Today is National Adoption Day2020 UK, traditionally celebrated on the Saturday before the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. So, what makes this an awareness day close to my heart? Well, I myself was adopted and this has influenced my love of gemstones in more ways than one! Who’d have thought it?
I haven’t always been Kim. In fact, my birth name was Ruby, so it’s fitting that my favourite gemstone is also ruby – more specifically Tanzanian ruby, which is famous for its clarity and the intensity of its red.
I became Kermeen through my late Grandfather, Ted Higgins OBE, who was then Head of Social Services in Wandsworth. He befriended an Indian Social Worker in his team, Roshan Sadri, and they stayed in touch over the years. She suggested naming me ‘Kermeen’ when I was born – a name which later became shortened to ‘Kim’. I didn’t meet her until I was 14, but when we were finally introduced, she became an aunt to me. She was by then a very successful businesswoman, and I was fascinated by the exquisite rings and jewellery she wore. She had a wonderful collection of jewels was definitely a big influence on my taste for the finer things in life! When sadly she died in 2004, she left me a beautiful gold heart diamond pendant, which I shall treasure always.
Even before meeting Roshan, I was captivated by gemstones and jewellery. When I was six years old, I was chosen to represent the Independent Adoption Society and present a bunch of flowers to Princess Alexandra at the premiere screening of Jaws in 1975. I was thrilled, and couldn’t wait to meet a real princess. More to the point, I couldn’t wait to feast my eyes on all the dazzling jewels I was sure she’d be wearing. Imagine my disappointment when this turned out not to be the case! Princess Alexandra, to her credit, was very gentle when I asked her, “Where’s your crown?”
There’s one more aspect to my Gemstone Detective journey that my adoption has influenced: world-wide travel. I have a very well-travelled family, who now live all over the world. Over the years, I listened to their stories and watched them pack suitcases, looking forward to the day when I could do the same. Eventually, I realised that if I didn’t do something about it, life would pass me by.
My adoption is a huge part of who I am, so on National Adoption Day 2020 UK, I’m saying hello to all my fellow adoptees.
What do you check for when buying a quality gemstone? What is a good quality gemstone? These are questions I am asked frequently.
As today is #qualityday, it seems an ideal time to recap what to look for when buying a quality gemstone. It’s true that beauty is the eye of the beholder, but over the years many thousands of beholders have decided what matters when it comes to a gemstone’s value on the open market.
There’s an easy way to remember what makes up the elements of a quality gemstone—the Four Cs, which stand for Colour, Clarity, Cut and Carat weight. The Four Cs are what the G.I.A.’s expert gemmologists use when assessing diamonds, though they are used with caveats when appraising other gemstones, too.
Usually, the value of a gemstone come down to an interplay between these factors, with some outweighing others in different circumstances. We also need to factor in a gemstone’s origin and treatment. Even if they can sometimes be a blunt tool in the hands of an inexperienced buyer, knowing about the Four Cs can provide consumers with a decent rule of thumb.
The Four Cs were a mnemonic invented in the 1940s by G.I.A founder, Robert Shipley, who wanted to help his students remember the important characteristics to consider when evaluating a diamond. Before Shipley, diamond merchants used several different terms to refer to the colour, clarity and cut of a gemstone. Carat weight was the only one of the Cs to have been used consistently. Indeed, records show that it dates back to around the 1500s.
What was so revolutionary about the Four Cs was that they provided the gemstone trade with an industry standard. Testing results were now repeatable and verifiable.
The Four Cs don’t always fit so easily when appraising other gemstones, of course, and many tend have their own set of quality guidelines—for example, pearl is never faceted and so ‘cut’ does not apply. Likewise, clarity isn’t always appropriate when it comes to opaque gemstones, when uniformity of colour is often a more valid consideration.
Interested to learn more about buying a quality gemstone? Take a look at the Gemstone Detective travel guide series to buying gemstones and jewellery around the world!
There are countless reasons to visit Vietnam, so I can’t wait for April 2021, when I’ll be leading a gemstone tour in this fascinating and beautiful country. If you’re thinking about booking your next adventure (and we lovers of travel really do need a break after this year), I’d really recommend putting Vietnam on your wish list.
On our gemstone tour, we’ll be learning all about Vietnam’s young gemstone industry and focussing on the country’s fine rubies, blue sapphires, pearls and rare blue spinel. All you gemstone enthusiasts and hobbyists will be able to indulge fully in your love of gemstones, with fabulous activities, learning experiences and gemstones on offer. Keep your eye out for more details in my upcoming blogs!
For now, let’s look at a few reasons to visit Vietnam besides its superb gemstones.
