Table of Contents
Shows and Events
Pala International News
- Scorched Earth
- Sovereign's Sapphires
- Gems: An Ultimate Investment?
- Auction Action Figures
- Pearl News
- Burma Bits
David Hughes, Editor
Shows and Events
Fourteenth Annual Sinkankas Symposium – Sapphire
April 8, 2017, GIA World Headquarters and
The Robert Mouawad Campus, Carlsbad
The annual Sinkankas Symposium has been described by John Koivula as the "best gem mineral symposium in North America" and has a reputation for achieving sold-out enrollment.
This year's theme focuses on sapphire, and a stellar cluster of scholars is slated:
- Edward Boehm – Sapphire Origin Determination: Past and Present
- Dr. John Emmett – All the Colors of Corundum
- Dr. George Harlow – Syenite-Hosted Sapphires – What's Going On
- Alan Hart – Sapphires in the Crown Jewels
- Richard Hughes – Sapphire Around the World
- Carl Larson – Sapphire: Cut Gems and Crystals from a Collector's Perspective
- Glenn Lehrer – The Art and Science of Faceting and Carving Sapphire
- Shane McClure – Sapphire Treatments and Their Detection
- Nathan Renfro – The Microworld of Sapphires
- Dr. George Rossman – Added Attractions on Color in Corundum
- Dr. William "Skip" Simmons – Mineralogy and Crystallography of Sapphire
- Lisbet Thoresen – Archaeogemology of Sapphire
Robert Weldon will chair the day-long proceedings. The symposium is sponsored by the Gemological Society of San Diego and GIA (Gemological Institute of America). For more details, including speaker profiles, visit the Symposium website.
Registration: Online only; $95.00 through April 2 or when tickets sell out. (Looks like they will sell out quickly.) No on-site registration. Attendees must be on the parking list 48 hours in advance to access the campus and must bring valid photo government-issued ID (driver's license is fine).
Arusha Gem Fair: May 3–5, 2017
This year's Arusha Gem Fair will be held May 3–5 in Arusha, Tanzania. Events aren't yet posted, but in addition to last year's show, tours of three mines were conducted as well as safari tours to famous national parks. Last year also saw a report on a women's scholarship fund that was initiated at the first show in 2012. The fund aims to train women in value-added skills for lapidary and jewelry technology.
As noted in the graphic above, the fair this year will include a public mineral auction of government stock as well as an auction of rough tanzanite.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stones
Tourmaline: Yellow and Green
Guess which one is copper bearing.
This month we feature two exceptional tourmalines that redefine what we think of as cuprian. Cuprian or copper bearing is a relatively new variety of tourmaline that first popped up in Brazil, then Nigeria, and most recently Mozambique. We generally associate copper with paraiba varieties in the blue to greenish blue hues but there is quite an array of colors that can stem from copper or a mix of copper and other chromophores. But we definitely know that copper produces neon and fluorescent-like properties in tourmaline.
The copper-bearing tourmaline in this picture is in fact the 43.40-carat yellow while the 38.54-carat blue green one is void of copper but still holds a beautiful glow from an alternate mixture of elements.
The 38.54-carat blue-green tourmaline (Inv. #23645) certainly has a special chemical blend that produces this unique color. It's hard to pinpoint locality on this one with colors reminiscent of Brazil, Afghanistan, and Namibia. Recent feedback in Tucson places it from the Usakos region of Namibia.
The 43.40-carat yellow tourmaline (Inv. #23616) was found to have traces of copper and manganese, which most likely sources it from Mozambique. Mozambique produced a wide variety of hues containing copper, from the classic blue to blue greens, along with greens, purples, magentas, violets, and now yellow!
Interested? Contact us!
Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst drought since the 1970s. Water levels are so low that seawater is moving inland. Water that is available is contaminated with salt. Farmers cannot grow crops and power is being bought from the private sector, according to a January 22 story by the Sunday Leader. One of the thirteen districts most affected by the drought is Ratnapura, home to the gem center of the same name. Rain is not expected to bring relief until June or July, and even then it may not be enough.
What's my grandmother doing in the Daily Mail, your editor asked himself when he saw this portrait of Elizabeth II last week. The Queen, who is ninety years old, does resemble my maternal grandmother who died at ninety-eight years of age in 1997. On February 6 Elizabeth celebrated her sixty-fifth year of reign and the portrait shown here commemorates that occasion.
The Queen wears a sapphire parure, known as the George VI Victorian Suite after her father who gave it to her upon her marriage seventy years ago. The original necklace's largest sapphire was removed in 1952 and crafted into a pendant. Shown below in 1996 is a newer sapphire tiara—made in 1963 from a necklace owned by the daughter of Leopold II, Princess Louise of Belgium.
