The gem that stumped even a noted gem lab is all new and all natural
Two years ago, veteran gem explorer Yianni Melas was doing some work at an African location—he doesn’t want to say where, so the area is not overrun. Geologists had dismissed the locale, convinced it held only some few stray opals. Locals didn’t think much of it either, but when Melas went to a friend’s hut, he saw an interesting specimen on a shelf that looked like he nothing he had ever seen before.
“I knew it was something unusual,” he said. “The stone was in really bad shape, and you could only see a little bit of blue-green inside. But when I put my light to it, it changed color. It went from blue-green to yellow-green. I thought: Where does this come from?
“I couldn’t explain why I thought it was different,” he adds. “It is like a third eye. I have seen thousands of stones and you get that feeling. When I picked up the stone, I had the chills, a funny feeling. That feeling is something you have to follow.”
When he dug a trench in the area, he saw it held a lot of this type of this gem (as well as opal). But nobody knew what the gem was—incuding other gem experts. Some called it a blue-green opal. Most said it chrysoprase. Others dubbed it chrysocolla. He was convinced it was neither.
So he sent it to a noted gem lab. After several months of examination, the verdict came back: chrysoprase. It was now Melas’ words against the experts’.
“There is a difference between laboratory guys and people who work in the field,” he says. “Each has their strength. But I stood my ground. I usually accept what people tell me. But I knew I was right, even though my friends started laughing at me.”
“I recall my African and Indian partners watching me perform a passionate Greek fit of anger insisting [the lab] was wrong,” he wrote on Instagram. “Chrysoprase [comes from] a Greek word meaning yellow-green. And this gem was a strong blue green…. I said, ‘Listen I’m Greek and [the lab] doesn’t understand Greek naming of gems. We named the damn things. And we would never call a blue-green stone chrysoprase [which means golden-green].”
So for the final word, he sent it to the Gemological Institute of America.
“I heard nothing for three months,” he says. “Then I got a phone call that said we found something incredible. It’s not a chrysoprase. It is not a chrysocolla. It’s a chalcedony that has never been discovered.”
“That is when I started jumping up and down,” Melas says. “It wasn’t just because it was a new gemstone. It took so long for us to get it truly identified. This material had stayed secret for the centuries. It was like, it wanted to be discovered but stayed elusive.”
The GIA’s report dubbed it a “bluish-green chalcedony” and concluded that it was “a new and welcome addition to the gem trade.” It was so new, in fact, it didn’t have a name. Melas settled on “aquaprase”—aqua for the blue sea, which the stone evokes; prase for the green.
GIA did a lot of testing to make sure the gem was not treated or chemically altered in any way. Melas plans to sell it that way.
“I want to keep it natural, so it is not full of treatments, not even a drop of oil inside,” he says. “We don’t even put wax on the final polish. Our industry needs a breath of fresh air. It needs something that is completely made by God.”
He has since set up an actual mine to excavate the material, which, as far as he knows, has never been discovered anyplace else. He has identified two different types: One that is blue-green and translucent and the other that is more “baby blue” but changes color and has clouds. He adds that while gem dealers typically buy the top 5 percent of mine production, he has opted for a more miner-friendly policy. He now purchases all the gems that came out of the ground.
“When I first showed it to the gem dealers, they said, What are we going to do with the material with matrix [parts of the surrounding rock]?” he says. “But there is a market for turquoise with matrix. The color of aquaprase is like a more transparent turquoise. And, in fact, when I gave my friends a choice between the clean material, which is absolutely gemmy, and stuff with the matrix, they chose the stuff with the matrix. They felt it had more character. It looked more natural.”
He believes the matrix material will have a market.
“This is an experiment, saying you don’t have to cream the material, you can find a market,” he says. “We took one gem crystal and instead of trying to match it after we cut it, we sliced in half so both sides are a mirror image. The matrix on one side matches the matrix on the other. It’s very, very good for earring sets. The matching matrix actually adds to the beauty. Everything today is dyed and homogoneous. But people know immediately this material is natural because each piece is unique. Every piece is unusual.”
“This gem is almost like a savior,” he adds. “It is coming at a time when the industry needs some romance. There are so many articles about treated this and treated this. I consider this finding a blessing for the industry.”
The material costs between 85 cents per ct. to $20 per ct. for the highest grades, Melas says. The average price is less than $5 per ct. As far as quantity, “there is enough to make a project out of it,” he says. Melas says he expects his partner-manufacturer to exhibit the gem in Las Vegas in June.
He believes this discovery justifies his old-school way of looking for gems.
“I was taught by the famous Greek explorers, the Papas brothers,” he adds. “They never studied geology, but they were legends of exploration in Africa. They told me the geologist always had to depend on the local people, that the locals knew more about the lands than geologists do. They have walked over that land for centuries. What do you when you are herding your sheep or cows? You are constantly looking down. You learn the ground inside and out. The locals are always the greatest explorers.”
Melas’ Instagram feed is full of pictures of his new discovery, with him posing with the gem like a proud father.
“It is not often in a man’s life that he can be credited with the discovery of a new gem,” he writes. “After all, this planet has been combed and dug up by explorers for the last few thousand years. Yet that’s exactly what happened. [This is a] miracle reminding us that nature will only shed its secrets when she is ready to do so.”
(Photos courtesy of Yianni Melas)