Today we receive Vincent Pardieu, one of the most famous, if not the most famous field gemologist in activity. Vince has been working for AIGS, then Gübelin and rose to fame through his tenure at GIA as he started the Field Gemology department for the Bangkok chapter of the famous organisation.
Today, while providing independent services at “VP Consulting SPC”, he is affiliated to DANAT, the Bahrain based lab where he is building a reference collection. This endeavour allows him and his teams of cameramen and photographers to travel the world and go from mine to mine and further gemological knowledge worldwide.
Today, we’ll pick his brain about field gemology obviously, but also about his thoughts about the trade, the tendencies and of course about his favourite gems.
Without any further delays, we give you Vincent Pardieu!
Here is a picture of Vincent Pardieu featuring his "Expect the Unexpected" Polo Shirt in the Ulu. Photo: V. Pardieu
AsiaLounges: Hi Vincent Pardieu, thank you for accepting our invitation today. Can you tell us more about you? Who are you Vincent Pardieu?
Vincent Pardieu: LOL, I’m a curious human being… Born in South West France. I’m a guy with many interests such as nature, people and traveling. It is for that reason that one day I discovered a passion for gems since gemology is a domain of knowledge touching so many areas from sciences, art, history, geography, languages, trade, etc… Thanks to that I never get bored.
AsiaLounges: Can you tell us more about Field Gemology? What is it exactly, what does it entails and what brought you to it?
Vincent Pardieu: Field Gemology is the practice of gemology outside of the lab, in the field. Many gemologists go to the field to buy gems. But I would consider them to be more a kind of traders or merchants. On the other hand, lab gemologists are not supposed to be involved in trading, they are either “lab” or “field” gemologists depending on where they are active. On my side, field gemology is mainly about going to the field to collect reference samples for gemological laboratories willing to build a reference collection and work on research. This means that in the end there should be some publications rather than gemstone selling. The reason I started doing that was because, in 2004, some gem merchants have tried to motivate me to produce some articles about their gems and I found out that they were lying about the origin of these gems. They were actually trying to use me in order to divert potential competitors to a deposit far away from the place they were actually getting these stones from. I was then advised by Georges Bosshart and Henry Hanni that it would be better if I were to collect myself the stones I was going to write about. Eventually, in 2005, I started a website called fieldgemology.org (Currently under construction) that presents my findings and my travels.
AsiaLounges: In a previous interview with E.Billie Hughes we discussed the importance of gemology and gemological reports. How does Field gemology impacts the life of lab gemologists and, by ricochet, the world of gems and jewellery as a whole?
Vincent Pardieu: Well, a lab gemologist produces reports. They compare their clients’ stones to what they have studied in the past as well as with the gems present in their reference collection. If the so-called “reference stones” they have studied were not correctly labeled if, lets say the “sapphires from Sri Lanka” they studied were actually stones coming from Madagascar, they will probably face many problems.
Building an accurate reference collection is critical as it enables any lab or gemologist to build his current and future knowledge on solid bases. It is only with that, that, articles he/she publishes might be correct. Basically we can see all research as a chain. And this chain will be as strong as its weakest link. You may have the best instruments, the best research gemologists but, if you feed them with the wrong samples, all their talent will be wasted and their work rendered useless.
Here is an old photo taken during Vincent very first field expedition. It was in Myanmar in 2000 and they were on their way to the Namya ruby and spinel deposit. It was during that expedition that Vincent started his interest for the bright “hot pink” spinels he will call later “jedi” spinels (see article in G&G). Photo by somebody kind.
AsiaLounges: Are all the samples you collect of equal value for research and production?
Vincent Pardieu: Well, actually no they are not. That’s why, since my early days going to the field, I developed a system that carefully documents each sample. While a sample collected in Tucson can be as interesting as a sample collected on site, say, at the mine in Madagascar, it is clear that the research gemologist should not have the same level of confidence in these 2 samples.
Therefore, with each sample I collect, I attach a code documenting how the sample was collected:
-“A type” sample means that the field gemologist mined it.
-“B type” means that the field gemologist witnessed the mining of that sample.
-“C type” means that the field gemologist collected the sample on site, at the mine but without witnessing the sample being mined. For example, it could have been in a miner’s pocket…
-“D type” sample was collected from the miner but not at the mine.
-“E type” sample was not collected from the miner, but it was collected in the region where it was mined from a merchant or anybody besides the miner (so in that regard, any faceted stones, as it was cut by a cutter, cannot be of higher rank than “E type”).
-“F Type” sample was collected from a secondary source in an international market, like an International Gem Show.
Actually my job as a field gemologist is to travel to gem producing countries in order to get A to E type samples.
