Today we have the pleasure of interviewing a person that is seldom seen, yet often mentioned, in the media.
Some have heard of him in these very columns as we interviewed Vincent Pardieu about his early trips to Burma, others may have seen a picture of him in Richard Hughes Ruby Sapphire A Gemologist Guide while others know him for his impressive spinel collection.
The Great White Shark of the trade, one of the few titans of our industry and one of the very early adopters of a gem that is very dear to us: the spinel!
Hemi Englisher started to travel to Burma to purchase the now coveted gem at a time when it was barely ever mentioned, at a time when it was superbly undervalued and underrated, at the time where most, us included, where still having milk on the tip of our noses!
It is with great pleasure that we welcome today Mr. Hemi Englisher!
Hemi on the right hand side (in blue) with Vincent Pardieu (easy to spot, find the hat), Ted Themelis (next to Hemi with the sand colour shirt) and Co in Phakam in 2004 - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: First of all I would like to thank you for being with us today Hemi. Can you tell us more about you? Who are you Hemi Englisher?
Hemi Englisher: The pleasure is mine, thank you!
Who am I? I have been trying to find the answer to this question for many years, since I was 8 I think...
One thing’s for sure, I am not a white shark nor a Titan. I would hardly qualify as a black sheep who roams far afield occasionally.
In the gem business context, I am a small dealer who always prefers colour to clarity and size.
AsiaLounges: As you may know, here at A Gem Dealer’s Journal we love to hear about people’s path through the trade. What brought you to our merry trade? Was it a family thing or a later love story?
Hemi Englisher: I started in the trade by doping Eilat stones at my dad’s workshop at the age of 12. All summer vacations were spent in that old workshop in Jaffa, Israel. He was one of few cutters whom developed and promoted Eilat stones, the legendary gems of Solomon Mine from Timna Valley. The mine was producing copper in biblical times, around the 10th century BCE. (https://www.timesofisrael.com/timna-copper-mines-dated-to-king-solomon-era/) and came back to life in 1951. Eventually, by age 16, I was promoted to high grading one tone Uruguayan Amethysts. Later on, when the Tmina mines were temporarily shut down, I travelled to Lima, Peru, buying Chrysocolla rough for Israeli companies.
Those were my early days in the trade.
Here is a picture of Hemi at his debut - Photo Credit: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: We mentioned in the introduction the fact that you were going to Burma, now Myanmar, to purchase the coveted Man Sin and Namya spinels before anyone in the trade ever heard about them. Can you tell us the story behind this adventure? Can you tell us more about what brought you to become one of this lovely gem’s early adopter?
Hemi Englisher: There was one English guy, all I remember is his last name: Cox. He was a gem vagabond from Bali, and he used to visit my workshop on Soi Sapan Yaoo near the GPO in Bangkok. On one of his visits, he showed me a bag of red octahedrons. He told me that these were Burmese spinels. The rest as the saying goes, is history.
We traveled to the recently open Mogok valley, which was closed for visitors since 1964 and, you cannot imagine the variety, size and quantity of gems that were accumulated in this time frame. We simply did not know how lucky we were!
Namya, on the other hand, is a trip I owe to Ted Themelis and his wife Veronica. They organised the trip with great skills, they even rented elephants. It was the trip of a lifetime! Vincent Pardieu, who was in the midst of his metamorphosis from being a tour guide to becoming a gem celebrity, volunteered to walk in the snake infested mud behind our elephants. He was in a gem business boot camp of sort.
Female dealers at Penyan Gy in 2004 - Myanmar - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: I’d love to hear your opinion about something that is seldom discussed: the reason why, albeit the fact that some of the most famous “rubies” in the world are, in fact, spinels were, and to a large extent remain, undervalued and widely unknown of the public?
Hemi Englisher: I believe that, although I cannot prove it, that there were more rubies than spinels. I guess that this is the reason why, for many years, before the days of modern gemmology, spinels were often mistaken for rubies. However, it is interesting to highlight that in the old gem cultures (such as India or Iran), the difference was known long before westerners ever thought of differentiating these gems, in fact, they were named, priced and evaluated in different ways. Should you be interested in learning more about that particular point, I’d invite you to take a look at the following link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24049040?seq=1.
Ruby or spinel, which is best is up to debate, one thing's for sure, this is a fine example of Spinel from Hemi's collection - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: I understand that you are, still to this day, the person that takes the pictures and takes care of the web site for your company. Do you believe that the period we are in, late 2020 early 2021, with COVID forcing us all to stay put that online sales are becoming the new normal? Is it, in your opinion, a viable alternative to trade shows such as the Hong Kong Gem and Jewellery show?
Hemi Englisher: Although technology today allows us to transfer images of very high quality, I still think that the personal touch, human interactions, is still prevailing. More than that, the proliferation of gem dealers on the internet is clearly bringing down the level of professionalism overall. While it is true that not every gem dealer is a gemologist, one must wonder, when reading things like “nearly eye clean”, “assuming no heat” or the fact that every square stone is considered to be an Asscher, whether there are any professional gem dealers left at all... That being said, whether internet and E-marketing is a threat to existing, established wholesalers, time will tell. Even as a school master of the old school, I really cannot say.
