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May – August 2015

July 2015 Newsletter

Pala International ad image
Loving middle age. Last month, Pala International celebrated 46 years in the business. Above, a vintage advertisement from the 1980s. (Click to enlarge)

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Photographer Tino Hammid Dies at 63

And what more could I possibly ask as an artist than that your most precious visions, however rare, assume, sometimes, the forms of my images?

— Maya Deren

Noted gemstone photographer Tino Hammid died July 11 after nearly two years of struggle against colon cancer. Tino leaves behind his wife Petra, young twins Antonia and Tobias, and adult daughter Evelyn. Prior to his death, Tino's family sold their Los Angeles home, buying one in New Jersey so he and his children could visit his upstate New York farm house, according to his GoFundMe page. No public funeral will be held in Los Angeles; a private memorial at their New Jersey home will be held later. Petra plans to mount an exhibition of Tino's work in the next year.

Tino Hammid was the son of filmmaker Alexander Hammid (1907–2004; see obituary), who collaborated with his wife, the polymath Maya Deren, on the classic experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), two decades later winning an Academy Award for To Be Alive! (1964, shown on three screens at the New York World's Fair). Tino's mother, Hella Heyman Hammid (1921–1992; see bio), collaborated with both Hammid and Deren as cinematographer and actress before marrying Alexander in 1948 following his divorce. Hella (daughter of artist Lette Valeska) had a career as a still photographer, being included in the 1955 MOMA exhibition The Family of Man and the 1967 World's Fair exhibition The Camera as Witness.

Tino Hammid himself was prone to experimentation, as revealed by a 1995 profile by fellow photographer Robert Weldon, who wrote that Hammid, "who has been photographing gems and jewelry for 15 years, is branching out: he has flung himself into the mysterious world of 'virtual reality'" via Apple's Macintosh computer. Hammid was manipulating his own images using a 3-D rendering application, having begun his exploration in the fall of 1991. On Monday, Weldon and others recalled the photographer's artistry in JCK, with longtime collaborator David Federman calling Hammid "the Richard Avedon of gem photography." Gemologist and author Richard W. Hughes posted his own tribute to his friend on Facebook.

Pala International president Bill Larson remarked on Hammid's passing, "Tino was a good friend to Pala. All of us. We were often honored when he would select and photograph a gem [of ours] for his books."

Even after his cancer diagnosis, Tino Hammid somehow found the stamina to work and work. In July of last year, Tino told me he had contributed many new photographs to the second edition of The Handbook of Gemmology. We leave you with one such image.

Sphalerite photo image
From page 553 of The Handbook of Gemmology. This wonderful 39-carat fancy-cut gem sphalerite was sold to Pala International's Bill Larson at last year's AGTA GemFair in Tucson by Tino Hammid, whose hundreds of photographs are featured in the book.

Editor's Note: The above was written without the benefit of fact-checking; any corrections are welcome. —David Hughes

Shows and Events

Pala at JA New York Summer Show: July 26–28, 2015

JA NY image

Pala International heads to the East Coast later this summer for the trade-only JA New York Summer Show. Stop by to see one of America's largest selections of fine colored gems.

See this list of seminars to be held at the show.

When: July 26–July 28, 2015
Where: Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
   Sunday, July 26: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Monday, July 27: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Tuesday, July 28: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Pala International will be represented by Gabrièl Mattice, Jason Stephenson, Carl Larson, and Alison Collins. They are excited to travel to the East Coast to visit Pala's friends and customers in New York City.

Pala International is in booth 2573. See the JANY website for more information. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events. [back to top]

First International Emerald Symposium: October 13–15, 2015

Details are forthcoming regarding this symposium, sponsored by Fedesmeraldas, the Federación Nacional de Esmeraldas de Colombia. It will be held in Bogotá at the Sheraton Bogotá Hotel. Visitors to the symposium website can sign up for more information.

Symposium image
Click to enlarge (a little bit…)

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Waddesdon Bequest at the British Museum

Ferdinand de Rothschild portrait image
Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild by Hay (not identified), Vanity Fair, 15 June 1889.

Last month, the redisplay of a sumptuous collection opened at the British Museum in London. Known as the Waddesdon Bequest, the collection was bequeathed to the museum in 1898, the year of his death, by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, who was a banker, a Member of Parliament and, of course, a collector of art. Born in Paris in 1839 and raised in Vienna, Baron Rothschild eventually became a British citizen. He built Waddesdon Manor, named after the village in Buckinghamshire, to display his collection. In celebration of the redisplay in London, the manor features a special exhibition, "Treasures from the Smoking Room" through October 25. This exhibition looks at the Baron's choice to decorate the Bachelors' Wing in the style of the Renaissance, mirroring much of the contents of the collection.

While several highlights of the Bequest will delight the gemstone enthusiast, let's begin with a masterpiece crafted only in silver. The "Cellini" Bell is from the mid-16th century. Its surface is encrusted with intricate objects and animals both natural and fanciful: berries and leaves; plaited rope; escutcheons bearing pods; scallop shells; land snails; chameleons and other lizards; leonine visages bearing branches; Pan-like grotesques. All of this is overseen, in the form of a loop handle, by a matriarch, Charity, with babes in arms. According to the museum, "The insects, animals and plants on this bell were cast from life." The bell originally was attributed to Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), the Italian goldsmith and polymath. But Sir Hugh Tait, in his multi-volume catalog of the collection, credits Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507–1585), who worked in Nuremburg. The bell was owned by Horace Walpole (1717–1797), who bragged,

I have changed all my Roman medals of great brass, some of which were very fine […] for the uniquest thing in the world, a silver bell for an inkstand made by Benvenuto Cellini. It makes one believe all the extravagant encomiums he bestows on himself; indeed so does his Perseus [Cellini's masterpiece, compared with Michelangelo's David]. Well, my bell is in the finest taste, and is swarmed by caterpillars, lizards, grasshoppers, flies, and masques, that you would take it for one of the plagues of Egypt. They are all in altissimo, nay in outissimo relievo and yet almost invisible but with a glass. Such foliage, such fruitage! In short, it is fit to keep company with your eagle and my Caligula—can one say more!” [As cited by the British Museum]

Cellini Bell photo image
"Cellini" Bell. Silver, mid 1500s. Height 13.3 cm, diameter at rim 9.7 cm. The Waddesdon Bequest. It is thought that the loop in the handle originally held an inset of some sort, such as found in a similar bell by the actual creator, Wenzel Jamnitzer. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

If the collection has a centerpiece, it could be the Holy Thorn Reliquary, which actually dates from the late Medieval, in the 1390s, but one would be hard-pressed to locate it in the style of that period. (There is nothing stiff or awkward about the figures, as in so much Medieval art.) It is thought to have been created in Paris for Jean, Duke of Berry, whose arms are displayed in panels on the fortress base. The reliquary contains a Thorn supposedly from the "crown" that features in the Christian Passion. And it is front-and-center, seen through a rock-crystal window, mounted vertically on a cabochon sapphire that, by my calculation, measures more than a centimeter in length. Behind, Christ is seated on an orb (the world), displaying each of his five wounds. His Mother and St. John kneel at each side. Above, angels at each side hold the implements of his torture, the spear and the nails; together they hold the crown of thorns aloft. The reliquary's frame is lavishly decorated with alternating rubies and pearls, behind which sit busts of each of the twelve Apostles. God the Father overlooks it all, framed by a starburst accented by rubies, pearls and single sapphire. Below, atop the fortress turrets, angels herald the resurrection of the dead, who escape the confines of their caskets. Above their heads, inscribed on a scroll: Ista est una spinea corone Domini nostri ihesu xpisti (This is a thorn from the Crown of Our Lord Jesus Christ).

Reliquary photo image
The Holy Thorn Reliquary. Gold, enameled, with sapphires, rubies and pearls, 1390s. Made to display a Thorn, supposedly from the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ at his Crucifixion. Height 30.5 cm, width 15 cm, depth 7 cm. Click to enlarge. The Waddesdon Bequest. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

The Lyte Jewel is a portrait of King James I, painted in about 1610 by Nicholas Hilliard (1537–1619). At the time of its painting, James would have been entering middle age, so the portrait appears to depict the monarch as a younger man. The jewel was presented by the king to Thomas Lyte (1568–1638), an academic and genealogist from Lytescary in Somerset, who laid out James's lineage. It is a pendant fashioned from gold and set with twenty-five table diamonds. When open, as in the view below, colorful enamel work is revealed; when closed, the curtain is decorated by eight diamonds attached to the initial R (Rex) and five more designed as florets linked by enameled bines. James I can be remembered for: having posited the divine right of kings, having presided over the union of Scotland and England, having commissioned what is known as the Authorized Version of the Bible, and, like Horace Walpole, having little to do with members of the opposite gender.

The Lyte Jewel photo image
The Lyte Jewel. Enameled gold set with diamonds, 1610. The locket contains a portrait by Nicholas Hilliard of James VI and I of Scotland and England. The Waddesdon Bequest. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

The Hippocamp Pendant depicts a plumed Native American riding a seahorse that's adorned, appropriately, with Colombian emeralds and flecked with transparent chartreuse enamel. In terms of provenance, the British Museum is all over the map, literally. Its origin is given as Spain, late 16th century, and "it is tempting to surmise that this remarkable jewel had been brought to Paris following Napoleon's victorious occupation of Spain (1808–12)." Yet it could be "German, c. 1575." Presenting yet another option, the Museum's Waddesdon Bequest home page states, "It was probably made in Paris in the early 19th century, but is modelled on jewels made in the 16th century that were intended to show off massive deep-green emeralds from Colombian mines in the New World." Regardless, visitors to this collection will enjoy taking a 360-degree view of this lovely jewel. And the pendant is the cover star for a 352-page book about the Bequest, A Rothschild Renaissance, featuring 300 images of the collection's highlights.

