September 2016 Newsletter
Table of Contents
Shows and Events
- Illuminations: Earth to Jewel
Crevoshay in Paris, Nov. 9, 2016 to Feb. 1, 2017
- Pork Belly "To Go" on Sunday
- Rhymes with "Art"
Pala International News
Gems and Gemology News
- Out of Africa?
- Sapphire at Sotheby's
- Burma Bits
- Secrets of the Gem Trade, Second Edition
by Richard W. Wise
- Russia's Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones – Kindle Edition
David Hughes, Editor
Shows and Events
Illuminations: Earth to Jewel
Crevoshay in Paris, Nov. 9, 2016 to Feb. 1, 2017
Our friend Eloïse Gaillou, Associate Curator of Musée de minéralogie MINES ParisTech, tipped us off regarding an upcoming exhibit at the museum, a stone's throw from the Sorbonne. Master jewelry artist Paula Crevoshay presents "Illuminations: Earth to Jewel," which pairs her own creations with gem crystal specimens from the museum's holdings. Many of Crevoshay's jewels contain floral themes, so it's appropriate that she will exhibit directly across from the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Pork Belly "To Go" on Sunday
San Franciscans and visitors have but three more days to catch the "Priceless Pork Belly" on view at the Asian Art Museum. The "meat-shaped stone" is part of "Emperors' Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei."
The savory sculpture was carved in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) from a chunk of banded jasper that already displayed most of the necessary mimicry. The artist then stained the "skin" at top, and added painted veining. The piece is on its first trip outside of Asia, to quite some acclaim: Anthony "Parts Unknown" Bourdain called the sculpture "the pork of my dreams." The artwork also inspired a local tie-in earlier this summer—"Priceless Pork Belly, Plated"—twelve eateries' tribute dishes on menus for only four weeks in June and July.
Busy this weekend? The exhibition travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, October 23, 2016 through January 22, 2017.
Rhymes with "Art"
Tomorrow, artist Maurizio Cattelan officially comes out of retirement with his site-specific "America" at the Guggenheim in New York. Calvin Tomkins of The New Yorker received a preview.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stones
San Diego's Very Own Fall Harvest
As San Diego cools down we turn our eyes to rapidly approaching Autumn—and we are very inspired by the tones of these exquisite San Diego County bi-color tourmalines.
Eye clean and bright color, these pieces have about 30% pinkish-red and 70% light yellowish-green.
Gems and Gemology News
Maw Sit Sit Masquerade
Exactly a year ago, the Hong Kong Jewelery and Gem Fair saw a healthy amount of green stone sold to dealers as Maw Sit Sit, but from a new deposit not in Burma, its only known locality.
In the spring, at Baselworld 2016, gemologist and educator Prof. Henry A. Hänni was asked by dealer Ibrahim Rashad, of Rainbow Minerals in Peshawar, to look into this material. Indeed, Rashad had been working a remote deposit in western Pakistan, uncovering boulders of the green material, as shown in the images below.
Could this be a second locality of maw sit sit? Prof. Hänni (Research Assoc., SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute) along with fellow researchers Prof. Leander Franz (MPI, Basel University) and Dr. Zhou Wei (SSEF) responded in the negative. Their findings will be released in detail in a forthcoming study published by The Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (GIT). We're grateful to be able to alert gemstone buyers in the meantime.
The researchers took the three samples shown above and sliced and polished them for several means of analysis. The team was challenged due to the fine-grained mix of minerals in the material. Maw sit sit rarely contains calcium, but Ca was found to be a main ingredient in all the new samples.
Prof. Hänni and his colleagues determined that the rocks under study consist of calc-silicates that have replaced original material via metamorphic process; in other words, scarn. Sannan then was added to the name to designate the skarn as coming from Pakistan. Thus the proposed name for this new ornamental gemstone is Sannan-Skarn.
Kazmi, A. H. & Snee, L. W. (1989): Emeralds of Pakistan, Geology, Gemology and Genesis. Geological Survey of Pakistan. Melbourne: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, ISBN 0-442-30328-9.
Out of Africa?
The October edition of Men's Journal holds a six-page story on an unlikely subject: the life, death, and aftermath of Campbell Bridges, discoverer of the gemstone tsavorite. As the magazine's moniker suggests, it publishes stories aimed toward a paricular demographic. This month features items on Nepal (paragliding, not gem mining), UAE (speed-drifting, not gem trading), Colombia (Narcos, not esmeraldas). The article on Bridges, "The Education of a Native Son" by Eric Konigsberg, centers on Campbell's son Bruce who, as a possible 2008 Olympics contender, cuts a virile profile for the Journal's readers. Surface aside, the story provides an in-depth portrait of the Bridges family before and after the tragedy of August 10, 2009—at times shockingly so.
