Gemologist Richard Hughes on Gemology • Colorful Language

1 May 1998
By Richard Hughes
Gemologist Richard Hughes on Gemology • Colorful Language

The following interview with Richard W. Hughes appeared in Australian Jeweller, May 1998, p. 10.

Gemologist Richard Hughes on Gemology • Colorful Language

Q. You are regarded as one of the world's foremost authorities on ruby and sapphire. What career path led you to this point?
A. Total accident, a perfect example of chaos theory in action. I was no precocious child with a rock collection. Indeed, I knew nothing of gems until I began traveling the world at age 18. Those travels eventually blew me to Asia, and it was there that my interest in precious stones took hold.

Q. How long did it take to put together your newest publication, Ruby & Sapphire, and what would you say sets it apart from other gemmological publications available.
A. Ruby & Sapphire was the cumulation of all my 18 years in the precious stone business, but the actual writing took three years of solid, seven-days-a-week tireless toil (walking uphill every day, both to and from work). What sets it apart from virtually all other gemmological writings is simple – like everyone else, I have my opinions, but where I break new ground is that I am so utterly ignorant that I actually voice them. Also, I might mention that mine is the only gemmological book which comes with a warning label. I believe it is unique in this regard.

Q. What is your opinion of current gemmological training available in Europe and the USA?
A. Different schools have different strengths. Where they all fall down is in the lack of commercial training for the real world. The fact is that job prospects for scientific gemmologists are piss-poor, with probably less than 100 good positions available worldwide. Not exactly a boom market. But the science is so easy to teach, compared with what people really want and need to learn, which is commercial techniques. So the schools teach the science, and the students graduate with skills that give them only a gnat's chance of putting them to use. As someone who was intimately involved with gemmological education for over a decade, I'm as guilty as the rest. Mea culpa.

Q. You are a native of the USA but have spent half your life in Asia. Where do you live now and what attracts you so much to Asia?
A. Today I am living in Los Angeles, after a few years in my home town of Boulder, CO. What attracts me to Asia is best summed up by Rudyard Kipling's poem, Mandalay. Here's a few selections:

An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
If you've 'eard the East a-callin', why you won't never 'eed naught else.
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else, But them spicy garlic smells
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells!

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gutty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty housemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
And they talks a lot o' lovin', but what do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and,
Law! wot do they understand?
I've got a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!

Ship me somewheres east of Suez where the best is like the worst,
Where there ain't no Ten Commandments, an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be – By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea -

Q. You have travelled the world through your work – Can you provide us with an anecdote regarding a) the most amusing encounter you've had "on the road" and b) the most dangerous or frightening encounter?
A. The most amusing? That's a toughie – there've been so many. Most recent, perhaps, was the gentleman in Mogok, Burma, who pulled my buddy and I into the Mogok gymnasium during the Armed Forces day celebration. To a backdrop of Shan, Lisu and Burmese dancers gyrating to and fro, he told us how much he liked America. Indeed, he declared that Elvis Parsley was his favorite singer, and that that Marilyn Monroe was "really hot." Verily.

The most frightening? Perhaps the same evening. We had earlier ditched our government-appointed guides/spies, and, while enjoying the proceedings with the aforementioned gentleman, were approached by the head of Mogok Immigration. He immediately inquired about our legal status in that humble burg and, upon hearing our explanation, quickly disappeared. An hour later, whilst Mogok's finest fretmaster squeezed out powerful blues sparks from his electric guitar, the I-Man ominously reappeared. Frankly, at this stage, we were wondering just how the obituary would read. The I-Man approached, pointed at me and motioned that I should accompany him. I staggered to my feet, mumbled some goodbyes to my buddy and whispered that, should he make it out alive, to let my wife and daughter know that I loved them. It was clear – the die was cast. I would soon be staked down in the steaming tropical sun, where, as poison ants gnawed slowly at my extremities, I would reveal everything, and I mean everything, right up to and including that crush I had on Sally Benson in the second grade.
But it was not to be. Instead, the I-Man wanted me for an entirely more sinister purpose. He grabbed me by the hand and took me for a whirl – on the dance floor. Shameless hussy.

Q. What do you think are the most widely held misconceptions the public has about rubies and sapphires?
A. That they are somehow tied up with the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. Believe me, if anybody would know about this, it would be me, but after conducting interview after interview, I have yet to find a single ruby or sapphire who admits to ever having visited the Oral Office. Let's call a spade a spade – it's all just rumor and innuendo – there's no truth to any of it.

Q. Name the most stunning natural gemstone you've ever seen?
A. I would like to tell you all about it, but understand that your's is a family magazine, so had better not.

Q. Name the most stunning piece of jewellery you've ever seen?
A. No question, those in the British Crown Jewels. And I understand London Lizzie has a number of fine rocks in her own private collection. Now if we could only convince enough of those Brits to "think Yankee" for a day and get rid of the broad (and Chuck and Andy and Eddie and Maggie – the whole useless brood), then perhaps we could have a look at stuff like the Timur Ruby, too.

Q. If you could host the ultimate dinner party for three guests, who (living or dead) would you wish to invite?
A. First, I'd invite God (or Allah, Buddha, Shiva or whatever you want to call him/her/it/them), so I could ask personally how such an apparently talented and powerful personage could have mucked things up so badly. Of course, Mark Twain would also have to be there, to properly satirize the occasion. The third person would be my wife, Wimon, so we could laugh about it together afterwards.

R S end dingbat

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