the abstention of gentlemen and ladies; one was that gentlemen and ladies dislike to be jostled about by vulgar people, and most of the people at the Pavillon de Flore were horribly vulgar; another was an unwillingness to be known as coveter after things of which they profess to blame the 'sacrifice,' the same feeling, in short, as actuated aristocratic purchasers of confiscated church property which they took from the middleman, 'only to save it from sacrilegious hands, firmly purposing its restoration,' &c., well knowing all the while that as the laws on mortmain [ecclesiastical ownership] are not likely to be modified, and the monarchist pretenders still likely to get back, their possession will become definite; but the main reason for abstention was, I repeat, dread of the Black Band, and so few of the swells came to the fore bodily, preferring payment of a commission to foul odors and uncongenial, if short, associations." Whew!

One last jab: "The great sale closed without a single incident save a strike for higher wages by the criers, who declined to accept the 10f. per diem offered by the domanial administration and propose the airing of their grievances in the newspapers."


Glitterati at Denver Art Museum

Remember when… stamps cost 10¢ less? Madonna and Child with Bird, Ignacio Chacón, Peru, ca. 1765, oil paint and gold on canvas. Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of Engracia Freyer Dougherty.

Remember when… stamps cost 10¢ less? Madonna and Child with Bird, Ignacio Chacón, Peru, ca. 1765, oil paint and gold on canvas. Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of Engracia Freyer Dougherty.

On New Year's Eve, your editor took in several exhibits at the Denver Art Museum, and all, coincidentally, are the product of, or the subject of, the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, now known as North America. While one in particular will be of interest to colored gemstone lovers, I'll briefly mention each exhibit, moving backwards in time beginning with the present—well, sort of.

¶Virgil Ortiz, through his series Revolt 1680/2180, takes us to what he calls the "first American Revolution" of 1680, when nineteen Native American pueblos rebelled against Spanish occupiers. Ortiz is from the Cochiti Pueblo in northwest New Mexico and was taught the pueblo's pottery technique by his mother, but his imagery spans centuries, being instantly recognizable as both traditional and, in the end, of the twenty-second century. He already has ventured into fashion design (pottery shoulder bag, anyone?); we hope jewelry will be next. ¶The six works by native artists, Strong Statements, is just that: polemical messages delivered through the medium of fine art. ¶Mexican painter Gunther Gerzso (1915–2000) had less than a dozen pieces in his cameo exhibition, which ended Jan. 3. His oils on masonite are small but exquisite, with catalog reproductions doing them no service. His "Southern Queen," the most evocative of the group, recalls Meso-American pyramids, birch bark wigwams, cliff dwellings and, well, pueblos. Gerzso called these paintings "landscapes of the spirit," and my own was uplifted as I looked. ¶As a teenager I was introduced to the Indian series of painter/printmaker Fritz Scholder (1937–2005) by the Apr/May 1971 edition of the United Methodist Church journal, motive, which was sandbagged the next year for its radical brand of Christianity. The DAM exhibit Super Indian presents its own radical selections from that series (1967–1980) in all their iconoclastic glory: a big, black Buffalo Dancer with a pink ice cream cone; an Indian decked out in cowboy shirt, concho-banded cowboy hat, turquoise bracelet, but also with (gasp) a can of Coors beer; the defiance and rippling abs of "Indian Power." It's a little of Andy Warhol (who did his own series six years later), a lot of Francis Bacon (the smeared stares), punctuated by Scholder's gripping grins. ¶German-American artists Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings met in Chicago and studied in Munich before being lured by a benefactor to Taos in 1914 and 1917 respectively, where their subjects were the people and panorama of the Pueblo. According to the promo for their show, A Place in the Sun, Ufer was a loudmouth, and his work is somewhat expressionistic; Hennings was quiet, his work being painstakingly detailed, yet painterly. ¶Which brings us to Glitterati: Portraits & Jewelry from Colonial Latin America, taking us back where we began.

