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June 2001
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SERVING SEVEN REGIONAL FEDERATIONS                                     June - July, 2001


bulletIt Is The Dawning of the Age of - Sunshine
bulletAre You The Correct Person
bulletA Buzz From the Prez
bulletMid-Year Reflections
bulletJuniors - Did You Know?
bulletHall's Gap Millerite Locality Closed
bullet2001 - A Gem Odyssey - Field Trips
bulletAFMS Club Rockhound of Year
bulletScathingly Brilliant Idea
bulletNew Mining Museum
bulletWe Can Fight Back
bulletColor Enhancement of Topaz
bulletSilver Soldering Tips


by Mel Albright, AFMS Safety Chair

And the moon. In their eternal dance of orbits - the sun has moved north of the equator and closer to the earth. And many people celebrate. Until late September, we're in the "spotlight" in the northern hemisphere.

But with spring and summer and the sun comes a time of high danger. Too much sunshine can be disabling or fatal.

Science reports that just one major sunburn while young may bring cancer in 15-20 years. For those older, it may take several sunburns. But, there is no safety in tanning. That too leads to cancer. For all the joy of warmth and summer, the sun on skin is not a good thing.

Some people are more sensitive than others. Some, like me, can burn in only 10 minutes. Others may take 15 or 20 or 25. But no one can take as much as an hour without some damage.

Sun caused cancer is never good. But one kind can be fatal and fast. That is called melanoma. If you find a spot that is irregular, bigger than a pencil eraser, probably varied in color, or a mole-like spot that is growing - RUN to the doctor. It may be melanoma and you could be dead in a few months if it isn't treated quickly. Melanoma spreads rapidly as soon as it grows inwards enough for cells to circulate through the body. Removing it before it spreads is critical. Once it spreads, there is no cure.

There are two other types of skin cancer. These two are dangerous, but not as sudden as melanoma. If you have whitish spots and scaly spots, get checked. If you have roughened skin spots, get checked. If there is any skin damage apparent, check it out.

A personal note - I worked harvest as a youngster. I always wore a straw hat. I wore long sleeves until I tanned through the shirt. But, at 72, I still must check every 2-3 years to have actinic keratomas (small whitish spots) removed, as they are pre-cancerous. Twice, I have had to treat my face and scalp and upper chest for dangerous sun damage. I still have scars and damage on my arms and head from sun damage. So, I preach about sun safety yearly.

THE SOLUTION? You already know - sun screen. Where? On all exposed skin - arms, face, ears, ankles, neck, and more depending on your clothes. Every time you'll be out in the sun. No exceptions. The SPF number you see on the container is a time safety factor. If I use a SPF 15 product, I'll sunburn in 150 minutes instead of 15. So, screen is not prevention, but only gives you more time before significant skin damage. So, you should also wear "shady" clothes and a hat and long sleeves. Then you can hunt rocks or hike or garden or work outdoors and be safe. Just because skin cancer is slow coming doesn't make safety less important.


from Dan McLennan

Seems that as soon as things get settled, something else changes. The post office where I've used as the AFMS address for some time now has decided to do away with all post office boxes. So, we're on the move again.

Please note that beginning immediately, the address for the AFMS Central Office is:

(Address removed because it is no longer valid 2-23-2002)

I hope that this has not caused anyone any inconvenience. For me, this move is somewhat of a blessing as the new box is now closer to my home.

Also note that our Prez., Izzie Burns has a new telephone area code. It is now 626. Her e-mail is also a bit shorter <BizzieB@att.net>. Please make the changes for your records so that you can reach all of us without difficulty should the need arise.


from Dan McLennan, AFMS Central Office

Are you puzzled as to why this issue is mailed to you? Have you been "out of office" for some time now, but still receive the AFMS Newsletter? The answer to the above questions may well be that no one in your club informed me of a change in your officers.

Why not take a moment and do it now?

Three members of your club are entitled to receive the AFMS Newsletter. Usually two of the three are your president and editor and the third person is someone that the club selects. Please let me know who these three people should be by sending me their names and addresses along with the name of your club. You can use the e-mail address on page 7 or you can mail the information to the address listed. If you can, tell me the names of the person or people who should be deleted as well.


from Isabella Burns, AFMS President

Why don't we have more young members?

