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September-October 2011

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Media Reviews: September/October 2011

Mineralogical Almanac two regular and one special issue annually; in English. Publisher Michael Leybov. Individual subscriptions are US $75; regular issues are US $35 each and special issues US $45. Order from U.S. representative Terry Huizing, 5341 Thrasher Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45247;; or directly at

Mineralogical Almanac is likely familiar to most collectors, since 2011 begins the sixteenth volume of this widely circulated periodical devoted primarily to Russian minerals and gems. Each volume consists of two regular issues of Mineral Observer and a single special issue, devoted in recent volumes to a specific mineral locality or district. Its publisher, Michael Leybov, and managing editor, Ludmila Cheshko, are well known as regulars at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show where Mineralogical Almanac is displayed prominently in the booth they share with Rocks & Minerals. Very important information, unavailable elsewhere in English, documenting unique Russian mineral localities, historical mineralogy, and mineral collections has been presented through the years in this journal, and its importance is emphasized by the continuing support of Lomonosov Moscow State University, the Russian Geological Society, and the Musée de Minéralogie of Mines in Paris. The journal's content is overseen by an editorial board that boasts such important international personages as Boris Kantor, Lydie Touret, and John S. White.

The most recent full volumes (volume 14, 2009 and volume 15, 2010) serve to illustrate the breadth of topics and details of coverage. Volume 14, issue 1 contains ten separate articles that span such subjects as the number of mineral species in nature, pseudomorphs and other oddities in the Fersman Mineralogical Museum, and detailed reports on the Denver and Munich mineral and gem shows. The second 2009 issue is an incredible presentation of the Uralian emerald mines and contains detailed chapters on the history of research into these deposits and the deposits' geology, specific orebodies, mineralogy, and paragenesis, not to mention a concluding comprehensive bibliography. Its 128 pages boast 164 illustrations that include 104 color mineral photographs. Issue 3 of volume 14 is highlighted by an important article by Galina Zimina that documents the wonderful diamond crystals and gems in the Diamond Fund of the Russian State Treasury. Accompanying articles include a discussion of the aesthetics of imperfection by Boris Kantor, a report on the first private mineralogical museum in Kiev, Ukraine, and the mineral oddities displayed at the 2009 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

The first issue in 2010 (volume 15, number 1) is dedicated to recently deceased American collector, lecturer, and author June Culp Zeitner. Its keynote article is a wonderfully illustrated discussion of the agates of Russia. Other articles include an interesting documentary of the past two centuries of friendly cooperation between the École des Mines de Paris and its Russian counterparts. Issue 2 for 2010 is devoted entirely to the peculiar Belorechenskoye deposit in the northern Caucasus of Russia. Its 96 pages contain chapters devoted to history, geology, hydrothermal veins, oxidation, and mineralogy, all highlighted by 81 mineral photographs, many sketches, and 59 mineral analyses. Volume 15, number 3 contains what is clearly a companion article to that on the diamonds of the Russian Diamond Fund, this one on platinum nuggets in the Diamond Fund, written by Vasiliy Orlov. This is the first color-illustrated article that clearly documents the famous and unsurpassed nuggets from the Nizhniy-Tagil and Is districts of the central Urals. The platinum nugget photographs by Michael Leybov are unquestionably the best ever published. Other interesting articles include one on the Duke Leuchtenberg mineral collection and a photo essay on Mexican minerals by Stuart Wilensky.

The latest issue (volume 16, number 1) is an excellent technical treatment of the Rubtsovskoe deposit in northwest Altai, Russia, so well known for the recent discovery there of the finest cuprite crystals ever found. There are 153 mineral photographs that clearly document the amazing cuprites, the copper pseudomorphs after cuprite, native silvers, and the unusual array of accompanying oxide-zone minerals.

