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Scottish Gemmological Association Conference 2009 and field trips

Last Updated: 2nd Jul 2009

By Jolyon & Katya Ralph

A long overdue report of my little trip up to Scotland in May

A long slow drive up the M40 and M6 eventually brought me to Perth, Scotland for the inaugural conference of the Scottish Gemmological Association (SGA). The SGA had previously been known as the Scottish branch of Gem-A (The Gemmological Association of Great Britain), however due to English charity law, it was discovered they couldn't actually operate a branch in Scotland, so at the conference the Scottish Branch of Gem-A was formally wound up, and the new SGA was launched. It will continue to have a close relationship with Gem-A however.

A presentation by Jack Ogden of Gem-A to the SGA conference

The conference lasted three days, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, consiting of both talks and workshop sessions. Talks included Gemstone Treatments Today (Ken Scarratt - GIA), Tourmaline from Mozambique (Dr. Hanco Zwann), the History of Synthetics (Brian Jackson) and The GIA's Approach to Ruby and Sapphire Origin Determinations (Ken Scaratt)

Brian Jackson giving his presentation on the history of synthetics

All of this was fascinating, if a little confusing to a newcomer to gemmology, but there was enough of interest to the mineralogist in me to make the whole trip worthwhile. Of course, the conference in Perth was just the start of a week of adventures in Scotland, and the main reason for visiting the conference, other than to improve my knowledge of gemmology, was to meet people. And I met some strange people indeed...

Brian Jackson, again, with Maria Alferova

Yes, that on the left is Brian Jackson, Chairman of the SGA and Head Curator of Mineralogy at the National Museum of Scotland (and my host for the following week), arriving incognito for the opening of the conference. On the right Maria Alferova, curator from the Fersman Mineralogical Museum in Moscow. The most important business of every conference is done in the bar in the evenings, and this was no exception.

Jolyon, Brian and Gordon

Here I am talking with, again, Brian, and on the right Gordon Todd, who I hadn't seen since the mid 1990s - Gordon has one of the best, if not THE best, collection of Scottish minerals in private hands and is a prolific collector. More recently, he has opened a private museum of Natural History, containing minerals, wildlife, etc. I didn't get a chance to visit this trip, but hope to in the not too distant future.

No Scottish event is complete without traditional dancing, and so it was on the Saturday night that the men put on their best kilts (sadly I didn't have one) and got up and danced. Here is 'Strip the Willow' with Maria and Brian leading the dance. Fortunately no photographic record exists of my attempts at the dancing on that evening - although I wasn't very good at it, it was great fun and I'd reccommend it to anyone.

Traditional Scottish dancing

On the monday after the conference, a group of about ten of us went on the official SGA field trip to the Campsie Fells to collect jasper. The weather wasn't exactly perfect...

View up towards the collecting area at Campsie Fells. Long walk uphill in the rain

And this is what we were looking for, a fabulous vein of Jasper infilling a large extended vug in the basalt. This particular exposure was left untouched, but there were plenty of fragments of jasper and other materials in the screen below the outcrop, and we helped ourselves to those.

Jasper vein at Campsie Fells

Here's a little slice of something I picked up - on the left is Jasper, on the right is a pale greenish wedge of chalcedony, which in the past went by the name of Plasma.

Chalcedony & Plasma, about 10cm across

Another example I found, quite some way from the collecting area while I was slowly wandering up, was this piece (subsequently cut and polished), which is around 7cm across:

Jasper with pale bluish chalcedony/agate patches

Kerry Gregory found this nice specimen with large (2cm) quartz crystals, apparently quite unusual for the fells - apologies for the poor photo taken of the uncleaned specimen on a table at the hotel.

Quartz on matrix - Kerry Gregory specimen

Thus ended the offical conference schedule - the following day a small but hardy group of collectors headed out to Lochan-na-Lairig, which sits underneath Ben Lawers, the tenth-highest mountain in the UK. We went to the site for one particular reason - Rutile, for which this site is famed. The weather started out miserable and got worse and worse as the day went on.

