Jewellery History From Elizabeth I to Elizabeth Taylor with John Benjamin

John Benjamin FGA DGA,  jewellery consultant, contributor to BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, author and historian, presented the January Gem Central at Ely Place. Angharad Kolator Baldwin reports on his fascinating lecture…

Starting his career at Cameo Corner, a jewellers previously found in Bloomsbury, John Benjamin successfully passed the Gemmology Diploma and Diamond Diploma courses at Gem-A, before joining Phillips Fine Art Auctioneers as a cataloguer and valuer. After becoming the International Director of Jewellery at Philips, he left to establish his own company, John C Benjamin Limited, an independent jewellery consultancy.

Read more: Gem-A Student Celebrates Southend Success at Houses of Parliament

John’s mission is to "inculcate people with knowledge about antique jewellery" and his talk A History of Jewellery from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth Taylor presented at Gem Central on 17 January, was certainly a splendid opportunity to bask in his extensive knowledge.

The talk began in the sixteenth century and took the audience on a journey through the centuries, showcasing examples of beautiful jewellery in paintings and photographs, demonstrating the widespread fascination the public have with pearls, diamonds and other precious stones.

Gems in the sixteenth century were believed to have prophylactic properties. Evidence has been found that suggests pearls used to be powdered and drunk as a cordial to protect against disease, while garnets were worn against the skin and said to prevent the individual from having nightmares. Similarly smallpox scars were believed to be cleansed with sapphires and peridot was believed to promote love making. Although there have been a few changes in daily practices, gemmologists today still learn the birthstones for each month and gemstones remain associated with mystical and healing properties.

Social change is also reflected in jewellery trends. The obsession at the turn of the sixteenth century with death, when people were acutely aware they were unlikely to survive over 30, and wanted to immortalise their nearest and dearest saw the fashion for Memento Mori (remember you must die) jewels. The emergence of imitation gemstones in the nineteenth century when the rate of crime was rising and rather than risk losing precious jewellery in robberies, it was better to invest in paste and keep the real items in a safe deposit box.

17th Century Memento Mori Slide. Photo supplied by John Benjamin.
An English early to mid seventeenth century gold enamel and hair Memento Mori slide exhibiting the grim symbolism of death common at this time. Image courtesy of John Benjamin

The audience were show a seventeenth century Dutch painting detailing a women’s jewellery box. Containing a diamond necklace and a string of pearls, the jewellery was not dissimilar to what you would find in a jewellery box today. John made the point that nothing fundamentally changes in people’s jewellery choices. Although Antwerp may have revolutionised diamond cutting, and the location of the most prolific diamond mines may have changed, our hunger to adorn ourselves to symbolise wealth and power remains.

"Jewellery follows the money", said John, whether it is the Monarch or the most popular celebrity. For centuries we have ogled the gems adorning powerful and wealthy people and sought to copy the taste of the rich and powerful, in an attempt to emulate their success.

Rose Brooch. Image courtesy of John Benjamin
An elegant early Victorian pave diamond set rose brooch, the principal flowerhead mounted en tremblant to scintillate when worn. Image courtesy of John Benjamin

Despite two fascinating hours, it's clear that John's Gem Central discussion barely touched the surface of his extensive knowledge of antique jewellery. As he moved around the room, the audience holding on to his every word, it was apparent that we were privy to a rare insight into the antique world of jewellery. He told us the story behind pieces, the trends of the past, and what this can tell us about the future.

Read more: Gem Central with Marcus McCallum FGA

There is "a social backdrop to jewellery trends", he informed us. Through understanding what was happening at a particular point in history, we can better understand the fashion.

When asked what he thought the jewellery of tomorrow would be…he replied ethnic jewellery. As society becomes more informed and conscientious, the public are looking for materials from sustainable sources, with a story attached. But as much now as in the past, this choice is affected by those with high status.

The audience were taken on an insightful journey through the progression of jewellery design, from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth Taylor, and had a look at the evolution of jewellery in the twentieth century. John visited many themes including Renaissance pearls, enamel, The Cheapside Hoard, mourning jewellery, the age of the faceted stone, Neo Classicism, Victorian sentiment, naturalism, souvenir jewels and the age of mass production. The broad range of topics discussed meant there was something new for everyone present.

Robert Webster Gem Central with John Benjamin
The Robert Webster Room at Gem-A HQ was packed with an eager audience for John Benjamin's talk.

Hosted once a month at Gem-A headquarters at Ely Place London, Gem Central evenings are a unique opportunity to learn from experts and meet fellow gemmology enthusiasts. Free for Gem-A members and students, or just £10 for non-members. ■

Interested in finding out more? Visit Gemmological Instruments, where you can purchase John’s book, Starting to Collect Antique Jewellery instore or by contacting instruments@gem-a.com.

Interested in attending a Gem Central event? For more information about our upcoming Gem Central events visit the Gem Central page or email events@gem-a.com.

Cover image a sixteenth century Spanish enamelled gold devotional Reliquary Pendant fashioned as a Ram, the fleece studded with pearls. Image courtesy of John Benjamin. 


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more


Additional Info

Read more...

Field Trip: Exploring the Wonders of Myanmar

Gem-A member Patricia Campion reports on a recent gemmological field trip to Myanmar, highlighting her experiences of gemstone market places, the Myanmar Gems Museum, in Yangon, and seeing mushroom tourmaline for the first time.

On Christmas Day, our group met in Yangon for a gemmological tour of Myanmar organised by Pauline Jamieson for the Scottish Gemmological Association. Just before we left for Myanmar, our plans suffered a fundamental blow with the Government closure of Mogok to all foreigners due to local civil unrest. However, the organisers did a wonderful last minute job of rearranging our itinerary to ensure that we saw and did much to make up for missing out on the famed ruby mines.  

Read more: Gem Central With Gem Dealer Marcus McCallum

Our gem tour proper commenced in Myitkyina (pronounced My-chee-na), which is home to Myanmar's licensed amber markets. Much of the local amber is a distinctive deep red, although a wide spectrum of colour was available. Burmese amber deposits are considerably older than Baltic amber (up to 100 million years old) and the quality and clarity was high, with some very fine specimens containing preserved insects and plants. The market sold a wide variety of jewellery, carvings and beads as well as rough amber.