Today after my Soroptimist, women's service club, meeting, I found a flat tire on my Blazer. Being a modern women, I called AAA;. Within 20 minutes a rousing young man, about 35 years of age arrived. He dismounted from his truck; took my AAA card; glanced up; and said, "Mrs. Burns my old school principal." While he changed my tire, we had a nice chat. Gil is married and has two children, and they enjoy the desert. He has a sand buggy and often takes his family to the dunes for week ends. He remembered that I was a rock collector and frequently made trips to the desert.

As I drove home I kept thinking "How did we miss the boat?" Why don't we have more of those nice young couples in our clubs? Where did vie go wrong? At the Desert Council Advisory Meeting in October over 700 young people were there; Off Highway Vehicle Users, who came to present their view of the dunes closure and explain what it meant for them to lose so much of the area where they go to ride. They were not rowdy, just concern about their problem.

When I arrived home, I had the newsletter, Music City Rockette from the Middle Tennessee Rockhounds. Their editor is Chris Hart, only 14 years of age. Then I thought of the young boy that was the field trip leader for the Santa Ana Club last year. These are teenagers, but I know of many other people from the 21 to 40 years of age who are contributing greatly to our organization. Our cabochon teacher for the CFMS Earth Science Study Seminars is in this group. There are some girls who really enjoy doing metal work at the Seminars. Another girl was really excited at the Monterey Park Meeting about the Snow Crystal Slide Show and now wants to collect minerals. There are many young people interested in rocks and minerals in our group, we need to encourage and appreciate them.

We do have nice young people in our clubs!

A correction: In a previous article, I stated that our Commemorative Stamp Committee had been responsible for our having some commemorative fossil stamps. Wendell C. Mohr, a committee member, corrected me that we could only take responsibility for two sheets of four mineral heritage stamps issued in 1974 and 1992 by the United State Postal Service. Last year Wendell and Lillian requested our support by printing articles in our newsletters about members contacting the USPS about securing approval of US stamps of birthstones. Get behind this hard working committee and have your members or a member of each club write to request that heritage stamps of the birthstones be printed by the United States Postal Service, 475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington, DC 20260 or <www.usps.gov>.


from Steve Weinberger, AFMS President-elect

This message is directed primarily to club presidents, but it is one that can be "food for thought" for other club members. It is now June and we are approaching the mid-point of the year (most clubs operate on a January - December calendar). This would be a good time to sit down to evaluate your progress to date and to readjust any plans which you have for the remainder of the year.

You, along with your club's board of directors, should evaluate your overall standing in such areas as programs, show progress, membership retention, participation of members, community outreach, education, and financial stability. Summer also offers the opportunity to expand your junior program.

It is a rare administrator who can keep all of the club's programs on track exactly as planned from the beginning of the year. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to have an on-going dialog with your officers and committee chairmen. They are the ones in the trenches doing the jobs and they usually have suggestions as to how to improve things. Your support of them can also be a strong motivating device.

Do not despair if some of your goals have to be modified. In a hobby organization there are many factors which play a part in whether or not certain projects can operate as planned.

I once knew a club president who said that as soon as he got into office he was not going to do anything - his officers and committee chairmen all had responsibilities to run the club. Without regular contact with these people, how could he possibly know just what was going on?

It is a very wise president who knows when to praise, when to cajole, when to suggest, when to offer help, and when to set limits; but the ultimate outcome will be the betterment of the club, the happier the members, and not necessarily least, the knowledge that you have done the best job possible. The expenditure of time and effort is not that great, but the rewards are enormous.

Since this is the last newsletter until September, I wish you profitable collecting, happy cutting, wonderful jewelry making, and a safe and pleasurable summer.


by Kathy & Bob Miller Junior Activities Co-Chairs

...About the Lillian Turner Award

Lillian Turner of Bethesda, Maryland gives an award each year to the outstanding Junior who exhibits at the Annual AFMS Show. The Junior can be from any Federation or Society, but must be exhibiting in competition at the current show.

The Host Society or Show Committee will select the Outstanding Junior by determination of the best competitive Junior exhibit.

In event there are no Juniors exhibiting, the award will be held over until the next National Show.

The Award will be a $50 (or higher) Series "E" Bond, to be presented at a ceremony during the show.

Do remember it is not the amount of money that should make this desirable, but the honor of receiving it.

