The Gübelin Foundation (2014) The Eduard Josef Gübelin Story: The Art and Science of Gems. London. Gübelin Group, Lucerne, and Unicorn Press, 306 pp., illus., hardcover, ISBN 978-1-91006-540-2
Used to be an Experience meant making you a bit older. This one makes you wider. Liner notes to Are You Experienced, Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1967
Eduard Gübelin needs little introduction. Arguably the most influential gemologist of the 20th century, his work spans the transition of the field from “tradecraft” to a forensic science. But it is actually so much more, as the current book details.
The son of a Swiss watchmaking family, he developed a keen interest in stones at an early age; this was to blossom into a passion for precious stones as his family’s business branched into jewelry. His early scholarly interests were in languages and poetry, but the family eventually steered him towards mineralogy as it was thought this would be more useful in the business. These twin interests in the humanities, fused to exacting science, would give birth to some of the greatest gemological works in history.
Published 101 years after his birth, The Eduard Josef Gübelin Story is a richly illustrated document of this man’s amazing life. It is filled with photographs of Gübelin on his various adventures in Burma and Sri Lanka, as well as selections from his vast correspondence, and anecdotes from relatives and colleagues. As such it is a history of gemology itself and deserves a place on the shelves of anyone wishing to understand the development of the field. It is also studded with photos of his lab nd family, which paint a full and personal picture of the man.
The book is divided into logical sections, beginning with the family history. It then continues with Gübelin's early life, his career and accomplishments, with a generous portion devoted to his travels. Completing it is a massive bibliography of Eduard Gübelin's published works and a shorter section on his awards.
This volume is printed on heavy paper and, unlike the Photoatlas series, is well bound. An earlier edition (Enduring Values: In Celebration of Eduard Josef Gübelin) appeared briefly in 2013, but had a number of shortcomings. These have been corrected, resulting in a much more professional production. In addition to English, the book is also available in German and Mandarin.
I will close this review with a personal story. When I began my gemological studies in 1979, a youthful Santpal Sinchawla invited me up to his personal laboratory in Bangkok. I noticed a number of books on gemology and asked which was his favorite. Without hesitation, he pulled one off the shelf and said: “This.” It was Eduard Gübelin’s 1973 masterpiece, Internal World of Gemstones. Peeking inside, I felt like Harry Potter transported through a brick wall at King’s Cross station to a magical world on the other side. This was a work that not only changed my life, but that of virtually all gemologists who have followed.
In every field, on rare occasions there appears someone with the vision to allow us to see with new eyes. Be it the prose of Morrissey or the guitar of Jimi Hendrix, once heard, nothing is the same. Eduard Gübelin did not simply pass along his experience. He made us wider. We are all better for it.
About the author
Richard W. Hughes is the author of the classic Ruby & Sapphire and over 170 articles on various aspects of gemology. Many of his writings can be found at www.lotusgemology.com and www.ruby-sapphire.com. His latest book is Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide (2014).
This review first appeared in the Journal of Gemmology, 2014, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 372–373.