Cross finial, Colombia or Ecuador, circa 1600. Gold, emeralds, pearls. Denver Art Museum, Gift of the Stapleton Foundation of Latin American Colonial Art made possible by the Renchard family; 1990.526.

Cross finial, Colombia or Ecuador, circa 1600. Gold, emeralds, pearls. Denver Art Museum, Gift of the Stapleton Foundation of Latin American Colonial Art made possible by the Renchard family; 1990.526.

This is an exhibition within an exhibition—drawn from DAM's larger Spanish Colonial collection. As you move through that collection, a visual cue marks the Glitterati paintings and objects, often paired. An interesting aspect of the exhibit is its exploration of adaptations and appropriation of Native forms and materials for colonial use, and vice versa. For instance, the cross, above, which likely would have been placed atop a crown for a religious statue. Examination of its emeralds reveals they were carved with stone tools, having been repurposed for the cross. 

Upper left, pair of tupu pins, Inca, Peru, Chile or Bolivia, 1400–1500, gold. Anonymous gift, 1995.318.1 & 2. Lower left, ttipqui pin, Peru, 1800s, silver-plated copper. Gift of Mrs. LeRoy Schwartz, 1954.156. Right, ttipqui pin, Peru, 1800s, silver. Gift of Dr. Mary Lanius, 2008.844. (Photo: David Hughes)

Upper left, pair of tupu pins, Inca, Peru, Chile or Bolivia, 1400–1500, gold. Anonymous gift, 1995.318.1 & 2. Lower left, ttipqui pin, Peru, 1800s, silver-plated copper. Gift of Mrs. LeRoy Schwartz, 1954.156. Right, ttipqui pin, Peru, 1800s, silver. Gift of Dr. Mary Lanius, 2008.844. (Photo: David Hughes)

Likewise, the tupu and ttipqui pins above, used to fasten garments, were adapted from their Inca heritage. The ttipqui pin in the left foreground employs sun-and-moon imagery with which both the Inca and Spanish would have been conversant. Others could have been fashioned from silver spoons. The pin to the right features a double-headed eagle, reminiscent of the coat of arms of Carlos I of Spain (1500–1558), the display's title card calling it a symbol of the Hapsburg kings.

Even the Virgin Mary, pictured above as a child spinning yarn, is a cultural hybrid. "Her cloak, held together by a circular jewel, recalls both Spanish capes and the Inca lliclla mantle fastened by a ttipqui pin," according to the painting's title card. From Spain, about 1700, oil paint on canvas (detail). Gift of Engracia Freyer Dougherty for the Frank Barrows Freyer Collection; 1969.353. (Photo: David Hughes)

Even the Virgin Mary, pictured above as a child spinning yarn, is a cultural hybrid. "Her cloak, held together by a circular jewel, recalls both Spanish capes and the Inca lliclla mantle fastened by a ttipqui pin," according to the painting's title card. From Spain, about 1700, oil paint on canvas (detail). Gift of Engracia Freyer Dougherty for the Frank Barrows Freyer Collection; 1969.353. (Photo: David Hughes)

Glitterati makes the case for gemstones and precious metals being "so abundant that even women with little money and status bedecked themselves in lavish jewelry" in the Mexico and South America of 16th through 19th centuries. To bolster this notion, the image below is presented of the daughter of an African mother and Spanish father. "Despite holding a lower social standing, the woman wears elaborate jewelry," including several coral rings (not shown).

Manuel de Arellano, Rendering of a Mulatta, Mexico, 1711, oil paint on canvas (detail). Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, TL-24502. (Photo: David Hughes)

Manuel de Arellano, Rendering of a Mulatta, Mexico, 1711, oil paint on canvas (detail). Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, TL-24502. (Photo: David Hughes)

Moving through the larger Spanish Colonial collection, visitors can spot more colored gemstones not highlighted in Glitterati, such as the coronet below with its mysterious blue stone.

