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September – December 2014

October 2014 Newsletter

Bouquet photocollage image
Knot tied. Last Saturday, Pala International's Will Larson and Rika Nakamura wed in an idyllic Napa Valley setting surrounded by friends and family. See photos below. (From an original idea by Will Larson; see the above specimen employed in a forthcoming ad.)

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

  • The Mascara Stone
  • Research Roundup
    • This Imitation Not Flattery
    • Blue Sapphires from Nigeria
    • When Unenhanced Is Unimportant
    • Amber, Ruby and Sapphire
    • Galileo Galilei, Gemmologo

Industry News

Pala Presents

Recycle Bin

Shows and Events

Mineralientage München 51st Munich Mineral Show:
October 24–26, 2014

Munich show logo image

Pala International's Bill Larson and Will Larson will attend this year’s Munich Show.

When: October 24–26, 2014
Where: Munich Trade Fair Centre
Hours: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM each day
   Friday, October 24 (Trade only)
   Saturday, October 26 and Sunday, October 27 (Trade and public)

Last year's show had the second highest attendance rate in the event's fifty-year history, according to organizers. This year's special theme is "Meteorites," including the demise of the dinosaurs. "Gifts from the Sky" will be examined, including their divine—or devilish—significance for various religions.

International Year of Crystallography logo image
The Munich Show observes UNESCO's International Year for 2014—Crystallography—with part 2 of the show's special exhibition on the history of mineral identification.

In Gemworld, for the second year, the Munich Show will highlight the work of recent graduates, in Young Designers' Corner. As well as being a showcase, this is a competition: three contestants will be awarded cash prizes as well as a free booth at Gemworld 2015.

For more information visit the show website. See the Pala International Show Schedule for future events.

Pala Ad image
See our ad in this year's program.

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Blue Moon: No Longer Alone

Extremely rare diamond to be paired with Butterfly collection

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles' Minblog has been insane for indigo the last two months in preparation of a special exposition featuring the Blue Moon Diamond. Faceted from 29.6-carat rough, the internally flawless 12-carat Fancy Vivid Blue diamond will be paired with the Aurora Butterfly of Peace colored diamond collection (which we touched on in January). Both will be on display through January 6, 2015. See the following blog entries, but allow some time; there's a lot to linger over.

Gala photo image
Eloïse Gaillou, Associate Curator of Mineral Sciences at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, center, talks with guests just outside the museum's foyer, which was bathed in blue for the gala that welcomed the Blue Moon Diamond. The image on the right shows the diamond phosphorescing a strong orange-red. Most blue diamonds phosphoresce blue, so this places the Blue Moon in a category occupied by the Hope and Wittelsbach-Graff diamonds. Gaillou's research focuses on diamonds and opals. (Photo: Tiffany Arnolds © for NHMLA)
Post photo image
Jeffrey Post, Curator-in-Charge of the Smithsonian's Mineral Collection, unpacks the Blue Moon Diamond prior to testing in the Institution's highly secure Blue Room. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou)
Blue Moon Diamond photo image
From Eloïse Gaillou: Finally, we were curious to look at the remaining strain inside the diamond structure. All natural diamonds show some strain features, and the Blue Moon is no exception. The colored striations are the evidence of such a strain. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou, in between cross-polarizers)

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Cartier at DAM? Brilliant!

Note: The following article, which we ran back in December, is augmented with the fact that the exhibition's curator, Margaret Young-Sanchez, expects the show to sell out quickly. Tickets are on sale now.

Denverites and visitors can look forward to a holiday treat this fall with a homegrown show, "Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century," produced exclusively at the Denver Art Museum. Focusing on the maison's work from the first eight decades of the 1900s, the exhibition will feature 250 pieces: jewelry, timepieces (including the Egyptian striking clock pictured below) and more, as well as "his" items like cufflinks, cigarette cases, and Cartier's signature tank wristwatch.

DAM director Christoph Heinrich was quoted in a press release about the scope of the show: "The evolution of Cartier takes us on a journey through 20th century history, from the era of the last Czars in Russia to the Roaring '20s in America to the onset of Hollywood glamour as we know it." Heinrich explained to The Denver Post that the museum has never mounted such an ambitious jewelry show, which will include museum-quality creations owned by Elizabeth Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor (and heightened security).

Five years in the planning, "Brilliant" runs from November 16, 2014 through March 15, 2015. Since the show will not travel, you might want to.

Necklace photo image
Front and center. Necklace worn by the Countess of Granard, Beatrice Mills Forbes, from a wealthy family that specialized in thoroughbred horse racing. Her brother, Ogden L. Mills, was Herbert Hoover’s treasury secretary. This necklace was a special order crafted in 1932 by Cartier London of platinum, diamonds and emerald. The center stone is a 143.23-carat emerald-cut cabochon. Height at center 8.80 cm. Cartier Collection. (Photos: Nick Welsh, above, Cartier Collection © Cartier; Bain News Service, below, undated, courtesy Library of Congress)
Granard and Forbes photo image

See The Jewellery Editor for a slide show that will provide a perspective on the stunning size of the necklace pictured above. Wrap your mind around the 143.23-carat emerald, were it wrapped around the neck of Countess Granard, above.

Clock photo image
Striking. Egyptian striking clock owned by Florence Meyer Blumenthal (1875–1930), wife of German banker George Blumenthal. She was a patron of the arts whose philanthropy included the Prix Blumenthal, awarded to two hundred recipients in arts and letters between 1919 and 1954. This clock, 24 x 15.7 x 12.7 cm, was created in 1927, using gold, silver gilt, mother of pearl, lapis lazuli, coral, emerald, carnelian, and enamel. Cartier Collection. Click for hi-res. (Photo: Nick Welsh, Cartier Collection © Cartier)
Necklace photo image
Crocs. Crocodile necklace worn by Mexican actress María Félix (1914–2002), pictured below, who eschewed Hollywood yet made films with everyone from Miguel Zacarías and Fernando de Fuentes to Jean Renoir and Luis Buñuel. The necklace is completely articulated, crafted from gold, two ruby cabochons, 1,023 yellow diamonds (60.02 tcw), and 1,060 emeralds (66.86 tcw), measuring 30 cm and 27.3 cm in length. When worn as a brooch, the tucked-in legs of each segment are replaced. It is said that Félix dropped off her own pet crocodile to serve as model, but cautioned that her baby was growing. It took two years to create the necklace. Cartier Collection. (Photo: Nick Welsh, Cartier Collection © Cartier)
   La Doña. Below, it appears that Cartier engaged in some crocodile cannibalism, issuing in 2006 its La Doña de Cartier collection, the watch from which features scale-like band and croc-like trapezoidal case and face. Marketing included color images of a Félix stand-in. Like Countess Granard, Félix was involved in thoroughbred horse racing, by way of her last husband, French banker Alex Berger.
Felix and La Doña photo images
Cartier in the 20th Century cover image
Cartier in the 20th Century is published in conjunction with the "Brilliant" exhibition. It also is being offered in a deluxe edition.

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Pala International News

Faceted Topaz Egg with a Nod to John Sinkankas

First off this month, Pala International's Bill Larson fills us in on the story behind a lovely faceted gemstone egg…

Inspired by the magnificent faceted eggs that John Sinkankas cut for the Smithsonian, I asked Meg Berry to do her best and turn the rough topaz crystal from Colorado, pictured (partially) below, into a beautiful egg. She took on this challenge and the result is perfect: over 900 carats of shimmering topaz.