Now is the time to be thinking of entering your exhibit for 2002!


by Bill McKenzie (Lexington, KY)
from rocksandfossils@egroups.com

Alas, It has finally happened! The world-renowned Halls Gap millerite geode locality is now closed to collectors. On April 3 and 4 the Highway Department cleaned the rubble as they have every 3 years or so for as long as I can remember. This time they posted 2 signs facing the highway on the eastern side, sort of bracketing the deepest part of the cut. The signs read "KEEP OUT-FALLING ROCK".

I collected there the Sunday after the signs were posted with no problem - I figured it was too soon for word to have gotten around to local officials, etc. When I attempted to collect yesterday, I was there about 1/2 an hour when a deputy sheriff stopped with flashing lights and I was told to leave. He was pleasant enough about it, but he said the highway department had asked them to enforce the posting.

When I asked about the west (unposted) side he said they don't want any collecting at the site due to the danger of falling rock and they are making regular patrols. What a shame! The end of an era has arrived.

US 27 is supposed to be enlarged to four lanes in a few years. A window of opportunity may open again at that time.

                      ARLINGTON, TEXAS, JUNE 11 - 17, 2001

from Joyce Speed, Show Chair

There are three announced field trips available for you to join during the AFMS Convention and Show hosted by the Arlington Gem & Mineral Society. We'll have information on a few other trips that you can take by yourself at the show. To whet your whistle and give you a chance to plan ahead, here is information on three of the planned trips.

Tuesday June 12, 9:00 am. 

To collect crinoid stems in black, gray, and pink limestone.

Cost: $5.00 per person.

Location: San Saba, Texas

Meeting Place: Dairy Queen on Hwy 190 west of downtown San Saba. We will caravan to the ranch from there.

The location where we'll be hunting is on the Lambert ranch about 10 miles south-west of San Saba. The black limestone is on the side of a hill and is found about 12 inches below the surface of the ground. The deeper you dig, the thicker the limestone pieces are. This material can be cut and polished. It makes great bookends and spheres. It also makes nice cabs for jewelry. This dig will require some effort. There is some surface collecting, but for the better material, it will require digging.

Preparations: Participants should supply all rockhounding and essential gear. The digging requires a shovel, pick, and sledge hammer and chisel. A heave pry bar is also helpful. The area we'll be collecting from is grassy and rocky, so durable clothing such as jeans and hiking boots are suggested. I have not encountered any snakes at this location, but there is always a chance, so be sure to keep children close to the dig area and it would be best if they wore high top boots of some kind. Insect repellent is also recommended as there is a problem with ticks. Bring a hat for sun/rain protection and also a raincoat or poncho just in case. Since you will be digging in rocky ground, bring tools such as a shovel, pick, pry bar, rock hammer, chisels, you might even want a sledge hammer. Be sure to bring buckets or boxes to carry your treasures home. We'll be at the site all day so, bring a lunch, snacks, and plenty of water.

Directions: Suggested route: Take I-30 west. It will become I-20 west of Fort Worth. Take exit 386 at Highway 281 and go south to Stephenville. Turn right at Stephenville on Highway 377 and drive to Commanche. Turn south on Hwy 16 at Commanche. Stay on Hwy 16 to San Saba. Turn west on Hwy 190 in downtown San Saba. The Dairy Queen is on the right about 1 mile. Driving time from the show is about 3 hours.

Important Note:If you plan on attending, please email rboyd@wwol.com or call Bob Boyd at (817) 277-9510. If the trip has to be canceled for any reason, we will try to contact you.

Thursday June 14, 9:00 am.

To collect horned coral

Cost: $5.00 per person.

Location: Near Brownwood, Texas.

Meeting Place: Parking area outside main entrance to Lake Brownwood State Park.

We will be hunting on the side of a hill. It is about a 100 yard walk from the car to the hunt area. The coral is collected from the surface. No digging is required. This hunt will not take more than 1-2 hours. For those that cannot make the hike to the hunting area, there is a place to hunt along side the road. This spot is only a few steps from the car. This hunt is very easy.

Preparations: Participants should supply all rockhounding and essential gear. The area we'll be collecting in is grassy and hilly, so durable clothing such as jeans and hiking boots are suggested. There is always a possibility of encountering snakes, so be sure to keep children close to the hunt area and it would be best if they wore high top boots of some kind. Insect repellent is also recommended, as there is a problem with ticks. Bring a hat for sun/rain protection and also a raincoat or poncho just in case. Be sure to bring buckets or boxes to carry your treasures home. Be sure to bring plenty of water.

