Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Monarchial Ivory

Living in an Indian apartment block has always been such a treat. Friends to play with and neighbors who are ever ready with food each time you pass their flats. Not only that, each family with a different set of cultures and backgrounds bring in such a diverse, multicultural environment. 

To this very day, I clearly remember, our Bengali neighbour fondly narrating a story to my mother and I, about her Ivory trinket box. A box she inherited from her husband's parents and spoke of, with pride. 

The lid of this box was carved with intricate details in a beautiful garden setting. Each tree came alive with the leaves and flowers, along the floor were carved animals and even small birds. The box as I remember had a smooth texture and a warm yellowish white tint that delicately spoke of its age. Ever since that day, Ivory has lured me towards its organic charm.  

Jaipur, on the other hand, has been a treat. Not only for the abundance of gems available all through the city, from the busy bylanes stacked with gemstone dealers to the stores that cannot show you enough within the hour, but also the treasures this city has locked away in its beautiful forts. Amer, the city that was once a flourishing state has over the years become a part of what is today called Jaipur.

A glimpse of the beautiful artwork on the walls within the fort

Each step you take within the glorious fort overlooking the magnificent Aravali hills reminds you of all the movies that are set on the Mughal empire - Rich, Royal and Stunning. With individual rooms to watch the sunrise and the sunset, entrances so large to accommodate the Kings and Queens who, were chartered around on elephants, Jaipur's royalty lived large indeed. The palace also had a Sheesh Mahal, built for her Majesty to watch the stars, as security reasons did not permit her to do so whenever she wished. Amer, also known as Amber had it all.

The famous Sheesh Mahal at the Amer Fort with mirrors dotted all over the ceiling and side walls.

Walking through the fort awestruck by all the glamour and history, I chanced upon numerous gem encrusted doors, and knowing me I had to stop and stare. 
Many of which had gemstones inlaid into the woodwork and the marble walls, much like the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world built by the one and only Shah Jahan. There were some doors that over time showed a true mark of age, these doors had on them Ivory studded with silver ornaments, in a pattern that was simply superb. The Ivory tiles were designed to create the iconic star pattern seen throughout the Mughal and Marwad architecture. 

A heavy door protected within a glass chamber decorated with Ivory tiles studded with silver details.

Ivory one of the most precious gemstones on earth today is prized for its creamy colour and ease in carving. It is an organic gemstone that is made from calcium carbonate and comes from animal tusks and bone. Today, Ivory comes from a selection of mammals like Elephants, Warthogs, Hippopotamus, Wild Bores, Marine Mammals namely Sperm Whales, Walruses and Sea Lions to name a few. 

Rajasthan as always has been noted to be a state with rich history and culture that walk hand in hand with a strong monarch. Each city led by a different King had his own fair share of wealth and fame fighting battles to become stronger and larger than the other.

Udaipur another touristic destination in Rajasthan is home to yet another City palace, located in but of course the heart of the city overlooking a glittering lake. This charming palace that is just as opulent as the one in Jaipur if not more, had its own characteristic charm. 

Walking up to the city palace.

Within the City Palace, I was amazed to see the well maintained and preserved rooms, each with its own style. I even saw a room filled with arms and armoury in a condition that seemed to be usable even to this day.
Monogrammed suit buttons
View of the beautiful lake from the palace

A beautiful courtyard within the palace.

While in the breathtaking palace I came across some more doors laden with Ivory just like in the palace in Jaipur. These doors heavy as they looked, might have even had secret passageways hidden behind them. Unlike the other ones I have seen, these doors had flowers carved on them and were even coloured to give them their originality.

Studying about gemstones was when I realised how one truly identifies a natural piece of Ivory and not just some plastic replica. Here are some points I have put together just for you to help you Catch that Fake when you see it. 
  1. Ivory is a light gemstone because of its organic composition and when comparing it to any other gemstone it should feel much lighter.
  2. It has a hidden appearance of an "engine turning", something they refer to in the gem industry.
  3. Ivory is naturally white, although over time it tends to get a yellowish tint. 
  4. With a dull and greasy lustre Ivory is smooth to touch.

