Thursday, September 26, 2019

Midnight in Ruby Bayou

If you were going to write a romantic suspense novel, could you find a better title?

Faith Donovan creates “...exquisite jewelry studded with fabulous gems...”  

That’s a quote from the cover of Midnight in Ruby Bayou by Elizabeth Lowell, and while I’m definitely prejudiced in favor of gemstones and exquisite jewelry, this sounds like a description that would tempt anyone!  

Faith Donovan makes the jewelry. Owen Walker knows just about everything with respect to rubies. When Faith designs and makes a wedding necklace for a friend, using rubies that have been in the friend’s family for generations (maybe), she’s sucked into family secrets and scandals and becomes the target of some very nasty would-be jewel thieves.  And the FBI.

Owen to the rescue!

While he’s saving her—and the rubies—we also get a goodly helping of  two Mafias, since they think Faith has the Sunrise Ruby,  an exceptionally fine and large (almost 26 carats) stone which sold for over thirty million dollars.  Add a lot of fictional history to a chest full of more superb old rubies, and it’s easy to understand why Faith became a target.

Of course I love the parts with Faith sitting at her jeweler’s bench making that exquisite jewelry or discussing some of her creations with Owen. And I love the way Owen can talk about rubies without making it an  “As you know, Faith, all rubies are...” conversation.  The gemology never gets in the way of a thumping good story.  I just love the book!

An oldie but definitely worth reading.

Monday, September 2, 2019

God's Own Jewel Box

The dazzle, the glitter, the romance of gemstones and jewelry—who can resist it?  The Big Four of precious gems…diamonds sapphires and emeralds and rubies.  The whole shimmering galaxy of semi-precious stones in all the colors of the rainbow.  Peridots and amethysts and tourmalines and citrines and…and...and...  The mystery, the allure, the thrill of finding something so beautiful, so rare, cannot be overstated.  Small wonder then, that gems and jewelry are a staple in romance novels.  I am a gemologist by trade, and thought it would be fun to review some romance novels that focus on gems and jewelry.

Going straight to my keeper shelf, I found seven novels by Elizabeth Lowell/Ann Maxwell about gems.  According to her website ( she started publishing in 1975 and began using the Maxwell name in 1982.  All told, she has written seventy novels in several different genres. Most important for our purposes, she does her homework with respect to the gemology.

The Diamond Tiger, originally published in 1992, is one of my favorites.  What did I love so much about it?  First, we have a competent, successful, independent heroine who isn’t pushy about it.  Then, of course, there’s a fantastically strong, capable, untamable hero.  Yum.  And Australia.  (I’m fascinated by Australia, but will probably never go there because I’m terrified of snakes, of which they have an excessive assortment.)  And finally, the frosting on the cake, we have diamonds.  Alluvial diamonds, which in my imagination are fist-sized, rounded chunks of fabulousness.  What’s 
not to love!

My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that the event that sparked this story was the 1925 discovery of alluvial diamonds in Namaqualand in Africa by Dr. Hans Merensky.

PLOT:  Erin, a successful photographer, inherits a (lost) diamond mine in Australia.  (Yes. Australia has diamonds.)  She hires Cole, a mysterious geologist, to help her find the mine, not knowing that he actually owns half of it.  They go to Australia, where they run afoul of diamond cartel operatives and end up on foot in the Outback.

DISCLAIMER:  In the interests of accuracy, let me point out at the start that nowhere does the author say or imply that the diamonds were fist-sized.  That was entirely my own wishful thinking.

THE TEXT:  Maxwell introduces the diamonds on the first page of chapter one when the hero gets his first look at them.  “Light rippled and shifted as nine translucent stones tumbled over one another with tiny crystalline sounds.”  “The first impression was of large, very roughly made marbles…”  In this first encounter with the diamonds, Cole is shown nine uncut diamonds by his ex-partner, Wing.  In this scene, Lowell establishes the size (large marbles) and origin (roughly made spheres, i.e. alluvial, which means the diamond crystals were carried by a stream and rounded by knocking into each other and rocks) of the gems.  She goes on to note that the ‘marbles’ feel slippery and are heavy for their size.  Cole exhales on a clean, chipped part of the stone, but no moisture collects on it.  (This is a valid indentifier.)

On page two, Cole uses one of the crystals to scratch a piece of lead crystal glass.  I haven’t been able to find a hardness for lead glass, but any diamond will scratch any glass.

Finally, Cole uses his loupe (a 10x magnifier used by gemologists and geologists) to examine the stone.  He is particularly impressed by the refraction (the way the stone interacts with light) and by the color.  This stone is described as the intense green of a river pool and a pool of intense emerald light.

