October 2016 Newsletter
Table of Contents
Shows and Events
- 53rd Munich Mineral Show: October 28–30, 2016
- Giant Gems of the Smithsonian, thru Jan. 17, 2017
- Looking Back and Forward in Bangkok
- President Hollande Tours School of Mines Museum
Pala International News
Gems and Gemology News
- Pearl Oysters
a new blog entry by Ana Vasiliu
- My Visit to Itmurundy Jade Mine – A Pass to Jade Gate
by Nikolai B. Kouznetsov
- Canada's NWT Diamond Hub Adds New Spoke
- Yes, Yes, Nanette
- Temple Treasure: Royals in (the same ol') Row
- Burma Bits
David Hughes, Editor
Shows and Events
Mineralientage München 53rd Munich Mineral Show: October 28–30, 2016
Pala International's Bill Larson and Will Larson will attend this year’s Munich Show.
When: October 28–30, 2016
Where: Munich Trade Fair Centre
Hours: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM each day
Friday, October 28 (Trade only)
Saturday, October 29 and Sunday, October 30 (Trade and public)
This year's theme is "The Museums' Hidden Treasures."
Raquel Alonso-Perez, Curator of the Mineralogical and Geological Museum at Harvard University (see below), will attend the show, where the museum will display the Hamlin Necklace alongside a suite of cut Hamlin gemstones and rough tourmaline material from Maine. She will give a presentation on the history and scientific significance of the necklace and Maine Tourmalines on Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at noon.
Giant Gems of the Smithsonian
Perot Museum, now through January 17, 2017
You know the saying, "everything is bigger in Texas." Well, for the next three months, visitors to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas a truly yuge, Texas-sized display, Giant Gems of the Smithsonian. Were you to visit that venerable institution, you'd not see such a collection of colossi in the same room.
In this special display, thirty crystals and cut gemstones are gathered, including the American Golden Topaz, weighing 10.1 pounds (pictured above). One of our favorites is the Picasso Kunzite Necklace, designed by Paloma Picasso for Tiffany & Co., featuring a 396.3-carat Afghan kunzite. The necklace celebrated the firm's sesquicentennial in 1987 and was gifted to the Smithsonian two years later. Another favorite is the Dyber Ametrine, fashioned from Bolivian bicolor quartz, showing off master carver Michael M. Dyber's signature "optic dishes." Names local to Dallas also will be noticed; a gorgeous fluorite from the collection of Gail and Jim Spann is included in the display.
And speaking of giants…
Not too long after your editor began writing for Pala International, I was given the assignment of looking into the matter of irradiated blue topaz. Apparently, safety concerns about residual radiation—the enhancement that can turn colorless and brown material to a pleasant cool blue—had been settled years before via regulation. Yet, material was found to be "hot," eventually causing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to dialog with the industry. (See our series "Red Hot and Blue.")
But topaz can achieve its desirable blue color via natural radiation. Such is the case with the 9381-carat beauty pictured below. Known as the Ostro stone, it will go on permanent display via long-term loan at the Natural History Museum in London tomorrow. It was discovered three decades ago in Minas Gerais, Brazil, by Max Ostro, who founded Ostro Minerals in 1960. His son Maurice Ostro is a prominent entrepreneur and philanthropist who became head of the firm upon his father's death six years ago. Maurice said in a museum news release, "Collecting beautiful coloured gems was my father’s passion; my mission is to leverage his remarkable legacy in a way that would make him proud. We are delighted that the finest of his gemstones will now be part of the collection at the Natural History Museum who share our passion for exceptional stones." He uses the business in support of his charitable projects, described in the news release. The colorful life of Max Ostro is told in a September 27 story in The Sun.
Looking Back and Forward in Bangkok
Brecken Branstrator, who is both Senior Editor and colored gemstone editor for National Jeweler, attended the Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair last month. In "5 Observations from the Bangkok Show" she discusses the prospects for the Thai market, the sustained market for high-end and high-quality gemstones, what was missing at the show and what wasn't, the inclusion of students, and finally her enthusiasm for August's new birthstone: spinel.
One of Branstrator's critiques—that the Bangkok shows are too close in time to the Hong Kong shows—has been handled by moving the 2017 shows from January to February and from September to August, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Ruby enthusiasts are looking forward to the first World Ruby Symposium, which will take place between the Bangkok shows, in April 2017.
The Thai gemstone industry received a shot in the arm this past spring when the Thai government was "persuaded" to exempt the value added tax (VAT) on the importation of finished and rough gemstones as well as machinery and tools, and even silver and gold chain coils.
