My Article in Adore Jewellery Magazine

I was asked this past Fall to write an article for Adore Gems and Timepieces magazine about my life as a gemologist. Adore is the Jewelry publication which is part of the Prestige Singapore lifestyle magazine. I was really happy to contribute to the magazine, and share a bit about myself. Here is the article (click on the photos and they will enlarge. Full text on bottom for easier reading):

It’s a gem of a life Coming of Age as a Gemologist

In 2002, sitting at my computer terminal, on a recently redeveloped formerly Soviet Airstrip, in what was East Germany, I made a decision that would change the course of my life. I would abandon the comfy life of an engineering Project Manager, and travel to Asia and study to become a gemologist.  Already, having left my native New York 3 years prior to move to Germany, I was conflicted about what lay ahead, but ultimately, there was a deep burning desire to explore the unknown world, and in a sense return to my roots.

Gemology and world exploration are not things that come to the mind of most children growing up in Queens, New York (the largest, most culturally diverse, and perhaps most suburban borough of New York City). Most people were content to dream of a local life. Although only a bridge away from Manhattan (and 15kms away from my house), people in Queens refer to trips into Manhattan as “going into the city,” suggesting some magical and mysterious far away land.  In truth, my parents never really enjoyed cities, and preferred life out in the field, camping, and of course, looking for stones. Through I don’t remember, I have photographic proof attesting to the fact that I spent my 1st birthday in a fossil quarry somewhere in southern Colorado – the happy smile visible on my face as evidence to my true calling. 

That would not be the last trip – thankfully many more came – nearly every summer vacation was spent traveling in our camper, exploring nature, and visiting sites to collect minerals around the USA. The passion my parents had for these trips was boundless, and I remember the excitement and impatience I had before these trips, and the wonderful feelings I had after a long day of working in an open pit yielded some miracle from nature.  The monetary value of these finds was essentially unimportant to us. What was of value was having these beautiful crystals minerals, and fossils – each with a story of us unearthing them and bringing them home as trophies to the days labors.

Upon making the decision to get into stones – I went full force, moving to Bangkok and taking the 6 month GIA course to become a gemologist. This move would be only the first part of my journey, and Bangkok only a launching pad to places remote, harsh, and hot, yet teaming with the excitement of fresh gem finds, and of course local gemstone gossip. Over the next few years I would travel deep into remote mining areas and crowded third world cities throughout Asia and Africa - all in search of bright pretty stones. And this continues today. Sometimes I spend time looking at endless lines of brokers showing me cut stones, and sometimes I am digging for them myself in some muddy pit. Either way, the thrill and pleasure of finding a treasure is hard to beat. It always brings me back to my childhood, finding crystals with my parents.

My first major trek after completing my GIA course was actually only a few hours outside of Bangkok, to Chantaburi, Thailand. Chantaburi is Thailand’s major gemstone cutting town. Originally, Chantaburi sat atop large deposits of rubies. The cutting center popped up there to cut and polish all the stones coming out of the local mines. Today these mines are near depleted, but the factories remained, and thus the trading center remained.

Chanthaburi is a great place for a gemologist to start the adventure of gem hunting and, helped to get me accustomed to the business side of gems. Here, desks are placed all over the  downtown, in numerous trading halls that line the city streets. Thousands of buyers from Bangkok descend on the town, as well as thousands of brokers and sellers.  My first trip there I was unsure what to do, and sat at a table with a friend. Within minutes I was surrounded by brokers opening bags of small commercial sapphires and rubies in front of me. What to do? Make offers? Politely decline?  I decided to take the best course of action – make offers on small items and move slowly. In time, this lead to greater purchases, and a greater understanding of how the business works.

Much of  the adventure in finding stones goes beyond the gems themselves. Here I am, someone from a large first world city, spending time in remote place, eating unique foods, and interacting with humble people in their austere living conditions. I spend much of 2009 in Sierra Leone, West Africa, a place known for diamonds, and of course, a bad history of exploitation. Today, Sierra Leone is free, and most mining is done by small groups of locals in their villages. I spent 6 months in eastern Sierra Leone, working on a mining project where we brought some modern machinery into the jungle to help out a few of these work groups be more productive. What struck me the most was how easily I adapted to living with them in the jungle, and how candid and open people were. Days were spent working, and nights spent telling equal part war stories and diamonds stories. It’s in these moments when I appreciate how through gems I was able to connect to people in a universal way. It’s not only humbling, but it gives a great appreciation for what gems can do to enrich the lives of local people in the third world.  Too often we hear about big corporations and gems, but in fact most of the stones I work with are found and mined by independent miners and sold by independent brokers. These stones have a direct impact on the people’s lives that find and trade them – they also have great stories attached to them.

