Richard Hughes told us that gemology equals knowledge of gems, and knowledge of gems includes travel to the source. He started traveling to the source at age 18 when he first went to Nepal, and he has been traveling ever since. He is currently the Gemological Administrator and Webmaster at the American Gem Trade Association Gemological Testing Center (AGTA).
Hughes first took us to the emerald mines of Yekaterinburg in Russia. We saw pictures of the huge tunnels where beryllium used to be mined for industrial purposes, but where emeralds together with alexandrites are being mined today. Slides of emeralds depicted various inclusions: 2 phase, thin film, and mica flakes. He said that these gems may not be up to Colombian quality but they are close. This could turn out to be a major deposit not seen since the time of the czars.
Our next stop was the spinel mines of Kuh-i-Lal, Tajikistan, in central Asia near the border with Afghanistan. This is a rugged mountainous, moonscape-like area with peaks reaching 14,000 feet. It is believed to be the source of the Black Prince’s “ruby” and the Timur “ruby”, which are both spinels in the Crown Jewels of Great Britain. The Soviets had previously mined the area for strategic minerals, but now real rubies are beginning to come from this area. Hughes tried to buy some but that is illegal. He showed photographs of the mines and some of the rubies. In addition to the Kuh-i-Lal mines we saw pictures of the mines and rubies to the east near the Chinese border in the vicinity of Snijnie.
Madagascar was the final stop. This island off the east coast of Africa at one time bordered India and Sri Lanka as well as East Africa before the breakup of Gondwanaland during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, and it therefore includes the gem-rich geological characteristics of these areas. Madagascar is the new source of rubies and sapphires in todays market—rubies in the north around Andilamena, and sapphires to the south centered in Ilakaka. In addition there are beryl, tourmaline, apatite and chrysoberyl deposits found in pegmatites throughout the island. Most of the fine pink sapphires in the market today are from Madagascar. Ninety percent of the island produces gemstones. Hughes pointed out that all of the gem production is for rough–there is no cutting industry on the island. If a cutting industry were developed then considerably more of the value of the stones would stay in Madagascar.
Hughes said that gemology is half science and half art and includes source and people. In addition to the gemology and geology his talk included not only the scenery and landscapes from the rugged mountains and deserts in Russia and Tajikistan to the jungles of Madagascar, but also photographs and discussions of the towns and different people and fauna that inhabited these lands. This was truly an informative and colorful talk, the kind that we have come to expect from Richard Hughes.