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January – April 2015

February 2015 Newsletter

Sapphire photo image
Crystal cut in rhomboid. The Great Sapphire from the crown jewels of Louis XIV. This gem made a grand appearance at the opening of the mineralogical and geological hall of the national history museum in Paris. See more images of the sapphire and more below. (Photo: Carl Larson)

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Industry News


Recycle Bin

Shows and Events

Luxury Then and Now

Two exhibitions currently on view examine excess—the root of the term luxury—from different angles. The Getty presents a French collection in a traditional fashion, as befits the flagship entity of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world's wealthiest art institution. The Victoria & Albert, which apparently succeeds at its mission "To be the world’s leading museum of art and design," takes a frankly conceptual approach to an international exhibition of everything from fabricated plastic to an inscribed golden ready-made, with that quintessential de luxe—an ecclesiastical crown—taking center stage.

Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville

The tale of the Berthouville Treasure reminds us of the parable about the lucky sharecropper found in the Christian scriptures, "Our father's country is like a buried treasure turned up by a plow in the field: the farmer who finds it sells all that he owns to buy that field." [1] Fast-forward to the waning days of winter 1830, when a Normand farmer acquired a field near the village of Berthouville in northern France.

Intaglio photo image
Gem with Achilles Playing the Cithara, 75–50 B.C.E. Signed by Pamphilos (Greek, active first century B.C.E.) Amethyst intaglio, H: 1.7 x L: 1.4 cm (11/16 x 9/16 in). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris. In Book 9 of the Iliad, Achilles is portrayed as accompanying himself on this instrument, which means "guitar" in modern Greek. Taking on the role of bard—conveyor of an oral tradition, of which the Iliad was one—Achilles can be seen as writing his own history, according to one writer.

On March 21—a Sunday, and the vernal equinox—the farmer, "appropriately" named Prosper Taurin (as noted in a Getty blog that explores the farm's environs), struck his plowshare on an ancient tile. Doing a little digging, Taurin discovered a brick-lined chamber filled with temple treasure weighing 55 pounds (25 kg). Melted down, this silver would have provided the farmer with a tidy sum, but instead he took the advice of a relative and showed the hoard to authorities. Had the farmer been as bullheaded as his surname suggests (Taurin = bullfighting) we would have been the poorer.

Ring photo image
Above, Ring with an Inscription, 100–300 C.E., Roman. Gold and nicolo (a type of onyx used for engraving). Object (ring): H: 1.6 x L: 3.2 cm (5/8 x 1 1/4 in). Object (intaglio): H: 1.2 x L: 1.6 cm (1/2 x 5/8 in). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris.
   Below, Ring with a Double Portrait, 200–300 C.E., Roman. Cornelian intaglio and gold. Object (ring): H: 1.8 x L: 2.1 cm (11/16 x 13/16 in). Object (intaglio): H: 1.4 x L: 1.9 cm (9/16 x 3/4 in). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris.
Ring photo image

Unlike scripture, the provenance of which will be contended for the foreseeable future by scholarly exegetes, the Berthouville hoard appears to be neatly chronicled (search on "Berthouville") in the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the country's National Library, which actually houses the treasure. The archive even includes the bill of sale between Taurin and Désiré-Raoul Rochette, curator of the Cabinet des médailles et antiques of the Bibliothèque royale (precursor of the Bibliothèque nationale). The entire find was sold by Taurin for 15,000 francs. [2]

Cameo of Emperor Trajan, about 100 C.E., Roman. Sardonyx set in a seventeenth-century gold, enamel, and ruby mount, H: 8.8 x L: 6.3 cm (3 7/16 x 2 1/2 in). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, Paris. Typographers (if the breed has not died out) and layout artists will recognize the Emperor's name as that of an elegant serif typeface based on the inscription on the column that celebrates Trajan's victory in the two Dacian Wars of the early 100s C.E.

For the past four years, the Getty has been engaged in meticulous conservation and research of the hoard, resulting in the exhibit, Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville, which is on view at the Getty Villa through August 17, 2015. We include here examples of jewels that were found amidst the exquisite silver objects.

1. Found in Matthew 13:44 and the sayings gospel of Thomas 109. I use a simplified version rendered by Guy Davenport and Benjamin Urrutia (The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus, Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996, p. 5).

2. A modern comparison is perhaps best performed by using figures as recorded in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (via the Carpe Horas blog): 1 franc would buy you 20 loaves of bread; Bishop Myriel's annual stipend was 15,000 francs, the same as the sale price of the Berthouville Treasure.

What is Luxury?

"This exhibition is not focused on luxury consumption," declares a blog entry accompanying the V&A exhibition, What is Luxury? "Given that the V&A is located in one of the most consolidated areas of luxury consumption from food to property, we curators felt that adding to that would contribute little to the current luxury debate," continues co-curator Jana Scholze. By presenting a series of themes—Creating Luxury, A Space for Time, A Future for Luxury, and What is Your Luxury?—the curators hope the viewer comes away with a personal take on the title question.

Time for Yourself photo image
Time for Yourself by Marcin Rusak and Iona Inglesby, 2013. (Photo: © Marcin Rusak)

Artists Marcin Rusak and Iona Inglesby created perhaps the most luxurious piece in the exhibition, at least for those of us tied to modern conveniences that allow—demand—work to be done anywhere, anytime. "It is almost impossible to get truly lost these days," they write on Rusak's online portfolio. "Time for Yourself" makes it impossible to do otherwise—what a luxury!—with its

  • faceless watch with a pewter finish, which the sun heats and the night cools, "hinting" the time of day by touch
  • an inkless pen; had you a map, you couldn't mark it
  • a salt-crystal pendant for relaxation; a copper-ore bracelet for healing
  • a directionless compass
  • a blanket for warmth and to contain the "tools"
Crown photo image
Crown made of diamonds, emeralds and rubies set into a gold crown with rococo scrolls, about 1750 [sic]. (Photo: © The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the V&A)

The ecclesiastical crown pictured above certainly is sumptuous, with its diamonds, pink rubies and teal emeralds. It was crafted in Portugal and is dated 1726 on an interior headband. With a height of 21 cm and a diameter of about 11.5 cm, it could have adorned a statue somewhat smaller than life size. The crown contains eight bejeweled half-arches incorporating rococo scrolls, gathered together by three tiers of sculpted knobs and diamond dangles, thereby lifting the monde (orb) quite high—fitting for the bird perched thereupon. But these details raise a couple of observations.

Traditionally, the orb is surmounted by a cross, symbolizing the Christian God's dominion over the world. Could the bird be a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit? Might the crown have been placed atop an image of Our Lady, alluding perhaps to the Annunciation? Intriguingly, the crown has an antecedent: one of twp scepters commissioned for the coronation of Charles II in 1661 includes the monde surmounted by a cross upon which an enameled dove rests with outstretched wings (see image and article). A second observation concerns the characterization of the "rococo" scrolls, which appear to refer to time period rather than style. Typically, what sets the late baroque—aka rococo—apart from the earlier baroque is the employment of asymmetrical patterns. Yet, those employed in the crown are quite symmetrical; indeed were they not, the crown would be a curiosity in addition to being a masterful creation. In any case, this crown is an example of luxury at the service of a celestial, rather than terrestrial, monarch. That it would be separated from its state and sacred setting, and reside in the collection of an expatriate subject (and knight) of the British Crown, Sir Arthur Gilbert, augments the question, What is Luxury?

Headphone Jack photo image
Headphone Jack, from A Comprehensive Atlas of Gold Fictions, by Aram Mooradian, 2011 (Photo: © Aram Mooradian)

Architect and writer Aram Mooradian graduated from the Architectural Association in 2011 with honors for his project A Comprehensive Atlas of Gold Fictions, from which "Headphone Jack" is taken. "The Atlas of Gold Fictions catalogues the strange infrastructures of the gold economy," Mooradian writes, "from its source in the mines of Australia to the web of precious artefacts scattered across the globe." The virtual nature of gold-as-commodity provides a launching pad for the artist's flights of fancy. The gold-plated headphone connector, above, is embedded with "an aboriginal songline from the place its gold was abstracted," Mooradian writes elsewhere. Gold extraction disturbs the land; the songlines move with the gold. Stretching a bit, Mooradian likens the embedded songlines to the "secret tracks" of pop songs—think of the "clues" embedded in Beatles songs and imagery that inspired the "Paul is dead" urban legend. Continuing the theme of animating the inanimate, Mooradian created "Heirloom Pendant," a "gold nugget" necklace with its own "player," the stylus of which reads the grooves of the pendant, emitting sounds of "laughter and little sayings" of the couple who have exchanged the chains.