Topaz Rough photo image
Leftovers. A section of the original rough from Colorado: a 315.92-carat topaz specimen. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

I obtained the topaz rough in exchange from then-Smithsonian curator Paul Desautels in the late 1970s. The crystal was not perfectly terminated (see below handwritten note on label: "etched incomplete crystal") but internally it was very good. And the provenance was wonderful. It was found by legendary collector Ed Over (covered this month in our sibling e-publication) in 1935 and retained by his partner, Arthur Montgomery, until his collection was donated without encumbrance. Paul selected something of importance for the Smithsonian from me and I kept the topaz for many years until I thought perhaps it was time to try to fashion it into a gemstone egg. The fact that it is from Colorado—Over's adopted home—just made this so much better.

Label photo image
Label photo image
Label photo image
Paper trail. The labels for the topaz indicate 1) discovery—(1935) Over – Q.M., 2) retention—Arthur Montgomery Collection, 3)  gift—to U.S. National Museum and 4) cutting by Meg Berry. (Photos: Mia Dixon)

Meg spent an enormous amount of time working on the design and perfecting the shape. Then the many many hours of grinding and polishing. All the while trying to maximize size. The finished gem is a true work of art and a great rarity.  

Carved Topaz Egg photo image
All white, no yolk. As the label above states, Meg Berry's finished work weighs in at 928.87 carats. Price available upon request. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Egging Meg On

Master faceter Meg Barry also explained things, from her point of view…

When Bill Larson asked me to facet his mondo topaz crystal into an egg, I was paralyzed! I had never attempted anything that large, much less an egg. So I started at the source: John Sinkankas. I looked at pictures and read his articles about cutting it, and dived in.

The shape couldn't have quite the same bulk around the middle as the prototype, but I was able to achieve what I considered a nice egg shape, or oversized briolette, as it has been called. I went with smaller facets that Sinkankas, for many reasons, including the fact that it is much easier to control the shape that way. Smaller facets are also easier to polish, and twinkle more.

I encountered the cleavage plane twice, once on each side, and was able to confuse it out of being a problem. The total time it took to complete the cutting was 90 hours! I may have missed Bill's target weight of 1,000 carats, but I came close, at 930. And Bill says he is thrilled that it is over 900 carats.

Rare Replay: Imperial Topaz

Also this month, we feature a wonderful vintage imperial topaz showing a perfect marriage of red and orange in a clean, large emerald cut gemstone. This is rare to find in the marketplace today. Pala International sold this gem in the 1970s and was delighted to be offered it again this month.

Topaz photo image
Regal rerun. Natural imperial topaz from Brazil, 22.72 carats, 17.16 x 12.59 x 10.15 mm, Inventory #22218. Price available upon request. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Interested? Call (phone numbers below) or email us to inquire. [back to top]

Nuptials in Napa: Will and Rika

Pala International's Will Larson and Rika Nakamura were wed last Saturday in California's Napa Valley attended by family and friends. Congratulations to the newlyweds!

Will and Rika photo image
Bride and Groom. Rika and Will are pelted with petals as they exit the wedding tent. (Photo: Keiko Hayakawa)
Will and Rika photo image
Cheers. What would a Larson wedding be without beverages and bijoux? Rika wears a Tourmaline Queen Mine rubellite and pearl necklace while Will sports a rainbow garnet ring. (Photo: Jeanne Larson)
Groomsmen photo image
Groomsmen. From left, Chris Anson, Jason Engel, Carl Larson, Will Larson, Dan Szajngarten, Ben Sobczak, Trey Fleming, Jacob Ceseña. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Wine Cave photo image
Into the mine. The wedding reception was held in the Wine Cave of Calistoga Ranch. (Photos: Jeanne Larson)
Wedding Cake photo image
Wine Cave photo image
Leap, sleep. Will Larson flies into the mosh pit, above, while a young guest takes a breather. (Photos: Jeanne Larson)
Sleeping Boy photo image
Will and Rika photo image

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Gems and Gemology News

The Mascara Stone

Just before the Denver shows, your editor was asked by John S. White to obtain contact information for fellow Denverite William "Bill" Ryan, the owner of a unique Brazilian topaz. Fortunately this was not difficult. Contact was made, as the two images we present here attest. Ryan, while not a collector of gems or minerals, is happy to possess the topaz as an objet d'art.

Before John retired from the Smithsonian Institution in 1991, where he was the curator-in-charge of the National Mineral and Gem Collection of the U.S. National Museum of Natural History, he had seen the topaz via its then-owner Thomas Harth Ames, the master gemstone carver who also calls the Denver area his home. (Ames is the creator of the exquisite contra luz opal carving "Aurora Borealis over Mt. Rainier.") Hoping to bring the topaz to the Smithsonian, John attempted a trade for a blue topaz, but the negotiations broke down.

Topaz photo image
The Mascara Stone. Above, the brushlike inclusion is barely visible. Below, detail of the inclusion with its uncanny resemblance to a mascara applicator. The topaz measures 16 x 12.2 x 6 cm. (Photos: Jeff Scovil)
Topaz Inclusion photo image

A couple of decades ago Ryan, in turn, befriended Ames, and noticed the topaz. It's an abraded river boulder that had two of its sides removed by breaking them off along natural cleavage planes, just the way Ames had received it. It was not cut or polished; the windows are perfectly natural. "There are probably a hundred other delicate, spider-web-like inclusions in the stone," Ryan told me. White elaborated: "The topaz features at least a dozen other perfectly straight inclusions parallel to the large one. Some appear to be simple tubes, while others have very fine spiral-like features."

As Ryan explained, "Ames didn't want to destroy the stone and its inclusions but needed money to buy a new piece of topaz. So, as a favor to Thomas, I bought the stone for $4000 and have kept it in a box all these years." Fast-forward to the fall of 2014 and the request from John White, who is preparing a paper on spiral inclusions with Prof. John Rakovan of Miami University's Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science. When he was in town for the Denver shows, White called Bill Ryan and cajoled him into bringing the topaz to the Colorado Mineral & Fossil Show at the Ramada so Jeff Scovil could photograph it. By this time the topaz had received its "Mascara Stone" moniker. We're grateful to everyone involved for letting us share it with our readers, and we look forward to the White/Rakovan paper as well.

For another topaz featuring a corkscrew-shaped inclusion, please see this month's Burma Bits, below. [back to top]

Research Roundup

This month we take a look at reports from some of the world's gemstone laboratories.

This Imitation Not Flattery

Report image

GGTL Laboratories, in their September newsletter, examined two colorless diamonds and their accompanying reports. The examination uncovered an elaborate scam. It involved obtaining GIA report information, inserting it into poorly counterfeited reports, cutting HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) treated stones to match the specs in the reports, and laser-inscribing the stones' girdles with the initials of GIA and the report numbers.

If a certain amount of attention to detail was paid in the scam, it was sloppy around the edges. Amongst the flubs: the observed inclusions did not match the plotting diagrams and the report could have benefited from a spell check, as shown here.

Blue Sapphires from Nigeria

In August, the GIA Laboratory, Bangkok issued a report titled "Blue sapphires from the Mambilla Plateau, Taraba State, Nigeria." The report comes after the appearance this past spring of large, clean sapphires of good color and considerable size—some as large as 300 carats—in Thailand and Sri Lanka, purportedly originating from Nigeria. As the report's title explains, the material was coming from the country's Mambilla Plateau in eastern Nigeria. Mambilla had been the site of earlier sapphire production, with the "classic" rough being darker than the new material. GIA had planned a field expedition to the new locality for April, but it had to be postponed. Accordingly, the present report is based on samples received by GIA in Bangkok. This preliminary report will be completed following an anticipated visit to the region. The samples studied in the report were from trusted West African sources in Bangkok. Regardless of the expedition delay, the report includes images of the deposit, obtained from a contact at the company holding the mining license, Gendutse Investment.