An image of the engine turning

Today because of international trade regulations and protection of these loving animals, Ivory is barred from the gem trade. Elephants and the range of animals are being poached just for their tusks and bone which, in turn, has led to the repercussion of the animals becoming endangered. 

A board condemning the trade of Ivory
During one of my travels to the bustling city of Hong Kong, with its winding roads and sky high buildings, I couldn't help but notice all the antique stores. Each store was stocked with Ivory, Jade and even old pieces of art narrating various scenes from the holy scriptures. Not only that they also had in their possession Mammoth Ivory, a form I did not think I would have ever seen before that day. Preserved so well, even the Ivory from these prehistoric animals has a nice bright white colour. 

A Mammoths tusk carved to perfection with horses 

Stop this illegal trade and the dual markets from selling these precious stones that are acquired harming innocent beings. 
Support a cause and help an elephant in India or Thailand to enjoy their being in their natrual surroundings. 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

A Gemmologist in Burma

Over the last few months, I visited the colourful country of Myanmar, once known to be Burma. A country filled with so much history from the plains of ancient Bagan to the beautiful hills of Kalaw and the vast expanse of  the Inle Lake, each leg of my journey brought a new understanding of the local culture, food and the countries warm people.

Landing at Yangon airport

Myanmar which is known to be a gemstone mining hub for Spinels, Sapphires and many other precious gems was another reason why I could not miss this opportunity. Along the way, I spotted many gemstones and various other interesting finds. Through this blog post, I will share some of the sights, sounds and flavours that absolutely took my breath away.

My first Burmese breakfast was a delicious combination of a chickpea and rice pancake, a sweet rice cake, vegetable samosa and a delicious cake.
My visit to the Shwedagon pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is known to be one of the world's most expensive pagodas. Built over 2600 years ago, the Shwedagon was built to enshrine the sacred hair relics of Gautama Buddha. This pagoda, located at the heart of the city, dominates Yangon's skyline and can be seen from miles away. You'll be able to spot its anywhere with its gold radiating glow. At the top of the pagoda rests a 76-carat diamond along with 4531 diamonds, 2317 rubies and sapphires and various other precious gems. 

Walking through the pagoda I saw a diverse selection of prayer points, each held up by pillars. Many of which were decorated with Jade, that stood strong through the test of time. Jade being both an auspicious gemstone in South East Asia is also a tough gem and has an interlocking internal structure making it extremely long lasting. When cut in thin slices or with holes through its centre, its structure prevents it from breaking easily. 

Jade pillers around the pagoda

We visited many markets around the country and one thing that instantly took me back to Jaipur was the streets filled with gemstone dealers selling all sorts of colourful gems. The only difference here in Myanmar was their obsession with the "Lahphet yay" or Tea (that I could not get myself to stop drinking) which fuels their day.

Dealers sitting around plastic tables, drinking tea and checking parcels filled with gems

A glass of my favourite Laphet yay tea. A mixture of fermented tea and condensed milk, creating a strong yet sweet harmonious flavour

A collection of gems being sold in the market. Spinels, Sapphires, Rubies, and Jade were only some of the gems stocked here.
I visited the ancient plains of Bagan and watched the sun rise over the pagodas that covered the ground
During the trip, I also trekked up the hills in Kalaw and stayed in a village with a very hospitable local family for a night, after which I trekked back down to the delightfully cool Inle Lake.

On my journey, I met an enterprising old lady who was weaving shawls, bags, and turbans and must have been over 80 years. She was so kind and made us some warm herbed tea, which she served with a village snack that was so basic yet delicious.

The enterprising lady preparing our herbed tea

Sprouted lentils roasted in salt
A snapshot from the trek to the village in the hills
During my trek, I saw a tree with its sap oozing out forming droplets that looked like icicles. These very same icicles caught the sunlight in the right angles giving the illusion of clear  quartz crystal. 