As is true all over Myanmar, traders were friendly and very pleasant but prices were higher than expected due to the proximity of the Chinese market.

Amber market in Myitkyina. Image courtesy of T. and M. Medniuk. Myanmar Blog Post
Amber market in Myitkyina L-R Moira Verwijk and Helen Plumb. Image courtesy of T. and M. Medniuk

We also visited some interesting local emporia specialising in jade and got our first glimpse at the many and varied hues available, from magnificent, almost translucent imperial jade through the spectrum of greens, greys and lilacs to white jade and almost transparent 'ice' jade.  

Read more: A Quick Guide to the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London

Arriving in Mandalay, we sallied forth into the infamous Mandalay jade market. Moving at speed through the crowded, cramped space where experts trade jade, we were surrounded by frenetic activity making it an unreal but truly exhilarating experience. In the lower octane atmosphere of the surrounding stalls outside the official jade market, pieces of rough jade could be purchased inexpensively.

Mandalay jade market. Image courtesy of T. and M. Medniuk. Myanmar Blog post
Mandalay jade market. Image courtesy of T. and M. Medniuk

Next we visited a family run business selling good quality Mogok ruby at reasonable prices. Their stones had received some heat treatment, but were lively and of good colour and devoid of fissure filling or other undesirable treatments. Later we met gem dealers who had travelled from Mogok, offering a large stock of mainly spinel, peridot, ruby and sapphire.

Star ruby and star sapphire were plentiful, with sapphire tones ranging from deep blue through purples and pinks to silvery grey and creamy yellow. While some stones were marred by rather crude cutting or damaged through poor storage (endemic across Myanmar it seems), the variety of colours available in spinel in particular, was superb.   

Read more: Getting to Grips with GemTOF Technology

The Myanmar Gems Museum, in Yangon, afforded us a wonderful overview of the many rich treasures of Myanmar. Emporia housed within the same building yielded deep green peridot and pale but very clean aquamarine as well as the usual spinel, ruby and sapphire. Many of us appreciated the colour zoned or bi-coloured unheated sapphires, considerably paler than the famed Burmese blue, but prices were prohibitive.

Sapphires, and potentially some spinels. Image courtesy of P. Jamieson. Myanmar Blog Post
Sapphires, and potentially some spinels. Image courtesy of P. Jamieson

Colourful zircons and sizable rutilated topazes were also plentiful. However, the highlight was the discovery of mushroom tourmaline - a remarkable phenomenon which occurs near Mogok. The ones we saw were grey to pale pink in colour and we also managed to unearth wonderfully colourful cross section slices.

Mushroom tourmaline specimen. Image courtesy of E. Passmore. Myanmar blog post
Mushroom tourmaline specimen. Image courtesy of E. Passmore

Our time in Yangon encompassed visits to the famed Mogok Street, where many gems are traded, and a whistle stop tour of Bogyoke Aung San Market (formerly known as Scott's Market) where we got our first real chance to see Myanmar golden pearls among other treasures. We also got the opportunity to trade ourselves and perching on stools on a street corner we were instantly surrounded by dealers. Their stock was again mainly ruby, spinel and sapphire both rough and polished, plus some wonderful but rather pricey zircons.  

Trading in Yangon. Image courtesy of T. and M. Medniuk. Myanmar Blog Post
Trading in Yangon, members of the trip in front L-R Melanie Medniuk, Moira Verwijk, Lauretta Sanders, Pauline Jamieson, Patricia Campion, Elizabeth Passmore with the traders behind. Image courtesy of T. and M. Medniuk

The expertise and insight of our guide, Duncan Baker, meant that we got an unparalleled glimpse into Myanmar's phenomenal world of gems during our trip. As we departed back home we all agreed that if Mogok reopens we will return to this lovely country with its fabulous treasures and wonderful people. ■

Adapted by the author from an article originally written for the Scottish Gemmological Association. 

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image rough amber samples. Image courtesy of P. Jamieson


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more


Additional Info

Read more...

Gem Central Exploring Ruby Treatments with Julia Griffith FGA DGA EG

Gem-A gemmology and diamond tutor Julia Griffith FGA DGA EG led a gem central titled Exploring the Differences between Glass In-filled, Flux Healed and Lead Glass-filled Ruby, in an informative and engaging gem central evening. Julia summarises the evening here for those that missed out. 

The latest Gem Central evening held on 30 April at Gem-A HQ focused around three treatments of ruby; glass in-filling, flux healing and lead glass-filling. These treatments all aim to treat fractures and/or cavities within ruby which as a result alters the transparency, apparent clarity and durability of these treated stones.

Flux healed ruby. Image courtesy Julia Griffith.
Flux healed ruby. Image courtesy Julia Griffith.

I was originally asked to discuss the topic of ruby treatments at the Institute of Registered Valuers (IRV) conference in November 2016. These treatments have been the matter of confusion and debate over the last 33 years.

Read more: From Elizabeth I to Elizabeth Taylor with John Benjamin FGA DGA

‘Surface repair’ (also referred to as ‘glass-filling’ and glass-infilling) came onto the market in 1984 but was rejected by the European market. Flux-healing flooded the trade in 1992 and dominated the market for over a decade and is still hugely prevalent in the market today. Lead glass-filling has been on the market since 2004; the starting material for which is industrial grade corundum so this treatment has hit the market in the tonnes. 

The terminology used and the aims of these treatments are all similar, however, there are significant differences, which will affect the way laboratories and traders will classify these gems. Therefore it is important for the gemmologist to understand and recognise these treatments in order to identify them correctly.

Lead-glass filled sapphire. L-R: before, during, after. Image courtesy of Julia Griffith.
Lead-glass filled sapphire. L-R: before, during, after. Image courtesy of Julia Griffith.

Further discussed were the treatment methods, the effect of the treatment and identification features of each treatment. Also highlighted was the cross-over between what can be classed as ‘flux-healed’ and ‘glass infilled’ and how this effects the disclosure of these treatments.