Hippocamp pendant photo image.
Hippocamp Pendant. Enameled gold, emeralds and pearls. Height 7.3 cm, width 6.4 cm, depth 2.4cm. The Waddesdon Bequest. (Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum)

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Rock Bands at the Met

Tapestry photo image

Through October 18, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art presents Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffin Collection, at The Cloisters, the Met's adjunct devoted to Medieval art and architecture. The collection is not named for a family, but rather for the fabulous creature pictured in the tapestry at right (c. 1450, Basel). The griffin is a guardian of treasure. Paradoxically, "In Christianity it depicts evil as the Devil flying away with souls, also those who persecute Christians," writes J. C. Cooper in An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols (1978). Yet, "Later, with Dante, it became the two natures of Christ and the role of the Pope as spiritual and temporal power." Both the spiritual and temporal are conveyed in The Cloisters' remodeled Glass Gallery, which has replaced opaque, bulky display cases with the gallery's namesake—freestanding glass cases that allow natural light from the Gothic windows to illuminate the rings and other objects on view. (And the glass is recycled—from a 2013 exhibition at the Met's main building.)

Treasures and Talismans was described by the Wall Street Journal as "a compact but beguiling exhibition," and the following couple of lines from curator C. Griffith Mann sum up the show nicely. The Griffin Collection, which is on long-term loan to the Met,

soon became the spine of an exhibition concept that not only considered rings as a special form of bodily adornment, but also explored the broader themes of goldsmiths' work and the connection between rings and their wearers in the ancient through Renaissance periods. The more than two dozen rings selected for installation were chosen with an emphasis on quality, rarity, and their relationship to other works of art in the Metropolitan's collection.

Several of the Met's departments have contributed to Treasures and Talismans, which focuses on Classical, Medieval and Renaissance objects and artwork. Brief videos demonstrate the craft employed in creating the rings. The intersections of "religion, superstition, love, marriage, and identity"—in the context of finger rings—also are explored.

As explained by Jeffrey Spier, the Getty Museum's senior curator of antiquities, rings in antiquity actually had their critics. [1] Roman author Pliny the Elder (25–79 C.E.) wrote that the wearing of rings, and jewelry in general, was a sign of Rome's corruption and decline. During the early years of the republic (5th and 4th centuries B.C.E.) only diplomats donned gold rings, and only while on their missions abroad. But the conquest of Greece and the birth of the Empire gave Rome's citizens a taste for luxury goods. Even if no jewels had survived the ages, we have the many mummy portraits from Roman Egypt that depict the departed draped in jewels. [2]

Mummy portrait image
The subject of this mummy portrait (110–120 C.E.) was named "The Jewellery Girl" by Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, who excavated the portrait at the archaeological site of Hawara in Egypt's Fayum Basin, southwest of Cairo (Walker 2000, 52). In her coiffure, the sitter wears a hairpin of pearls and garnets. The topmost necklace matches the hair ornament, but includes other stones that may be aquamarines or sapphires. Below that, a necklace and plaited chain both feature emeralds.

The "key ring" below embodies several aspects of jewelry discussed by Spier. As time passed, styles changed, with innovations cropping up in the late 2nd and 3rd centuries, including openwork as well as key rings. Originally crafted in bronze with functioning, unlocking appendages, gold and silver key rings largely were symbolic, signifying that the wealthy wearer had something at home worth protecting. The stone in this ring is "nicolo,"which almost certainly was the product of treatment applied to improve a natural sardonyx or create a "sardonyx" layer on common chalcedony. Characteristically, it is a near-black substrate overlaid with a white or bluish white layer, often engraved, sometimes unengraved, and popularized in Roman glyptic (engraving) beginning about the mid-1st century B.C.E. but also popular later, in Byzantine and Christian glyptic (5th–7th century C.E.). This intaglio depicts winged Victoria (Victory) carrying a laurel wreath and a palm branch (?). The inscription around the ring's band, per Spier, reads: M[ULIER] SUI P[UBLII] MARCI DAPENI HOMONOEA ("Homonoea, wife of Publius Marcus Dapienus").

Ring photo image
Late Roman Key Ring "Homonoea," Roman Empire, late 3rd- to early 4th- century. Gold and nicolo. Griffin Collection. Bezel 13 x 18 x 2 mm. (Photo: Richard Goodbody)

We know that the couple depicted on the marriage ring below was of elevated status due to their garb, as described by Spier: the man, left, wears a fibula, a decorative fastener of clothing; the woman is adorned with pendilia, the sort of ornamental pendants that might be seen dangling from the crowns of Byzantine monarchs on coins. The inscription below the couple reads OMONOIA ("concord"); Concordia is the Roman goddess representing harmony in marriage and in society. Eventually, as Spier tells us, Concordia would be replaced by Christ, who would join the two in what had become a sacrament of the Church.

dummy
Gold Marriage Ring, Byzantine, 6th–7th century. Griffin Collection. Bezel 9.7 x 9.1 mm. (Photo: Richard Goodbody)

The image of the aquamarine ring below does not show off the breadth of its lovely design (we were unable to obtain permission to reprint other images by e-press time). Trapezoidal panels of the center bezel, framed by jutting corner prongs, lift the stone from the band, each of the panels featuring a single, conical gadroon, themselves mirrored by the conical bezels of pearls at left and right. (The pearls can be seen peeking from behind these forms.) The design is further enhanced by granulated gold accents.

dummy
Byzantine Gemstone Ring. Byzantium, Constantinople, 12th-13th century. Gold, aquamarine, and pearls. Bezel 23.5 x 19mm. Griffin Collection. (Photo: Richard Goodbody)

Three gallery talks are offered at The Cloisters next month: "The Industry of Art Production in the Middle Ages" (twice on August 8) and "A Goldsmith in His Shop: A Close Look" (August 15).

 

References

1. Spier, Jeffrey. Byzantium and the West: Jewelry in the First Millennium. London: Paul Holberton, 2012. All references to Spier come from this volume. I am indebted to Lisbet Thoresen for bringing this text to my attention.

2. Walker, Susan (ed.). Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt. New York: Metropolitan Museum of New York and Routledge, 2000.

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Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty in Denver

For the next six months or so, Denver residents and visitors can take in a retrospective by visual artist Marilyn Minter, whose imagery beckons the viewer: stop, look and listen. There is a surface sheen that grabs the eye, a double-take that averts, and a perusal that yearns to behold beauty, if that be possible. It is embodied in the multiple meanings of the exhibition's title, Pretty/Dirty.

For instance, the earliest images, when Minter was 21, are from a series of black and white photos titled Coral Ridge Towers (1969), named after a Fort Lauderdale residential high rise complex. Depicted is Minter's mother, primped on pills with liver spots, reflected in a gilt mirror clad in dressing gown and comely wig, getting ready, but never ready enough. It's as if Minter glimpsed behind the scenes of a society fraying at the edges. In the series Big Girls, Little Girls (1986–87), Minter portrays young girls on canvas, this time reflected with social distortion—in fun-house mirrors—ever with their eye self-consciously on their form. Also in that series, a girl is juxtaposed with one of the most famous "big girls"—Jane Mansfield.

We can't help but be reminded of the fact that it is a woman, and a feminist, who has created these works of art, which comment on Woman's Day (and night). Variations of the word critical appear nine times in the exhibition's news release. Minter's explorations into the realm of skin and sex in the early '90s earned her the label of "traitor" from many feminists. Yet this alienation from the majority provided introduction to a minority of women artists, filmmakers and journalists who met to engage in discussions of, well, critical theory. Since the 2000s, Minter's oeuvre has employed elements of popular culture as well as haute couture. Last year, in an interview with HuffPost cultural critic Malcolm Harris, she said that one advantage of becoming more recognized is being able to borrow various accouterments directly from designers (although the state in which they are returned might pose a question). In the 2007 monograph Marilyn Minter, the artist told painter/sculptor Mary Heilmann that fashion photography was her "biggest inspiration." But her images are like outtakes: freckles before makeup's masking, pimples and perspiration under the lights, goop and grime, lipstick on teeth. An iconic example is the painting Strut (2005), a bejeweled pump, complete with Christian Dior logo, topped by a well-traveled human heel ("It's only dirt," she told Heilmann), the skin at the ankle creased from flexion. While a common sight in our cityscapes, it was Minter who chose to compress it into a painting eight feet tall. In this regard she can be seen as a pop populist.

The three examples of Minter's work below are from the triad of her elected media: painting, video and photography. If her paintings—executed in enamel on metal—appear to be replications of her photographs, Minter explains in the above monograph that this is not the case, and that the up-close nature of the focus of the paintings renders them, instead, abstract—the opposite of the stance taken by the "original photorealists." Thus she refers to herself as a "photo-replacer."

For those who wish to dig deeper, a new monograph accompanies the retrospective, and includes a lengthy interview of Minter by critic and novelist Linda Yablonsky as well as texts by artist K8 Hardy, musician/writer Richard Hell, and poet/writer Eileen Myles, among others.

Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty is on view through January 2016 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which co-organized the exhibition with Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. The retrospective travels to Newport Beach, Brooklyn and Kansas City.

Torrent by Marilyn Minter
Marilyn Minter, Torrent, 2013. Enamel on metal, 96 x 60 inches. Private collection, Palm Beach, FL.
Smash still by Marilyn Minter
Marilyn Minter, Still from Smash, 2014. HD digital video, 7:55 minutes. Courtesy the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles. See a teaser for the video.
Vampire by Marilyn Minter
Marilyn Minter, Vampire, 2004. C-print, 86 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

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Pala International News

This month we feature a stunning yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka. This intense 6.40-carat sapphire exhibits the best qualities of yellows from this dominant source of fancy colors. Fine yellow sapphire can range from pastel yellow to intense golden varieties with a stronger orange component. Demand for yellow, purple, green, white, and many variations of sapphire hues has increased as curiosity beyond the standard blue and red (ruby) varietals has surged. With so many unique colors of sapphire to explore, the market has been growing and appreciating. Our yellow sapphire is featured below with a golden mountain lily flower, which was recently plucked from above the Mountain Lily mine here in San Diego County, where Pala International is currently mining.

