Myanmar Gems News courtesy of Pala International News

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This month, the sheer immensity of devastation in southern Burma and Sichuan, China—on the heels of the flooding in Merelani, Tanzania—gives us pause.

  • Please give generously to the Burma relief organization we highlight belo
  • See the follow-up report on the tanzanite miners
  • See a list of China charitieshere and here—or consider Nobel Peace Prize recipients Doctors Without Borders
    And see this list for an idea of the mineral richness of Sichuan, which is known for its plenitude in so many ways, and now finds itself so much in need.

In this issue:

Burma Cyclone Relief


We suggest you give generously to the Foundation for the People of Burma. FPB provides humanitarian aid to Burmese people of all ethnic backgrounds and beliefs. FPB already is distributing food to refugees on the outskirts of Rangoon and the Irrawaddy Delta.

Deadly “Delicate Daffodil”

Every gemologist and aficionado of fine colored gemstones holds a special place for Burma in her or his heart. Its production of the most highly valued rubies is legend, having endured at least 1,500 years of human dramatics (Hughes, pp. 304–305), and most recently being strained by two centuries of colonial and military rule. Chinese merchants continue to clog the Burma gemstone markets, as voices from inside and outside the region debate the prudence of prohibition. Meanwhile, preparations proceeded for a contentious constitutional referendum, scheduled by Burma’s rulers for last Saturday.

Pale shelter. A tent city erected for those displaced by
Cyclone Nargis. (Photos: Irrawaddy)

Just a week before the referendum was to take place (and it did take place in some parts of the country), Cyclone Nargis—meaning “delicate daffodil” in Urdu, and the first named storm to come out of the North Indian Ocean this year—pounded the southern coast of Burma’s populous Ayeyawady state. The region is home to the many mouths of the Irrawaddy River—a “rice bowl” of the country that had fed many hungry mouths—and to a thriving fishing industry. The storm continued its devastation, skirting the coast, and wrecking Burma’s former capital, Yangon (Rangoon).
Relief, Eventually; Relief Today

Estimates of Nargis’s death toll climb by increments of 10,000. As an Australian academic familiar with Burma said in a story on May 6, “We’ll never know how many died,” he said. “This a country that hasn’t had a full census since 1937.”

Statistics—accurate or otherwise (and we at Pala are keepers of our own…)—hardly matter to people who are putting their lives and livelihoods back together. Unpleasantly, but not unexpectedly, Burma’s rulers have been reluctant to exhibit impotence by accepting foreign aid—reminiscent of George W. Bush during a particular domestic natural disaster in 2005; the irony of a tongue-lashing from Laura Bush on May 12 is self-evident.

The government of Burma should accept this [international aid] team quickly, as well as other offers of international assistance. … It’s troubling that many of the Burmese people learned of this impending disaster only when foreign outlets, such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, sounded the alarm. Although they were aware of the threat, Burma’s state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm’s path.

And in the same way that the development of New Orleans wetlands removed a buffer to Katrina’s sea swells, mangrove deforestation in Burma was credited for removal of a natural barrier, in remarks by secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Surin Pitsuwan, according to several May 6 news reports and a notice by ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity.


Old news. At the time this warning was issued in the official
New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the storm was clocked at about 90 mph,
according to one cyclone tracking group. The speeds rose steadily to a peak of about 120 mph.

Regardless of how speedily Burma government officials fully heed the international call for acceptance of aid, the efforts are in place to collect donations. One group of MBA graduates has set up an interest-free micro-credit fund, according to The Myanmar Times. And some groups, like the Foundation for the People of Burma, actually give frequently updated accounts of their successful relief efforts.

We suggest you give generously to the Foundation for the People of Burma. FPB provides humanitarian aid to Burmese people of all ethnic backgrounds and beliefs.

More Burma News

Burma Assets Freeze Focuses on Gems, Pearls

Just as Cyclone Nargis was moving towards Burma on May 1, George W. Bush froze the assets of two state-owned companies involved in Burma’s jade, gemstone, and pearl trades. (Assets of a third company, involved in timber, also were frozen.) The remarks were made, according to this Associated Press story, during an event marking Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.


Chilly. George W. Bush announces a freeze on Burma state-owned assets
during a ceremony for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
(White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

State-owned firms previously were exempt from administration action. The companies targeted are Myanmar Gems Enterprise, Myanmar Pearl Enterprise, and Myanmar Timber Enterprise. U.S. assets belonging to the companies are blocked and Americans are banned from doing business with them. Apparently preoccupied with the aftermath of Nargis, no response by Burma officials was issued regarding the asset freeze.