I am a strong believer that each stone has a story. I feel that when people wear gems, knowing their stone’s story greatly helps in adding to its appreciation.  My work today involves not only buying gems but buying on order for personal clients, and building jewelry pieces to match the stones that I find. Having an appreciation not only for the rarity of the gem that the person wears, but also for where it came from, and the journey it made, makes for a truly personal connection to the piece, and a value beyond just monetary.

These days most of my journeys are back through Asia, with a special love for the gems of Myanmar (Burma). I have dedicated quite a bit of time traveling there, hunting out rare Burmese sapphires, spinels, peridots, and of course jade. Just reopened to foreign visitors since this September, after years of limited access, I will be visiting the famed mining area of Mogok, in northern Myanmar.  Gems from Mogok are renown throughout the world as being of the greatest quality, and I look forward to meeting with the locals who work tirelessly in their gem hunts. Of special interest to me are the gems known as spinel, which is gaining popularity because of its wonderful range of colors, and incomparable sparkle.

As a Gemologist, I get to see the world through stones as my profession, but everyone can share in this experience. By learning about the gems and jewelry pieces that they own, and gaining an understanding about the history, mining locals, folk lore and work involved in finding them, consumer can develop not only an appreciate for gems, but can connect with the pieces that they own and will own in the future.

Tucson Gem and Mineral Show 2014

 2014 - February. Another visit to the yearly Tucson Gem and mineral show.  Having gone every year for the past 14 years I have gotten quite good at cruising through the show, seeing what's new, and catching up with industry friends. For those who don't know, the Tucson gem show, held every February in Tucson, Arizona, is the worlds largest and greatest gem, and mineral show. At nearly 40 venues, the show's massive size takes over the small city for the better part of 3 weeks, making an exciting and energetic time for all those attending.  The show's various venues showcase a variety of item, some for wholesale and manufacturers, some for store owners, and some for hobbyists. There are venues dedicated to fine gems, some for minerals, a large number for beads, and of course, some dedicated to the spiritual side of stones. My main focus are precious gems and minerals - precious as part of the trade, and minerals as a collector's hobby.  Because of the show's large size and importance in the world of gems and minerals, it's a good place to get a look at the worldwide industry trends, as well as prices and market availability. Running through the venues over the week I took note of a few important trends worth mentioning.  There are 2 main cut gemstone shows for trade only customers. These shows represent the majority of gemstones available worldwide, and supplier foreign and domestic bring goods for sale to jewelers and jewelry professionals. Looking over the goods, the first thing that pops out are prices and availability. Going booth to booth it's evident that old staple gemstones are becoming notably scares and pricey. Popular for many years, beautiful blue sapphires were nearly non-existent, with prices going through the roof on stones for sale. Also notably pricey were rubies, which seem to have gone up precipitously over the last 10 years. Perhaps 5 to 10 fold easily.  One notable positive was that more and more beautiful Mozambique  rubies were present,  finally offering a relatively nice alternative to prohibited Burmese rubies and extinct Thai rubies. It's nice to see the quality of these gems improving as more mining activity takes place.  Meanwhile, emeralds were well represented, as were Paraiba colored tourmalines, tsavorites, and mandarin garnets. The problem however was that while there seemed to be an abundance of these gems, price are through the roof. Emeralds have doubled in price over the last year, even though, as it would seem, stock supplies are high. Because of the high price of tsavorite garnet, the similarly colored chrome tourmaline has also risen in price by about 40% year over year. These high prices lead to one inevitable conclusion - higher jewelry prices.  So what to make of the market? Well, the prices suggest a few things. Firstly, in the case of sapphires, the supply is just diminishing, and the mines are not producing as they once were. It also suggests that other markets (read Asian markets) are consuming these items at a much higher rate than the US market. Another take away is that the goods are passing through less hands to get to dealers. This basically means that the prices at the mines are going higher as the mine owners cut out various middle people to sell directly. It can also be inferred that larger players are controlling more and more of the supply, such as in the case of Emerald, where even though there is an abundance of stock, large cutters and mining companies are not looking to drop prices to move product. Simply, they would rather sell at higher prices in a slower fashion.  So with that I decided to spend more hobby time looking at minerals than cut gems.

2014 - February. Another visit to the yearly Tucson Gem and mineral show.  Having gone every year for the past 14 years I have gotten quite good at cruising through the show, seeing what's new, and catching up with industry friends. For those who don't know, the Tucson gem show, held every February in Tucson, Arizona, is the worlds largest and greatest gem, and mineral show. At nearly 40 venues, the show's massive size takes over the small city for the better part of 3 weeks, making an exciting and energetic time for all those attending.

The show's various venues showcase a variety of item, some for wholesale and manufacturers, some for store owners, and some for hobbyists. There are venues dedicated to fine gems, some for minerals, a large number for beads, and of course, some dedicated to the spiritual side of stones. My main focus are precious gems and minerals - precious as part of the trade, and minerals as a collector's hobby.

