In our European Gemological Center, we hear on almost a weekly basis stories along the lines of: “This is a rare gem that has been in my family for centuries” or “My great, great, great-grandfather sold two large factories in Persia and got this gem for it”. Sometimes we are flushed with immense excitement prior to opening the parcel in which these gems come when a customer describes to us a red diamond the size of his fingernail (and most have big fingernails) that has been in the possession of his family for generations, only to find out, a few minutes later, that he has a nice piece of garnet worth a few dollars...
Sometimes we end up with tears in our eyes when told a heartbreaking story of a family walking in the desert for months with a gem hidden in the children’s clothes - “a stone that was in the possession of a famous rabbi centuries ago”. We in the lab know that just by touching it we are going to be blessed forever, only to find out that the holy gem is a fairly newly cut (40-50 years old) synthetic Veneuil ruby worth nothing.
So you may ask yourselves: How come, after all these years that we have been in the gemology business and the thousands of imitations and synthetics that have passed through our hands we are always very excited every time we receive a phone call of such stories of gems.
Several years ago I received a call from an old lady who insisted on talking to me and only to me. She said that she had seen my two-volume book about gems in a shop and I probably understood gems well. I thanked her for the compliment and asked her if this was the only reason she was calling. She replied: “No, I have a green stone and red stone that my grandfather received when he sold his land and house in Russia many years ago” (sound familiar?)
When I asked her to come and have them checked in the lab she said she was too old to travel and that she hated Tel Aviv. I did not want to start explaining to her that we are actually situated in Ramat Gan (next to Tel Aviv) and asked her to describe the stones to me to which she said: “One is the size of an old half Israeli Shekel coin and the other is a bit larger. My father told me that his father said that one is “Smarugt” and the other “Rubit”, one changes color like a lizard and the other glitters like red clean glass on fire”. Anyone who knows the old Israeli coins realizes that the lady was talking about large gems, and anyone who knows anything about gems knows that she probably meant alexandrite and ruby. And anyone who knows about “glittering old clean red stones knows that they are for sure, glass or synthetics and since when can an alexandrite of this size be hidden in Israel, in an old lady’s home for so long?
I explained to her that the gems that she was describing were most likely to be imitations, because alexandrite and ruby of these sizes are so very rare and that I never leave the lab to check gems on house-calls. To which she replied: “Do you think my grandfather was an idiot?”. I ended up packing my microscope and small portable lab and visiting her little lovely house.
To cut a long story short. The “Smarugt” ended up to be a fantastic more than 20 carat natural alexandrite. And the ruby was a native cut Burmese ruby, natural and unheated. Two top quality gems.
When she asked me how much I thought they were worth and I told her, she was not amazed at all and although the gems were worth several times the price of her house she just looked at me and said: “I knew he was a clever man, now I can buy my grandson a flat.”
I have promised to her not to disclose to anybody the value of these gems. Curious readers should look into prices given for such gems in recent auctions if you are keen to know the value. And as for myself, I learnt again the first rule of gemology, not all that glitters is synthetic, and you really never know...
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