Sapphire photo image
No yellow sapphire samples were amongst those received by the laboratory, but yellow is observed via the Tyndall effect in GIA reference sample 100309934811. The sample was placed on a slightly reflective background and a white "daylight" type fluorescent illumination illuminated it from above. As can be seen, blue color is scattered from the sides of the sample but when light reaches the lower part of the stone it becomes greenish and then yellow as most of the blue is scattered away. (Photo: Vincent Pardieu © GIA)

Despite being a preliminary report, this one contains all the information that you'd expect from the lab and its authors, Vincent Pardieu, Supharart Sangsawong, Jonathan Muyal, and Nicholas Sturman. The report leads off with a section on the background of Nigerian sapphires and their deposits, followed by a description of the rough sapphires from the new deposit. A new parcel came into the lab on June 5, and these ranged in color from light blue to deeply saturated blue. Results of scientific study are given, and many photomicrographs accompany the report, showing the internal world of these sapphires. Also discussed are the challenges associated with determining the geographical origin of the stones.

Speculation regarding a typical application of heat treatment on the sample pictured above, based on the its chemical composition, resulted in a warning from the authors: what might appear to be the perfect candidate for heat likely would produce a very dark blue to black stone. The upside is that the samples' low iron content holds the promise that these stones, once faceted, will be less likely to take on a greenish or grayish appearance.

Over the years, we've looked at the travels of Pardieu and his colleague Richard Hughes to many far-flung localities, including Madagascar. For a look at that land's waning sapphire mining, published in February, see "A Plague of Sapphires" by Aaron Ross, writing for Roads & Kingdoms/Slate.

Also in sapphire news: While Apple didn't employ synthetic sapphire in its new crop of iPhone as many had speculated, Denver-based Sapphire Technology is developing use of the material in dentistry, according to an October 7 press release. The firm's instrument line will utilize optically clear sapphire-tipped instruments that, due to their hardness, will reduce "pull-back" when used with photo-cured resin composite fillings. Metal-tipped instruments can cling to such fillings, creating gaps that "can trap bacteria, provide opportunity for further tooth decay, and provide micro-leakage pathways for post-filling hot and cold sensitivity issues," according to the release.

When Unenhanced Is Unimportant

Last spring, at the JCK Show, emerald dealer and author Ron Ringsrud was asked to speak on the mining and marketing of emeralds. Also included in his presentation were the following remarks on emerald gemology. This appeared in Ringsrud's occasional newsletter; you can sign up to receive it here.

Emeralds: Perfect Gems with Minor Enhancement

In Europe, the treatment or enhancement of emeralds is an afterthought. Yes they prefer cedarwood oil, it is well understood and it's low tech. But they pay attention to the gem; its rarity, fineness and uniqueness. The enhancement is not given that much importance; it's noted and then they move on. In the USA and China however, it's as if they never even see the emerald; they get lost in the certificates as well as endless discussions that I won't bore you with.

However, in March this year at the Basel Gem, Jewelry and Watch show, I witnessed something that surprised me: the flood of requests for emeralds with no oil or enhancement. This is both good and bad. The surprising volume of requests for no-oil emeralds is a clear sign that there are many beginners and "newbies" coming into the colored stone world. They don't understand the subtleties of gemstone enhancement and they have plenty of money so they ask for no-enhancement emeralds. This is good; we want new people buying gems.

Emerald photo image
Enhanced. A nice 1.11-carat Colombian emerald, treated with oil and resin. Inventory #20793. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

But it is also bad. It is bad in that the power of this new money is strong-arming established dealers to beg for (and sometimes demand) no-oil emeralds. These established dealers, in my opinion should turn aside those requests and bring the attention of the customer to the fineness and rarity of color and of transparency, regardless of whether the certificate says no-oil, minor or even moderate. Two years ago I sold a 10-carat cushion emerald for $300,000. It had a moderate degree of enhancement according to one gem lab. How did I sell it? I educated the customer about rarity. Rarity is not found in a lab certificate but in the unique combination of color, transparency and cut.

I have to roll my eyes when I think of all the rare, special and fine emeralds that have been passed over because a customer blindly demanded emeralds with certificates stating "no enhancement." If my emerald inventory has few or zero no-oil emeralds I don't see it as my problem; it is the problem of the customer. The customer needs to educate himself and become a connoisseur. He needs to buy for beauty and rarity and let the certificate be secondary.

The 10-carat cushion emerald with the moderate degree of enhancement could have been sent to another lab and it probably would have come out "minor" but I didn't bother. My customer and I were very happy that such a rare and special stone came across our path so we could buy it. It was the stone that thrilled us; not the subjective opinion from a gem lab—an opinion by the way, that the lab specifically states on the legal disclaimer that they are not liable for ("errors, omissions, or … negligence of employees"). Gem labs are not being criticized here; the problem is that the emerald enhancement determinations are much more difficult than, say, diamond clarity calls.

Want more of the same, er, treatment? Peruse this vintage article by Richard W. Hughes, "Cloak and Dagger: The Politics of Opticon."

Amber, Ruby and Sapphire

Amber report image


Six authors, led by Thanong Leelawatanasuk of The Gem and Jewelry Institute of Thailand (GIT) issued a report on Indonesian amber, published in The Australian Gemmologist ("The Characteristics of Amber from Indonesia," 25:4, 142–145). The mind does not turn to Indonesia when thinking of amber, but the report states that this is changing, with this material appearing more and more at major gemstone shows.

Ten samples were studied, all purportedly from the westernmost island of Sumatra. The color ranged from yellow to brownish yellow to brownish red. Some samples, when viewed in strong sunlight, take on a bluish sheen similar to that of blue amber from the Dominican Republic.

When compared with reference stones from the Baltic, Dominican Republic and Burma, the Indonesian ambers featured prominent round-to-oval droplet inclusions in numbers not seen in those from the other localities. The Indonesian samples came from three different donors, but their Mid-IR and Raman spectra patterns were identical. This, again, is in contrast with the patterns from other localities. The researchers suggest that this is because each locality would have its characteristic plant species, from which amber is fossilized; and, of course, the species would have been laid down in differing geologic ages.

Ruby and Sapphire

Authors Thanong Leelawatanasuk, Wilawan Atichat, Visut Pisutha-Arnond and Pornsawat Wathanakul, all from GIT, provided a well-illustrated guide to ruby and sapphire grading tools in the pages of InColor this past spring ("Ruby and Sapphire Grading Tools," Spring 2014, 46–51).

The article begins with a comparison of the "4 Cs" (color, clarity, cut, carat weight) between varieties of corundum, with clarity in yellow sapphire being typically being higher than blue sapphire, which is higher than ruby. Next, GIT's quality assessment system is described, and is noted to be in a process of constant refinement. That said, GIT's standards are based on the Munsell system, which converted common Thai color names into its own color codes. GIT also has taken the somewhat amorphous but classic terms like "pigeon's blood" and "royal blue" and created its own master sets for comparison. Likewise, GIT has done the same with cut and proportion. "Unfortunately, due to very high value of such stones, cutters are forced to maximize weight retention," the authors observe. "Hence, very few stones possess ideal proportions." Finally, clarity is discussed briefly, once again noting the differences between corundum varieties.

Galileo Galilei, Gemmologo

Galileo portrait image
Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Giusto Sustermans, 1636.