Directions: Suggested route: Take I-30 west. It will become I-20 west of Fort Worth. Take exit 386 at Highway 281 and go south to Stephenville. Turn right at Stephenville on Highway 377 and drive to Brownwood. Turn northwest on Hwy 279 and travel for about 16 miles to Park Road 15. Turn east and drive 6 miles to the park entrance. We will meet at the gravel parking area just outside the main gate to the State Park. The driving time from the show is 3 1/2 hours.

Important Note:If you plan on attending, please email rboyd@wwol.com or call Bob Boyd at (817) 277-9510. If the trip has to be canceled for any reason, we will try to contact you.

Friday June 15, 8 am to about 4 pm.

To collect green phantom and clear quartz crystals, especially those pretty ones with the chevrons and clouds of green in the center. Some of these may even be double terminated or tabular.

Cost: $15.00 per person.

Location: Southeastern Oklahoma

Meeting Place: West Slope Rock Shop, Highway 259, north of Broken Bow, OK.

The location that we'll be hunting is in the White Lightning Mine. It is well known for producing outstanding quality green phantom quartz crystals as well as superior quality clear crystals. It is located in the Ouachita Mountain range, and the view from this particular mine is especially nice because it sits on top of a small mountain. There is a large seam of quartz crystals that has been exposed by backhoe excavation. This seam has been dug to a depth of over 20 feet, and each new excavation has yielded many a prize without showing signs of depletion.

Preparations: Participants should supply all rockhounding and essential gear. The area we'll be collecting from has very sharp, loose rock which is likely to cut exposed skin, so durable clothing such as jeans, hiking boots, and gloves is suggested. Bring a hat for sun/rain protection and also a raincoat or poncho just in case. Collecting will be from the exposed quartz seam as well as from loose rock and will require tools such as a shovel, pry bar, rock hammer, probing tools, you might even want a sledge hammer. Be sure to bring buckets or boxes to carry your treasures home and plenty of newspaper to protect the points. We'll be at the site all day so, bring a lunch, snacks, and plenty of water.

Directions: Suggested route: Take I-30 east out of DFW to State Hwy 37 North at MT. Vernon. Hwy 37 will take you into Oklahoma to 70 East. Hwy 70 does some strange things in and around Idabel, OK, but as long as you stay on 70 East, it will turn into 259 going north, straight into Broken Bow, OK. You will pass a Wal Mart on the east side of 259 in Broken Bow and there is a set of RR tracks just a block or so north of Wal Mart. The rock shop is 8.8 miles north of the RR tracks in Broken Bow, and is on the east side of 259. Stevens Gap is just north of the rock shop and the sign for it is on the east side of the road, as well.

Important Note: If you plan on attending, please email rboyd@wwol.com or call Bob Boyd at (817) 277-9510. If the trip has to be canceled for any reason, we will try to contact you.


from Bonnie Glismann, AFMS Chair

Midwest Federation

The Cincinnati Mineral Society have nominated Marie and Terry Huizing as their 2001 Rockhound of the Year. Marie is editor of "The Quarry" , the society's newsletter and also managing Editor for "Rocks and Minerals" magazine, and serves as secretary and liaison to the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History. She was recipient of the Carnegie Award at the Tucson Show, the first women to receive this honor. Terry has been a Midwest Federation Scholarship Honoree, Midwest Show Chairman, and Midwest President in 1973. Terry has won many competitive awards, served as a mineral judge, and is an active member in Friends of Mineralogy and an active collector. Their support of our hobby and the greater mineral world at-large make Marie and Terry Hiuzing a fine choice for AFMS Club Rockhound of the year. Submitted by Nancy Dreyer

The Greater Cincinnati Lapidary and Faceting Society nominated Bambi Johnson as their AFMS Club Rockhound of the year. Bambi has been the President, Secretary director and editor and is now club Vice President. She takes care of our Wheel of Fortune at our shows and recruited members to help set up and help at our shows. She has worked on checking inventory and served on the nominating committee. She shows guest around the meeting hall and teaches our cabbing class, and is our cook at our picnic. She can be counted on to help out when called on. Submitted by Judy Budnik President Greater Cincinnati Lapidary & Faceting Society

Northwest Federation

Hells canyon Gem Club of Lewiston, Idaho would like to honor Bob Balter as their AFMS Club Rockhound of the year. As one of his best friends put it, "Bob is low profile Workhorse." Over many years his unfailing support for our club as shown itself in many ways. He as served as president of the club, a club trustee, and chaired many committees for the annual show. We have always felt well watched over with Bob as Security Chairman. During set up and tear down, he has given his all. He has contributed generously to the silent auction. His planning and presence on filed trips is always appreciated. He enjoys just being with people. "Thanks for Everything, Bob.