Konigsberg interviewed family members, a bodyguard, community friends, officials (both Kenyan and U.S), but absent are the voices of the adversaries, one of whom complained by email, "My reputation has been injured." Told is a nuanced tale of three generations of white Africans who struggle against the stigma of colonialism in a country where laws and law are rubbery, and "kill or be killed" can be a natural law unto itself.
Sapphire at Sotheby's
Sapphire is September's birthstone, and upcoming sales at Sotheby's celebrate the stone in style.
U.S. to terminate the 'National Emergency' for Myanmar
That's today's headline on the Mizzima News website. As we've noted before, the years—decades—of sanctions against Burma were warranted by the "National Emergency with respect to Burma." The emergency was ended yesterday by President Obama after meeting in Washington with Aung San Suu Kyi in her capacity as state counsellor. She is, of course, the country's de facto head of state.
The move by Obama adds Burma to the Generalized System of Preferences, which exempts the country from high import taxes, as reported by Myanmar Times.
Whether the new development will drop the ban on U.S. importation of jade and rubies is unclear. As late as August 23, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reaffirmed the "[p]rohibition on importations of jadeite or rubies mined or extracted from Burma." This rule was verified by Myanmar Times, which spoke with a U.S. embassy spokesperson, regarding the August 23 CBP clarification, but the context at that time was whether softening of sanctions this past May applied in any way to the banned gemstones. The U.S. Department of State issued its own fact sheet that shed little light on the issue.
The United States will continue to support the democratic aspirations of the people of Burma, and will work closely with the government to develop new policies to address these challenges, including the disproportionate role of the military in the economy and the need for responsible and transparent investment and business practices, in particular in the jadeite and gemstones sector.
Reporting on a Washington conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies the same day as Obama's announcement, The Irrawaddy stated, "Current US sanctions against Burma—which now stand to be removed—include bans on imports of rubies and jade." But The Irrawaddy also reported, "Bans on US imports of jade and gemstones from Burma, and on arm sales to Burma, would not be affected by re-admittance to the GSP, and would require congressional approval to overturn."
A State Department spokesperson told JCK that the ban on ruby and jadeite importation into the U.S. no longer would apply.
Predictably, NGOs called Obama's move premature, with one group saying Obama had made "an atrocious decision." Ethnic groups urged a continuation of military sanctions. For their part, U.S. Senators wasted no time in introducing related legislation that was savaged by Human Rights Watch, which told Myanmar Times the bill "is both premature and wildly optimistic."
Mining, Migrants and Markets
Late last month, Myanmar Gems Enterprise issued a list of 321 jade blocks, the licenses for which would not be renewed. The areas listed were Lonekhin and Hpakant (38), Khamti (83), Mohnyin (155), Mogok (32), and Monghsu (13), as reported by Myanmar Times.
Two weeks before, jade traders asked the government to halt mining in Hpakant and Lonekhin to prevent degradation of the local jade market. More than 20,000 traders from upper Burma signed a petition making the request. At the same time, the Ministry of Commerce announced that jade exports to China via the Muse border trade hub totaled $53 million for the months April through July.
And last week, jade mining firms threatened to sue migrant scavengers for picking over mining dumps. The practice of scavenging already is illegal…
Secrets of the Gem Trade, Second Edition
by Richard W. Wise
Gemstone aficionados are anticipating the November release of the second edition of Richard W. Wise's Secrets of the Gem Trade: The Connoisseur's Guide to Precious Gemstones. First published in 2003, the revised edition contains twenty-five percent more content, eleven new chapters, five new introductory chapters, and 171 new photographs. The book also deals with discoveries since the book's first publication.
Wise begins with a challenge to the secrecy of the trade. While its covert practices resulted over millennia from natural causes and necessities, the transition to transparency in our age is consequential not only in the gem trade. Your editor remembers reading David Brin in Wired magazine in 1996, who asked a crucial question: "Can we stand living our lives exposed to scrutiny … our secrets laid out in the open … if in return we get flashlights of our own, that we can shine on the arrogant and strong?" Of course that's what's come to pass in the socio-political realm. It's also taking place in the gemstone industry, if only we avail ourselves of tools like Secrets of the Gem Trade.
