Table of Contents
Shows and Events
Pala International News
Gem and Gemology News
- A Tall Tale of Green Pearls
a new blog entry by Ana Vasiliu
- Lisbet Thoresen on the Repertoire of Ancient Gems
Editor: David Hughes
Shows and Events
In December, we received a news release from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art announcing its acquisition of the "Crown of the Andes," a superb example of colonial Spanish American goldsmith's craft. The diadem itself is dated circa 1660, with its arches dating to about 1770. Its repoussé (hammered) and chased (engraved) gold is ornamented with 443 Colombian emeralds. It was created to adorn a statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception in the cathedral of Popayán, in western Colombia. From the Met's description: "A symbol of the Virgin's divine queenship, the crown is encircled by golden vinework set with emerald clusters in the shape of flowers, a reference to her purity. The diadem is topped by imperial arches and a cross-bearing orb that symbolizes Christ's dominion over the world."
That description is found on the Met's newly redesigned website—in Collection, an online database of more than 400,000 objects in the museum's holdings. We entered the search term "jewelry" and 8,802 records were returned—from stone/bone jewelry of 8th–12th century Iran to a 19th-century European pendant in the form of a Triton riding a unicorn-like sea creature. (We're reminded of the Hippocamp Pendant from The Waddleston Bequest.)
And there's an app for that. The Met App can be useful for members and non-members, with info on exhibitions and events, members-only features, and more.
SerpentiForm Through April 10
One of the legends surrounding Saint Patrick is that he drove snakes from Ireland. Take the profile of Patrick by Joseph A. Dunney, written in 1945, telling of the saint's travels through the provinces converting pagans including Angus, son of the King, in Munster. "Old men, chiefs and clansmen, the bravest of the brave laid down their arms and quietly submitted to being instructed in the truths of the Captain of Salvation. In a little while the Druid snakes in the grass fled seaward; their black magic disappeared with them as mysteriously as the ebbing tide on Erin’s shores." Of course, Dunney uses a metaphor.
Still, we couldn't resist this timely coincidence: last Thursday, Bulgari launched an exhibition in Rome, SerpentiForm, at the Museo di Roma in the Palazzo Braschi. Displayed are examples of the serpent in jewelry from Pompeii to the present (included those of Bulgari) as well as contemporary art, photography, vintage clothing, costumes for theater and film, and design objects. The exhibition closes April 10.
Images from A(to)Z
As she does every year, Gail Copus Spann documents the Tucson show with scads of photos of mineral specimens and also cut gemstones as well as the people involved. This year, Gail and husband Jim came to the main show with three of their own displays. Highlights among the images are displays by the Mineralogical Association of Dallas, the Spanns' "Blues from Around the World" (in keeping with this year's TGMS theme), the Mineral Wines Collection (and the specimens behind the labels), the poppyseed jasper carving by Harold and Erica Van Pelt, faceted aquamarine from Maine, many tributes to those who passed on in 2015, and much, much more.
Gail also documented the sneak peek (scroll down a bit) of the University of Arizona exhibition American Mineral Heritage: The Harvard Collection. You'll see plenty of Pala people (and specimens) along the way, in twenty pages of images—at the Friends of Minerals Forum.
For more on the Spanns and their collection, see "Spanns in the Spotlight" at PalaMinerals.com.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Gemstone
Peridot can find its origins as a mined gemstone on Zabargad Island (St. John's) off the coast of Egypt in the Red Sea. Starting in the 3rd century BC peridot has been actively mined from local tribes to modern-day gem hunters looking for a piece of history. Today we see most of the peridot from Pakistan, Myanmar, China and the U.S., but these Zabargad peridots are elusive and very rare in larger sizes.
Our featured stone this month weighs in at 29.12 carats and displays that classic evergreen hue. From beginnings on a far away island and passing through who knows how many hands over the years it lands here at Pala International. The rough was acquired in 1991, by Warren Taylor, and records show it was cut in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. It's from the Heritage Nature & Science Auction; The Rainbow of Africa Gem & Mineral Collection.