Each AFMS affiliated club is eligible to select one member (or couple) as its AFMS Club Rockhound of the Year each year. Who in your club would you like to recognize? Select a person (or couple) and then tell us, in about 50 words, why this person is important to your club.

Send the information on your nominee to your regional AFMS Club Rockhound of the Year chairman and we'll publish it here in the AFMS Newsletter. What a wonderful way to recognize the unsung workers of your club? What a wonderful way to say "thank you". And what a wonderful way to let the rest of us know how important this person (or couple) is to your club.


From Carolyn Tunnicliff
RMF Club Publications Chair via Rocky Mountain News, 5/01

The 2000 Bulletin contest is on its way into the history books. The regional judges completed their judging in February and the winners were forwarded on to the American Federation Judges to be completed by March 15. Final results for the American Federation were to be in the hands of Kitty Starbuck by that date. So, the contest is officially over, and we only have to wait until June for the results. The winners of the Rocky Mountain Federation competition will be announced at the Editors Breakfast in Roswell June 9th, and the winners of the American Federation will be announced in Arlington the following weekend.

There were many fine entries into the competition this year and there will be awards given in all but the Large Bulletin Category. There were close to forty entries all totaled. Unfortunately some entries were disqualified for various infractions of the rules. Even though the total amount of entries was up for our area it is not truly representative of the entire region. Most of the entries came from Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. One club had over ten entries. I would really like to see more participation region wide next year.

In my last article, I requested some input from editors on why they did not choose to enter the competition. I have checked my mail and email both on a daily basis and still have not found one reason from any club as to why the do not participate in the bulletin contest. If there is a reason that the same clubs win all the awards, it is simply this. These are the only clubs entering the contest. Its sort of like *running the lottery, you have to play to win. So - let's get ready for next year. Start a file with possible articles or newsletters for next year's competition NOW. Don't wait until its time to enter and then try to go through all the back issues of your newsletter to decide what you want to enter. When the call for entries come in, go through your folder and pick the BEST entry for each category. The judges all agreed on this one point, it is the Newsletter Editor's responsibility to choose the very best articles from his/her bulletin to enter. Quantity does not replace quality.

Now, a comment on judges. In general, all the judges were excellent this year. I have heard complaints that editors have been marked down in the past for not having items in their newsletters that really were here. This years judges did an outstanding job on some very fine bulletins this year. The point spread was very slim. The one judge that disappointed me was one that did not include any comments as to why he had been so harsh on his judging. Our judges are all volunteers and are all human. They make mistakes just like the rest of us.

I would really appreciate more editors adding me to their mailing list. I would like to become more familiar with all the clubs and the best way to do so is to read their bulletin.

Hint: For those of you who use word processors,check out < www.desktoppub.about.com>. You can find almost anything on about.com.


from Jack Pawloski

The Connecticut Museum of Mining and Mineral Science is part of the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association, Inc. museum complex, and is located 1 mile north of Kent, CT on route 7. The Connecticut Antique Machinery Association (CAMA) is a non-profit educational museum dedicated to preserving our industrial heritage. Our museum complex consists of seven buildings plus an operating narrow gauge railroad.

The mining museum primary focus is to present the history of Connecticut's rich mining and mineral history from the first miners (Native Americans) to the present. Displays consist of histories of Connecticut mines, development of mining technology, mining artifacts, a mock mine tunnel with mining equipment, and mineral displays including fluorescent minerals of Connecticut. Numerous historical photographs illustrate this history. The museum will also serve as a clearing house for viable collecting sites and area mineral shows.

The mining museum is open from May through October, Wednesday through Sunday, 10-4.