In his preface, Wise turns to his CV, very appropriately for someone writing as an insider. We find that Wise, like the late Dana Schorr, was a political activist early on. While he became disenchanted with this activity, nevertheless he speaks truth to power and convention in Secrets of the Gem Trade. During his evolution as a goldsmith and jeweler, Wise yearned for more information on quality, connoisseurship, and beauty, but found few answers in books. Three crucial decisions changed his trajectory, the third being "tak[ing] my questions to the source, traveling and buying in most of the world's major gem producing areas."
After years of study, Wise drew the conclusions he sets out in Secrets of the Gem Trade's four hundred pages. He has come to trust his eye, disregarding, in some cases, the opinions of experts, of a "deeply conservative" trade regarding new sources of traditional gemstones. One bit of advice he proffers concerning the purchase of gemstones: "If you see it and you can afford it, grab it!"
Chapters 1 and 2 are a historical riff off the cliché, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," demonstrating how what appealed to the rich and famous of antiquity appears to be quaint to modern sensibilities, partly because we rarely consider a gemstone's ability to "cure disease," "shield against the evil eye," or "ward off drunkenness." He demonstrates further that contemporary taste can shift, with lowly spinel's resurgence a fine example. And Wise points out that diamond, while it was prized early on in the rare form of six-sided crystals, did not have real staying power in the the West in the years before it began to be faceted, in the 16th century, into the jewels we treasure today.
In Chapter 2, Wise deconstructs the notion of preciousness, semi- and otherwise. Even when beauty became the "defining criterion" in the development of connoisseurship, the divisions of preciousness were blurred, as shown by Wise's citations of 18th, 19th and early 20th century writers. Preciousness, he concludes, quoting Max Bauer, is often simply "the fashion of the day." Wise moves on in this chapter to a discussion of origin, cautioning that beauty should take precedence over pedigree. He then explains why, "In the gem world, beauty drives demand and rarity drives price."
Chapter 3 reexamines the Four C's used for judging quality—color, cut, clarity, carat weight. Wise swaps out the latter, substituting crystal (diaphaneity, transparency). And he notes that all four C's are not "of equal relative importance in the connoisseurship of all species and varieties of gemstones."
Wise discusses color in great detail, in the context of colored gemstones. This is neatly encapsulated in this chapter’s last phrase: "ruby with a ninety percent vivid primary red hue, and a ten percent purple secondary hue of eighty percent tone (with little or no gray mask present)."
As important as color is to colored stones, colorless diamonds are beholden to cut, which Wise recognizes as the single manmade factor amongst the C's. And as such, human decisions regarding cut can leave connoisseurs concerned: a great cut yielding a smaller stone often is vetoed by dealers in favor of a mediocre cut that preserves carat weight (i.e. cash). Wise examines the pros and cons of various cutting strategies and provides tips on the critical evaluation of cut. He finishes this section with a lengthy consideration of contemporary cutting innovations and gem sculptures.
Wise then asks the reader to reconsider the lowly cabochon, noting the primary role of crystal in the evaluation. (He returns to crystal in Chapter 5.) Chapter 3 is rounded out by an overview of inclusions and flaws (clarity), and how they contribute to or detract from beauty.
In Chapter 4 Wise reintroduces, as he terms it, that forgotten C of crystal, or transparency. He clarifies crystal's relationship to clarity (having been taken to task on this topic by some readers of the first edition), providing several examples of stones considered flawless, that fail the transparency test. "Most varieties of tourmaline and garnet and some varieties of corundum 'close up,' 'muddy,' or 'bleed color' when exposed to the light of an ordinary light bulb," Wise writes. "The cause of these phenomena is not completely understood though none appear to be caused by the presence of inclusions in the gemstone. The point is, the gem loses some transparency and therefore some of its beauty."
In Chapter 4, Connoisseurship: Secrets of the Trade, Wise addresses the nuts and bolts of connoisseurship: primary hues, the effects of light, multicolor effect, and defines what Wise calls daystones and nightstones. He turns next to gemstone-buying strategy, advising that the savvy buyer must understand the limits of "color memory" or be at the mercy of very savvy dealers who know how to fatigue the eye. (An alternative is to carry reference stones.) This section also discusses parcels, pairs and suites, gemstones as investments, lab certificates, and online buying (including online images).
Chapter 5, Connoisseurship: Grading Special Cases, begins with considerations of cat's-eye and asterism, with crystal playing a key role. The reader then is taken through GIA's color diamond grading system, with which Wise has issues. He points out that, because colored diamonds are so rare, the loupe flawless quality that can boost the price of colorless diamonds, is not a factor. "Unlike the situation with colorless diamonds, there is little need to create an impression of rarity where none exists," Wise writes.