Galileo Galilei is well known to school children as the father of astronomy, but like so many medieval and Renaissance investigators his pursuits were manifold: mathematics, physics, engineering, philosophy—and gemology. In a free-access edition of Journal of Gemmology ("Galileo as Gemmologist: The First Attempt in Europe at Scientifically Testing Gemstones," 34:1, 24–31), Prof. Annibale Mottana shows that at least one of Galileo's challenges was the same as that facing the modern gemologist: many of his samples were simulants.

Galileo was a university dropout who dared to use the vernacular rather than Latin in an early essay on hydrostatic buoyancy of precious metals, which he then applied to gemstone materials. It was only published posthumously—and incorrectly, omitting three pages due to a copyist's error—in 1644 by a follower, and even then, Mottana writes, care had to be taken to escape the Roman Inquisition, which had ensnared the essay's writer. The missing pages contained the results of Galileo's gemstone testing, and weren't located until 235 years later.

Mottana takes the reader through a fascinating analysis of la tavola and its accuracies and inaccuracies—such as mistaking what might have been topaz for diamond; at 141.5 carats such a diamond was worth nearly twelve large houses. [back to top]

Industry News

Business Press on Jewelry and Diamonds

Wallace Chan portrait image
Wallace Chan, from a press release regarding the 2012 Biennale des Antiquaires.

In July, when we highlighted the Biennale des Antiquaires, Paris's biyearly showcase of haute joaillerie, we mentioned a collection by Wallace Chan, who was the first fine jewelry brand from Asia and China to be invited to the Biennale. Chan likely is best known for the "Wallace Cut," introduced in 1987, a technique of intagliated gemstone carving that takes advantage of a stone's faceting to display multiple images of a single cameo-like image. The September 6 edition of The Economist published a profile of Chan, explaining that it took 13 years to develop his signature cut. This came after leaving home in Hong Kong in about 1967 at age 13 to help support his poor family, becoming a sculptor's apprentice in about 1970, going on to study European techniques, and opening his own workshop in 1974.

Chan went on to use his background to craft sculptural jewelry employing titanium rather than gold, in order to lighten the load on the wearer. As arresting as his gemstone portraits are, these sculptural figures—insects, fish, starbursts and more—also compel the eye, as can be seen in the article's accompanying slide show.

Three weeks before the Chan profile, The Wall Street Journal took note of the falling price of diamonds—six consecutive months in August—due to lukewarm sales. The factors discussed in the article are a drop in sales of larger sizes by Chinese customers and the fact that sales surged during the last financial crisis as an investment hedge. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Jade and Gem Sale Under Way

Spinel photo image
Spinel trap. An arresting natural Burma spinel, 7.33 carats. Inventory #22156. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Burma is in the midst of the third jade and gemstone sale this year, at the Maniyadana Jade Hall in Nay Pyi Taw, according to stories by Myanmar Times (MT) and Eleven Media Group (EMG). EMG called the sale "massive" while MT said the sale was "set for low-grade sparkle" since it consists of lower-quality jade offerings. (Xinhua called it a "utility jade" sale.) U Aung Naing Oo, a spokesperson for the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association, told MT that low-end prices would be in the range of 1 million kyat, or about $1,000. Seven thousand lots are being sold by 341 companies, according to EMG, 230 of which are private firms. Gem lots number far less: 160 lots offered by 22 companies. Mogok is represented by 14 profit-sharing firms selling 72 gem lots, and 85 such lots offered by seven private companies. Only local dealers have been invited to the sale.

Speaking of Mogok, on September 19, MT posted a travelogue on the area written by Stuart Alan Becker. And China's People's Daily profiled Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda last month, with its roof of gold, surrounded by 664 rubies, 551 emeralds and 443 diamonds.

Jade Jottings

Jade mining has resumed in Kachin State's Phakhant Township after a two-year suspension, as reported by EMG on October 7. Two large companies have moved more than 100 machines by river, with more expected, said a trader who felt that business was back to normal. A jade merchant told EMG that miners had left the area because both government troops and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) forces were taxing them, and the merchants couldn't afford to pay both levies—which raises the question of what arrangements the present companies have made.

Yesterday, however, as reported by The Irrawaddy, the government army ordered more than 1,000 people from three villages near Hpakant (alternate spelling) in anticipation of renewed fighting between the two armies. Ironically, the villages are under KIA control; the KIA troops were ordered to leave by the Burma army. Kachin News Group (KNG) reported today that KIA troops refused to leave. Incidentally, KIA spokesman La Nan told The Irrawaddy that only large companies—those with 30–40 mining blocks—were "asked" to pay the KIA. That is, unless an individual had a large strike. A tax-related incident, apparently involving KIO and fisherman, was reported by KNG on September 24. Meanwhile, on Monday, after citing Burma beauty queen Ma May Myat Noe's absconding from Korea with a valuable tiara of Swarovski crystals, economist Mari Oye asked the following question in an MT op-ed piece: "What is sexier than revising gemstone taxation policies?"

In other jade news, on October 4, Mandalay jade merchants formed a 72-member committee to advise the government regarding an upgrade to the city's Mahar Aung Myae jade center, even as a substitute is being built outside the city. An MT story on Monday stated that jade trading there is "booming," with the number of traders growing from a few hundred to thousands since 2008. That boom is the reason for the new center, which will be completed next year. Its location, of course, is not as convenient as the existing center. The regional government announced on October 1 that there are no plans for an upgrade. Traders told MT that they would appeal to the national government in that case.

Also in Mandalay, traders were to submit a petition to the Myanmar Gems Emporium Organising Committee on October 7 calling for heightened supervision of foreign investors, according to an October 6 story by Mizzima News. The traders claim that these investors masquerade in order to enter sales such as the present one, open only to local traders.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Richard Diran photo image
"The Vanishing Tribes of Burma," an exhibition of photographs by Richard K. Diran, has found a permanent home in Yangon’s National Museum, according to Mizzima News, October 12. Diran is a longtime friend of Pala International's Bill Larson, who snapped this photo of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi after meeting her at the reception for Diran, right, a year ago. (Photo: Bill Larson)

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Mizzima News: Looking for a way out – How will the U.S. frame further lifting of its sanctions?
  • The Irrawaddy: World Bank says Burma's economy growing faster than expected, urges tax increase and decreased borrowing
  • Myanmar Times: For decades, Burma's gemlands have been plagued with the use of hard drugs (Shan state grows 92% of Burma's poppies); the Ministry of Home Affairs has announced a review of drug sentences
  • Myanmar Times: We've looked at the intersection between the gemstone boom and real estate before (see last month's Burma Bits); one player in that game has a foot in both: Than Htike Lu Gems, Minerals and Construction
  • The Irrawaddy: We thought this was pretty much a thing of the past, but today it was reported that three journalists and two owners of a defunct journal were sentenced to two years in prison; the story they ran actually was in error
  • Myanmar Times: Buying habits in Mandalay jewelry stores are examined; "Our customers often buy sets of diamonds, rubies or sapphires"

Twisted Sister

After seeing the Mascara Stone (above), Pala International's Bill Larson was reminded of a similar topaz in his own collection…

Topaz photo image
Lava lamp. Topaz from Sakangyi, Mogok, Burma. It weighs 70.30 carats and measures 3.2 x 1.8 x 1.5 cm. (Photos: Mia Dixon)
Topaz photo image

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Pala Presents

Pala Presents title image

With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the collection of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who will share with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology. And, as with this edition, gemstone-related collectibles.

Birthstone Collecting Cards: October

This month we feature two birthstone cards for the month of October and its stone of opal. The card pictured below includes a hanging-vine-like flower that doesn't resemble marigold or Calendula, the traditional flowers for the month. But it does incorporate one of the other stones attributed to October, aquamarine or tourmaline.