President Hollande Tours School of Mines Museum
During the conference "Which Roadmap for a New European Renaissance," French President François Hollande toured the conference's host institution, the National School of Mines in Paris. Below, our friend Eloïse Gaillou, associate curator of the school's museum, shows off the mineral collection. (Photos © Présidence de la République – L. Blevennec)
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stone
Green Paraiba from Mozambique
This month we feature a stunning paraiba from Mozambique. When people hear paraiba they generally think of that classic Caribbean blue. However, just outside the more well-known blue spectrum lies a varying palette of greens—still holding that fluorescent glow for which we have come to know paraiba, but with varying levels of green, yellow, and hints of blue.
Green paraibas were uncovered in the original Brazilian find, through to the Nigerian discovery and right down to the most recent find in Mozambique. This 5.37-carat Mozambique paraiba has a strong grassy green hue with traces of yellow and blue, a beautiful mix that shifts color in different lights. Precision cut and nearly flawless, this is a top-notch collectable gem.
Interested? Contact us!
Gems and Gemology News
A new blog entry by Ana Vasiliu
At the end of the day, pearls are stone. These two look the part more than most in my collection of samples: a British oyster turned particularly heavy with mineral overgrowth including two pearls—a classically one-sided blister raised up like a finger next to the muscle scar, and a round one encased under translucent layers of calcite. Of oyster pearls, read on…
My Visit to the Itmurundy Jade Mine – A Pass to Jade Gate
by Nikolai B. Kouznetsov, with photos courtesy the author
During our epic trip with Richard Hughes in August 2000 to the Polar Ural and Borusskoe jade mines in Khakassiya (please see "From Russia with Jade") we did not have time to visit the third one—the Itmurundy jade mine in Central Kazakhstan. Beginning in 2010, to my last visit in July 2016, I've made a number of field trips to the area, and so I have had the opportunity to fill that gap. During my first visit I was impressed by the numerous jade deposits spread over the 200 sq km license.
The deposit was discovered in 1932 by Russian geologist and academician Mikhail Rusakov, famous for the Kounrad copper-silver mine in the same northern Pribalkhash Region. After the copper discovery, a copper smelting factory was built (1931–1938).
That same area was notoriously famous for Balkhashlag, where thousands of international political prisoners perished, killed by the Stalin regime.
Only in the 1960s was the Itmurundy jade deposit rediscovered and was studied by a number of prominent Soviet scientists like Dobretsov, Moskaleva, Ponomareva, et al. After almost a decade of geological survey conducted by the USSR, in the period of 1975 to 1982, hundreds of tons of raw jade were exported to Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc. (according to archives provided by the Museum of Gems in Moscow, special thanks to its director and my friend, Dmitry Abramov).
More resource assessment and trial mining is planned at Itmurundy, but to my mind the mine has a good potential. And although measured resources are fairly big as well, a lot of work has to be done to bring this material to the jade market.
Similar to Burmese
Some time ago I was in Myanmar's Mandalay jade market and bought several jade carvings including this Buddha (below), as I was told by a dealer that the raw piece was from Taw Maw mine, Hpakant area. Easily you can see the same pattern. No wonder Kazakh jadeite is sold in China as a Burmese material. Chemically it is the same as well.
And while we're on the subject…
Ahead of Sotheby's Hong Kong October 4 Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite sale, CNN looked at jadeite, asking the question in the web browser's title bar, "Is this more precious than gold?" The story begins by looking at the sale's centerpiece, a luscious jadeite bangle that had a pre-sale estimate of US$6.5 to 9 million.
The article reviews the jade market, the difference between Chinese and Western tastes in jade, buying tips, and more. Included is a slide show that will make your mouth water.
And that jadeite bangle? It didn't sell. Neither did the centerpiece of Sotheby's New York Important Jewels, September 22. It was a 27.35-carat oval diamond ring with a pre-sale estimate of $2 to 2.5 million. Nevertheless, there was a lot of color that flew out the door, including a jewel that was not a gemstone at all: a René Lalique ring set with a green-blue glass face of Medusa framed by a serpent (pictured below). It sold for twenty times the lower end of its pre-sale estimate. Catch the color at National Jeweler.
Canada's NWT Diamond Hub Adds New Spoke
It's not every day that a diamond mine opens; in fact, in Canada last December De Beers closed its Snap Lake Mine in the Northwest Territories (NWT) due to "bad economics" and has offered it for sale. Nine months later, however, and De Beers and partner Mountain Province Diamonds have opened Gahcho Kué, also in NWT, claiming it to be the largest new diamond mine in the last 13 years. The mine and companies are the subject of a September 23 profile by the National Post.
The remote mine is known as a fly-in/fly-out site, with workers working in two-week on-off rotations, and consists of three open pits, according to a De Beers news release. It's expected to achieve full operation in the first quarter of 2017. Its lifetime output is expected to be 54 million carats of rough diamonds from 35 million tons of material.