Collecting Ruby samples at Maninge Nice, near Montepuez in Mozambique. Using a GPS (even a very old one…) is the best way to remember when and where samples were collected. Photo: V. Pardieu © GIA
AsiaLounges: You have travelled the world in search of, mostly, ruby, sapphires and spinel mines. Was it out of personal choice, professional obligation or a bit of both perhaps?
Vincent Pardieu: You first need to understand that, the work of a research gemologist is to address the issues of our colleagues in production. So is it a personal choice? A professional obligation? It is a bit of both really. Let’s say that I happily volunteered to do that as this is exactly what I enjoy doing! It is common sense really and I love it.
AsiaLounges: How do you plan a field gemology trip?
Vincent Pardieu: I’ll start by saying that, for me, there is a big difference between a field expedition and gemological tourism. I understand field gemology as being part of the research and, research starts where the currently available knowledge ends. This means that before going on a field expedition, I try to collect and read everything that was ever published on the place and stones I will go to. Then, when this is done, it becomes very easy to find out the differences between what was already published (which is “bibliographical research” to be done before traveling to the field) and what is actually unknown. The later being what I consider to be: “field research”.
AsiaLounges: Are you already planning the next one? If yes, can you let us in the Secret of the Gods?
Vincent Pardieu: Yes, of course I always have plans but with field gemology you have to expect the unexpected at all times. First there is what I call “unfinished business” meaning the places I tried to visit and that I was not yet able to visit. I don't like “unfinished business” and I’m all the time trying to find a way to add some spots on my map.
Regarding the next one, it might be Brazil… as for DANAT, the lab I’m currently helping to build a trustable reference collection, the priority is on emeralds and I’ve already visited most of the other major emerald producers on their behalf. But, once again: I’ve to expect the unexpected.
AsiaLounges: Are your field trip team “open”?
Vincent Pardieu: Yes and no. The thing is, I don’t enjoy traveling solo. There are many reasons for that. The first one being security: Obviously if something happens to you it is good to have somebody you can trust to help you., The second is that traveling with people is a great way to make memories and friends. The third is that it is also a wonderful way to learn from people that are more knowledgeable than I am. Therefore, I open my expeditions to people who can convince me that they will be useful while avoiding trouble makers.
AsiaLounges: How do you recruit your team mates?
Vincent Pardieu: One of the rules I try to never forget is to only go in the field with people I know and trust. Therefore, much like with dating, it usually starts with a coffee, a lunch or diner. If there is a good feeling, we might then go to the field for a week end or two. Only then, if I see that a common project makes sense, will I consider inviting that person for a longer expedition.
Vincent and a group of friends at Cung Truoi cliff, near An Phu in the Luc Yen Province of Vietnam. For the past 10 years, Vietnam was a regular starting point for people willing to travel with him. Photo by somebody kind.
AsiaLounges: Any advice to the “younglings” that would want to follow in your or your “padawans” footsteps?
Vincent Pardieu: Be motivated. Be curious. Be patient. Be positive, as I really dislike complainers. Be useful to the team. Be organised. Be ready for the worse so you will enjoy the best. Expect the unexpected. But if you really want to go to the field and I’m not available: Just do it by yourself. This is how I started and this attitude has served me pretty well so far.
AsiaLounges: Speaking about Padawans and Younglings, you have been known to associating StarWars terms with gems and coworkers. (Jedi Spinels, Wim “The Padawan” Vertriest, etc.) Can we expect more fun terms coming from you? Any in preparations at the moment? Where did it come from?
Vincent Pardieu: I have learned that the best way to keep the piece in a team is to remain neutral on topics like politics and religion. Therefore, when I want to touch the topic of ethics, I use Star Wars related terms as it is universal and fairly neutral.
Concerning the “Jedi” term, it came when I was a spinel buyer for Henry Ho. Originally, it was a code we used in order to keep our conversation private while discussing about a particular stone. I have discussed this in an article published in Gem & Gemology.
Eventually, other terms were coined in in a similar fashion. For example, a term like “Windex” for cobalt blue spinels. This one came from my two padawans: Jean Baptiste Senoble and Lou Pierre Bryl, as in the early 2009 we were trying to find where the highly saturated spinel from Vietnam were coming from. Communication about color with the Vietnamese (who were not speaking much English then) proved to be challenging. We had very hard time making them understand which color we were searching for until Jean Baptiste found a bottle of “Windex” glass cleaning liquid in a nearby shop. From this point on, everything became crystal clear as we all had a great colour reference that everybody could understand.
Until today, should the topic of bright vivid blue spinels come to the table, we still use this “Windex” colour reference among us. That said, unlike with the “jedi” story, I have yet to turn this story into an article.
