Asia Society presents; 47
President this is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your host on this transcribed series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham among the many remarkable facts about age is this one. Asia is the home of the world's precious gems. I mean precious stones can be found in various parts of the world but the diamond the Ruby the pearl the emerald or Sapphire can be found largely in Asian countries and this is played a part in the history of the world has played a part in the superstition of the world. And we found out in recent times that this can play a part. This knowledge of gems in how we can survive in this world. So let us say on this edition of the Asia Society presents we're going to be both scientific and unscientific or romantic and I'm sure you
won't object to the latter. Our guest is a man who knows a great deal about this subject and I suppose that's why he's chairman of the department of mineralogy at the American Museum of Natural History South African by birth he hopes to become a citizen of the United States and he'd be very welcome. He is Dr. Vincent Manson. Dr. Manson. Many of us are not sure about. We know most of us that we love. But we don't know which are really the precious gems and which are the semi places how is that determined in a way it's arbitrary. Perhaps we should look at it for a moment and see if we can find out just why some gems are known as Precious and all the rest semi-precious this lower category. There are really three qualities which determine the preciousness of a gemstone its rarity and beauty and doing ability. And of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder in some measure. But there are some physical
characteristics of some gemstones which are so intense or so well developed in these gemstones that they shine or they have beauty of. Their own which supposes some of the materials. So it is this kind of beauty which is one of the characteristics of precious gemstones. With the emerald for example it's the intensity of the green which is exceptional for any mineral and Gemstone together with satisfactory durable it isn't a terribly hard gemstone but it is quite hard enough to be used so it has quite good durable A-T. It's very rare and it has the beautiful color. And so on with the five other precious gemstones one can each pick out the characteristics that enable it to be defined as precious. The diamond the exceptional hardness and the exceptional brilliance and the rarity. The ruby and the sapphire are
examples like the Emerald of the mineral which occurs quite widely but in the case of these minerals when they occur as gemstones they have special colored characteristics and the purity of occurrence which distinguishes them from their common cousins with the Ruby it's the red color in the transparency and with the sapphire it's the color it's Sapphire is actually the same mineral as Ruby but it occurs in colors other than the red. And so the blue in the glow in the Magnificent are in G proper Rochus sapphire from Ceylon are examples of the beauty. It's a hard mineral second off the diamond. The hardness and the durability from the hardness and the rarity. Very few countries in the world Burma so lawn amongst the finest for the occurrence of Ruby and sapphire. Yeah. But animals have played a long and fascinating
history particularly in the Indian subcontinent and until recent years. Surprising me. Very few localities or in fact any localities for the occurrence of emerald were known in Asia. However they have played such an important role in the historical accounts of fabulous gem collections of the early moguls and emperors. That scientists have long considered that there must be animal deposits and that just as recently as 1943 some fairly important emerald of posits were found in India and are currently being mined and probably account for the earliest histories of the Emerald in India. Although in the 15th 16th and 17th centuries they were introduced from Russia and later from South America via Europe. What would you say then. Ah the semi-precious stones. And why are they so
designated. Well they're not as rare. They don't have the supreme combination of these three qualities the durability the beauty and the rarity that these five designated precious gemstones have. In some instances it seems peculiar that they don't have this. In fact perhaps the cat sighing at a peculiar form of the mineral Christabel is sometimes called a precious gemstone. Interestingly enough it also comes from Salon Asian is phenomenal for the occurrence of gemstones So it is as I said at the beginning its rather arbitrary whether something is precious or semi precious and in part it changes with man's ideas through time certainly our designation of precious probably did not coincide with that of the ancients in the ancient Egyptian and the early Indian civilizations. But due to the
combination of these characters today these five stones are recognized as the precious gems. There are many semi-precious gemstones to Malene Garnett. I quit Marine. Morgan Knight couldn't Zeit and a host of others own perhaps three or four hundred that could be worn as jewelry and some of them are very expensive and his dad they're a first rate example of a large well-cut aquamarine just could be extremely expensive extremely expensive Yeah but nowhere near as expensive as the size of a diamond as a comparable sized diamond emerald. In fact emerald is the most expensive gemstone of them or Surprisingly enough if people think I'm in is but it is even more rare than diamond in a flow of flawless nature and so am goes on the most expensive of all gemstones one of the various countries of Asia. Could you give us an idea which countries produce in which countries
various dollars. Let's begin with Salon Well salon is most exciting in a way because it has such a wonderful combination of gemstones. These occur beneath the rice paddies in a layer of dirt some 20 to 50 or even 80 feet down beneath the the mucky surface of the rice paddy. You know a layer of gravel called the illum and the alarm is oh probably several million years old deposited in old valleys by rains washing the jambs out of the rock in which they occur on the mountains. Very rarely now do we find these gemstones occurring in the rocks but we find them as rounded levels in this gravel this. And the mining is rather dangerous in that narrow pits in the middle of the rice paddies and you can imagine the problem of flooding that's associated with going down in these pits. I dug down to the layer of a limb and the gravel and perhaps the hose jams that the miner hopes occurs.