Flux healed and glass in-filled ruby. Image courtesy of Julia Griffith.
Flux healed and glass in-filled ruby. Right: shows contrast of lustre on glass. Image courtesy of Julia Griffith.

The workshop focused on the importance to being able to recognise the different identification features, disclosure and the stability of these treatments. 

Read more: Zircon from Vietnam: Properties and Heat Treatments

The Gem Central evening hopefully shed some light on these three treatments. Many visual aids were available and plenty of specimens to view.

Lead-glass filled star ruby. Image courtesy of Julia Griffith.
Lead-glass filled star ruby. Image courtesy of Julia Griffith.

For the first time the Gem Central evening was recorded in view of making our Gem Central talks accessible to members and students worldwide. It was a very exciting new venture to be a part of.  

I would like to express special thanks to Richard Hughes (Lotus Gemology, Christopher Smith (AGL), Henry Haenni (SSEF), Stasha Tereszczuk (David J Thomas) and Tom Stephan (DGemG) for assisting me in my research and understanding. ■

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image flux-healed rubies. Image courtesy of Julia Griffith. 


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more


Additional Info

Read more...

Gem Central Delving into Organics with Maggie Campbell Pedersen FGA ABIPP

Gem-A president and organics expert Maggie Campbell Pedersen presented the April Gem Central at Gem-A headquarters. Angharad Kolator Baldwin reports on this fascinating evening.

As the author of Gem and Ornamental Materials of Organic Origin and Ivory, Maggie was appointed Gem-A president last year. Her Gem Central evening was split into an informative talk on organics followed by the opportunity to get the loupe out and admire the array of samples that Maggie had brought and from the Gem-A organics collection.

Amber

The talk began with a discussion about copal - an immature resin, and amber - the more mature variety. Maggie then gave a quick rundown of the visual differences between amber found in a few different localities. 

Read more: Reconstructed Amber Broken Down

Baltic amber

Baltic amber dating from about 35 million years ago is opaque or transparent. The surface of the amber darkens with age. 

Dominican amber

Dominican amber is about 15 million years old. Some has good fluorescence and it often has a lot of inclusions including insects or debris from the forest floor. It is often darker than Baltic amber.

Mexican amber 

Mexican amber is around 20 million years old and has less insect inclusions than Dominican amber. It can be so clear that it has the appearance of plastic, so you need to know what it is to appreciate it. Some has a stripy appearance caused by debris sticking to it when it formed.

Sample of amber. Image courtesy of Gem-A.
Necklace. Image courtesy of Gem-A.

Burmite 

Amber from Myanmar, so-called Burmite is 100 million years old and is from the Cretaceous Period. Burmite is one of the very few ambers which can occur in a true red colour. The red variety is rare and therefore valuable. 

Australian amber

Australian amber is a fairly new find, discovered in Cape York, Queensland.  The precise locality is still a secret but is known to be crocodile infested. Believed to be about 12 million years old it has a lower melting point than the other varieties of amber, meaning it is less durable. The long-term effect of polishing Australian amber is unknown. 

Identifying Amber

It is important for dealers to know what they are selling and to be able to spot synthetics and heat treatments. Many Bakelite necklaces have been falsely sold as amber. Maggie let us in on a good tip - as far as she is aware opaque red amber doesn’t exist. So if it is sold as such, be suspicious! 

Clarified Baltic amber coated in red dye and sold as red amber
Clarified Baltic amber coated in red dye and sold as red amber. Image courtesy of Maggie Campbell Pedersen. 

But you can also whip out the specific gravity test, place the suspected amber in saturated salt water - if it floats it is likely to be amber. But don’t forget to properly wash the salt out after, Maggie warned the audience! Otherwise when the water evaporates you will be left with white powder residue. 

Maggie also discussed amber treatments and the mysteries surrounding green Ethiopian amber. Next she moved on to talk about horn. 

Horn

Horn and tortoiseshell are made of keratin. Rhino horn is solid while other types of horn grow as a horny sheath on a bony protuberance. 

Horn Beads
Horn bead necklace. Image courtesy of Maggie Campbell Pedersen.

Differentiating types of horn 

It is possible to differentiate between rhino and other horns through simple observation. Rhino horn is solid throughout, whereas other horns, for example buffalo, are hollow for most of their length. It can be difficult to distinguish the tip of a buffalo horn from rhino horn in a small carving. 

Tortoiseshell

Tortoiseshell is taken from marine turtles including the hawksbill turtle, loggerhead turtle and green sea turtle. All species are endangered and it is important for traders to remember that tortoiseshell can only be sold if it is pre-1947 and has not been altered since then. It is also salient to remember that carbon dating cannot be relied upon to date the item as it gives an indication only of when the turtle died, not when the tortoiseshell was worked.  

Tortoiseshell box. Image courtesy of Maggie Campbell Pedersen.
Tortoiseshell box. Image courtesy of Maggie Campbell Pedersen.

Ivory

"We should not rush to a solution purely on the basis of emotions as it may not truly benefit the animals” the title of the most recent column by Maggie in the Spring issue of Gems&Jewellery, providing an update on the UK laws regarding organic materials such as ivory. Worth a read if you have not already seen it. 

During the talk Maggie commented on the current muddle regarding ivory laws, and appealed to Gem Central attendees to remember that "burning ivory items won’t bring the elephants back, in fact who would know if I were to burn the beads I am wearing? The most important thing you can do is not buy new ivory".

Read more: Gem Central Exploring Ruby Treatments with Julia Griffith FGA DGA EG

It is incredibly important to be able to tell the difference between different types of ivory, for example walrus and elephant. And for the auctioneers selling the items to know what they are selling. 

Back of walrus ivory carving, showing clearly the secondary dentine
Back of walrus ivory carving, showing clearly the secondary dentine. Image courtesy of Maggie Campbell Pedersen.

Anomalies can occur as these are organic products. Maggie showed us an image of a tooth with bubble-like inclusions, an occurrence that happened in a whole pod of sperm whales. 