Elizabeth II is Britain's longest-reigning monarch and, of course, now the first to celebrate the "sapphire" anniversary.
While we're at it, why not show off another of the Queen's dazzling suites? Pictured below is the Brazil Parure. A necklace and earrings of aquamarine were presented to Her Majesty for her coronation in 1953, a year after her ascendency, by the president and people of Brazil. Four years later she had a tiara made to match. Impressed by that, Brazil gave her the bracelet shown here as well as an aquamarine brooch.
Gems: An Ultimate Investment?
Capital it fails us now
Comrades, let us seize the time
—Gang of Four, 45 RPM single, 1982
Town & Country is the United States' longest running general interest magazine with a nonstop run, according to Wikipedia, which also states that its early readership consisted of the Social Register set, despite the intention of its cofounder. The magazine, which debuted in 1946 as National Press and renamed eight months later as Home Journal, was envisioned by Nathaniel Parker Willis, as "keeping open…a bridge of human sympathy and kindly feeling between the upper classes…and the country at large" (Home Journal 11, 07 Jul 1855, 2). Today the magazine, which received its present moniker in 1901 and its present owner—Hearst Corporation—in 1925, describes itself differently:
TOWN&COUNTRY covers elite education, summer camps, and the complicated lives of rich kids; philanthropy from A to Z; Washington, DC, and Hollywood, two playgrounds where privilege and dynasty still reign supreme; dazzling jewelry, couture, and the finest things made by hand; notable wedding celebrations and the most talked-about parties; ultimate travel and remarkable cars; beauty secrets and anti-aging breakthroughs; houses of legendary design and character; fashion, edited for iconically stylish women and men whose clothes are the chic necessities of an ambitious life; and the behavior—for better or worse—of the one percent.
Jewelry is covered sumptuously in Town & Country's pages, and its website has a lot to offer in that regard: "A Stunning New Emerald Collection Is Revealed" (Van Cleef & Arpels's Emeraude en Majestée Collection from last fall), "Catherine the Great's Necklace Is Up for Auction" (it didn't sell), and a visit with Iris Apfel (our featured video, complete with outtakes).
This month Town & Country asks the question, "Is Jewelry the Last Brilliant Investment?"—quickly answering with a statement by Graff Diamonds North America CEO Henri Barguirdjian: buy quality, wait, and "you will not lose money."
A little background… On September 29 Women's Wear Daily announced that Barguirdjian would leave Graff, with the headline "Graff CEO Steps Down, in Talks to Buy Marina B." Sometime after November 6 WWD replaced that story with "Former Graff U.S. CEO Henri Barguirdjian Establishes Fine Gem Investment Firm" without changing the September 29 dateline. The firm in question is Arcot Finance, formed with Philip Falcone, founder of hedge fund Harbinger Capital. It seems Falcone was ready for something fresh: in 2012, he was accused of market manipulation. As Robert Khuzami, SEC's Director of Division of Enforcement, put it at the time, "Today's charges read like the final exam in a graduate school course in how to operate a hedge fund unlawfully." Ultimately, as part of a second settlement (the first was tossed out as too lenient), Falcone issued a mea culpa—rare in an age when defendants neither admit nor deny wrongdoing, as reported by the New York Times in 2013.
If this sounds like a cautionary tale, it is. But only to a degree. This month's Town & Country article takes the reader through some of the fine points of investing in high-end colored gemstones as well as those set in jewelry. Barguirdjian likens this to the fine art market. Picassos can be valuable—or they can be really valuable.
For nearly five decades, the experts at Pala International have helped guide clients through the rugged terrain of colored gemstone acquisition. To obtain more information on the subject, see "Collecting & Investing in World-Class Colored Gemstones" by Jason Stephenson.
Auction Action Figures
Christie's, the world's largest auction house, celebrated its 250th birthday last year, and in the course of blowing out the candles provided two glimpses at the action figures behind the rostrum.
Wild Wizards of Oz
Just as potential investors in world-class colored gemstones might need some encouragement and guidance (see above), farmers of traditional "wild" pearls are providing prospective clients with experiential motivation to consider old-school product. In November, Wall Street Journal profiled these farmers in "For Australia's Pearl Farmers, the Wild Is Their Oyster."