Shows and Conferences

  • Pala at Las Vegas – May 29–June 2, 2008
  • Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines – June 26–29, 2008
  • Dallas 2008

Pala International News

  • Pala’s Featured Stones
  • New Feature: Private Eyes

Gem and Gemology News

  • Xenon Lamps Available: “About as good as it gets”
  • Once and Future Sales Set Records… Sort Of

Industry News

  • Burma Cyclone Relief: We’re not helpless
  • Burma Assets Freeze Focuses on Gems, Pearls


  • Tanzanite Miners
  • You say “andesine,” I say “labradorite…”


Shows and Conferences

Pala at Las Vegas – May 29–June 2, 2008

It’s time for the JCK Las Vegas show. Pala International will be there in force, with one of America’s largest selections of fine colored gems. The AGTA Pavilion opens one day early—Thursday, May 29—before the main JCK Show.

When: May 29–June 2, 2007
Where: Venetian Hotel Grand Ballroom adjacent to the Sands Expo & Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV
Hours: AGTA Gemstone Section
Thursday, May 29: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Friday, May 30 to Monday, June 2:
9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Booth: AGTA Pavilion, booth 34308

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


Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines – June 26–29, 2008

This Malaya garnet rough-and-cut pair, shot by photographer Jeff Scovil, is one of several such photos of Bill’s collection on the Ste.-Marie website.

Pala International’s Bill Larson attends this event every year, held in the midst of the Alsace wine region of northeastern France. See his report from the 2007 show.

What: Euro-Mineral/Euro-Gem
When: June 26–29, 2008
Where: Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, France

Bill looks forward to seeing you there.


Dallas 2008

Rough & Cut: Crystal and jewel…together at last

The gap between the gem and mineral world seems to be closing, as the agate lickers have evolved and the large corporate gem houses return to nature. Well, maybe not that extreme, but more awareness of gem materials has brought many stone collectors to delve into the source material and mineral collectors to have some appreciation for faceted stones. Finding beautiful and rare collectable pieces of nature is a endeavor at the heart of man.

Rough & Cut Display in Dallas. (left to right) Back: Mexican andradite garnet, Afghani kunzite, Mexican amethyst. Middle: Russian demantoid garnet, Californian pink tourmaline. Front: Brazilian imperial topaz, Pakistani peridot. (Photo: Jason Stephenson)

The colored stone industry is far more evolved and commercialized as faceted gems find their way out of the jewelry store onto countless websites, or spinning around on late night television networks. A seemingly endless supply of goods—but in the words of the X Files, “the truth is out there.” If one chooses to collect gems and go down the rabbit hole of knowledge, there is much to be explored and inspired by.

Gem Crystals Indeed I: Tanzanian tanzanite with rich bluish-purple hue and some gemmy sections; Brazilian chrysoberyl with well-formed sixling; Afghani tourmaline in a large, cigar-sized crystal with bluish-green color. (Photo: Jason Stephenson)

The mineral industry has mainly come limping out of the old mining localities around the U.S. A small group of geologists, explorers, and rock hounds has amassed collections that until recent times have been very esoteric. More recently there has been a quickening of new collectors onto the scene, driving prices skyward and exposing the true rarity and beauty of these specimens. A branching network of interested parties siphoning up the species that turn them on and turn them into the new layer of collectors.

Gem Crystals Indeed II: Tanzanian spinel in a strawberry-colored octahedron; an unusual Burmese lavender spinel; short and stocky Brazilian imperial topaz. (Photo: Jason Stephenson)

As we join these two worlds we start to understand that gems are minerals in their purest form and actually start out in an assortment of shapes and sizes from unusual corners of our Earth. The ultimate in collecting is to display a well formed crystal with a representative sample of the same species in a faceted gem. To pair a rough-and-cut takes some strategy; from matching the pure color, to ideally having material from the same region within a single country.

Enjoy a few pictures from our display at the Dallas Fine Mineral Show earlier this month.

Crystals and gems and jewelry! Oh, my!

The Dallas show is mainly minerals, but gemstones are usually included to some degree. This year we expanded our display to include some cut stones paired up with their rough crystal counterparts, as well as introducing some high-end custom jewelry into the mix. Displaying these three stages of gem materials gained a lot of attention, as kids and adults alike were able to see the transformation from raw stone to a unique piece of jewelry.

Pala’s display showing the full spectrum from crystals to

For example, we displayed some large pink tourmaline crystals from the Himalaya mine in San Diego, which were actually mined by Pala over the years. Some of this material was cut into beautiful pink gemstones that were also on display in an array of shapes and sizes. The story of pink tourmaline ended in a one-of-a-kind white gold ring, set with diamonds on the side of the band.