Centuries of fascinating history have left Vietnam with a rich culture that’s well worth exploring. A mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism is the majority religious belief here, but—along with Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, Vietnam has two indigenous religions dating back to the French colonial period: Cao Dai and Hoa Hao. You will also come across a strong tradition of ancestor and spirit worship. This wonderful diversity means that everywhere you look, you’ll see stunning architecture, beautiful art and a fascinating musical and theatrical scene—including the mesmerising Vietnamese water puppetry.
The Vietnamese take their eating and drinking seriously, and there is huge variation within the country in the preparation of certain dishes. Ordering a pho in North or South Vietnam is a different experience and the source of much heated debate! Beer lovers as well as foodies will be in heaven here—the country has fully embraced beer culture since the French introduced it at the end of the 19th century. Travelling round Vietnam, you’ll encounter many a local brand of draft, bottled and craft beer.
Vietnam’s scenery is absolutely jaw dropping. From the other-worldly beauty of UNESCO listed Ha Long Bay (featured in many films) to the blazing red and white sand dunes of Mui Ne, you will be spoilt for natural wonders on your Vietnamese adventure. Mountains, waterfalls, pristine beaches and incredible cave systems… there’s more than enough variety to bring out the photographer in everyone.
Convinced? Book a space on our Vietnam Gemstone Tour to experience this wonderful country while learning all about its gemstones and gem trade industry!
Calling all gold diggers: Did you read about the two lucky gold hunters who last month unearthed a pair of enormous gold nuggets in Australia—one of the world’s top gold panning destinations? If so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see you pulling on your boots right now for a trip out into the field to do some gold hunting of your own!
For those of you wondering where to try your luck, here are some of the world’s best places to go panning for gold.
In ‘The Land of the Free’, gold is found in nearly all states. It’s no surprise that California is top of the list, though. California was the location of the famous 19th century Gold Rush. The area to head for is Gold Country (also known as Motherlode Country), a region in Northern California that lies on the western side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Here, gold gathers in the placer deposits of the streams running from its slopes.
Bordering California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon also provide rich pickings for gold hunters. Nevada and Arizona are desert states, so you’ll need to dry pan or use a metal detector for the best results. Alaska is rich in gold and, unlike in California, the rules here are very relaxed.
Wherever in the states your gold panning adventure takes you, you’ll find countless places offering equipment hire and gold panning lessons—far too many to list!
In the remote north-west of Canada, the Yukon River is definitely one of the world’s top gold panning destinations. Dawson City, which lies on the river, is the capital of that mountainous region, and has been a destination since the late Nineteenth Century. This is where the Klondike Gold Rush began in 1896, and gold mining still thrives here today. There are plenty of spots around Dawson City to try your hand at panning for gold. For those who wish to linger, there are even log cabins for a comfortable stay in the wild.
Australia is a land rich in gold, particularly Western Australia where 60% of the country’s gold is mined. The biggest gold producing area is Goldfields—the clue is in the name!
At Warrego, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, commercial goldmining ended in the 1980s, but there is still gold to be dry panned from the surface soil. This part of the country can be a challenge to tourists and care should be taken to follow official fossicking advice.
Another spot to consider is Clermont in Queensland. The site of a gold rush in 1861, Clermont still provides opportunities for visitors licensed to fossick. Panning may be wet or dry, depending on the season; but whatever the case, the Queensland government provides the visitor with plenty of advice and information on making a worthwhile visit.
In certain parts of New Zealand, visitors are free to try their luck at fossicking without the usual permits. The Tasman region, at the northern end of South Island, for example, was the site of New Zealand’s first gold rush in 1856. Here, the Department of Conservation has set aside a number of locations for low-tech amateur gold-prospecting. Whatever the yields, it’s a stunning place to visit.
The South Island’s West Coast also experienced a gold rush in the Nineteenth Century. It was there in Hokitika that New Zealand’s largest nugget was found, and today’s visitors can still dream. Not far away in Goldsborough all you need is a gold pan and some patience! Another option is the Otago region in the southern part of South Island.
For many centuries, the people of Japan have been looking for gold, but it’s fair to say that its resources have been underexploited. Things are changing, however, and today you can, in certain regions, join in the fun. The biggest mine in Japanese history was the Sado Kinzan mine on Sado Island. It is now a museum; as is the Toi Kinzan mine, where visitors can try their hand at panning for gold – and keeping what they find!
With the owner’s permission, you can have a lot of fun in the United Kingdom, especially the Celtic fringe. Scotland may make you think ‘whisky’, but gold in more solid form has been found for centuries in its multitude of rivers and streams. For half a millennium, Wanlockhead in Dumfries and Galloway has drawn gold hunters to its deposits. Once Covid restrictions have been lifted, beginners can take gold panning lessons at The Museum of Lead Mining.