In a discussion with Wing, Cole explains that the diamonds are alluvial, and the two discuss the possible origin of the stones, with Cole arriving at the conclusion of an unknown location in Australia.

THE GEMOLOGIST’S TAKE:  Large marbles, alluvial, slippery, heavy, no moisture--all these are characteristic of diamonds.  Moving on, it would be hard to get a fine scratch with a rounded stone.  If he did achieve a scratch, it would be hard on the presumably expensive goblet.  So yes, she’s right about diamond scratching glass, but the test might not work as described. As for refraction, the reason diamonds are cut the way they are is to increase refraction and thereby maximize the brilliance of the stone, but the way diamond interacts with light is distinctive enough that my answer is yes, she got it right. 

The color.  Well.  Green diamonds are usually greyish or yellowish green.  I was prepared to state that natural green diamonds were never that intense a green.  However, according to the Gemological Institute of America, intense deep green color in a diamond is extremely rare, which makes it sound possible.  So my answer is...maybe.
As for determining a diamond’s source, yes.  Cole’s statements were somewhat generalized but correct.  With today’s sophisticated analytical techniques, it could be possible to be even more specific.

Skipping over a few hundred pages of diamond industry politics, action—and sexual attraction—we find Cole and Erin stranded in the Outback without water, food, transportation, or weaponry.  Fortunately, they’ve been left to die, so the latter is not an urgent problem.  At the time.

THE TEXT:  The rainy season begins, providing the water they so desperately need.  Once thirst is slaked, they notice that there is no run-off, which leads them to a cave.  It proves to be the entrance to the diamond ‘mine’, actually a cave.  They explore even though there is danger of flooding in the tunnels now that it’s raining.  Cole stops at a pothole in the rock of the tunnel floor and scoops out the pebbles that have collected there...and finds a diamond.  Further exploration leads them to ‘God’s Own Jewel Box’, a pothole filled with tins full of diamonds, diamonds her grandfather had collected.  Mission accomplished, but safety not yet achieved.  (The final thirty or so pages make for a suspenseful conclusion.)

DID SHE GET IT RIGHT?  Well, yeah.  I’d have to say that over-the-top as this part of the book is, the gemological and geological details are believable.  Diamonds would collect in potholes as rainy-season waters flooded through the tunnels and rooms of the cave, just as gold nuggets collect in above-ground streams. 

It’s a beautiful fantasy with a happy ending.  Enjoy!  I surely did, and it’s on my keeper shelf.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

8 Things You Need to Know About Buying Gemstones/Jewelry

1.         The Four Cs for buying diamonds are pretty well known by now, but just in case you missed the memo:
Carat    Size of the diamond by weight. Here’s a link to a great chart showing what different cuts and sizes look like: size chart. Just remember that size isn’t everything! Some people prefer a smaller, more sparkly (yeah, technical term) stone to a larger, duller one.
Color   Ideally, white diamonds are colorless. This is measured by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) on a scale of D to Z, D being colorless. Most people don’t detect faint amounts of color in a stone; the usual threshold of visibility is around K to L. Fancy Color diamonds are another matter.  The more color the better!
Cut       The amount of sparkle a cut stone has depends on the cut. Angles between facets and precise alignment of facet junctions can best be judged by a gemologist. Note that older/less modern cuts can be very charming, and really sparkly, especially in candlelight.
Clarity  Inclusions, cracks, feathers, the list goes on. If you can see stuff (another technical term) with your naked eye, you may want to move on to a better stone. Clarity is graded from Flawless (and really expensive) down to I3, which means not only can you see the problems, but they affect the integrity of the stone.

2.         Size matters. Some sizes are more popular and are priced accordingly, especially for diamonds.  For example, a one carat stone may cost more per carat than a stone that weighs 0.85 or 1.21 carats. (Numbers selected at random to illustrate smaller or larger.)

3.         These days, many—most?—stones on the market are treated in some way. It’s good to know what the treatment was, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy.  Reputable jewelers reveal treatments.

4.         To look more knowledgeable, hold a jeweler’s loupe, that funny little magnifier, close to your eye and move the stone closer until it’s in focus.

5.         ‘Peridot’ is pronounced ‘peridoh’. Chalcedony is pronounced ’kalsedony’.
6.         Identifying a stone by color is not reliable.

7.         The ‘big’ precious stones are diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire. Semiprecious stones are often gorgeous and much easier on the pocketbook. (Mostly.)

