Hot Rocks From Humes Jewelers
July 13th, 2020
An exquisite 37.8-carat emerald once possessed by the royal rulers of Baroda is the next stop on our virtual tour of the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection.

The Chalk Emerald is so special, in fact, that it is the singular occupant of a wall case titled "A Royal Legacy" on the second floor of the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.

Normally, the hall hosts more than six million visitors annually. But with all the Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC, remaining temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, we’ve been offering these virtual tours.

Previous stops on the tour have included “Gifts from Napoleon,“ “Stars and Cat’s Eyes,“ the Logan Sapphire, the Dom Pedro aquamarine, the Steamboat tourmaline and a collection of enormous topaz.

Here’s how to navigate to the exhibit called “A Royal Legacy.”

– First, click on this link… The resulting page will be a gallery called “Geology, Gems & Minerals: Precious Gems 1.”

– Click the double-right arrows once to navigate to the gallery called “Geology, Gems & Minerals: Precious Gems 2.”

– Click and drag the screen 180 degrees so you can see the back wall of cases.

– Touch the Plus Sign to zoom into the exhibit titled “A Royal Legacy.”

(You may touch the “X” to remove the map. This will give you a better view of the jewelry. You may restore the map by clicking the “Second” floor navigation on the top-right of the screen.)

The panel next to the exhibit explains how the royal rulers of Baroda, a state in India, once owned the emerald in the ring: "It was the centerpiece of an emerald and diamond necklace worn the Maharani Saheba, who passed it down to her son, the Maharajah Cooch Behar. In the 20th century, the emerald was recut from its original weight of 38.4 carats and set in a ring designed by Harry Winston, Inc."

The platinum and gold ring features the square emerald-cut stone surrounded by 60 pear-shaped diamonds totaling 15 carats. The emerald displays the most highly prized velvety deep green color.

The extraordinary ring was purchased by O. Roy Chalk, the real estate, transportation and media mogul, for his wife, Claire. The couple generously donated the Chalk Emerald to the Smithsonian in 1972, where it has been on exhibit ever since.

The Chalk Emerald’s superb clarity, color, size and regal lineage contribute to its status as one of the world’s finest emeralds.

The gem was sourced in the famous emerald-mining area near Muzo, Colombia — a destination widely known as the world capital of emeralds. The Smithsonian reported that emeralds were cherished by the indigenous people of Colombia for at least 1,000 years before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s.

The riches coming from the Colombia mines were of great interest to the Mughal rulers of India, who were captivated by the green gems. This demand sparked a robust gem trade linking the New World to the Middle East and India.

Emerald is the most valuable variety of the beryl family and is known to display a wide variety of visible inclusions, which are referred to as “jardin” (French for “garden”). These imperfections do not detract from the stone’s beauty but, instead, give each stone a unique fingerprint and distinct character.

Credits: Images by Chip Clark / Smithsonian; NMNH Photo Services.
July 10th, 2020
Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you throwback tunes with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Today, 27-time Grammy winner Alison Krauss delivers her second-person rendition of "I'm Just a Country Boy," a song originally released by Harry Belafonte in 1954. In Krauss's 2007 version — “You're Just a Country Boy” — she tells the story of a penniless young man who is in love with the prettiest girl in town. The object of his affection wears fine jewelry and he fears that she’ll turn down his marriage proposal because he can’t afford a “store-bought ring.”

In addition to the diamonds and jewelry referenced in the song, precious metals are also used to illustrate the young man's appreciation of nature.

Krauss sings, “Ain’t gonna marry in the fall / Ain’t gonna marry in the spring / For you're in love with a pretty little girl / Who wears a diamond ring. / And you're just a country boy / Money have you none / But you’ve got silver in the stars / And gold in the mornin’ sun / Gold in the mornin’ sun.”

Later in the song, she sings about his financial struggles, "Never could afford / A store-bought ring / With a sparkling diamond stone / All you can afford / Is a loving heart / The only one you own."

Written by Fred Hellerman and Marshall Barer, the original, first-person version of "I'm Just a Country Boy" has been covered by George McCurn, Ronnie Laine, Jimmie Rodgers, Jim Croce, Jimmy Witherspoon, Roger Whittaker, David Ball, John Holt, The Brothers Four, Bobby Vinton and Bobby Vee. The most famous cover was sung by Don Williams, whose 1977 version went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Country chart.

Trivia: Barer was famous for composing the “Mighty Mouse” theme song.

Krauss included “You're Just a Country Boy” as the first track on her compilation album called A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection. That album earned a #3 position on the U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums chart and #10 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart.

