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  • Writer's pictureTwo Skies


Updated: May 23, 2022

The collection "cabinets" of Dr James Todd came up for auction last month - a lifelong collector of Scottish gems and minerals . His collection predated the designation of protected areas like the Cairngorms National Park and SSSI zones like Shetland and the Isle of Lewis.

The auction came up at Bonhams - I was notified by the Scottish Gemmological Society as a person of interest. It was a selection of Scottish gemstones mostly cut and faceted, which gained huge interest worldwide - these ended up selling into several thousands for single 1ct gemstones .

A collection of rough Scottish stones went for auction too on the same day - I assumed I would have no chance in succeeding, seeing the previous interest in the other gems. I could not believe my luck when the auctioneer said there were no bids -and he had to reduce the asking price - once he reduced it down to its reserve I placed my bid. I genuinely did not know I had won - as I had never been to an auction before, and the auctioneer simply said "Sold to bidder number XXX".... I had no idea what my bidder number was, so it was not until after the auction was over that I found I had won!! I could not believe my luck!! I just walked out the virtual door of Bonhams with literally 2 kilos of uncut Scottish gems!!

The auction lot I won consisted of:

A Scottish Cairngorm

I know of no other jeweller in the world that can offer Scottish Cairngorm from the original source - Beinn a' Bhùird in the Cairngorms Mountains . The land is now a protected national park, but before that it was the centre of a Scottish gem boom, with rare gems such as Aquamarine , Topaz and Tourmaline being found there. The favourite gem of Queen Victoria, of which she would even personally go for outings in search of, was "Cairngorm" - a very dark variety of smoky quartz known to the trade as Morion .

Collecting these gems became a huge craze in the late 1800's to early 1900's, with teams of "diggers" going up the mountain every summer in search of treasure - some gems even finding their way into the crown jewels (!!!) and the stone being named the National Gemstone of Scotland. Demand soon outgrew the supply - with new gem locations flooding into the gem markets from Brazil and India - with a more ready supply of "Cairngorm" or smoky quartz. At the time, it did not matter the provenance of the material, as long as it looked the part. Soon the market was flooded with "fake" Cairngorms and few were able to tell the difference - hence a lot of antique jewellery from the 1900s is the wrong colour or wrong gem to be genuine Cairngorm.

These days due to the national park status nobody is allowed to mine and market Cairngorm gems - so actually very few people possess our real Scottish national gemstone.

The piece Two Skies has just acquired is a massive 1848ct stone with a perfectly formed Cairngorm crystal still embedded in its host rock. The cutting of such a gem will take a lot of time and skill but I foresee it making over 100 gemstones .

Scottish Scapolite

The Scapolite crystal is massive - 4499cts!!! -almost 1 kilo !!! A relatively unknown gemstone - but it's one of the rarest in the world with gem quality stones from Tanzania fetching an impressive £3000/per carat . The material I have was found at the ward of Silwick in the Shetland Isles. Although somewhat opaque, it's like a lot of gems - it is not until they are worked and faceted that they reveal their true beauty. This specimen has a "silky" structure to it. On cutting this will likely produce gems which display chatoyancy or the "cat's eye" effect. These days - due to its rare geology the whole of Shetland is now registered as a "geo park " and strictly no mineral extraction is allowed on any of the islands.

Scottish Sapphire

My grandad was the local doctor on the Isle of Lewis and heard from one of his patients about a discovery of sapphire bearing "dyke", found when the local game keeper was extending the estates track. My dad, who was studying geology at the time, recalled this story to me which I was fascinated by.

Years later on - I was filming with the BBC'S One Show a series on British gems - at the time I was also looking to propose to my now wife Roberta. The series director thought this would make a great episode . Roberta's ring, coming from a gem miner, was going to have to be very unique - and featuring a collection of Scottish gems. Most of the gems I managed to source myself: Elie Rubies from Fife, a Cairngorm Quartz stone and Scottish Gold from Wanlockhead. However, I really wanted a Scottish Sapphire to tie in my heritage from Lewis - but upon doing research I found out that since the 1980's the sapphire-bearing ground had been dug over by a gemmological party investigating the area and no gem material was left. The land had returned to a peat bog state, and the site had been declared a SSSI zone with nobody allowed to access it.

I did however come across a geologist, Ian Combe , who had been on the original expedition and had found the largest sapphire to be found in the UK - a huge 242ct crystal valued 25 years ago at £200,000! Ian had cut his sapphire into a handful of gems and I was lucky enough that 25 years later he still had one that I could incorporate into Roberta's ring . Since then I have always had a fascination with Scottish Sapphires but never dreamed of acquiring any more - especially not a rough crystal!