See these links for more images and video of Pala’s display in Dallas, courtesy The Vug:

  • Close-up photos of Pala’s specimens
  • A video tour of Pala’s display at the Dallas Show

Pala International News

Pala’s Featured Stones: Red Beryl

Can you say Wah Wah?

Well, if you can, you would be on track to start a treasure hunt for the elusive red beryl in southwestern Utah. Find your way to Beaver County and start climbing up the Wah Wah Mountain range. Keep an eye out for white rhyolite volcanic tufts that house the rare little red crystals. Once you find this rock type it’s all about crushing and sorting through the rubble. Be prepared to stay for a while because it’s been estimated that, on average, out of every ton of rock only 0.5 carats of facet grade material is found.

Red beryl. Emerald cut, 1.24 cts., 7.23 x 2.25 x 3.97 mm. Search for this stone on inventory number 15614. (Photo: Wimon Manorotkul)

The average-size faceted stone is under a half carat and usually is included. This month’s featured stone is quite exceptional, weighing in at 1.24 cts. and eye clean. A gooseberry red hue with a pleasant emerald cut showing nice brilliancy.

For more on red beryl, see:

  • Two specimens we featured last year at Tucson
  •’s entry on red beryl

Interested? Call (telephone numbers below) or email us


New Feature: Private Eyes

My… how time flies!

May 16, 2008, marked my working with Pala International for an incredible 20 years. Believe me when I say, It has been a “Golden Ticket” ride.

During this time, I have gained immeasurable experience in the fine points of selecting, purchasing, and selling gemstones in the prestigious echelons of “private collectors.”

With a dedicated focus on origins and rarities, Bill Larson (president and owner of Pala International) became my mentor and advisor. His highly developed sense of mineral quality has guided me to continually sharpen my own eyes as to what makes a particular stone rare.

It’s always an enjoyable challenge to distinguish the aspects of a stone that will qualify it as the possible addition to a private collection. Not only do I have to know the rarity of the stone in my hand, but it also has to be compared with what is already found in existing collections—both privately owned and those of museums.

The ability to detect the slightest differences in nuance, due to origin, is vital. It is also the reason why so many connoisseurs who wish to build world-class collections turn to Pala. These collectors have expressed a desire for the very finest. Our aim is to introduce the future collector to this higher level of acquisition by educating them as to the scarcity of the gemstone or mineral specimen they are considering.

Now, with their blessing, our readers will get a chance to take an occasional peek into some of the caches that I have been so privileged to help build.

Private Eyes

With the aid of friend and Pala International photographer Wimon Manorotkul, we will begin a new feature on our website, called “Private Eyes”. In this section you will have entrée to stones that most people never get to see. I will accompany each gemstone with an explanation as to why it was singled out for a collection, and what separates it from other stones of its variety.

Understandably, names and locations for each of these treasures will remain unavailable.

I hope that this new section of our website will be as much a learning experience for you as it is fun to behold. Because what value is passion and knowledge if it’s not shared? Enjoy…

Gabriel Mattice, G.G.
Gemstone Sales & Acquisitions

Gems and Gemology News

Xenon Lamps Available: “About as good as it gets”

Bargain Possible with Bulk Buy

Gene Goldsand, a self-described “trafficker in scientific and medical equipment and microscopes,” as well as a longtime student of gemology, notified us of the availability of what are, in his estimation, “the best artificial light available”: 300-watt ILC Cermax Xenon Arc Lamp Illuminators.

In my well informed opinion (about lightsources) these are about as good as it gets, putting out some 3500 lumens of 6000 to 6500 K light with a CRI between 95 and 99. The Cermax lamp collects much more light than the usual XBO short arc lamp.

Goldsand is especially eager that these lamps get into the hands of “gemology types,” and has even fabricated the cables for these lamps, which had been discontinued. His plan is to approach the seller for a reduced-price bulk purchase and to offer fellow buyers the cables as an add-on. Because the seller allows pick-up, interested folk in Southern California especially are urged to consider acquisition of these units. See more information and contact Goldsand through this GemologyOnline post. (You must join the forum to reply to him; if there’s a problem, email us at

Got a light? Pictured here is the power supply for what Gene Goldsand calls first-class illumination. Goldsand is a fan of our reprint, “Buying and Selling Gems: Which Light is Best?” by William J. Sersen and Corrine Hopkins.