From northern Australia to Indonesia, artisanal South Sea pearl farmers are challenged to conjure the cachet of a craft that is completely overshadowed by mass production. Third-generation farmer James Brown of Cygnet Bay Pearls in Australia was inspired by winery tasting rooms to leave out the wholesaler and lure wealthy vacationers directly with tours and boat rides to the oyster banks. This allows shoppers to see "the grunt behind the glamour," as Brown puts it.
Large, cherry-sized pearls plucked from wild oysters on the ocean floor can go for $30,000 apiece—wholesale. While it's taken years of educating the buying public on why they should care about the difference between pearls sold at airport cubbyholes for a dime a dozen versus nonpareils going for thousands, the glut in cheap Chinese production actually has helped. Savvy shoppers simply want something rare.
SSEF: Another Tool In the Kit
It's been an open secret for years that Dr. Michael S. Krzemnicki of SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute and researchers like Dr. Irka Hajdas and colleagues at the Laboratory of Ion Beam Physics have been employing radiocarbon (carbon-14) dating of pearls and their host shells. Posted on the SSEF website is a July 18, 2012 presentation outlining some of their findings. The chart below from that presentation shows how dating of pearls can aid in the identification of natural versus cultured pearls, since, for instance, trade in cultured pearls only becomes significant in the second decade of the 20th century.
As discussed in "Wild Wizards of Oz" above, the price points for natural and cultured pearls are quite disparate. In the past, separating the two has been accomplished by use of "radiography, X-ray luminescence, and X-ray computed μ-tomography, combined with X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF), Raman microspectrometry, UV-Vis-NIR reflectometry and meticulous microscopic examinations," as explained in a detailed 2013 paper by Drs. Krzemnicki and Hajdas. Having another tool in the kit like radiocarbon dating is a boon for high-end collectors and dealers. In their paper the researchers provide the case of sample ETH-46319 from a private collection with a declared age (think "birth date") of about 1940. Earlier examination had provided only inconclusive results. The radiocarbon dating indicated an age of 1623–1781. The process is invasive, however, requiring a minimum of 8 mg of pearl material, according to the article; we're told that now only 1–2 mg are needed.
On February 1, SSEF announced that it is offering carbon-14 testing to its clients, becoming the first gem laboratory worldwide to do so, in partnership with the Ion Beam Physics Laboratory at the university of ETH Zurich.
Migrants and Mining
In November 2015 we mentioned a documentary by the rather unwieldy title Dams, Drugs and Democracy The Struggle for Resources in Kachin State, Myanmar, which touches on Kachin's natural resources, including jade. Fast-forward to January 29 and the premiere of Jade World From Manaw Land; not only is this a feature film dealing directly with the jade industry, but it is the first Kachin-language film to obtain national distribution and the first to be nominated for a Myanmar Academy Award. Like the aforementioned documentary, this film took four years to make and had to steer clear of armed conflict. The film's Kachin director JZ Daung Loon told Myanmar Times he wanted to show his impression of the jade industry and its risks to all of Burma's ethnic groups.
The risks to miners depicted in the film were brought home last Thursday night when nine itinerant workers were smothered under a wall of earth that collapsed in Kachin State's jade land of Hpakant, according to Radio Free Asia. Among the dead was the owner of a small mine in Nanthmaw village, according to Hpakant administrator Kyaw Zwa Aung. The RTA article provided this statistic: the number of migrants scavenging rubble for jade is estimated to be 200,000. That statistic flies in the face of the August 2016 vow by minister Ohn Win to check mining area entrances for migrants.
Authorities ramped up to impede illegal activity on another front in its perennial attempt to stop smuggling, The Irrawaddy reported on January 27. Checkpoints in Shan State and Mon State on the Thai border were to be reopened; they'd been closed following the new government taking power in 2012. The reopening will be accompanied by an interagency effort.
Migrants of a different sort were highlighted in a January 19 Mizzima story: 4.25 million Burmese nationals have migrated abroad. Most stay relatively close to home, in Thailand and Malaysia. On January 28, Suzie Yuan wrote in the Guardian about her return from England to the homeland she left as a five-year-old in 1966. On the way to her childhood flat in Yangon she went through the old Scott market, now known as Bogyoke, with its "rubies, sapphires and longyis… everywhere."
Gemstone mining regulation was critiqued January 25 in Myanmar Times by Paul Shortell, an associate of the National Resource Governance Institute in Yangon. Now that jade and gemstone mine licensing is suspended, Shortell argues that "vague and superficial" changes to the existing Gemstone Law need to be rethought in the areas of "outdated fiscal framework, opaque licensing procedures, and conflicts of interests among regulatory institutions." That same day Myanmar Times reported that the mines department plans to set up a new committee to oversee gemstone mining, but with only the vaguest of details.
