from the December 2011 Issue - The Jewelry Appraiser - A Publication of The National Association of Jewelry Appraisers
To NAJA Jewelry Appraiser
I have great pleasure in supporting the proposal, that lapidary work, utilising the shell derived from the Crassostrea Virginica Mollusc shell, has every right to the descriptive term “gemstone”, and its proposed gemstone name: LaPearlite, a well conceived idea.
Traditionally, for a material to be regarded as a gemstone or gem material, required the three prerequisites of certain inherent attributes: beauty, durability and rarity.
As to beauty, this lies in the eye of the beholder. Not every ‘gal’ thinks diamonds are beautiful. Some regard diamonds as ‘cold’. Many women will not wear green (emerald etc.). There is then the question of whether a gem is ‘precious’ or ‘semiprecious’? These terms are ludicrous. Yes, diamonds can cost a lot of money, but I use the word ‘can’ adviseably, for diamonds, of lowest qualities, in one carat size, can retail for as little as say, US$1000 or so per carat, and yet they draw the cachet of ‘precious’. You will find such claims in the national and local press. But for the last decade, the ‘semi precious’ Paraiba tourmaline of just one carat, in the colours ‘electric blue’ and neon green’, have been costing US$ 3.000 per carat (trade) (more in larger sizes), in fact the majority of diamonds ~75%, do not even reach up to gemstone standard, and are ground down as abrasive material.
The most prolific precious stone is the diamond, so it can never claim the property of rarity, except those diamonds which, because of colour, size or clarity,but generally under those three headings, they are so rare, that the rarity factor does kick in.
Now as for durability, this is another enigma. The hardness of gemstones is governed by a sequence of hardness referred to as Mohs’ scale from 1 to 10. Yes diamond is very hard, and comes out top on Mohs’ scale hardness 10. But that is not the only criterion, because a diamond is easily split (cleaved) or chipped, especially at the edges. So it is not tough. If you want a tough gemstone, you buy nephrite jade, the toughest thing on the planet. Unfortunately, the jewellery trade has a fixation with hardness, and so while amethysts (7 on Mohs’ scale) topaz (8) sapphire/ruby (9), are in every jeweller’s window, you won’t see many fluorites (one of many such beautiful gemstones), for sale in such a display.
Why? Because the jewellers says that thay are too soft at 5 on Moh’s scale. From this you can presume that anything less than 5 must be too soft to regard as a product the jeweller can advisably sell.
Wait a minute though. The Queen of Sheba was very fond of pearls. Queen Elizabeth the late Queen Mother wore pearls just about every day of her adult life. Elizabeth the first Tudor Queen was often festooned with pearls, and as for the men-folk, the ruling classes of India ran riot with pearls on their person. Elizabeth Taylor wore a fabulous pearl, fabulously expensive, and to cast back a little earlier, according to the Roman recorder Suetonius, the Emperor Julius Caesar regarded the Scottish freshwater river pearls of Scotland as his favourite gemstone. What he did with them is another matter! What’s all this harangue about pearls. Very simple. The jewellery trade makes a good chunk of its living by selling pearls, possibly second only to diamond in numbers.
But wait a moment, pearl is only Mohs’ scale 3.5. Why would the jeweller sell such a ‘soft’ option to the public? Why has there been such a historic demand for these ‘soft’ gemstones?
Why? because of that basic prerequisite mentioned – ‘Beauty’. And where do pearls come from? Why, from molluscs, and their main source: oysters and mussels.
And what are mollusc shells made of? Why the same calcium carbonate composition as the pearl, and the hardness (durability) the same as the pearl. The oyster or mussel that makes its shell, makes its own pearls from the same glands. So highly is this shell material regarded, that the inner surface (normally) produces such an extraordinary variety of colours, sheen and lustre, that as mother of pearl, it has been used for millenia as a gemstone material.
And so we come to the mollusc shell of the Crassostrea Virginica Mollusc. Not here the gaudy iridescent mother of pearl of some shells, but a subtle blend of creamy, chatoyant swirls, intermixed with white crystalline marblings which combine in countless subtle patterns.
Finally that question of rarity. Pearls are now artificially cultivated in vast farms in mainly Japan, China, Australia and the Pacific islands. China alone grows many tons of these artificially grown pearls a year. Some can be bought for US$1 a strand at the gem fairs, and this is them already threaded. Rarity? Hardly! Yes some pearls do cost a fair sum of money, but of the vast numbers of pearls seen in the jewellery trade, more than 99% are artificially cultured. Not so mother of pearl.
And yet there, along the coastline of Lousiana and Virginia, there are these beautiful oysters; tastily edible as well. On one dining excursion, the beauty of these shell linings was appreciated by a very discerning connoisseur of oysters. But this lady (a highly qualified and experienced gemologist), did not just eat and discard, but looked at those inner shell linings, which nature had produced (unhelped by human intervention), from millions of tiny crystals (most gemstones are crystalline), and realised their subtle, soothing visual beauty and thought to herself, ‘What a beautiful gem material’. And so it came about, that with the help of expert lapidary advice, the advice and encouragement of various highly regarded gemmologist, curators, jewelry appraiser and trade authorities, that Anne Dale was right in her assessment of this material as a gemstone.
And she is right. This ‘Eureka’ moment, a simple act of aesthetic recognition of LaPearlite, stands to exploit a local material as a gemstone of the Lousiana State. Here is a natural resource that can do much good in creating jobs, and contributing to the local economy, and lastly of course, helping put Lousiana back on the map, and after all the coastal inhabitants have been through these last years, what a heaven sent gift for one and all.
P.S. Am I qualified to enter into this gemological, commercial debate? I have known and met Anne Dale for 20 years of visiting the States every year to lecture to American Gemologists. My wife and I have come to regard her as a woman of rare integrity, vision, inspiration to others and humanity. It should be added that I have never entered into any business transactions with her at any time. Most of my lectures have been given free, because of my over-riding wish to inspire and encourage others toward an appreciation and love of gemstones and fellow human beings. Can this be quantified? Well in one way. I have over the years been given three major American awards by the American Gem Traders’ Association, and the Accredited Gemologists of America, for my lifetime’s pursuit and dedication to gemstone education, and the ethics required of the professional gemologist.
President The Scottish Gemmological Association – Jewelry Appraiser