For more on this subject, see:
- Egypt's Evening Emeralds: James Harrell and Elizabeth Bloxam investigate the Hellenistic-Roman peridot mine on Zabargad Island in the Red Sea
- Red Sea Peridot: A reprint by Peter Bancroft
- Peridot from St. John's / Zabargad Island by Olav Revheim
Interested? Contact us!
Gem and Gemology News
A Tall Tale of Green Pearls
A new blog entry by Ana Vasiliu
You'd need green shells to make green pearls—and there aren't many candidate makers in the sands of the world, just a few species including these False Jingles (Pododesmus) from British Columbia. A few of their pearls came to me for reasons unrelated to their color, but the fine deep green of some is what keeps them on my mind more than most. They helped me make sense of an old tall tale of pearling. Read more »
Lisbet Thoresen on the Repertoire of Ancient Gems
Beginning in 1990, when she was a conservator in the Antiquities Conservation Department at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Lisbet Thoresen has been studying the history and archaeological science of gemstones of classical Antiquity. In her research examining ancient engraved gems and literary references written about them, she found that the origins and identities of gemstones used in ancient glyptic have been inferred almost exclusively from literary descriptions available in secondary or even tertiary sources after now-lost ancient original manuscripts. Based on her surveys of extant gemstones in both private and museum collections, she proposes revisions to the presumed identities of gems and sources construed from ancient texts. She also poses several key questions. Why do these texts include named gemstone material for which we have no or very few extant specimens (for example, opal, ruby, and tourmaline)? How are translations of the texts problematic regarding gemstone nomenclature? How accurate are the translated texts of ancient authors like Pliny the Elder whose original manuscripts are now lost? How and why were the ancient writers misinformed about the sources of gemstones? What are the challenges of interpreting ancient texts in translation and gleaning an accurate view of the materials, their origins, and transmission in the ancient world? Thoresen addresses these questions and more in her thirty-minute lecture, "Archaeogemology and ancient literary sources on gems and their origin." It was delivered last October at the international conference, Gemstones in the First Millennium AD: Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism, which was held at the Römisches-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz, Germany.
The conference website features Thoresen's slide presentation and many other lectures that may be of interest to our readers, including an eloquent summary given by Kerstin Sobkowiak on the session for "The value and the symbolic meaning(s) of gemstones." The conference proceedings will be published in early 2017.
A Tale of Two Ovals
Sotheby's Hong Kong will conduct its Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite auction on April 5. The centerpiece of the sale is the "De Beers Millennium Jewel 4," the largest oval fancy vivid blue diamond ever to appear at auction. Eleven other rare diamonds—eleven blue and one colorless—make up the De Beers Millennium Jewels collection. No. 4 is the only oval. It has a pre-sale estimate of US$30 to 35 million. See video here »
Sure, it's nice, but we have our eye on another oval: the jadeite cabochon ring pictured here. Its catalog note reads in part, "As clear as a body of fresh and clear water, this top-quality jadeite will certainly captivate the eyes of discerning jadeite collectors around the world." And it has a price tag to match the Millennium 4 (sort of): an estimate of HK$30 to 35 million.
Burma's parliament yesterday elected the country's first civilian president, ending 54 years of direct or indirect military rule. The Irrawaddy wrote that National League for Democracy's Htin Kyaw was an "unlikely leader" given his soft-spokenness. For decades he has walked in the shadow of his friend Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred legally from leading the country as president. It is generally understood that she will be president by proxy, however.
We can't help but note that after we heard this news, we viewed yesterday's interview with former U.S. Congressman Mickey Edwards (R-OK) who remarked, "They draw congressional district lines to make sure that the people who they agree with win by taking the other people out of the district. You know, again, if this were some other country—. I was the ranking member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee in Congress that made foreign aid decisions. And we had a bias in favor of democracies. I'm not sure America would qualify."
Mining, Markets and Migrants
While yesterday's election is one more indication of Burma's democratic trajectory, Hpakant Member of Parliament U Tint Soe on March 10 expressed alarm at the state of jade mining. In a Myanmar Times interview, he stated, bluntly, that "the jade market is terrible," with prices one-tenth of their former value. Demand is dropping, he said, yet the mechanized extraction of jade remains unabated. He blamed "crooks" that control the market in China. "If we continue to extract as much as we can we will end up with nothing," he said. He also finds the the environmental impact of mining to be troubling. U Tint Soe sympathizes with itinerant jade hunters, but says that their work is so dangerous, one or two deaths at a time result in no police investigation. He said he and colleagues are working to reduce the height of tailings piles, which our readers know can kill scores at a time when they collapse. Hpakant jade workers blocked roads February 13 to 15 to protest mining practices, as reported by Eleven and Radio Free Asia. Ten days later, they vowed to do so again, per The Irrawaddy.
