Polishing Off a Career
David Hughes departs from Pala International on August 15, 2017 as news editor and webmaster.
I was introduced to Pala International and Bill Larson in January 2005 by my brother Richard W. Hughes who was leaving the firm to collaborate in the setup of AGTA's Southern California gem lab. It was a time of transition for both of us. My wife Andrea had just retired that fall, I'd been laid off, and we were selling our home in L.A. and moving back to the Colorado of my formative years.
I first was asked by my brother to document Pala's website routines, following which I was to give Palagems.com a facelift. Having performed the former I turned to the latter, producing in the spring of 2006 a couple of very different site mockups only to be told, If it ain't broken why fix it?
All the while I had continued the tradition of sending monthly newsletters to about three thousand subscribers. The first, January 28, 2005, had two subjects: 1. Tucson Time and 2. Lectures in Tucson. The next, issued March 16, 2005, was the first to include images. Four items:
- Passing of Dr. Eduard J. Gübelin
- An Invitation to AGS Conclave Attendees - April 2005
- Bill Larson Returns from Burma—and Vietnam
- The Sun Rises in the East: What Bill Brought Back
"What Bill Brought Back" was a Chinese sunstone! By 2008 this material would become the center of several controversies regarding treatment, provenance, and nomenclature. In 2006, nomenclature also had figured in the buzz surrounding a dazzling variety of cuprian tourmaline from beyond Brazil's borders. Dealers' parochial passions were propelled when Mozambique miners dared to call essentially the same material (small-P) paraiba as a descriptor. They merely borrowed the term from the original locality: Brazil's westernmost state. Bill Larson told me privately during this time that he thought attempts to restrict use of the term were wrong-headed.
Wrong-headed also was the U.S. import ban on ruby and jade from Myanmar, declared "Burma" Bill. Rather than constructive engagement with a gemstone mining industry that might possibly be swayed regarding issues such as environmental and social impacts of mining and scale of enterprise, U.S. lawmakers essentially kicked the can down the road for years. During the sanctions era the military miners had a ready market in China and the only sectors feeling any pinch were mining communities whose villages regularly flooded (they still do) and American gemstone dealers. Only last October did stateside leaders in the industry begin engagement with counterparts in Burma.
I distinctly remember in October 2006 on a visit to my clients in California when Pala's Josh Hall gave me an item about a possible safety issue involving irradiated topaz. Novice that I was I began investigating whether "hot" blue topaz could literally burn the buyer. People asked why I was bothering with the pretty but paltry material that Pala International didn't even carry due to its downmarket value. But I was on assignment! I dutifully turned in my report, which was broadcast December 15, only to be slammed by a leading academic for "re-plowing non-issues that were extinguished years ago." Yet my informant was a colored gemstone dealer who had been discussing the issue with a group of peers. Long story short (see "Red Hot & Blue"), the Nuclear Regulatory Agency did find the issue of interest and shook things up for a while, but this is an area that, ten years on, could use a revisit.
Rarely did I receive the sort of criticism that I got that day. I had a background in communication and technical writing, which probably helped. And it didn't hurt that our newsletter content was largely abstracted from existing media, so I never did a great amount of original writing. But it also might have helped that readers felt like giving this amateur a wide berth. Or perhaps, because of Bill's standing in the trade, readers felt like holding their tongue. We did receive quite a bit of praise, and when I goofed outright people couldn't look the other way (e.g. calling a dendrite a fossil fern!). But I always wondered where and why the critics might be lurking. Behind the scenes, only once in my thirteen years of writing for Pala International did Bill outright blue-pencil me; it was a relatively minor instance of my quoting a U.N. statistic that he took issue with. So I guess I was doing something right.
What we've done at Pala International has been a team effort during my tenure as news editor and webmaster (I prefer websteward because few can master the ways of the Web). All of the Larsons—Bill and Jeanne, Will and Rika, Carl and Alison—provided me with suggestions, news tips and/or carefully considered write-ups from their travels and talks. How they had the time to focus on composition, given their hectic schedules, is a mystery, but there it was in my inbox. The Halls—Josh and Jill—with whom I had less interaction always kept me on the right track, and with an ample wallet. Gabrièl "Gabe" Mattice gave good advice when I was treading trade boundaries, reining me in, and when she had time she exercised herself under her own byline. I think it was John McLean who first gave me the news in 2006 that I'd be in charge of a bimonthly mineral newsletter in addition to the original for gems. He provided some of the first of our featured specimen photos. Wimon Manorotkul did the same as well as shooting each month's featured gemstone, beautifully. Jason Stephenson picked up the slack early on helping me keep deadlines and always coming through with an enticing description of our monthly showcase. He also contributed stand-alone articles and many a fine featured image and photomicrograph. Mia Dixon picked up where Wimon left off, honing her craft, and nowadays gracing us with sumptuous pairings of Pala's spectacular gemstones with intriguingly diverse flora from the Pala grounds.
The newsletters from here on out will be a collaborative effort by members of the Pala International staff, bringing a fresh perspective—on a new, quarterly basis. I look forward to receiving them.
It's with gratitude that I'm compelled to mention folks on the back end who never failed to provide us with technical expertise that made our public face all the richer. Brent Dussia of Live Oak Systems in Fallbrook is my go-to man for all things Macintosh, FileMaker, and LAN. (My brother continues to consult him from Bangkok as I will from Denver.) Brent's colleague, the late Stephen Calia, was instrumental in the implementation of Palaminerals.com v1. I miss the way he often would answer my queries by giving me just enough DIY tutoring to force me to learn. More gentle, but nonetheless conscientious, is Robert Laidlaw, who took all of us, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century of responsive websites that allow for a seamless experience on desktop, tablet, and cell. Robert is responsible not only for the general aesthetics and construction of Pala's current sites but also for lines and lines of arcane markup that apply to individual devices and that boggle my mind every time I hit the Settings link in Squarespace!
Several outside contributors have generously offered material for our pages during my time here, among them Raquel Alonso-Perez, the late George Bosshart, Paula Crevoshay, Bruno Cupillard, Jim Clanin, the heirs of Martin Ehrmann, François Farges, David Friend, Eloïse Gaillou, David Gibson, George Hickox, E. Billie Hughes, John Koivula, Fred Kruijen, Nikolai Kuznetsov, Alain and Caroline Martaud, the late Roger Merk, Renée Newman, Sarah Oros, Vincent Pardieu, Gian Carlo Parodi, Gamini Ratnavira, Ron Ringsrud, Gary Roskin, Karl Schmetzer, the late Dana Schorr, Jeff Scovil, Raja Shah, Elise Skalwold, Gail Copus Spann and Jim Spann, Lisbet Thoresen, Kyaw The, Harold and Erica Van Pelt, Ana Vasiliu, Geri Vigil, Robert and Orasa Weldon, John S. White, Bear and Cara Williams, anonymous suppliers and correspondents, myriad designers and artists, various virtual museums, and last, but not least, Richard W. Hughes.
Thank you to everyone, and especially Bill Larson, for making my job an easier one.