Sapphire and Lily photo image
Not a mellow yellow. The 6.40-carat yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka rests next to a mountain lily taken from the hills of Pala International's Mountain Lily Mine. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

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

Gems and Gemology News

GSA 2015 Call for Abstracts: Gemological Research in the 21st Century

GSA 2015 logo image

Once again this fall, The Geological Society of America (GSA) includes a major session devoted to gemology, under the sponsorship of GIA (Gemological Institute of America). Abstracts are being accepted for this session and must be submitted by 11:59 p.m., Pacific Time, 11 August 2015. The session title is "T131. Gemological Research in the 21st Century: Exploration, Geology, and Characterization of Diamonds and other Gem Minerals" (see full list here). GSA 2015 will be held November 1–4 in Baltimore, Maryland.

The session's conveners are Dona Dirlam, Jim Shigley, and Wuyi Wang of GIA, with distinguished advocates Lee Groat, Thomas Stachel, Barb Dutrow, Howard Coopersmith, Nancy McMillan, and Skip Simmons. Posters and oral presentations are being solicited.

As Cornell University's Elise Skalwold wrote in our pages at the conclusion of her report on the 2013 session:

While not the first time that individual gem and gemology related topics have been presented at the GSA—notably such papers as Annibale Mottana's 2006 "Italian gemology during the Renaissance: A step toward modern mineralogy" (see abstract)—2013 marks the first time a session exclusively devoted to the science of gemology has been officially part of the GSA meeting. This is an auspicious and historic event in its own right within the larger context of the GSA's history and statement of purpose. Future such participation in this and other mainstream geo-science conferences could lead to wider formal acceptance of gemology as a science unto to its own, with all the advantages of such status, including the conferring of academic degrees and awarding of funding for gemological research, all of which will benefit the gem industry. In any event, more people will come to recognize the value of gem materials and related topics to a variety of academic and pedagogical pursuits.

Now that GSA's arms are open, we encourage the gemological community to embrace this opportunity. [back to top]

Diamond News

Diamond photo image

Pig Pen Yields Diamond Porker

Bobbie Oskarson of Longmont, Colorado was rummaging around what is affectionately known as the Pig Pen area of Arkansas's Crater of Diamonds State Park on June 24, searching for what the park is famous for: diamonds. In a news release, Park Interpreter Waymon Cox said, "Ms. Oskarson and her boyfriend Travis Dillon saw the Crater of Diamonds State Park on an Arkansas highway map while in the nearby town of Hot Springs and decided to visit the park. And what a lucky first visit it was for her!"

Oskarson had it made in the shade, so to speak, having taken shelter from the sun near some trees. After only twenty minutes of digging in the Pen (so named for its muddy condition after rainfall), she found an 8.25-carat colorless diamond. Oskarson has named her find the Esperanza Diamond, after her niece, and has no plans to sell it. Interpreter Cox described the stone as "about three-quarters of an inch long and as big around as a standard No. 2 pencil."

The park, which tracks such things, said the Esperanza is the seventh largest diamond to have been found in the area, two of those being unearthed prior to the state park's formation.

Making the Grade (a bit too high)

JCK news director Rob Bates reported on July 1 about industry efforts to halt the practice of over-grading diamonds. "Sell a bad cert, you might get hurt," he wrote, following the adoption of a one-page grading agreement at this year's biennial Presidents' Meeting of the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB), held last month in Tel Aviv. The agreement also was endorsed by the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO). Two key bullet points in the document read:

  • Within current industry expertise, the industry-accepted standards and nomenclature based on master color sets (D-Z scale) of the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) and the IDC (International Diamond Council), the development of new technology and present code of best practices, the WFDB, CIBJO and IDMA stipulate that the color grading of a diamond more than one grade from a broadly accepted industry benchmark, is unacceptable.
  • In the event of a complaint, or a challenge to a report brought before the authorised body of a Bourse (including mediation or arbitration), the authorised body will determine the broadly accepted industry benchmark (GIA and IDC standards). In addition, the authorised body will submit the diamond to a leading, respected laboratory or to three (3) recognised expert gemologists or diamantaires, qualified to provide a report on any diamond in question in terms of which it shall determine whether the color grading exceeded accepted industry benchmark (GIA and IDC standards) by more than one grade.

Bates points out that the agreement is mute on the issue of clarity. In his July 6 follow-up, Bates was cautiously optimistic that the agreement will have teeth in the industry, but he also bemoaned the absence of a universal, consumer-friendly diamond grading scale.

Making the Grade (really high)

About a month before the Presidents' Meeting, GIA announced an oddity discovered at its laboratory in the Tel Aviv area. "GIA reasonably suspects that approximately 500 colorless to near colorless diamonds submitted primarily to our laboratory in Israel potentially were subjected to an undisclosed temporary treatment," reads a May 12 lab alert. GIA believes that the treatment could lead to an erroneous elevation of as many as three grades by temporarily masking the "inherent color" of a diamond. The lab alert lists reports numbers for stones that are suspected of having involved this treatment.

Shortage? What Shortage?

One of the issues discussed at the Presidents' Meeting in June was profitability. As Israel Diamond Exchange president Shmuel Schnitzer said, "We touched on the very serious issues confronting the industry. The most crucial part is lack of profitability. No business can last in such circumstances. We mentioned this to the diamond producers to see what they and we can do to improve the situation."

A July 3 Bloomberg article discusses the issues of supply, demand, and pricing. Titled "The Missing Diamond Shortage," it addresses the fact that aging sources, and lack of new ones. have not had a lasting effect on pricing. [back to top]

Industry News

Seeking to Influence: Action and Ethics

JAPAC

Did you know that the jewelry industry has its own political action committee? Trade organization Jewelers of America has set up JAPAC and, according to its website, has held annual face-to-face meetings with legislators in the nation's capitol, and over the last two election cycles has supported 75 Congresspersons. A June 23 news release details this summer's annual fly-in to D.C., which took place on June 17. Issues dear to dealers included: "e-fairness," or the sales tax disparity between online and brick-and-mortar jewelers; repeal of the accounting method known as LIFO (last-in, first-out, discussed here); and extension of 15-year leasehold improvements depreciation (versus the current 39 years).

AGTA Ethics

In 1983, two years after its inception, AGTA crafted the first iteration of its Code of Ethics and Fair Business Practices. Last week the gemstone industry group released a revision of the Code, which each member must endorse annually in order to remain in good standing. In brief, by signing the Code, the member pledges to:

  1. Have the knowledge of and to inform their customers of all treatments, natural origin and all areas necessary for legal compliance and to allow the purchaser to make informed choices
  2. Operate in full compliance with all laws, local, state and federal, and to comply with Federal Trade Commission and other applicable industry guidelines and standards
  3. Operate in full compliance with the laws of the countries from which we import and distribute, including those laws relating to labor and environmental protection
  4. Shall not support nor participate in any activities that are illegal or in support of terrorism, smuggling or theft

The full text of the Code of Ethics is available here. [back to top]

BBC: Sapphire Mining in Madagascar

Sapphire photo image
Blue buy, you? Natural blue emerald-cut sapphire, 1.43 carats, from Madagascar. Inventory #22471. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

On the United States of America's Independence Day, citizens browsing the news of the Old Country via BBC came across a brief pictorial look at sapphire mining in Ilakaka, Madagascar. Sapphire was discovered in the area in 1998, turning a rural village into a boom town of tens of thousands.

BBC's reportage begins in the river, with workers sifting sediment through sieves. Then to the mines, which fill with gas that must be flushed out using a manual bellows crafted from plastic sheeting. Even so, miners can only stand the atmosphere for thirty minutes at a time.

Dealer Faranirina Tandu, pictured examining a yellow stone, told BBC that the quantity of the most valuable stones has diminished over the last ten years. Declining output and the risk of disability or death has not deterred the hopeful, who continue to take the plunge, either into the river or into the pit.

Sapphire Crystal photo image
Madagascar has multiple gemstone-producing localities. Above, a large blue sapphire seen in Didy, from our December 2012 newsletter item "Giddy in Didy – Part Two." (Photo by Vincent Pardieu. © GIA)

For an in-depth examination of mining in Ilakaka, see Vincent Pardieu's "Update on Sapphire Mining in Ilakaka-Sakaraha, Madagascar," published two years ago by GIA. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Emporium Concludes; Sales Drop

Burma's 52nd Annual Myanma Gems Emporium, held June 24 through July 6, was expected to flounder even before it started, as reported by The Irrawaddy on opening day. The proceedings concluded with a sales total less than half that of a year ago, according to Xinhua and others. The combined sale of gem and jade lots brought in €949 million, or $1.262 billion, down from $3.4 billion last year. Sold were 126 gem lots and more than 1,000 jade lots. (Democratic Voice of Burma reported that nearly 9,000 jade lots and 323 gem lots were offered.) About 4,600 foreign and domestic merchants attended; of those, 2,000 were from China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Israel. A drop of 63% in jade sales, according to DVB, was caused by the armed conflict in Kachin State's jadeland. (See DVB's July 6 video news report for some of the sights and sounds of the sale, along with a litany of why the sale slumped.)