Unlike an expansion by De Beers of its Victor Mine in northern Ontario, which has been halted by resistance of the Attawapiskat First Nation, Gahcho Kué's opening was attended by representatives of First Nations and Métis communities. De Beers has signed a "Ní Hadi Xa" (Chipewyan for "For Watching the Land") agreement with five Aboriginal parties, according to a De Beers report.
The logistics of the setup operation were extremely challenging, with supplies being trucked in on an ice road for only 6–8 weeks beginning in early February. Climate warming further challenged the transport. The mine will produce 4.5 million carats per year, just three percent of the world market.
Yes, Yes, Nanette
Before last month's Sotheby's New York sale (see above), designer Nanette Lepore spoke with the auction house about fashion and jewels. She comes from a line of craftsmen and artists, her husband is studio artist Robert Savage, and the two have opened the Lepore Savage Gallery in their West Village home. (SNL host Emily Blunt looked like she could have been wearing Lapore in her opening monologue this past weekend.) Lapore is a big fan of estate jewelry, so Sotheby's asked her to pick her favorites from the September 22 sale—one of which, pictured below, caught our eye as well.
Temple Treasure: Royals in (the same ol') Row
The headline in the Guardian on September 24 was somewhat promising: "Indian royals in row over missing temple treasures." Alas, the article provides merely a summary of what we've been looking at for the last few years on the Padmanabhaswamy temple in the Indian state of Kerala in southern India. (See our "A Mighty Meltdown?" from January.) The erstwhile royal stewards of the temple and its billions of rupees' worth of gold and jewels, still maintain their right of ownership, but the jury—or rather the supreme court—is out. It's been ten months since the court heard the case, but the Guardian story states that a new hearing will be announced soon.
Meanwhile, on October 4, The Hindu reported on tourism plans for the temple, and accusations of thefts were made in August. In June, the temple's executive officer was reprimanded for suspending some temple employees. We can only wait.
Markets, Missions, Manufacturing, Migrants and Mining
As we noted in our special email last week, the big news is the U.S. Treasury announcement on October 7 that "the economic and financial sanctions on Burma administered by OFAC are no longer in effect." Included among the impacts, "The ban on the importation into the United States of Burmese-origin jadeite and rubies, and any jewelry containing them, has been revoked." The policy took effect with an Executive Order signed by President Barack Obama.
By coincidence rather than by design, the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) Burma Ruby Task Force happened to be in Burma at the time of the announcement, on a mission to meet "with industry stakeholders, government officials, gemstone dealers and miners to help assess the market outlook and to move forward developing bilateral trade between the two countries," according to an AGTA member alert. The Task Force consists of AGTA CEO Douglas K. Hucker and President Jeffrey Bilgore, Jewelers of America President and CEO David Bonaparte, and GIA's Dr. James Shigley. They were accompanied by JA senior counsel Timothy Haake and members of Inle Advisory Group, a business consulting firm with a focus on Burma.
An October 6 Myanmar Times story, posted the day before the announcement stated that the AGTA trip had been planned even before Obama announced the lifting of sanctions on September 14. Myanmar Times quoted Inle's Peter Kucik as saying, "We understand the announcement is imminent." How right he was. Kucik said that AGTA was not concerned with jade, since its market in the U.S. is "not significant." Sanctions, known as the JADE Act, lumped colored stones in with jade; it may take time to separate the two.
Two weeks before the order was signed, U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel was softening everyone up, saying that maintaining sanctions at this point was more costly than easing them, and that sanctions no longer could be a force driving the country's transition to democracy, according to Myanmar Times on September 21. A few sanctions remain in place, such as an arms embargo, sanctions against 21 individuals and 10 companies with narcotics connections, and two people with ties to North Korea, as reported by Myanmar Times on October 10.
Burma's gemstone industry welcomed the lifting of sanctions even if it doesn't change the overall picture much, as Democratic Voice of Burma reported on October 12. Yone Mu, chair of the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association, noted limited impact, but said that "American technology" is what Burma needs to compete. An Eleven News article posted two weeks before the order's signing was more upbeat, providing added details about post-sanction benefits.
The legislature's upper house Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Committee last month introduced a bill to prevent monopolization of Burma's gemstone industry. While the country's Gemstone Law of 1995 already has been revised to allow for mining on small, medium and large plots, investors have moved in to control vast swaths of land for an extended period. The new bill intends to re-strike the balance, Myanmar Times reported on September 23.
Meanwhile, jade mining continues amongst scavengers, whom the government lawfully arrest, but in a capricious manner. Upon the detention last month of seven such prospectors in Hkamti township, Sagaing Region, in north Burma, more than 2000 people took to the streets to protest, according to Myanmar Times on September 28. Days later, the upper house Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than called for an end to the crackdown on prospectors.
