Beginners’ Guide to Gemstones

“The critical factor in determining a favored new gemstone is not color, as many people might suspect. Rather, it is quantity. In other words, is the gem available in volumes substantial enough to support a commercial trade?

Unlike diamonds, colored stones do not conform to a universally accepted grading standard. To determine the value of a fine gem specimen, you need to know more than its 4Cs (color, clarity, cut and carat weight). You need to know its origin.

Until the Mozambique sapphire find, the bulk of the world’s fine blue sapphire came from Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the most illustrious source of all, the Himalayan territory of Kashmir. Kashmir sapphires can command as much as $25,000 per carat at wholesale, while look-alike stones from Madagascar may fetch only a third of that. But the market’s obsession with origin does not end there.

Prices on emeralds, for example, can vary by thousands of dollars, depending on whether the gems are from Colombia, Zambia or the less desirable tracts of Brazil. Much of that disparity comes down to aesthetics; the best Colombian crystals are prized for their electric green coloring, a product of near perfect combinations of chromium and vanadium. Do not, however, overlook the role that the Moguls of India played in building a centuries-old reputation for emeralds from Colombia’s famous Muzo district.”

Excerpts from an article by VICTORIA GOMELSKY, MARCH 16, 2014 (The New York Times)

The article encouraged me to read a bit more, so I checked the famous GemGuide site, and found this:
The term gemstone is applied to any of the one hundred or so naturally occurring minerals (diamond, ruby, sapphire, etc.) and organic materials (amber, pearls, ivory, coral, etc.) that are used for personal adornment or display. However, most of the popular gem materials encountered today are inorganic. The first use of a mineral or organic substance for personal adornment remains the subject of debate. But it is generally accepted that their use dates back at least ten thousand years.

To be classified as a gemstone, an organic or inorganic material must possess beauty, rarity, and durability. A gem’s beauty comes from its brilliance, fire, luster and color. In their rough form these attributes are often masked. Only after cutting and faceting and often other enhancements, can the true beauty be revealed. Durability refers to a combination of the material’s hardness (ability to withstand scratching), toughness (ability to resist breakage), and stability (ability to withstand chemical or physical change resulting from heat, light or chemical exposure).


Camel Epic Tour 2014: Live in Concert

“Nothing can last
there are no second chances.
Never give a day away.
Always live for today.” – Lyrics by Andrew Latimer

But life gave Andy a second chance, to the great joy and gratitude of his fans all over the World: Andy (Andrew Latimer) is the key figure of the English Prog-Rock band Camel, one of the best –and most undervalued- bands of all time.

There are no words to describe yesterday’s concert here in Barcelona: At 65 years of age, Andy still rocks. It’s not the kind of music that would get you on your feet to dance and yell, no. His is a hypnotic spell that sends you in trance, leaving you glued to your seat in awe, totally submissive to the magic spells of his guitar in the purest Camel style. Shredding his guitars and fondling his flute for over 2.5 hours, his face and his body were twisting, tormented by the avalanche of emotions flowing with his music.

This is the very same man that, a few years ago, was dying. Following a bone marrow transplant, he could no longer even touch the chords of his guitar. His is a tale of pain and passion.

Accompanied by other genius musicians from the best Camel years, he performed songs from The Snow Goose, Moonmadness, Mirage, Harbour of Tears, and other Camel classics that cemented Camel’s fame and established the band as one of the best. That was one unforgettable concert of a legendary musician, and it might be his farewell tour.

If you never heard of Camel before, and if you like Pink Floyd, Marillion, Eloy and similar band, then Harbour of Tears by Camel might be a good introduction:

I’m attaching some pics that I took during the concert.

Barcelona’s Sant Pau Hospital: World Heritage Pearl

A walking distance from Gaudí’s famous Sagrada Familia is another masterpiece of Modernism, namely the Hospital of Santa Creu and Sant Pau, somehow eclipsed by its mammoth neighbor and the fame of its builder. But make no mistake: this hospital is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it comes as no surprise in a city where architecture seems to descend from heaven rather than rise from the ground!

Following years of restoration work, the hospital finally opened its doors to visitors. Long serpentine queues basked in the sun, waiting for their turn to contemplate firsthand the miracle of Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of Barcelona’s legendary architects that championed the Modernist style together with Antoni Gaudí.

Once through the entrance, and following the initial aesthetic shock passing through the Administration Pavilion, one comes face to face with a wonderland of domed pavilions and colored towers that glitter under the sun: a symmetrical labyrinth of spikes, chimneys, chimera, gargoyles, and everything fanciful. A panoramic view of this huge space features more of a landscape/skyscape than just a fragmented group of buildings. The harmony of the complex embodies the very essence of an ‘ensemble’, and any itinerary offers a tour de force of Modernist glamour.

The construction work for the hospital started in 1903 in response to a growing population propelled by the feel-good factor of a confident city thanks to the industrial revolution. Lluís Domènech i Montaner wanted a hospital that would be not only functional, but also inspiring and cheerful. His attention to the human element was translated into a ‘garden-city’, where separate pavilions dedicated for different diseases are surrounded by greenery and pleasant walkways over a huge space. On the inside, the pavilions are no less impressive, with murals, tailor-made ceramic tiles, wrought iron lanterns, colored glass windows, and all the luxury of detail.

So far, six of the twelve pavilions have been fully restored and opened to public, and I think the photos can speak better for the charms of this site.

Paco de Lucía: Adiós Maestro

It took me some time to absorb the shock of Paco de Lucía’s death. Now I can finally write about him a bit, but what can I say about him that has not been said already? Something personal maybe.

When I moved to Spain over 5 years ago, I was immediately ‘drawn’ to Flamenco music, enchanted by the guitar of masters like Manolo Sanlúcar and even younger musicians like Vicente Amigo. I listened to countless singers and musicians, my taste changed over time, but two names seemed to always top my list: Camarón de la Isla (singer) and Paco de Lucía (guitarist), both of them being legends celebrated in Spain and worldwide.

I was first introduced to Paco de Lucía through a Spanish friend who made me listen to his ‘Entre dos aguas’, an exquisite piece of music that sent shivers down my spine (and that I still enjoy every once in a while). It’s not only the quality of this piece that cemented Paco’s reputation, but also its significance. Global Post puts it nicely:

“’A hypnotic instrumental he recorded in 1973 called “Entre dos aguas” became a massive hit and helped spread flamenco’s popularity abroad. Its unusual sound, which included an electric bass and bongos, was revolutionary and, coming at the tail end of Francisco Franco’s right-wing dictatorship, it became part of the soundtrack for a country in upheaval.
‘At the historical and political moment that Spain was going through in 1973, two years away from the coming of democracy,” wrote musician and academic Diana Perez Custodio, “‘Entre dos aguas’ worked as a manifesto, a declaration of intent, showing that flamenco can and should change, and that it is able to connect with the young.”

Adiós maestro, here is an old recording of Entre dos aguas: