Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones, Volume 3
by Eduard J. Gübelin and John I. Koivula
a book review by Richard W. Hughes
The authors of this book need no introduction. Quite simply, they are two of the most prominent gemologists of the past 100 years. Two decades after the release of their magnum opus, Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones and three years after Photoatlas of Inclusions in Gemstones, Volume 2 comes Photoatlas 3. Any one of these volumes would be a career-capper. Together they represent a gemological tour-de-gem that arguably will never be topped.
What we now have is one incredible body of work, on the order of Goldschmidt's nine-volume Atlas der Krystallformen or John Sinkankas' bibliographic tour-de-force, Gemology. It is such a pity that Eduard Gübelin passed away shortly before publication of Volume 2, for these volumes represent the capstone on an amazing career.
When the current volume was issued, I heard from some that the result was not up to the previous two and thus this reviewer entered the reading process with somewhat diminished expectations. Happily, I can report that the reports of the demise of quality were clearly exaggerated. While Volume 2 teased us with lesser gems, Volume 3 covers the A-listers that parade across our microscopes and trading tables every day. Diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire are all present and accounted for, and those with a love of the unusual will be pleased with the latter section, which contains coverage of enough quirky stars to satisfy any alt fan.
While much of the current content was familiar to me, I was delighted by serendipitous discovery on many pages. The introduction was particularly sweet, beginning with the statement that "Nature is the ultimate expression of who we are, what we are, and where we came from", this verse interlaced with striking images that simply leave the mouth agog.
Inclusions in Major Commercial Gems
I think this section is where the gripes of readers accustomed to the typical Gübelin/Koivula light show might have their origin. By necessity, when discussing a single gem type (such as ruby or emerald), the color palette on each page is limited (emerald pages are mostly green; ruby pages are mostly red, etc.). While the Photoatlas volumes superficially masquerade as art tomes, at their heart we must remember they are reference texts. I'll have more to say about this at the review's end.
Synthetic and Treated Gems
One of the most important features of Photoatlas Volume 3 is the extensive coverage of synthetic and treated varieties of the major gems. This is invaluable for working gemologists and jewelers and makes Volume 3 truly a standout. Want to know the inclusions of Ramaura synthetic ruby? There are pages of examples (including some real stunners). How about treated diamonds or sapphires? Also present. From filled emeralds through beryllium-treated rubies and sapphires, the enhancement oyster is here in toto. Even the various forms of natural and man-made glass are well represented. I was also delighted to see each major section start with an essay and a solid bibliography. This is a welcome change from previous volumes, which tended to be light on references, in particular.
Other than the bindings (which have been too weak for the weight of the books), my one quibble with the Photoatlas series has always been this: they are coquettish teases that leave you wanting for more. Page after page of sexy strumpets strut their stuff across the page, but the postage-stamp sized reproduction leaves both love and lust unrequited.
It is my thought that, as the remaining curator of this incredible body of work, John Koivula should assemble a minimalist volume that has no pretense to education, elucidation or any other readin', 'ritin' or 'rithmetic. Instead, what I'd love to see is a volume that goes full-out as a large-format art book, with images chosen solely for their drama and aesthetic beauty. Perhaps something along the lines of Steve McCurry's South Southeast (where each of the 70 plates is a full 15 x 11"), along with understated captions opposite that allow the reader to simply rejoice in the beauty of nature. After all, as the authors have stated: "Nature is the ultimate expression of who we are, what we are, and where we came from."
With these three volumes we have an extraordinary body of work, one that can stand alone on its aesthetic chops. Please, I beg of thee, let us savor this in large format. For in doing so, you will awaken more people to this wonderful field than any number of technical articles or scholarly tomes.
I've been told that the GIA originally passed on the chance to publish the original Photoatlas. A large art-book style Photoatlas+ would be relatively easy to put together. If retailed for less than $100 (South Southeast sells for $60), it could be a runaway best-seller (just imagine this gift as an option during the upcoming holiday season). With today's beleaguered economy, this is one golden goose I would hope the GIA would not let slip away.
Postscript – Lending a hand
As a published author myself, I can tell you that authors' royalties in no way offset the cost of producing such work. For example, while this volume was nearly two decades in the making, the authors probably earn but a few bucks per copy.
Readers have a chance to change that. Co-author John Koivula and his wife, Kristi, are acting as a distributor for this book through their website, microWorld of Gems. This gives us a unique opportunity to directly support an author. The publisher still gets their due, but by purchasing direct, you put a bit of extra coin in the pocket of the author, money that will help fund future work of this type.
Autographed copies can be purchased directly through John and Kristi Koivula's microWorld of Gems. I highly recommend that if you do purchase this book, you do so via the creator's company. High-quality Giclee enlargements of many of Koivula's photos are also
I should mention that one of the authors (JK) is a close friend.
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