Born in Decatur, IL, in 1971, Alison Maria Krauss studied classical violin at age 5 and was a teenage fiddling phenomenon. She signed with Rounder Records as a 14-year-old and released her first solo album two years later.

During her stellar career, Krauss has released 14 albums while helping to renew the public's interest in bluegrass music. Krauss is the top female Grammy winner of all time with 27 wins. Only Georg Solti (31) and Quincy Jones (28) have more.

Please check out the video of Krauss performing “You're Just a Country Boy.” The lyrics are below if you’d like to sing along…

“You're Just a Country Boy”
Written by Marshall Barer and Fred Kellerman. Performed by Alison Krauss.

Ain’t gonna marry in the fall
Ain’t gonna marry in the spring
For you're in love with a pretty little girl
Who wears a diamond ring.

And you're just a country boy
Money have you none
But you’ve got silver in the stars
And gold in the mornin’ sun
Gold in the mornin’ sun.

Never gonna kiss
The ruby red lips
Of the prettiest girl in town
Never gonna ask her if she’d
Marry you
She'll only turn you down.

You're just a country boy
Money have you none
But you’ve got silver in the stars
And gold in the mornin’ sun
Gold in the mornin’ sun.

Never could afford
A store-bought ring
With a sparkling diamond stone
All you can afford
Is a loving heart
The only one you own.

‘Cause you're just a country boy
Money have you none
But you’ve got silver in the stars
And gold in the mornin’ sun
Gold in the mornin’ sun…

Credit: Photo by Filberthockey at en.wikipedia / Public domain.
July 9th, 2020
Fossils preserved within opals on the surface of Mars could prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.

On July 20, NASA will send the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on a 72-million-mile journey to explore the surface of the Red Planet. In mid-February 2021, the rover will begin collecting samples at the Jezero crater, which contains fields of opaline silica, better known as opal.

NASA scientists purposely targeted the Jezero crater because it was a rich source of a mineral that was likely to preserve microbial or plant material.

But a recent discovery of a cicada trapped within an opal opens up the possibility that the Mars rover could find a much larger fossil. The opal containing the cicada was discovered in Indonesia and studied by an international team of scientists at the ISTerre laboratory in Grenoble, France.

Team member Dr. Gene Kritsky, a cicada expert and the dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences at Mount St. Joseph University, told Cincinnati Public Radio that opals could dramatically expand our understanding of life on other planets.

"We now know that the next landing sites on Mars contain opaline silica," Kritsky said. "That means if you want to look for fossils on Mars, one of the places you can look is in the opals on Mars. The implications of this discovery extend beyond the pure obvious 'Oh this is kinda neat, we're finding insects in opal.' The broader implications are that it may help us understand some places to look if we want to find evidence of fossil life on extraterrestrial planets."

Back in 2015, we wrote about a tiny fragment of fire opal that University of Glasgow scientists were able to identify in a Martian meteorite that had crashed in Eqypt in 1911. Housed in the Natural History Museum in London, the fragment confirmed information gained during NASA’s imaging and exploration of the Martian surface. NASA had detected deposits of opal and other minerals. The presence of opal was significant because the gemstone famous for its brilliant orange, yellow and red display of color is also known to form in and around hot springs.

“Microbial life thrives in these conditions, and opal can trap and preserve these microbes for millions of years,” Professor Martin Lee of the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences said at the time. “If Martian microbes existed, it’s possible they too may be preserved in opal deposits on the surface of Mars.”

Scientists had predicted at the time that the future exploration of Mars and the search for evidence of life on that planet could focus heavily on the study of opal. They were right.

The surface mission on the Red Planet is scheduled to last at least one Mars year, which is equivalent to 687 Earth days.

Credits: NASA's Mars 2020 rover image by NASA/JPL-Caltech / Public domain. Cicada image by Boris Chauvire, Post-PHD Université Grenoble Alpes (ISTERRE).
July 8th, 2020
Gina Bopp was so certain that her diamond engagement ring had been swallowed up by the Atlantic Ocean that she immediately bought a faux version on Amazon.

The Queens, NY, woman had been enjoying the surf at Rockaway Beach on Monday, June 29, when the young son of one of her friends got caught by a wave.

"So, I went to go grab him, and I felt my ring sliding off my finger,” she told CBS2.

The heartbroken woman searched the shore for the next eight hours, but came up empty. When she arrived home, she went online and found a cheap replacement.

“I went on Amazon and bought a fake one because I thought there’s no way I’m going to get another one,” Bopp said.

But, then she called Merrill Kazanjian, of Metal Detecting NYC, who agreed to continue the search on Tuesday. He scoured the shoreline for three fruitless hours.