A week before the sale, 200 villagers in Hpakant were forced from their homes due to the conflict, as reported by the Myanmar Times. Two days later a church was destroyed, per the Times. On June 28, the Times reported that shelling neared the main crossing between Burma and China, called Muse. On July 1, an explosion occurred at a joint venture jade company in Hpakant, the Times wrote. By contrast, a portrait of Shan state soldiers away from the conflict—on Loi Tai Leng, Tai Mountain—was posted by the Times on June 17. And the prospects of new mining—and proximity to war zones—was discussed in June 18 Times story.

Jade Inspection photo image
A merchant inspects a jade boulder at the emporium, June 24, 2015. See a brief streaming video about Hpakant jade mining produced by Democratic Voice of Burma. DVB produced a video in the same series that profiles the artisan workshops of Mandalay.

A highlight of the annual emporium was a pair of rough rubies that sold for €801,000, or $884,000—the highest bid of the sale, as reported by the Myanmar Times. The Mogok rubies weighed 79.00 carats. The runner-up was a rough ruby from Mongshu, which went for €370,000. A rubellite tourmaline with the highest floor price of €5 million did not sell.

Ruby Inspection photo image

As always, see our Burma Gem Sales and Statistics for cumulative figures on the country's trade.

Mogok: "Mecca," Monk

Last week, Yangon-based French academic Amaury Lorin wrote a brief travelogue focusing on Mogok, posted in the Myanmar Times. Lorin called the city of rubies "More secret than Mecca and harder to access than Lhasa," due to its location in the Burmese jungle.

Ten days earlier, the Times had reported local reaction to the June 9 arrest of a monk, Yay Pu Sayadaw, for illegal mining in Mogok. As of June 17, the monk had been defrocked (the Times stated he was "forced to disrobe") and residents were petitioning to protest his arrest.

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Kachin News Group: Jade king Tay Za's wife is removed from U.S. sanctions roster; could he be next?
  • The Irrawaddy and Myanmar Times: Coca-Cola director has a link to Burma jade business—a breach of U.S. sanctions
  • Mizzima: Gems and jade account for $4 billion out of $8 billion in seized contraband
  • Myanmar Times: Nay Pyi Taw's hotels, built for two regional events, are in trouble
  • Kachin News Group and Myanmar Times: UK gold mining firm sees delays in jade permitting

[back to top]

— End July Newsletter • Published 7/17/15 —

June 2015 Newsletter

Thank You image
And many more… Pala International celebrates its 46th birthday on June 26. We're truly grateful to each and every one of our customers. You keep us inspired!

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Mineral & Gem à Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines:
June 25–28, 2015

We've added some new information since our last newsletter…

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines image

The 52nd Sainte-Marie show will be held June 25–28, with the first two days limited to trade only. This year, Bill and Will Larson will attend the show along with spouses Jeanne and Rika Larson. Friend and fellow gem dealer Mark Kaufman also will be in the party. They will be meeting up with Patrick and Pia Dreher. (See this Ganoksin.com blog entry by Robyn Hawk regarding Patrick Dreher's recent appearance at GIA.)

The 112-year-old swimming pool building is the site of a display of rare minerals and fossils by ten renown collectors and dealers. Lectures also take place there. We're delighted to see our old friend Eloïse Gaillou, who has relocated to Paris, and who will speak on her subjects of expertise.

A symposium in English will be held in the Mine d'Argent (200 meters from the Gem Zone) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The themes:

  • Eloïse Gaillou, associate curator of the Musée Mines ParisTech (School of Mines): On the Importance of Mineralogy Museums: Display and Collections
  • Jolyon Ralph, Mindat.org: Mineral Collection Cataloguing in the 21st Century
  • Victor Tuzlukov, lapidary: What Good Gem Cutting Is and Why It's Worse Than Exclusive
  • The Amber of Kaliningrad: presented by the Musée de l'Ambre de Kaliningrad (in conjunction with the exhibition Baltic Stone of the Sun)

Lectures also will include the following (note that only the first lecture will be delivered in English as well as French).

  • Victor Tuzlukov, lapidary: Philosopher's Stone – When Wisdom Sparkles in the Precious Stone (in conjunction with his curation of Lapis Philosophorum)
  • Yellow Amber: presented by the Musée de l'Ambre de Kaliningrad (in conjunction with the exhibition Baltic Stone of the Sun)
  • Michel Boudard, gemologist: A Look at Gemology, specifically the intersection between stones of greater carat weight and the treatments that may lurk within; an aid to the prospective buyer
  • Jean-Jacques Chevallier, lecturer: Geological History of the Earth ("The study of the infinitely small explains the infinitely large)
  • Eloïse Gaillou, associate curator of the Musée Mines ParisTech (School of Mines): Treatment and the Synthesis of Diamond
  • Jean-Christian Goujou, lecturer: The Minerals of Metamorphism
  • Alain Carion, lecturer: Meteorites and Their Impacts

In addition to the above-referenced exhibitions, the following also will be presented.

  • Exhibition of the INETPhoto Contest: an international competition for photographs and graphic art about Mineralogy and Micro-mineralogy
  • Minerals and Paintings: an exhibition curated by Jörg Thomas and Andrée Roth
  • Jewelry – Silver Arsenic: Remarkably, this exhibition will take place in situ—along the vein of the Gabe Gottes silver mine, 6 km away from the Sainte-Marie show's Mineral Zone
  • The Staurolites of Russia: an exhibition of "cross-stones" curated by Jean-Claude Leydet

New in 2015: The Sainte-Marie show continues to cater to the colored gemstone lover this year with Le Pôle Aalberg, an addition to the show's Gem Zone, featuring the full range of creation, luxury and fashion.

  • Le Swanky Area: bijouterie et joaillerie and designers both traditional and contemporary
  • Le Trendy Corner: fantasy designs and fashion accessories
  • Le Gem Fashion Show: a scripted jewelry presentation offering "unusual perspectives in response to hidden desires." Ooh la la!

Finally, our good friend and mineral dealer Alain Martaud curates The Prestige Exhibition. Entitled simply, Alpes, the display will pay homage to the mineralogical bounty of the 1000-km arc of mountains that stretches from north of Corsica to Austria and Slovenia. Among the Alpine varieties coveted by collectors: epidot, garnet, fluorite, emerald, quartz and gold. Specimens to be displayed will be loaned from local and national museums, as well as collectors both prominent and obscure. Pala International has a magnificent old classic double quartz from Switzerland in the display.

Book cover image
Alain Martaud, curator of this year's L'Exposition Prestige, also is the author of the trilingual volume, The Minerals of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. The book is available from the show's online store.

[back to top]

Pala at JA New York Summer Show
July 26–28, 2015

JA NY image

Pala International heads to the East Coast later this summer for the trade-only JA New York Summer Show. Stop by to see one of America's largest selections of fine colored gems.

See this list of seminars to be held at the show.

When: July 26–July 28, 2015
Where: Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
   Sunday, July 26: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Monday, July 27: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
   Tuesday, July 28: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Pala International is in booth 2573. See the JANY website for more information. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events. [back to top]

Capture the Magic

Lapis Lazzuli title image
The pyrite veins so often found in lapis lazuli could inspire the artist's and craftsman's palette, as demonstrated above. Artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman had a special affinity for the color blue; it was the title of his final film, the text for which was adapted from his meditation on the hue in Chroma: A Book of Color (1994). "Blue and gold are eternally united," he wrote.

Summer in Florence, Italy is charming. Sure, the city is crowded with tourists, but the medieval-walled city center is a pedestrian paradise, with plazas for lounging in the heat, fountains, gelaterias and caffès to refresh the spirit, and a landmark around every corner.

Take, for instance, the Ponte Vecchio, that spans the Arno River. More than a bridge, it is home to the shops of jewelers and art dealers. Likely having a Roman origin that is lost to history, the Ponte was wiped out by floods in the 12th and 14th centuries, being rebuilt in 1345 perhaps by Taddeo Gaddi, a contemporary of Giotto. The latter artist designed the campanile, or bell tower, next to Il Duomo, the city's cathedral (the dome of which is a celebrated architectural feat). This was the Italian Renaissance after all, and Florence was its culla, or cradle.

Two centuries later, the Medici monarch, Cosimo I, second Duke of Florence, commissioned construction of an elevated passageway above the Ponte Vecchio that would connect his domicile (Palazzo Pitti) with the city's town hall (Palazzo Vecchio). Considerably more elaborate than the Pope-mobile, it served the same purpose: to protect the ruler from the public. On its way from palace to palace, the passageway, known as the Vasari Corridor after its designer, virtually passes through the Church of Saint Felicity, handily allowing the Medici family to attend services—again, without being seen.

On the Arno's north side, the Corridor enters the famous Uffizi Gallery, the building of which was initiated for Cosimo by Giorgio Vasari in 1560, four years before Vasari created the Corridor. But the Uffizi is not the only art venue in the passageway's network. Cosimo's residence, the Palazzo Pitti, now houses the largest complex of museums in the city. Among these is the Museo degli Argenti (Silver Museum), also known as the Medici Treasury.

Display Case photo image
The Palazzo Pitti's Summer Apartments, now the Silver Museum, were decorated beginning in 1635 by Medici monarch Cosimo I's descendant Ferdinando II. Frescoes include those commissioned to artist Giovanni da San Giovanni. It's the perfect setting for a royal display of lapis lazuli. (Photo: S. Tavernier)

Visitors to the Treasury this summer will have the opportunity to take in an exhibition originated by Pala International's good friend Gian Carlo Parodi, of the Muséum national d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. With "Lapislazzuli. Magia del blu" (Lapis Lazuli. Magic Blue) Parodi brings his expertise as a mineralogist to a diverse display—from archaeological finds of the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Egypt (7000 to 1500 BCE) all the way to the stone's 20th century simulacrum—artist Yves Klein's own International Klein Blue pigment, which he employed in both paintings and his Anthropométries, whereby naked models became living paintbrushes.