Crown, Ecuador/Colombia, 1800–1850, silver, cut stone. Spanish Colonial Silver, gift of the Stapleton Foundation of Latin American Colonial Art, made possible by the Reichard Family, S-0173. (Photo: David Hughes)

Crown, Ecuador/Colombia, 1800–1850, silver, cut stone. Spanish Colonial Silver, gift of the Stapleton Foundation of Latin American Colonial Art, made possible by the Reichard Family, S-0173. (Photo: David Hughes)

As Jack Weatherford has argued (Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World, 1988), it was New World silver, rather than gold, that revolutionized European economies. "Gold serves well for making jewelry," Weatherford writes, "decorating palaces and churches, and making some very valuable coins, but for the thousands and millions of small daily transactions necessary to make a money economy, silver proves much more practical." In just the first hundred years of the Conquest "the supply of precious metals had increased approximately eightfold. The Mexican mint alone coined $2 billion work of silver pieces of eight." And, yes, those also can be seen in this collection. Glitterati is on view through November 27, 2016.

Pala International News

Sphalerite from Spain and Wurtzite from Tanzania

This month we feature a duo with similar upbringings but very different features. Born of zinc and sulfur, these two minerals could make great ore for extracting zinc, but in this case they crystallized into fine specimens.

Sphalerite is a low-temperature polymorph of ZnS while wurtzite is the high-temperature polymorph. Beyond the technical relationship lie two very different jewels. The sphalerite is a bright and happy yellow hue with high dispersion and scintillation. The wurtzite on the other hand has a dark and intense ruby-like hue with an unusual metallic sheen. These are great collectable gems with varying beauty and cool optical properties.

Cousins. Left, sphalerite from Spain, 11.34 ct., 12.8 x 12.8 x 8.5 mm. Right, rare wurtzite from Mahenge, Tanzania, 5.81 ct., 12.4 x 8.3 x 6.2 mm. Both of these stones were custom cut by Brett Kosnar. Prices available upon request. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Cousins. Left, sphalerite from Spain, 11.34 ct., 12.8 x 12.8 x 8.5 mm. Right, rare wurtzite from Mahenge, Tanzania, 5.81 ct., 12.4 x 8.3 x 6.2 mm. Both of these stones were custom cut by Brett Kosnar. Prices available upon request. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Interested? Contact us!

Gem and Gemology News

The Journal of Gemmology Accepted by Prestigious Web of Science

On Tuesday, Gem-A announced that The Journal of Gemmology has been accepted for indexing by Thomson Reuters's new Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI). Because the Index is a new database, it will take some time before The Journal actually appears therein. Thomson Reuters is a Canadian media and information powerhouse with operational headquarters in New York. 

Launched by Thomson Reuters in November, ESCI is part of the firms's Web of Science research platform, which provides content from almost 12,000 international and regional journals as well as other useful content. ESCI will expand that coverage. Here's what pre-launch publicity said about ESCI's application to authors and researchers:

A journal in ESCI is searchable, discoverable, and citable; authors and researchers get real-time insight into a journal's citation performance while the content is considered for inclusion in other Web of Science collections. You can measure the contribution of an article in specific disciplines and identify potential collaborators for expanded research.

The Journal of Gemmology's editor-in-chief Brendan Laurs provided his own assessment: "The Journal's inclusion in Web of Science is good for our authors, for our readers, and for gemmology in general. The Journal will now be in a better position to attract articles from researchers at top universities who are required to publish in Web of Science journals, and our readers will benefit from this cutting-edge research. The Journal’s coverage by Web of Science will certainly help raise awareness of gemmology to the global scientific community."

Web of Science and ESCI are subscription-based services that are available through academic institutions and libraries. For more information see the Thomson Reuters website.

The Journal of Gemmology also is included in other abstracting and indexing databases; see the list here.

And Gem-A provides individual indexes of several of its volumes as well as a cumulative index for all volumes, 1947–2013, which will be updated in the near future.