In the highlands of Sutherland, The Suisgill Estate allows you to pay a small fee and pan for gold in two of its burns (streams). The Kildonan Burn flows through the Baile an Or, the site of the 1869 gold rush.
In Wales, the north is still yielding gold, while at the Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Carmarthenshire, first worked by the Romans, you can pan for gold under supervision. As for England, there is still gold lurking Cornwall the Pennines and the Lake District.
You can find more information about gold and gold panning in my Gemstone Detective guides to Australia, USA and India.
As today is Indigenous People’s Day in the US, it seems like the perfect time to take a closer look at Turquoise—a gemstone precious and sacred to Native American tribes of the Southwest USA.
Turquoise is an opaque blue/green gemstone that forms when water containing copper and aluminium seeps into rock and settles there. It’s the copper that’s responsible for the vivid colour of the gemstone. The most valuable turquoise gemstones have no matrix (the non-precious stone surrounding the veins of turquoise), though the combination of turquoise and matrix can look very striking.
Individual pieces of turquoise can look very different from each other depending on the particular geology of the area where they are mined. There is a great deal of variety even within a relatively small area. A real expert can tell exactly where a piece of turquoise was mined, right down to naming the mine itself! During my research trip for Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in the USA, I met some truly knowledgeable turquoise dealers, who introduced me to the fascinating variations between stones from different mines.
Southwest Native American tribes have been using turquoise in religious ceremonies, trade, art, jewellery and negotiations for over 2000 years. Deeply important spiritually and for health, turquoise is used as a healing stone and good luck talisman by several Native American tribes. The gemstone is significant because it represents life—turquoise’s blue and green mixed with the brown of the matrix, are the colours of the sky, water and earth.
It’s not surprising that this sacred stone is the subject of many Native American tales, though it’s perhaps most strongly associated with the Navajo, whose stories almost always have some mention of turquoise. Navajo legend tells of the goddess, Estsanatlehi, who appeared to humankind as a drop of turquoise or a turquoise woman. Estsanatlehi means ‘Changing Woman’, which refers to the way turquoise changes colour according to its environment, its wearer’s skin acidity and light exposure. Another Navajo creation myth describes how, when rains came after a long drought and the people cried with relief, their tears mingled with water and became turquoise.
With indigenous people’s way of life so often under threat and subject to exploitation, it’s particularly important to make sure you buy Native American jewellery from ethical dealers who pay the makers an honest price for the exquisite craftsmanship and intense labour that goes into each piece. You’ll be wearing a piece imbued with centuries of tradition and spirituality!
You may have heard that there’s gold in them thar (Welsh) hills, but did you know that Welsh gold has adorned the ring finger of every royal bride since the Queen Mother’s wedding in 1923? What is it that makes only Welsh gold good enough for Britain’s monarchy?
I’ve just come back from my research trip around Britain, hunting down our native gemstones and precious metals for a forthcoming book. Along the way, my travels took me to the wondrous wilds of Wales in search of precious gold.
So why is Welsh gold so prized? It boils down to scarcity of course—Welsh gold is considered to be the rarest in the world. Wales’ last commercial goldmine has long since closed, and the company has eked out the remaining supplies by mixing its gold with other gold bullion ever since. The royal wedding rings, however, are pure—the most recent are probably made from a 1kg chunk of Welsh gold presented to the Queen in 1999 by the Clogau mine.
Welsh gold is often regarded as having a deeper, rosier colour than other gold. This is due to traces of copper in the mine ore—if separated from the copper traces, however, the pure gold would be the same gleaming yellow as gold from any other source.
This history of Welsh gold adornments goes all the way back to the Bronze age. If you want to see some serious bling, check out the 3,000-year-old ‘Mold Cape’ (now in the British Museum)—an intricately fashioned cape made from a single 560g ingot of Welsh gold. The Romans also mined gold during their occupation of South Wales, leaving behind many coins and pieces of gold jewellery upon abandoning Britain.
Two major seams of gold were rediscovered during the industrial revolution: one in the North and one in the South of the country and, at its height, the gold mining industry in Wales was producing nearly 20,000 ounces of gold per year—and that’s only what was officially recorded!
Today, mining has ceased due to exhaustion of the mines, though tourists can still pan for gold at the defunct mines. With no gold being mined, Welsh gold is incredibly expensive and gold from the famous mines can attract a price at auction of up to 30 times the value of standard gold!
So, is this the end of the story for Welsh gold? Not quite! In April 2019, Alba Mineral Resources discovered promising gold deposits in a 9km stretch of land to the east of the famous former Clogau (pronounced ‘clog-eye’) mine. Further exploration is taking place this year, and the company hopes to be able to restart the gold mining industry in the future.