Bubble Bath photo image
Bubble Bath, necklace, by Nora Fok, 2001. (Photo: Heini Schneebeli, courtesy of the Crafts Council)

What is Luxury? is the third and final exhibition in a triennial series created in collaboration with the UK's Crafts Council, which aims: "To make the UK the best place to make, see, collect and learn about contemporary craft." The first in the series was 2007's Out of the Ordinary which looked at the work of eight artists creating from everyday objects. With 2011's Power of Making, the craft of creation took center stage. British artist Nora Fok's creations are so versatile, they would have fit in both exhibitions—she did show in the latter. (She also appeared in Pearls, which just closed at the V&A.) A close look at her "Bubble Bath" necklace, above, demonstrates her own power of making. The airy orbs actually are hand-knit and stitched together. According to a profile of the piece, Fok knits nylon monofilament, using her son's toy marbles as templates. (It seems that, while at school, a tutor who also was an angler brought in the fishing line that would become Fok's signature medium.) Once again, Fok's work, like that of Rusak and Inglesby above, raises the subject of the luxury of time—in her case, for the creation of the ethereal.

What is Luxury? is on view through September 27, 2015. [back to top]

Rouges & Noirs

The brochure for the exhibition contains an introduction in four languages and information about upcoming special events in French.

Rouge et Noir (Red and Black) has been applied to many things: a solitaire card game for two decks, a novel in two volumes by Stendahl, an artisan cheese from Petaluma, a Japanese manga (comic) series, a single by '80s French pop sensation Jeanne Mas ("En Rouge et Noir"), the Algerian football team, the roulette wheel, and a mid-century French anarchist journal (Noir et Rouge), amongst others. It also is the title—in plural, Rouges & Noirs—for an exhibition of red and black gemstones currently on display in the southern Belgian province of Namur. The color scheme has a special significance for Namur's inhabitants: its provincial flag colors are… red and black.

Rouges & Noirs is mounted by TreM.a (Musée des Arts anciens du Namurois = Museum of Ancient Arts of Namur) and its subtitle provides the content: "Ruby, garnet, onyx, obsidian and other red and black minerals in art and archaeology." A catalog by the same title* is nearing publication; it will be No. 67 in the series of Monographies published by TreM.a and the Archaeological Society of Namur (not yet posted; see list of 2014 titles). We've had a chance to browse one of the catalog entries, "Garnet Mines in Europe," by H. Albert Gilg and Jaroslav Hyršl. This 30-page overview (in English) looks at mines from Spain to Scotland to Sweden and is lavishly illustrated. Even the Teschen Table that we profiled last fall makes an appearance, in relation garnets from Zöblitz (Saxony)—rarely employed in jewelry—being used to decorate the table.

Rouges & Noirs is available for viewing every day through April 12, 2015.

*Details on the monograph from the brochure: J. Toussaint (sous la dir.), Rouges & Noirs. Rubis, grenat, onyx, obsidienne et autres minéraux rouges & noirs dans l’art et l’archéologie, coll. Monographies du TreM.a, n° 67, comprenant 376 pages (29,7 x 21 cm) illustrées de nombreuses photos et documents coul. et N/Bl. Ouvrage relié. Prix: 35 € (+ frais de port).

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The Virtual Museums

American Museum of Natural History

More and more museums are taking themselves into the virtual realm by posting images from their collections online. The American Museum of Natural History has scads of shots from their numerous holdings, including the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals and the J.P. Morgan Hall of Gems; see them on Pinterest.

Screenshot image

If you're craving more, check out the lovely snow crystal images in the collection, Winter at the Museum.

Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy

Last week we received the newsletter of the Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy, which promotes its own archive of images and documents.

Screenshot image
Need a portrait of Alfred Lacroix, professor of mineralogy at the Paris museum we profile below? Look no further than the Virtual Museum of the History of Mineralogy.

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Tucson: Rosy as a Pair of Tourmaline Glasses

Was this year's AGTA GemFair in Tucson a success? Doug Hucker, the association's CEO was quite sanguine: "I can’t say that I have ever experienced traffic to this extent, especially for the first two days." Okay, you might expect that from the show's head honcho. But there was some empirical evidence, too. "We actually had to temporarily close down the escalators leading to the GemHall floor to prevent a crush of people leading into the downstairs entries." And the weather cooperated as well; no frozen fountains this year.

Pala Booth photo image
3 + 1. Pala International's Carl, Bill and Jeanne Larson at the AGTA GemFair with Julius Petsch, a famous dealer from Idar-Oberstein, Germany.
GIA Booth photo image
On loan. The GIA booth at AGTA GemFair features images of crystals from the collection of Bill Larson, such as the lovely imperial topaz crystal, above left. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Display photo image
Ivy League. From the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Above, a display from the Mineralogical & Geological Museum at Harvard University with several examples of rough-and-cut stones from U.S. localities. Below, the elbaites from the same display. (Photos: Will Larson)
Elbaite photo image
What's your impression? The original sapphire specimen is from Sri Lanka and measures 5.5 x 2.2 x 2.0 cm, and weighs 47.5 g. It features intriguing, impressionistic horizontal streaking, providing inspiration for the superimposition of the painter's image. Collector Brent Lockhart received two awards at last year's Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, including Best Single Specimen. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Larsons photo image
Good reception. Rika and Will Larson enjoy a refreshing glass at the Gem-A party. (Photo: Gloria Staebler, Lithographie)
Jeff Scovil photo image
Photo op. Pala International's resident photographer, Mia Dixon, attended Jeff Scovil's three-day photography course at the Arizona Mineral & Fossil Show held at the Hotel Tucson City Center. The course was a collaboration between mineral publisher Lithographie, Jeff Scovil and photographer Michael Bainbridge. (Photos: Mia Dixon)
Elbaite photo image
Sculptures photo image
Balancing act. Mineral sculptures line a walkway leading to the barbecue pavilion at the Arizona Mineral & Fossil Show. (Photos: Mia Dixon)
Sculpture photo image
Christophe Gobin photo image
Aviator-style. Christophe Gobin dons tourmaline glasses crafted by Denver designer Naomi Hinds. We featured another pair in the December edition of our mineral newsletter.
Bill Larson photo image
Shady. Bill Larson upon receiving the 2015 American Mineral Heritage Award at the Westward Look Show. And he's wearing Naomi Hinds's tourmaline glasses! (Photo: Will Larson)

Eight Reasons to Buy and Stock Colored Gemstone Jewelry

AGTA recently interviewed industry insider Bill Boyajian about the advisability of jewelers stocking colored gemstones, and he's posted his responses on his website. He characterized his remarks as being "basic," yet most retail jewelers don't seem to have much of an inventory in colored stones. Amongst Boyajian's observations regarding the stocking of colored gemstone jewelry: it will set you apart from your competitors, it can showcase your gemological knowledge, and colored stones have a history that can be played up (compared with diamonds), as attested by our items this month on luxury and the Paris museum. [back to top]

Pala International News

This month we feature a pair of exceptional pumpkin-orange spessartites from Tanzania. This impressive pair weighs in at 16.52 carats total weight and are perfectly matched with ideal-cut cushion faceting.

Spessartite Garnets photo image
Spessartite garnet from Tanzania, 16.54 tcw, cushion cut, 11.7 x 10.6 x 7.5 mm. Inventory #21636. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Spessartite (aka spessartine) has seen quite a change in the marketplace. Demand has continued to go up as collectors expand into the more rare varieties of garnet. There are still some spessartites from the long exhausted Nigerian deposit on the market, but inventories are diminishing and prices are rising. The new Tazanian deposit has started to fill in the gap on spessartite supply with a range of sizes and beautiful mandarin and pumpkin colors. The material tends to have some clarity issues but we have seen some cleaner stones popping up recently. We have a large selection from both deposits and even a few from Namibia and San Diego County. For more on this material, see our Spessartite Buying Guide.