Chinese buyers were blamed by Mandalay jade traders—for staying away—according to Myanmar Times on February 19. Lower-grade material is sold at the market, with the good stuff being sold directly from the mines and being moved across the border to China, mainly by smugglers. The situation is summed up by the article's title, "Hpakant jade sales thrive as Mandalay market slumps." Thai buyers were doing no better, per a March 1 story in Myanmar Times. They now choose to source their rough from Vietnam, Cambodia and Africa, now that Mogul's supply of Burma rubies is drying up. The slump in sales has caused Burma's traders to demand the right to sell internationally, according to a March 4 story by Myanmar Times.
In surprising news, DVB reported on March 3 and AFP on March 4 that two senior Burma officials were purged from their posts after they were found to have illegally imported heavy machinery for jade digging in Kachin. (See our "Jade Jag" from January.)
Eleven, in an undated story after March 3, said the Ministry of Mines has ordered Hpakant jade mining companies to forward lists of machinery imports and jade blocks in order to fight fraud. Earlier, on February 22, Myanmar Times reported that lawmakers vowed to put an end to the illegal excavation of minerals. (I think we've heard this before….)
Meanwhile, new gemstone mining concessions are on hold while the bylaws to the Myanmar Gemstones Law have yet to be approved, as reported by Myanmar Times on February 17. The holdup was a second amendment to the law, passed only on January 29. Bylaws must be drafted within ninety days. The hope is that concessions will be granted to smaller companies, breaking up some of the mining monopolies.
Pearls of Persia: Iranian Crown Jewels
In 2011, Pala International was honored to offer readers a hitherto unpublished (and unfinished) manuscript and slides by Martin Ehrmann. "The Ruby Mines of Mogok" was presented in a series from April through September. In his introduction to the series, Pala's Bill Larson calls Ehrmann (1904–1972) "perhaps the preeminent mineral and gemstone dealer of the 20th century." The sentiment is echoed by The Mineralogical Record, which regards Ehrmann as "America’s premier dealer in high-quality mineral specimens."
As I was assembling the web-based version of the manuscript, Bill fed me images with which to supplement Ehrmann's own, including the cover of the best monograph published on the subject of the Iranian crown jewels (contained in this section). The book includes an image of a striking buckle composed of dozens of Burmese rubies. That book, Crown Jewels of Iran, was co-authored by Vic Meen, who wrote in its preface, "In the spring of 1964, I received my first direct information about the Crown Jewels from my friend Martin Ehrmann." Ehrmann was, in fact, to have been integral to the study in Iran of the jewels, but was unable to take the time away from his business.
Since the time of our work on Ehrmann's manuscript, it's been in the back of my mind that we should take a good look at the Iranian crown jewels. My interest in the subject was piqued again last month when my cousin Patti Hughes Mangis recalled seeing the jewels during the summer of 1974 when she toured Europe upon graduating from high school. In 1960, years before his traditional self-crowning in 1967, dubbed by UPI as "The Coronation of the Century," Shah Mohammed Reza ordered the best pieces to be displayed in a vault of the Iranian Central Bank in Tehran, where the jewels served as collateral for the nation's currency. Seeing the jewels, my cousin Patti recalled:
I remember that it was a large room with glass cases, similar to a museum. So while there was likely a guard, I don't recall one, any more than someone would recall the guard when visiting an art museum. You could wander from case to case, looking at what caught your eye, again as in a museum. Several items stuck in my memory.
She went on to describe what she had seen. I knew that my brother, Richard W. Hughes, had seen the jewels in 2013, so I asked both Patti and him to give me their recollections as a coda to the history and descriptions of the jewels. The result is "Pearls of Persia: Crown Jewels of Iran."
— End March Newsletter • Published 3/16/16 —
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