The village we passed made a type of cigarette locally called 'cheerut'. The whole process from start to finish used items that were grown locally. From the corn leaves used to make the filter to the glue made from sap used to stick it all together, the entire cigarette was completely organic and biodegradable. 

Star anise spiced cheerut
Lady making the cheerut

Another local tradition is the application of a sunscreen like paste, extracted from the bark of a tree called 'Thanakha'. This yellow natural remedy is said to give a natural glow and protect the skin from the harsh sun that shines so bright all over the country. 

A local shopkeeper prepping me for my day with some Thanakha

Some common gems mined in Myanmar
What took me by surprise was the village of Inle. The entire village was on stilts, even the vegetables were grown on the water, everything was done on boats that moved around the inlets of the lake, transporting people.

Moving along the river, with vegetables growing along the side

Fishing in Inle Lake

The amber that I found being sold in the markets was absolutely stunning. The blocks were as big as my arm and had insects completely enclosed within. From leaves to bees and even some smaller beetles, the amber blocks had a variety of inclusions. They were also available in beads as perfectly matched necklaces.

Amber blocks and beads
My trail for gemstones led me to the perfect trade hub, where a friend of mine introduced me to such warm gemstone dealers, who brought a selection of gems for a couple of us to see. They had everything, Aquamarines, Spinels, Sapphires, and even some Zircons. Sitting at the top on the terrace of a fancy hotel in the capital city of Yangon watching the sun set over the gold Shwedagon pagoda, selecting gemstones was just a beautiful experience. 

A collection of Spinels
Varieties of gems

The food in Myanmar was an absolute delight. A plain coconut curry cooked with chicken and potatoes would leave you craving more. Not only that every meal was a spread, even in the village,  vegetables both green and roots, rice and of course desert were all sure to be served.

Supper in the village in the mountains
A delicious local chicken curry
I'm now looking for another interesting country to visit, one with a range of natural gemstones that will give me the same satisfaction I found in Myanmar. I urge you to visit this colourful country, for the delectable food, the tea and its rich gemstone base. 


Monday, 23 May 2016

The Breathtaking Oppenheimer Blue

Working with gemstones is something I have always dreamt of doing, today as I am based in Jaipur I get the opportunity to see some spectacular gems. A 15 carat Emerald, Spinels the size of rocks with fantastic colour and clarity and large Polki Diamonds are just some of the stones I have had the privilege to hold. 

Out of all the spectacular Diamond's I have seen, the Oppenheimer Blue is truly one-of-a-kind. Although I haven't seen this gift of nature, I can well image its beauty and radiance. Known to be the largest vivid blue diamond to ever be auctioned, this gemstone will surely steal your heart.

The Oppenheimer Blue

The 14.62 carat gem has an even blue colour that engulfs it, a big contributing factor to its beauty and value. Set with colourless diamond accents this rectangular cut gem has exceptional brilliance. Noted to be the most expensive jewel ever to be sold at an auction, this gem sold for a whopping 39.5 million GBP.

The rectangular cut Oppenheimer Blue

Previously owned by Sir Philip Oppenheimer, the man who controlled the Diamond Syndicate in London, the gem has been passed down from good safe keeping. Now sold to an anonymous buyer this stunning Blue Diamond has taken its place in history.

Wondering what makes Diamonds blue in the first place?

Blue Diamonds like all other coloured diamonds are made by mother nature, deep within the earth. Under immense amounts of pressure and at high temperatures, Carbon atoms are transformed. They change their bonding structure and become pure Diamonds. During this process, if the element Boron gets intermingled with the Carbon atoms, which occurs quite rarely, the resulting Diamond gets a blue colour. Depending on the different amounts of Boron the Diamond will have different intensities of blue.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Magnificent Indian Diamonds

We all know India to be a country filled with Arts, Crafts and Colour. And so it is, with festivals to mark the change in weather, celebrations for the birth of a child or the opulent wedding ceremonies that keep families on the constant lookout for new outfits and jewellery.