For additional information contact John Pawloski, Director, Connecticut Antique Machinery Association, Inc, P.O. Box 1467, New Milford, CT (860) 927-0050 or visit our web site at www.ctamachinery.com


By John Wright, President SFMS
from The Lodestar, Newsletter of the Southeast Federation. March 2001

I know that many of you have heard or learned through the news media about all the land that were recently added to preservation categories. The total for the last eight years alone was 5,749,000 acres. Add to this potential loss of vast areas for "rock-hounding" the fact that the U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) requires permits in many areas, plan to increase the areas where permits are required, and are considering raising the fee for permits as much as three fold. The BLM's counterparts in some states have followed suite for state owned lands or are currently working on legislative initiative and agendas along similar lines. Paleontologist, archeologist, and environmentalist, plus a host of other groups are diligently working to limit access to public lands and restrict the removal of mineral, fossil, or artifacts. Even the United Nations with their "World Heritage Sites" is proposing the taking of private and public lands under Agenda 21 and the "Wildlands Project". I could continue for several more pages of graphic details about the increasing restrictions we face, but I think you have gotten the general idea that we are, to coin a phrase, "loosing ground".

The reason for the dilemma that we face, is for the most part our own fault, as we did not make our wishes known. Many times we have no idea that these developments are even taking place or worst, it involves an area of little or no interest and we could care less. While it may not be happening in your back yard or favorite areas for outings, be aware it could very well be just a matter of time. I know that your first inclination is to think that this situation is much too big for you to do anything about. Actually, if you are informed and willing, there is a lot you can do.

Keeping up to date and informed about the proposed changes in land usage and accessibility is not an easy task. Many agencies and governing bodies at local, state, and federal levels do not always keep the public informed about plans that could ultimately restrict access to public lands. When they do let you know, normally through public hearings, the plans are usually complete and the "mind set" is to prevail. Often changes are made without prior notification or public input and it's not surprising that this is done on purpose to prevent public interference. I find that one of the best ways to keep up to date is by membership in the American Lands Access Association. The officers and members are all "Rock-hounds" and share the same interests as most of us. They are not paid employees but dedicated volunteers who frequently use their own funds to help keep the operation functioning. I am constantly amazed at the degree of professionalism indicated by information they "dig up" and publish in the ALAA Newsletter or sent to members via e-mail, These are the experts that can suggest methods for you to use if lands are being threatened in your area.

If an issue involving public lands is of particular importance to our hobby and has not been resolved, the ALAA will often suggest that you let officials in the appropriate agency, your state, or federal legislatures know how you feel. They even publish sample letters that you may copy or use as a guide to write your own.

The ALAA is the only organized effort I know of that is fighting to reserve our rights to have access to public lands we own and support with our tax dollars. As members of the American Lands Access Association, "We Can Fight Back" against those who would deny public lands to you, limit your activities on private lands, and restrict your rights to own minerals, fossils, and artifacts' I belong and I am proud to say that my "Club" belongs. Yes, your club or society may join the ALAA without jeopardizing your non-profit tax exempt status.


by Dee Purkeypile
from The Stone Chipper 4/9 (7th Place, 1998 AFMS Adult Article Contest)

Topaz is one of our most popular and affordable colored gemstones. Blue topaz is one of the most beautiful and commonly marketed colors of this remarkable gem. Although topaz naturally occurs in many different colors, blue topaz has dominated the jewelry market since the 1970's when a large number of deeply colored blue topaz crystals started appearing on the market. At that time there were no new mines or developments in existing mines to explain the sudden availability of this abundance of blue topaz. The production of blue topaz from colorless topaz with irradiation was first reported in 1957 by F.H. Pough, who was a contributing editor of many articles on minerals in the Lapidary Journal until only recently. Kurt Nassau, a research scientist residing in Bernardsville, New Jersey, rediscovered this information in 1974 when he was analyzing a faceted topaz that had been purported to be quartz. Since that time many hundreds of thousands of carats of treated blue topaz have been marketed by many sources. Nassau's research revealed that both natural blue and irradiated blue topaz are stable to light. This may account for its popularity with both jewelers and the buying public since of the three types of yellow to brown topaz, two fade in sunlight. Natural pink topaz is stable in sunlight but is extremely rare.

The ancient historian, C. Plinius Secondus (born 23 AD and died 79 AD during the eruption of Vesuvious) wrote an epic account of all that was known in his time and which entailed 37 volumes. Plinius reportedly gained his information by traveling and by reading over 2000 books. Some of these books discussed gemstone alterations: "Moreover, I have in my library certain books by authors now, living, whom I would under no circumstances name, wherein there are descriptions as to how to give smaragdus (emerald, in part) to crystallus (rock crystal) and how to imitate other gems: for example, how to make sardonychus (sardonyx) from sarda (carnelian, in part sard): in a word, to transform one stone into another. To tell the truth, there is no fraud or deceit in the world which yields greater gain and profit that of counterfeiting gems."