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

Larsons Loan Dreher Gem Carvings for GIA Display

The Dreher family of Idar-Oberstein, Germany has been carving gemstones for five generations in a region where the tradition goes back 600 years. GIA students and the general public will have the chance to view their oeuvre courtesy another family—Pala International's Larsons—who are loaning Dreher examples from their personal collection for a special exhibition. Generations of Mastery: Gemstone Carvings by Dreher opens February 19, continuing through summer 2015.

Behind each creation by the Drehers is an immense amount of study. "The Drehers are known for their extensive study of animals and other creatures," as stated in a GIA news release, "drawing from as many as 500 photos of each subject to create the superb detail in their works of art."

Carving photo image
Poised. Carving by Gerd Dreher, 17 x 10 cm, from a single piece of multicolored agate. Courtesy of the Larson family. (Photo: Robert Weldon; © GIA)
Carving photo image
Sneak peek. Above and below, we're given a taste of the Dreher family exhibition at GIA. (Photos: Bill Larson)
Carving photo image
Carving photo image
Carving by Patrick Dreher, 7 x 5 cm, from a single crystal of smoky quartz. Courtesy of the Larson family. (Photo: Robert Weldon; © GIA)

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Industry News

Crater Yields Two Carats

A lucky visitor to Arkansas's Crater of Diamonds State Park came upon a 2.01-carat yellow diamond on February 3, as reported by CNN. Dean Filppula, from Shreveport, Louisiana, became the proud owner of the diamond, the largest by far found this year. (Yes, they keep track here and here.) A half inch of rain had fallen two days before Filppula's visit, which may have aided in uncovering the diamond, as well as park staff having plowed the area. He plans to sell the stone, but that didn't keep him from naming it: Merf, after his mother's initials.

An assortment of diamonds found at the park. (Photo courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism)

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Burma Bits

Rubyland Report

Spinel photo image
Saucy spinel. A natural reddish pink spinel from Mogok, 2.45 carats, Inventory #1733. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

This past November, the Gem and Mineral Council of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Council sponsored a trip to Burma, with the prize destination of the Mogok Stone Tract. The group's guide was Dr. Kyaw Thu, a geologist and proprietor of Macle Gem Labs in Yangon. He also is a longtime special friend of Pala International's Bill Larson.

The groups travels have been lavishly documented by Eloïse Gaillou, Associate Curator of Mineral Sciences, on the museum's MinBlog.

The group began its journey with three days in the central city of Bagan, which is considered to be on par with Cambodia's Angkor Wat in terms of its archaeological riches. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, a forerunner of modern Burma.

The group then moved on to Mogok. It was a very long, bumpy ride, but worth it. There they visited an alluvial ruby and sapphire mine, Shunt-pan, moving on to Lin-yaung-chi, which has both alluvial (secondary) and host-rock (primary) mines. The next day, a visit to a mineral dealer's home brought a mob of sellers figuring the foreigners to be buyers. Next stop, the Aung Thit Lwin gem market at which some specimens were purchased, after which they visited primary sapphire and ruby mines in Kyauk Saung. At the office they viewed rough being trimmed and cut. The following days brought visits to more mines as well as other local sights, then on to Mandalay and Yangon. If you're salivating over the gemstones, you'll be doing so also for the food…

Jeweled Flower photo image
Posy. A jeweled flower composed of gold and rubies. It decorates the base of one of a pair of statues of the Buddha on which devotees apply gold leaf in Mogok's largest pagoda. Not surprisingly, the Buddha images have been removed from the valuable bases, which now are in a vaulted case. (Photo: Eloïse Gaillou © NHMLAC)

Fighting in Jadeland Scuttles Peace Deal

Government forces and the Kachin Independence Army clashed at about the time our January newsletter was released, according to a January 19 story by Myanmar Times. The fighting took place near Hpakant, a jade-rich area of Kachin State. The story said that locals claimed the government army wanted to secure the jade mines for the Myanmar Economic Corporation, which is operated by the military.

Such clashes jeopardize Burma's intent to become a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, as noted today by The Irrawaddy. It's a challenge to be transparent when outsiders are banned for their own safety. Specifically mentioned were last month's clashes in Hpakant, which led one to two thousand villagers to flee the fighting. The Irrawaddy went on to critique the poor state of infrastructure, schools and hospitals in Kachin; the region generates "vast sums of money," which is not spent locally.

While mining operations were not officially halted last month, local reports stated that, as of February 4, jade mines had been "burnt," according to The Irrawaddy, which also reported that "hundreds" still were displaced as of a week ago. The fighting appears to have scuttled a ceasefire agreement, at least for now, which was planned for signing on Burma's Union Day, February 12; one minister claimed the fighting purposely had that intent.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • The Irrawaddy: Smuggling to China, Thailand on the rise
  • Mizzima News: Authorities seize 975 kg of illegal jade
  • Mizzima News: China upset by NY Times editorial, "The Plunder of Myanmar"
  • Kachin News Group: Kachin group opposes monument to Aung San as premature, with the independence hero's promises unfulfilled; "the jade and timber are gone" and "people are degenerating"

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Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide

eBook edition by Renée Newman

Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide cover image

Renée Newman's acclaimed Gem & Jewelry Pocket Guide just got smaller. It now fits on your iPhone (via iTunes Store), making it a super-handy reference for gemstone shopping. The guide also is available Barnes & Noble NOOK and Amazon Kindle. If the size is right, so is the price—less than half that of the paperback, which itself was quite reasonably priced.

Here's what you'll see inside:

  • A brief overview of colored stone price factors; why the 4 C's can't adequately determine price; more on price factors
  • Gem treatments explained and precautions regarding the purchase of expensive stones
  • Synthetics and imitations; deceptive practices
  • Colored gemstones from Alexandrite to Zircon
  • Diamonds and price factors
  • Gems from living organisms; pearl price factors; amber, coral, ivory
  • Precious metals and terminology
  • Jewelry craftsmanship; mountings and settings
  • Notable gem sources by continent and region
  • Euphemisms, marketing terms and misnomers
  • Commissioning jewelry
  • Choosing a jeweler
  • Making the purchase; credit cards vs. debit cards; when problems arise
  • Choosing an appraiser; insurance appraisal
  • Gem lab documents
  • Customs and duty rates

All this packed into 156 pages! Too good to be true? Here's what three industry journals had to say:

  • "Brilliantly planned, painstakingly researched, and beautifully produced, yet it is small enough that it fits easily into a purse, pocket, or palm…" – John S. White, in Lapidary Journal
  • "Essentially this small traveller's guide summarizes the important content of the author's previously published guides. Importantly this inexpensive book also supplies additional clearly presented information…" – Australian Gemmologist
  • "As always with this author, the presentation is immaculate and each opening displays high-class pictures of gemstones and jewellery…" — Journal of Gemmology

On that note, we'll leave you with three examples of the gemstone photographs that Pala International supplied author Renée Newman.

Spinel photo image
Red spinel from Burma, 3.23 ct, 9.78 x 7.66 x 5.92 mm. Ask for Inventory #20075. (Photo: Mia Dixon)
Tourmaline photo image
Golden tourmaline from Mozambique, 11.19 carats, 15.01 x 12.08 x 9.31 mm. (Photo: Jason Stephenson)
Topaz Suite photo image
Topaz suite: Pink cushion 4.97 ct, imperial cushion 22.49 ct, rose tapered emerald cut 4.76 ct, golden cushion 53.80 ct, yellow emerald cut 4.11 ct, light blue emerald cut 9.76 ct, blue pear shape 10.74 ct. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

[back to top]

Recycle Bin

Below are recent items from our sibling publication, Pala Mineralis, that will be of interest to colored gemstone enthusiasts.

"It became necessary to destroy the town desert to save it"

Rockhounds Object to Ill-Conceived Energy Plan

Brochure cover image
This brochure is available for downloading and printing.