Sculpture photo image
Clothed. Sorry to disappoint, but this is not one of Yves Klein's naked paintbrushes. Victoire de Samothrace (1962 IKB pigment and resin on plaster, edition of 175) is Klein's homage to the famous Hellenistic original that stands on a landing of the Louvre's Daru staircase. (Photo: S. Tavernier)

The allure of azure was especially acute in Florence, and the Medici amassed their own collection of lapis lazuli. From the exhibition website:

In the Renaissance, the preciousness of the material was particularly popular in Florence. The Medici court assembled one of the most spectacular collections of objects in lapis lazuli of Europe; not only goblets, vases and amphorae, but also inlaid furniture, table tops and products made in the workshops founded by Francis I in the Casino di San Marco and laboratories established by Ferdinand I in the Uffizi complex, until the decline of the dynasty.

These objects are beautifully represented in this exhibition, including a chessboard of alternating solid- and mottled-blue squares. But the above description is a bit modest. The lapis collection, initiated by Cosimo I in the mid 16th century, is the only one of its kind in the world.

Display Case photo image
Not dishwasher safe. In the foreground is a two-handled amphora thought to have been crafted in the grand ducal workshops of the Medici during the third quarter of the 16th century. The ewer (1577–1578) that stands to the right is attributed to Hans Domes, from those same workshops. These are from the collection of the Silver Mseum. (Photo: S. Tavernier)

Examples of lapis's use in painting are included in a section of "Magia del blu." Pulverized lapis lazuli was used as pigment from ancient times, and was known as ultramarine—"beyond the sea"—due to its importation into Italy from its source in Afghanistan. An artist without properly crafted pigments was a singer without a song, and so, back in the day, the artist's apprentice would begin his training with the preparation of paint. In the case of ultramarine, according to Wikipedia, inferior lapis when crushed would yield only a "pale grayish blue." It was artist Cennino Cennini (a student of Agnolo Gaddi, son of Ponte Vecchio's disputed architect), who literally wrote the book on the subject, Il Libro dell'Arte. In it he describes the method of turning lackluster lapis into brilliant ultramarine, a process using wax, resins, oils and lye. Crafting homemade limoncello might have been more simple….

Portrait photo image
Blues Brother? Portrait of Monsignor Ottaviano Prati by Giovan Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (1609–1685), although we must say it looks a lot like Gian Carlo Parodi, below… Sassoferrato is perhaps best known for his The Virgin in Prayer. Prati's apparently reversible vestment, above, if it indeed was employed for liturgical purposes, makes good use of a single garment. But, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, since the time of Pope Pius V (1504–1566) blue was used only in Spain. Nonetheless, Sassoferrato's red, white and blue recall the colors of the above-referenced Virgin; both paintings are said to have been completed in about 1650. That's an awful lot of lapis lazuli. (Portrait: Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini, Rome; Photo: S. Tavernier)
Gian Carlo Parodi photo image
Gian Carlo Parodi, above, is credited with the ideazione (ideation) and synopsis of the exhibition as well as its co-curation. (Photo: S. Tavernier)

The exhibition opened last week on June 9 and runs through October 11, 2015. Cattura la magia! [back to top]

Pala International News

Our featured stones for this month hail from the Kladovka Mine in the Ural Mountains of Russia. These stunning demantoids were mined in 2004 but only recently cut by master Marty Key. The 2.57-carat round is the finest green of this material's production.

Demantoid Suite photo image
Russian quintette. From back left, 1.56-ct trillion, 2.57-ct round, 1.72-ct cushion, 0.76-ct pear shape, and in front a 1.63-ct round. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Mia Dixon)
Miners photo image
The thinkers. Mining demantoid is back-breaking work—at least for some. These miners are working the Kladovka Mine in the mid 2004. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Carl Larson photo image
Finders keepers? Will Larson, left, in 1997 at the Karkodino Mine. He was finding demantoid garnets alongside Russian miners. (Photo: Bill Larson)
Demantoid photo image
Peek-a-boo. A green demantoid emerges from its matrix. From the Kladovka Mine, 2004. (Photo: Bill Larson)

For more on demantoid garnet, see "Reds Turn to Green: Russia's Stunning Demantoid Discovery" on Palagems.com.

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

Big in Japan

Japanese television caught up with Pala International's Bill Larson at the recently concluded AGTA GemFair in Las Vegas. Bill shared with the audience how in the summer of 2002 he was on the cutting edge of demantoid mining in Russia's Ural Mountains.

Bill Larson photo image
Pala goes international. Bill Larson displays demantoid garnet for the camera of Uruwashi no Houseki Monogatari (Beautiful Story of Gemstones). (Photo: Rika Larson)

[back to top]

Gems and Gemology News

Natural Pearls

It's been a while since Pala International got wind of a fresh academic take on a nearly forgotten question: Why do nearly all mollusks make pearls naturally, and how? A first paper on the subject currently is in press at Key Engineering Materials, part of a hefty proceedings volume concluding a four-year EU research program, Biomineralix. But we have the abstract, which we're happy to share.

Natural Pearls

Ana Vasiliu, 2015, Key Engineering Materials (KEM), in press

Abstract. A literature less traveled—peaking between 1900–1920—draws on pre-classical concepts of crystal growth and a trove of field biology, to understand ectopic shell production, the natural source of pearls. By 1907, grafts from the calcifying mantle epithelium on gonads induced nacre mineralization in Pinctada margaritifera, suggesting that displaced, readily specialized cells are at least sufficient cause of natural pearls. Otherwise, the epithelial sacks wrapping natural nacreous pearls must specialize for nacre production independently from the shell producing mantle. At the time, chasing epithelial cell migration was technically unfeasible, signaling was news, stemness was fiction. Boldly, Jameson & Rubbel [1902–1912] marshaled natural pearl nuclei and shell repairs as mineral records of cells specializing de novo into the shell's secretory regimes. Much of this paper reenacts the historic debate on the origin of pearls: thence bold ideas connect smoothly with new work on bone or shell. I revisit Jameson's choice of samples and proposal to search for an "agency [other than the] shell-secreting mechanism" acting on "replacement cells," as the origin of pearls. Much has changed: both migrating specialized cells and undifferentiated ones are reported possibilities. Replicating Jameson's choice of samples, I describe structural changes in pearls associated with two instances of cell specialization: in the event of natural pearl nucleation, or switching shell materials in later pearl growth. Clusters of cells producing novel mineralization—nacre over fibrous-prismatic aragonite—were singled out next to natural pearls by Jameson. Natural pearl nucleation as a cellular event has never been explored.

With a note from the author: Please never mind the lingo—it gets worse in the paper! It is a bit of a pity that a great story of some decades worth of old school debate is still buried in rarely read academic sources—well worth a book. There was all the furor of a gold rush toward a practical procedure for pearl culture that birthed the current industry. Yet, many spectacularly more successful ideas in the life sciences were welcome on this exotic subject of natural pearls, earlier than anywhere else. The feel of tough, vastly open academic wilderness remains.

Inasmuch, more work is underway; I am calling for samples of natural pearls barely emerging like these:

Mussel With Pearls photo image
A Californian blue mussel bearing thousands of new natural pearl nuclei. (Photo courtesy of David LeBlanc, Lagoon Island Pearls)
Mussel With Pearls photo image
It is a matter of debate what are the odds that any of such flurries of minute new pearls will ever grow into a great one. My best bet for the time being: virtually none. (Photo courtesy of David LeBlanc, Lagoon Island Pearls)

A call for interesting samples remains perpetually open.
 

Interested parties can contact Pala International. [back to top]

Industry News

Hatton Garden Thieves Nabbed

Last Easter, thieves took their time in relieving a London vault of millions of pounds (sterling) of jewels, as we noted in April. On May 19, the Guardian and other media outlets reported that Scotland Yard had deployed more than 200 officers to arrest nine suspects in the case. All are British citizens. Quite a bit of the loot appears to have been recovered.

Video still image
This image was chosen by the Guardian to illustrate the video of a press conference announcing the apprehension of the Hatton Garden thieves. It shows the thickness of the vault's walls, through which the thieves bored.

[back to top]

Burma Bits

Jade Jitters

A two-year slump in jade prices continues, according to a May 26 story by Myanmar Times. A reporter talked with traders in Mandalay's Maha Aung Myay jade market. Some traders are holding back stock to prevent a loss. Two events that usually boost sales—Chinese New Year and Thingyan (Burma's New Year Water Festival)—have failed to do so. When a sale is made, it's 25 percent down from previous years.

This contrasts with prices in Hpakant, the jade-producing area of Kachin State. Prices for fine jade there are high, the article said. But at the same time, a Parliament member from Kachin is calling for an overhaul of mining in Hpakant, according to The Irrawaddy, May 20. In order to prevent environmental damage, the MP, Hkyet Hting Nan, said that a government takeover of the mines may be in order. Restrictions, he said, were avoided before, since it's only been two months since mining resumed. Soil from mining and even from road wear exacerbates swollen rivers, causing flooding.

Heavy rain caused a landslide in Mogok's rubyland on June 2, killing four people, as reported by The Irrawaddy June 4.

Kachin also has had an armed conflict to deal with. For the fourth anniversary of the present conflict this month, The Irrawaddy published a timeline that begins in 1947. Drug use also has plagued the area, and The Irrawaddy profiled a "tough love" faith-based rehab clinic at which addicts must stop their use cold turkey.

Bite-Sized Bits

Money Counting photo image
Lots of kyats. A successful auction had taken place during Pala International's Bill Larson's 2013 visit to Burma. Note the automated money counter (next to masked man). The bid was 700 million kyats in a country where the largest bills are 10 thousand. That’s at least 7,000 bills to count! ~950 kyat = $1.00. This image illustrates why some people would prefer trade in dollars. (Photo: Bill Larson)

[back to top]

Pala Presents

With Pala Presents, we offer selections from the library of Pala International’s Bill Larson, who shares with us some of the wealth of information in the realm of gems and gemology.

