THE HARD LIFE OF THE SPINEL or WHY SPINEL IS THE MOST UNDER APPRECIATED AND UNDERVALUED STONE ON THE PLANETJul 01, 2006 - When I studied gemology, the first sentence that Michael O’Donoghue – my teacher – uttered was, “a gem, in order to be a gem and valuable, has to have beauty, rarity and durability.” Any stone that portrays those qualities will surely be valuable.
For years, I found his statement fairly correct, though I did see fairly ugly stones fetching quite high prices, and some very soft stones sneaked into this group of valuable gems as if they were as hard as diamonds.
Over the years I had met spinels. I don’t know why, but, like most gem dealers, never thought anything much of them, perhaps because I always remembered the story about the beautiful Black Prince Ruby in the Queen of England’s jewelry that turned out to be a “simple spinel.”
In the last few years, especially after close encounters with spinels in Mahenge, Tanzania, I have been totally enchanted by them. Their color ranges from magnificent reds to deep pinks, to padparadcha colors and violets and mauves and blues. Most are as beautiful as the thousands of fancy sapphires that I have cut in my career and some were far nicer and more sparkling. They are also quite hard, 8 on Mohs scale. They are as rare as sapphires, and they have one thing that I adore – they are natural, unheated, and untreated in any way.
I was sure that the whole world would see eye to eye with me. After all, the people that bought and made jewelry out of them loved the gems. But, to my dismay, when I mentioned the name spinel, most of my American customers, acted strangely and repeating the name, “ah, spinel you say” as if I was talking about citrine or smoky quartz (not that I mean any disrespect to them). Somehow, to my American friends’ taste, this very rare, hard, and beautiful stone sounded as if it was an imitation, but an imitation of what? Of rubies and sapphires that were mostly treated so intensively that the relationship between their original color and treated color is non-existent?
Why is it that with all the fuss we make about treated stones, right in front of our very eyes there is an absolutely magnificent gem in very popular colors and most are ignoring it?
And then it hit me. There’s some kind of racism in gemstones. What could be the reason that this magnificent Black Prince Ruby that was found to be spinel – a very rare stone indeed – would be considered less important and less valuable unless there is some kind of gem racism. After all, they can’t even bring themselves to call it the Black Prince Spinel as if in order to be a prince you have to be a ruby!
But maybe the future is bright for spinel. After all, the only stone that my daughter agreed to wear in a necklace is a magnificent pink spinel. She says, “it’s something else!”
Copyright IDEX Magazine 2006, all rights reserved.
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Snoring and amethyst
After all these months of reading the Gemewizard column, I thought it was about time that you heard the truth behind the Gemewizard. I suppose that after 30 something years of living with the infamous Wizard, I am qualified to tell you a little of the secrets of the trade.
Having read quite a lot about the quality and powers of gems, I became a true believer in their abilities. On one of my visits to a small mineral and crystal shop in Tel Aviv, I was very excited to learn that amethyst, if put under the pillow of a snoring partner, will have a soothing affect on the culprit and reduce the volume to a bearable minimum. What better way to stop the Wizard’s incessant snoring, I thought, than to take the few kilos of amethyst rough that we had in our hut on the roof and place them under the Wizard's side of the bed. After all, he wouldn't notice it. He would never think of looking under the bed for amethyst.
The weeks passed by and turned into months, but to no avail. The Wizard continued to snore. In fact, I think that if anything, his snoring increased. Full of disappointment, I returned to the shop and described the situation to the gem expert standing behind the counter.
After a moment of thought, he said, "But of course, you've given him an overdose! One or two stones are okay, but a few kilos is irresponsible. No wonder he has been snoring even stronger. Try these citrines now. Maybe it will have a better effect on him.”
Turkish tanzanite kitchen
I consider myself a good cook. My partner's Turkish mother taught me to do wonders in my Anglo/Turkish kitchen. The highlight of the cooking is on Thursday in preparation for Shabat (the Sabbath). I will never forget one particular Thursday when I was very tired after a hard day at school teaching. With renewed energy to prepare Friday evening's dishes. I walked into my kitchen and there stood the Wizard, wearing my apron and staring at the oven as if at any moment, a soufflé would rise and he would have to gauge the precise moment to remove it from the oven.
