Treasure: Journeys through the Jewel Box
Wednesday, 7 June 2006
Hong Kong Football Club, Causeway Bay
Drinks 6.30 pm; Lecture 7.30 pm
We are delighted to welcome to Hong Kong writer and former RGSHK committee member, Victoria Finlay, to lecture about the jewels that have captivated queens, princes, travellers and storytellers over the millennia. Her lecture tells the story of an intrepid journey to uncover the secret histories of nine different gemstones, including their histories, geologies, anecdotes and an exploration of why they are so highly valued. The lecture, though, is a narrative travelogue as fascinating as the stones themselves.
Victoria's search and intrepid journeys to discover the secret history of gemstones take her to Egypt to find the lost emerald mines of Cleopatra, to the sapphires of Sinbad, to opal fields with their underground towns, to the Mogok Burma ruby mines where she is spied on by the military junta and to a secret location to meet the world's best diamond cutter. Victoria also goes to the Baltic Amber Road, deep-sea diving with the last of the South Sea pearl fishermen, into the jade markets of Hong Kong, visits an Apache reservation in Arizona to find a green stone called peridot that falls to earth from space, is one of the last to interview the traditional Scottish Pearl Fishers, and to a remote part of Russia to follow up a rumour that the world's biggest amber mine was once a Soviet gulag.
The lecture includes her own journey to Cleopatra's emerald mines, deep in Egypt's southern desert - mines which until the 19th century were officially "lost" and which even today are rarely visited. She was almost certainly the first person in more than a century, and possibly the first woman ever, to descend into, and explore some of the mines. Anecdotes include how Cleopatra drank a pearl to win a bet. The talk also describes a journey to the Island of Gems. The expedition involved gem scams, lapidary lessons, wading waist high in Sinbad's river trying to sweep up precious stones in a net, and discovering eventually the source of her own small sapphire.
She reveals the wealth of human stories behind gemstones, and discovers, with the advent of synthetics, an industry on the brink of crisis.
Victoria Finlay studied social anthropology at St Andrews University, specialising in Asian culture. She worked as a journalist in Hong Kong for twelve years, five of which were spent as arts editor for the South China Morning Post. She now lives in Derbyshire. She left the newspaper in 2000 to research and write her first book, the bestselling Colour: Travels through the Paintbox, about the stories of ancient paints. That first book included journeys to Iran for the saffron harvest, Mexico to find sea snails that yield purple colour, Chile to visit a cochineal farm, and Afghanistan twice to visit the mountains where the source of Michelangelo's blue ultramarine paint was found.
Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this lecture, which is HK$50 for Members, HK$100 for Members' guests and HK$150 for others.