On Natural Pearls

A new blog by Ana Vasiliu

Pala International is pleased to provide researcher Ana Vasiliu with her own blog, On Natural Pearls on Palagems.com. (For an introduction to the subject, see her article, "A Research Collection of Natural Pearls," from our December edition.)

We'll let Ana speak for herself in her first blog entry, but we should call your attention to her search for examples of gems and gem minerals matching the "grand landscapes" she finds inside pearls. Such details often go by different names, so you’ll have to see what she is asking for in the second image of the post. Do not hesitate to respond to her enticement:

I'd be delighted to hear of kindred patterns in gem minerals, not in the least because these columns in pearls—approximately crystalline, unlike most others—are keeping open a fine line of research on the approximation thereof.
See On Natural Pearls for an explanation of this image. (Photo: Ana Vasiliu)

See On Natural Pearls for an explanation of this image. (Photo: Ana Vasiliu)


Temple Treasure: A Mighty Meltdown?

It's been two years since we last looked at the status of the treasure of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, in Kerala, India. The temple's hoard of jewel-encrusted objects first became generally known in 2007 due to a legal challenge of the temple's stewardship by T. P. Sundara Rajan, a temple devotee. Rajan knew his way around the Supreme Court, having argued cases before it. That body now has virtual control over the temple's affairs.

When we left off in October 2013, an audit of the temple's various vaults was in progress. Twenty-six months later we don't see evidence it was completed. Nevertheless, a watershed moment occurred in April 2014 when administration of the temple was turned over to a five-member committee by the Supreme Court. The temple's Executive Officer was suspended and replaced; former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai was to conduct his own audit of temple properties, assets and accounts. The measures came in response to a friend-of-the-court report. The report tells of temple infrastructure in need of immediate conservation as well as disturbing observations of uninventoried valuables such as jeweled plumes and literal treasure chests not being secured. (Report text available here.) The court halted all transactions involving temple resources and warned that no employee should be intimidated by members of the erstwhile royal family, which traditionally had administered the temple. An editorial in The Hindu stated the court's order "that virtually decontrolled the shrine from the erstwhile Travancore royal family marks a clean break from the past." In 1947, when royal rule ended, most major temples were placed under community control. This temple, however, had been excepted. Leftist lawmakers had ignored the temple until Rajan had called its administration into question; under scrutiny, the temple treasure was revealed. Ironically, the Supreme Court just two weeks before had ruled that the oldest male of the erstwhile royals could be the temple's trustee after the death of the head of the family.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple looms in the background while in the foreground lies an image of its namesake: Vishnu assuming the Anantha Shayanam posture in his yogic sleep atop the multi-headed serpent Adisheshan. Last June, a book about the temple was released, and the occasion was the opportunity for discussion of its history and lingering issues about royalty.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple looms in the background while in the foreground lies an image of its namesake: Vishnu assuming the Anantha Shayanam posture in his yogic sleep atop the multi-headed serpent Adisheshan. Last June, a book about the temple was released, and the occasion was the opportunity for discussion of its history and lingering issues about royalty.

A status report was issued in August 2015 that revealed "incomplete records maintained on the weight and purity of the temple’s gold and silver valuables, no financial control of the custody and use of precious articles and slack maintenance of temple assets' register." This report echoed the above-referenced friend-of-the-court, who had "complained of corruption, filth, and disregard of ethics in the temple’s administration." The earlier report also had mentioned trunks of gemstone-encrusted jewels that were found lying around in the temple, not in its vaults.

Last May, the temple's Executive Officer appointed by the Supreme Court, K. N. Satheesh, questioned the rights and privileges of the the erstwhile royal family that until relatively recently had overseen the temple. Called into question were the head of the family's remaining as head trustee, and his inattention to duty in that capacity. Also challenged was the trustee's exclusive access to the temple, harkening back to the practice of "untouchability." In November, Satheesh was the target of much ire by the Supreme Court, regarding an affidavit that repeated his earlier charges. Apparently the erstwhile royals were offended.

