Until Next Year!

Another buying trip in the books!  As always, the trip had some shortcomings and unexpected bright spots.

Finding good quality rubies has been difficult and prices have been high, but managed to close deals on seven of them in the one to one and a half carat sizes. Also procured half a dozen very fine sapphires in the 3 carat to 5 carat size range, but good sapphire in the 2 carat size ranges were hard to come by.

Among the unplanned purchases, is one hundred carats of very nice peridots in the three to four carat size range. I had all of the peridots recut to improve the polish and brilliance. Also, about 50 carats of very interesting bicolor tourmalines. Most of the tourmalines show minor visible inclusions, but the beautiful colors made them too compelling to pass over. These gems have also been recut to improve the luster of the facets.

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After the close of business, some gem brokers and friends had sort of a going away party for me at a local restaurant which is owned by one of the friends. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner featuring fish, pork, chicken, and vegetable dishes. The fresh Thai spices give the dishes wonderful flavors, although one needs to be careful about those little Thai chili peppers! One of the spices I enjoy most is freshly picked sprigs of pepper. This is something we can’t get back home because it’s only available near the source. They have a flavor which really can’t be matched by dried peppercorns or ground pepper. Another favorite dish which we can’t get back home is freshly roasted cashew nuts which are picked from the groves of cashew trees in this area. After they are roasted, they are rolled in sea salt and served with scallions, chili peppers, and a little bit of lime juice while they are still warm.

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Naturally, along with the delicious food are a variety of beverages. Ladies tend to drink water, tea, or fruit drinks as consumption of alcohol by women isn’t considered socially acceptable in Thai culture. On the flip side, men tend to consume liberal quantities of beer and Whiskey so brewers and distillers are still assured of a solid customer base.

As the evening progressed, and other customers began drifting out, someone started playing old fashioned American county music on the restaurant sound system. My friend, Mawn, and myself, both store bought cowboys, had a great time kicking up our heels as the music played. It was a festive day. Already looking forward to my return trip next year!

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The Captain and the Craftsman

Valentine’s day morning and half a world apart from my valentine but she lingers on my mind as I head out the front door of my hotel for my morning walk and exercise in the park.  It’s still Thursday evening back home. We aren’t only half a world apart but half a day apart. Somehow, these opposing factors have me yearning for personal tranquility. Sort of a mental reconciliation to achieve inner peace.

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Valentine’s Day in Thailand, 2019

While walking and exercising, I try to clear my mind of the immediate surroundings and current thought to the extent possible and focus my thinking on my great, great grandfather, Captain John Drew, the namesake of the Trade Winds collection. I think of how our character traits are similar in so many ways and the inner conflicts he conveys in his writings are so similar to those that I personally feel at times.

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Captain John Drew

As my thoughts dwell upon the life of Captain Drew, I am struck by the fact that each of us have plied our trade during the the waning days of our chosen occupations to some extent. For the captain, he was the last generation to make a living aboard great tall ships, soon to be outmoded by more modern and more reliable steam powered ships.

Likewise, I am among the last of a generation to design and create jewelry by drafting pen and ink illustrations and creating the three-dimensional originals by carefully hand carving wax models, using small tools under magnification. These models will typically take several hours and occasionally days to create. There is a certain amount of intuitive feel which needs to be applied along the way to achieve the contours and dimensions which are not only illustrated in the sketch but also live within my mind’s eye. Along the way my mind and hands are constantly making slight readjustments, adding a little wax here, shaving a little bit there until the desired affect is achieved.

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Fair Winds and Following Seas Blue Sapphire & Diamond Ring

Just as Captain Drew’s great sailing ships were replaced by more modern vessels, jewelry craftsmen like myself are being replaced by computers and three-dimensional printers.  By the magic of modern computer technology, today’s up and coming jewelry designers create images on a computer screen which can be turned, twisted, adjusted, and viewed from every possible angle. A change in any aspect of the design can be achieved by a few key strokes. Once the design is created on the computer screen, it’s simply a matter a hitting the print key to start the process of creating the model.

To be truthful, I must concede that what can be done with these computers and three-dimensional printers is more precise than what a craftsman like myself could ever hope to achieve by our quaint old methods. In fact, there are some things which this technology can do that are literally impossible to do by hand, because of the nature of the way the printers create the models. This technology has also given rise to designs like the “halo” styles which have become so popular today. Trying to create those types of styles with any sense of consistency using hand crafted methods would be nearly impossible.

