Important Note: The author: Vincent Pardieu is an employee of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Laboratory Bangkok since Dec 2008. Any views expressed on this website - and in particular any views expressed by Vincent Pardieu - are the authors' opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GIA or GIA Laboratory Bangkok . GIA takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any content on this website nor is GIA liable for any mistakes or omissions you may encounter. GIA is in particular not screening, editing or monitoring the content on this website and has no possibility to remove, screen or edit any content.
We are gemologists (gemmologists) sharing a passion for gemstones, gemolology (gemmology), gem people and traveling.
You will find in this website gemological expedition reports and some studies of gemological interest.
Visiting many gem mining areas we saw that people in remote mining and trading areas have difficulties to access to gemological publications. As today the Internet can be accessed in most of these gem mining areas and trading centers, the author started to build this website to give gem people living there the opportunity to see the result of the gemological expeditions they were associated in. It is a way to thanks them for their time and collaboration and to help them to get access to more gemological information.
At the same time the author hope that these expedition reports will please the people from consuming countries interested in gemstones and fascinated by their mysterious origins. Our purpose here is to help people facing difficulties to get quality first hand information about gems and their origins to get the information they need through this website and its links.
With our field expeditions to gemstone mines and gem markets around the world, we intend also here to share our passion for photography, gems and our fascination for the work of the "Gem People" bringing gemstones from the ground to magnificent jewelry.
From the gems external beauty to the intimate beauty of gemstone inclusions, from gem lore to the mines, the people and the landscapes gems origin from, we expect to share with you our passion for gemstone beauty.
We also invite you to join us on some gemological forums we are active in as they are convenient tools to get rapid answers to your questions as they are regularly visited by many other passionate gemologists, jewelers, hobbyists and professionals willing to learn more and share their knowledge about gemstones.
Index page: Vincent Pardieu's Blog
About the Author
About me : How did a countryside Frenchman became a "Shameless travel addicted gemologist"? ( Under construction)
Sep. 2005: Madagascar with Richard W. Hughes and Dana Schorr (Will be available one of these days...)
Summer 2005: Gemological expeditions to South East Asia (Vietnam) South Asia (Sri Lanka) and East Africa (Kenya, Madagascar and Tanzania) with J.B. Senoble and Tanguy Lagache with the support of the AIGS, the ICA and the Gubelin Gem Lab:
- Introduction to AIGS/ICA/Gubelin Gem lab 2005 Expeditions
Special THANKS for their support for our field expeditions since 2005:
about gems, gemology, field expeditions, studying gemology, minerals, jade, pearls or jewelry? We recommend these FORUMS where the author is contributing:
Do you want to STUDY GEMOLOGY?
Here are some recommended institutes where the author studied gemology in Thailand ... and was happy about his investment!
For those willing to go further after their gemological studies: Recommended Advanced Gemological Courses:
To finish here are some BOOKS about gemology the author have read and appreciated and would like to recommend to people willing to learn more about gemstones, gemology and the places where gemstones are found:
GIA FE16 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 16): April 08th, 2010 - April 15th, 2010:
Introduction to the Vietnam Pearls 2010 expedition: The GIA Laboratory Bangkok Vietnam 2010 field expedition was planned with the support of Dr. Pham Van Long from the Vietnam National Gem and Gold Corporation. It was scheduled during the Songkran holidays (Thai New Year) 2010, in order to enable Nick Sturman (Supervisor, Pearl Identification at GIA Laboratory Bangkok) and Kham Vannaxay (an expert on pearl farming and gems from South East Asia working at Sofragem in Bangkok) to join the author for the first part of the Vietnam expedition dedicated to pearls with the visit of Cat Ba island, and two pearl farms one in Ha Long Bay, the other in Bai Tu Long Bay.
To complete the team the author had the pleasure to travel this year with five young gemologists: First two intrepid young women who just finished their gemological studies at GIA Thailand: Tracy Lindwall (USA) and Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, (Germany) then three young French gemologists: Philippe Ressigeac who got his G.G. from GIA Thailand in 2009 and Herve Rezo and Pierre Hemon, studying the DUG (Diplome Universitaire de Gemmologie) in Nantes University with Prof. Emmanuel Fritsch and Dr. Benjamin Rondeau.
(GIA Lab Bangkok Supervisor for Pearl Identification, Nick Sturman, with Tracy Lindwall (G.G.) and Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo (G.G.) with melo snails on a Vietnamese fisherman boat in Cat Ba Port.)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010
The first part of the expedition was focus on the coast and its pearls.
Part 1: Dragon Pearls: The Quest for Melo Pearls: Last year while visiting Vietnam with gemologists Jean Baptiste Senoble (A.G.) and Lou Pierre Bryl (F.G.A.) we went on a quest for melo pearls from the cozy house of an antic dealer in Hanoi to Cat Ba Island harbor and sea food restaurants... This year, while visiting Vietnam again, the author could not resist taking his fellow field gemologists again on a melo pearl quest.