Just the year before, in November 2014, friend-of-the-court Gopal Subramanium, a former Solicitor General, made essentially the same allegations, to which the trustee and his family took umbrage. In this case, Subramanium actually offered his resignation, later withdrawn. Meanwhile, last summer, when deference was being shown the royals, it was revealed that the temple's security guards had not a pot to p*** in—literally.

A Modest Museum…

Several parties over the years have suggested that the temple treasure be housed in a museum. That came closer to reality in the last two years. In the summer of 2014, the Kerala government announced it was prepared to display the objects in a museum if this were okayed by the Supreme Court that August 6. Such a ruling was not reported, but in February 2015, a committee of experts gave the green light to this project. The decision still rests with the court. (Meanwhile the nearby Sreepadam Palace was being renovated to house a numismatic museum.)

Sreepadam Palace, nearby the temple, is being renovated to house a numismatic museum. This might be just the sort of modest museum advocated by Orhan Pamuk, as we noted last month. Couldn't it also display some of the temple treasure?

Sreepadam Palace, nearby the temple, is being renovated to house a numismatic museum. This might be just the sort of modest museum advocated by Orhan Pamuk, as we noted last month. Couldn't it also display some of the temple treasure?

…or a Mighty Meltdown?

On November 5, Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi launched three schemes aimed at making gold "productive"—getting it out of the hands of private households and religious institutions. The PM pointed out that India is considered to be a "poor country," but one with 20,000 tons of gold worth $800 billion. Two of the schemes involve purchases. Investors in Sovereign Gold Bonds can earn an interest rate of 2.75 percent per annum. Buyers of Indian gold coins and bullion would be doing what they've been doing already: buying gold and sitting on it, albeit buying it from the Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC). The third scheme is, well, destructive—that is, to the gold object. The Gold Monetisation Scheme (GMS) involves depositing the gold for an annual return of 2.5 percent. The only catch: upon deposit, gold in, say, jewelry form is melted down in order to assay its purity, and thus determine its value. Some temples actually have been considering participation in the GMS. Fortunately for the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, or rather its gold, the ongoing legal wrangling prohibits such consideration. And, at least the colored gemstones in its coffers would be saved.

Industry News

Burma Bits

Migrants Missing

In a story December 26 about yet another landslide in Burma's jade land, China's Xinhua News agency provided some statistics. Seven such landslides occurred in 2015 in the same area. As of November 30, 627 mining companies have operations on 7,714 plots; another 231 companies have joint operations on 311 plots. "There are around 200,000 squatters in Hpa-kant Township," the story stated. About one hundred of those migrants were moved from risky areas to safer ones after last month's landslide that killed at least 121. The Christmas Day landslide likely killed at least fifty. Officials, on the other hand, said only three men had been reported missing, according to Mizzima. Mizzima reported today on another landslide burying forty migrants. On December 28, Parliament had rejected proposed measures to deal with the landslides, per Mizzima. The next day, Deputy Minister of Mines U Than Tun Aung informed the parliament of three strategies to deal with landslides, as reported by Xinhua (and The Irrawaddy): "banning jade mining in Lonkhin and Phakant areas, imposing curfew on the mine areas or putting the at-risk areas under martial law to enforce the rule of law there."

Construction machinery digs through fresh earth at Hpakant, Kachin State. (Photo: DVB)

Construction machinery digs through fresh earth at Hpakant, Kachin State. (Photo: DVB)

Jade Jag

On December 16, The Irrawaddy and Reuters wrote that Chinese companies have clearcut trees, "leaving behind craters, barren cliffs and a web of dirt tracks in the once-picturesque Kachin hills" in their quest for jade. One China-Burma joint operator, Eik Yin, voiced his concern about the impending installation of a new government in Burma, but did not say this was the reason for increased production. On the 22nd, The Irrawaddy called the ramped-up extraction "frenzied," ahead of the new government, which could limit jade production. The same story talked of a crackdown on illegal miners "large and small." The small, of course, are those in danger of death by landslide. 