On the Corundum Stone from Asia

Greville portrait image
A portrait of Charles Greville by George Romney

Charles Francis Greville (1749–1809) was, amongst other pursuits, a collector of minerals and precious stones. His collection eventually was purchased for the British Museum. As a fellow of the Royal Society, it was he who sponsored his friend James Smithson for membership. He was Lord of the Treasury as well as Treasurer and Vice-Chamberlain of the Household for George III. Inhabitants of Milford Haven in South Wales will recall Greville as having developed their seaport after it was established by his maternal uncle, Sir William Hamilton. He had a penchant for plants, especially of the rare and tropical sort.

In 1798, Greville wrote "On the Corundum Stone from Asia." In this detailed, 47-page treatise, Greville recounts how the engraver William Berry had been given a box of crystals by way of a Dr. Anderson of Madras, India. The idea was that the engraver might find them useful, but the intricacy of his work required diamond, so the box was set aside. A Dr. Black recognized the crystals as adamantine spar. The material was further IDed, by Greville's friend Colonel Cathcart, as Indian corundum. Cathcart sent more samples from Anderson to Greville, who in turn distributed them to others for analysis.

In his own study, Greville consulted the existing literature, finding it "unsatisfactory," and from there his treatise goes on. And on. And on. Once again, those with attention deficiency will approach with some trepidation a 166-word sentence like the following, which actually can be read as a joke.

Having mentioned the varieties of crystallized and amorphous Corundum, and the miscellaneous facts relative to my collection of that substance from India and China, it might be sufficient to give an icon of the crystal, and close a paper already prolix; but, having with satisfaction observed, within the last years, the science of mineralogy gaining ground in Great Britain, from the knowledge acquired by several gentlemen who have examined the mines, and formed personal acquaintance with the most experienced and learned men on the Continent, and also from ingenious foreigners, who have communicated their observations on English fossils, and connected them with the most approved systems, it may perhaps be accepted as a sufficient apology for what follows, that I consider it as a desideratum to English mineralogists, to be invited to a preference of permanent characters, which the study of crystallization has collected, and which promises to be a certain method of ascertaining the laws by which elective attraction arranges and combines molecules of matter.

Yes, it might be sufficient, but humor the Right Honorable Mr. Greville, and read on.

Figures
Figures of crystal models from Charles Greville's treatise on corundum.

[back to top]

Recycle Bin

The following article appeared this month in our sibling e-publication, Pala Mineralis.

Whetting the Appetite for Color of a Subtle Sort

Rocks & Minerals cover image

The current edition of Rocks & Minerals (90:3 [May/June 2015]) includes an article of interest to both mineral and gemstone enthusiasts. "Gem Apatite Localities" is contributed by photographer Mark Mauthner and curator Terri Ottaway. Both know their way around the subject; Mauthner is a former curator at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA); Ottaway is the current curator of the GIA Museum in Carlsbad, California.

Their survey of gem apatite localities is taken from existing gemological literature. It also relies on locality data from the GIA Museum's collection, which now includes the Edward J. Gübelin collection, which we pointed to in last month's sibling publication. Reading the article, you can compare data on some of the individual faceted apatites from the Gübelin collection—those included in the article as well as others—at the GIA Gem Project.

Apatite photo image
Yum. Apatite is nicely priced for stones in bigger sizes. Above, a natural blue rhomboid cushion from Madagascar, 3.06 ct, Inv. #20428. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

At first glance, one is struck by the range of hues in this material, often of a nuanced sort. For example, a 10.51-carat oval from Zimbabwe (you'll have to access the article to get the locality!) with shades of fir and sand. There are golden cat's-eyes from Sri Lanka and India, a blue one from Burma. Burma also has produced vivid, paraiba-like blue-green stones.

Mauthner has paired several of the cut stones with rough samples, like Kenyan yellow fluorapatites, and green and neon-blue fluorapatites from Madagascar (see our example at right). In a fun demonstration of polarized light at two settings, Mauthner plays tricks with two lovely, limpid Russian fluorapatites. In the first, the 2.24-carat emerald cut stone is lightly brushed with a wistful mint while its 1.6-cm-tall crystal partner is boldly blue; in the second image they have traded tints. (The phenomenon is due to the material's strong pleochroism, revealed by the polarizing filter.) Closer to home, there's a rosy crystal nearly as tall as the Russian—from San Diego County's Himalaya Mine—paired with a 6.33-carat cut stone from that same mine that would fit nicely, though somewhat subtly, into the collection of the Dowager Empress. The authors note that burgundy-red material from the Himalaya fades to pink with exposure to sunlight.

Fluorapatite photo image
Fluorapatite on calcite with a dusting of pyrite. From Portugal, Inv. #21482. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

The material described and displayed by Mauthner and Ottaway demonstrates both its breadth and its boundaries. Depending on the individual, apatite may whet, without satisfying fully. But for those who enjoy a fusion of subtlety and complexity, there is plenty here with which to be sated. [back to top]

— End June Newsletter • Published 6/15/15 —

May 2015 Newsletter

Does He Even Have A Job?? image
Mammas, don't let your babies grow up to be dealers. Don't let 'em use loupes when they're down on their luck. Make 'em be bankers and jewelers and such.

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Thirteenth Annual Sinkankas Symposium – Opal: Proceedings Available

Sinkankas Symposium cover image

Pala International is publisher of this year's Sinkankas Symposium proceedings on the topic of Opal. The volume is edited by GIA's Stuart Overlin, designed by Faizah Bhatti, and production coordinated by Juan Zanahuria, both also of GIA. Featured are 120 pages of original material accompanied by more than 150 photos.

The following authors contributed to this edition: Dr. Eloise Gaillou, Dr. Raquel Alonso-Perez, with Jason Tresback and Theresa Smith, and also Bill Larson, Renee Newman, Helen Serras-Herman, Robert Weldon, Nathan Renfro, Dr. James Shigley, and Si and Ann Frazier. Principal photography was provided by Robert Weldon (including the cover image), Mia Dixon, and Jurgen Schutz.

Copies of the Opal proceedings can be ordered from Roger Merk. The price is $35.00 plus shipping. (Shipping to Canada is $19, and $24.50 to most countries in Europe.)

 

45 Nationalities Celebrate Opal Capital Centennial

Opal photo image
Opulent opal. This 11.40-carat white opal is typical of that produced in Coober Pedy. It's from the 8 Mile mine. Inv. #16028. (Photo: Wimon Manorotkul)

It's 100 years since opal was discovered by 15-year-old gold prospector Willie Hutchinson in what is now Coober Pedy, South Australia. The outback town, founded the year after the boy's discovery, is namesake to a 5,000 square kilometer gemstone field that provides most of the world's precious opal; only 10% of the field has been mined, according to the town's website. Yet 250,000 mine shaft entrances dot the landscape, due in part to a ban on large-scale operations, per Wikipedia. While the town has a tiny population of only 3,500, the inhabitants come from an estimated 45 nations.

BBC has marked Coober Pedy's centennial with an examination of the prospect (ahem) of this Australian opal being designated Global Heritage Stone Resource (GHSR). No stone has yet been so designated, but an international group of geologists is to recognize stones that have played a significant role in human culture. Thus, other contenders, according to BBC are Portland stone, Carrara marble, Sydney sandstone and Norwegian larvikite. Should Australian opal be chosen, similar opal from other localities could not be called "Australian." Including opal in the GHSR pantheon has its detractors, who feel that the designation was meant for building-stone exclusively, not precious stone. [back to top]

Pala at Las Vegas: May 28 – June 1, 2015

AGTA GemFair Las Vegas graphic image

It's time to plan for the JCK Las Vegas show. Pala International will be there in force, with one of America's largest selections of fine colored gems.

Note: The JCK Show this year will run Friday through Monday.

What: AGTA GemFair
When:
May 28 – June 1, 2015
Where: South Pacific and Islander Ballrooms in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
   Thursday, May 28 thru Sunday, May 31: 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
   Monday, June 1: 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Booth: AGTA Pavilion, booth AGTA514

The JCK Show offers a variety of seminars and other events of interest to attendees.

Pala will be unveiling the Joe Kast Collection at the upcoming Las Vegas show. Come check it out: lots of great gems for the big buyers and small calibrated goods for stock pieces.

We look forward to seeing our many friends there. Visit the Pala International Show Schedule for future events. [back to top]

Mineral & Gem à Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines:
June 25–28, 2015

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The 52nd Sainte-Marie show will be held June 25–28, with the first two days limited to trade only. This year, Bill and Will Larson will attend the show along with spouses Jeanne and Rika Larson. Friend and fellow gem dealer Mark Kaufman also will be in the party. They will be meeting up with Patrick and Pia Dreher. (See this Ganoksin.com blog entry by Robyn Hawk regarding Patrick Dreher's recent appearance at GIA.)

New in 2015: The Sainte-Marie show continues to cater to the colored gemstone lover this year with Le Pôle Aalberg, an addition to the show's Gem Zone, featuring the full range of creation, luxury and fashion.

  • Le Swanky Area: bijouterie et joaillerie and designers both traditional and contemporary
  • Le Trendy Corner: fantasy designs and fashion accessories
  • Le Gem Fashion Show: a scripted jewelry presentation offering "unusual perspectives in response to hidden desires." Ooh la la!

Lectures will include the following (note that only the first lecture will be delivered in English as well as French). We're delighted to see our old friend Eloïse Gaillou, who has relocated to Paris, and who will speak on her subject of expertise.