Interested in finding out more about this fascinating subject? Don’t miss out on the Summer issue of Gems&Jewellery where Maggie has kindly agreed to discuss terminology pertaining to organics. Discussing the problems faced with tortoiseshell, and amber she clears up some misconceptions for Gem-A readers. 

Hosted once a month at Gem-A headquarters at Ely Place London, Gem Central evenings are a unique opportunity to learn from experts and meet fellow gemmology enthusiasts. Free for Gem-A members and students, or just £10 for non-members. ■

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Interested in attending a Gem Central event? For more information about our upcoming Gem Central events visit the Gem Central page or email events@gem-a.com.

Cover image assortment of organic samples. Image courtesy  of Gem-A. 


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more


Additional Info

Read more...

Gem Central Sri Lanka - A Gem of an Island

An extraordinary number of Gem-A and NAJ members came to this month's Gem Central to hear Colin and Hilary Winter share their love and passion for Sri Lanka. Barbara Kolator FGA DGA reports on the evening.

This October Colin and Hilary Winter will be hosting a joint Gem-A and NAJ trip to Sri Lanka and the Gem Central on the evening 8 May was a taste of things to come.

Read more: Delving into Organics with Maggie Campbell Pedersen FGA ABIPP

We started off with a virtual tour of the island: a spectacular view of the flight into Colombo airport, followed by the Mount Lavinia Hotel, where the tour will be based. On the itinerary are trips to Kandy, Ratnapura and Galle to see not only gem mining, treating and trading areas but also local animals, plants and historic World Heritage sites.

Colin and Hilary really know the island well and their knowledge and love of it and the people, came across extremely vividly. Their enthusiasm wore off on me too and Sri Lanka really seems like the most remarkable place, with an ideal climate (18-32°C), charming people, luxurious hotels, tasty food, deserted beaches and not forgetting many, many beautiful gemstones. In other words the ideal destination for a group of gemmologists!

Contents of a gem parcel from Sri Lanka. Image courtesy of Elaine Ruddie.
Contents of a gem parcel from Sri Lanka. Image courtesy of Elaine Ruddie.

Naturally we all wanted to know about the mines and the gems. It was interesting to hear that most of the mining is done in the gem gravels which can be 30-40 m deep, requiring the gravel to be pumped out. All the work is done by hand with only basic equipment. When the minerals are worked out, they are put back with the area reverting back to farmland.

Garnet, quartz and zircon can be bought easily and cheaply and set into jewellery, at a very reasonable price (with a bit of haggling) within 24 hours.


It was a fascinating evening with something for everyone, particularly for those interested in embarking upon an adventure.

Interested in attending this trip of a lifetime?

For anyone in the jewellery industry, nothing beats seeing and handling gems in their natural state, in their country of origin.

This is why Gem-A and the NAJ are offering members the chance of a lifetime to embark upon a trip to Sri Lanka.

A two week escorted tour, with fantastic opportunities to buy gems, visit mines and see gem cutters in action, including a 4x4 safari.

Date

Departure: 16 October 2017

Cost

£2,250 per person, based on two people sharing (single supplement £550). Deposits of £1,250 per person are currently being taken. This price is inclusive of economy class flights by Sri Lankan Airways from London Heathrow. Please note you will require money for meals and any gems you would like to purchase.

You will require your own travel insurance for the trip and visa for Sri Lanka, your passport must be valid until May 2018 (six months after you are due to return from the trip). Your insurance details will be required eight weeks prior to departure. 

Interested in registering for this incredible adventure? Contact the NAJ membership department 0121 237 1109.■

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Interested in attending a Gem Central event? For more information about our upcoming Gem Central events visit the Gem Central page or email events@gem-a.com.

Cover image sunset in Sri Lanka


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more


Additional Info

Read more...

Field Trip: The 'Emerald Desert' in Western Australia

Author, British jewellery designer and Gems&Jewellery contributor Joanna Angelett describes her recent gemmological trip to Western Australia.

We decided to take a trip to the 'Emerald Desert' in Western Australia, to look for emeralds. After arriving at Kalbarri National Park and spending a week, surrounded by its stunning pristine beauty, it was not a very short leap from there to our emerald destination - about 600 km – and setting off at 5am we reached Mount Magnet, renowned for iron and gold mining, before day-break.

Navigators on the way to the Emerald Desert.
Navigators on the way to the Emerald Desert.

To reach the Poona emerald mine we drove another 200 km from Mount Magnet to Yalgoo. Alluvial gold was discovered in Yalgoo in the early 1890s but then in the first part of the twentieth century, emeralds were discovered.

A variety of the mineral beryl (Be3Al2(SiO3)6)  - green in colour due to the traces of chromium or vanadium - were found in the Warda Warra in the Yalgoo Goldfields. But it is the Poona deposit, which has always been considered the most productive in the region. Several other, much less significant deposits like Noongal, Menzies and Warda Warra in the Yalgoo Goldfields (names from the Aboriginal language) discovered small unnamed occurrences of mostly milky-opaque emeralds, richly filled with cracks and inclusions and thus appeal mainly to mineral collectors, scattered across the Emerald Desert in a radius of more than 200 km around Poona.

The owners of our hotel told us they have relatives in almost every mining town of the Goldfields' surroundings, and locals filling the bar, mainly miners, gave us plenty of advice on how to reach the Poona emerald mine and how to prepare for this expedition. The owner gave us a present - a huge crowbar. "It will help," he said, and it really did!

Eugene Trimmer fossicking.
Eugene Trummer fossicking.

In the morning it seemed that the entire town knew "these people from London are going to dig for emeralds in the desert". They waved at us as we filled our 4x4 with endless bottles of mineral water, and even when we drove through the town.

Equipped with hand-drawn maps, it was just 150 km to Cue - a cosy town of 300 people - surrounded by golden mines, big and small, and then another 70 km on an uneven track to the mysteries of Poona's Aga Khan Emerald mine, named after a member of the Iranian royal family Sultan Aga Khan III. 

The gold mines with the highest productivity lie right on the doorstep of Cue and as soon as we passed this tiny, tidy town, we found ourselves in a land beautified with all shades of gold. It was impossible not to take photos of Cue's numerous gold mines from the distance and close up, especially after we were shown a huge gold nugget by a Cue resident, who had found it in the area several years ago and who ever since has worn a nugget around his neck as an amulet. 

