Table of Contents
Shows and Events
Pala International News
- Marcial de Gomar Collection On the Block
- The Curse of the Bahia Emerald
- Emeralds from Sandawana
by Eduard J. Gübelin
Gems and Gemology News
David Hughes, Editor
Shows and Events
63rd Annual Palomar Gem, Mineral & Jewelry Show: June 3–4, 2017
Late this spring the Palomar Gem and Mineral Club hosts its sixty-third annual Palomar Gem, Mineral & Jewelry Show at the California Center for the Arts in downtown Escondido, California. The club is as old as the show, having been founded on March 20, 1954. So they've learned a thing or two over the years. Thirty vendors are expected at the show, which is in part a fundraiser for the club's activities, including field trips, workshops, and faceting and other specialty classes.
Club member Archie J. Kuehn, who owns the San Diego Tourmaline Mine in Mesa Grande, told us, "I think our show is the finest gem and mineral show in the San Diego area, and each year we are upgrading it. The Center for the Arts is an ideal location. This year we want to feature the rich gem and mineral history of San Diego."
For more on the show and the Palomar Gem and Mineral club, visit their website.
Pala International News
Pala's Featured Stone
Sri Lankan Star Sapphire
This month we have selected our new 10.36-carat sapphire in honor of the upcoming Sinkankas Symposium, which features several experts on sapphire as well as one lunatic from Pala International.
This beauty is a classic Sri Lankan star sapphire. Not only is it devoid of distracting inclusions, but the rays of this stone's star are well defined and have a strong reflection. Most star sapphires either lack a well saturated color, gem clarity or strength of rays. This stone ranks profoundly in the top end of all three categories.
Interested? Contact us!
This month we mark the Feast of Saint Patrick with the emerald items below as well as a reminder for which the practicing faithful can be doubly grateful. In any year Lenten restrictions on food and drink are lifted on this feast day but, falling on a Friday, that day's vow of abstinence likewise is suspended. So crack open the Blue Curaçao and the amber ale (just kidding; that tints the quaff turquoise!), sharpen the carver, and don't forget the shamrock garnish.
Marcial de Gomar Collection On the Block
New York City-based auction house Guernsey's is poised for a sale of the Marcial de Gomar Emerald Collection on April 25. The sale catalog below takes you through three baker's dozens of lots, featuring both rough and cut stones as well as set jewels, coins, a 22.5-carat conch pearl, and a "red emerald."
Marcial worked for years in the mines of Muzo, Colombia, so he had access to emerald specimens like La Gloria (pictured on the catalog cover), weighing 887 carats and believed to be the largest such specimen in the United States. Marcial's collection also contains the largest group of cut emeralds from the sunken galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which he received as partial payment for his consultation on the excavation of the ship's treasure.
For more information on the sale, see the Guernsey's website.
The Curse of the Bahia Emerald
For those of our readers overly familiar with the saga of the "Bahia" Emerald, which we began covering eight years ago last month, a new profile of the cursed specimen in Wired might be only notable for its Crazy Color illustrations. But if the specimen's story is a little hazy, you're in for an engaging tale.
The last time we looked at the fate of this specimen was our 2015 St. Patrick's Day edition of Emerald Aisle via a recently published Bloomberg article, which we called "perhaps the most comprehensive story on the specimen to date." That article ended with a punch line: Bahia Emerald contender Ken Conetto showing the Bloomberg reporter a photo of another specimen, which he claimed was "four times bigger" than the Bahia Emerald. In this month's Wired article, after a description of Conetto's mobile home worthy of Raymond Carver, journalist Elizabeth Weil finds him still dissing the specimen as a reeking rucksack of Russian pinniped pucky, or something to that effect. And Jerry Ferrara, who is still very much emotionally invested in the specimen, after initially declining to talk with Weil, sent her a copy of his unpublished memoir and invited her to visit him in Florida, which leads to a lot of local color. The fate of the Bahia Emerald? Weil gives that away up front. But do read "The Curse of the Bahia Emerald, a Giant Green Rock That Ruins Lives."