Mineralogical Almanac is a well-produced journal that is clearly the product of unusual dedication by a relatively small, mineral-loving fraternity of Russian authors, collectors, and the journal's technical staff. The quality of its English, once somewhat puzzling at times, has clearly improved with each recent issue. It is highlighted by excellent maps, diagrams, and tables that often present new data (at least to those of us not fluent in Russian), compilations of information from unpublished sources, and geological information not previously available. Mineral collecting is certainly presented from an interesting global perspective, and, perhaps best of all, there are the ever-present, top-quality mineral photographs of Michael Leybov. Mineralogical Almanac deserves a place beside the other favorite journals of mineral enthusiasts, and to that end is highly recommended.

Russian Alexandrites by Karl Schmetzer, Schewizerbart Science Publishers, Johannesstr. 3 A, 70176 Stuttgart, Germany;, 141 pages; 2010; US $49.90 (hardbound).

Russian Alexandrites is a surprisingly comprehensive and detailed treatment of the historical, mineralogical, and gemological aspects of Russian alexandrite. Although Karl Schmetzer is the primary author, the book contains important contributions by George Bosshart, Marina Epelboym, Lore Kiefert, and Anna-Kathrin Malsy. The text begins with a historical overview of the source of these unusual gems, the emerald mines of the Tokovaya area in the Ural Mountains. Interestingly, these occurrences have been periodically active in one way or another since their discovery in about 1830 up until the present time. This chapter is followed by a detailed treatment of the discovery, naming, and historical use of Russian alexandrite proper. This section contains documentation from the Nordenskiold family archive including correspondence with Berzelius, descriptions of stones in the Leuchtenberg, Koksharov, and Kochubei collections, and interesting details on the production of alexandrite.

The next short chapter discusses Russian alexandrites in mineralogical museums and the “trade.” Then follows a chapter devoted to crystal morphology and twinning that begins with a good review of the literature. This chapter is followed by an excellent treatment of both mineralogical and gemological properties including a section on microscopic features such as twinning, growth structures, and fluid inclusions. There is a separate section on alexandrite cat's eyes and stars, and a comparison of growth patterns in Russian, other natural, and synthetic alexandrite. Chapter 9 is an excellent discussion of colorimetric data for Russian alexandrite and yellowish-green to green chrysoberyls. The color illustrations in this chapter are unusually helpful and treat alexandrite color changes and related variations in great detail. Chapter 10 is a discussion of alexandrite trace-element chemistry and its use in locality determination. The book contains an appendix with five parts including a list of references and an index. Also included within the appendix are seven tables that cover the most important emerald mines of the district, morphological properties of Russian alexandrites, color parameters of synthetic alexandrite, and so on. There is also an appended timetable that lists essentially all events of alexandrite importance through 1913.

Russian Alexandrite is the most comprehensive English treatment of this rare gemstone. It is very well edited and exceptionally well illustrated with more than two hundred color figures. Although it is often quite technical in nature, it still has much for the collector and in particular those interested in the history of unusual minerals and gemstones. I recommend it highly.

Ammonites—Treasures from a Lost World by Neal L. Larson. Ammonite Laboratory, Japan; 256 pages; 2009; $39.99 (softbound).

This interesting and colorful book is a departure from the norm. It is written by the co-owner of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research where, among other things, he curates one of the largest and finest collections of ammonites in the world. Although the text was originally written in English, there is a side-by-side Japanese translation by Masaru Sakai for all text, captions, tables, and lists. So, one might ask, why bother? The answer is simple: ammonites (those oft-coiled cephalopods that lived for a period of about 340 million years beginning in the Devonian Period) occur worldwide, are beautifully preserved at many localities, are scientifically important, and are very collectible, as anyone who has visited a random Moroccan or Madagascan dealer's booth at any major gem and mineral show has learned. The shells are often brilliantly iridescent, so much so that those from southern Alberta, Canada, are marketed as the relatively new and popular gem material ammolite.