The grading of pearls is covered next, and so lovers of these gems of the sea will have a lot to consider in Secrets of the Gem Trade. The attributes of pearls addressed are body color, luster, orient/overtone, translucency, nacre thickness, symmetry, and texture.
In the course of dealing with the subject of beauty, specifically in pearls, Wise has developed his own term for how pearl's appeal "can be enlivened or subdued by placing it in contact with a woman's skin." He uses the Spanish word simpatico, in the sense of compatibility. Simpatico is tested by placing the pearl or pearls against the wearer's inside wrist, which will have the same coloring as the throat and ears. The test is performed with a variety of hues to determine which is most simpatico.
Finally, in Part II's chapter devoted to natural nacreous pearls, Wise explains another term, one of the trade: worked. These are pearls that have been "peeled" of outer layers of nacre, either in pursuit of a more desirable hue or to shed a damaged outer skin. Purchase of worked pearls should come at a discount, Wise writes, but he also cites dealer Monte Stern as saying that up to ninety percent of natural pearls are worked to some degree.
Chapter 6 is called Caveats: Gemstone Enhancement. Wise notes how treatment disclosure customs have changed; in the past, temporary treatments like dyeing were divulged, but permanent enhancements, like heating of corundum or even oiling of emerald, had no need of revelation. Today, of course, at least the expectation of disclosure exists, whether or not it is respected.
Chapter 7, which closes Part I, is titled New Sources. Here Wise catalogues gemstones from relatively new localities (or resurrection of old ones) in Africa, Brazil, Australia and the United States, including the Mountain Lily Mine being worked by RPL Mining Ltd., of which Pala International is a partner.
Part II of Secrets of the Gem Trade contains Richard Wise's personal list of precious gemstones. He calls them "the most beautiful and the most important gemstones available today." The main title of Part II is Probes, a term employed by Marshall McLuhan: these are not declarations, but rather distillations of rumination and reflection.
Omitted from Wise's list are the akoya pearl, due to its lack of naturalness, as well as any material falling below 6.5 in hardness on the Mohs scale, due to lack of durability. On the one hand, Wise excludes materials like red beryl, too rare to "make a market," but he includes rare fancy color diamonds "of great interest to collectors." Wise also devotes twenty pages to colorless diamonds and about thirty pages to fancy color diamonds.
The Second Edition's eleven new gems are jade, natural nacreous pearls, conch pearls, moonstone, sunstone, cobalt blue spinel, red/pink spinel, peridot, demantoid garnet and Golconda (type IIa) diamonds. This brings the Wise list to forty-five. And naturally, the criteria articulated in Part I are applied to each of the gem varieties covered in Part II. A three-page glossary and five-page bibliography aid the reader in terminology and sources.
Readers will appreciate being led by the hand (not the nose) by Richard Wise in the pages of Secrets of the Gem Trade. That's not to say Wise doesn't have strong opinions and suggestions. For instance, the collector is urged to avoid the temptation to purchase parcels of stones at bargain prices "with every fiber of his being." Personally, the aspect of this volume I most enjoyed in reading is its observations regarding contexts. In our lifetimes, we likely won't see a clamor for carnelian as did the ancients, but it doesn't mean we can't be inspired by their admiration, and thereby enriched.
Secrets of the Gem Trade will be out in November. The book can be ordered at prepublication pricing in the standard and limited editions. An updated table of contents along with sample chapters can be found at the author's website.
Russia's Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones – Kindle Edition
A year ago this month we launched a three-part series looking at was the wiggly world of Russia's crown jewels, in "Avarice and Alienation: The Jewels of the Romanoffs." Along the way, we ran across a 1922 album of the jewels that is housed in the collection of George F. Kunz, now at the U.S. Geological Survey Library.
Later last year, in December, we noted GIA's announcement that it will digitize one hundred of its rarest books each year. (See "Ex Libris GIA" on Palagems.com.) These books are housed at the institution's Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library, but digital, downloadable versions of 223 of the works are currently available at GIA's Archive.org collection.
A week ago, GIA announced that it has digitized a rare 1925 catalog of the Romanoff jewels, a later edition of the 1922 version.
For more background on the jewels and the catalog, see GIA's September 7, 2016 news release.
With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the library of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who shares some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology.
Portfolio of Gems
This month, we feature the last eight of sixteen illustrations from a German textbook that were reproduced as part of a gemology correspondence course. Each illustration is captioned in German, with an English translation.
— End September Newsletter • Published 9/15/16 —
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