Getting ready to go collecting

However, we were in for some luck! Due to maintenance the reservoir was partially drained, revealing a huge new area of potential collecting grounds. Suddenly the poor weather didn't seem to be as offputting.

The reservoir at Lochan-na-Lairig

A bit of poking around revealed some garnets (probably Almandine, but unanalyzed), this one at nearly 1cm was the best I found, and I've spent a little time cleaning matrix away to reveal this a bit better.

Garnet crystal, 9mm

There was quite a lot of smoky quartz to be found, not in euhedral crystals but as lenses and pods within the schist, and some areas were crystal clear and of facetable quality. We also found pyrite crystals to over 2cm, partially pseudomorphed into goethite

Goethite/Pyrite cubes

But what we really wanted was the Rutile, and although I didn't find much myself (just a few small pieces), Maria did very well, and even better the following week when she went back after I'd gone back to London - this is a LARGE piece from that second trip which ...

Rutile in matrix, field of view about 10cm

The following day was spent at the stores and the laboratories of the National Museum of Scotland, as a guest of Brian Jackson and his team (in particular I must thank Peter Davidson who spent a good part of the morning showing me around). I was given a great opportunity to explore the mineral collection (which is not currently on display). A few examples...

Greenockite on Prehnite, 10.5cm, Bishopton, Strathclyde, Scotland

Lanarkite, 4.3cm, Susanna Mine, Leadhills, Scotland

Linarite, 9cm, Susanna Mine, Leadhills, Scotland

.. and while I was photographing specimens, Maria was in the museum labs steam-cleaning the rutile specimens from the previous day!

Steam cleaning rutile specimens

The next day four of us set off early for a long drive all the way from Edinburgh to Strontian, on the west coast. Yet again the weather was less than ideal...

Driving through Scotland in the rain...

After a quick breakfast and a ride on the Corran ferry, we eventually made it to the quarry and started our preparations for the first visit, to the underground workings at the Whitesmith mine. In preparation for this I decided to upgrade my cap lamp...

Jolyon with an enhanced cap-lamp for superior underground collecting

There was, as always, plenty of good Brewsterite-Sr to be found, along with type-locality Strontianite. Here's a smample of the Brewsterite that we were finding...

Brewsterite-Sr from the Whitesmith mine

Here's Maria in her rather fetching pink floral waterproof jacket with a "hurry up and take the photo, I want to wrap my rocks!" expression.

Maria in the Whitesmith mine

... and here's me with a "I've just found a nice vug of Strontianite" expression...

Jolyon in the Whitesmith mine

... a 6cm vug of strontianite crystals. Sadly when dismantling the large block this was on the edge of the vug broke into several pieces, however a couple of nice specimens were obtained.

Type locality Strontianite, vug in a boulder underground

Moving back down to the quarry and the old opencut, we collected plenty of specimens of Harmotome, here's three of us at the quarry looking pleased with ourselves as we've collected a lot of harmotome!

The collectors at Strontian (minus Maria who took the photo)

The following day was spent back at the museum cleaning our enormous haul of Strontian specimens. I currently have two boxes packed full of them sitting in my car which are still not unloaded. If anyone needs a piece of Harmotome and/or Brewsterite-Sr from here, then let me know and I'm sure we can do a trade!

Here's one of the best bits, again one that Maria found, a group of Harmotome crystals - largest 1.3cm, specimen 5cm wide.

Harmotome from Strontian

All in all, a very enjoyable trip only spoilt by the horrid weather. I hope to go back soon!

Article has been viewed at least 19204 times.


Looks as though you had an absolute BLAST! Thanks for sharing!

Gail Spann
8th Jul 2009 5:56pm
Aha! Secret revealed!
Now we know why the Auction site isn't up yet...the
mastermind was otherwise engaged in the highlands of Scotland...
Nice stuff Jolyon...sounds like you had a ball despite the weather.

Ray Hill
15th Jul 2009 6:57am
You look Beautiful jolyon.

Thanks for sharing.

Nauroz Nausherwani
15th Aug 2009 10:53am

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