Tax-wise the gem sector exceeded its target for a six-month period, according to a February 9 Myanmar Times story, but gas and oil revenues plummeted. So a tax hike on other sectors appears to loom. Welcoming a tax break are gold buyers, who will see a two-percent drop to three percent in April, as reported by Eleven Media Group on February 7. A week later, the Joint Bill Committee suggested reducing that tax to one percent.
Ruby, Sapphire & Spinel: an Archaeological, Textual and Cutural Study
by Derek Content
Reviewed by Lisbet Thoresen
Derek Content has been described as a "connoisseur-collector in the classical mode." It is fair to say that he has pushed the envelope on that characterization. As a collector and dealer specializing in ancient to medieval glyptic (gem carving) and jewelry, he is perhaps best known for his collection of ancient Roman cameos. He has always ventured further afield of the mainstream of western ancient gem studies. His acute attention to the particular, to the specific—cameo carving, for example—has always been focused in relation to historical and cultural context that extends beyond the traditional boundaries of the classical world.
The acquisitive impetus that set Mr. Content traveling for many decades, especially to India and Southeast Asia, gave him direct exposure to present-day lapidary industries in different parts of the world. It provided awareness of the lineage of gem art and jewelry making dating back to antiquity. His travels have informed his uniquely qualified perspective on the possible connections linking gem sources with gem carving and workshop locales. His travels also provided opportunities to develop an immersive familiarity with ancient/historical literature written about gems and their sources. The synthesis of knowledge and experience accrued over a long career spanning more than four decades is like no other and is reflected in the pages of his most recent publication, Ruby, Sapphire & Spinel: An Archaeological, Textual and Cultural Study.
Taking its two parts in reverse order, Ruby, Sapphire & Spinel, Part II, is a catalogue of a special category of glyptic from the collection of Riaz Babar and Derek Content, which is beautifully photographed by Gonzalo Salcedo. The collection is remarkable for the gem materials presented. Sapphire was never a common gemstone in the ancient world, but ruby and spinel were exceedingly rare. There are a handful of published examples. Mr. Content's book now fills some glaring gaps in the putative ancient gemstone repertoire. It is not that so many examples are added—ruby, and especially spinel, were extremely rare until a relatively late date—but he qualifies the cultural setting of their occurrences very specifically.
The Babar-Content collection is remarkable also for the cultures represented and the lapidary and jewelry techniques exemplifying them. I cannot think of another published collection remotely similar for its range. Indeed, this collection catalogue and discussion (Part I) fill several significant gaps in ancient/historical gem studies. Most important, it tethers the western cultures of the classical world to the rest of the oikumene (known world) in antiquity.
The geo-cultural range represented by this collection of 99 catalogue entries (a mixture of single and group items) provides a bridge between epochs and across cultures. It covers gem carving in the ancient classical world (Greece and Rome) and Europe through 1650 and into the modern era through the 20th century. The geo-cultural benchmarks between antiquity and modern times are represented by glyptic produced in the Islamic world, India and Sri Lanka, China, and the countries of Southeast Asia—Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma. The Babar-Content collection provides an important reference for cultural preferences in gem carving specific to different periods and places of manufacture. It includes fashioned, unengraved gems mounted in finger rings or other jewelry; some gems bearing inscriptions; intaglios; cameos; and faceted stones. The collection reflects varying degrees of cross-cultural diffusion of artistic forms, while the gold jewelry settings show highly distinctive, regional developments. The persistence of localized or vernacular differences over time, especially in the metal work, is both intriguing and instructive.
Antiquarians and students interested in the history of glyptic, particularly gem engraving in western cultures, and archaeologists specialized in the ancient gem trade, will find that Part I of this two-volume set provides illuminating discussion with much useful information not found anywhere else. No doubt, it will be a first introduction for many ancient gem scholars to a literary terra incognita beyond the familiar firmament of classical texts such as On Stones, by Theophrastos and Natural History, by Pliny the Elder. Together, the two complementary volumes are an indispensable reference in any library.
Ruby, Sapphire & Spinel: An Archaeological, Textual and Cultural Study is available from the publisher.
1. Weideger, Paula. (2006, Sept. 30) Portable sculpture and other gems. Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/37aad9f6-5020-11db-9d85-0000779e2340.html
2. Content, Derek J. (1990) Thoughts on Portable Sculpture in Precious Stone. In: Henig 1990 (see note 3).
3. Henig, Martin. (1990) Content Family Collection of Ancient Cameos (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum), 135 pp.
— End February Newsletter • Published 2/15/17 —
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