I take it up and boss gets unwashed in a nearby stream and in this way they jam gravel recover it. Sapphire has some rubies. Chris a barrels zircons garnets and aqua marine and many other semi-precious gemstones occur in these gravels. But perhaps most famous of all are the sapphires from his own remarkable stones. The Star of India sapphire we have at the museum with the size of a small hen's eggs some 500 carrots with this magnificent asterism that occurs in it. Actually due to minute impurities Is that what creates in a ruby our staff I write. So that the star stones are not really the precious gems because they do have these impurities but they have a fascinating character of their own which is related to the conditions under which they formed. And so by looking at a star stone we can understand something of the processes that occurred
in millions of years ago in this particular case in Salon hundreds of millions of years ago and in that way appreciate a little bit about the origin of that portion of the earth's crust. How about some of the other countries India I know known for its rubies. Well India is known for the rubies although most of them come from Burma. Oh I see. And this results from the fact that at the time when me Grammy's Ridley mines became famous they were part of the same governmental your district jurisdiction which centered in India at the time of the British occupation or the British colonial days. The and I thought about Japan Japan of course is famous for the poets the cultured pearls today. But prior to this even the natural poems which are so beautiful in their own right. I understand that them that is responsible for some of the world's most beautiful
prose. We have a golden color and that's a rags they have a very interesting color. I'm not an expert on poems but I do know that the Burmese poem was probably due to local conditions in the water and the particular environment that that these wells growing take on this exceptional and quite distinguishable color. They were always found in what about well of course poems are recovered out of oysters where they grow and in that regard they're slightly different to the other gemstones and they're not really minerals. Since the strict definition of a mineral is something that is formed by a natural not an organic process and we might think of a poem as a organic product of that very kind of oyster that has produced these beautiful items that we so treasure I never eat an oyster without looking for we have found. Yeah I was 14 and found when when I but it wasn't a particularly good quality
but I hope you kept it for you that your dog demands and if you what do you attribute that since you are I suppose a geologist would you say you are would you know it is a very definite diet by training. Do what do you attribute the fact that a large proportion of the precious gems are to be found on the Asian continent Well I don't think that's quite correct to say it is not no. A large proportion of them are to be found there but they are current. Quite widely distributed and most of the diamonds come from Africa and some of the most beautiful emeralds come from South America. I think what makes Asia special in this regard is that it produces so many of these beautiful precious gemstones and perhaps it would be interesting to repeat some of the history that's associated with some of these in particular. We haven't mentioned diamonds yet. And the diamonds that I own is knowledge of diamonds comes from the Indian continent again the Indian
subcontinent and it's got rather interesting because many of our appreciations of diamonds stem from this. We talk of carrots. We measure diamonds in weight of carrots and of course this is the name of the seed of the carrot tree a seed that has a remarkable uniformity of size such that that it was used as a measure of weight. And so if diamonds were measured in weights of carrots in India originally carrot seed and now we've adopted that and we've tightened up the measure of weight we no longer use a seed is the standard that we measure all diamonds and precious stones in the weight by carrots. Some of the most exciting diamonds. In terms of the history originate in India is the koan on the so-called mountain of light which was found in the region of Golconda. Perhaps you record how Sinbad the Sailor used the
rock to fly into this valley with the skin of a fatty skin of the Lambs and bring out the light on his feet and bring out the diamond stuck to his clothes. Well there is some truth in this. And diamonds have the. And the interesting property of not being white. If you put them in water there. Don't contain a layer of water on the surface. Take them out they will appear quite dry. And this is actually used to recover them in modern mining operations by passing the wet gravel over a greased table. And because the diamonds aren't wet they stick in the grease. So quite likely they could have been obtained in the way that is described in this rather interesting sort of myth. We might also look at the detail history of some of the Indian diamonds and I mention the COA no earlier which belonged to the mogul emperors having been recovered in the Golconda region. And then when the Persians in 1739 defeated the moguls it
was taken by Nadia Shaw to Persia and he was assassinated some few years later and. It's history become somewhat confused then. Well there was a period when it was known to occur in Sharjah Hons bracelet as the mountain of light. And each of the famous diamonds the large diamonds 400 600 carat diamonds as they were originally found from the Indian continent has a similar history about it. Now it's intriguing that these histories are not just sort of tied to the diamonds. Because in a way the histories of these whole portions of the world are in part tied to the diamonds. So here we have Invasion of the mogul Empire partly because of the fabulous wealth that had been recovered from the Golconda mines. We have intrigue and
murder in the courts of Iran and Persia. Such that. These histories become far more flamboyant than the events that affected all the peoples of these areas became far more intriguing for Esther Iain and complicated for the historian to follow in large measure because of the diamonds. Yes if you think of the many rows it use it played out just came to mind. Now that Queen Isabella of Spain. So some of her gems you know wanted to finance the trip of Columbus to the United. Well to be one of those JIM MARTIN And in one of those gems that she perhaps sold was all many of them probably but certainly one of them I think originated from the Golconda mines in India and has quite a history. I see why and in fact follow them and many places and see many events and connected with them. Right. The famous Hope Diamond is another Indian diamond with a long intriguing history. It was in the