Vincent and his cameraman Didier at the emerald mines near Khenj village, in the Panjshir valley of Afghanistan: "Traveling with a good friend is not only useful to document an expedition with photos and videos but it is also a way to stay safe." Photo: Ramin Habibi / DANAT.
AsiaLounges: I understand that you are about to start your dive master certifications in order to make the pearl hunt a reality for DANAT. Can you tell us about your recent implication in the world of pearls?
Vincent Pardieu: It is actually something coming from my time at Gubelin Gem Lab when, with Christian Dunaigre, we visited a South Sea Pearl farming operation in Myanmar with the help of Kham Vannaxay, from Sofragem in Bangkok. It was in December 2007 and, during that expedition I had my very first diving experience using some “hard hat” type equipment left by Japanese pearls farmers at the end of the 1950’s. The Pearl farm was located in the Mergui archipelago and it was just a wonderful experience.
Then, again my padawans, Jean Baptiste Senoble and Lou Pierre Bryl, highjacked one of my field expedition to Vietnam and convinced me to go with them on a Melo Pearl hunt from Hanoi to Cat Ba island and Ha Long Bay… It was, again, a great experience.
Since then, I have developed a love relationship with pearls and, when Danat asked me to consider going on pearl diving expedition, I decided to ready myself to it and took diving lessons with friends in Madagascar last year.
Since DANAT asked me to consider going this year to a Pearl diving expedition, I’m taking that qualification more seriously and will do my best to be qualified for this challenge. This is why the “Dive Master” program should keep me busy for the next two months.
Vincent and Jean Baptiste Senoble in Luc Yen, Vietnam in 2005: "Traveling with good friends is my favorite way to travel. It is about making memories together and learning from each other. My advice to people: Travel with people you know and appreciate already..."
AsiaLounges: As you know we are huge fans of the garnet family, could you tell us why is it that most labs, if not all, are somewhat looking down on them when it comes to research on origin determination, treatments, etc?
Vincent Pardieu: Well simple: There isn’t a big demand from the trade on origin determination of garnet. Unlike the chicken egg situation, it is demand that creates research not the other way around.
AsiaLounges: The word that is in everybody’s mouth these days is traceability and ethical mining. I would like to hear your thoughts about it?
Vincent Pardieu: Well in my opinion it is mainly a matter of personal choice. But indeed these days some activists are busy trying to shame other people about “ethics”. While I do understand traceability (It's about facts), I’m a bit at odds with the ethical part. I mean, what is ethical if not a subjective term linked to a specific religious or cultural framework that can be in opposition with one another. For example, hunters may feel that hunting is ethical while animal right activists would likely disagree with that.
The issue I have with that is that, in my opinion, gemologists are not supposed to decide whether a gem is “good” or not, or whether mining is ethical or not. They are trained to observe and produce fair and accurate reports. Merchants are different: They need to judge gems to decide if they are worth buying or not. As a lab gemologist I do my best to enjoy studying all the gems I see. I don't think about judging them. The same applies to my visits of gem producing areas, I write reports about what I see but I do not to judge the people or their practices. In the end people have different goals: Gemologists focus on their identification skills in order to produce fair reports so dealers can judge with peace of mind, knowing full well what they are looking at, it is an ecosystem of sort.
Concerning the whole ethics and traceability, I feel that there are strong limitations in regards with the gems, as I explained in a 2011 talk at ICA as well as in an article published in National Geographic, unlike coffee or bananas, gems are durable by definition. Therefore, when you look at all the gems available in a place like Geneva or Paris, by that I mean stones over 3 carats in size, my guess is that most of them (and this is particularly true for classic gems such as sapphires from Kashmir, rubies from Burma or emeralds from Colombia) were mined decades ago and in most cases, the miners as well as the previous owners are probably already dead. So what is traceability for them? Do they require a list of the previous owners? Unless the previous owner was, say, Elizabeth Taylor or a famous Queen, that list would likely not be very glamorous… Which is probably why auction houses prefer origin reports. It provides romance whenever a sexier or famous historical figure isn’t available in the list of past owners.
Many think that gem merchants do like me and go the field, they would be mistaken. Gem merchants are actually, more often than not, much closer to antic dealers than of Indiana Jones.
Actually, should anyone in the trade be interested in ethics, education, health or conservation, they don’t really need to limit themselves to buying so called “ethical gems”. People could use any "second hand" gem they like to promote and finance some positive ideas or projects they believe in… I mean it would be nice to see schools in Kashmir being financed by the sales of Kashmir sapphires mined over 100 years ago (even if the mining was not really done according to what people will call today “ethical”). I mean: Miners are under hard pressure by activists to give a good image of the industry, but they should not be let alone to carry that task.