  • Victor Tuzlukov, lapidary: Philosopher's Stone – When Wisdom Sparkles in the Precious Stone (in conjunction with his curation of Lapis Philosophorum)
  • Yellow Amber: presented by the Musée de l'Ambre de Kaliningrad (in conjunction with the exhibition Baltic Stone of the Sun)
  • Michel Boudard, gemologist: A Look at Gemology, specifically the intersection between stones of greater carat weight and the treatments that may lurk within; an aid to the prospective buyer
  • Jean-Jacques Chevallier, lecturer: Geological History of the Earth ("The study of the infinitely small explains the infinitely large)
  • Eloïse Gaillou, associate curator of the Musée Mines ParisTech (School of Mines): Treatment and the Synthesis of Diamond
  • Jean-Christian Goujou, lecturer: The Minerals of Metamorphism
  • Alain Carion, lecturer: Meteorites and Their Impacts

In addition to the above-referenced exhibitions, the following also will be presented.

  • Exhibition of the INETPhoto Contest: an international competition for photographs and graphic art about Mineralogy and Micro-mineralogy
  • Minerals and Paintings: an exhibition curated by Jörg Thomas and Andrée Roth
  • Jewelry – Silver Arsenic: Remarkably, this exhibition will take place in situ—along the vein of the Gabe Gottes silver mine, 6 km away from the Sainte-Marie show's Mineral Zone
  • The Staurolites of Russia: an exhibition of "cross-stones" curated by Jean-Claude Leydet

Finally, our good friend and mineral dealer Alain Martaud curates The Prestige Exhibition. Entitled simply, Alpes, the display will pay homage to the mineralogical bounty of the 1000-km arc of mountains that stretches from north of Corsica to Austria and Slovenia. Among the Alpine varieties coveted by collectors: epidot, garnet, fluorite, emerald, quartz and gold. Specimens to be displayed will be loaned from local and national museums, as well as collectors both prominent and obscure. Pala International has a magnificent old classic double quartz from Switzerland in the display.

Book cover image
Alain Martaud, curator of this year's L'Exposition Prestige, also is the author of the trilingual volume, The Minerals of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. The book is available from the show's online store.

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Carnegie: Out of This World! Jewelry in the Space Age

Time to dust off the Esquivel LPs and prepare your bachelor pad to moodify before attending the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Out of This World! Jewelry in the Space Age. This exhibition is a perfect cocktail of science and stylin'.

Out of This World first goes retro with jewelry, objets d'art and ephemera inspired by Halley's Comet (its 1835 apparition), the publication of Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, the Soviet launch of Sputnik (our personal favorite) and much more. The exhibition opens June 27 and is on view through January 4, 2016.

Necklace photo image
Blast off! The Tampa Necklace, designed by Van Cleef & Arpels, private owner. (Photo courtesy Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh)
Ring photo image
Ring(s). Dynasty Ring, designed by Marc Schneider, private owner. (Photo courtesy Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh)
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Tektite. Moldavite Brooch, designed by John Hatleberg, private owner. We featured this pin in a 2014 profile of Hatleberg. Moldavite is created from meteorite impact. (Photo: Tony Pettinato, courtesy Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh)
Necktie photo image
No Pluto, so this is cosmically correct. Necktie, designed and owned by Megan Isaacs. (Photo courtesy Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh)
Lunar Excursion Module photo image
Module model. Lunar Excursion Module, made for and formerly owned by Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, designed and owned by Cartier. (Photo courtesy Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh)

While you're at the Carnegie Museum, be sure to check out the Wertz Gallery of gems and jewelry—and its Time Machines exhibition (ends June 1)—as well as the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems. [back to top]

Ruby Has Cameo in Minions Trailer

Fans of the Despicable Me animation movies will receive a treat this summer with the release of Minions, a sort of prequel to the other two films. Lest the public have any questions, however, regarding the third in this very successful franchise—earning nearly eight times its budget for D1 and thirteen times for D2—the distributor, Universal Pictures, is leaving nothing to chance, by releasing three trailers and four spots for D3, and counting.

Minions features an evil character called Scarlet Overkill (fair enough) voiced by Sandra Bullock. Overkill wants world domination, but she isn't above sharing her secrets via Villain-Con International, a convention for miscreants in need of motivation. At about 0:55 in Trailer 2, Overkill's image is spied by a conventioneer in Villain-Con's promo brochure. The spread includes an eggcup-sized ruby ring, stolen and still missing. "Millions of dollars gone goodbye," reads the display copy. The ruby is unlikely to reappear, given its relative insignificance for Overkill, whose vault also holds Michelangelo's David, Myron's Discobolus (Discus Thrower), a moai statue from Easter Island, myriad portraits by the masters, and an overturned Chinese vase here, a bathtub of gold chains there (at 1:47). Guess we'll have to wait 'til its release July 10. Or the next trailer.

Movie still image

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Pala International News

Joe Kast Collection Comes to Pala

Our longtime friend for over 30 years, fellow AGTA and AGS member, Joe Kast, has decided to retire from the gem business.

Joe has graciously decided to allow Pala International the opportunity to liquidate his wonderful inventory. Joe's main strengths are ruby, sapphire, and emerald. His delightful inventory will nicely augment Pala's own extensive catalog.

Joe Kast Collection photo image

We are now able to furnish many more blue sapphires in several colors, sizes, and prices. The emerald collection is quite large and we can offer a wide variety of colors, shapes, locations and prices. The fancy sapphires, including pinks, yellows and greens, as well as the ruby collection, now boosts Pala's supply significantly. Along with larger single free-sizes, the collection has a lot of calibrated smaller sizes and matched pairs. We are extremely grateful to Joe Kast for allowing Pala International this unprecedented opportunity.

Joe Kast Collection photo image
Stocked. Impressive tray of Burmese and Mozambique rubies from 1 ct to 2.5 ct. Excerpt from the Kast Collection now at Pala International. (Photo Jason Stepehson)

Pala will be unveiling the Joe Kast Collection at the upcoming Las Vegas show. Come check it out: lots of great gems for the big buyers and small calibrated goods for stock pieces. [back to top]

This month we feature some highlights from the Joe Kast Collection. This collection exhibits a full spectrum of colors from the corundum family and a strong selection of emeralds as well.

Please call to hear more about this important collection—or see it in person at the Las Vegas show.

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Kasting call. (From center, then clockwise from top) Golden yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka, 6.40 ct, 12.1 x 9 .1 mm cushion; unique green sapphire from Sri Lanka, 6.18 ct, 10.2 x 9.9 mm cushion; very fine emerald from Colombia, 2.66 ct, 8.9 x 8.4 mm emerald cut; intense purple pink sapphire 1.90 ct, 7.2 mm round; pigeon's blood red ruby from Burma, 2.08 ct, 7.3 x 6 mm cushion; exquisite padparadscha from Sri Lanka, 1.25 ct, 7.2 x 5.2 mm oval, brilliant blue sapphire 4.04 ct, 8.5 mm round. (Photo: Jason Stephenson)

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

Gems and Gemology News

That Other Collection…

While perusing the Kast Collection, above, we were reminded of another collection, now housed at GIA: The Dr. Edward J. Gübelin Collection. When the latter collection was acquired by GIA in 2006, we published the recollections surrounding it by Pala International's Bill Larson, "World's Foremost Buys World's Finest."

Now the collection is available for browsing in the comfort of your own home, via the GIA Gem Project. We're talking about 2,800 gemstones from 225 different minerals in the collection. The Gem Project goals are: to systematically document these gemstones using a range of techniques, and to make the results available on the GIA website as a valuable resource for students, gemologists, researchers, and anyone interested in gem materials. Each gemstone is identified with a photograph, species (group and variety as needed), locality, shape, carat weight, dimensions, and much more.

Beryls photo image
Roll Out the Beryls. This beryl collection is one of 70 boxes that comprise the main gemstone collection. The top left pink morganite from Brazil weighs 100.99 ct. (Photo: Edward Boehm)

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Antique Jewelry

Screenshot image

An extinct species of human, Denisovans (or Denisova hominins) is being credited with having crafted the oldest piece of jewelry "of its kind made of stone" about 40,000 years ago, according to a May 7 story by The Siberian Times. Like Neanderthals, Denisovans were considered to be more primitive than modern humans, yet the technique used in creating the jewelry—a bracelet fashioned from chlorite—was not known to have been used until the Neolithic period, beginning about 10,000 BCE. Mikhail Shunkov, deputy director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, suggests that Denisovans were more advanced than either Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.

The green-colored bracelet, found in two pieces, contains a drilled hole. Scientists feel that the drill's speed of rotation was relatively high, with little instability—again evidence of technology that would not be used for millennia. It's believed that the hole allowed a strap, perhaps of leather, to dangle a charm of some weight, which polished the bracelet.

It was found in the Altai region of Siberia in 2008, but its dating was confirmed only recently. The chlorite stone is not native to the locality where the bracelet was unearthed. It likely came from about 125 miles away, and thus was valued. And valued it is today, being held in the collection of the Museum of History and Culture of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East in Novosibirsk. [back to top]

Industry News

Ruby News

Bloomberg: Prices Could Double

Ruby photo image
A step up. You don't often see a beautiful step-cut natural ruby like this. From Mozambique, 2.11 carats, Inventory #21295. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Bloomberg, in an April 16 article, quotes Ian Harbottle of Gemfields as predicting that ruby prices could double in a couple of years. If this sounds a bit optimistic (at least for the seller), the article points out that Harbottle "and peers" increased production of emerald, with a 1,000 per cent price hike in five years. Harbottle envisions the same for ruby as Gemfields makes inroads into Mozambique's relatively vast ruby supply.