But what you probably do not know is that India has been home to a number of magnificent Diamonds that were all taken away for different of reasons years ago, leaving us with only vibrant memories of these stunning gems.

The Koh-i-Noor on the British Crown Jewels
Everyone has heard of the Indian Koh-i-Noor diamond that is now part of the crown jewels in England. But this magnificent gem started off in India before it journeyed through the world. The Koh-i-Noor diamond, which was part of the Kakatiya dynasty which rests today in Warangal, a city in the state of Tehlengna in south India. The gem was then stolen by the Mughals and passed on from hand to hand through the Mughal emperors until Shah Jahan commissioned the Peacock throne with the Koh-i-Noor to be an eye of the peacock.

Looted by Nadir Shah, a Persian invader who could not resist taking the diamond with him. The gem was then given to Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747 after which, this gem was given Ranjit Singh a Sikh emperor to aid in military support. In the 1850's, the Koh-i-Noor was taken by the East India company to Britain and given to Queen Victoria and has never come back since.

India was not only home to the magnificent Koh-i-Noor but also the Regent Diamond which now rests at the Louvre in Paris. This gem mined in the famous Golconda mines, in the year 1698 weighed an astounding 426 carats. Cut in London, the Regent diamond is considered to be the "colour of first water" and cut in the then newly discovered brilliant cut brought out the best in a gemstone. The gem was worn by King Louis the fifteenth and sixteenth after which Napoleon Bonaparte embellished his sword with the Regent diamond.

The ever famous Regent Diamond that finds its genesis in India
I have already spoken about the Darya-i-Noor another diamond that has its roots set in India from the Kollur mine in Andhra Pradesh.  This gem that translates to "Sea of Light", weighs between 175 to 195 carats and is now on display at the Tehran central bank of Iran. Flawless with a hint of pink, the Darya-i-Noor was also set as an eye on the peacock throne by Shah Jahan next to the Koh-i-Noor.

The Pinkish Darya-i-Noor Diamond

This spectacular gem is part of a 400 carat rough which was cut to give rise to two gems the Darya-i-Noor and the Nur-ul-Ain at 60 carats, two of the largest pink diamonds excavated in history.

Another sensational diamond is the Dresden Diamond. One of a kind with its green colour the diamond was also mined in the Kollur mine near the Golconda city. Weighing 40.70 carats, this pear shaped natural green, VS1 gemstone is said to have been smuggled out of India and ended up in Poland with the King,  Frederich Augustus.

The Dresden Diamond
The stone now rests in the Albertinium museum in Dresden its original home.

These are just some of the unforgettable Diamonds that originated in India and have made headlines world over. So the next time you visit India let our rich heritage with Jewels and Diamonds and History be synonymous with our mighty country.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Marble On Mind

Last month I visited one of the largest Marble warehouses I've possibly, ever seen. I went to a small village called 'Kishangarh' in Rajasthan and but small, it took my breath away.

Marble and Granite were all I could see as we drove through the labyrinth of dusty roads between different warehouses. I went to see a factory with a dear friend, called "A Class Marbles" and A class were they indeed. With a warehouse the size of a football field, it had different marbles, granites and slates on display for you to make the selection of your dreams. 'Spoilt for choice' is all I could think of as I walked through the alleys, each with a different colour scheme or variety on display.

Through this blog post, I will take you through some of the stones that absolutely took my breath away.

One of my favourites was this naturally coloured yellow Onyx. Used popularly for bars and in hotels lobbies, this marble has a golden glow that displays the gemstones natural botryoidal growth structure. And with the light shining through it looks more to the likes of golden coloured clouds.

Another gem that leaves me all excited from within is Labradorite and imagine an entire slab of it! Labradorescence the phenomena, that this gem displays can fetch high values of money because of its desirability. I'm someone that loves a lot of blue sheen within the gem, be it Rainbow Moonstone or labradorite, and this slab had me peering at it for minutes.