Emeralds from Sandawana
By E. J. Gübelin, Ph.D., C.G., F.G.A.
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 this age of on-demand printing and "free" business cards we forget what a luxury full-color was in earlier times. Even monochrome came at a price. When your editor first worked in the chartroom of the Kaiser Permanente medical center in Hollywood in 1978, our unit had a photocopy gatekeeper. None of us clerks could copy so much as a lab slip without giving it to the Xerox czar. At the same period of time, the DIY aesthetic took us to commercial color copiers that did lo-fi reproductions by default. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when viewing Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979–1980 at MCA Denver, which includes several of the late artist's color Xerox works. Now an artist would have to tweak the machine to get that crappy, edgy effect. And, for those old enough to remember, many monochrome-copied photographs were rendered at their most basic: black and white, with almost nothing in between.
All of this came back to me when preparing this month's Pala Presents offering: "Emeralds From Sandawana" by the late maestro of the microworld Eduard J. Gübelin. This study of verdurous beryl from what is now south-central Zimbabwe is in the collection of Bill Larson as a fifteen-page reprint. Open the cover and you are dazzled by a sextet of brilliant full-color photomicrographs of emerald inclusions. Browse further into the text and seven more monochrome figures cry out for color, like those lame Xeroxes of the late '70s. Figure 4, reproduced here, depicts a garnet crystal surrounded by a "brownish" halo. Fortunately the full-color images up front depict the same phenomenon.
"Emeralds From Sandawana" takes a comprehensive look at the subject, first following prospectors Laurence Contat and Cornelius Oosthuizen who had been lured to the area by offers made by the Rhodesian government. Once they hit a rich deposit—sending $15,000 worth of emeralds to New York—the government got savvy. Dr. Gübelin was then asked to examine these emeralds "in order to find out their local peculiarities" and so he takes the reader through the headings of Occurrence, Appearance, Chemical Composition, Physical Properties and, of course, what the Doctor is famous for, Internal Characteristics.
Read "Emeralds from Sandawana" by Eduard J. Gübelin.
Gems and Gemology News
National Pride and Prejudice
A light controversy was settled four and a half years ago, but Fox Business channel covered the story just last month via its Strange Inheritance series. In July 2012 Sotheby's offered a gold and turquoise ring that once belonged to author Jane Austen. Vying for the ring were two notable parties: Jane Austen's House Museum and American pop singer Kelly Clarkson. Unfortunately the museum didn't have the singer's deep pockets and so Clarkson—herself a fan of Austen's novels—pocketed the jewel. The museum truly had been caught off guard: while the ring's pre-sale estimate maxed out at £30,000, the hammer price was five times that!
The ring had been in the possession of Nicky Gottelier, a fifth-generation descendant of Austen's brother. Because Gottelier's own sons weren't interested in hanging on to the ring, she decided to sell it. In the Strange Inheritances episode, host Jamie Colby travels to Oxfordshire to get the ring's tale directly from its former owner.
It wasn't until more than a year after the Sotheby's sale that the British government stepped in, placing a temporary export bar on the ring "to provide a last chance to raise the £152,450 needed to keep it in the UK," according to a news release by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.
Raise money the museum did, with a £100K pledge from a single anonymous donor, happily received. The export bar was really just a technicality, a decision of whether to grant an export license based on the "Waverly criteria," described by CNN as "whether an object is so closely connected with Britain's history that its departure would be a misfortune, whether it is of outstanding aesthetic importance or of outstanding significance for the study of art, learning or history."
Loss of the ring undoubtedly would have left a hole in the UK's Austen jewels. Only two other pieces are known to have belonged to the author—a topaz cross and an ivory and turquoise bracelet—both of which are at the museum.