Finally the author recommend to all people interested by Melo pearls the reading of "The Pearl And The Dragon, A study of Vietnamese Pearls and a history of the Oriental Pearl Trade" edited by Derek J. Content. This book has four parts written by four differents authors: - "The dragon and the Pearl: Perfection and power" by Benjamin Zucker. - "The mystery of Origins" by James Traub - "Reflections on the Geography and Historyof the pearl trade in China, Vietnam, India and the Near East: by Derek J. Content - "Orange pearls from the Melo Volutes (Marine gasteropods): A Gemological study of a unique Collection with Data from other Examinations by Kenneth Scarratt with contributions by George Bosshart, Nicholas DelRe, Emmanuel Fritsch, Alan Jobbins, John King and Benjamin Zucker.
(A beautiful jewelry design using a Melo Pearl with an interesting flame structure. The design associate the dragon and the pearl... The symbol for power associated with the beauty of the gem...)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010
If melo pearls are truly fascinating for their size, rarity and the beauty of their orange color associated with their delicate flame structure, for many young western gemologists nevertheless, there is in their fascination for melo pearls something completely different and often unexpected, something that show that gems can be appreciated for so many reasons as imagination has no limits: Here it is about a Japanese manga called "Dragon Ball Z" that was very popular at the beginning of the 1990's. Indeed, most people aged between 20 and 45 years old the authors knows are familiar with it: It is interesting as for many young western people (gemologist or not) their first interest about Asia and its cultures came in fact as they were fans of that manga:
Dragon Ball Z is a Japanese manga created by Akira Toriyama and inspired from the famous Chinese Folk novel "a Journey to the West": It is about the adventures of Son Goku, a mysterious young boy with a monkey tail, exploring the world with his friends and training in martial arts. During their adventures they discover the world, learn about themselves and try to gather seven mystical objects know as "Dragon Balls" in order to summon a wish-granting dragon.
During our expedition the association between Melo pearls and "Dragon Ball" came in fact very naturally: In Hanoi, at the beginning of the expedition, everybody was under the charm of the Vietnamese capital. We were visiting a melo pearl dealer in her cozy and traditional house in Old Hanoi. After few minutes, some sweet words and some delicious tea, she presented us a melo pearl she recently acquired. It was a beautiful and large orange pearl. On its surface, as it was moving in our hands we could see several golden bright points created by the reflections of the light bulbs illuminating the apartment: For most of us, who happen to have been fans of the manga "Dragon Ball" many years ago, the wonder we had in front of our eyes was not just melo pearl: It was a wonderful Dragon Ball!
Indeed from Dragon pearls to Dragon balls there was then another easy step: The rare melo pearls, often called: "Dragon pearls" are commonly associated with the Vietnamese Emperors, whose symbol is a Golden dragon very similar in design with the Dragon of the Manga.
Hunting for melo pearls from traditional and romantic Hanoi to the wonderful marine landscapes of Ha Long Bay, it was for most of the members of our team not only a gemological expedition, it was also an real initiation with the discovery of Vietnam and its traditional Asian culture. For young western gemologists there was obviously something reminding "a Journey to the West" or at least its modern version as a manga: "Dragon Ball". The manga was never very far away: First, the classic landscapes of Ha Long Bay (meaning the Declining Dragon Bay) were very similar to the design of the manga. Then most of us were surprised to learn that our destination: The Cat Ba Island, the largest island of Ha Long Bay, is inhabited by the "Cat Ba Langur" a rare endemic orange color monkey not without reminding young Sangoku with his monkey tail and the famous orange color of the melo pearls. In fact after a while and so many references here or there to the manga, most of us were wondering if Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball had knowledge of Ha Long Bay and of melo pearls. The author is not such a fan of the manga to be able to answer that question properly but obviously there was so much in our expedition that was reminding us of the manga.
More seriously and gemologically correct, we were glad to see in Hanoi several interesting melo pearls and in Cat Ba Island we could meet again, as last year, several fishermen who happened to have some melo snails in their boat. We could then collect some additional information about the location and the way they fished them and of course Nick Sturman was also able to collect some interesting shells for his research.
("Kame-Haa Melo!" ... Pierre Hemon, a young French gemologist on an initiatic and somewhere also iconoclastic journey to Vietnam discovering Melo pearls and associating them with one of our classics: Japanese manga "Dragon Ball"! Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)
Part 2: A visit to "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" pearl farm in Ha Long Bay: After our expedition to Cat Ba Island we moved North, to the famous Halong Bay in order to visit the "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" pearl farm. We sailed on the Nang Tien junk belonging to the owner of the Viet-Y travel agency in Hanoi, who happened to be one of the author friends from the 1990's when the author was taking regularly groups of French tourists to visit Vietnam. As in January and May 2009, we visited one of the "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" pearl farming operations. With less than 1 million oysters it is, compared to most pearl farms in the rest of Asia, a small operation producing Akoya type pearls from Pinctada chemnitzii. During our visit we could witness there the grafting operation and the cleaning of the oysters performed on site in Ha Long Bay.