What do conservation groups, off-road vehicle (ORV) clubs, gem-mineral societies and rockhounds share in common? They are joining a growing chorus of voices challenging California's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). What? They're anti-green energy? Really? No. Really, they're not. But they are part of a groundswell that includes nature lovers, hydrologists, geologists, paleontologists, residential communities, small businesses and recreational users of public lands, who share the same concern that the DRECP is a blank check greenlighting the unfettered industrialization of public lands and some of California's last unspoiled wild areas. Says Lisbet Thoresen, San Diego Mineral & Gem Society's editor, "We're not anti-green. We think distributed energy generation such as rooftop solar is a more sensible and economical alternative, creating and delivering energy near where it will be used. DG is sustainable and it does not come at the unnecessary cost of sacrificing the desert to produce and transmit energy to urban areas many miles away." On projects built to date, Thoresen observes,"Project scale, site selection, and unpredictable weather have been critical factors that have made a mirage of creating a green energy oasis in the desert landscape. The natural dust and heat of the Mojave may be intractable obstacles to success, while the impact on wildlife and habitat exacts a disastrous toll."

The DRECP is a California state-mandated directive, a 25-year plan focused on developing renewable energy projects (wind, solar, geothermal) in the California desert, an area encompassing 22.5 million acres. Said SDMG board member and American Lands Access Association president Shirley Leeson, "The DRECP has gotten very little input from our community, so if we don't tell the DRECP what needs to be changed in this flawed document, then rockhounds can look forward to being fenced out of collecting areas, and we will become ghosts of the desert."

The DRECP is an 8,000-page document. It is much too large and complicated for any one group to review and redress in just 115 days (the comment period closes Feb 23, 2015). Since most people have a dim awareness of what the DRECP is and what its impact will have on them, getting a critical mass of effective comments submitted to the DRECP by February 23rd is a big challenge. Together with other gem-mineral clubs and desert advocacy groups, SDMG is trying to elevate public awareness. SDMG's website has useful resources, tips, and calls to action. Anyone who wants to help get the word out, will find brochures and posters that can be downloaded and printed from the SDMG Press Room or ordered (print-on-demand) at very, low cost from the SDMG online news stand.

Poster image
This poster is available for downloading and printing. Other resources are available here.

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Worth the Wait: Trésors de la Terre

For ten years, a sleeping giant had undergone a meticulous face-lift. Finally, last November, Pala International received an invitation to the long-awaited opening of the mineralogical and geological hall (Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie) at the Múseum national d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. This is the same museum that Carl Larson works at part-time in gemological pursuits such as browsing the collection of René Just Haüy (see "An American in Paris"). Fortunately, Pala's president Bill Larson was able to adjust his busy schedule and attend the opening. His reflections regarding the hall's inaugural exhibition, "Trésors de la Terre" (Treasures of the Earth) follow.

My various Paris curator friends at this museum—François Farges, Cristiano Ferraris and Giancarlo Parodi—have been working on this new exhibition hall for several years now, so I was excited to see the museum reopen its rich mineralogy history to the public. The date worked for me: December 19, an evening opening.

I soon found out that a couple of good friends from outside France would attend, among them Raquel Alonso-Perez (Curator of the Harvard Mineralogical & Geological Museum), Wayne Leicht (dealer in fine minerals from USA) and Alan Hart (Head of Earth Science Collections at The Natural History Museum, London). So I booked my trip. Five days in Paris in December is not difficult to plan. I also asked Patrick Dreher, the famous carver, if he'd like to come down from Idar-Oberstein and he said that would work out fine. We had several projects to discuss together, so that was a great excuse to meet up.

Trio photo image
Triade n° 1. From left, Alan Hart, Raquel Alonso-Perez and Patrick Dreher window-shop with Bill on the Place Vendôme. (Photo: Bill Larson)

My first itinerary item was to look at a private gem collection on Monday; Raquel was invited as well. On Tuesday, Raquel, Alan and I were invited to lunch with the famous John Saul whose writing has been discussed in these pages [see the tanzanite monograph published by Mineralogical Record and mention of his 2014 book A Geologist Speculates]. The luncheon was excellent. We were able to go over a lot of East African history with John who had first-hand information which was very useful for both the curators in our party. We set up to meet again at the opening of the museum on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, Patrick was able to arrive. He and I joined up with Raquel and Alan for lunch at which he showed them some of the work he was doing for us at Pala International. One of the projects is to bring Patrick over to GIA for a lecture and an accompanying exhibition for students and the interested public of the fantastic natural beauty carved in gemstones by his family [see caption of the above image for details]. The afternoon consisted of a visit by the four of us through Place Vendôme to look at the various famous jewelers' windows filled with different designs of colored-stone and diamond jewelry. We found the most curious piece was in Buccellati's: a matched pair of large fine pink gems mounted in earrings. Well we all guessed wrong at first. Alan went inside and and found out they were kunzite. No one thought that kunzite would be on display in the sun. But perhaps these windows had UV protection.

Hall photo image
Hall. Even when the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie is not playing host to champagne-supping receptioneers, it has a stately presence. (Photo: Bill Larson)
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L'invitation. The five speakers listed above "are pleased to invite you to the opening of the exhibition." (Click to enlarge)

The next order of business was to meet up at 7 o'clock for the opening! We arrived on time and saw that there was a large crowd of well over 100 people already. In the old museum display area there was a podium set up and, as you see on the invitation above, a few speeches were given. With the ribbon being cut in a timely fashion we were given numbers for entry so the crowd could work its way through and would not be pushing.

Giants photo image
Giants n° 1. Crystal giants create a central theme around which more intimate exhibits beckon. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Giants photo image
Giants n° 2. Above, museum-goer peruses a cauldron of Brazilian agate beside a steeple of quartz. Below, another view of the same hall, with the agate at lower right. (Photos: Bill Larson, above; H. Fanthomme, © Paris Match, below)
Giants photo image

The first thing that was obvious was that the great collection of crystal giants created a central theme around which the various displays had been set up. I found one of the most interesting displays was demonstrating that minerals had been used as powder to create pigments for painting and they had many examples. Obviously, many people know that azurite powdered is used for blue watercolor, but they had many others, with turquoise and malachite well represented.

Garnets photo image
Giants n° 3. Cardioid and carved garnets along with cut-and-set examples. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Garnets photo image
L'émeraude. This brilliant emerald was an eyecatcher. (Photo: Bill Larson)

As one went around the central giants we came onto the gemstone collection, many of which are quite historic. The most famous to me of course is the 135-carat parallelogram blue sapphire, which my son Carl was involved in the study of this past October. Like the French Blue (now the Hope Diamond) this belonged to Louis XIV but it is almost unknown to most Americans. With the new forms of communication hopefully this fabulous piece will now take its place as an important historic gemstone.

Sapphire photo image
Wooden Spoon-Seller's Sapphire. From the exhibition caption: Corundum sapphire of Louis XIV, called "Great Sapphire"/ Crystal cut in rhomboid/ Sri Lanka (acquired and cut in 1669)/ Formerly in the collection of the crown jewels/ This sapphire called "Grand Sapphire" (and formerly identified as the Ruspoli), is the most beautiful sapphire in the world in the seventeenth century. Louis XIV, who enjoyed blue gems, made it one of the main pieces of the crown jewels.
   Hughes (1997, 238) attributes this sapphire's original moniker to S. M. Tagore, who wrote that it was found by a spoon seller in Bengal. A Roman prince named Ruspoli later sold it to the salesman from whom it was acquired by Louis XIV. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Sapphire photo image
Crown jewels. The Great Sapphire is taken from its storage place, above. The text inside the lid reads, "Precious Stones of the Collection of the Crown/ Diamonds, Rubies, Sapphires, Topazes, Opals, Amethysts, Pearls." This group of four photos, as well as our introductory image above were taken while Pala International's Carl Larson was studying the sapphire in Paris last fall. (Photos: Carl Larson)
Sapphire photo image
Sapphire photo image
Worth a closer look. Above, Carl Larson examines the Great Sapphire. (Photos: Bill Larson, above; Carl Larson, below)
Sapphire photo image

As we continued our viewing of the new hall we came across a large case of golds which should be a crowd pleaser. Also continuing in the gemstone area, we took in a few superb minerals from the famous Louis Vésignié collection, including the fine gold photographed below.