For her part, Kelly Clarkson was disappointed at her loss. In an AP interview, she said, "I totally agree; it is a national treasure […]. But I kind of felt like they maybe should have claimed that before I bought it. But it's where it needs to be." Still, the Clarkson cachet regarding the ring appears to have spawned a replica that can be had for £450. The reproduction was designed exclusively by Jo Kelsey whose workshop near the museum goes by the unlikely name of Originals Jewellery. Profits go to the museum. We're reminded of the Lady Di white gold sapphire and diamond replicas, CZ-and-sterling versions of which still go for under $45 at Walmart. But the Austen replica is no bauble: it is handmade to order of non-veined turquoise from Arizona mines that have closed, according to the item's writeup. As noted in the Sotheby's catalog the stone in Austen's ring originally was thought to be "odontalite, a form of fossilised dentine that has been heated to give it a distinctive blue colour, which came into fashion in the early 19th Century as a substitute for turquoise."
Austen died two hundred years ago this July 18. Last Thursday, in timely fashion, the British Library speculated on the cause of her death—based not on, say, analysis of a lock of hair, but rather on examination of her eyeglasses. Needless to say, there are skeptics (see Live Science, Washington Post and USA Today).
Feng Shui Fossils
Three years ago we reported on the theft of what Canada's National Post likened to its country's Hope Diamond. It was an shoe-sized ammolite specimen from southern Alberta. Ammolite (aka ammonite) is both Alberta's official gemstone and is a Canadian National Treasure, meaning that it cannot leave the country without an application. (Sort of like Jane Austen's ring.) Like pearl, ammolite has biological origins, being the fossilized shell of ammonite mollusks. And like pearl its opalescent quality comes from aragonite, the same material found in nacre. Ammolite fossils elsewhere often are drab grayish things, unless its inner chambers have been crystalized such as in this photograph by Sarah Oros.
A year ago investors from Calgary, Alberta's largest city, acquired Korite International, called "Canada's premier supplier of colourful ammolite, one of the world's rarest gems," according to the Calgary Herald. The gemstone is treated as a treasure, with all specimens "in their natural state" being "individually numbered and recorded in a database." Korite had been founded in 1979 and the new owners were optimistic about the prospecting of leveraging ammolite to new heights.
A Herald follow-up story last month discusses the progress: an increase in mine size from two to eight acres, a prospective jump in production this year from 2016's six million carats to eight million, a deal signed with a distributor in China (ammolite being a feng shui paragon), calls from India where the market is untouched, and on and on.
National Jeweler's Brecken Branstrator in her 10X Blog on March 1 did some disambiguation regarding ammonite the ancient creature and ammolite the "trade name." She helpfully quotes GIA regarding the science behind ammolite formation. She also calls ammolite "one of the few new natural gems to be introduced into the market in the last 70 years." Author Renée Newman updated her section on ammolite in last year's Gemstone Buying Guide, Third Edition (see our review). She writes that it wasn't until 1962 that ammolite was sold as a gem material and production didn't ramp up until 1983. Because it usually is thin and fragile, she writes, most ammolite is assembled into doublets and triplets. It is relatively soft, with a Mohs hardness of 4; pearl has a hardness of 2.5 to 4.5. Newman devoted a whole chapter to ammolite in Exotic Gems, Volume 1 (see review).
And that stolen ammolite? We tried calling the store in Vancouver, but got no answer.
Migrants, Mining, Marketing and Muzzling
Time magazine last week published an overview of jade production and marketing in Hpakant, with the lurid title "Battling for Blood Jade: Inside One of the World's Most Dangerous Industries." But you knew that already if you've been reading Burma Bits for any length of time. It's mainly information we've been noting in dribs and drabs, packaged in one place. Reporter Hannah Beech made her way to Hpakant, receiving the inevitable army escort out. To the, mm, jaded reader Beech's description of the dynamics between government and military might be most compelling, as well as the circumvention of regulations by devious means. Classic quote from the owner of a small mine: "Of all the hairs on the head of the jade industry only one strand is Burmese."
A similar article, this one regarding Mogok's rubies and with a tourism slant, comes from a Burma news source new to us: Frontier Myanmar, an English-language weekly magazine based in Yangon. See Frontier's "Into the Valley of Rubies" from last fall.
In other mining news, Myanmar Times reported last Tuesday that 134 mining blocks in Burma's gemstone tracts would expire this month, with numbers matched to locations listed in the article.