Golden amulet belonging to a Cue resident.
Golden amulet belonging to a Cue resident.

We were told by locals that the best sign for those off fossicking, is to meet the potentate of the desert and master of all its treasures - the Golden Coins King - the beautiful and rare lizard 'dragon' of the Emerald Desert, who it is said leads to great fortune.

Golden Coins King of the Emerald Desert. Image courtesy of Eugene Trimmer.
Golden Coins King of the Emerald Desert. 

Certainly we had been waiting all the way for such a sign and when, we saw the Golden Coin King at first we did not believe our own eyes, but it was real. Even getting the opportunity to take a picture of the Golden Coin King was magical.

After a couple of miles along a narrow bumpy path, we finally discovered an abandoned runway and a bit further on, a now irrelevant warning: 'Danger Active Mining Area Keep Out'. One more mile and we were honoured by the chance to see and enjoy Pegmatite's field.

In Poona emeralds occur in both mica schist and quartz pegmatite matrix. The best emeralds were found here during the active mining period of 1960 to late 70s, in a mica schist adjacent to the quartzose beryl-bearing pegmatite, where some crystals were gem quality, and huge boulders of perfect quality snow-white quartz were found scattered across the area. 

Our mineral collectors' enthusiasm gradually shrunk as the day wore on and the hope of finding a huge sparkling transparent emerald of a saturated green began to shrink.

But sometimes a small surprise find can bring greater gratification than an expected large one, and it happened this time; we found a milky-green crystal, almost invisible amongst the mass of brightly coloured rocks sparking in the sun, but in our eyes it was invaluable.

Milky green emerald find.
Milky green crystal of emerald.

Sunny and golden Western Australia slowly abated into the bustling heart of London, where our designer studio is based in Hatton Garden and the arrival of the Poona emerald was eagerly awaited.

From the very beginning there was no doubt what kind of design this opaque emerald demanded, but primarily it was necessary to release it from the matrix. When dealing with one of the most fragile gems, this it is not an easy task.

Although some of Poona's crystals are gem quality, they are still quite undistinguished in size, with only one exception in 1971: an 138 carat transparent emerald was found and widely published in the WA press. Gemmologists Perry and Levinson were engaged to separate the emerald from the biotite matrix.

Despite their best efforts the stone cracked and split into two unequal parts of 118 and 20 carats. This type of matrix makes the extraction of emeralds very difficult, which made mining in Poona an unattractive commercial quality.

Gems Merchant with emerald rough ring from the collection 'The Characters' by Joanna Angelett. Image courtesy of Eugene Trimmer.
Gems Merchant with emerald rough ring from the collection 'The Characters' by Joanna Angelett. 

We remembered this story, when our emerald broke in two parts during our attempt to release the green jewel from the tenacious rock, but in this case it did not spoil our plan. The ‘Gems Merchant Captain’ ring shoulders half of the emerald and represents Poona’s rough supplied to Sultan Aga Khan III, telling the story of the wondrous emerald desert of Australia. ■ 

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image the broken emerald. All images copyright of Joanna Angelett.


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more


 

Additional Info

Read more...

A Man of the Ocean: Diving for Organics with Eric Fritz

In a recent trip to the London headquarters, Eric Fritz, FDGA DGA manager of North America for Gem-A stopped by for an industry insider Q&A, educating us on theoretical and practical guidance of organic materials. Sarah Salmon speaks to the man of organic passion exploring the nature of these beautiful materials.

With a passion for pearls, a deep love for shells since the age of four and an extensive knowledge of coral, minerals and gemstones, Eric Fritz reveals his top tips when it comes to his specialty: organic gem materials.

Q. When identifying pearl, what are Gemmologists looking out for when grading their quality?

For value, you will be looking at whether it is a salt-water or freshwater pearl, whether it is natural - formed without any human involvement - or whether the pearl has been cultured. The most valuable in terms of quality across the board would be natural saltwater pearls. This would then be followed by natural freshwater pearls, saltwater cultured pearls to freshwater cultured pearls.

Roundness is also preferable when grading a pearl where the more perfectly round and larger it is without blemishes, the more precious it is considered. The bigger the pearl, provided it still has a good ‘roundness’ and lustre finish to it with minimal spots and blemishes to it, the more desirable and valuable it becomes.

Q. What causes the blemishes and imperfections to form on a pearl?

The blemishes are caused by the formation of the organic material itself. Formed by living organisms which, just like us are made up of a range of different imperfections, gives each pearl its unique, flawed composition. The living environment of the shellfish is also a key factor where surrounding waters may contain disease or the shell mechanism itself may malfunction; all of which directly affects the pearl quality.

Q. Where in the world are the most desirable pearls located?

Probably the most desirable and rarest natural pearl will always be the mellow mellow pearl. This is a yellow - golden range commonly found in Myanmar, Burma and Vietnam. The mellow mellow pearl is often hailed as the holy grail of all pearls due to being that of the most value.

The price of a pearl can vary widely in correlation to its size, ranging from $3000 to $65-70,000 at many Gem trade shows, even when such pearls contain blemishes and are therefore still considered imperfect

Q. We often hear about Mikimoto pearls, is this a particular brand or is it a type of organic pearl?

Mikimoto was the first person to commercially produce cultured pearls in Japan in the late 1800’s. Prior to this, cultured pearls had only been produced on an experimental basis but Mikimoto found a technique that he could use to sustainably produce small cultured pearls – typically 7mm - in small saltwater shells.

Its predecessors, being Gem-A, launched the first global Gem lab in London in order to differentiate cultured Mikimoto and natural pearls. The value of each was quite starkly different which meant that many London jewellers became concerned at the introduction of cultured pearls against the trade of more expensive natural pearls. Mikimoto, dating back over 100 years was, and probably still is, the top quality Japanese Akoya pearl on the market.