According to the verse that appears on our other card for October (originally the Roman calendar's eighth month), opal can help take the chill out of the seasons' change.

Birthstone card image
One other collecting card for October is available here.

For more information on birthstones, see Palagems.com. Oh, and the Myanmar Times on September 30 ran a table of birthstones, flowers, colors and more. [back to top]

Recycle Bin

Bill Larson Judges German Gemstone Competitions

The following item came in two days after the publication of the September edition of Palagems Reflective Index. We shared it with readers of our sibling publication, Pala Mineralis, on October 2.

Today, before the opening of the 30th annual trade-only Intergem exhibition in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, October 3–6, two gemstone competitions were held, for which Pala International's Bill Larson was tapped in his capacity as an expert in the field. The following is a translation of a German-language article in the Rhineland-Palatinate newspaper Rhein-Zeitung, which announced Bill's participation. See images of last year's winners: here and here.

Newspaper Article photo image

"Country & People": Gemstone expert
Bill Larson is part of the jury

The American Gem expert Bill Larson is part of the jury that will decide on Thursday, Oct. 2, about the award of prizes for the 45th German Award for Jewellery and Precious Stones Idar-Oberstein and the 26th German Young Talent Competition for Gemstone and Jewellery Design Idar-Oberstein. Larson, President of Pala International Inc., is the world renowned expert on colored gemstones, mainly for rubies and sapphires. In the late 1960s, he and a business partner founded Pala Properties Int. Inc. and bought three gemstone mines, including the world-famous Pala mine. Since 1969, he has had two exceptional jewelry stores in Fallbrook and La Jolla in California. Larson also has one of the finest gem and mineral collections in the world. He is a founding member of AGTA (American Gem Trade Association) and ICA (International Colored Gemstone Association).

Poster photo image
Above, the competition poster. Below, fellow judge (and retired mineral and gemstone photographer) Erika Van Pelt makes her final selections earlier today. (Photos: Bill Larson)
Judges photo image

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— End October Newsletter • Published 10/16/14 —

September 2014 Newsletter

Video still image
Why is this man not smiling? Last month, we asked a variation of this question, pointing to a streaming video of a harrowing journey to the Kashmir sapphire mines. This month, the state of Jammu and Kashmir is underwater. Above, a doctor in Srinigar laments the conditions in his hospital, which is without power and running out of medicine and other supplies. Our hearts go out to the people of India and Pakistan. Relief is being given by the IFRC.

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

Industry News

Pala Presents

Shows and Events

Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair: Sept. 15–21, 2014

Brochure image

This month, 50,000 buyers from across the globe are descending on Hong Kong for the UMB Asia-sponsored Jewellery and Gem Fair. Exhibitors number more than 3,600, from 48 countries and regions.

Pala International's Gabrièl Mattice is in attendance, shopping on behalf of clients for that certain something.

The Fair takes place at two venues, slightly overlapping.

  • Raw Materials: Gemstones (including diamonds and pearls), equipment, and packaging – AsiaWorld-Expo, at Hong Kong International Airport, September 15–19
  • Fine Finished Jewelry – Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, September 17–21

Notable seminars include:

  • Screening for Treated and Synthetic Diamonds – A Review of Existing Technologies by Dr. Wuyi Wang, Director of Research & Development, GIA
  • Emerald 2014 – The Emerald Market and Mining Situation in Producing Countries by Dr. Dietmar Schwarz, formerly of the Gübelin Gem Lab, now Director at the Asian Institute of Gemmological Sciences (AIGS)
  • Launch of The Diamond Insight Report 2014 from The De Beers Group of Companies by Philippe Mellier, CEO, De Beers Group, and Stephen Lussier, Executive Vice President, Marketing, De Beers Group and CEO, Forevermark
  • The Facts of Ruby and Sapphire Trade by Thanong Leelawatanasuk, Chief of Gem Testing Department, GIT
  • Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide by Richard W. Hughes and Dream of the Red Chamber: The Internal World of Ruby by Hughes and Hpone-Phyo Kan-Nyunt
  • The Perception of Ruby & Sapphire Origins by Dr. Pornsawat Wathanakul, GIT Director
  • Mozambique Rubies – The New Star in The Market (Laboratory News) and A Trip to Mogok (Documentary Movie) by Dr. A. Peretti
  • Gemological Analytical Methods of the 21st Century by Sadarat Saeseaw, Senior Manager of Colored Stones, GIA, Thailand

Two conference/seminars take place on September 20, featuring illustrious presenters: AGIL-2014 International Gemmological Conference: The Natural Precious Gems is Forever and the GAHK Seminar, Fei Cui Heritage: Scientific Research and Professional Education. See the schedule for details. [back to top]

Mineralientage München 51st Munich Mineral Show:
October 24–26, 2014

Munich show logo image

Pala International's Bill Larson and Will Larson will attend this year’s Munich Show.

When: October 24–26, 2014
Where: Munich Trade Fair Centre
Hours: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM each day
   Friday, October 24 (Trade only)
   Saturday, October 26 and Sunday, October 27 (Trade and public)

Last year's show had the second highest attendance rate in the event's fifty-year history, according to organizers. This year's special theme is "Meteorites," including the demise of the dinosaurs. "Gifts from the Sky" will be examined, including their divine—or devilish—significance for various religions.

International Year of Crystallography logo image
The Munich Show observes UNESCO's International Year for 2014—Crystallography—with part 2 of the show's special exhibition on the history of mineral identification.

In Gemworld, for the second year, the Munich Show will highlight the work of recent graduates, in Young Designers' Corner. As well as being a showcase, this is a competion: three contestants will be awarded cash prizes as well as a free booth at Gemworld 2015.

For more information visit the show website. See the Pala International Show Schedule for future events.

Pala Ad image
See our ad in this year's program.

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Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection

Sixty jeweled objects from the private collection of Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani will be exhibited by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition, titled "Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection," runs October 28 through January 25. The jewels will demonstrate the evolution of styles beginning with the 17th century of the Mughal period. The objects will be exhibited adjacent to Mughal-period artwork from the Met's own collection.

Turban Ornament photo image
Turban Ornament (Sarpesh), South India, Hyderabad, 1800–50. Gold; set with diamonds and suspended spinel beads of earlier date. Enamel on reverse. H: 18.5 cm, W: 27.2 cm. Al-Thani Collection. (Photo: © Prudence Cuming Associates)

From the exhibition press release:

Among the Mughal works will be an elegant jade dagger originally owned by two emperors—the hilt was made for [fourth Mughal emperor] Jahangir and it was re-bladed for his son Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal. In the 19th century, the dagger was in the collection Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the Morse code. The hilt features a miniature sculpture—a European-style head.

Finial photo image
Finial from the Throne of Tipu Sultan, South India, Mysore, ca. 1790. Gold, inlaid with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds; lac core. H. 2-3/4 in. (6.8 cm), W. 2-1/8 in. (5.4 cm), D 2-1/4 in. (5.5 cm). Al-Thani Collection. (Photo: © Prudence Cuming Associates)

The finial pictured above is a luxurious example of the technique known as kundan, in which a gem is set in a bed of gold, often with a foil backing to brighten its color.

Aigrette photo image
Aigrette. France, Paris, designed by Paul Iribe, made by Robert Linzeler, 1910. Platinum, set with emerald, sapphires, diamonds, and pearls. H. 3-5/8 in. (9 cm), W. 2-1/4 in. (5.6 cm), D. 5/8 in. (1.5 cm). Al-Thani Collection. (Photo: © Prudence Cuming Associates)

The aigrette shown above is remarkable because it mimics the plumage of the traditional turban ornament. Its center stone was carved in India during the last half of the 19th century.