Burma's government was slammed twice in stories from Frontier Myanmar. The first, posted January 27, regards The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which we first looked at in December 2013. Plans to join it were launched by the previous President U Thein Sein, which was a bit of a surprise since as a retired member of the military establishment he might have taken a different path. The Frontier article, however, says it is the post Thein Sein government transition that "got in the way, bringing the country's progress toward EITI compliancy to a halt." The second Frontier article, posted February 25, quotes ethnic leaders as saying there has been "no progress" under the new government in the equitable management of natural resources. The Irrawaddy reported on this as well, as did Myanmar Times.
The 7th Myanmar International Gems, Jewellery and Watch Expo 2017 will be held over next weekend, March 24 through 27. It will be held at the National Museum of Myanmar in Yangon. It bills itself as "the only jewellery trade show" in the city. But it's organized by a Thai firm, AsiaConnect. Myanmar Times wrote about the expo last Friday, stating that the JA New York Show would be at the expo on March 26 to "provide an explanation of US visa processes for Myanmar gem traders who will be attending the gem expo in New York." The expo will feature fifty booths from the U.S. and ten other countries and territories, which are listed in the Myanmar Times story.
Myanmar Times itself was the subject of a story in Frontier Myanmar. "The muzzling of the Myanmar Times" by Australian journalist Sean Gleeson of the Frontier staff is so lengthy we didn't have time to read it by e-press time, but the muzzling appears to be internal, although Gleeson does cover government censorship as well.
Bye Bye BurmaNet
Frontier Myanmar was on a list provided yesterday in a farewell email from the editor of The BurmaNet News, an e-newsletter that had kept Burmaphiles up to date since July 2004, but archived news had not been posted since October 27, 2016.
After almost a quarter century, the BurmaNet listserv and website are being retired, with the reincarnation of its producer, the Burma Project [see this page], into [George Soros's] OSF's newest national foundation, the Open Society Myanmar in Yangon.
BurmaNet was just one of many efforts to keep Burma in the world's conscience over the past decades. Our loyal readership represented a wide array of Burma watchers around the globe, including one who prompted this email: "…I have read Burmanet news religiously for 22 years and am puzzled by its sudden halt, without a goodbye email or anything."
Here are some suggestions on how to get continuous updates of news on Burma. Instructions for setting up a daily Google News Alert using the terms "Myanmar" and "Burma" are available here. Additionally, we recommend the following Burmese media groups, all of whom provide regularly updated content on their websites:
- The Irrawaddy
- Democratic Voice of Burma
- Myanmar Times
- Burma News International
- Myanmar Now
- Frontier Myanmar
Lastly, Online Burma Library is an excellent source of documents and links to articles, books, and other written material related to Burma/Myanmar.
Thank you for your patronage. And thank you Doug Steele, BurmaNet's first editor-compiler, who suggested the brilliant idea in the first place.
Our best wishes and a warm goodbye,
The BurmaNet Team
BurmaNet was the first site your editor would consult each month in compiling the Palagems Reflective Index Burma Bits column. It will be sorely missed.
Editor's Note: Last month we received word from Ana Vasiliu that her research on the origin of natural pearls was ending. It was six years ago this January that Ana first wrote us regarding a line in Elise Skalwold's article "Natural Pearls" from January 2011.
I am writing in response to a tantalizing statement in Pala's latest newsletter. It promises:
[We are] optimistic that we will be able to make our own SEM images this spring and further explore for ourselves these fascinating microworlds.
Ana, it turns out, had been doing just this. In 2010 the owner of a non-nacreous pearl had presented it to Dr. Antonio Checa at the University of Granada, with the question, What made it? Ana, who had been corresponding with Dr. Checa, was determined to answer the question. After reading Elise's article she approached Pala International as being an independent voice that could debut some groundbreaking work. We took her up on it and Ana produced or contributed to a string of articles and a dozen blog entries beginning in November 2011 (see "BioMineralix Studies the Nacre of the Beast"). It wasn't easy. We're grateful to Ana for choosing Pala International as the platform for news of her research and we wish her well. A research collection of natural pearls remains at Ana's host institute, Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra (IACT), inviting new work. Ana told us she hasn't heard of any other such holdings in research institutes. (The door is always open.)
