GemNotes

REVISITING A GEMSTONE BUTTERFLY CALLED SPECTROLITE

Does spectrolite, a trade name for labradorite, have a nationality, an identity? The gem appears to be fighting nationality and identity problems, says Don Pier of GPG Trading, a New York City company that markets the Finnish spectrolite labradorite in the U.S.

Regarding nationality, most gemology texts say labradorite must come from Finland to be called spectrolite. “But there also is stuff from India and Madagascar that some people call spectrolite,” says Pier.

To be sure, many other forms of labradorite (a member of the feldspar group of minerals) come from other places, including off the coast of Labrador in North America (hence the name). But Finland, which straddles the Arctic Circle and whose Eastern border flanks Russia, is indeed the classic source of spectrolite.

This labradorite of dark gray or black to brown body color has a pronounced, multicolored labradorescence, a term that refers to unusual interference colors. Broad colorful sheens are visible when you examine the gem from various angles. The colors often are compared to peacock plumage or butterfly wings. Spectrolite colors include reddish, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. In the best examples, several colors are visible together.

In addition to labradorescence, Much of the Finnish material also is chatoyant, meaning you sometimes see a cat’s-eye effect in direct, undiffused light. That makes spectrolite one of the few gems with two distinct optical phenomena, says Pier.

As for identity, spectrolite has a colorful – but not well-known – history. Pier says the gem was discovered by accident as Finns dug enormous “tank-traps” near the Russian border against the advancing Russian army during World War II. Today, much of this deposit is on the land of a Finnish farmer. “Some years ago, production was sporadic at best,” says Pier. “Much of it was gleaned by pick, axe, dynamite and duffel bag.” In addition, spectrolite is buried deep in the permafrost and can be gathered only three months out of the year. Even when it was brought to the surface, much of the spectrolite was kept for use in Finnish jewelry stores. About three years ago, a company called Jogan Oy took out a lease on the deposit and began to market spectrolite on a serious basis.

The company has mined 650 tons of the material for stock, choosing the top material for gemstone sales. Pier’s factory in Sri Lanka cuts the material. Anssi Poyhonen, an officer of Jogan Oy, saw potential in the mass market, says Pier, and spectrolite has since been sold extensively on TV shopping networks. GPG Trading, which holds exclusive distribution rights in the U.S., agrees that spectrolite is excellent for the mass market.

Pier says spectrolite also has potential for traditional jewelers. First, it is relatively inexpensive at $4.50-$6.50 per carat for manufacturers. It is entirely natural and untreated. And it has that one-of-a-kind look in terms of the labradorescence and cat’s-eye effect.

Photographers Show Their ‘Flashes of Color’ Some of America’s most noted gem, mineral and jewelry photographers teamed up for an exhibition of their work titled “Flashes of Color” earlier this year.

The exhibition debuted at the American Gem Trade Association GemFair and then traveled to the JCK International Jewelry Show in Orlando, Fla. Organizers expect a similar exhibit next year featuring the work of these, and if space permits, other photographers.

JCK has obtained a representation of the images that were part of the exhibit as well as comments from the photographers about the processes, techniques or inspiration that went into the creative process.

SKY HALL

“The parameters for this shot [top] were set by my customer. We wanted to create an instantly recognizable photograph, an image that would become the customer’s signature look. It was a challenge because in the jewelry you have flat surfaces, and I had to combine several light-ing techniques to get the effect I was looking for. This photo is composed of a single exposure, but with two light sources. The background was exposed with tungsten lighting and the jewelry was exposed with strobe lights. The combined effect is this floating-in-air feel, while the background is intended to look like diffused neon lights.” Jewelry courtesy of Michael Sugarman, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

LEE-CARRAHER

“The concept for this photo [left] came from Barney Goff, an old friend. He was trying to build cities or landscapes from gem groups such as rhodolites, heliodors or amethysts. So when this picture project came up, I suggested building a stone city. Most of our preceding pictures had been horizontal. This year we went vertical. We built the city upward.” – Tinnee Lee

“We are always pushing the boundaries, and ‘Minarets’ is an example of that. Lots of people who saw the picture referred to it as ‘eye-candy.’ I was amazed by Tinnee’s job of propping up the stones. The standing stones are propped up with plexiglass stands, each made individually. Once everything was in place, we had to line everything up with an architectural grid so we could get the columns right. We worked on it a bit at a time for days. Once it was all in front of the camera, it still took us 11/2 days of adjustments before we took the picture.” – Craig Carraher Gems courtesy of Judith Whitehead, San Francisco, Cal.