Q. Being similar in name, what is the key difference between a conch shell and a conch pearl?

Great question! The Conch shell, Lobatus Gigas being its scientific species, occurs only in the Caribbean off the coast of North America, from Florida down through to the West Indies. It is a big shell that was originally gathered by the native people for food due to its very large edible muscle. It is said that 1 in a hundred conch shells could produce a pearl. Conch pearls come in a range of colours from whites to pinks to browns and yellows but it is the pink variety that remains to be the most valuable. We often believe that the very inside of the Conch shell is pink in colour which is why the pink pearl remains the rarest.

However it is also the inside of the conch shell that produces all of the varying colours of conch pearls. Imitations are created when people take the conch shell and try and cut around a bead, passing it off as a genuine pearl. However, these imitations always have concentric bands where, if you look at the side of the bead, you will see what looks like tree ring growth around the edges. This is a kay indication that this is not a real pearl, but an imitation that has been cut out of a shell.

Q. With a huge variety on the market, how do you identify and compare different seashells from one another?

Seashells come in such a wide variety of genus, ranging from freshwater to seawater environments. Dating back to the Victorian times, seashells were and still are highly collectable objects of nature. Linnaeus, founder of the Linnaeus society extensively named over half of the shells we have identified so far. Seashells are very easy to tell the different species apart as they visually look very different from one another.

Today however to differentiate shells via its species level, identification can require DNA analysis to indicate the differences from one shell to the next. They may look very similar but there is stark variation between the different species.

Q. If you’re looking to purchase a high quality shell, what attribute should one be looking for?

People are attracted to different shapes and colour forms with some buying what we call ‘valves’ where two halves of a shell are held together by a muscle, whilst others favour gastropods where the shell is one piece. Some people like to collect a whole family of shells, preferring only to select pieces within the same genus of shells, leading to a lot of variability. Shell prices for collectors range from £2-£3 up to £100,000 for those that are highly desirable.

Q. What are the key differences between 'hard' and 'soft' coral?

A lot of the time when you look at soft corals in its natural habitat under water, they can often look like plants or sea fans which move with the ocean current. They can range in appearance from big broad fans to tall upright branches but most tend to move. Hard coral contains more calcium carbonate than soft and are often what we refer to as coral reef. An expansive garden of skeletons makes up the coral bed where tiny living organisms live within the pores of these hard corals.

Q. Where is Coral found in abundance across the world?

Coral is most commonly found within temperate waters, including the Caribbean, Australia and the Pacific, with its particular type ranging from place to place. Coral will vary widely in habitat from shallow 3-5ft soft coral waters to deep hard coral found over 1000m underwater. The most precious coral for jewellery is the red coral of the Mediterranean, originally found 100ft under water by early fishermen.

This precious coral was thought to be extinct until divers located caves as shallow as 10-12ft containing this red coral species.

Q. So if you’re looking for a piece of jewellery containing red coral, how do you identify it as genuine and not an imitation?

Corals are fairly easy to differentiate with most of the corals – the precious corals – having visible striations that move across the stone/bead. This identifies the growth where the small tree -like structures were with vertical striations of the stems. Many corals are treated with dye to enhance their appearance so being aware of this when purchasing coral is important as those that have been dyed are no longer considered precious. Dyed coral can be identified when a concentrated colour is found along the edges of the stone where the dye has run in a cut stone or if the coral itself is a perfectly uniform colour without imperfection.

Coral value is similar to pearl where the more intense the colour, like red, the more valuable the material is deemed to its pink and orange counterparts.

Q. Final question, I promise! Out of pearl, coral and shell, what is your favourite organic material and why?

That’s a hard one! I have a much more extensive collection of shells since I started collecting them at only 4 years old on the coast which continues till today. In this case, since I’ve been interested for over fifty years, I would probably have to say shells. I collect two main families, the Cowrie shells as well as Conch shells of which The Queen conch is one of them. It was from collecting shells that I got to love pearl, especially as I am yet to find one. The question is tricky as the pearls live inside the shells which then live beside the coral so they are all connected!

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image of Coral Skeleton and Pearl. All images courtesy of Henry Mesa, Latin American Ambassador at Gem-A.


The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

The Fascinating History of Antique Turquoise Jewellery

In his third Gemstone Conversations column for Gems&Jewellery, Jewellery Historian and Valuer John Benjamin FGA DGA FIRV explores the fascinating history of turquoise and its use in jewellery design from the Shahs of Persia to the Art Deco design movement.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

Birthstone Guide: Garnet For Those Born In January

If you're lucky enough to be born in January, vibrant garnet is your birthstone. A rainbow jewel of the gem world, garnet displays the greatest variety of colour of any mineral and is very often untreated, making it a rarity in the gem world. 

Read more


Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Getting Started with Quartz Inclusions

Do you know your calcite inclusions from your dumortierite, epidote, fluorite and rutile? Here, Charles Bexfield FGA DGA EG explores some incredible quartz inclusions and explains what to look for when shopping for quartz specimens.

Read more


Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Understanding Iridescence: Opals, Pearls, Moonstones and Fractured Stones

Iridescence has to be one of the most mesmerising and magical optical effects seen in gemstones. But have you ever wondered how it occurs? Gem-A's Collection Curator Barbara Kolator FGA DGA shines a light on this fascinating optical effect and tells us about the gems that are most likely to display it.

Read more


Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Hidden Treasures: Highlights of Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection

Gem-A Gemmology Tutor Pat Daly FGA DGA offers us a glimpse at some of the more unusual items in Gem-A's Gemstones and Minerals Collection.

Read more


Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Tanzanite: The Contemporary December Birthstone

Are you looking for the perfect festive gift for a December baby? Gem-A tutor Lily Faber FGA DGA EG considers tanzanite – one of three birthstones for December – and shares how this relatively new gemstone compares to its purple and blue-hued rivals.

Read more


Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Birthstone Guide: Turquoise For Those Born In December

Beautiful blue turquoise is one of three birthstones for the month of December (in addition to zircon and tanzanite). It is enriched with real cultural significance that can be traced back thousands of years. Here, we explore the blue shades of turquoise and explain what makes this gemstone so special...