To aid in production, 880 dump trucks and earth-moving vehicles had legally driven through a border checkpoint on their way to Myitkyina in Kachin; 700 illegally imported vehicles had been seized by the Ministry of Commerce in Kachin, per The Irrawaddy on December 18.

Miner La Htuang said he'd never seen such mining activity, likening the big-scale operations to "starving monsters," in the December 22 story. He felt that prosecution of illegal miners, "especially the hand-pickers," was wrong-headed. Rather, a full review of the mining companies was needed, he said. For his part, Eik Yin, in the December 16 story said the government had no power in the region; that was held by the military. He felt that Aung San Suu Kyi hadn't influenced the military up to that point, and her National League for Democracy government, once in place, would be just as powerless. Newly elected NLD MP from Hpakant, Khin Maung Myint, when interviewed by Myanmar Now about jade mining issues, talked about investigating drug-trade money invested in mining and breaches of mining regulations. "With all these data compiled, we could regulate the industry," he said. With that, the interview ended. A Burma News International interview with lower house MP U Tint Soe regarding his hometown, echoed the other MP, calling for "rule of law" and education and relocation of jade hand-pickers.

More Mining

Even as the government decided to stamp out illegal mining, it decided to boost the legal sort, extending a deadline for gem-mining applications that was scheduled for last November 16; the new deadline is next Monday, as reported by Myanmar Times.

We couldn't resist including this oral history "performance piece," which was posted on Mizzima's YouTube channel. Dinh Q. Le's performance piece "Aung San's Dinner" was part of "building histories," an art project curated by lola Lenzi and organized by the Goethe Institut Myanmar in February 2015. The event took place in a central Yangon Villa soon destined to accommodate the German Cultural Center in Myanmar.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Reuters: Jade scavengers use heroin even though there are "no more drugs in Kachin state"
  • The Irrawaddy: Protesters (see last month's Burma Bits) detained and freed
  • Eleven: Burma President dissolves anti-illegal trade committee due to "high levels of bribery affecting operations"
  • Mizzima: Gold mining threatens Kachin waters
  • Consult-Myanmar: US sanctions force jade into a corner, say traders

Pala Presents

On the Ruby Mines near Mogok, Burma

By Robert Gordon

With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the library of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who shares with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology. The report discussed here was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, read at the Evening Meeting, February 27th, 1888.

Four years after the present paper was presented to the Royal Society, Edwin W. Streeter, a forty-five-year veteran of the gem trade, in his Precious Stones and Gems, Their History, Sources and Characteristics, wrote about the genesis of this paper. "At an early stage of the negotiations for a lease of the Ruby Mines, the author [Streeter] had recognized the necessity of having a survey of the district, and had accordingly secured the services of Mr. Robert Gordon, C.E., whose familiarity with the language and customs of the Burmese rendered him peculiarly valuable." This was in the spring of 1886. "Considerable delay arose before he could proceed on his mission; but ultimately he visited and surveyed the mining district."

Gordon's report is offered in twenty-four brief sections, followed by: a table of rainfall statistics for the first eleven months of 1887; excerpts of recent letters from Burma read by Streeter himself; and remarks by Royal Society president Sir Richard Strachey, who had been an administrator in British India. (Lady Strachey would become a leader of women's suffrage in Britain.) 

At one point in his report, Gordon describes how in Mogok and elsewhere

there is found a layer of corundum from a few inches to a few feet in thickness. It is difficult to account for the existence of this layer of nearly pure corundum lying on a bed of earth in which no stones are ­found, and covered by a similar layer of porous earth. Can geologists explain why for ages the water should have selected earth free from rubies, and then for a lengthened period have brought down and deposited nothing but ruby sand and stone, to again cover it up with common earth?

This can pique the interest of the curious reader. Read the entire report »

Detail of the large map that accompanies Robert Gordon's report.

Detail of the large map that accompanies Robert Gordon's report.


— End January Newsletter • Published 1/14/16 —

We welcome your feedback.