With the detonation of the first atomic bombs in the deserts of the American west, the course of human civilization was irrevocably changed. That change also brought along with it much experimentation as regards the effect of radiation on all objects precious or common. It was only natural that man would attempt to alter precious stones with this incredible energy source. None of the many gemstone enhancement processes used on other gemstones appears to have been used on topaz except for the dyeing of water worn pebbles in indigo dye pots.

Typically, colorless or pale-colored topaz is heated to 200 to 300 degrees centigrade for several hours. The longer the stone is heated the deeper the color change will occur in the stone. The stones will turn to a yellow to brownish green to a dark brown color. These colors however are not stable and will eventually fade to clear unless the stones are irradiated. The irradiation process essentially eliminates the yellow-brown and green colors and leaves a stable blue color which will not fade unless subjected to temperatures of 500 to 600 degrees centigrade.

Topaz is irradiated by one of three energy sources: gamma rays from the mass 60 isotope of cobalt (Co-60), high-energy electrons from linear accelerators, and neutrons from nuclear reactors. Gamma irradiation is the most common and least energy costly method. The other sources of irradiation can produce deeper blues, however, they are very energy consumptive and in the case of neutron irradiation, most often unavailable to commercial interests. Gamma cell devices are commercially available, require little upkeep and continuously produce rays over many years as the Co-60 slowly decays. The gamma rays penetrate the stone very deeply and produce uniform coloration if the stone is uniform. What little heat is generated by the exposure to Co-60 is distributed uniformly throughout the stone which significantly reduces the chance of cracking the gem material. The heat generated is a function of the time of exposure and the dosage of the radiation source. Cracking will usually be prevented if the dose is kept to less than 5-megarads per hour. The longer the topaz is exposed to the gamma source the deeper the blue can be obtained. However, the typical light blue color is the most often seen result of gamma exposure. The cooling down time for gamma irradiation is on the order of several weeks to several months as opposed to electron or neutron irradiation which may take up to a year and a half to cool down to safe handling levels. Irradiated topaz is so common that it is one of the only gemstone that is consistently checked at U.S. Customs for excess radiation.

Unfortunately, other irradiated stones have been allowed to enter the U.S. simply because Customs has not been aware of the massive abuse of irradiation with other gemstones in foreign countries that do not properly control their irradiation sources. AD in all, topaz is one of our least expensive precious gems that is still in high demand because of its intrinsic and enhanced beauty.


by Terry Vasseur from The Rockatier, 3/97 (3rd Place, 1997 AFMS Adult Article Contest)

It's been less than a year since I picked up a torch and made my first attempt to silver solder. I was successful--one of the best sterling bezel-on-sterling sheet jobs I've made to date. The outcome was a combination of beginner's luck and good preparation. The solder joint was clean and flush, held together with soft iron binding, wire and well fluxed. In short, it was textbook preparation.

In the beginning, I used a propane torch, the kind a lumber might use to "sweat" a joint or a handyman might use to remove old paint. When you tilted it over the work piece, it would flare up and sputter. It made me nervous when it did that. It was hard enough trying to concentrate on all the stuff you were supposed to be aware of when soldering. What if the darn thing went out in the middle of the job?" Since then, I have purchase another propane torch that was designed specifically for silver work. It has the nozzle (the working end) at the end of a flexible hose. This torch is designed to produce a larger flame, it doesn't cost a lot of money, and you can direct the flame in any direction or angle without causing it to sputter or flare up. I now use this one for most of my work. I also have another propane torch with a pencil tip size flame which was purchased at a local hardware store. It got me into trouble more than once until I figured out that the flame just wasn't big enough for most of my jobs. It works best on fine wire work where there is less silver mass to draw away the heat.

From my own experience and talking to other beginners, first time soldering is a stressful and a mysterious process You put the torch flame on the piece you want soldered and hope and pray for the best. Sometimes you are successful, and other times you fail, often catastrophically. Well, it doesn't have to be that way. You can get to the point where you are as confident silver soldering as you are getting behind the wheel of your car. (Remember when that was threatening?)