Suddenly he shouted, "it's blue, it's blue.” “What’s blue?” I asked. “A blue soufflé?” To my amazement, and to my disappointment, I must add, the Wizard carefully removed my favorite baking dish, containing a few pieces of blue stones, from the oven. The stones, I later discovered, were tanzanite. What really choked me years later was that in none of his presentations about tanzanite did he ever mention using MY oven but always bragged about those marvelous digital ovens he possessed.
The lost baby oil and talcum powder
When our children were very small, like most mothers, I had a supply of baby oil and talcum powder at home. On numerous occasions, just when I needed them, they would have a habit of "disappearing.” For months I wondered what could possibly be the reason behind this strange disappearance. Eventually I realized that this phenomenon would occur just after the Wizard returned from Africa. I decided to watch his movements closely.
To my surprise, I saw him taking a whole bottle of baby oil and putting it into his jacket pocket. I followed him to the office and discovered him pouring our precious children's baby oil on top of a pile of rough gems while he examined them under a lamp. What a waste of good oil!
And where did I find the missing talcum powder? Lining tin boxes that he used for "cooking" the gems!
The bedroom lapidary
There's nothing wrong with reading before sleeping, I thought early on in our married life. He used to read piles of professional books on mineralogy and gemology deep into the night. And then one day he added a small table with a lamp to our bedroom, where he would sit for hours and sort his gems and research into them, blinding me with the light, until I even got used to it.
But then, about ten years or so into our marriage, the Wizard brought home a new piece of unusual furniture. It was soon put into our bedroom where, smiling from ear to ear, he proudly opened the doors of the cupboard to reveal a machine similar to the one he had in the lapidary. He really believed that I would allow him to cut stones there in my bedroom and that it wouldn't disturb my sleep!
In response to my complaints, he told me that he was in the process of developing a new style of cutting for stones that he would name after me and needed total secrecy. What could be more secure than our bedroom? So, what could I do? For the next three years he cut stones in our bedroom shouting in exultation whenever he was happy with the facet. This was the start of the new Carmel cut to be used by the industry. Until now, nobody but the two of us knew where it was conceived!
Copyright IDEX Magazine 2006, all rights reserved.
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Gems, on the other hand, have more to do with a couple’s bond. They put some color into a sometimes otherwise boring life. However, few know that gems are actually the barometer of a couple’s state of mind, family ties and state of affairs.
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Naturalists and scientists from all around the world will come to admire the hidden world. Soon tourists will be clicking their cameras scaring these rare animals, and the whole world will be talking about it.
And yet, every year, for the last 25 years, in or around February a new world is re-discovered; an enchanted world, the ultimate Galapagos, and everyone takes it for granted.
Instead of walking through the jungles, picking up rare berries, and observing strange animals, the strange creatures I meet are my fellow human beings; each one of them from a different part of the world - some of them very rare species indeed.
I must warn you, that all of them carry the same type of disease that I suffer from. And friends, it is very contagious! Once you get it, it’s there for life. This grave illness is gem disease. And this gem heaven is the Tucson gem and mineral show.
Yes, I know you know that Tucson is in Arizona; and there is really nothing special there, save some odd cacti, the old Tucson Film Studios and Li’l Abner the Steak house.
What you may not realize is that every year this town is hit by a swarm of gem and mineral locusts, the likes of which the eyes have never seen before.
Every little motel, hotel, bungalow, tent or back of a car, turns into a treasure vault.
In each and every lobby, corridor, and room, tables are covered with layers of gems and minerals. Native Americans sell their beautiful gem set jewelry, Chinese come with amazing beads and carvings. Others display minerals from the tiniest micro-size to the size necessitating a truck to transport them home, from the most common to the most rare.
Others display gems found around their villages, in Africa, Madagascar and South America, while others, including myself, display OPV (gems found near other peoples' villages). Though some think that there certainly must be some diamonds mines near Ramat Gan - no real gems are mined in the Holy Land...
The amazing thing is that goods from a few cents to a few hundred thousand dollars are displayed for all to see in Tuscon. And those people selling the items that cost only a few cents are as enthused as those selling very expensive gems.
You can see the most humble small dealer having a gem discussion with the head of some of the most prominent companies in the world, all talking about gems and colors.