Being at the twilight of my career and not at all proficient with computer technology, I’m reluctant to take up these modern methods of jewelry design. Although jewelry created by the old methods may not be as precise as those created by computers, there is a personal relationship which exists between the craftsmen and their pieces. I appreciate the fact that some jewelry aficionados still value the old world craftsmanship and personal emotion which go into each of the pieces of the Trade Wind Collection.

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Sea Sense

Emerald & Diamond Ring

CMT 1903

From Cross’s Clipper Ship Trade Wind Collection

View Cross’s Trade Wind Jewelry Collection

Read Captain Drew’s Journals

Mixed Fortune

The last few days have been met with mixed fortune in the gem market. Unfortunately, a much-awaited shipment of 100 carats of oval, one carat size sapphires which I had contracted to be cut in Sri Lanka arrived on Friday and was largely a disappointment with about one half of the shipment being of substandard quality for use in the Trade Winds collection. After some heated discussion with the Sri-Lankan cutter who tried to pass off the inferior gems to me, and demanding I must pay because I had contracted for the order, we settled at a reduced price and the promise that he would never get business from me again.  Normally, I would never contract to buy gems sight unseen, but in recent years I have simply been unable to find enough sapphires of high quality in certain sizes to meet the demand for certain Trade Wind pieces.

Hopefully, I will find a gem dealer in America who will take these inferior sapphires off my hands at a minor loss. Cross Jewelers customers can be assured that they will never be incorporated into any of the Trade Wind collection.

On a brighter note, I was able to pick up about 25 carats of one carat sapphires on the market Saturday, which will partially make up for the unsuitable gems brought from Sri Lanka. Along with these, I finally closed the deal on a dazzling 5.4 carat sapphire which had been the subject of negotiation for over two weeks.  On Sunday, I was able to close a deal on four one, to one and half carat rubies which had also been under negotiation for a couple of days. Good quality rubies are hard to find on the market prices range from high to very high. Although reluctant to pay the prices, I know that there are always a few Trade Winds customers in search of ruby jewelry, so I had to capitulate. Even at that, I was only able to persuade the broker by offering him a bottle of whisky if he could close the deal at my final offer. I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that this isn’t the first time that I have used a bottle of whisky to close a gem deal in my favor.

At the close of the market on Sunday, I was emotionally drained and ready for a getaway to my favorite retreat on earth, which is Chao lao beach in southeast Thailand. Along the way, I stopped at a friend’s house.  She and her friend insisted that I take along some fruit to the beach, picking half a dozen bananas off a tree in her yard then climbing high into their mango tree to pick a few of the choice ripe mangos. Now looking forward to ocean breezes, warm sunshine and the delicious fruits provided by my caring friends.

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Returning Tide

Pink Spinel Ring

CMT 1907

From Cross’s Clipper Ship Trade Wind Collection

View Cross’s Trade Wind Jewelry Collection

The Trade Winds Gem Acquisition Team

Over the years, as I shopped the gem markets in Thailand, there are certain gem brokers who have become accustomed to the type and quality of gems which are used in the creation of the Trade Wind collection and are always scouring the markets, talking to cutters, and talking with miners in an effort to find those gems for me or to send others to me who might be able to supply those gems. In the past, I have been referred to as a “Forlahn” or “Con Dahn Cha” as a way of distinguishing me as the white guy on the market. With more Europeans, Russians, Czechoslovakians, etc. on the market, I have taken to wearing a cowboy hat and they now refer to me as the cowboy when they see me on the market, distinguishing me from the other white foreigners who might also be on the market. Although I am far from fluent in the Thai language, I can hear chatter on the gem markets and can understand the various gem dealers, brokers, cutters, etc., saying the cowboy is looking for this or that.

Although I will see dozens of brokers and cutters on every trip, most of them are only interested in trying to sell me what they have to offer, which is typically too small, low quality, poorly cut, or deficient in some other way. It always amazes me that there are literally millions of carats of gems available on the Thailand gem markets at any one time and I am usually hard pressed to find the three or four hundred carats of select gems for use in the Trade wind collection over a period of one to two months each year.

This year, I have brought along several of Cross Jewelers, Trade Wind collection catalogs to present to my MVP brokers as a way of illustrating how the gems they supply me are used. Not only were they pleased that I thought of them by bringing them each a copy of the catalog, but is also serves as a visual reference for them when trying to track down gems suitable for the Trade Wind collection.

In this dispatch, I would like introduce the readers to a few of these MVP brokers who make the trade winds collection possible. These are the people behind the scenes in the creation of my jewelry. Without these hard working brokers, the Trade Wind collection would not be possible.