Gold Specimen photo image
One of a cast of thousands. Above, gold from the collection of Colonel Louis Vésignié, who so far has bequeathed nearly 5,000 exceptional specimens to the Múseum in the 1960s. Ten years following his death, his heirs offer for sale 15,000 additional pieces. Below, Giancarlo Parodi directs the placement of another gold. (Photos: Bill Larson, above; H. Fanthomme, © Paris Match, below)
Gold Specimen photo image

After completing our tour of the new hall, champagne and fine wine were served. We all had a great time until realizing that we hadn't eaten except for hors d'oeuvre. A group of us followed Giancarlo to a French club that was open late and had charcuteries with unlabeled wine. Needless to say a great time was had by all.

Trio photo image
Triade n° 2. What, no embarrassing images of Giancarlo? Bill Larson is flanked by Raquel Alonso-Perez and Alan Hart. (Photo: Patrick Dreher)

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— End February Newsletter • Published 2/17/15 —

January 2015 Newsletter

Hugheses photo image
Catching everyone's best side. A candid moment at "Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century." From left, Billie Hughes frowns at the excesses of a maharajah (Bhupinder Singh), Richard Hughes shakes his head at the display case (many of the maharajah's jewels, below, having been replaced by replicas), and Wimon Manorotkul winks at the camera. (Photo: David Hughes)
Hugheses photo image

Shows and Events

Pala International News

Gems and Gemology News

Industry News


Shows and Events

Tucson Time: February 3–15, 2015

After the holidays, we’re looking forward to the world’s greatest gem and mineral show in February. One-stop general information about individual shows can be obtained from the Tucson EZ-Guide.

Pala International will be represented in Tucson as follows. We look forward to seeing our many friends there. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events.

AGTA GemFair

AGTA GemFair image

Pala joins nearly 100 exhibitors for this trade-only annual extravaganza.

Event: AGTA GemFair
When: February 3–8, 2015
Where: Tucson Convention Center
Pala International Booth: 1016

The event website now features an interactive floorplan allowing you to see who is exhibiting by area of the convention center.

Free seminars by notables in the world of gemstones and pearls are listed.


14th Annual Westward Look Mineral Show

Westward Look poster image

Pala International and two dozen other world-class mineral dealers shack up at a Sonoran Desert resort.

  • Collector Day (Sat) features Raquel Alonso-Perez, Curator of the Harvard Mineralogical & Geological Museum, who will present "Over 200 Years of the Harvard Mineral Collection"
  • Fine Mineral Collecting and the Second Generation (Sun) features a panel of mineral dealers with at least one preceding generation behind them, including Pala International's Will Larson; others on the panel are Evan Jones, Christophe Kielmann, Krystle Dorris and Brian Kosnar
  • Also on Sunday evening, we're told that Pala International president Bill Larson will receive Mineralogical Record's fourth annual American Mineral Heritage Award; prior recipients are Ed Swoboda, Wayne Thompson and Bryan Lees

Event: 14th Annual Westward Look Mineral Show
When: February 6–9, 2015
Where: Westward Look Resort
Pala International Suite: 224, Building 20, Upper Level

Larsons photo image
Tag team. Pala International's Will Larson, right, is included in Westward Look's Sunday night presentation, "Fine Mineral Collecting and the Second Generation." Also that evening, Bill Larson, left, will receive Mineralogical Record's fourth annual American Mineral Heritage Award. (Photo: George Shen at the inaugural Changsha Mineral and Gem Show, 2013)

See Pala International’s page on the Westward Look Show site. See also this dealer map.



61st Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

TGMS image

TGMS is the largest gem and mineral show in the country. This year’s theme is “Minerals of Western Europe.”

Event: 61st Annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show
When: February 11–15, 2015
Where: Tucson Convention Center
Pala International Booth: 926–929

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Tucson Transit Tips

Many shows will offer their own shuttles. View your transit and parking options here. [back to top]

Glamour of the Gods

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston currently has two exhibitions of interest to gemstone enthusiasts.

Gold and the Gods

Mention Sudan and thoughts of recent and enduring conflicts come to mind. Of course, such conflicts are nothing new, as is demonstrated by warrior artifacts uncovered from the region's ancient past, when it was known as Nubia. Today's combatants may wind up in unmarked graves, but in Nubia's Classic Kerma period (1700–1550 BCE), its warriors were buried with adornments such as large, stylized fly pendants, thought to have been inspired by the aggressive Nilotic fly—decorations of valor, perhaps. Their swords and daggers were replicated in miniature with precious metals, likely ceremonial. These artifacts and scores of other jewels are available for view in Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts for the next two years.

MFA's collection is the largest outside Khartoum, and is in part the result of a 20th-century archaeological expedition by the Museum with Harvard University. In addition to the gold of the exhibition title, Nubian artisans crafted with lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, blue chalcedony from Turkey, amethystine quartz and carnelian, as well as enamel and glass. The latter two materials were novel technologies at the time. Denise Doxey, Curator, Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art at the MFA calls Nubians the "greatest ancient civilization you’ve never heard of." Their territory ranged from Aswan in the north (now in Egypt) and Khartoum in the south.

Necklace photo image
Magical. Above, necklace with cylinder amulet case, 1700–1550 BCE. Silver, glazed crystal, carnelian, and faience (a ceramic glaze for quartz beads). Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. Below, string of beads with a glazed quartz pendant, 1700–1550 BCE. Faience, glazed quartz. Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. (Photos © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Necklace photo image

Above are two examples of Kerma period necklaces employing beads of blue-glazed quartz, both translucent and opaque. According to the exhibition news release the process by which the beads were created was challenging. The amulet case on the uppermost necklace could have contained magical texts inscribed on papyrus or metal.

Pendant photo image
Preggers. Hathor-headed crystal pendant, Nubian, Napatan period, reign of Piankhy (Piye), 743–712 BCE. Gold, rock crystal. Harvard University—Boston MFA expedition. (Photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Jewels of Ancient Nubia cover image
The exhibition's accompanying monograph was reviewed last month by Dr. Cigdem Lule for GIA. It is available at MFA's online museum shop.

Many of the objects uncovered on the Harvard–MFA expedition were in immaculate condition, such as the above pendant. It is the only such example incorporating the image of deity Hathor, whose attributes include love and motherhood. It was found in a queen's tomb at el-Kurru, located on the Nile just as it makes its last bend before its march to the Mediterranean. This was the burial place of the Napatan period (mid-eighth to late fourth centuries BCE) early rulers. The pendant is an amulet case, in an elegantly different form from that of the translucent-beaded necklace pictured further above. Hathor also inhabited other guises such as a celestial bovine, alluded to in the horns that hold the sun orb. The pendant's crystal shape is the essence of fecundity. Above Hathor's brow sits Uraeus, the depiction of yet another deity, Wadjet, associated with royalty as a protector of monarchs and birthing women—like the queen of the el-Kurru tomb.

Maat, pictured below, is the manifestation of the concepts of truth, justice and the law. The gilded silver pendant loop actually is an ostrich feather, emblem of Maat's first two attributes. Osiris, lord of the dead, wears two such feathers in his crown. Maat also has her own association with the underworld, in which she weighs the hearts of the dead—containing their souls—against her feather; a light heart-soul proceeds to paradise, whereas a heavy heart is devoured by the tripartite demon Ammit, condemning the deceased to remain below.

Amulet of Maat photo image
Arbiter. Amulet of Maat, 743–712 BCE. Gilded silver and malachite. Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition* Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

For an in-depth overview of the treasures of Nubia, see this essay by Yvonne Markowitz and the aforementioned Denise Doxey, authors of the above-referenced monograph, in Ornament Magazine.

Hollywood Glamour

The years of the American Great Depression and the subsequent World War coincided with "the most glamorous years of Hollywood film," according to the news release for another MFA exhibition, Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen. And while the stars were "dripping with diamonds and shimmering in satin" on the silver screen, in the 1930s their work lives were anything but glitzy, as recalled by film director Ken Orzatti in 1995:

Imagine working on a film with unrestricted hours, no enforced turn-around and no required meal breaks. Imagine working under a seven-year contract that you cannot break and more than likely will be forced to renew, for a producer who can tell you who you can marry, what your morals must be, even what political opinions to hold.