First of all, you need to understand what is actually going to happen in the solder process. Silver soldering is not welding. You are not melting two pieces of silver together (if, however, enough heat is applied you will reach this point but will not be happy with the outcome!) When you silver solder two pieces together you are raising the temperature of the two pieces sufficiently to cause a small piece of silver solder to melt and flow into the minute gap between them. In order for this to happen properly, the gap between the two pieces of silver needs to be very small and clean. Melted solder will not fill a large gap no matter how hard you try. We have all probably read this in a book sometime, but as beginners, will invariably try until we have proven it to ourselves repeatedly.

There are many techniques you can use to control the gap, most of which consist of some mechanical means of holding the thing together while you solder it. Any book on soldering will show you what that is all about. Beyond that, it will be up to your own imagination and untapped engineering skills to devise a solution to each problem you encounter.

Here is a little tip I've been using to solder bezels that I haven't seen in any of the books I've read. Anyone who has soldered a thin, fine silver bezel to a thin 24 gauge sheet of sterling, silver knows how hard it is to hold the darn thing flush with the sheet all the way around the bezel ring and keep the ends of the bezel tightly together at the same time. This is what I've done with repeated success: First, I wrap the bezel around the stone, cut it to size and file it until it will wrap tightly around the stone and meet end-to-end neatly. This is one of those points where the craftsman and the artist are separated. (One will accept -good enough for government work" while the other will seek perfection.) I secure it with a loop of binding wire and twist it tight. Nothing, new or innovative here. Yes, patience and some finger dexterity are required. You should be able to slip the stone out now without disturbing the bezel loop and it should retain the outline of the stone. In the next step the bezel loop is secured to the flat sheet with three or more loops of binding wire which will hold it flush with the backing sheet. (Now for the innovation.) I have found that frequently these wires will have a tendency to move and loosen up on me when I'm fiddling with one or another. This is particularly true if the sterling, sheet is dimensionally irregular. I have prevented this from happening by filing little notches in the sterling sheet that hold the binding wires in place. If you have done the job properly, you shouldn't be able to see any daylight between the juncture of the bezel and sheet, and the whole assembly will be mechanically stable enough to handle.

Now it's just a matter of cleaning and fluxing. I often will use a little fine steel wool to brighten up the solder side of the sterling sheet prior to assembly and subsequently clean off the debris and finger oils with a little acetone. It may not be necessary, but as a rule, I will clean the joint to be soldered with a small paint brush and acetone again just prior to soldering. Flux the joint and place the solder snippets. Remember, as the books all say, use solder sparingly or you will end up with unsightly globs that you will have to clean up later. As to what type of solder to use, a lot of people recommend medium for almost everything. As a beginner, medium will probably do the job and keep you out of trouble. Make sure one solder snippet lies near the bezel-to-bezel juncture.

Now you are ready for the torch. Probably the best way to do this job is by applying heat from the underside. When silver soldering, you want to heat the larger silver mass to be joined. You are going to need a pretty fair amount of heat depending on the size of the piece. This is going to be a judgment call based on experience. Basically, you want to begin by warming the piece. The first thing you will notice is that the flux will begin to boil. You want to go slowly here because a violent boil-off will throw your tiny solder snippets all over the place. You will need something to push any solder snippets that move back against the bezel/sheet juncture. After the boil-off is complete, the flux will begin to glaze. Now you can bring your flame in and apply more heat. Remember to keep the flame moving around the bottom of the piece. The object is to bring the whole piece up in temperature at the same time. You will now begin to notice that the piece, particularly the bottom, will start to turn a dull red glow. The books will say you can judge the temperature by the color and that's undoubtedly true, but as a beginner you are probably not going to be capable of dealing with that kind of subtlety. (Talk about modern fighter pilots being overwhelmed with information!) Common sense should tell you that if it starts getting brighter and brighter you are headed for trouble and it is time to back off a little. I like to solder with subdued lighting so that the slowing metal is clearly visible, but not so dark that I cannot see my solder snippets.

By this time, you are at the point where one or more of your solder snippets will have melted and disappeared into the joint. Again, the books will say, you can draw the melting solder around the joint with the flame, and that's also true, but as a beginner you are probably better off concentrating on keeping the flame moving. What you can do is adjust your movements more toward any snippets that haven't yet melted. Once the last snippet has melted, remove the flame. If it turns out that there is an area that didn't get soldered, there is a way of resoldering it later, but for now, that is all you can do.

I hope these techniques will prove to be as fruitful for you as they have for me. Happy soldering.


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