Nong

Nong

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Eaht

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Nang

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Pat

 

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Buddha Prayer

Garnet & Diamond Earrings

From Cross’s Clipper Ship Trade Wind Collection

CMT 1880

View Cross’s Trade Wind Jewelry Collection

 

 

 

Soaking up the Sunshine

Jim caught a flight out of Bangkok, bound for Tokyo early this morning, then on to America.  With a favorable connection, he should arrive back to Boston in about twenty-four hours.

For his last meal in Thailand, we ordered a whole plate of “bah ton koh” (not sure of the English spelling, if there is one, so using a phonetic spelling). It is one of Jim’s favorite Thai foods. It is something like a small fried dough that we get at the beach in the summertime back home. They are usually served with two types of dipping sauce. One sauce is a clear sugar cane extract with tiny flecks of red and green and the other is a more viscous honey like sauce. Both are very sweet. Just venturing a guess by the good taste, that these must be an unhealthy culinary delight, but on balance, probably worth the minor dietary risk once in a while.

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After seeing Jim off, I headed back to the mining district of Chanthaburi, arriving at my hotel a bit before noon. Now that my functions as teacher, guide, and occasional interpreter for Jim have come to an end, I took the opportunity to relax at the hotel swimming pool and soak up a bit of the warm, tropical sunshine. Add to that, a good book and refreshing beverage and it made the perfect combination for a relaxing afternoon.

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Later in the afternoon, it was time for a good nap and then an early evening stroll around town. The air was very still this evening adding to the sensory pleasure of the walk. The pungent scents of flower blossoms, food being cooked by street vendors, and maybe even a hint of diesel exhaust make the walk so pleasant indeed. I stopped along the way to pick up a bit of fresh salad, a piece of fried chicken, a cup of watermelon juice on ice, and some rambutan (a locally grown fruit that looks akin to a sea urchin) for dessert which I bought back to the hotel for dinner.

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After dinner, a cup of fresh brewed espresso in the coffee shop of the hotel lobby made for a perfect ending to what is officially my most relaxing day of the new decade!

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From Sea to Shining Sea

Blue Sapphire & Diamond Ring

From Cross’s Clipper Ship Trade Wind Collection

CMT 1893

View Cross’s Trade Wind Jewelry Collection

Jim Takes the Cake!

It’s Sunday evening in Chanthaburi, Thailand. Today was Jim’s last day of gem buying before heading back to America, but I’ll stay on for another few weeks to continue the search for more gems.

Although we seem to go out to dinner with friends almost every day, this evening’s dinner was a particular celebration of Jim’s initial success as a gem buyer. The location was a newly opened restaurant on the riverfront at the edge of town.

After several bottles of Chang beer and toward the end of our wonderful meal, Jim commented on a waiter walking by with a birthday cake mentioning how delicious it looked. The candles were lit and a door opened as the waiter slipped into a room surrounded by glass walls where there were about 25 or 30 people having a birthday celebration. We could witness the celebration and singing of “happy birthday” from the table where we were seated.

Jim said “I wonder if I could get a piece of that cake?” Knowing Jim to be slightly mischievous and of fun-loving nature, I slapped 100 baht down on the table and said “If you can crash that party and return to our table with a piece of their birthday cake, the hundred baht is yours” Jim was up for the challenge! Our Thai friends coached Jim on how to beg for a piece of cake in Thai language. We could hear diners at tables near us chuckling as they realized what Jim was planning.

Proficient at his lines, Jim arose from the table and marched right into the middle of the birthday party and asked for a piece of their birthday cake. The attendants of the party found Jim quite entertaining and even invited him to dance with them a little before bestowing a piece of the coveted birthday cake upon him. Jim returned to our table among the laughter and rejoicing of the birthday party goers and fellow diners alike.

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Jim shared his cake with the rest of us and collected his well earned hundred baht. I suspect that the one-hundred-baht bill will be displayed in a prominent place at Jim’s home or office as a reminder of this hilarious evening. Our friends were still laughing about it when they dropped us off at our hotel an hour later.

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Scotch Whiskey

Honey-Gold Citrine & Diamond Necklace

From Cross’s Clipper Ship Trade Wind Collection

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View Cross’s Trade Wind Jewelry Collection

Our Luck Turns…

I awoke with a feeling of tranquility and a premonition that today was going to be a good day.  Jim and I headed out from the hotel at about 6AM for a morning walk and exercise in the park. The weather was cool by Thai standards, perhaps in the high seventies, with a gentle breeze. We returned to the hotel at about 8AM, showered, then met some gem merchant friends for a hearty breakfast. A short time later, we headed to the gem market.

