Oh, my precious!

Chatting with gem expert Gavin Linsell, host of the show ‘Game of Stones’,Asha Chowdaryunderstands the thrill of finding rare gems and the lustrous emotions they evoke in people.

Does a dazzling emerald that catches the light of the sun leave you enthralled? Can a gorgeous sapphire delight you with its blue brilliance? Would you search high and low for a flashing ruby that sparkles with the radiance of fiery rainbows? If so, you would enjoy the chase to find these gems. 

In the show Game of Stones on Discovery Channel, extreme gem hunters scour the earth for perfect gems. The quest could involve chasing after a canary yellow tourmaline, a Transvaal emerald or a sunset ruby across perilous paths that meander glacial rivers, snowbound mountains or dense tropical forests. But nothing deters gem expert Don Kogen and his crew, the intrepid gem lovers, who face the risks of being robbed, carjacked and ambushed as they search out the finest gems.

Time-tested treasure

In an exclusive interview with Gavin Linsell, gem expert and host of the show, we get a close-up view of the gem hunters and their fascination with gems. “Billions of dollars in precious stones are unearthed each year, but the rarest never make it to the open market,” says Gavin. “Don specialises in the research of rare stones and is racing the clock to be the first one to make a new discovery. As the team carries large amounts of cash, they face constant risks, but they are prepared at all times to protect their rocks and their lives.”

Gavin’s love affair with gems started 15 years ago when he moved from Australia to Thailand’s Chanthaburi Province, where there is an international centre for coloured gemstones. “My first experience of handling gems was certainly anything but illustrious — I shot a gem from my tweezers, almost taking out Don’s eye. Thankfully, I’ve learnt a lot over the years and today, I am experienced in the hunting, buying, lapidary and selling of gemstones.”

When asked where the appeal of a beautiful gem lies, Gavin likes to quote Tiffany’s legendary gemologist and famous gemstone author, George Frederick Kunz, who says in his book The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, “The sheen and colouration of precious stones are the same today as they were thousands of years ago, and will be for thousands of years to come. In a world of change, this permanence has a charm of its own that was appreciated very early. Gemstones are truly amazing miracles that occur entirely by chance.” 

Gavin says that these words of Kunz remain a great source of personal insight for him even today. “I consider myself to be a ‘manly man’, but like for most gem professionals, exceptionally fine gemstones make me act like a giggling school girl! Why? There is something about gemstones that is ingrained in our psyche. To early humans, the mystifying beauty, rarity and durability of gemstones were unexplainable.”

According to Gavin, in a world where people aged, flowers wilted and sunsets disappeared, gemstones alone remained unchanged. “To our ancestors, gemstones weren’t simply baubles, they meant so much more,” he adds. “They were amulets and talismans that people literally believed could influence their life. My interest in esoteric lore is largely historical, but along with mythology, gemstone history and scientific gemology are critical to understand the cultural importance of gemstones.”

As for the show Game of Stones, Gavin says there were many thrilling moments in the making of it and in the success that followed. “I was excited and flattered. I still can’t quite believe that I’m gracing television screens across the globe — not bad for a bloke with a face for radio! Jokes aside, I’m pretty comfortable in front of the camera as I have done many documentaries and TV shows.”

Gavin’s ‘first contact’ with gemstones happened when he was about 10 years old. “I still remember being mesmerised by a small water-filled container full of opal tailings, given to me by an aunt,” he recalls, adding, “This is definitely fitting, considering that since July 27, 1993, the opal has been named Australia’s national gemstone.”

Gavin explains that the attributes that mystified our ancestors actually define a gem. “A gem must be beautiful, rare and durable to even be considered a gemstone, and how a particular gem ranks against these attributes is useful in understanding gemstone value.”

Why only diamond?

He rues the fact that clever global marketing, along with famous films, have made diamonds iconic cultural symbols that are ingrained in our society. “Indeed diamonds are a ‘girl’s best friend’. Antiquity, durability, brilliance and rarity make them popular. I am not against diamonds — I like the myriad of shapes, characters and individual styles personified by the women who wear them. The gem kingdom has a lot more going for it than sparkling yet plain old whites. My eureka moments are when people discover they don’t have to be millionaires to enjoy coloured gemstones.
 They often give a ‘big bang’ of colour for a reasonable price, and many are actually far rarer than diamonds.”

Gavin believes that a gemstone must be cherished and loved. “The important attributes of gemstones might be beauty, rarity and durability, but there is another, more emotive factor about them — they’re frequently bought as symbolic purchases to represent life’s important moments. When a particular gem means something special to us, it becomes a potent symbol of our thoughts, feelings and perceptions,” he signs off.Game of Stones airs at 7 pm from Monday to Thursday, on Discovery Channel.

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