8.         Don’t try to fake knowledge you don’t have!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Blue Diamond and Murder

The book this month is Todd Borg’s mystery Tahoe Blue Fire. I read this book with great pleasure and a sneaking feeling that since I am a gemologist as well as a writer, I’m supposed to be familiar with the diamond about which the plot revolves.
I actually took to the internet to see if I could find the beautiful Hope-like stone originally known as The Blue Fire of Florence. No luck, so I’m forced to conclude that Mr. Borg did impeccable research and seamlessly wove his fictional diamond, The Tahoe Blue Fire, and its history into reality. And into his plot. I hate to sound all fan girl, but gosh. I really enjoyed this book.
The diamond comes into the story as a clue in a murder: the victim leaves a cryptic note that says ‘Medici    BFF’. Searching for the best friend forever proves fruitless. Then a story surfaces about the Medici family and a blue diamond that came from the same mine that produced the famous Hope Diamond. A trip to Florence reveals a possibility that the diamond was taken to Tahoe, so it’s back to Tahoe and the search begins in earnest.
Oh, and of course there’s a certain urgency in the search for the murderer. More than one person has died, and the killer has targeted hero Owen McKenna.
Tahoe Blue Fire is number thirteen in the Tahoe series, but it functions perfectly well as a stand alone read. It’s a tense thriller with wonderfully rich plot. If you like mysteries, suspense, diamonds, Italy, gangsters, football heroes, traumatic brain injury, and/or poetry, as well as brave and interesting characters and dogs, this is a good read. [And no, I do not know Mr. Borg nor was I compensated for this post.]

Borg, Todd. Tahoe Blue Fire (An Owen McKenna Mystery Thriller Book 13) (p. 190). Thriller Press. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Are Diamonds Really a Girl’s Best Friend?

Maybe not, but gems are a reliable trope in romance novels.  (Hey, I’ll read almost anything if it has jewels.  Or cowboys.)  And since I’m a gemologist, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some novels that focus on gems and jewelry.
Going straight to my keeper shelf, I found seven novels by Elizabeth Lowell/Ann Maxwell that fit the bill, so that’s where I’ll start.  She’s famous, she’s a good writer (a little over the top sometimes, but always excellent), and she does her homework.
Lover in the Rough was originally published in 1983 and reissued in 1994.  Yes, it’s a real oldie, originally Silhouette Intimate Moments #34!
Plot:  Reba Farrall, owner of half-interest in a California gem mine, is devastated at the death of her dearest friend and employer. When his disinherited grandson threatens her, she is saved by rogue gem hunter Chance Walker. After she decides to reopen the mine, she hires Chance to help her, not knowing his sister owns the other half.  They explore the mine together, discovering that it is unbelievably dangerous. Facing death in the smothering darkness of the mine is a potent aphrodisiac, but when Reba learns of his connection to the mine, she leaves him. Chance is devastated and returns to the mine in spite of its imminent collapse to bring Reba a treasure trove of tourmaline.
The critique: Lowell’s research is solid. She drops in lots of interesting facts about tourmaline, and she gets downright lyrical about the beauty of gemstones and geologic features. (Hey, gemologist and geologist here. Of course I like this stuff.)
The text: The story opens in Death Valley, where Reba is supervising the photographing of art and jewelry for an upcoming sale.  A white jade dish, a baroque pearl cluster, an ivory sculpture, green gemstones, and a carved tiger eye figure are displayed against the rocks of Mosaic Canyon. “…precious objets d’art resting on the ledge of natural marble. Pale marble walls rose on either side of the dry streambed, walls polished by water and time into flowing curve sand hollows.  Bands of cream and pale yellow, gold-grey and eggshell wove through the walls, giving depth and subtle texture to the satiny stone.  Above the marble rose steep, deeply eroded hills of vermilion and black and chocolate, volcanic rock so new that the sun hadn’t had time yet to bake out the intense colors.”
There is quite a bit of description of the geology here.  “Polished marble walls…jagged debris of past volcanic explosions.  bent broken, canted on edge, the banded marble strata were almost shocking in their smoothness…fierce, naked land…Minerals both common and rare were jumbled together, colors and textures juxtaposed in a haphazard way that told much about the violent geologic history of the valley.  Earthquakes, molten rock flowing thickly, seas and lakes alternating with grinding drought, floods eroding mountainsides, strata of rock sinking, rising bending, breaking; it was all here, written across the hard surface of the earth.”
This sets a perfect frame for the violence of the dangers of the mine and the fierce love story that unfolds.
After many travails, Chance brings to her the spectacular pink tourmaline he has found in her mine, and “For an instant Reba felt as though she were inside a gem, a place of shattering beauty and brilliance, a faceted world as complex as the man who had turned the room into a fantasy...”
So...happily ever after.