Undaunted, Kazanjian put out a call to the Scavengers, a group of friends who share the thrill of finding precious keepsakes and returning them to their owners.

"There's strength in numbers," Kazanjian told CNN, "especially at the Rockaway Beach. It's a long shot [to find a ring] so you call up the talent that you know."

Kazanjian said that metal detectorists are rare people, good folks who really love to give back.

The first Scavenger on the scene was Tracy Behling, who received her metal detector as a Christmas present.

It took Behling only 40 minutes to find Bopp's treasure. It was buried about a foot and a half deep, right where the surf met the beach.

“Here we are six months later, I found a ring,” Behling said. “That is, by far, the coolest thing I ever found.”

Bopp could hardly believe it when Behling and the Scavengers called with the great news.

"Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?" she exclaimed.

Bopp offered the team a reward for finding her ring, but all that the Scavengers requested was $40 to cover tolls and gas.

"I've seen it again and again," Kazanjian told CNN, "rather than hold on to a ring [we] would rather give it back to a person. It's the joy. It's the positive rush you get from that, to see someone smile. The world needs that in 2020."

Credits: Screen captures via CBS 2 New York.
July 7th, 2020
New smoking-gun evidence seems to confirm the theory that the world's most famous diamonds — such as the 45-carat Hope and the 3,106-carat Cullinan — have "super-deep" origins, according to Dr. Evan Smith of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), who presented his findings to geochemists at the recent Goldschmidt Conference.

Smaller diamonds are known to materialize under high pressure at a relatively shallow depth of 90 to 125 miles amid oxygen-rich rocks. By contrast, the biggest diamonds are likely forming 200 to 500 miles below the surface within patches of oxygen-deprived liquid metal.

While conducting a spectrum analysis of a 20-carat type IIb blue diamond, Dr. Smith and his associate Dr. Wuyi Wang detected the remains of the mineral bridgmanite — a tell-tale sign that the diamond originated deeper in the mantle.

"Finding these remnants of the elusive mineral bridgmanite is significant," Smith said. "It's very common in the deep Earth, at the extreme pressure conditions of the lower mantle, below a depth of 660 km (410 miles). Bridgmanite doesn't exist in the upper mantle, or at the surface."

Smith explained that what they actually identified in the diamond was not bridgmanite, but the minerals left when it broke down down as the pressure decreased.

"Finding these minerals trapped in a diamond means that the diamond itself must have crystallized at a depth where bridgmanite exists, very deep within the Earth," he concluded.

Back in December of 2016, when he was a GIA Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Smith studied the super-deep origins of “offcuts,” or remnants, of large rough diamonds that had been faceted into precious gemstones.

The offcuts offered a window into the workings of the Earth’s deep mantle because their inclusions were teeming with other elements. Typically, these flaws and imperfections are removed during the cutting and polishing process to maximize the beauty and clarity of the diamond. For the researchers at GIA, the neatly preserved inclusions held all the value even though some were no wider than a human hair.

“You really couldn’t ask for a better vessel to store something in,” Smith told NPR at the time. “Diamond is the ultimate Tupperware.”

The GIA had obtained eight fingernail-sized remnants for the study. After grinding them down and analyzing them with microscopes, lasers, electron beams and magnets, Smith and his team concluded that the diamonds contained a solidified mixture of iron, nickel, carbon and sulfur.

Unexpectedly, they also found traces of fluid methane and hydrogen, which led them to conclude that pure carbon crystallized to form diamonds in an oxygen-deprived mix of molten metallic liquid in Earth’s deep mantle.

“Some of the world’s largest and most valuable diamonds exhibit a distinct set of physical characteristics that have led many to regard them as separate from other, more common, diamonds. However, exactly how these diamonds form and what they tell us about the Earth has remained a mystery until now,” Wang explained in 2016.

Despite their origins far below the Earth’s surface, diamonds can blast to the surface during volcanic eruptions. The vertical superhighways that take the diamonds on their journey to the surface are called kimberlite pipes.

Credit: Hope Diamond photo by Chip Clark / Smithsonian.
July 6th, 2020
While working the search field at Crater of Diamonds State Park, Beatrice Watkins joked to her two young granddaughters that their future husbands would need to revisit the site to find diamonds for their wedding rings.

What the 56-year-old Mena, Ark., resident didn't realize at the time is that she had already scored the park's biggest diamond of 2020, a 2.23-carat oblong stone, the size of an English pea and color of iced tea.

Watkins had found the unusual stone within 30 minutes of arriving at the park.