It wasn't until the late '30s, with the formation of the Screen Actors Guild and resistance by Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland, as recalled by Orzatti, that the studios were forced to make concessions. In fact, it was the vigor of Hollywood studio strife in the '40s that caused labor to be reined in by Congress, as noted by revisionist historian Gerald Horne (Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930–1950). "The formulators of the Taft-Hartley legislation, which has been criticized as antiunion by some on the left, were influenced profoundly by the startling scenes of violence from Hollywood…," Horne writes. Working conditions may have changed, but constraints on so-called morals persist. While entertainment industry insider Samuel Bernstein credits the scandal sheet Confidential with having opened closet doors, without a lot of backlash to the outed in the 1950s, Newsweek entertainment writer Ramin Setoodeh has more recently retrograded that actors should not reveal themselves, er, thus. "The fact is," Setoodeh holds forth, "an actor's background does affect how we see his or her performance," and then, as if we needed an exclamation point: "which is why the Denzels or the Tom Hanks-es of the world guard their privacy carefully." Meow!

Okay, let's hearken back to an earlier age, when men were men and women were… men. (Oops. Wrong show: Marlene Dietrich's accessories are featured at DAM.)

Aquamarine Suite photo image
Goodness had nothing to do with it. Aquamarine Suite of Mae West. Platinum, diamond, and aquamarine. Neil Lane Collection. (Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Appropriately, we begin with Mae West, who herself has been called the greatest female impersonator of all time. We're reminded by professor Pamela Robertson Wojcik (Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna) of West's accomplishments prior to the film career that would overshadow them. Eight of her twelve plays already had been produced before she went to Hollywood in 1932, including 1927's The Drag, characterized by Robertson Wojcik as "a serious attempt to represent the plight of homosexuals in a hypocritical society…." In The Pleasure Man (1928), West rails at the opportunistic title character—who impregnates, abandons and assaults a woman—via one of the backstage drag queens: "If you're a man, thank God I'm a female impersonator." If the F-word in Robertson Wojcik's subtitle appears gratuitous, note that even in the small role West had in her first film, Night After Night, she was able to rewrite her lines. In publicity pix from the film, West is the one wearing the jewels, as she does in this scene, when a hat-check worker exclaims, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds," to which West replies, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." In her second film, She Done Him Wrong, she adapted the role of her Broadway hit, Diamond Lil, as Lady Lou. Wearing a necklace with a handsome centerpiece featuring a large round stone set in a square surround, West delivers her famous "come up and see me sometime" line. The plot itself includes elements of sex work, counterfeiting (the means for Lou's diamond habit), pickpocketing, undercover ops, jail visitation, attempted murder, accidental murder, intentional murder—and redemption. Just as the studio violence of the '40s contributed to Congress's labor crackdown, Mae West's story lines and double-entendres—and Marlene Dietrich's cross-dressing, on and off-screen—contributed to the Motion Picture Production Code. Unfazed by such sanitation, West deliberately inserted inflammatory footage in her films, knowing it would be cut, thus allowing other content, tame by comparison, intact.

Sapphire Necklace photo image
Heliotrope. Multi-use necklace of actress June Knight, late 1930s. Trabert & Hoeffer, Inc.-Mauboussin (1936-1953). Platinum, engraved sapphire, and diamond. Neil Lane Collection. (Photo courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Like Mae West, June Knight (née Margaret Rose Valliquietto) also saw her share of time on Broadway, beginning with the Ziegfeld Follies, but she started her life as a sickly child who was not expected to live that long. But while Mae West entered film at age 40, Knight began at 17, in 1930. Having debuted Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" on B'way in '35, by '36 interest was such that her peculiar fashion sense was being covered in the Washington Post during her appearance in the nation's capital. "Clothes of June Knight Based on Numerology," the headline read (reminiscent of the consultations of another actress, Nancy Davis Reagan). "'Vibration Colors' Year in and Year Out Explained by Actress; Yellow and Heliotrope Fit Her Personality." The article explains that Knight's aunt "worked it all out for her by taking her birth date, counting the number of vowels in her name"—her assumed name, that is—"and figuring out the [color] vibrations by numerology." Admitting to be superstitious, Knight brought out for the reporter a yard-long charm bracelet: "miniature pitchers, vases, monkeys, a flat iron, a small Mahatma Gandhi (bearing a pearl in his arms), a gold carriage with the Dionnes peeping out, silver boxes and hearts, some set with precious stones, others elaborately carved." The year before, however, Knight's luck went south. Under the ruse of offering an advertising tie-in, two men entered her Central Park South apartment, bound and gagged her and her maid, and made off with $5,000 in jewels and cash, most of it in the form of a $3,500 five-carat diamond ring. And, no, it was not a publicity stunt, her attorney explained to reporters. Chastened, she made use of the apartment-hotel's vault thereafter, and so the necklace pictured above has survived.

Parure photo image
Andy's Babies. Joan Crawford suite of jewelry, about 1935. Verger Frères (French, founded in 1911). Gold, diamond, and aquamarine. Promised gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. (Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Joan Crawford is the other bookend to Mae West's formidable female form. As professor Robertson Wojcik writes, in 1971 when Playboy magazine asked West for her definition of camp, she replied, "Camp is the kinda comedy where they imitate me." This, Robertson Wojcik writes, makes West at once a producer of camp and a camp object. It would have been fun to get Joan Crawford's response. In his encyclopedia of the subject, Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth, Philip Core uses Crawford as an exemplar of his title's thesis. Crawford's insecurities—"social, sexual and artistic"—led her to exaggerate a stringent exterior. Images of her early on—she too hoofed it on Broadway, under her birth name of Lucille Fay LeSueur—are unrecognizable from the Joan Crawford that she would become. But Crawford was Crawford. MGM screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas recalled in Mick LaSalle's Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood that Crawford was a gum-chewing, heavily made-up "strumpet… Crude as she was, everything about her seemed to say, 'Look out. I'm in a hurry. Make room!'" Core remarks that the Crawford of 1928's Our Dancing Daughters—"wholesome good looks… pure Americana"—had in forty years become "a couture dummy with a mouth like a shark." In his obligatory reference to daughter Christina Crawford's Mommie Dearest, and its film adaptation, Core finds it odd that the public couldn't get enough of the cruel Crawford:

The value of camp lies in the fact that, for all the repellent quality of a mask, if it fits well we can discern through it the lineaments of the true face beneath. Thus, in rather the same way we could glimpse a good actress beneath the portrait of Joan Crawford painted on Faye Dunaway's face by make-up artists, the unhappy, the flamboyant, or the whorish, [we] can glimpse beneath Miss Crawford's enamelled features their own failings and insecurities. This quality makes a star, camp or not, and Joan Crawford was that, first and foremost.

And a star in the '30s must have jewels. The diamond and aquamarine parure pictured above was profiled by JCK magazine as its "The Way We Wore" feature in October 2011. Quoted is Stephen Burton of London jeweler Hancocks (which owned the suite at the time), who said that photos of Crawford document the fact that she wore all or part of the trio for the rest of her life, after acquiring it circa 1935. Andy Warhol, "a very astute collector" according to Burton, purchased the suite from Crawford's estate following her death in 1977. It was sold in Sotheby's sale of Warhol's jewelry and watches in 1988. Even without its provenance, Burton said, the suite's artistry places it in a class of its own.

Hollywood Glamour is on display at MFA Boston through March 8, 2015. In conjunction with the exhibition is Hollywood Glamour and the Birth of the Cool, a four-session course beginning on February 3. A companion exhibition of the celebrity photography, Karsh Goes Hollywood, featuring twenty fine examples of the work of Yousef Karsh (including Joan Crawford, sans stones), also runs through March 8. [back to top]

Clamoring for Cartier

On a crisp afternoon in late December, the Richard, Robert and David Hugheses took in Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century at the Denver Art Museum. The show was well attended, made manageable by time-specific tickets. Each visitor was given a self-directed audio guide that answered questions such as how the floating hands in a Cartier "mystery" clock stayed afloat. Below is a tiny taste of the treasures in store for museum-goers.