Macy's Can't Get the Lead Out

While Gemfields offered rubies at a recent sale for $689 a carat on average, there is still a market for bargains. Of course, when doing the hunting it pays to read the fine print. As reported by JCK May 4, CBS Chicago was tipped off by a buyer who bought a pair of "ruby" earrings at Macy's only to belatedly see the "lead glass filled" tag on the purchase when she got home. In a May 1 story, CBS recounted how its investigators went to two Macy's locations, but were a little more diligent in their inquiries, asking whether they were buying costume jewelry. After all, the earrings had a $117 price tag. They were reassured by the sales associate they were getting real ruby. Same story for two ruby stud earrings, at $93.60.

Taking the earrings to none other than Richard Drucker of GemWorld International, they got the bad news: the rubies couldn't be called "real." Another consultant from Chicago's Jewelers Row agreed that the purchases were of red stones, but not rubies. The resulting complaint—not the first by any means—is that it is up to the consumer to do the due diligence. Store clerks simply don't offer the information.

Sotheby's: Uplifting Sale

Back to Harbottle: he may have a point about ruby's "uplift potential." Last Tuesday, Sotheby's set a new world auction record for ruby. The "Sunrise Ruby," a 25.59-carat Burmese ruby and diamond ring, sold for far more than its $12 million to $18 million pre-sale estimate. At $30.3 million, it set two other records: per-carat price for ruby and for any jewel by its creator, Cartier. And it tripled the price-per-carat record set by the "Graff Ruby" last fall, of $997,727, according to a news release.

Auction photo image
Going, going, going, going, going, going, gone. Would the bidding ever stop? Above, David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby's International Jewellery Division, fields bids at auction of the Sunrise Ruby in Geneva. (Photo: Sotheby's news release)

Sotheby's itself must have been pretty proud. With 94 per cent of lots sold, the auction as a whole set an industry record, the highest ever total for any jewelry auction: just under $161 million. Other corundum records set in the sale:

  • World auction record for a pair of Burmese sapphire earrings (Lot 500)
  • World auction record price for a Kashmir sapphire jewel (Lot 499)

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Diamond News

Diamond photo image
Photo: Sotheby's news release

Perfect Diamond Fetches $22.1m

As we noted last month, on offer via Sotheby's as the headliner in its April 21 Magnificent Jewels sale in New York was a 100.20-carat "perfect diamond." Its sale at $22.1 million to an anonymous buyer set a record of sorts—highest price for a colorless diamond in New York—it fell midway in the pre-sale estimate of $19 million and $25 million. (Can we look forward to future "records" for, say, highest price for a colorless diamond sold in the spring quarter?)

Posh Patois

Diamond (and other gemstone) aficionados are familiar with the Four C's: Color, Clarity, Cut and Carat Weight. GIA even offers a brochure on the subject, available in 18 languages. But what of the more obscure language of the diamond trade? In New York, for instance, the diamond district is a Babel regarding baubles, precious stones having a lexicon, per a recent New York Times story, that is essentially Yiddish, but also uttered with the flair of other European and Asian tongues. And trade terms from India and elsewhere are becoming more common on 47th Street.

In "The Secret Slang of the Diamond District," the Times challenges readers to play the name game. How many of the esoteric terms listed are you familiar with, like mame-zitser, oysshis, and jalebi, amid the more familiar?

Finding Diamond in the Natural State

Making a modest $8 admission on April 23 at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, Evening Shade resident Susie Clark sealed the deal by saying a prayer for luck in the form of a question: Would she be blessed by a diamond that day? She was—3.69 carats' worth—and in her joy she called the white, teardrop-shaped gem Hallelujah. It's the largest diamond found in the park since the Limitless Diamond, 6.19 carats, was found about a year before, as reported by CNN.

Searching for Diamonds photo image
Will you be assisted in your quest by a uniformed representative of the Arkansas government? (Photo courtesy Crater of Diamonds State Park)

A pity there's no on-site appraisal service, but a 3.85-carat diamond unearthed at the park was sold for a cool $20K. The park's Diamond Discovery Center does ID the stones gratis, however; weighing and certification are offered free of charge. [back to top]

Bonhams: "Colored gemstones reigned supreme"

Last month, in our Auctions item, we included an image of a 9.94-carat Kashmir sapphire sugarloaf cabochon offered at Sotheby's April 21 Magnificent Jewels sale. The ring went for $874,000 well within its pre-sale estimate. A day later, a sale by Bonhams featured a similar ring—just a lot more of it, at 21.27 carats. This one sold for less—$455,090—but it was more than three times its estimate.

Sapphire Ring photo image
Sapphire and diamond ring, ca. 1925. The sugarloaf cabochon weighs 21.27 carats, within an openwork mount of stylised floral and foliate design, decorated with rose-cut diamonds, mounted in silver and gold. (Photo courtesy Bonhams)

The Bonhams sale as a whole caused the firm to report, "Colored gemstones reigned supreme at Bonhams Fine Jewelry sale."

Rubies, sapphires and emeralds are this year's must-have gems according to Bonhams and its first London sale of 2015 demonstrated the huge appetite for colored stones with fierce bidding taking place in the saleroom, on the telephone and online from buyers across the globe.

Among the highlights: a 17.97-carat Burmese sapphire; a 7.10-carat fancy-colored pear-shaped diamond; a 4.54-carat Burmese ruby; a 3.25-carat Colombian emerald; a pair of Sri Lankan sapphires, 10.50 and 9.50 carats. [back to top]

Burma Bits

Gems Emporium Slated for June–July

Peridot photo image
Spring has sprung. Celebrate it with a natural Burma peridot, 17.38 ct, Inv. #22545. (Photo: Mia Dixon)

Burma's Ministry of Mines on April 30 announced the dates for the 52nd Myanma Gems Emporium this summer: June 24 through July 6. Both local and foreign merchants are invited to the emporium, which will be held in Nay Pyi Taw. The announcement was covered in the May 1 edition of the official New Light of Myanmar.

Nay Pyi Taw's development—everything from shopping centers to pagodas—is booming, as reported on May 10 by Mizzima. A thousand hotels and inns are mushrooming to accommodate visitors to the Emporium, conventions, sports events, civic and military celebrations, and more. Last year, the city hosted the ASEAN Business Summit, the ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit.

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Artist's rendering of the retail area of KrisPLAZA, a mixed-use venture, that will be flanked at north and south by the Gem Museum and the Mani Yadana Jade Hall. It is due to be completed next summer.

Meanwhile, Kyaw Win, secretary of the Myanmar Gold Entrepreneurs Association, told The Irrawaddy last week that jade and colored gemstone production in general is decreasing in Hpakant and Mogok. And the Wall Street Journal last week noted that foreign investment in mining has stalled in anticipation of Burma revamping outdated regulations that haven't been revised since 1994. Another practice considered passé is the continued industry involvement by SOEs (state-owned enterprises) in Burma, once the centerpiece of Ne Win's "Burmese Way to Socialism." A critique, by economist Tom Brookes, of the remaining SOEs, which began to be discarded in 1988, appeared in the May 8 Myanmar Times. Brookes notes that twelve activities, including the export of gemstones, are by law operated by SOEs solely or in joint ventures.

Other ghosts from the past were being conjured by the U.S. State Department as it dropped gemstone (among other interests) mogul Win Aung from its sanctions list without much explanation, as reported by The Irrawaddy on April 24 and Myanmar Times on the 29th. Although Win Aung was considered a military-regime crony previously, he also is chair of Burma's biggest trade group, representing 10,000 companies. The Irrawaddy story speculated on other big names that could be next in line. The newspaper published an editorial the same day urging prudence in considering future moves: "Note to Washington: Use Your Blacklist Wisely."

Good as Gold?

In the interview referenced above, Kyaw Win discussed several topics of interest: how he got started in the gold business, the history of gold procurement as investment amongst the people of Burma, the price of gold, the fact that gold could be produced in all of Burma's fourteen states and regions, and more.

But gold extraction can come at a price. Myanmar Times reported on April 28 about the challenges facing the Chindwin River, which flows in northwestern Burma. Where it flows through the gold mining area at Hkamti Township, in Sagaing Region, the river is clogged with red sludge. And the punch line? A Myanmar Gems Enterprise representative says it issued no mining permits in the area, and thus knew nothing about the excavations. One unnamed government official said mining is allowed—and protected—by armed ethnic groups in the region. Another factor: small-scale mining can be masked from any visiting authorities by simply hiding the machinery.

Yangon Gem Lab Seeks International Recognition

Myanmar Gemological Laboratory opened for business on May 6, as reported by Myanmar Times. While it's certainly not the country's only gem lab, it features cutting-edge technology that could put it ahead of rivals. But its true competitors are labs with international reputations. Gemstone buyers and dealers who are tempted to have their stones certified outside Burma now have a local option. The new lab's U Wai La Win has studied and worked at GIA, allowing him to incorporate best practices that he has learned.

Mandalay Jade Carvers Want to Improve

Last Wednesday, Myanmar Times published a profile of the jade market in Mandalay. But it was not devoted to dealers in rough, but rather to the artisans carving jade into statues for sale to Chinese buyers. The market is not an easy one, since standards are high, in part due to overwhelming experience coupled with finishing machinery available to Chinese craftsmen. On the other hand, why should Burma's carvers not market Burmese designs?

Bite-Sized Bits

  • Mizzima: Burma launches an export strategy to integrate the country more broadly into the international economy—featuring an image of gemstone traders
  • The Irrawaddy: $20 million in smuggled goods seized last year, twice as much as the previous year
  • Eleven: Suu Kyi to visit jade land on Friday
  • The Irrawaddy: Ceasefire with ethnic armies, hailed as historic, has a long way to go
  • Myanmar Times: Burma citizens donate thousands to Nepal relief effort

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— End May Newsletter • Published 5/18/15 —

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2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000

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.