“I was searching with my daughter and granddaughters when I picked it up," Watkins said. "I thought it was shiny, but had no idea it was a diamond! My daughter googled similar-looking stones and thought it might have been iron pyrite, so I stuck it in my sack and kept sifting.”

About an hour later, Watkins and her family took a break at the park's Diamond Discovery Center and got the exciting news from a park staffer that her suspected "iron pyrite" was actually a brown diamond.

“I was so excited, I just couldn’t believe it,” Watkins said. “I still can’t believe it!”

As is customary for all of the biggest finds at the park, the amateur prospector was given the opportunity to name her diamond. She called the stone "Lady Beatrice" and said she'd probably keep it as an inheritance for her kids and grandkids.

Watkins said she found the Lady Beatrice while dry sifting soil on the north end of a culvert near the center of the park's 37.5-acre search area. The search area is actually a plowed field atop the eroded surface of an extinct, diamond-bearing volcanic pipe. Visitors have found more than 33,000 diamonds since the Crater of Diamonds opened as an Arkansas State Park in 1972.

Amateur miners get to keep what they find at the only diamond site in the world that’s open to the general public. The park had been closed for two months due to COVID-19 health concerns, but reopened on May 22, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

So far in 2020, 139 diamonds weighing a total of 22 carats had been registered at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro. Four of those diamonds weighed at least one carat each.

Credits: Images courtesy of Crater of Diamonds State Park.
July 2nd, 2020
A pair of scientists from The University of Hong Kong have developed an autonomous "hunter drone" that can survey wide landscapes and identify valuable gemstone targets using a scanning laser. The drone flies at night and emits a powerful beam that causes fluorescent items on the surface of the ground to glow.

The drone was originally intended to look for fossil bones, hence its name "Laser Raptor," but the scientists quickly realized that the drone's capability was far more reaching. Other florescent targets could include rare minerals, such as ruby, kunzite, opal and diamond, to name a few.

Of the diamonds submitted to the Gemological Institute of America for grading over the past decade, approximately 25% to 35% exhibit some degree of fluorescence, a factor that — for the overwhelming majority of diamonds— has no widely noticeable effect on appearance.

In a paper published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, HKU Research Assistant Professor Dr. Michael Pittman and his colleague Thomas G. Kaye of the Foundation for Scientific Advancement described a prototype drone that was programmed to look for fossils at night in the badlands of Arizona and Wyoming.

At first, the Laser Raptor flew rapidly to search locations using its on-board navigation, and then descended and maintained an altitude of 4 meters above ground so it could "mow the lawn" in search of glowing targets as small as a thumbnail.

After each “mission” was complete, a video of the laser scan was processed to find hot spots that were investigated in more detail the next day, leading to the recovery of new fossil specimens.

They explained that the application of laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF) to an aerial system is possible because of the laser's ability to project over great distances with little loss in power.

Pittman and Kaye reported that they are now working to develop LSF applications for the study of geologic landscapes beyond Earth.

Credits: Images by Thomas G. Kaye & Michael Pittman / The University of Hong Kong.
July 1st, 2020
A little over five years ago, the 25.59-carat pigeon-blood-red “Sunrise Ruby” rocked the auction world when it obliterated two auction records at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale in Geneva. The hammer price of $30.4 million exceeded Sotheby’s high estimate by more than $12 million and set a new auction mark for the largest sum ever paid for a ruby.

The stone, which was set between two shield-shaped white diamonds in ring designed by Cartier, also established a new high-water mark for the highest price-per-carat ever paid for a ruby ($1.19 million).

Today, the cushion-cut Sunrise Ruby has its own Wiki page and is celebrated as one of the world's finest examples of July's birthstone.

This writer remembers watching the drama unfold in real-time via a video feed embedded in website.

As the evening's final lot — #502 — was announced at the podium, the room was abuzz with excitement as a dark-haired model in an elegant black dress neared the podium wearing the Sunrise Ruby on the ring finger of her right hand.

Bidding for the Sunrise Ruby started at 11 million Swiss francs (about $11.8 million) and moved steadily upward during a seven-minute battle between two phone bidders, one of whom prevailed with an offer of 25 million francs. (The final price amounted to 28.5 million francs, which included the Buyer's Premium of 13%.)

"A new record price for a ruby," bellowed David Bennett, the chairman of Sotheby's international jewelry division, as he brought down the hammer and the live audience broke loose in applause.

In a subsequent interview, Bennett explained that "during his 40 years in the industry, he has never before seen a ruby of this caliber."

A Sunrise Ruby grading report by Gübelin explained how rubies of this quality are generally found in small crystals.