Last week, mechanized miners uncovered a whopper of a jade boulder in Hpakant, Kachin state. U Win Stein, director general of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation said it was the largest piece of jade ever uncovered in Burma, according to The Irrawaddy yesterday. Per the notations written on the boulder, it weighs 174,600 kg (193 U.S. tons) and measures 19 ft long, 15 ft high, and 14 ft wide. An earlier report on Saturday by the Daily Mail put its value £140 million ($232 million) stating that the boulder would be sent to China.
Nearby Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin, is being touted as a travel destination by Myanmar Times, despite Kachin's history of strife. Myitkyina might not be easy to reach, either by car or air, but the article commends the food (healthy), drink (no hangover), traditional houses (colorful), and natural beauty (waterfalls and lakes).
Finally, two reports appeared during the last thirty days, both naysaying Burma's jade trade. Financial Times, in a September 26 story, recycled Global Witness's questionable 2015 report as well as several stories we've looked at recently, under the headline, "The dark shadow of Myanmar's jade trade." Myanmar Times last Friday issued "Jade curse tests post-sanctions Myanmar," which takes a hard look at the environmental legacy and future of jade production. For its part, Global Witness urged the U.S. to support reform of the industry, as reported by The Irrawaddy.
Gem and Mineral Ephemera, San Diego County
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 minerals and mineralogy.
In 1923, San Diego jeweler and gemologist John W. Ware issued a trifold brochure touting the city, its county, and the area's mineral treasures—"The Gem Casket of America." Ware begins by focusing on the geology of the region, then lists eight local gemstones and their gemological properties, before singing San Diego's praises in an eight-stanza poem of his own composition. The poem encapsulates some of the features of San Diego contained in a thirty-two page booklet issued by the county's Board of Supervisors in about 1907, which we featured in this month's sibling newsletter, Pala Mineralis.
As we often do, here we offer two items from our sibling e-publication, Pala Mineralis.
Harvard Mineral Collections on Google Cultural Institute
Readers of our pages are well aware of the treasures of the Mineralogical and Geological Museum of Harvard University. Now, more than 150 of the museum's most compelling mineral specimens and jewels are available for virtual browsing via Google Cultural Institute. Categories currently viewable include a dozen countries and localities as well as a necklace group devoted to the Hamlin Necklace with its lovely tourmalines.
Three exhibits also are featured: Opals, Albert Burrage and His Rare Golds, and The Hamlin Collection. These allow the viewer to really dig in regarding a favorite subject, with archival material interspersed with large-scale imagery.
Google Cultural Institute, via Google Arts & Culture, brings visitors to more than a thousand of the world's finest museums.
Crystal Raising on García Lorca Street
Noche abajo los dos. Cristal de pena,
llorabas tú por hondas lejanías
Night behind us. Crystal of pain,
you were crying for deep distances
— Federico García Lorca
In recent years, Late Prehistoric archeological sites in the metropolitan area of Seville, Spain have yielded rock crystal fragments, blades and arrowheads. Fragments were found in neighborhoods with names like Calle Trabajadores (Workers Street, perhaps a nod to the Republicans of the Civil War) and Calle García Lorca, named after the famous granadino poet. In August 2015, lead investigator Prof. Antonio Morgado of the University of Granada and colleagues issued a study of the artifacts, "The allure of rock crystal in Copper Age southern Iberia: Technical skill and distinguished objects from Valencina de la Concepción (Seville, Spain)."
The objects under study "form the most technically sophisticated and esthetically impressive collection of rock crystal material culture ever found in Prehistoric Iberia," according to the study's abstract. And esthetic they are. The arrowheads are like dancing teardrops; the dagger blade, like an icy cypress. Three objects were analyzed for provenance, and while no conclusions were reached, two potential sources are suggested, both several hundred km away from Seville. Quartz and rock crystal objects were not uncommon as funerary items in the 4th and 3rd millennia B.C.E., but after that time the practice of including them drops off almost completely.
The arrowheads' "appendices" (or dancing feet in our analogy above) would have required quite a bit of skill to fashion. "This culminated in the craft specialisation of rock crystal work," the study states, "with these objects bringing together the techno-economic characteristics of the concept: a rare raw material, a technical process involving an initiation and prolonged learning process and an end use beyond the practical use or the domestic context."
The study then turns to the nature of the society that would have crafted these objects (citing writers like Mircea Eliade), as well as the significance of the employment of the beautiful material. Also discussed is a crystal core specimen about 10 cm in length.
Well, not everyone will find this fun.
— End October Newsletter • Published 10/18/16 —
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