A Goya Colour Spinel, Mogok Exclusive, from GemCal's collection - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: Back to you as an individual, we often hear in the West that being a gemologist is an absolute necessity to become a successful gem dealer. In Asia, the opinion seems to be a little different and the reality on the ground even more so. What is your opinion on the topic? Are you a gemologist yourself?
Hemi Englisher: I am not an accredited gemologist but I have read a few books. I think people have to respect their profession, whatever it is, even if it takes reading a few books or asking the right people the right questions.
I know personally good dealers who are not gemologist, and I know a couple of gemmologists who will never be dealers. Apparently being a successful gem dealer requires a bit more than an academic title
When we say that the gem trade is a life of dedication, here is the perfect example with this lady gem dealer from the Mogok Valley in 2015 - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: Out of all the gems you have had the pleasure and privilege to work with, which one is your favorite and why? What makes this gem so special in your eyes?
Hemi Englisher: My favorite gems are the ones that were sold. It is a bit of a cliché so let me explain what I mean by that.
I enjoy buying more than I do selling. Buying is a very special occasion, something akin to having a date with a movie star. To me, it’s a split second of excitement followed by remorse where the gem dictates over your emotions and “forces” you to buy.
The Mogok Day Market in 2015 - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
Purchase is a very emotional moment that can only happen if you first sold a gem you purchased earlier. The sold stones enable me more future dates with future beauties.
We were lucky to buy a flawless 80 cts of Fanta colour spessartite garnet, in Chantaburi, of all places. We could not believe it when this stone landed on our table. Upon a full day of arduous bargaining, when we finally sealed the deal, one could say that we felt like walking on clouds. Truly a one of a kind type of feeling!
Some of Hemi's past shinny "dates" - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: Speaking about special gems, as someone that used to own and operate a gem cutting factory, what is your opinion regarding the “relatively recent” emergence of what is referred to in the market as “Russian Cutting”? Is the rebirth of cuts like antique cushions a fad or something deeper?
Hemi Englisher: I think that it is a very positive trend. There are many ways to interpret natural beauty. Gems are associated with jewelry and with fashion. A breeze of fresh air is always welcome.
In my case, the Art Deco movement has always been a strong font of inspiration, its futuristic flares are the most intriguing style of design, reflecting the outburst of imagination and creativity in the swinging years of the 20’s and the 30’s. Years of phenomenal advancement in aviation, science, art, made it a kind of modern Renaissance. As far as visuals, geometric shapes, clean and symmetrical lines typify the spirit of Art Deco and the same visual concepts reflect itself in the Bauhaus architecture, Cubism and more.
We started cutting geometric shapes and my favorite Asscher about four years ago, followed by hexagons, kites. So far so good.
Grey Spinel with Art Deco Touch from GemCal's collection - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: As you may have seen in our other interviews, we love to hear people’s opinion on the topic of the talk of the decade: Transparency, Ethics and Fair Trade. Is it, in your opinion, something that the end buyers are really looking forward to achieve? If yes, at what cost? Or is it more of a marketing move to secure the spot of the biggest players in the market? Bit of both perhaps?
Hemi Englisher: Fair Trade is an ideal. Transparency and ethics are the tools. Unfortunately we are not living in a perfect world.
Should anyone feel like wearing a $300 USD plus made in USA jeans instead of more affordable alternatives, I believe that one should be free to do so. Some end users are concerned about ethics, yet many aren’t.
Let us not forget that in a world where fact checking has been rendered particularly complicated by the emergence of “fake news”.
I think that in the end it is a matter of personal judgement and choice. As long as we understand that, in this business, more than any other industry, we have on one hand: the miners, cutters and dealers who’s way of life depends on this trade, and on the other hand: people who consume luxury for the sole pleasure of consuming something that the majority of the world would consider to be unnecessary. It is indeed pure hubris and everyone is welcome to make his or her choices on this spectrum.
Mogok Home Office - not sure they really consider "ethics" a priority - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: Last but not least, our traditional final question: Could you please provide our readers that wish to follow in your footsteps with 3 advices as well as 3 books that you believe any gem and jewellery lover should have in their library?
1. Buy with your eyes, not your ears.
2. Buy under full daylight, with your heart, not with your calculator. Pay a bit more and charge a bit less. Prices fluctuate, beauty and quality are timeless.
3. Avoid excessively self-obsessed customers, douche bags.
About the books, I have here many but always go back to Webster’s Gems. In order to be more updated you can refer to all the latest books on Mogok, Ted Themelis on heat treatment and Richard Hughes on Rubies.
Now we understand why Hemi considers buying gemstones to be date like, be like Hemi, keep the trade alive by fancying Earth's treasures from your local gem dealers - Photo Credits: Hemi Englisher
AsiaLounges: Thank you very much Hemi for being with us today, I am convinced that our readers, the Loungers, have enjoyed this interview as much as we did enjoy writing these lines.
As for us, we will meet you again soon in the Lounges with more exciting content! If you have enjoyed this interview please let us know by liking, commenting and sharing our work with your family and friends on your favourite social media platform. Don't forget that you can also support A Gem Dealer's Journal through our Patreon's Page. It helps us a lot and takes but a second!
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See you again in the Lounges,