Photomicrography, Rubies and Sapphires Centre Stage at L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific

Installation view of Billie Hughes’ photomicrographs and a selection of jewllery for “Discover the Gemstones: Ruby and Sapphire” on display at L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts Asia Pacific. Image courtesy of L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts.
Iridescent fissures around small crystals create a floral motif in this heated sapphire: Billie Hughes, Blue Bell Blossoms. Image courtesy of E. Billie Hughes and Lotus Gemology.
A stunning fixed star-like pattern glows in this trapiche ruby: Billie Hughes, Trapiche. Image courtesy of E. Billie Hughes and Lotus Gemology.
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Gemstones are given a breath of fresh air at L’ÉCOLE School of Jewelery Arts’ Hong Kong location with their latest exhibition using photomicrography to share the story of these exquisite precious stones.

 

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific

 

Installation view of Billie Hughes’ photomicrographs and a selection of jewllery for “Discover the Gemstones: Ruby and Sapphire” on display at L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts Asia Pacific. Image courtesy of L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts.

 

In Hong Kong, on the fifth floor of K11 MUSEA  is a little hidden gem—the first permanent location of L’ÉCOLE School of Jewelery Arts Asia Pacific. Offering half-day courses for adults in all things from Art Nouveau history to gemstone theory —it is an indulgent escape for those who love a little sparkle in their lives.

Opening their doors last November, L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific unveiled their inaugural exhibition, “Precious Art Deco Objects,” which showcased beautiful pieces of French jewellery and lacquered boxes from a private collection. Central to the exhibition was the love story between the collector couple.

Their second exhibition is no less extraordinary in provenance and ambition. “Discover the Gemstones: Ruby and Sapphire” takes us into the world of rubies and sapphires—two precious stones that belong to the same mineral family corundum, a form of aluminium oxide. Specially co-curated for L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific by the school’s Gemologist and Scientific Director, Olivier Segura and Billy Hughes, Gemologist at Lotus Gemology Laboratory, the exhibition marks the first time L’ÉCOLE has dedicated an entire show solely to gemstones. The curated display of raw gemstone specimens loaned by American collector Pala International, is juxtaposed by pieces of exquisitely crafted high jewellery demonstrating the skill of lapidary hung alongside on the walls. For those hungry for knowledge, this is really the crux of the exhibition and what makes “Ruby and Sapphire” stand out from a conventional exhibition of jewellery. “Through the photomicrography of Billie Hughes, visitors will be able to go inside the gemstones to discover the inner beauty that nature creates. Billie’s images showcase the inclusions, the ‘birthmarks’ of gemstones, in microscopic depth like terraced mountains and iridescent flowers,” writes Segura in an email.

 

Iridescent fissures around small crystals create a floral motif in this heated sapphire: Billie Hughes, Blue Bell Blossoms. Image courtesy of E. Billie Hughes and Lotus Gemology.

 

On my private tour of the exhibition, I learn that the brilliant red colour we attribute to rubies is derived from chromium—the intensity of the colour, which can range from pinks to the deepest red, is dependent on the level of chromium in the stone. While sapphires, of which we normally think of as a beautiful azure blue, can come in a diverse spectrum of colours ranging from yellow to green, mauve to purple and even pink to orange. It is the mineral element of iron and titanium that gives sapphires its colour.

Inclusions, on the other hand, are solid, liquid or gaseous elements trapped internally in the stone. “At the heart of the stone lies the imprints of the environment of crystallization and marks of geology, revealed in the form of inclusions,” said Segura. He explains, “For gemologists, these inclusions offer the means to identify a gem, to reveal its history of crystallization and sometimes, to determine its treatments. The shape and color of inclusions, as well as their nature and formation, are elements through which gems and their origins are to be better understood.”

In a method similar to gemologists carefully examining each precious stone to determine the most suitable angles to cut the stone, Hughes’ process of photomicrography uses a camera and adaptor attached to a microscope to capture this inside world of the crystal. Under the microscope, the crystal is scrutinized to find the best lighting conditions and angles. As Hughes explains by email, “Usually we also use a technique called focus stacking. The subjects of most of my photos are so small, often just a couple millimeters, which makes it hard to get the entire subject in focus. The solution is to take multiple photos at different focus distances. We then use software to combine these photos to produce a final image that is crisp and in focus.”

“When I see an incredible inclusion inside a gem, I’m inspired to take a photo so I can share the “view” of this world with others,” says the passionate photomicrographer. “Gemology is a combination of art and science, and inclusion photos are a celebration of both.”

 

A stunning fixed star-like pattern glows in this trapiche ruby: Billie Hughes, Trapiche. Image courtesy of E. Billie Hughes and Lotus Gemology.

 

For a little something out of the ordinary, “Ruby and Sapphire” is well worth the visit. It would do one well to be reminded that in the art historical canon, jewellery has long been regarded as a form of art in itself and what this exhibition refreshingly brings is another perspective on appreciating the glittering gems—through scientific knowledge made accessible. But a tour with one of the L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific team is highly recommended to get the most out of the experience.

 

 

Discover the Gemstones: Ruby and Sapphire
10 June – 26 October 2020
L’ÉCOLE School of Jewelery Arts Asia Pacific, Hong Kong

 

 

 
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