(A Vietnamese worker from "Vietnam Pearl Co. Ltd" working at the farm on Ha Long Bay.) Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010
Part 3: A visit to "Taiheiyo Shinju Viet Nam Co Ltd" pearl farm in Bai Tu Long Bay: After returning in the main land we took the road to the north in direction of the Chinese border. We moved to Van Don Island, the largest island of the Bai Tu Long Bay. There we took the boat to the "Taiheiyo Shinju Viet Nam Co. Ltd", a joint Viet Nam and Japanese company. The cruise was again beautiful; as the Bai Tu Long Bay has the same incredible marine landscape as Ha Long Bay but as it is much more remote there is nearly no tourists there. After about one hour sailing we reached the "Taiheiyo Shinju Viet Nam" pearl farm located on the western side of a remote island. The operation is much larger than the "Vietnam Pearl" operation and more than 100 technicians were working there, most of them being Vietnamese women.
(View over the "Taiheiyo Shinju Viet Nam Co. Ltd" pearl farm located in Bai Tu Long Bay, as we can see with the two Vietnamese and Japanese flags, the farm is a joint venture between Vietnam and Japan) Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010
Part 4: Return to Hanoi and visit of the "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" factory: We returned to Hanoi on April 14th in the evening. The following day we went to visit the "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" factory in Hanoi. There we could witness how pearls are prepared to be use in jewelry. In pearl farming as in gemstone mining, not all the production is naturally attractive enough to find a market; some treatments are thus required on the lower quality. These treatments can go typically from simple cleaning (in order to remove residues and odors) to more sophisticated techniques using gentle heating and prolonged exposure to light in order to bleach the pearls and produce whiter pearls. Some organic compounds are also commonly used in the Akoya type pearl industry after bleaching in order to produce a slight pink overtone or to get a better luster. These processes require a lot of experience and knowledge in order to be successful, they can be different from company to company and the details are usually kept secret. Nevertheless Mr. Thanh provided us some interesting explanations about the process used in his company on his pearls from Ha Long Bay and he allowed us to meet and speak with his technicians. It was a very interesting visit.
(Mr. Thanh presenting us some of his pearls from Ha Long Bay before and after treatment)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010
Finally after these few interesting days in North Vietnam Nick Sturman and Kham Vannaxay returned to Bangkok, while the author and the rest of his team continued their Vietnamese expedition to the ruby and spinel rich mountains of North Vietnam. Finally the author would like to thanks all his team for that wonderful expedition and also all the Vietnamese people who welcomed us and helped us and particularly Dr. Pham Van Long, from the "Vietnam National Gem and Gold Corporation" for his precious support and friendship.
GIA FE08 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 08): May. 15 - Jun. 10, 2009: Vietnam
After our FE02 expedition to Vietnam in Jan 2009, we had now all the contacts and were able to make all the arrangements in order to be able to conduct a complete survey of Vietnam mining areas. This project was done in collaboration with:
- Dr. Pham Van Long, a well known Vietnamese geologist and gemologist working as Director of the "VGC Center for Gem and Gold Research and Identification" in Hanoi. This is the Vietnamese official gemological laboratory which also delivers all the necessary paperwork to export legally gemstones from Vietnam.
- Mr. Hoc, my old friend, a local French speaking Vietnamese tour guide working for Viet-Y. I was working with Hoc while visiting Vietnam during the 1990's when I was working as a tour guide in Vietnam for FRAM, a major French Tour Operator.
To help me in this expedition were several friends, all experienced travelers: Jean Baptiste Senoble (from France, in charge of photography and sourcing), Kham Vannaxay (from France, video and translation as he speaks Vietnamese), David Bright (from USA, in charge of GPS recording and photography) and Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada, in charge of photography and accounting). Note: as usual, all the team members were financing their own traveling costs and their part of the common costs in this join expedition.