Because of the show's large size and importance in the world of gems and minerals, it's a good place to get a look at the worldwide industry trends, as well as prices and market availability. Running through the venues over the week I took note of a few important trends worth mentioning.

There are 2 main cut gemstone shows for trade only customers. These shows represent the majority of gemstones available worldwide, and supplier foreign and domestic bring goods for sale to jewelers and jewelry professionals. Looking over the goods, the first thing that pops out are prices and availability. Going booth to booth it's evident that old staple gemstones are becoming notably scares and pricey. Popular for many years, beautiful blue sapphires were nearly non-existent, with prices going through the roof on stones for sale. Also notably pricey were rubies, which seem to have gone up precipitously over the last 10 years. Perhaps 5 to 10 fold easily.  One notable positive was that more and more beautiful Mozambique  rubies were present,  finally offering a relatively nice alternative to prohibited Burmese rubies and extinct Thai rubies. It's nice to see the quality of these gems improving as more mining activity takes place.

Meanwhile, emeralds were well represented, as were Paraiba colored tourmalines, tsavorites, and mandarin garnets. The problem however was that while there seemed to be an abundance of these gems, price are through the roof. Emeralds have doubled in price over the last year, even though, as it would seem, stock supplies are high. Because of the high price of tsavorite garnet, the similarly colored chrome tourmaline has also risen in price by about 40% year over year. These high prices lead to one inevitable conclusion - higher jewelry prices.

So what to make of the market? Well, the prices suggest a few things. Firstly, in the case of sapphires, the supply is just diminishing, and the mines are not producing as they once were. It also suggests that other markets (read Asian markets) are consuming these items at a much higher rate than the US market. Another take away is that the goods are passing through less hands to get to dealers. This basically means that the prices at the mines are going higher as the mine owners cut out various middle people to sell directly. It can also be inferred that larger players are controlling more and more of the supply, such as in the case of Emerald, where even though there is an abundance of stock, large cutters and mining companies are not looking to drop prices to move product. Simply, they would rather sell at higher prices in a slower fashion.

So with that I decided to spend more hobby time looking at minerals than cut gems.

 An amazing survivalist. This piece of quartz managed to hold onto the black aegirine crystal as it made its journey all the way from Malawi.

An amazing survivalist. This piece of quartz managed to hold onto the black aegirine crystal as it made its journey all the way from Malawi.

 Beautiful blue color. One of the most intense blue Aquamarines I've seen. This one from Vietnam. 

Beautiful blue color. One of the most intense blue Aquamarines I've seen. This one from Vietnam. 

Tucson14-2838.jpg
Tucson14-2839.jpg

Halite - AKA salt forms beautiful crystals - just don't get them wet or they will melt. This was a great color. Normally the color is an intense blue green, but these look almost like tanzanite in color.

 Here's me hiding behind a giant copper nugget.

Here's me hiding behind a giant copper nugget.

 The old spirit of the Tuscon show - individuals from all over the world buying and selling rocks. This cool Brooklynite rocking a beard is holding a box of chrysocolla.

The old spirit of the Tuscon show - individuals from all over the world buying and selling rocks. This cool Brooklynite rocking a beard is holding a box of chrysocolla.

 Beautiful layout of minerals.

Beautiful layout of minerals.

 Not to forget the fossils - this giant fish is from Kemmerer, Wyoming. Well preserved fossil fish are found here, in the prehistoric lake-bed. Amazing place to visit and try collecting yourself (but don't expect to find such an exceptional fish easily.

Not to forget the fossils - this giant fish is from Kemmerer, Wyoming. Well preserved fossil fish are found here, in the prehistoric lake-bed. Amazing place to visit and try collecting yourself (but don't expect to find such an exceptional fish easily.

 Tray of high quality Mexican opal.

Tray of high quality Mexican opal.

 When light hits Mexican opal the play of color is exquisite.

When light hits Mexican opal the play of color is exquisite.

 The end of a beautiful day - and a short but nice trip

The end of a beautiful day - and a short but nice trip

STORE NOW OPEN! HOLIDAY DISCOUNT COUPON

Online store cover blog.jpg

Today I'm proud to launch our online store at Michaelabrahamgems.com! Much of what we do involves custom jewelry pieces for private clients. However, using the same quality work, and timeless design, I wanted to put together a collection of pieces that go from everyday where, to special occasions, all using unique, and beautiful colored stones. Each piece is custom made to fit the unique gems featured, and there are many one of a kind pieces. While only a few items to start with, we will continue adding new and exciting one off pieces all the time.

I'm very excited to launch right now before Christmas and am offering a 15% discount on all items until January 2nd. Just enter the coupon Code HOLIDAY at checkout on any item.

Thanks for being a part of this new exciting phase!

Michael