Beyond Extravagance cover image
The exhibition will feature an accompanying catalog published by the Met and distributed by Yale University Press. It draws on a prior study of the collection, Beyond Extravagance, edited by Amin Jaffer, published by Assouline.

It may surprise our readers (as it did your editor) to learn that Sheikh Hamad's collection was assembled relatively recently and quickly following his viewing of "Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Courts" at the Victoria and Albert Museum during late 2009 and early 2010 (see our "Overdosing on Gems"). As explained by that show's creator, Amin Jaffer, with whom Sheikh Hamad toured the exhibition, "He fell in love with India and Indian jewelry and started collecting directly as a result." His collection "is unique," Jaffer says, "in that it starts in the 16th century and ends in the 21st century." Indeed, a centerpiece of recent vintage is the "Star of Golconda," a 57.31-carat diamond brooch, assumed to be Indian, created last year by Cartier.

According to Jaffer, the present exhibition, "Treasures from India," also will be mounted in Europe.

If you go…

Be sure to take in "Fabergé from the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation Collection," which is on view through November 27, 2016. Gray collected Fabergé when the name was unknown in the U.S., amassing one of the finest collections in the world.

Banners photo image
The West Coast has its own treasures. Above, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is publicized with eyecatching boulevard banners. The gem collection is the third most prominent in the country, after the National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History. (Photo: Bill Larson)

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Pala International News

This month we feature an immaculate yellow sapphire. Properties reach the highest order on this fine jewel from Sri Lanka. Yellow sapphire has really taken off in the last couple of years as appreciation grows for varying colors of corundum. Along with popularity, prices and demand have continued their ascent as well.

Sapphire photo image
Natural yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka, 27.27 ct, 18.88 x 14.11 x 11.83 mm. It comes with an AGL brief. Inventory #19961. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Finding that quintessential "diamond look" in a sapphire is at the heart of many a yellow sapphire quest. Yellow sapphires vary in color from slightly greenish yellow, to canary yellow to lemon yellow and on into golden and orangey yellows. This fine specimen hits on many levels, with its natural gold yellow color, precision oval brilliant cut, good clarity and brilliance. Not to mention an impressive size of 27.27 carats—a fine catch for any gem collector.

Interested? Select the inventory number above, call (phone numbers below) or email us to inquire. [back to top]

Gems and Gemology News

Lotus Gemology Takes Root

Lab to Specialize in Ruby, Sapphire

Following more than seventy years in a collective career that has taken them from several spots in Southeast and East Asia and Southern California, Richard W. Hughes and Wimon Manorotkul have taken root in Bangkok with a new venture: Lotus Gemology. It is the world's first gemological laboratory dedicated only to ruby and sapphire—with spinel included for good measure.

Gem Reports photo image
Lotus Standard Reports are offered in two varieties. The Silver Standard is a compact, four-page report that describes the stone, gives its identification and enhancements, and provides care instructions. The same are included in the Gold Standard, which is reserved only for unenhanced rubies, sapphires and spinels (other than cutting and polishing). "We have a vision that we don’t believe is being addressed by existing labs," Hughes stated in an announcement. "Our aim is to create reports that touch the heart, as well as the head." (Photo courtesy Lotus Gemology)

If this prestigious niche sets the lab apart, Lotus also strives to reflect the beauty of fine ruby and sapphire with an exceptional report presentation, as illustrated above and below. "Gemology is not simply counting atoms," Hughes stated in an announcement. "Science cannot explain or test certain phenomena. Which rainbow is the prettiest, what song speaks to you, which person is most attractive? These are personal choices that can never be reduced to a simple set of measurements."

Gem Report photo image
The Lotus Solid Gold Report, pictured above, is devoted only to unenhanced gemstones (other than cutting and polishing). The 15+ page hardcover report is augmented with color photographs and maps. One gemstone dealer, impressed with the reports, declared, "These reports will help me close sales." (Photo courtesy Lotus Gemology)

As noted above, Richard Hughes will present at the Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair. He also will lecture on the topic of "Pigeon's Blood: A Journey to Burma's Ruby Mines," as part of the AGIL conference in conjunction with the Fair. Attendees of next year's ICA Congress, mentioned below, will have the opportunity to catch Hughes's presentation on padparadscha sapphire. Will you be in Bangkok next week? Take in Hughes's lecture September 24 on "Gemological Heresies" at GIA's 85th Gemstone Gathering (details here). [back to top]

Sapphire: Science, Study, Synthetic, Summit

We focus here on several sapphire-related items regarding enhancements, optics, applications and Congress.

Cobalt-Doped Glass-Filled Sapphires – An Update

The Lotus Gemology laboratory website (see directly above) includes a Library of scholarly articles, book reviews and bibliography. "Cobalt-Doped Glass-Filled Sapphires – An Update," included amongst the articles, looks at yet another enhancement. The article is authored by Thanong Leelawatanasuk, Wilawan Atichat, Visut Pisutha-Arnond, Pornsawat Wattanakul and Papawarin Ounorn as well as Wimon Manorotkul and Richard W. Hughes, originally published in Australian Gemmologist (2013, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 14–20).

Initially studied in 2007, the technique is called Super Diffusion Tanusorn (after Tanusorn Lethaisong, a Chantaburi, Thailand treater). But the authors note that no diffusion was involved; it was a simple infilling into highly fractured, nearly colorless corundum by cobalt-colored glass, rendering it blue. The present study looked at so-called first generation (2007) and latest generation (2012) treated stones. Simple Chelsea filter and dichroscope examinations revealed a lack of pleochroism and strong red to orange-red, respectively—big giveaways that the material was neither natural nor synthetic sapphire.

Sapphire photomicrograph image
Blue cobalt-doped glass fills a surface-reaching fissure in this first-generation stone. Oblique fiber-optic illumination. The color in such near-colorless stones is obtained almost exclusively from the filling. (Photomicrograph: Wimon Manorotkul)

The microscopic features, nicely illustrated by photomicrographs, make for uneasy viewing. The stuff is simply beyond inferior, as the photomicrograph above makes, er, crystal clear. Other tests are administered, but the stability testing proved scary, as would be expected. Ultrasonic cleaning: whew, no change. Exposure to a jeweler's torch: the filler decayed. Immersion in sulfuric acid: filler slightly dissolved. Immersion in sodium hydroxide: filler strongly dissolved revealing fractures clearly. Because this material can so easily be identified, a word to the wise is sufficient.

Unusual Optical Effect in Blue Sapphire

The Summer 2014 edition of Gems & Gemology (Vol. 50, No. 2) shone the spotlight, so to speak, on a light bluish violet sapphire, in "Unusual Optical Effect in Blue Sapphire" by Iurii Gaievskyi, Igor Iemelianov and Elena Belichenko. Several optical tests were performed on the 1.36-carat stone in the lab of the State Gemological Center of Ukraine, including the DeBeers DiamondView™ (a powerful short-wave UV light source, according to the above article). The instrument recorded a strong pink luminescence, which was attributed to a Cr3+ (chromium ion) impurity. When the stone was removed from the instrument, the stone's light bluish violet hue had been replaced with light brown. No, this was not an inadvertent treatment; it reversed within 12 hours. Such reversible instability, rare in blue sapphires, is called photochroism.

Gorillas in the Fist, Sapphire on the Wrist

Prior to last Tuesday's release of Apple's new iPhone 6, there was quite a bit of speculation—too much, actually—about whether the new phone would feature a display panel of synthetic sapphire, replacing Corning Incorporated Gorilla® Glass. In May 2013, the company stated the glass could be found on 1.5 billion electronic devices. Five months ago, one industry insider claimed that the phone might include sapphire glass. But that same May 2013 Corning statement showed sapphire not to pass the strength test, as demonstrated in the video below. The performance of sapphire did not prevent Apple from including a sapphire crystal on its Apple Watch display.