Once and Future Sales Set Records…
Sort Of

Christie’s Offers 100-Carat Diamond

The largest colorless diamond to be auctioned in 18 years will be offered next week, May 28, according to a Christie’s Hong Kong press release. The stone was cut from a 460-carat rough, the modified shield shape featuring 92 brilliant facets. Also offered at the sale is a 10.63-carat green diamond. To view stunning photos, see our April 28 Gem News item on

Christie’s Sells “Most Important” Colored Diamond

Last week, May 14, Christie’s Geneva sold a 13.39-carat blue diamond, which fetched $8.9 million. It was touted before the sale as “the largest ever to be sold at auction,” according to a press release. (See photo here.). Post-sale stories, such as this one, qualified the stone as the “most important colored diamond” to be sold at auction in the last ten years.

Sotheby’s Breaks Own Per-Carat Record:
Fancy Vivid Blue Diamond Tops October 2007 Sale

Here’s a genuine record-setter, from Sotheby’s Geneva. A rare, 3.73-carat, fancy vivid blue diamond sold last Thursday for $4,955,097, with a per-carat price of $1,328,444—a new world record for any gemstone at auction, according to a press release. (See photo here.) News reports named the buyer as Laurence Graff. The sale tops a record, which we reported, set just last October by the auction house’s Hong Kong branch. (See photo

At a total of $56 million, the Magnificent Jewels sale, which was dedicated to the collection of philanthropist Lily Marinho (and wife of Brazilian television kingpin Roberto Marinho), is second in total proceeds only to a 1993 record set by Sotheby’s in 1993.

Follow-up… Updates on past new items

Tanzanite Miners

Search Operations Slow

Gary Roskin’s April 30 JCKOnline story gives a detailed account of the challenges facing search operations in the aftermath of flooding in which dozens of tanzanite miners were trapped and killed in late March. The deaths occurred in Block B of the Merelani Hills, which is not mined by a single operator, but rather is divided into individually claimed parcels.

We spoke with Hayley Henning, Tanzanite Foundation’s director of retail relations, May 14 to get an update. (The foundation and American Gem Trade Association set up a relief fund shortly after the incident.) According to Henning, the bodies of 57 miners had been recovered, with 17 or 18 miners still unaccounted for. These are the same numbers included in Roskin’s article.

Due to the wet and muddy conditions, after more than 45 days of searching, identification of bodies—and, indeed, ascertaining exactly who is missing, since many workers are itinerant—becomes extremely difficult, Henning said. It can require government involvement in order to verify who owns, operates, and/or labors on a particular parcel. TanzaniteOne, which operates nearby Block C but whose employees were not injured in the flooding, was involved in rescue operations, and has completed a “preventative trench” to avert future flooding of Block B shafts.

Relief Fund Growing

The relief fund has been growing, said Henning. “People are so giving when it comes to tragedy. Distribution of these funds will take place once it has been decided exactly how best to spend the money, not only in the immediate future, but for the long-term good of the community.”

Industry Gives Back

Last month we mentioned mining operator Moussa Konate’s endeavors in Mozambique to improve infrastructure in the local community. Similar efforts are afoot at Merelani. A year ago, members of an International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA) mining tour saw for themselves a kind of “before-and-after” example of industry’s community investment. In Robert Weldon’s InColor report on the tour, “East Africa’s gem world uncovered,” he remarks on the “stark contrast” between TanzaniteOne’s Block C, and Block B’s independent operation. Block C appeared “clean, safe, and organized,” although it was closed for the day, “for security” reasons, so the visitors had no chance to talk with TanzaniteOne workers at the mine. Block B, operated by independent “artisanal” miners, appeared to be a dangerous, free-for-all set-up. (Another article about the tour, purportedly from the Guardian, quotes tour members and ICA officials, capturing the depth of their concern.)

Years ago, TanzaniteOne (then known as Afgem) knew it had a public relations problem on its hands, even if its own operation could be compared favorably against so-called artisanal, independent mining operations nearby. That and other factors led to the introduction in 2005 of the Tanzanite Foundation, an ostensibly independent non-profit with many tasks: industry growth and development, protecting consumer interests, “maintain[ing] tanzanite’s good reputation.” Beyond the marketing angle, the foundation—open to all industry players—dedicated itself to “making a meaningful and long standing difference to the lives of the communities at tanzanite’s source.”

The foundation’s accomplishments were demonstrated during the ICA tour, with members being taken to one of the primary schools that had apparently benefited. Tour members also were told about the “building [of] a Merelani community center, schools, medical clinics, and giving mining assistance and advice to small-scale miners,” according to Weldon. Work remains to be done, of course, but the achievements so far have been encouraging.