Panthers Bracelet and Statuette photo image
Purr-fect. Some of the exhibition components are arranged thematically. Above, an articulated bracelet "leaps" as a statuette looks on. (Photos: Richard W. Hughes, top; David Hughes)
Panthers caption image
L'Après-midi d'une émeraude. Color-wise, this is perhaps the most arresting piece in the exhibit although my image doesn't do it justice. The emeralds are very vivid Goldilocks-green: not too dark, not too light. This brooch is one of the Cartier creations inspired by the Ballets Russes. It was crafted in 1913, when Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed for the dance company. It features a 11.90-carat emerald in center; pearls, platinum and onyx. (Photo: David Hughes)
Hugheses and Sapphire photo image
Something(s) missing. Other displays in the Ballets Russes suite were not as successful, such as Marie of Romania's 478-carat blue sapphire, which is the size of a small egg. Richard Hughes, above, noticed that a piece of the sapphire's pavilion appears absent; it was cut for size, not splendor. Below, Billie Hughes's chin can be seen through the gap that a superior stone would not have had. Perhaps with this in mind, the exhibition designers positioned this piece against a busy photomural of garish Ballets Russes dancers. This display reminded the Hugheses—whose Lotus Gemology laboratory specializes in ruby and sapphire—that "Brilliant," aside from its many examples of lovely jewels, does not have a lot to offer cravers of corundum. (Photos: David Hughes)
Billie Hughes and Sapphire photo image
Cocktail Set photo image
Tippling, schooning and scribbling. Practical items also are included, such as the travel cocktail set above. Space-saving flasks for spirits surround the shaker. At back a citrus reamer with shot glasses. Upended, the reamer attaches to the shaker, making it long-necked, and acting as strainer. The tray is dedicated to William Kissam Vanderbilt II and his second wife, on the occasion of their trip around the world in 1928. (Vanderbilt was an avid yachtsman.) Vanderbilt is addressed in the inscription as "Commodore," a rank he appears to have shared with his great grandfather, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the family fortune. Below, a pen with its own source of illumination, if not inspiration. (Photos: David Hughes)
Pen photo image
Wimon Manorotkul photo image
And the stars… Of course Hollywood is well represented in "Brilliant." Above, Wimon Manorotkul takes in film clips with Cartier cameos (so to speak). Below, design for Elizabeth Taylor's La Peregrina necklace. Not long after receiving the pearl, Taylor came across a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots and took pictures of the painting to Cartier. (Photos: David Hughes)
Elizabeth Taylor Necklace photo image

Cutting 'Cue

Another Denver institution is currently attracting crowds: the National Western Stock Show. Although it's now in its 109th year, 2015 saw the show's first-ever BBQ Throwdown last Saturday. Here's how the Denver Post led off an article on the competition, by William Porter, the newspaper's food writer, to whom your editor owes at least some of his prospering paunch: "Donny Bray bent over a table bearing a slab of beef brisket, muttering to himself while pondering how to cut and arrange the meat. It was like watching a master gem cutter calculating the facet configuration of a five-carat diamond." [back to top]

Pala International News

This month we feature an exceptional blue zircon from Cambodia. Weighing in at 36.11 carats, this zircon is quite a large specimen, as most blue zircon are found under 5 carats; over 10 carats is quite rare for this type of color. Not only is the size impressive but the color hits the sweet spot for zircon. The swimming-pool blue is reminiscent of a fine paraiba and invites you to dive in. Blues of this size are often too dark or off-color. The strong doubling shows up more in the photo than in hand, but it's a good optical tool to identify zircon.

Zircon photo image
Wonderful large, clean blue cushion-cut zircon from Cambodia, 36.11 ct, 17.89 x 15.89 x 12.69 mm. Inventory #22357. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Our new supplier continues to bring in beautiful zircons, and the last lot yielded this rare beauty. We continue to hold good stock in blue zircon with a wide variety of shapes, sizes and matched pairs. Check out our previous post on the blue zircon connection.

Zircons photo image
Nice Pair! A sample of the great new selection of blue zircons at Pala International. Rounds range from 6.4 to 8 mm, cushions are 9.8 mm. (Photo Mia Dixon)

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

Himalaya Holler

Tourmaline photo image
A natural multicolored tourmaline from the Himalaya Mine. Emerald cut, 7.93 carats, 28.7 x 5.64 x 5.17 mm. Inventory #21855. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Pala International has commissioned Southern California independent researcher Lisbet Thoresen to collaborate on a history of San Diego County's famous Himalaya Mine. The study likely will be issued in two volumes. Volume One will include the mine's history, from its discovery in 1898 through its 100-year anniversary (and party) in 1997. Volume Two will consist of Himalaya Mine mineral specimen paintings by artist Gamini Ratnavira and superb images by noted photographers.

"I'm putting out a call for interesting stories, photos and archival material" related to the Himalaya Mine, Pala International president Bill Larson told us. Mineral enthusiasts who wish to contribute can contact Pala International directly.

Pala Pic is Cover Star for Tourmaline Profile

A photograph by Wimon Manorotkul was chosen by gemstone networking website GEMHUB for its Focus on Tourmaline, published just before Thanksgiving. Shown below, the photo neatly demonstrates the wide color variation found in the tourmaline family. And speaking of family, for more on Manorotkul and her talented family, see "Tiny Lights," below.

Tourmalines photo image
This image by Wimon Manorotkul is included in the Tourmaline Buying Guide by her husband Richard W. Hughes, found on Palagems.com and its sibling retail site CollectorFineJewelry.com.

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Gems and Gemology News

Don't Do This at Home, Kids

Last month, we featured an article by Ana Vasiliu, "Pearls Revisited," in which she provided photomicrographs of pearl nuclei. Of course, to get to a nucleus one must crack a pearl. For our interested readers, we have assembled a 67-frame slide show telling how it's done.

Below, from the slide show: (Top) a group of Bahraini Pinctada radiata pearls about the size of poppy seeds, awaiting (hopefully) creative destruction. In the center, a minute attached pearl shows how transparent a thin layer of nacre can be—the reddish mass inside is a richly mineralized organic material sometimes deposited first as pearls start forming. Diverse qualities of nacre show even among such small samples…. We do not condone the destruction of fine pearls... despite considerable temptation! (Bottom) One of several mineral spherulites found among the earliest deposits in another pearl of this lot. Landscapes of intricate mineralization in pearls are often worth shooting for pleasure, but the best is to be had at fairly high magnification (1600X here), which makes destruction inevitable—it is not possible to get comparable detail by non-destructive methods: a serious technical gap between the study of shell materials and pearl gemology, until further notice. Again, we do not condone the destruction….

Pearl photo image
Photos by Ana Vasiliu from this slide show. See above for descriptions.
Pearl photomicrograph image

Pen Pearls

We've all heard of melo pearls, non-nacreous, shimmery orange-yellow orbs the size of pigeon's eggs (see melo pearls from Vietnam and Myanmar). There is another variety of non-nacreous pearl: pen (Pinna) pearls. While pen pearls also can come in sunny shades, they often lend themselves to cracking, so use in jewelry is not really an option. Their shape and earthy color sometimes is reminiscent of the lingam, the object of devotion associated in Hinduism with the deity Shiva.

Pen Pearls photo image
These 20 completely non-nacreous pen pearls, from the group of 22 samples in the GIA study, are set against a pen shell displaying both nacreous (left) and non-nacreous areas (right). (Photo by Lhapsin Nillapat; © GIA)

Pala International's Bill Larson contributed pen pearls from his own collection to a study conducted in Bangkok by GIA's Nicholas Sturman, Artitaya Homkrajae, Areeya Manustrong, and Nanthaporn Somsa-ard. "Observations on Pearls Reportedly from the Pinnidae Family (Pen Pearls)" is available for reading on the GIA website. [back to top]

Industry News

Ethics Heckling: Digging Deeper, Sustainably Speaking

Last June we looked at a colored gemstone industry-ethics "solution in search of a problem," namely the Precious Stones Multi-Stakeholder Working Group (PS-MSWG) dealing with "responsible sourcing and supply-chain due diligence for precious stones." A report on the issue was to be issued by the group last May, but it was so problematic it was sent back for a rewrite; whether it will be issued at all is now in doubt.