Video still image
What's missing? The sapphire on the left already has shattered, as performed in this streaming video.


Sapphire and More: ICA Congress 2015 to be Held in Sri Lanka

Next year's 16th Congress of the International Colored Gemstones Association (ICA) will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 16–19, followed by a mine tour, May 20–26. The Congress will be concurrent with the Facets Gem Show, May 15–18. Both will be held at the 5-star Cinnamon Grand Hotel. Keynote speaker at the Congress will be David Schwartz.

ICA Congress image

This is the second time the Congress will be hosted by Sri Lanka. Over 400 delegates are expected to attend. The mine tour will take place in the districts of Dambulla, Kandy, Ratnapura and Hikkadua. Presentation topics include:

  • Gem deposits and production in Sri Lanka
  • Ceylon sapphires – history and current status
  • Worldwide sourcing – new trends and emerging leaders
  • Mixed output of the colored stone industry – trends, branding and corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • Gem treatment, enhancement, detection and disclosure
  • Market trends and opportunities
  • New tools in gem and jewelry marketing
  • Certification, origin, fair trade and corporate responsibility

Dr. A. Peretti, of GemResearch Swisslab will be on the speakers panel, with topics including Royal and Cornflower Blue Sapphires and Pigeon's Blood Rubies. Information on the Congress will be posted at the ICA website in the coming months. [back to top]

Industry News

Diamonds: Lost & Found

We look at coverage of the notorious Pink Panther jewel thieves as well as a new diamond find and some recent jewelry collections.

Lost. For twenty years a gang nicknamed the Pink Panthers has coordinated elaborate and well-executed robberies and thefts, such as the December 4, 2008 heist at Harry Winston's in Paris in which three of the male thieves were dressed as women. Their deeds were the subject of an extensive April 12, 2010 article in The New Yorker and their subsequent criminal conduct, including escapes from custody, is outlined in a Wikipedia entry.

The 2013 documentary Smash & Grab, directed by Havana Marking, was four years in the making and includes interviews with some of the gang members and their associates, according to a Gulf News story in March.

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Smash & Grab, the documentary about the Pink Panthers, uses graphic representations of recreations and interviews and well as traditional footage.

Also in March, the gang's career was covered by a CBS 60 Minutes segment that was rebroadcast on August 31, two minutes of which are posted here. That's more than a minute longer than it took the gang to drive into (literally) Graff jewelers in Dubai and make off with millions in diamonds.

Lost? and found. On September 9, Petra Diamonds announced the "recovery" of a 232.08-carat colorless diamond at its Cullinan mine in South Africa. It is a D color Type II and likely will be sold in the second quarter of the company's fiscal year, which began July 1. By comparison, the Cullinan Heritage, at 507 carats uncut, brought in $3.5 million when it was sold in 2010—a record price for a rough diamond.

Rough Diamond photo image
Screen shot image

Lost and found. In doing some spring cleaning in the late summer, your editor ran across an item sent in June by Mia Dixon, Pala International's resident photographer. We're all familiar with movie tie-ins, but this one really catches the eye: a line of jewelry inspired by Angelina Jolie's portrayal of Maleficent in the film by the same name. Italian designer Gianluca Gabbani, who apparently was wowed by the film, created a ring, bracelet and headpiece inspired by the crows that attend the malefic Ms. M. Meanwhile, Daniel-Philip Belevitch's Crow's Nest created a seven-piece collection that includes work done in rhodium with black diamonds. See photos on Professional Jeweler. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Development Developments

It's ironic that the Chinese city of Shweli, across the border from Burma's Muse, is known by the Chinese as the "jade city," according to a September 8 Myanmar Times story. After all, jade mainly comes through Muse, Shweli's mirror on the Burma side. That could change, now that plans are being made for a jade market in Muse, as part of a huge development plan.

Jade Market illustration image
Super market. An artist's rendering of the jade market in Muse, scheduled for a 2015 year-end opening. An August 18 article by Myanmar Times included a photo of the under-construction district, of which the market is only a part. The district will occupy 294 acres and building it could employ as many as 1000 workers.

One Burma jade dealer, working in another border town on the Chinese side said he'd move to Muse in a minute if the jade market opens as planned, in 2015. He said that doing business in China is costly and risky. For instance, in the case of a dispute, Chinese authorities tend to side with fellow nationals. The new market will not be without its own risks, since it must attract enough business from both Mandalay sellers and Chinese buyers. Mandalay trader Ko Myo Myint said the market actually could boost smuggling in order to bypass customs.

Meanwhile, in Yangon, Burma's first cut-and-finished gem market is scheduled to open next month in the complex housing the Myanma Gem Museum, as reported by Eleven Media Group on September 11. The plan is for the market to feature a laboratory and a bank that can provide merchants with loans so they can set up workshops and factories for value-added gem-related products.

Ruby photo image
Red-y? A superb natural Burma ruby, 2.72 carats. Inventory #22003. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Development in Yangon and Mandalay has triggered a speculative real estate buying binge, according to another Eleven story on September 2. Some areas have seen a 2000% surge in prices. An Eleven story on August 24 stated that "well over half" of all money coming into Burma is being invested in real estate. Yet another Eleven story, September 3, claimed that more than 1000 foreign nationals stream into Burma each month, mainly from China. Many of these go to Mandalay, buying up property; but Eleven states this is an old story. Xinhua reported on September 1 that Burma has removed eleven restrictions on business activities by foreigners, including jade and gemstone prospecting, exploration and production. At least some of this activity, it would seem, is facilitated by black market banks, which were profiled by a DVB story September 12. Such is the contention of an August 29 story by Eleven, regarding Burma's attempts to fight money laundering. New "bylaws" against such laundering were being rushed into place, according to Eleven, September 1. Skepticism about the bylaws' efficacy were expressed a week earlier in an Eleven story.

Jade Jottings

More than 1000 people were displaced in Kachin's Hpakant Township, in Burma's jade land in late August, as reported by The Irrawaddy. Jade firms, which deposit soil into the Uru River and its tributaries is to blame, according to that article and another by Eleven. An unsigned commentary by Eleven noted that flooding leads to health problems as well as displacement.

On the horizon, nevertheless, is a bid by about 80 companies to resume jade mining in the region, according to a September 2 story by Eleven.

Jade exports rose 15% in the current fiscal year, as reported by Eleven on August 27. But two weeks later a Commerce Ministry adviser, Dr. Maung Aung, complained that local business owners didn't have a clue about the market, including designs that attract customers.

At least there was some bright news from Kachin Independence Organization: clashes between KIO forces and the military are down, as reported by Kachin News Group (KNG) September 6.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Eleven: Two years after Tay Za asked to leave, he's replaced as chair of Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association
  • KNG: Tay Za joins search effort for missing climbers in Kachin
  • Eleven: Taiwan has its eye on Burma's jade and ruby
  • Eleven: Mobile units to target gem (and other) smuggling
  • Mizzima: NGO director compares addiction and HIV in today's cities with Mogok and Kachin in the '90s

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Pala Presents

Pala Presents title image

With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the collection of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who will share with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology. And, as with this edition, gemstone-related collectibles.

Lotus and Bee: Birthstone Collecting Cards

This month we feature four birthstone cards for the month of September and its stone of sapphire. Two cards include birth flowers: morning glory (recognized in the U.S.) and Aster (recognized in the U.K. and U.S.).