Prior to today, the gem market had been fairly quiet with few gems of interest being offered to us. Most of what had been offered to Jim and I prior to today were gems of inferior quality.

Our luck turned in a big way today!  There was a constant stream of gem brokers and cutting shop owners offering us a variety of gems, but mostly sapphires. Over a period of about five hours, we were able to close deals on about 80 carats of very nice sapphires. We paid slightly higher prices than I was paying a year ago, but this was mostly because of the change in the currency exchange rate.  The value of the American dollar has fallen about 7% against the Thai baht since a year ago. Most of the sapphires we bought are the pure blue variety of medium to light tones. They are mostly oval gems in the one to 3 carat sizes of very good cutting quality and exceptional brilliance. Two notable gems are a super fine sapphire of 3.29 carats with intense blue color and another of about 5 carats which is equally as fine.

Typically, gems are traded in indirect natural daylight but I don’t buy gems after about 3PM because the lower angle of the sun tends to play tricks on my eyes when trying to evaluate color. There were still sellers waiting to see us at 3PM, so we told them to come back tomorrow. It’s comforting to know that there will be more gems coming our way tomorrow.

In the morning, we did notice that our hotel which is normally crowded with gem buyers from around the world, was rather sparsely populated. The staff at the hotel says there have been a high number of cancellations. They suspect that the outbreak of the Chinese coronavirus is dissuading people from travel to and within Asia. No doubt, this has led to a shortage of buyers on the gem market, cutting down on the competition between buyers and giving Jim and I a relative competitive advantage.

After going to the bank to restock our dwindling supply of cash, we returned to our hotel, freshened up and went out to meet friends for an early dinner. We enjoyed a perfect evening, dining outdoors in the balmy evening air. We enjoyed a selection of fish, chicken, pork, and vegetables with liberal quantities of whisky and beer while recapping our buying successes of the day. This was our most successful day on the gem market so far.

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Lucky Clover

Tsavorite Garnet & Diamond Earrings

From Cross’s Clipper Ship Trade Wind Collection

CMT 1925

View Cross’s Trade Wind Jewelry Collection

From Mine to Market

This has been a banner day for Jim! It was his first trip to a gem mine and the conditions were perfect.

It was a hot and clear day when we departed our hotel in search of a sapphire mine in the nearby town of Bankacha.  Bankacha is an agricultural town with narrow, winding roads which weave through dense foliage. It is rare to see the road more than a hundred feet ahead and it’s easy to become disoriented. It’s something like driving through a corn maze. Even with Noi as our guide, we became lost two or three times before actually locating the mine we were destined for.

Upon arrival, we could see a group of four miners working at the bottom of a wet, muddy pit. Some of them were waist deep in mud and water. There was a small backhoe type piece of equipment which was scooping mud from the base of the pit. Mostly, the scoops of mud were just discarded to one side but every now and then when the mud looked like it held the promise of gems, the bucket would be emptied into the hopper of a hydraulic washing device and rinsed under high pressure water. The water pressure is created by a large pump driven by an old truck engine which is suspended by chains from a sturdy steel tripod.

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From this hydraulic washer, the potential gem bearing material is forced into a pipe of about four inches in diameter where it traveled a few hundred yards through the pipe, over a roadway, and into a hydraulic separator.  This separator has the ability to further refine the gravel and mud based upon specific gravity. Since sapphire has a high specific gravity, it tends to settle to the bottom of the separator, while lighter materials are washed away. From there, the sapphire crystals are manually hand selected from the screens in the separator. This works on the same principal as the sluices and pans which are used to recover gold from stream beads.

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With the mine in full operation, Jim was able to witness every stage of the recovery process. The mine owner and workers were very gracious and gave Jim some samples of the type of rocks which indicate the presence of sapphires and also a bag of low-quality sapphire crystals which are unfit for use as gems. The mine owner, Wat, also sold Jim a small gem quality crystal of a greenish-blue color for the equivalent of about $50 American. He said that they recently recovered a single blue sapphire crystal which was sold for about $65,000 from that particular mine.

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After leaving the mine, we stopped at a local restaurant for a delicious lunch of fish, pork, chicken, and rice before heading off to a local gem cutting shop.