Poster image

But another report was released—albeit with no fanfare, and in December 2013. For whatever reason, it has languished until a couple of months ago when it came to the attention of ethics gadfly (and PS-MSWG Communications Committee member) Dana Schorr. Titled "Responsible Sourcing of Colored Gemstones," it was issued by The Graduate Institute of Geneva, a world affairs institution, partnered with Richemont (the Swiss holding company for Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, among others) and Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC; a supply chain certification group). From the executive summary of the 67-page report:

Understanding the risks and weaknesses of colored gemstones supply chains is essential to evaluate initiatives, which are developed by different multi-stakeholder groups to make the colored gemstone sourcing and their supply chains more sustainable and transparent. This study analyzes the supply chain of colored gemstones and connected risks and assess the opportunities and challenges for existing as well as potential initiatives.

Last week, Schorr issued his own take on the report, asking the pesky questions he feels should have been considered in any comprehensive consideration of ethics. Our favorite is one of the most obvious—but perhaps an awkward one for an industry that is exposed to report after report by gemstone labs worldwide of new and improved ways of conning the consumer:

The authors claim a part of the purpose of this study is to “…explore, map and compare the different paths a gemstone travels from the mine to the jewelry end-consumer...” (Page 12 ¶ 3) However, they leave a gaping hole, since there is no study of the gaps and risks within the retail sector itself.

Schorr then lists the relevant issues, including everything from retail fraud to unethical treatment of suppliers to employee degradation.

As we noted last June, the PSMSWG ostensibly was to be a "non-exclusive coalition," but key stakeholders felt themselves sidelined. In a similar vein, RJC's Responsible Jewellery Practices contain several mentions of the importance of "transparency" but, as Schorr points out, the "experts" consulted in The Graduate Institute study are not named. "Since these students presumably know nothing about our trade," Schorr asks, "how did they determine who was an expert?"

Evidently The Graduate Institute report will be presented at next month's Sustainable Luxury Forum, to be held in Geneva February 4–6 and hosted at… The Graduate Institute. (As we noted in November, CIBJO president Gaetano Cavalieri has pointed out the unsustainability of mining.) Presenting on the report will be one of its coauthors, Léa Collet—now with OECD, interestingly—and Dr. Gilles Garbonnier, a professor at The Graduate Institute. The attendees will have their hands full as they engage the issues raised by the Forum's theme: "Luxury in a VUCA* World: How to Address Soaring Inequalities, Scarcities and Complexities?"

* Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous.

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Prizewinners from Birkenfeld and Bangkok

Lunar Lovelies

In October we reported that Pala International's Bill Larson had been asked to join the jury for two gemstone competitions held in Idar-Oberstein, in Rhineland-Palatinate's Birkenfeld District, Germany. This month we bring you images of the winning entries. Crank up the Pink Floyd…

Pendant photo image
The Other Side of the Moon by Llyn L. Strelau, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Pendant jewelry made of white and black engraved agate, diamonds, white gold and ruthenium blackened white gold. (Photo-collage: Lichtblick Foto-Design, Hiltrud und Jurgen Cullmann, Schwollen)

The winning entry "The Other Side of the Moon" by the Canadian Llyn L. Strelau was, according to the unanimous opinion of the jury, the best of the entries submitted in 2014 for the German Award for Jewellery and Precious Stones, Idar-Oberstein. The jury summarized its verdict thus:

Great show! Just take a look at this necklace: This softness, these classic lines which remind one of silk, of wonderful flowing, fringed Charleston dresses, the exciting contrast between the two faces, the glamour radiated by this piece, the fact that it can be worn during the day and in the evening, never mind whether you feel great or miserable. Without any doubt, this deserves the first prize.

On something of a roll, the jury chose another lunar-themed pendant for its second prize.

Pendant photo image
Moonlight by Manfred Wild, Kirschweiler, Germany. Pendant made of citrine, girasol, brilliants and yellow gold. (Photo: Lichtblick Foto-Design, Hiltrud und Jurgen Cullman, Schwollen)

Second-place "Moonlight" plays with both the crescent and face of Earth's satellite. The citrine intaglio's textures recall silk brocade. Starbursts provide a mid-century modern counterpoint to the moon's neo-Victorian façade.

Jade Pendant photo image
Color coordinated. Erika Van Pelt certainly takes first prize as best-dressed judge. Above left she wears a massive rutilated quartz star pendant, tastefully cut off-center, with rays beaming below. Below center she sports an oblong pentagon pendant featuring three multicolored tourmaline cut stones from Pala International's former Himalaya Mine. Click to enlarge.
Jade Pendant photo image

Tiny Lights

Sometimes your editor is the last to learn about the accolades heaped upon members of his own family, so reticent are they to toot their own horns. Thus it was during a Yuletide (and Cartier-tide) visit when I was informed that in November, at the annual Gem-A Conference, niece E. Billie Hughes, and brother Richard W. Hughes, received awards for their photomicrographs, as noted in the captions below.

Pyrite in Rock Crystal photomicrograph image
Black & (fool's) gold. Pyrite in rock crystal quartz. This photo was awarded 2nd place in the Gem-A's 2014 photo competition. (Photomicrograph: E. Billie Hughes, Lotus Gemology)

Billie Hughes follows in the footsteps of her mother, Wimon Manorotkul, who was Pala International's resident photographer prior to her return to Southeast Asia in 2008. Manorotkul is the subject of a FotogFocus profile, Pala International's occasional look at the artist behind the lens. Billie's photographs are featured in Terra Spinel (2010) and Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide (2014).

Inclusion photomicrograph image
Yin and yang. A mobile bubble floats in petroleum in a negative crystal in Pakistani quartz. This photo was awarded 3rd place in the Gem-A's 2014 photo competition. (Photomicrograph: E. Billie Hughes, Lotus Gemology)

Richard Hughes's photographs appear throughout the Pala International website, Palagems.com, as well has his own Ruby-Sapphire.com and, of course, the above-mentioned books. For two samples of images from his popular live presentations, see Pala International's YouTube channel.

Trapiche Sapphire photomicrograph image
Trapiche sapphire. Specimen courtesy of Jeffery Bergman. This photo was awarded an honorable mention in the Gem-A's 2014 photo competition. (Photomicrograph: Richard W. Hughes, Lotus Gemology)

Results of the Gem-A competition were published in the November 2014 edition of Gems & Jewellery and also will be published in the Journal of Gemmology. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Deaths and (Market) Destruction

Spinel photo image
Snow white. A silvery spinel from Burma, 3.50 carats. Inventory #22236. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Last week, the bodies of four people were pulled from the rubble of a jade mine in Kachin State's Hpakant township. A landslide had occurred when the rubble was weakened by rains. Originally, as many as 50 people were thought to have been caught by the landslide per The Irrawaddy, but a search was called off when all were accounted for, according to AFP on January 9. Had the slide occurred in the daytime—it happened in the early evening—more people would have been affected.

In other jade news, the Myanmar Times reported that trade in Burma jade is forecast to be uncertain due to a market dominated by Chinese who are making low offers. Other factors leading to anxiety are armed clashes, leading to scarcity, which one would think would drive up the price, but the reality differs.

Protests from Mandalay to Mogok

People continued to protest a prospective move of Mandalay's gem market, this time on December 23, according to The Irrawaddy. Tens of thousands gathered in the city's center to resist the move, which would locate the market five miles to the south. One concern is the safety of dealers and couriers who would be moving gems over that distance. The market currently consists of over a thousand showrooms—1,117 per the Myanmar Times—and thus no small move.

In Mogok, residents objected to plans that would turn iconic parkland next to that rubyland's iconic lake into the headquarters of the Mogok Gem and Jewellery Entrepreneurs' Association and perhaps other structures as well, as reported by the Myanmar Times. Because other gemstone trading centers have their own gem associations—Yangon, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw—it's argued that Mogok should, too. Khin Zaw Win, writing in The Irrawaddy, mused on what Burma loses if environmental concerns in the region are not addressed. Jared Ferrie, writing for Reuters, looked at the challenges facing Burma as it opens its mining opportunities. Eleven Media Group highlighted a specific instance of an injured river, the Uru creek in which mining waste has been dumped, being further insulted by construction of a mining road, narrowing the river even more. Happy New Year!

Bite-Sized Bits

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— End January Newsletter • Published 1/15/15 —

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Note: Palagems.com selects much of its material in the interest of fostering a stimulating discourse on the topics of gems, gemology, and the gemstone industry. Therefore the opinions expressed here are not necessarily those held by the proprietors of Palagems.com. We welcome your feedback.