Earlier this week, Vlad Yavorskyy posted a story about Mandarin Garnet on Facebook. He wrote: “In recent years many new gemstones have been unearthed in distant and exotic places, occasioning great excitement in the gem world. One such a fantastic moment came at the beginning of the 1990’s with the discovery of a vivid orange garnet in the remote North-West of Namibia….” And “Mandarin garnet itself is a spessartite with some almandine, and owes its bright orange color to the presence of manganese…”
Thank you, Vladyslav, for calling attention to this wonderful gemstone. Allow me to take it from here and fill some of the blanks.
From 1990 to 1996, I was the chief sales manager at Colgem Ltd., a colored gemstone manufacturer and trader in Ramat Gan that was run by two partners, Israel Z. Eliezri – commonly known as Eli – and Ilan Weissman. It was here I received my professional training in the diamond and gemstone sector, and where I learned all about the supply chain. During those precious six years, I learned all about rough, cutting, sorting, pricing and selling, treatments and synthetics, and, yes, about the numerous scammers and the many other dangers out there. In those years, I made more sales trip to the US than I care to remember. On the other hand, I loved ‘doing’ the trade shows in Tucson, Basel, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, year after year.
Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a better schooling. Israel Eliezri, now in the ninth decade of his life and comes to the office every day to work, is a geologist who after a career in the international oil business made the switch to Israel’s budding gemstone industry in the mid-seventies. The company cut and polished African – mostly Zambian – emeralds, aquamarine, tanzanite and many other gemstone varieties.
In 1992, Israel was asked by a colleague geologist if he would be interested in developing a mining site of an obscure garnet variety that was found in northern Namibia, on the banks of the Kunene river, the natural border with Angola. Colgem agreed to invest and develop the mine together with a partner.
Logistically, the mining project was a nightmare, in many aspects.
First, the only effective way to come to the mine was by air with a light plane. The alternative, with a 4×4 vehicle, was a three-day trip….
Secondly, the garnet was found in a schist and had to be removed from the host rock by means of careful cobbling. Not a job you could leave to untrained workers. The rough crystals, when perfect, look like soccer balls…
Still, the stones turned out to be a unique variety of Spessartine garnet that, when eye-clean, displayed an unprecedented, pure orange color. The color is indeed due to the presence of manganese.
Colgem had the exclusive rights to the mine and in early 1993, once we had cut and polished a nice collection of the stones, we decided to launch the stone in Tucson.
But what to call it? Spessartine? Orange garnet? Being from Dutch extraction, I liked the suggestion to call the stone “Hollandine” or Hollandite,” in honor of the Royal House of Orange. But shortly before we left for Tucson, we realized that there was already a rather ugly mineral, named Hollandine.
Our “booth” in Tucson was at the GLDA show, in Room 126 what at that time was called the Holiday Inn Broadway. Right outside the room, on the balcony, several cutters from Boulder, Colorado, had some small tables out with their own showcases. Among them was Stephen Avery and some other guys, all who have since become household names in the US gemstone business community. Down the corridor, Tom Tashey was selling gemstones with some friends, also out of a room. I always joked that in those years, I used to sleep in the show case…
At that show, our new Namibian orange garnet generated vivid interest and a stream of buyers and other traders frequented the room.
But we still had no proper name for our Namibian orange garnet!
On the last day of the GLDA show, with the AGTA show already closed, quite a few AGTA members came to look and of course, the issue of the name kept coming up.
When Alan Kleiman, a well-known trader from New York, took a closer look at some of the – larger – stones, he murmured: “Hmmm…nice color. Looks like a mandarin color to me…” He then looked up and said: “Yeah, why don’t you call it Mandarin garnet?” And the rest is history.
Less than two years down the road, the vein of Mandarin garnet at the remote mining site ran out. Another location, some 30 kilometers south, had yielded some goods, but they were sold – too cheaply – to some Chinese buyers. The momentum was gone. And after substantial quantities of Mandarin garnet were found at alluvial mining sites in Nigeria, the commercial interest in Namibian stones waned altogether. Today, there a very few nice Namibian stones in the market and they are fast becoming a collectors’ stone.
In hindsight, I should have thought of calling these stones Tequila garnets.
Could have gone down well, too…!
Pages 107 and 108 from of Israel Eliezri’s Hebrew-language autobiography “24/7,” in which he tells the Mandarin garnet story. The autobiography’s title not only refers to Eliezri’s seemingly endless energy, but also alludes to his birthday, which falls on the 24th of July!
Some of my earlier columns, published during my time at IDEX, can no longer be found when looking for them in the list of previous “Memos.” When searching, the IDEX search engine skips the columns published between June 5 and August 8. In an advanced search, however, they do turn up!
Here they are:
June 13 – Hotel California
June 27 – In praise of the World Diamond Council
July 4 – Truth matters
July 11 – HRD Antwerp – Dubai or Die?
July 25 – Get over it!
August 1 – Desperado