When we got to the shop, Jim watched as a gem cutter showed him the process of “dopping” (mounting the crystal on the end of a narrow steel rod), then securing the dop into a device called a tang, which holds the dop securely against the faceting wheel.  The gem cutter then rotated and altered the angels of the dop several times within the tang to get the angles and orientation of the facets in such a way as to get the best color and brilliance from the crystal. After doing this for the top “crown” of the gem, the crystal was removed from the dop and remounted so the cutter could work on the bottom “pavilion” of the gem, employing the same method that had been used for polishing the crown. The entire process only took about half an hour and resulted in a lovely oval gem of about one carat.

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It was a terrific day which gave Jim the opportunity to see how a gem is created from mine to market. Few gemologists ever have the chance to see the entire process like this.

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Returning Tide
Orange Garnet Ring
From Cross’s Clipper Ship Trade Wind Collection

CMT1383

View Cross’s Trade Wind Jewelry Collection

Fun-Filled Day!

Jim and I returned from Chao Lao beach to our hotel in Chanthaburi about mid-day and soon after met up with my friends John and Oy. John is an American from the Seattle area who met his wife, Oy, when he was stationed in northeast Thailand, near the Laos border, during the Vietnam war. I met John while walking in a nearby park about five years ago.

John and Oy brought us to a unique restaurant in a town just south of Chanthaburi for lunch. The interesting feature of this restaurant is the color of the rice which has an indigo hue. Oy explained that the rice is cooked with the extract of a certain type of flower which creates violet-blue color. Apparently, this is a cooking technique which originates in Laos, close to the area where she was born. Along with the blue rice, we enjoyed delicious fried chicken which is prepared without batter and a couple of other pork and vegetable dishes which are typical to the Thai diet.

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Following our meal, we drove along the coast to an area known for its large population of monkeys.  There were dozens of monkeys from infant size all the way to what looked like bearded senior citizen monkeys. They were quite docile. Jim even fed one a banana out of his hand. It was interesting to note that there were also dozens of wild dogs occupying the same area with the monkeys and they seemed to be coexisting peacefully. In the past, when I have seen monkeys and dogs in the same place, they tended to be antagonizing each other.

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From the location where the monkeys and dogs were, Jim and I hiked along a wooded path for a half mile or so. Along the way, we could hear the trunks of the bamboo trees rubbing against each other, creating an eerie sound like there was something or someone lying hidden in the woods. When we came across a sign with a picture of a king cobra and misspelled “poisonous snke” caption, we decided that discretion is the better part of valor and headed back to where we came from.

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On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a farmer’s market where Oy purchased three kilos of papayas, Jim bought some fresh baked coconut cookies and I picked up a kilo of rambutans for myself. It was another fun-filled day!

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Returning Tide High Seas

Amethyst & Diamond Ring

From Cross’s Clipper Ship Trade Wind Collection

CMT1933

View Cross’s Trade Wind Jewelry Collection

 

A Nice Dinner and a Relaxing Day

Last evening, Jim and I headed to the beach at Chao Lao which is about half an hour drive from the gem markets in Chanthaburi where we met up with a group of friends for dinner and cocktails. Upon arrival, we were escorted to a table which was situated about thirty feet back from the water’s edge. In addition to Jim and I were my friends, Noi and Gift and their daughter, Fa, along with friends Ton and Or, and their daughter.

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It was nearly high tide. The sun was setting and there was a stiff breeze coming off the water. The scent of cooking seafood and salt air reminded me of one of those ocean front restaurants back home that serve fried clams and such to tourists. Before long, our table was strewn with bottles of whisky, beer and water along with an assortment of crabs, soup, fish, chicken, and more. Conversation in poor quality Thai and English went on until long after sunset.  It was an enchanting evening filled with smiles and laughter.  At the end of the evening there was much hand shaking back slapping and such as we parted company. Jim and I stayed in a couple of bungalows we had rented while the others returned to their homes in Chanthaburi.

When we woke in the morning, the sky had a very odd look. In the foreground of the blue sky were black and white clouds. The clouds weren’t dark on the bottom and white on top like we typically see but they were clouds that were entirely white or entirely dark. I don’t ever recall seeing the sky like this before.

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Jim and I passed the day by lounging around the beach, swimming, and talking about the gems we have seen and the ones we still hope to see. At one point, we took a stroll to a local farmer’s market. Jim picked up a couple of kinds of locally grown pineapples which he says are delicious. It was a delightfully relaxing day.

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The Gull

Moonstone & Diamond Ring

From Cross’s Clipper Ship Trade Wind Collection

F9191

View Cross’s Trade Wind Jewelry Collection