Our program was to visit first the ruby and spinel mining areas in North Vietnam in the Yen Bai and Nghe An provinces and also a pearl farming operation in Ha Long Bay and an experimental farm in Hanoi. Then we were planning to visit the blue sapphire deposits in the south of the country located in the Highlands region north of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
"The Hanoi Opera and the Vietnam 2009 team"
Posing in front of the beautiful Hanoi opera, one of the author's favorite French colonial style buildings, which color harmony was an inspiration for the design of this website third version, are the member of the author's team for that 8th expedition for the GIA Laboratory Bangkok: Left to right: Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada), Jean Baptiste Senoble (France), David Bright (USA) and Kham Vannaxay (France)"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
After a short stay in Hanoi to arrange all the expedition details, the first part of our expedition for the GIA Laboratory Bangkok was to visit the Yen Bai area with the Tan Huong and Thac Ba Lake ruby and spinel mining areas. Sadly due to the heavy rains of the previous week all mining stopped as the water level was high. We then left to Truc Lau (ruby and spinel) and then Yen The, the main city of the famous Luc Yen district of the Yen Bai province. If our first day in Yen The was rainy and thus spent to visit the local gem market and the different town dealers, the following days were blessed by a sunny weather which enable us to visit all the mining areas we planned to visit. That was wonderful as the author was not able to visit them as he wanted in 2005 and Jan. 2009 due to the weather conditions: We first visited on May 19th the Bai Chuoi and Khoan Thong mining areas which were the places were the Thais and VIGECO were mining with machinery during the 1990's. Then on May 20's we moved to the An Phu area to visit the Cung Truoi 2 and 3 (Note: "Cung Truoi" means "the Sky Gate" it is a high marble cliff which is divided in three areas: Cung Truoi 1, 2 and 3) ruby and spinel mining areas in a failed attempt to visit the May Thuong ruby mining area (Note: "May Thuong" means "the high clouds" as this is one of Vietnam most remote and difficult to access ruby mines). The expedition was very difficult due to the jungle covered karst type terrain where we had literally to jump from marble pinnacle to marble pinnacle risking at each step a serious wound if we put our feets in the wrong place. The following day, using a different guide and path we visited the Cung Truoi 1 red spinel mining area and finally, after another very hard walk in the karst type cliff, we succeeded to visit the May Thuong ruby mining area which is producing most of the ruby in matrix specimens seen in Luc Yen region markets. Then on May 22, we went on the track of Vietnam fabulous blue spinels and were able to visit the main deposits in Bai Son and Co Ngan after another hard walking day in the jungle covered mountains. After these great four days hiking Luc Yen region scenic but deadly mountains we returned to Hanoi exhausted but really happy...
"An incredible blue spinel from Vietnam"
Here is what we were looking for regarding Vietnam spinels: An incredible small neon blue spinel with a very high saturation and nearly no tone... A pure little blue "Jedi" spinel far away from the "dark side of the force".
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
Back in Hanoi we got prepared for the second part of our expedition which was about pearls: We first visited a cultured pearl farm producing "akoya" type pearls from "pinctada fucata" oysters on Ha Long bay and its hatchery located nearby. The visit was interesting as we could witness on the Bay the grafting process. Later in Hanoi we could visit a experimental fresh water bead nucleated pearl farm producing pearls from mussels.
We then visited in Hanoi a melo pearl dealer and were able to get some interesting useful information that enabled us few days after to visit the Cat Ba island and its port and to meet there Vietnamese melo melo fishermen. We were able to study several specimens of these mysterious sea snails producing in very rare cases one of the rarest, largest but also one of the most beautiful natural pearls: Melo pearls. (Read our report on www.giathai.net: "Melos and their pearls in Vietnam" for more details)
Finally after a visit to the Quy Chau and Quy hop ruby and sapphire mining area, which was very quiet, we took the plane to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in order to visit the blue sapphire deposit of Vietnam Highlands. We started our survey on the cost around Phan Thiet city with the deposits near Da Ban and with Ma Lam villages. Then we took the road to the mountain to visit the former mining area near Di Linh where there is currently no activity as most of the local working force is busy working in the coffee plantations which have replaced all the jungle and covering nowadays all the region. We finally left to the new province of Dak Nong (formerly Gia Nghia) where we scouted the Dak Ton and Dak Rung mining areas. There as the coffee was not yet replacing all the jungle we could find after several hours walking in the jungle some small scale mining areas and meet some sapphire and zircon miners.
"Melo snail in Cat Ba port"
A Vietnamese fisherman is holding a melo melo sea snail in Cat Ba port, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. These sea snails are known to produce in some very rare cases beautiful large natural pearls.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009
They after this visit to the south we returned to Hanoi in order to do, with the help of Pham Van Long, the necessary paper work for the export of our samples and returned to Bangkok on June 10th after a truly very successful field expedition.
Important Note: Vincent Pardieu is an employee of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Laboratory Bangkok since Dec 2008. Any views expressed on this website - and in particular any views expressed by Vincent Pardieu - are the authors' opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GIA or GIA Laboratory Bangkok. GIA takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any content on this website nor is GIA liable for any mistakes or omissions you may encounter. GIA is in particular not screening, editing or monitoring the content on this website and has no possibility to remove, screen or edit any content.