When Renée Newman wrote to me after our last newsletter of her new edition of Pearl Buying Guide I told her that Ana had suspended her research. In response, Renée selected the photographs from her book that appear below. "They fall right in line with your topic of natural pearls."
Pearl Buying Guide, Updated 6th Edition
by Renée Newman
It's been twenty-five years since the first edition of Renée Newman's Pearl Buying Guide, which carries the subtitle How to Identify and Evaluate Pearls. The last edition—the fifth—was issued in 2010 (see our review), so it was time for a new look at the subject.
Newman begins the book with Curious Facts About Pearls; there is lore to satisfy the curious, such as the Chinese pearl love potion and the Hindu tradition of "the presentation of an undrilled pearl and its piercing" in the marriage ceremony. But the science and composition of pearls also are discussed, and the global sources of pearls identified. This chapter is helpfully illustrated with more than two dozen photographs of: pearl farms (one resembling an immense floating garden), the host bivalves, treatments, shell-bead nucleus placement, and more.
If you're like me, pearls are the inscrutable jewel (my brother's position on the matter notwithstanding). There's no simple Four C's to gauge quality and price. In Chapter 2 Newman identifies nine factors—only one a C—and they are useful in penetrating the surface, so to speak. Most have full chapters devoted to them: Luster (Chapter 5), Surface Quality (7), Shape (4), Color (6), Size (8), Nacre Thickness and Quality (5), Matching, and Treatment Status (13). The ninth in the list, Type (Chapter 3), even has subsets: saltwater/freshwater (12), natural/cultured (15), and whole/blister.
Okay, so that's manageable. But let's dig into one of these chapters: Type. Nineteen types of nacreous pearls are examined, from Oriental to Pipi, plus six kinds of non-nacreous pearls—several of which are reproduced above and below. Newman takes the reader through each of these terms, which can have both a generic and specific meaning. For instance, South Sea pearls can refer to any saltwater pearl hailing from the general area of the southeastern Pacific, but refer more often to "large white or yellow pearls cultured in the Pinctada maxima oyster" from the same area.
Chapter 5, Judging Luster & Nacre Thickness, raises other aspects of pearls that a layman might find off-putting. But just one look at Newman's photos of high- versus low-luster pearls against backgrounds black and white brings the issue into focus. There are tips: simply examining the drill hole with a loupe and light, Newman explains, can tell you a lot about a given pearl such as dyes, imitations and nacre thickness. Likewise with Chapter 15, Natural or Cultured? Newman provides six tests You Can Try at Home, Kids! I tried the Blink Test on what I thought would be the centerpiece of my granddaughter's dowry, only to be a bit chastened. (Hold a strand at the front edge of a strong desk lamp so the light passes through the pearls, and twirl. If they "blink" from dark to light they are cultured. Rats.)
Chapter 13, Pearl Treatments, is an eye-opener. Twelve enhancements are listed, some obvious like bleaching and dying, but some not: injecting color-changing metal fluids into the pearl sac in situ. Who'd a thunk it? Newman lists eleven tests for those treatments, several of which require minimal technology. My favorite was shooting photos of pearls with color infrared film, until I found out it was discontinued by Kodak years ago (Rollei still produces it, however). Oh well, something for the 7th edition!
Pearl Buying Guide is not all technical, of course. As well as the myriad photographs and illustrations that grace this book, there are chapters on Antique & Estate Pearl Jewelry (pop quiz: what years did the Arts and Crafts era span?), Choosing the Clasp (Newman lists five, along with an enhancer and a pin adapter), Creating Unique Pearl Jewelry with Colored Gems (from which the pendant below is taken), the very practical Caring for Your Pearls (many jewelers will examine mountings and strings gratis) and, perhaps most fun, Versatile Ways to Wear a Strand of Pearls (nineteen in all!).