TINO HAMMID

“This image [above] was inspired by the desire to imitate water droplets. When viewed closely, drops of water usually show a fish-eye image of their surroundings. I wanted to have these glasslike spheres showing the colored diamonds that way as well. Almost everywhere you look in the image you can see an image of the diamonds. The diamond images are actual photographs. They are used here in a computer program that mimics the real world in the way it can treat objects and light. However, it exists only in the computer, so one can import photos or create and place objects in any way one can imagine. The result is a sort of virtual reality.”

JOHN PARRISH

“The image I have chosen shows how complicated it can be to cut a gem as perfectly as this one [top]. This picture shows that; it also shows how complex it is to light up a gemstone to best exhibit its color. This blue topaz has so many color variations and tones, all of which need to be shown. I also like to use non-traditional backgrounds that help create a contrast. This dimension helps accentuate the piece of jewelry or gemstone. This search for contrast is either a conscious or unconscious quest that I have.”

ROBERT WELDON

“Normally, I don’t shoot micro-photographs, but when I saw this fly dance gracefully through a piece of amber [center], I groped madly for the camera. I used strong side lighting with a fiber optic source. Then I mounted cross Polaroid filters onto the microscope (over and under the amber) to enhance the scene by showing the areas of strain around the gas bubbles – in a surprising greenish hue. Reflecting lights in the gas bubbles added to the notion the fly was attending a fancy ball.” Amber courtesy of Colleen Fisher.

HAROLD & ERICA VAN PELT

“Out of our bedroom window, we saw this perfect white flower floating in the morning breeze [bottom]. Because of the supple nature of the flower and the delicateness of the demantoid jewel we were going to photograph later that day, I just knew they would work together. Even though the structure of the flower and design of the dragonfly are both strong, they don’t compete with each other. Usually you need one subject in the photograph to dominate the other. But in this case, we just knew it would work.” – Erica Van Pelt

Demantoid dragon-fly pin courtesy of Michael M. Scott.

ACCUGEM OPENS AUTOMATED LAB

AccuGem Corp. of Lawrence, Kan., has developed a new high-tech laboratory to measure and grade diamonds electronically.

Vice President Laurence Sliker, who planned and supervised development of the lab, says it integrates electronics, scanning and graphics capabilities into one basic system. The lab equipment can measure three-dimensional objects to within 50 millionths of an inch by integrating microscanning with high-speed computers.

Michael Roman, chief executive of AccuGem and chairman emeritus of Jewelers of America, calls it the “first high-tech, computer-integrated gem grading and measuring lab in the world.” The facility is located in a specially secured area in Kansas City. AccuGem can be reached at (913) 842-2761 or by e-mail at 34637 850@compuserve.com.

AGSLAB OPENS MEMBERSHIP TO TRADE AT LARGE

The American Gem Society has opened membership in its diamond grading lab to anyone in the industry. AGSLab membership, formerly available only to AGS members, provides reduced fees on all lab services and priority service. The membership fee is $500.

The AGSLab offers three types of grading reports:

  • The Diamond Quality Document, which provides grades for color clarity and cut, along with an accurate diagram of the diamond and a precise statement of carat weight.

  • The Diamond Quality Report, which offers grades for color and clarity and an analysis of proportion, similar to reports by the Gemological Institute of America.

  • The Diamond Consultation, which is a small card stating shape, weight, clarity and color and a basic plot of the diamond.