French crown jewels and stolen and perhaps bought by this Queen of Spain in there in the late 18th century and subsequently sold to a private owner and then bought by the Hope family and then when the Hope family. Sold their collection in the early part of the century it remained in private hands for some time until Harry Winston bought it and presented it to the Smithsonian Institution. And these. Whole histories tied to these famous stones are most intriguing. Also the superstition which attaches itself just don't like the Hope Diamond very definite Now that bad luck is over this stone rests at the Smithsonian and tells some new superstition arises sometimes based in some measure in fact. I'd like to cover one more important point and then come back to that if I may. And this is the diamonds have an even greater significance than what I've suggested so far. Diamonds particularly amongst the precious stones because they originate
way beneath the surface of the earth. In fact perhaps they are the only sample to give me the only sample of rock or mineral which we have at the surface of the earth which can clearly tell us something of the story of what is happening hundreds of miles beneath its surface. And if we need to know in terms of the environment that we live in and particularly the confrontation that we have with this environment the nature of the environment for us not only to survive but to live in happiness and comfort in the future. Then we need to look very much more carefully at these diamonds not only as precious gemstones with the history they have attached to them but as messages from the deep as windows into the interior of the earth that tell us about us past history and in this way enable us to live more satisfactorily and happily today
and to face up to the confrontation that we have with our environment. But any clue we can get to straightening out this poisonous environment we are grateful for it. I wonder though if that says something about the history of the earth in geographical. It doesn't say that that part of the world known as Asia developed first is different due in large measure than the rest of the earth where we don't find as many stones. I could take an hour discussing this most intriguing question you raise. Let it be said now rather than keeping going on that. Certainly the study of diamonds the detail study of diamonds would contribute to our understanding of whether what you just suggested is the case at the moment we're not sure. When we look back at the Earth's early history and the arrangement of continents and oceans we find that the only beginnings are lost in a cloud of mystery. So much has happened at the surface
of the earth that we cannot read the record bit back beyond a certain time. And what we need to do is to get beneath the surface and go to the moon incidentally as well. But we need to get beneath the surface to find out where it is being preserved what happened in the early history. And this is the message that the Diamond has for us no matter where it occurs whether it be in Asia is all the time and only that brings its message. The diamond principly since the other precious gemstones and most of the other gemstones themselves occur in the vicinity of the originated and within the crust of the Earth they don't come from these steps. There is a gemstone which does occur in Asia a semi-precious stone called Peridot particularly in the Middle East as well as the Far East and intriguingly enough the same gemstone occurs in some of the moon rocks brought back on Apollo 11 in minute amounts and we certainly will not go to the moon to recover it is a gemstone.
But like the diamond this Peridot also originates we down deep beneath the surface of the earth. And it tells us some of the same story that diamonds do so that it can give some information then about the moon about the moon but more importantly about the earth. Yes by proxy it is but since we know a little bit more about the Earth than we do about the moon. I thought that finding bits of paradise in the gravel and stone and so forth brought back to the moon exploration might help. Yes it it might. I certainly will help us understand the moon. And just like we go to the depths of the earth to see the past history of the earth. So the moon with a comparatively small amount of change on its surface also provides us by proxy in comparison with the earth. Suggestions of the early history of the earth. And this is one of the very important reasons for going to the moon. Dr. Mattson How about jade which is so much associated with Asia isn't Jade in some of its forms and colors considered a precious gem.
Yes very definitely. The Imperial gene to date this is extremely rare. Not widely recovered at all but Imperial Jade and Jayden general has long been sold off to not only for the beautiful color that it has and I must remark that it is not used as a gemstone but primarily as a carved material and it's been sought not only for the color of the beautiful green color or the other colors it might have but because of the most beautiful intricate carving and sculpturing that has been done in it. The work that has been done on it providing some exceptional pieces that proved very exciting indeed. In closing a minute or so Dr. Manson there are certain superstitions and legends connected with gemstones. We've spoken about the negative ones and just the hard luck attached to the Hope Diamond. But there are some stones which are supposed to bring health and happiness with them. Whether this is do or not I mean
that well we don't know. But Jade for example is supposed to bring. Doesn't it. Serenity and right here yes and I think that this is very reasonable because they. The thought that we've got here really is that man is a very complicated animal. And we're not quite sure how his mind works but we do know in fact we use it in a great deal of psychotherapy today that the introduction of an idea into a person's mind can greatly affect his health and gemstones are magnificent in terms that purity in their beauty and the mystery that is associated with them. To introduce ideas into men's minds I know I was recently given a necklace made of lapis stones and I was told that whenever you wear that you will be in good health. And I always am whenever I wear what you wear it every day. One day I think you should document since you've been so interesting so fascinating and it's been a great pleasure to hear your comments about places gems especially those from Asia. And I
- Asia Society presents
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- Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
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Host: Graham, Leigh
Producing Organization: WNYC
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