2019 Highlights of travel and discovery
I promise to put down my pen and paper for Christmas but before I do, I’d like to share with you my 2019 highlights whilst creating the Gemstone Detective travel guide series.
With three of my books published on the same day, January certainly wasn’t dull. I’m not usually one to blow my own trumpet but how many authors can say they did that!?
February saw me turn 50 while on a research trip to the USA. My birthday was unforgettable for many reasons, but the best gift of all was my husband flying to Las Vegas to celebrate with me. One helicopter ride down the Grand Canyon followed by a rather fine dinner at Hell’s Kitchen and we were ready to be transported and mesmerised by David Copperfield’s magic show.
My husband and I flew into the Grand Canyon by helicopter
After Las Vegas, I embarked on a six-week epic adventure travelling around Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. My whole trip, travelling solo, was booked using Airbnb and a 4×4 hire car to get around. It won’t come as a surprise that my first stop was the Tucson Gem Show. One of the world’s most famous shows, it’s a must-visit for any gem enthusiast. Be prepared to be blown away!
The Tucson Gem Show
One of the quirkiest and most memorable places I have stayed this year was in a retro caravan parked in the middle of nowhere (or so it felt like) in San Antonio, where I stayed for five days, touring the local area.
I stayed in this rather lovely retro-caravan
I drove up to Magdelena, where I met Kimberly Nesvig at The Trading Post who told me about the Kelly Mine and introduced me to all the right people, including Dean and Connie Crane, a lovely couple who spent the afternoon showing me their stunning handmade jewellery collection.
I visited the Kelly mine in Magdalena, New Mexico
Susan and Scott, who run the Airbnb I stayed at in Rio Rancho, were outstanding hosts. Their hospitality was second to none and they went out of their way to cook a wonderful buffet so I’d get a flavour of the real New Mexico. They definitely deserve a place on my 2019 highlights list.
In Albuquerque, I popped into the Rattle Snake Museum where I met the owner, Bob Myers. Bob put me in touch with Joe Dan, the owner of the new Turquoise Museum in Albuquerque which, at the time, was still under construction. Joe Dan very kindly gave me a sneak-preview of the museum. By the time I left, understanding more about turquoise, I had completely changed the way I felt about the blue gemstone. The museum is an eye-opener and must-see for any turquoise enthusiast.
I learned a lot about Turquoise jewellery
It wasn’t all easy, though – the biggest challenge of travelling alone is the driving. I usually love driving but I felt completely overwhelmed by the eight lane motorways. I drove back from Tucson in the torrential rain in an unwieldy 4×4 with blacked-out windows and huge lorries on all sides. I kid you not, I was driving blind! The journey back to Tucson took me nearly nine hours and it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life!
I returned to the USA two months later, to research family holiday experiences with gemstones. This time, I flew into Boston on the east side and made my way west to Dallas Fort Worth in Texas.
It was wonderful to discover that the USA has so many great places for families to enjoy gemstone, rock and mineral collecting, digging for diamonds and gold panning.
One of my 2019 highlights was spend digging for quartz crystals
My base was the KOA resort located between Boston and New York, in Herkimer County. I discovered that when trying to find the KOA resort, I had in fact navigated myself to a different Herkimer Diamond mine than the one I’d intended. It turns out that there are a few other Herkimer diamond mines in the area. Having found the right one, I spent an exhilarating two days digging for Herkimer Diamonds. It’s an amazing place with all the facilities for a great family holiday!
At the top of my 2019 highlights – meeting Dr. Renee‘ Scialdo-Shevat
In fact, my road trip around the USA was full of similar discoveries and I came across tons of places where tourists can have an ‘authentic’ hands-on gemstone hunting experience. I met a few young families having a whale of a time digging around. It goes to show that it’s never too early to get kids interested in gemstones!
A first-time experience for me was panning for gold. Liz McCormick, the owner of the Lucky Strike Mine is happy to show anyone how it’s done properly. After a demonstration from Liz, I spent a few hours panning before my arms were ready to drop off. You need a lot of strength and patience, but it’s fun once you’ve got the knack! Naturally, I was able to keep my gold to take home as a reward for all that hard labour.
I waited my turn for a gold-panning lesson with Liz McCormick
Buying Gemstones & Jewellery in the USA was published in September 2019, on the same day I was in Kimberley, South Africa, visiting the Big Hole. Yes, I completely forgot about my own book launch and booked another flight! But my excuse is a good one: I was starting my research for the sub-Sahara Africa book!
A popular viewpoint which looks across Mogok
Top of my 2019 highlights was my trip in July to Mogok, otherwise known as ‘Ruby Land’. Last year when I travelled to Myanmar, I was only able to go to Mandalay and Yangon. But later in September, after a successful three-day event to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Mogok, the Government decided to open the doors to Mogok, granting access to tourists and visitors. This is a huge step forward for the people of Mogok who have been struggling, so I’m keen to help promote Mogok as the must-visit tourist destination for gem lovers that it is.
Another photo opportunity I couldn’t resist – 2019 highlights
Mogok offers so much in the way of a learning experience for novice gem buyers or for people who just love looking at gemstones and jewellery. The local people are helpful and friendly, the landscape is unspoilt and the green tea leaf salad is addictive! I really can’t wait to go back.
2019 has been good to me and I feel blessed. I’m delighted to have been asked to collaborate with so many organisations – Gemmology Today magazine, The London Jewellery School / Jeweller’s Academy and in February 2020 (the most exciting collaboration yet) you’ll find Gemstone Detective featured in the Tucson E-Z magazine! It doesn’t get better than that!
Of course, I’m completely open to new alliances, especially if it helps educate people who want to learn more about gemstones and jewellery. Speaking of helping to educate, I have launched a new service – 1-2-1 consultations for gem novices.
Another of my 2019 highlights has been giving Gem Talks. In September, I was honoured to be able to speak at the Jewellery Cut Live and in October, I was equally as thrilled to give a presentation about my travels in Mogok at the Scottish Gemmological Association symposium. The next Gem Talk in my calendar is at the GIA in London on March 25th, 2020.
When I launched the first Sri Lanka book in October 2018, I never in my wildest dreams thought that by the end of 2019 there would be six books published! It hasn’t all been plain sailing, but I love a challenge!
I have a good team who have all worked hard to help make it happen. And of course, without the generosity of the people I have met whilst travelling, who have openly shared their thoughts, knowledge and experience of the gem trade in their country, there would be no Gemstone Detective series at all!
And finally, I have a very understanding husband, who puts up with my absences as well as my demands when I’m home.
So my thanks goes to everyone who has been a part of my life this year; for spending time with me, trusting me and encouraging me. I am so grateful for all your support!
Justin K Prim came to Hatton Garden. Just one of my favourite 2019 highlights