AsiaLounges: What do you think of the “paternity test” by Gubelin gem lab and its implication for the trade, the miners and the end buyers in general?
Vincent Pardieu: Well I think that it is a fascinating technique. It is also something that will only apply to gems that will be mined in the future, which this leaves most gems currently in the trade without solution. Therefore, I believe that, besides serving the marketing needs of Gubelin and the mining companies that are going to use that technology, it will have actually a very limited global impact.
AsiaLounges: I understand you recently had a bit of a verbal joust with Nat Geo over the impact of gem mining on the environment. What is your take on it?
Vincent Pardieu: I guess you are referring to the shameful article by Paul Tullis on sapphire mining around Bemainty in Madagascar. I simply believe that it will not help conservation to spread lies and other “fake news” about gem mining. I do believe that, actually, the gem trade and conservation have a common interest in working together there as it can be seen in other places. As a slogan I believe that A “conservation gem” sounds significantly better than a “blood gem”.
The classic example of said cooperation being “Tsavorite”, a nice variety of grossular garnet, that was named after Tsavo National Park in Kenya by Campbell Bridges and Tiffany, where gem miners like Bridges, working around Tsavo have been collaborating with park rangers to fight against poaching.
Things are not perfect, even in Tsavo with Tsavorite. There could be more synergies between the trade there and conservation, But I would like to see more stories like the one between Tsavo and tsavorite. At the end of the day, conservation needs mainly exposure and financial support to succeed and I do believe that the gem industry could help more on these positive aspects. The problem faced these days by positive people in both conservation and the gem industry is that many journalists, or so called activists, prefer to produce sensational, negative, articles because they sell better than positive ones.
Visiting Campbell Bridges and his Tsavorite garnet mining operation in Kenya in 2005. Thanks to that visit Vincent could see that gemology and conservation could support each other: Gems can be use to promote and support good ideas and project such as conservation, but also other local projects dealing with health or education... Photo: Jean Baptiste Senoble.
AsiaLounges: Further to the question on ethics, I have been recently asked, several times, to make pieces of jewellery with synthetic gem stones. They appear to be perceived as more ethical than the real one. I tend to disagree as nothing is created from nothing but, what do you think about that particular trend?
Vincent Pardieu: Well for me a gem is a gem. The differences between natural and synthetic gems are the story (coming from a mine or from a factory) and the rarity factor (a synthetic gem can be mass produced). I don’t see what ethics had to do with that. Why should a natural or a synthetic gem be more “ethical” than the other. Both of them are the result of the work of some people: Why should the work of a miner or a factory worker more “ethical” than the other? I don’t know. For me, as a lab gemologist, I try to avoid judging gems. In my opinion, they are both interesting and, in the end, it really is a matter of personal taste from the final consumer.
AsiaLounges: Last but not least, if you had one gem type you’d like to study, independently of market value / business obligations, which would it be and why?
Vincent Pardieu: Actually, I don't really have any favourite gems. I only have favourite colours. I really love red and blue gems but I also enjoy green and other colours. It depends on my mood may be? That said, I also love stones that I can afford as well as the gems associated with history and exotic cultures. On that aspect, besides rubies, sapphires and emeralds, I truly love spinels (red and blue), lapis lazuli and tsavorite.
But I also love pearls, from classic nacreous pearls to non-nacreous ones such as melo and conch. Actually I like to learn and this is why I find gemology to be so fascinating. There is all the time something new to learn and nobody will ever be able to know everything on gems.
AsiaLounges: We’ll end this interview with our traditional advice to young generations. What would you recommend to the young, and not so young too, gemologists and gem fans that read you today? What should they do, according to you to get a better understanding of the gem world?
Vincent Pardieu: Work hard. Work smart. Read a lot. Believe in yourself but be open to new ideas. Learn as much as you can and never give up on your dreams, but don't be afraid to be realistic as the only way you will fail is when you will decide to stop trying. When you look for a first job, don't look for a salary, look for what you will learn… This is how I got where I am today. For the first 7 years of my career, I was loosing money every month, but I transformed this money in professional experience and a good reputation. It was actually a better investment than investing in a diploma.
AsiaLounges: With this we have reached the end of this long awaited interview. We thank you Vincent for your time with us and hope that our readers have enjoyed reading these lines as much as we enjoyed writing them with you.
As for us, as usual, we will see you, Loungers, again in the Lounges. Should you have any questions about this interview, past interviews or topics that we have yet to talk about, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to answer to any and all questions you may have.
Should you wish to be part of our interview series or if you wish to hear about a particular person in the trade, do not hesitate and letting us know by email and we’ll endeavour to make it happen as soon as possible.
See you in the Lounges,