Some people bring dinosaur parts to sell. Under each of them, the estimated age and species is listed. As I wandered around the strange looking bones, one of their owners uttered suddenly, “you know, they never really cared about diamonds.” When he realized I didn’t know what he was talking about, he explained, “my dinosaurs were wandering around 100 million years ago, some of your diamonds were not even formed then, or were still soft!” I looked at the face of his 120 million year old big creature and knew I could not really argue about that.
And how was the Tucson show business wise? Very good. Walking through the booths handling semiprecious, it was clear that they were doing well. Also apparent was the use of plenty of ornamental material as part of gem jewelry. From amazonite to moss agate, from sugilite to chaorite, from fossilized coral and pieces of amber to wonderful shapes of baroque pearls to mother of pearl, it seems that corporating nature in jewelry was the theme of today.
The people in the booths just opposite us, who handle beads and strings, were always busy, selling thousands of all types of gems strung into colorful chains. It seemed that the whole world wants to surround their necks with beads.
Speaking to my fellow gem dealers, it was obvious that untreated gems seemed to be in high demand. Scarce natural ruby and blue sapphire, fancy sapphires, beautiful pink and fancy spinels. Aquamarine seemed to be plentiful and was selling very well especially in the higher grades. Tanzanite - my love - has shunned her face this year.
And how was Li’l Abner’s Steak house this year? My daughter had three steaks there out of the five she eats per year –so it is good.
And as for the gem disease, it can be cured quite easily, by buying gems. The trouble is that after three or four gems you get addicted for life, and nothing will cure you.
IDEX MAGAZINE | NO 192: GEMS 159 C
opyright IDEX Magazine 2006, all rights reserved.
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CAN A SMALL DEALER AFFECT THE COLOR TRENDS OF THE INDUSTRY IN THE SAME WAY THAT BUTTERFLIES AFFECT THE WORLD’S CLIMATE?Nov 01, 2005 - I am a veteran of the trade and I’ve heard lots of stories, which were told to me by prominent or less prominent figures in the trade. But this last story I heard, which is unfolding in the jewelry industry right before our very eyes, has astounded me.
Just before breaking my arm very badly in Bangkok and realizing that cracks in bones are really much worse than cracks in gems, I had an opportunity to meet with a dear friend of mine, a connoisseur of gems and yet not one of the biggest dealers of all. What he told me amazed me.
He started by saying “you know, everyone in the trade thinks that brown and brownish colors are unattractive to our customers. When you so much as mention brown in conjunction with a certain gem or a certain color, your customer always thinks that it is inferior.” Then he hit me with his declaration, “Can you believe I have changed this concept in the jewelry trade this year?”
Well, it was only lunchtime and he was certainly not drunk. He is a serious person so I began to wonder what on earth he is talking about, to which he unfolded the following story.
“About a year and a half ago I visited Africa with my dear better half, to enjoy Safaris together and to show her what her husband does as a gem buyer. In one of the offices a dealer came to me with a bunch of cut, brown stones and asked me if I would be interested in buying them, to which I immediately uttered, “really brown, you must be joking! Who would buy such gems?” Though being silent most of the trip to Africa, my better half suddenly showed intense interest in those brown gems saying, “wow, aren’t earth colors very popular with everything today?” Well, he tells me, ‘I decided there and then to take my wife’s word for it to buy almost a kilo of this brown rough’.
“Time passed, a few months went by and I sent the parcel to be cut, only to receive many more brown stones, which I knew had no chance on the market, unless a miracle would happen.
By chance, I took the stones with me to the U.S. with all the rest of my goods, all very saleable blues, greens and reds. Sales were mediocre. Then at the last minute, I decided to show my customer, a very prominent jeweler, those very peculiar brown colors. I don’t think that he was really impressed until his wife suddenly walked into the meeting room where I was showing him those brown stones, looked at them and said, “Wow, Earth Tones”. I immediately realized that these were no longer “brown stones”, but from then on, “Earth Tones”. To cut a long story short, he bought the lot from me and since then, suddenly, one can see plenty of jewelry with Earth tones stones set into them.”
‘I don’t want to be too big headed,’ he tells me, “but I believe that I have changed the concept of people to those colors in the same way that butterflies can affect the world’s climate.
” What on earth (tone) is he talking about? That I leave for you to decide, but would you believe that only a couple of weeks ago I received a call from one of my customers asking for... Earth Tones!
Copyright IDEX Magazine 2005, all rights reserved.
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