“Based on our records,” the report noted, “we can conclude that a natural ruby from Burma of this size and color is extremely rare. Thus, the described gemstone with its combination of outstanding characteristics can be considered a unique treasure of nature.”

Since the late 15th century, Burma, particularly the region around Mogok, has been a vital source for high-quality rubies. The area, known as the “Valley of Rubies,” is regarded as the original source of pigeon’s blood rubies.

Ruby is the red variety of the mineral corundum (aluminium oxide). Corundum in other colors is called sapphire. The word “ruby” comes from “ruber,” which is Latin for "red." Rubies gets their color from the element chromium and boast a hardness of 9.0 on the Mohs scale. Only diamonds are rated higher at 10.0.

In addition to Burma, the coveted red gems have been sourced in Thailand, Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, India, Namibia, Japan and Scotland. After World War II, ruby deposits were discovered in Madagascar, Nepal, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tanzania and Vietnam. In the U.S., rubies have been found in Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Credit: Sunrise Ruby image by
June 30th, 2020
Queen Elizabeth II is rarely seen in public without her favorite three-strand pearl necklace — a gift from her beloved father, King George VI, who passed away in 1952. What most Royal Family followers don't know is that the Queen actually owns three nearly identical pearl necklaces that she rotates freely.

The future monarch was only 25 years old when she lost her beloved dad, and the pearl necklace that she received from him as a young girl remains a powerful reminder of the special bond they shared.

Elizabeth loved the three-strand pearl necklace so much that she had an identical one made. In 1953, a third three-stand pearl necklace joined her collection. It was a gift from Emir of Qatar and the only difference among the three was that this version sported a diamond clasp.

Her Royal Highness's jewelry collection contains more than 300 items, including 98 brooches, 46 necklaces, 37 bracelets, 34 pairs of earrings, 15 rings, 14 watches and five pendants. But, in the end, the simple, deeply sentimental pearl necklace continues to be her go-to accessory.

For the past 68 years, Great Britain's longest-reigning monarch has incorporated the three necklaces into her "official uniform." Some Royal Family followers believe the Queen rotates the pearl strands so she won't wear out the prized original.

Her official uniform also includes a brightly colored two-piece suit, decorative hat and the classic Launer black leather Traviata handbag.

Besides being a place to stash her mints, lipstick, small mirror, pen and reading glasses, the Launer handbag also serves as a way for the 94-year-old Queen to silently communicate with her staff.

According to published reports, if the Queen switches the purse from one hand to the other, it means that she is finished with the current conversation. If she places it on a table, the staff knows she needs to leave the venue within the next five minutes. If she places it on the ground, her handlers know she needs to be "rescued" from a social situation immediately.

Credit: Screen capture via Royal Family Channel.
June 29th, 2020
An artisanal miner in Tanzania struck it rich last week when he sold two enormous tanzanite crystals for $3.4 million.

Saniniu Laizer had discovered the crystals — one weighing 9.2kg (46,000 carats) and the other 5.8kg (29,000 carats) — in Tanzania's Manyara region, not far from the country's Merelani mining site.

The two rough gems are believed to be the largest tanzanites ever found in Tanzania. The previous record holder weighed 3.3kg.

In a highly promoted ceremony on Wednesday, the 52-year-old Laizer revealed his finds to the international press.

"There will be a big party tomorrow," he told the BBC.

Laizer also promised to invest his windfall in the local community of Simanjiro.

"I want to build a shopping mall and a school," he said. "I want to build this school near my home. There are many poor people around here who can't afford to take their children to school."

Calling into the celebration by phone, Tanzanian President John Magufuli commented, "This is the benefit of small-scale miners and this proves that Tanzania is rich."

When Magufuli came into power five years ago, he promised to safeguard the nation's mining sector and ordered the military to build a wall surrounding a Manyara mining site.

Tanzanite is said to be rarer than diamond by a factor of 1,000 times due the fact that this unique and beautiful variety of the mineral zoisite is mined in only one location on earth. The area measures 2km wide by 4km long and the remaining lifespan of the mine is less than 30 years. Tanzanite’s color is an intoxicating mix of blue and purple, unlike any other gemstone.

Artisanal miners like Laizer are permitted to work outside the confines of the Manyara mining site as long as they carry a government-issued license. In 2019, Tanzania established trading centers to allow these miners — most of whom work by hand — to sell their gems to the government.

In 2002, the American Gem Trade Association added tanzanite to the jewelry industry’s official birthstone list. Tanzanite joined turquoise and zircon as the official birthstones for December.

Credit: Image © Tanzania Ministry of Minerals.