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GIA’s 23rd Gemstone Gathering

“Jade:Stone of Heaven”


Richard W. Hughes

Senior V.P., Gemstone Marketing & Testing, NCS Group Co., Ltd.


GIA Thailand’s 23rd Gemstone Gathering was a lively and entertaining event on “Jade: Stone of Heaven” involving Mr. Richard Hughes of the NCS Group, Thailand, a subsidiary of Gems TV Holdings Limited where Richard is Senior Vice-President of Gemstone Marketing and Testing.

In his usual dynamic style, Richard started off his presentation with a series of diverse and colorful jade images accompanied by a perfectly selected musical background. Following the intro Richard continued with his presentation and enlightened the audience, who attended in force, about this amazing material’s history, sources, mining, properties, fashioning, identification and treatment.

On the historical side, mention was made of the passion the Chinese, Maori of New Zealand and Mayans and Aztecs of Mesoamerica have with the stone. Each of these cultures valued jade above all else. The Chinese believed that jade was the bridge between this world and heaven, hence the name of the presentation. Jade’s virtues included use as tools, objects of adornment and the most delicate of carvings. Whilst jade’s appreciation is not restricted to these two cultures, they certainly stand out as being the most passionate, as can be seen from the value they placed on fine pieces and the historical items fashioned throughout the ages. An interesting point was that the Chinese originally valued white jade (nephrite) above all other colors, but today imperial green jadeite exhibiting a good degree of translucency is the most prized.

In 1996, Richard was among the first group of foreign gemologists to visit Burma’s Hpakan jade mines since the early 1960s. Located among some of the planet’s most inhospitable jungles, the area was closed off for decades to reasons both military and logistical. Applying for permission to visit the mines, Richard joked that he was the son of General “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell who was responsible for the construction of the Stilwell Road from India to China via Burma during World War II. Since General Stilwell’s name is well known to most Burmese, this had the desired affect at the time.

The journey to the mines itself was shown in some detail, with the difficulty in moving freely along the route intensely expressed through images on the screen and intermittent sound effects provided by Richard himself. The elephant sound impersonations really caught everyone’s attention!

Richard described the mining itself as “deconstruction”, with entire mountains being stripped bare to recover the jade boulders. In 1996, the mining tools employed were basic, with steel rods used to dislodge the boulders from the mountainside where miners worked in fifteen-foot wide claims. One man stood at the bottom of the high strip sections to carry out the most important job of determining which of the many boulders were jade. Today, however, much of the mining is mechanized and large quantities of material are removed. In fact a very interesting statistic Richard provided highlighted the extent of this operation. He said that during his last visit in 2004, he noted over fifty trucks full of jade boulders moving along the road and locals mentioned that this was a daily occurrence!

The remainder of Richard’s presentation dealt with the inspection of the boulders, the subsequent fashioning and possible treatments. Each topic on its own could involve a lengthy discussion, so in order to keep this review from extending too far, brief mention will be made of these points. The inspection of jade boulders is a difficult and entirely ‘luck’ orientated matter. Whilst ‘touch’ (feel) and ‘sound’ play a part, there is no clear and repeatable way to see into a jade boulder, so the starting point is usually to cut a small window through the skin to see any signs of ‘green’ and then on the opposite side to see how far the color extends. This can then be repeated on other sides if a promising sample is found and the potential within can thus be revealed. Once a suitable or prized piece is found, the next step is to fashion it into an end product. Richard showed many images of items that could be fashioned from suitable material and stressed that one of the key factors in determining the value was the amount of waste cutting a piece would generate. This, for example, is one reason why solid bangles tend to cost more than other forms, since there is a lot of waste material generated when fashioning such a piece.

The concluding part of the presentation covered the various treatment methods applied to jade, with wax being the first to be mentioned. Whilst not ‘strictly’ a treatment, as it is usually applied to finish a piece off aesthetically rather than change its properties or appearance dramatically, it was included as it is a routine procedure. A number of clever and convincing imitation or altered jade samples that Richard had encountered over the years were also detailed.

In summary it was a truly memorable presentation and one that was very well attended by numerous people from within and outside the industry. Richard is certainly a fine orator and as he quotes in his own biography “Richard is not shy”, a fact that surely everyone will agree on!

To coincide with the topic of the presentation, the GIA also announced that it has introduced a new Quality Assurance (QA) service for those who wish to obtain feedback on specific information (i.e. identity or treatments) of up to ten stones, or part thereof, in spreadsheet form. This service allows individuals to submit a few samples at one time for cost effective analysis before deciding if they would like to continue obtaining a full report on a specific piece. The service is offered at a cost of 1,500 Baht (plus VAT) for normal turnaround times and 4,500 (plus VAT) for the rush service (subject to availability).

GIA Thailand Education & GIA Laboratory Bangkok look forward to seeing you in May for the next GIA Gemstone Gathering, which is being presented by Mr. Pairach Nalinthrangkurn, Ms. Anchalee Udomkhunatham, Ms. Jitlapit Thanachakaphad and Mr. Nick Sturman, all from the GIA. For further details on the next gathering please click on ‘May’ on the calendar below.  

Please keep an eye on www.giathailand.com (Education) &www.giathai.net (Laboratory) for more details on this upcoming event and subsequent Gatherings/GIA events.

About Jade:

Known to the Chinese as the “Stone of Heaven,” jade is one of mankind’s most beguiling gemstones. While the term “jade” includes both nephrite and jadeite, only jadeite occurs in the coveted “imperial” type, and for this the world has but one source, Upper Burma (Myanmar). It is these mines which are the subject of this program.

Burma’s center of jade mining is the small town of Hpakan. Fortune-seekers from all over Asia are drawn to the mines and the heady atmosphere is one of the gold rush days of the old American West. Famous in Burma as “Little Hong Kong,” Hpakan offers Hennessy cognac, Rolex watches, French perfume and much more. This is all the more amazing considering it is located amidst some of the most impenetrable jungle on the planet.

In 1996, Richard Hughes was a member of the first foreign gemological party allowed into these mines in over 30 years and has since visited the mines a further two times. He will regale participants with a multi-media-based first-hand account of the mining and trading of this fascinating gemstone.

About Mr. Richard W. Hughes:

A native of the United States, Richard Hughes has spent many years in Asia, where his interest in precious stones was first kindled. Today he is Senior V.P., Gemstone Marketing & Testing at Bangkok’s NCS Group.

Traveling to scores of countries in search of the precious stone, Richard Hughes has authored two books and more than a hundred articles on all aspects of the gem and jewelry trades. His work can be found at ruby-sapphire.com, palagems.com, ganoksin.com and agta-gtc.com.

Richard is not shy. His writings and lectures are typically peppered with piquant commentary on all manner of subjects. Agree or disagree, there is no question his work is among the most passionate in the world of gems.

the Murano Room 2nd Fl., Tawana Hotel

80 Surawongse Rd., Bangkok

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beginning at 18:00