Another marble that looked fantastic was this black and white squiggly marble. This stone with its meandering black channels resembled a complex network of rivers, part of which we can see when we fly miles above the surface of the earth.

Granite and Marble are clear examples of how nature can capture its natural beauty and make it last a lifetime. Natural bands of red, white, grey and black are the perfect representation of different landscapes that are preserved for centuries to come.

Monday, 2 November 2015

My Visit to the #Natural #History #Museum

Recently I made a trip to UK's Natural History Museum, located in central London, in the Borough of South Kensington. This historical paradise is not one to miss if you are travelling in the United Kingdom. With a collection of bones from dinosaurs to expositions on delicate butterflies it houses everything under its royal roof.

The Natural History Museum, London.
During my day at the museum, I was consumed, if not for a better word by all the gems in the room of Minerals and of course "The Vault". Each gemstone in my gem heaven was placed with such precision to display its characteristics and beautiful phenomena.

That's me surrounded by gemstones 
I saw some unforgetable gems, some of which you have probably heard of or seen and some you might not have even known existed. Through this post I will show you all the gems that took my breath away.

Fancy wearing fossilised wood as a pendant or as a ring? And by this I do not mean the coal we use to cook up a delicious barbecue. I am talking about a bark that has fossilised over time to become a beautiful gemstone.

The plant tissue in this bark has been replaced by minerals over the years and has turned it into petrified wood. This bark resembles Agates in so many ways, when set in gold as a pendant, it would surely steal your heart.

A close up of the petrified wood
Another mineral that I was amazed to see was Asbestos. This stringy mineral made up of silicate minerals, has the property to withstand heat and fire and absorb sound extremely well. This has also made it very popular in the building industry for insulation and is sewn together to make mats and fabrics.

Garnet is gemstone species that you will see in all the colour ranges known to man. The gems come in deep green colours as Tsavorite to the orangy hues seen in Hessonite. Hessonite garnet has always amused me by its internal characteristics. Distinct to only this variety of gemstone Hessonite Garnet has what is commonly called the "scotch in water" effect. Familiar to all of you who enjoy their glass of cognac, this gemstone will resonate with you perfectly.

Hessonite in its rough form
Scotch in Water effect seen in Hessonite Garnet
Solid crystal inclusions seen in Hessonite Garnet
Another tree that took caught my attention that day, and will surely catch yours is the large Sequoia tree that is on display in the museum. One of the largest trees in the world, with a width reaching 1 storey, this tree has almost 200 seeds per cone which can take over 200 years to open and release. Praiseworthy for its sheer size, each concentric circle is an insight into the number of years the tree has seen, and that count can go up to a few centuries.

The sequoia seeds and the cone
Diamonds will always attract attention and when you see a range of colours all together, it is definitely icing on the cake. In the Vault of the museum, they had on display the Aurora Pyramid of Hope. A pyramid made of 225 naturally coloured diamonds that took 25 years to collect. This Aurora Pyramid as its name suggests, transforms under UV light. This change is worlds apart from the colour of the stones seen in daylight.

The different natural colours seen in diamonds 

The Aurora seen under UV florescence
If you spend enough time at the Aurora Pyramid, you will see all the natural colours of diamonds that have ever been excavated which makes its one of the rarest sights in the world. Now that's something you wont want to miss!

I have covered quite a few posts on synthetics and their properties but I have never been able to show you some of the synthetic rough boules of Synthetic Sapphire first hand ever. At the museum they had on display different boules of Synthetic Sapphire and Synthetic Ruby which, although ever so common these days, it is interesting to see how man has been able to replicate so easily what nature takes years to craft. These Rubies are cut and polished out of the top red portion that you can see. They have the same chemical and physical appearance as their natural counterpart, although under magnification, a trained gemologist can easily distinguish between the two.

Partially grown boule of Synthetic Ruby
Those were only some of the beautiful minerals and gems I captured with my sisters DSLR camera. I will surely cover a few more through my other blogs, so keep watching this webpage !

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