People & Places • New Directions in Gemology • Reconstructive Gemology

People & Places • New Directions in Gemology • Reconstructive Gemology

An essay on how gemology, in focusing solely on analysis, has lost sight of the most important part of a gem – its beauty.

Let Sporus tremble – "What? that thing of silk, Sporus, that mere white curd of ass's milk? Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel? Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?" Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings, This painted child of dirt that stinks and stings; Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys, Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys, Yet wit ne'er tastes, and beauty ne'r enjoys… Alexander Pope
Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot
January, 1735

People & Places: New directions in GEM•ology

Gemology is tired. Weary. Stumbling. Guilty.

Exhibit A: gemologists are privileged to work with some of the most stunning and romantic objects on the planet – singular marvels of extraordinary beauty and wonder. And yet all we can do is analyze. Like sadists, we torture beauty until the extraordinary is reduced to an entirely ordinary set of chemicals, numbers and digits, abstractions with no relation to the reasons why people purchase precious stones. Guilty as charged. We have broken the butterfly upon the wheel.

Attention! We are told if a paraíba tourmaline is really a "paraíba" tourmaline, we must analyze it. And yet none who have ever gazed upon one of these fine gems have ever declared: "Oh my god, wooddja look at that copper!"

Silly, eh? Defining paraíba tourmaline by its copper and/or manganese content is about as meaningful as grading female beauty with a bust measurement. No instrument can see with our eyes nor read our minds. Yet we surrender our senses to these machines simply because they give off the faint whiff of "science." We have become plaster-casters and tit-tapers, so busy dissecting and measuring that we wouldn't recognize passion if it came up and stuck its tongue right down our throats. We gemologists are breaking the butterfly upon the wheel.

Which instrument feels feeling? What tool measures emotion? Can anyone even imagine a device that can replace the subtle judgments our eyes and intellect make so easily when viewing stones?

Few are willing to explore these areas because they lead outside the bounds of traditional, scientific gemology. And yet the questions are so important.

Gemology is not simply science. Much of it involves plunging into a pool where depth cannot be fathomed, where one floats not upon intellect, but raw emotion. People are drawn to precious stones because of passions, not properties. The purchase of a precious stone is an emotional contract that connects the new owner with people and places across the planet. If we wish to understand desire, we must begin understanding this emotional link. And if the answers are not easily found, if they involve emotion and art, not just science, they are no less real and no less important.

The butterfly is broken, but it can fly again if we are willing to flap those gilded wings.

Richard W. Hughes

R S end dingbat


Below is an essay by my friend Ron Ringsrud that delves into the black waters of gemology. To accompany it, I have added a multimedia presentation Vincent Pardieu and I delivered at the 1st GIT International Gem & Jewelry Conference in Bangkok in December 2006, and later presented in Tucson, 2007. It is my hope that these two pieces will provide inspiration, a new direction into this neglected corner of gemology.

Alfred Noyes and the Role of Poetry in a "Shattered World" 

By Ron Ringsrud

Anyone that wanted things,
Touched the jewel and they came,
We were wealthier than kings,
Could we only do the same.

Alfred Noyes

In 1917, a select group of scientists witnessed the unveiling of the new 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory. Gracing this brilliant assembly of minds was the poet, Alfred Noyes, invited in recognition of the value an artistic perception could add to such an affair. This was a rare example of a poet being invited to an event of scientific importance. It was also a rare example of scientists acknowledging that the objective "deconstructionistic" scientific approach to perceiving nature might benefit from the subjective "reconstruction" fullness of a poet attempting to reunite truth with beauty.

Noyes describes this concept along the following lines:

Poetry has its own precision of expression and, in modern times, it has been seeking more and more for truth, sometimes even at the expense of beauty. It may be possible to carry that quest a stage farther, to the point where, in the great rhythmical laws of the universe revealed by science, truth and beauty are reunited. If poetry can do this, it will not be without some value to science itself, and it will be playing its part in the reconstruction of a shattered world.  

Science and Subjectivity

In the world of science, subjectivity is often looked upon as something to be filtered out of the process of observation and analysis. However, the most elevated and pure science, physics, has followed its probing of matter beyond the Planck Scale to a world that very much resembles the vagaries and unconventionality of pure subjectivity: the quantum field. Its qualities of unboundedness, pure potentiality and the fact that it is even beyond the normal boundaries of space and time, are qualities that resemble the highest and most refined spiritual experiences of mystics the world over. This has caused quite a number of physicists to jump ship. Rather than writing ever more cold scientific essays, many have moved to penning exalted and breathless books that describe the uncanny similarities between recent discoveries in theoretical physics and ancient religious and spiritual descriptions of the mental inner world.

Gemology also has a "Planck Scale," beyond which intellect and normal discriminative qualities no longer hold sway, the moment when psyche surrenders to the primal attraction of a fine and beautiful gemstone.

The usefulness of objectivity as a tool for discovery is well known. This paper however, will explore subjectivity and will suggest that gemology is better suited to deal with subjectivity than many other sciences simply because the focus of our science – gemstones – is by nature the complete expression of the highest subjective qualities: allure, fineness, attraction, timelessness, glamour and charm.

Richard Hughes in TucsonG is for Gem (not 'ology')
At AGTA GemFair™ Tucson, 2007, Richard Hughes discusses the present and future directions of gemology. Photo: Dana Schorr.

Ron Ringsrud Ron Ringsrud joins Richard Hughes at his presentation in Tucson, Feb. 1, 2007. Photo: Dana Schorr

Only now, after 370 years of  taking objective, rational science as far as it will go is it finally being realized that the subjective approach to knowledge of the universe has validity.

To quote the clear words of physicist Eddington:  "And yet in regard to the nature of things, this knowledge is only an empty shell – a form of symbols. It is knowledge of structural form and not knowledge of content."

Having heard Eddington, let us now read what gemologist Richard Hughes had to say in a 1999 essay:

Science is gemology's mind, but the body also needs heart and soul. The heart of our product (the gemstone) is its beauty, its soul the romance surrounding it. Today's gemology is too often a heartless shell. We are selling illusion. We need to become conjurers.

Edward Gübelin, one of the fathers of modern gemology, was once asked what could be done to sell more colored stones.

His answer? "We have to emphasize the importance of gemstones as true gifts of nature and essential parts of our culture."

Gifts of nature. I like that. When was the last time you looked at a stone and thought of it in anything approaching those terms? Maybe it’s time we started. Maybe it’s time we stopped being blinded by the science, but instead let it open our eyes to the wonder of it all. "Wow, isn't that incredible?" Yes it is, yes it is…

In the end, educated analysis (of a gemstone) requires more than just a formula, just as fine cooking involves not simply ingredients and a recipe. It is about reaching for factors beyond the immediate senses, and in that respect is not unlike fine art, food or music… without the passion that only the viewer can bring, both precious stones and our time on this precious planet are a waste.

Noyes’ reference to a shattered world is profound. Ever since the Cartesian Division of the Renaissance, the world has been viewed as a huge machine whose parts need to be analyzed and scrutinized. Seeing where this has led us today, I believe poets need to be invited along more often. Visionaries are needed to bring wholeness to science and education. Perhaps gemology will be the science to show the way…

R S end dingbat


People & Places • New Directions in Gemology • Reconstructive Gemology

by Richard W. Hughes

The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and all time.  George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) 

Click on the image below to view the movie. It requires Apple's QuickTime. Be patient, it may take five to fifteen minutes to load, depending on the speed of your internet connection. The end of the program displays the JewelFolio that I designed for the AGTA-GTC. It was the world's first luxury gem report and has been copied by the GIA and many other labs.

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