Read more


Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Understanding the Cat's Eye Effect in Gemstones

Chatoyancy is the gemmological name given to the curious optical effect in which a band of light is reflected in cabochon-cut gemstones, creating an appearance similar to light bouncing off a cat's eye. Gem-A's Collection Curator, Barbara Kolator FGA DGA explains chatoyancy and highlights some of the many gems in which it can occur.

Read more


Jade and its Importance in China

Jade and its Importance in China

Jade has long been revered by gem lovers internationally, but nowhere more so than in China. But what is it that makes this gemstone so special? Gem-A's Assistant Gemmology Tutor Dr Juliette Hibou FGA gives us an overview of jade, how to identify it and its significance in Chinese culture.

Read more


Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

Highlights of Gem-A Conference 2019

The Gem-A Conference is always the highlight of our gemmological calendar! If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve put together a few of the highlights from this year’s event to fill you in on what you missed, and whet your appetite for Gem-A Conference 2020!

Read more


Additional Info

Read more...

Fossicking in the Outback

Carmen Garcia-Carballido FGA DGA L.Geology MSc. EurGeol travelled to the southern hemisphere to find out more about the opals and sapphires of eastern Australia.

To test the skills acquired in two years training as a gemmologist with Gem-A, my husband planned a three week field trip to the sapphire and opal fields of eastern Australia.

We flew from Aberdeen to Sydney, hired a motorhome and headed into the outback of New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland. However, cyclone Debbie making landfall on the coast put paid to our plan to visit a gem dealer in Yepoon and check out the Marlborough Chrysoprase. To keep safe we stayed inland, driving 4,500 km in 13 days and camping at a different site every night.

Map of Australia showing key sapphire and opal locations and the field trip itinery. Image by Peter Scott-Wilson.

Two days from Sydney, our first gem field was Glenn Innes where we tried fossicking for the first time. A petrol station sold us a ‘bucket of dirt’ and rented sieves for AUS $20. Washing the dirt off, we found our first sapphires and zircons. We admired Robert Cook's collection of locally mined parti-colour sapphires that he cuts in his shop at the Visitor Information Centre. After some purchases, my husband had to drag me out of Robert’s shop.

60 km west at Inverell, we met Jack Wilson, who owns a longstanding sapphire mine and his wife Dallas, who designs lovely jewellery with blue sapphires from his mine. I bought some untreated rough blue sapphires with the idea of learning to cut them myself. Jack explained the host rock (i.e. the primary deposit where the sapphires formed) has not been identified. These sapphires are found in secondary, alluvial deposits.


Rough untreated sapphires from Jack Wilson's mine. L-R 10.21 ct and 6.54 ct.

After a long drive west, roads littered with dead kangaroos took us to Lightening Ridge, famous for its black opals. The town in the desert appeared empty. Tourists do not arrive until Easter. Only emus stay all year round. We camped in a site by the artesian baths, a wonderful way to relax and learn about the immense subterranean artesian system that probably played a role in the development of the opal fields. We visited an underground opal mine and were allowed to fossick for opals on the ‘mullock heaps’ of old spoil outside the mine. My husband found a small sample but I was not so lucky.

Next day we headed northwards. I was disappointed I could not buy any black opals in Lightning Ridge because the shops were shut, but a few kilometres before crossing into Queensland, a roadside sign led to the house, shop and workshop of Greg Armstrong. An opal miner, cutter and stone setter. Greg laid out his collection of white and black opal (3) and when we mentioned we were learning lapidary, he gave us a bag of ‘potch’ opal to practice cutting at home.

Boulder opals from Quilpie, mined and cut by Eddie Lunney.

Over the state boundary, we headed north for St. George, Roma, where the oil and gas industry’s mega coal bed methane (CBM) project produces gas from extensive Permian and Jurassic coal deposits to supply the energy needs of c. 90% of the homes in Queensland, and the location of the famous Carnarvon Gorge.

We drove inland to central Queensland to The Gemfields area, which includes the localities of Anakie, Rubyvale, Sapphire and Emerald, where green gemstones initially taken for emeralds were found in about 1880, when drilling for water, ahead of railway construction. Green and yellow sapphires and zircons have been mined in this area since the 1880s.

Read more: Field Trip: The 'Emerald Desert' in Western Australia

At the Sapphire Caravan Park we watched wallabies and lorikeets being fed. Taking Jack Wilson’s advice, we looked for Peter and Eileen Brown at the Rubyvale Gem Gallery, but as they were on holiday, the shop manager showed us Peter’s amazing fancy cuts on parti-colour sapphires. The shop is a gemmologist's paradise. Alicia Pray was cutting beautiful black star sapphire cabochons from the Desperado mine, and we bought a bag of ‘wash’ from the mine to fossick back home in Scotland.


Coloured sapphires collected over a period of 40 years in The Gemfields of Queensland by Peter Brown of the Rubyvale Gem Gallery.

Alan, a lively Stranraer émigré, took us round an underground sapphire mine in Rubyvale. Prospectors first dug one metre diameter vertical shafts through ‘shin cracker’ overburden (sandy gravels). The bottom layer of wash sits uncomfortably over eroded granite. When miners hit the granite at a depth of 15 m or so, they dug horizontal tunnels to follow the alluvial pay zone where sapphires, zircons, garnets and occasionally diamonds concentrate. Miners knew if they found a block of quartz in the wash, and sapphires were present, they were likely to aggregate upstream of such ‘Billy boulders’. This helped them to orientate their tunnels.

Geological section c.15m below the surface inside the Walk-in Miners Heritage Sapphire Mine at Rubyvale. The alluvial sapphires concentrate within narrow 'wash zones' (average 15-20 cm as marked by dotted lines) above the 'granite floor' and below several metres of sandy alluvial gravels. Elongated features are pickaxe marks.

From The Gemfields in Queensland, we drove westwards to Barcaldine ahead of cyclone Debbie's rainclouds. Here we decided to head south towards the Quilpie opal fields. As the land became more arid, the soil turned red, the gum trees thinned out and the grass grew sparse. Intrepid wildlife competed with massive ‘road trains’ for the driver’s attention on the empty roads between the gem locations. We passed trucks hauling three trailers, sometimes four.