The verses on the cards tell us that skies as blue as sapphire await the child born this month and, who, upon wearing the stone will be wise and free from mental illness.

Birthstone card image
Three other collecting cards for September are available here.

As we did with July's birthstone, ruby, we turn to Tagore's Mani Málá appended to Richard W. Hughes's Ruby & Sapphire (1997, 489), and we find the range of color in sapphire likened both to the lotus and "the Bhramana (the black bee)." We can't help but recall the poem by West Bengal poet Kamalakanta Bhattacharya (1769–1821), which uses the same imagery.

The black bee of my mind is drawn in sheer delight
To the blue lotus flower of Mother Shyama's feet,
The blue flower of the feet of Kali, Shiva's Consort;
Tasteless, to the bee, are the blossoms of desire.
My Mother's feet are black, and black, too, is the bee;
Black is made one with black! This much of the mystery
My mortal eyes behold, then hastily retreat.
But Kamalakanta's hopes are answered in the end;
He swims in the Sea of Bliss, unmoved by joy or pain.

For more information on birthstones, see Palagems.com. [back to top]

Sapphire, The Royal Gem

The Royal Gem cover image

Ninety years ago, The New Mine Sapphire Syndicate of London published a pamphlet-length overview of "the most valuable deposit of precious stones existing in the United States of America"—the firm's sapphire-bearing claims of Judith Basin County, Montana. The claims actually started out as gold mining claims; unfortunately, that production couldn't even pay for the water brought in for washing gravels. But, in a sentence from the pamphlet that tests 21st-century attention spans,

The sluice boxes, however, contained a large number of blue pebbles which, while no importance was attached to the find at the time, were subsequently identified by Messrs. Tiffany as sapphires of high grade and thus an enterprise which appeared to have culminated in an absolute loss, brought in the end substantial reward and led to the location of the lead from which the stones had become detached, and the development of an industry which during the quarter of a century of its existence has produced and placed on the markets of the world gems to the value of several millions of dollars.

Read the full, nicely illustrated text here—if you have the patience.

Map image
North America, showing the position of the "New Mine." We now know this locality as the famous Yogo Gulch.

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Gemming in Ceylon

A reprint by H. V. Sardha Ratnavira

The following brief overview of gem mining in what is now known as Sri Lanka was written by H. V. Sardha Ratnavira, gemological student. It appeared in the Winter 1939 edition of Gems & Gemology (Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 51–52; used with permission). Ratnavira is the father of Gamini Ratnavira and was the first Asian to qualify at the Gemological Institute of America, in 1937–1938, when it was still in Los Angeles. The images are from "Ceylon's Gem Mines," included in Peter Bancroft's classic Gem and Crystal Treasures.

Nestling among the peaks of the Sabragamuwa district lies Ratnapura, famous throughout the world as the city of gems. Star sapphires, blue sapphires, rubies, cat's-eyes and a large variety of other gems, of quantity unlimited, are found here. It is here that one finds the gemming industry of Ceylon at its best. Here one comes across many gem pits, all working at full speed, producing stones that will form the basis of some of the finest jewelry that Ceylon offers.

If one be interested in gem mining, he first has to obtain a license to work a gem pit. An application must be forwarded to the Government Agent of the district, who will refer the matter to the Ratemahatmaya, or Headman. The matter does not end here, for the Police Vidane (police officer) must be informed, too, that he may make inquiries as regards the intended site of the gem pit. If the site belongs to the government, permission will not be granted. These inquiries naturally cannot be rushed, the usual period extending from two to three months. The gem mining business is carried on mainly by the Singhalese.

Gems & Gemology cover image

Once the application has been passed the applicant consults an astrologer as to the time most auspicious for the opening ceremony. The method of choosing the site is not done in a scientific manner. Usually the site is chosen near a spot which has been well known to produce gems, and a trial is first made by digging a small section of the ground. An experienced man can always tell whether the site is workable, usually by the presence of gem-bearing rock known as "Thiruvana" in Singhalese. Before work is started, prayers and offerings are given to the "Powers That Be" beseeching success in the undertaking. This ceremony is performed on the site. The first spade of gravel is turned by the owner of the gem pit and then the miners start to work on it. These miners are enrolled from the ranks of the villagers of that district, who, of course, have a wide experience in this type of work.

As regards the shares, the majority belong to the owner, the remainder being divided among the miners. The value of the shares depends on the quality as well as the quantity of the stones found. The owner sometimes furnishes food, but this usually is supplied by the miners themselves. In the case when the owner pays for the meals, the miner returns half of his share. This system is called in Singhalese "karu howl," karu meaning laborer or workmen, and howl meaning a share. Sometimes the owner spends hundreds of rupees and does not get anything in return.

Gem Shaft photo image
Looking down 25 meters into a gem shaft. (Photo: Gerhard Becker)

The pit is usually dug about four feet square and three to six feet deep, making room for two or three miners to work. This type is dug only if the gem-bearing gravel is found near the surface. On the other hand, the gravel may be found deep down, and if this be the case the pits are dug about six feet square and ten to twenty feet deep, or perhaps even more. If the soil be loosely packed, especially in deep pits, a scaffolding is erected inside the pit to prevent the soil from sliding in. This precaution must be taken, as very serious accidents have occurred. If a number of pits be found close together, tunnels are construded connecting them together. One disadvantage of a deep pit is that water gushes in due to the tapping of hidden springs. This water is bailed out by an especially constructed winch, a number of buckets being attached to the connecting rope. The miners go on digging until they encounter either a blackish rock called "ralu ratta" or a rocky gravel of whitish color called "thiruvana." This is an indication to the miner that the next layer must contain gems. This layer is called "illam." If after the illam they come to a layer of clay, called "malawa," they do not dig any further.

The illam is the most important layer and is broken up by the miners who use an iron rod called the "illam kura." The miners usually wear only a loincloth, and a handkerchief is tied tightly around the head, the handkerchief being used to prevent the debris getting amongst the hair. One feels sorry for the miners, for their work is hard; at the end of the day's labor they are covered from head to foot with mud. But they are a happy-go-lucky crowd and may often be heard singing while they work.

The gravel is brought to the surface in baskets and collected in an adjacent spot. When no more illam is obtainable the owner chooses an auspicious day for the washing and sorting. Until this time the heap of gravel is covered with leaves and well guarded. The usual custom on that day is to prepare "milk rice" (rice boiled with coconut milk) which is eaten on the spot just before the gravel is washed. If the pit be near a river, the gravel is transferred to the bank, where it is washed. When there is no river close by, a trench is cut near the dumped material and filled with water, the gravel being washed in this trench in large baskets. During the washing process the owner is always on the spot as the miners sometimes cannot resist the temptation to hide a good stone. As the gems are heavier than the gravel they remain at the bottom of the baskets and the sediment is washed away. The rough stones are then given to the owner, who decides with the miners whether the stones are to be auctioned or sold to a gem merchant. The money obtained from this transaction is then divided, the owner taking his share and the rest being divided as previously arranged.

Gemming a River photo image
"Gemming" a river. Disturbing the gravels with poles causes waste to float away, leaving gems to be gathered from river bed. (Photo: Edward Gübelin)

When gems are found in streams the procedure is slightly different. A dam is constructed across the stream leaving a space in the middle of about five feet, in front of which a wooden log is fixed. The water rushes over this log and the miners standing in front with long-handled "mamoties" drag the gravel toward them. The sand is washed away and the illam is collected in the trough. As soon as the illam is noticed the miners either dive down with baskets and collect the illam or continue using their mamoties to remove it. The washing is, of course, done on the spot. [back to top]

— End September Newsletter • Published 9/16/14 —

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