As Newman told me last month, "Book writing is a continual learning process." New to this volume: 186 new photos; updated info on pearl types; geographic sources and freshwater pearls; expanded chapters on natural pearls and creating jewelry; and new pearls and new pearl jewelry styles. A four-page bibliography closes the book, preceded by a two-page appendix, Chemical, Physical, and Optical Characteristics of Pearls. With her Pearl Buying Guide Newman has once again made the inscrutable scrutable. The volume is available via a link on the author's website »
Oh, and there actually is a quiz!
Lillian Cole: A Gem of a Bookseller
Pala International's Bill Larson not only is a collector of fine gemstones and mineral specimens but also a collector of books devoted to that same realm. Thus he was delighted to come across a biographical profile of (and by) Lillian Cole of Twelfth Street Booksellers in Santa Monica, California, from whom he's obtained "many nice books."
Bruce E. McKinney, in the March edition of Rare Book Monthly, writes about how the now-92-year-old Cole didn't begin her career in bookselling until she was 60. She herself writes in a 36-page Valentine (2/14/2017) to readers that the stars seem to have aligned during the year of 1984: she planned to retire from her secretarial job at UCLA; she met by chance a rare book dealer "who became my teacher, mentor, and friend"; and she ran across a brief article in the Los Angeles Times about an auction of books.
The books had come from the collection of Michael Hurley, well known to all the local sellers and who she describes as "a book lover, book collector, and bibliophile teetering on the slippery slope of bibliomania." A Times profile of Hurley explains that he had more than 35,000 books, which upon his death were packed into thirty-one 7x7' packing crates—each of which could have held the furnishings of a two-bedroom house—and shipped to a warehouse that Cole drove to with her husband. Cole recalls it being the third such public auction, placing it on December 15, 1984, with 200 cartons of books on offer. Dozens of seasoned sellers already were lined up. Once inside Cole "felt a sense of despair at the enormity of it all." (Your editor can attest to that same feeling, having attended Caltech's annual sale to help a friend who to my relief was looking for volumes written only by Nobel Prize laureates.) It was at the Hurley auction that Cole picked up The Book of the Pearl by George Frederick Kunz and Charles Hugh Stevenson, which would pass through her hands many times. While still a novice at book buying and selling, her love of the craft of books shines in this description:
It was beautiful with its ornate gilt and faux pearl pattern to light green covers, top edge gilt, more than 548 pages, color frontispiece with tissue guard, 24 color illustrations on 16 plates all with tissue guards, black and white photos on numerous plates, illustrations and maps, and a 14-page bibliography.
Cole entered the world of bookselling at a watershed moment. In an informal gathering at an industry seminar the next year in Denver she was horrified to hear Richard Weatherford talk about the role of computers in bookselling. As early as 1982 Weatherford already had drawn up his business plan for an online database, eventually cofounding Alibris, a giant in the online bookselling trade. Weatherford was "kind and patient" with Cole regarding her negativity towards the technology, as well as being her second customer. For anyone interested in books—gemological or otherwise—and who also recalls the heyday of Southland brick-and-mortar stores, from Santa Barbara to San Diego (my brother Richard and I haunted them all), Cole's memoir is a painful reminder of what was lost: the serendipity of the accidental find. Some of my most treasured tomes are things I never would have known to look for.
Cole's memoir is proof that an old dog can be taught new tricks. She first specialized in books about Antarctica. It was her daughter Jo Ellen Cole's interest in gemology that finally compelled Lillian to switch. (I believe I met Jo Ellen when my brother took me to GIA in the late 1990s, when it still was located in Santa Monica, and I was blown away by the library's holdings.) Books on gems was a niche market at the time and Lillian recalls it being a good choice. Regarding her role as bookseller perhaps most amusing is admitting the need "to be reminded that the point of business is business," such is her love of books beyond any monetary reward. To that end she takes the reader through her (hard-copy) catalog entries.
There's much more in store for the avid reader of Lillian Cole's chronicle: her encounters with Andy Müller, John Sinkankas and others, her foray into appraisals, her rapprochement with technology, and finally her "not for sale" treasures. Read "Rare Book Notes 101" by Lillian Cole.
— End March Newsletter • Published 3/16/17 —
We welcome your feedback.