Arriving in Quilpie, everywhere we went we were presented with useful information, friendly advice and ideas for things to see, and a chance to cool down from the 35 °C heat of early autumn in the outback. In Quilpie, they told us St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church was worth a look. Its altar, font and lectern have impressive panels of boulder opal donated in 1976 by local miner Des Burton, the father of the boulder opal industry. I was quite literally on my knees in adoration.

The only shop open in Quilpie sells everything. There I found the last copy of Greg Pardey’s Black Opal: A Comprehensive Guide to Cutting on its shelves and read it cover to cover before we got back to the UK. Walking back to the motorhome on our way out of town, we noticed that the Opal Hunter shop had opened too. Asking if I could buy some rough opal to cut back home, shop owner Eddy Lunney told me he would need to get to know me before knowing what he wanted to sell me. Induction into opal heaven started with a tour of the shop, the lapidary workshop and the yard with part of his huge stock of boulders from his opal mine. By teatime he had given me a masterclass in boulder opal cutting and polishing. I absolutely loved it! The dark blue and purple colours he brings out of the transparent opal (known as crystal) are gorgeous. It was really hard to leave Quilpie the next morning.

We noticed a change in the weather. The temperature had dropped to 20 °C as we drove to Yowah. In this famous opal location, we found Scott Shorten, shopkeeper, opal mine tour guide and librarian. After lunch, with his shopkeeper hat on, he showed us round the Yowah Opal Centre. Yowah opal is found inside nodules. Nine out of ten nodules are empty, so it is always exciting to crack open one, using a hammer or even better sawing through it, to see whether there is any opal inside. Scott sold us some good samples.

Before flying home, Matthew Morin FGA FCGmA senior sales consultant at Altmann + Cherny, a jewellers on Sydney’s Pitt Street, showed me how beautiful opals are used in modern jewellery (6). The shop also hosts The Olympic Australis, the largest and most valuable piece of opal ever found. It is a white opal from Coober Pedy, which weighs 17,000 ct, measuring 28 cm long by 11.5 cm high. For more information visit altmanncherny.com.au/famous

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Carmen Garcia-Carballido would like to thank her husband, Peter Scott-Wilson, for organising the wonderful tour. Eddy and Lynda Lunney for their hospitality at Quilpie. Jack and Dallas Wilson, Robert Cook, Greg Armstrong, Scott Shorten, the staff at Rubyvale Gem Gallery and Matthew Morin for generously giving their time to discuss Australian gemstones.

Carmen meeting Matthew Morin at Sydney jewellers Altman + Cherny. Matthew is also the president of, and a gemmology tutor at the NSW division of the GAA (The Gemmological Association of Australia). Carmen is modelling a Koroit boulder opal pendant on white gold from the shop. Image by Peter Scott-Wilson.


Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops.

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership.

Cover image Yowah boulder opals cut by Scott Shorten. Image by Carmen Garcia-Carballido.


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Speaker in the Spotlight: Q&A with Patrick Dreher

Master Carver, member of the Board of Trustees of the German Gemstone Museum and board member of the Federal Association of the Gemstone and Diamond Industry, Patrick Dreher is one of the highly anticipated speakers at the Gem-A Conference 2017 not to be missed.

Within his lecture on ‘Generations of Mastery’, Patrick Dreher will be delving into the history of Idar-Oberstein and why the town gets its reputation as a gemstone metropole. Patrick will take attendees back in history, exploring the generational legacy of the Dreher family as well as exploring how an animal carving is produced.

Gem-A caught up with Patrick Dreher to secure some exclusive insider knowledge and to find out what inspired him to pursue a career in master carving...

Q. How, when and what originally inspired you to pursue a career in carving?

I grew up in a gemstone carver family with a very long tradition working with gemstones; the history of my family goes back 13 generations. The first generation were agate cutters and the last 5 generations have been gemstone carvers. So it was more or less clear that I would follow in our family business. For me it was an easy decision to go this way, because I like nature, animals and even more so, gemstones. When I was younger I would often watch my father working, fascinated. After my first carving experience as a young child, I was sure I wanted to go on in the profession.

Q. Where do you find inspiration for your commissioned carvings?

Nature and animals themselves are the best inspiration for our art objects. Gemstones also often “tell” us what they want to be or become. It sounds a little funny; how can a stone tell you what it wants to be? Before we start one of our art objects, we look for the right gemstone and examine its features. We get to observe the stone, formulate an idea and analyse what will be the best “use” for the stone and what animal wants to come out of the stone. With expensive stones like aquamarine, we have to take care that not too much is cut from the stone. We try to keep these gemstones as big as possible in terms of their dimension and weight.

Multicolour tourmaline toad, ©Bill Larson. Photo by Robert Weldon.

Q. In your presentation at this year’s Gem-A Conference, what should we expect to hear and learn from you?

I will be presenting a lecture concerning the history of Idar-Oberstein and my family. The focus upon these subjects will be the shortest in my lecture; it will only be a brief overlook. The second half of my lecture will demonstrate to visitors how a gemstone carving is produced. I want to show them the step by step motions from start to finish whilst explaining the most important steps. The final part of my lecture will consist of a slide show showcasing a variety of finished carvings we have produced in the last year.

Q. What one word or phrase would you use to describe both yourself and the mission of your work?

“The passion” for gemstones and wildlife. The combination of beauty found within gemstones, mother earth alongside the living beauty of animals.

Strawberry starfish ©Bill Larson. Photo by Robert Weldon.
  • 'Generations of Mastery’ by Patrick Dreher will take place Sunday 5 November 2017 at 09:45 - 10:45am.
  • To purchase your tickets to the Gem-A Conference 2017 and full listings of the programme, please visit the official website here.

 

Interested in finding out more about gemmology? Sign-up to one of Gem-A's courses or workshops

If you would like to subscribe to Gems&Jewellery and The Journal of Gemmology please visit Membership

Cover image Patrick Dreher and Silverback Gorilla ©Dreher family. Strawberry starfish and tourmaline toad, ©Bill Larson. Photos by Robert Weldon.


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