The book begins with three short sections that include a foreword, an introduction, and a discussion of “Ammonites and Man.” The next 85 pages contain a chapter titled “The Natural History of Ammonites—Origins and Relatives.” Separate sections cover environment; the parts of the shell, with discussions of the three dominant types of septa or sutures (goniatitic, ceratitic, and ammonitic), ornamentation, jaws and radula, and deformities; extinction events; preservation; and importance. The bulk of the book follows with a long chapter called “Some of the World's Most Beautiful Ammonites” This is a geographically arranged photographic essay on ammonites from around the world. Almost every continent is represented, beginning with Africa (Madagascar, Morocco, and Nigeria), moving on to Australia and then Europe. Russia is treated separately. North America is covered somewhat differently, with emphasis on ammonite-rich rock units such as the Pierre Shale as well as geographic distributions by state or province. The long and beautifully illustrated chapter closes with the ammonites of South America, specifically those from Argentina and Peru. The final sections of the book include acknowledgements, books on ammonites, a general index, an index of scientific names, a locality index, a geologic time scale, and a glossary.

The great value of this book is the documentation of worldwide ammonites through the excellent photography of author Neal Larson. Every illustration is in color, and thumbing through the book gives one the impression that it may be simply a vehicle for displaying Larson's considerable photographic skills. It is more, however. It is the equivalent of a worldwide color-illustrated directory of beryl, or azurite, or any other important and colorful mineral species. It has scientific and educational value, particularly for those of us who have done everything possible to avoid fossils and focus our attention on minerals. In addition, the book can easily be a guide for those who might want to specialize in a fossil that can be field collected if desired and purchased at any mineral and gem show at a very reasonable cost. The text is brief, to the point, and certainly understandable for students with an awakening interest in the earth sciences. The printing and binding are of high quality, and there are few editorial glitches. It is well worth the price and is certainly recommended.

Exotic Gems Volume 1 by Renée Newman. International Jewelry Publications, PO Box 13384, Los Angeles, CA 90013. 153 pages; 2010; $19.95 plus shipping and handling (softbound).

This is the eighth informative book on gemstones written by Renée Newman. It deals with how to identify and buy tanzanite, ammolite, rhodochrosite, zultanite, sunstone, and moonstone and other feldspars. It includes information on evaluation and care and even a small amount of metaphysical lore. The book begins with acknowledgments and moves quickly into Chapter 1, a brief essay on exotic gems. Chapter 2 is a methodical treatment of gemstone price factors and includes separate headings on color, clarity, transparency, shape, gemstone terms, cutting styles and quality, brilliance, carat weight, and others, closing with a discussion of pricing. The next two chapters cover “Gem Treatments” and “Gemstone Identification Terminology,” respectively. Chapter 5 is devoted entirely to tanzanite and is quite good, covering every aspect of the gem and other zoisites, from their geographic distribution to their pricing and care. A short chapter on zultanite (color-change diaspore) is next, followed by chapters on ammolite and rhodochrosite. The feldspars are introduced in a separate chapter that is followed by detailed treatments of sunstone and moonstone. Chapter 12 delves into other feldspar gems, treating labradorite, andesine, amazonite, orthoclase, oligoclase, and bytownite in turn. Chapter 13 is quite useful, covering those things that need to be considered when choosing an appraiser, including how to find one, required qualifications, fees, and what an insurance appraisal should include. The book closes with a bibliography and an index.

This is a good book that could have been twice as long and far more expensive, but that was not the objective. Newman has set out to clearly and concisely educate the layperson in the area of gemstones through a series of inexpensive handbooks. This book, as are her others covering ruby, sapphire, and emerald; diamond; pearl; jewelry; and other related topics, is informative and illustrated exceptionally well. The present volume contains many, many color photographs that cover the spectrum of subjects from mining locality shots to cutting to subtle color variations to the finished jewelry, as appropriate. They include works by such well-known photographers as Tino Hamid in addition to those from gemstone suppliers, jewelry houses, and the author herself. A quick glance at the acknowledgments shows that a great deal of networking and editorial effort has gone into this publication. If you want to buy one of the materials covered by the book, already have spent your money but want an appraisal, or are just plain interested in zultanite, I highly recommend Exotic Gems Volume 1.

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