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Jay B.'s Search for the Perfect Gem
By Tony Ellis
Originally published in The Fairfield Weekly Reader (Iowa), August 12, 2004 Volume 13, #32. Reprinted with permission.
On his very first buying trip to Thailand in 1981, Fairfield gem dealer Jay B. met a fellow gem adventurer who had just escaped over the border from Burma where he had been locked in a bamboo tiger cage for several weeks for buying rubies illegally. That was when he realized that locating the finest quality gems was not going to be easy. He now laughingly calls his most dangerous trips "white knuckle experiences." Many key gem mines are located in the most dangerous parts of the world, where the rule of law is often conspicuously absent. The prime source of emeralds, for example, is Colombia; blue sapphires come from Sri Lanka, rubies from Burma, and tanzanites from Tanzania. All four countries have turbulent political situations. Traveling alone to remote areas with cash in hand to buy gems is asking for trouble. He very quickly learned that it is important to have good local contacts.
When Jay visited the mysterious Mogok Valley in upper Burma in 2002, he had the approval of the military government, keen to open a market for their gems in the United States. Known as "The Lost Valley of the Rubies," the Mogok valley is historically the source of the finest rubies in the world. Jay is one of a handful of westerners allowed into the area during the last 40 years. Even with the approval of a local general and accompanied by three armed Secret Service agents, the trip was not without difficulties. From the Mogok valley they traveled to a more remote valley where some 20 ruby mines are sprinkled throughout an area 15 by 30 kilometers. Unfortunately no one had informed the local military commander of his visit. Suddenly they found themselves surrounded by a platoon of soldiers menacingly pointing AK47s at them, and there were a few heart-stopping moments before everything was sorted out.
Since that first overseas buying trip in 1981, Jay has traveled the globe many times visiting China and Colombia and all ports in between. He averages 125-150,000 air miles per year in his search for the best quality precious stones that Mother Nature can provide. Last year alone, he bought more than 15 million dollars worth of gemstones.
Jay first moved to Fairfield after the Amherst course in 1980. He met his wife, Lenora, shortly afterwards while studying at the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica. After graduating from the Institute in 1981, he returned to Fairfield to run his own company. In the early nineties, he became a wholesale supplier for a newly founded television shopping network that was destined to become the largest seller of loose gemstones on the planet. Jay was soon given his own show selling exotic gemstones on national television. He is now their senior gemstone buyer and too busy traveling to do his own TV show, but his knowledge and experience make him a frequent co-host on their specialty gemstone shows. His expertise is natural, untreated, quality gemstones and diamonds at very competitive prices. One of the nation's leading authorities on colored gemstones, he is often quoted in the jewelry/gemstone trade press. The March/April 2004 issue of Colored Stone featured a four-page article about his historic visit to the Mogok Valley.
Jay's position of buying gems for a prestigious American TV shopping network has been his passport into many remote mining areas. This was how he received permission to visit the Mogok valley in Burma by the military government. In the early nineties, he took Fairfield cameraman, Brian Smith, to Colombia to film the famous Muzo and Cosquez emerald mines. Situated in distant mountain valleys, they are off limits to most people, even the local gem dealers. Uninvited strangers are routinely shot at by the owners, or fall victim to highway robbery. Because of his TV connection, Jay was allowed to visit. Accompanied by a gang of heavily armed locals (approximately two pistols, a shotgun and a bandolier of ammunition each), they took a tortuous car journey high into the mountains, culminating in a 45-minute shaky helicopter ride. Just before climbing aboard the helicopter, his local contact whispered in his ear, "They think you are from The Discovery Channel. Don't let them know you aren't!" Getting out was even more dangerous than getting in. A descending cloud cover blocked their passage home. After unsuccessfully trying one valley after another for four hours, they finally made it out by flying just 15 feet above the ground over a low mountain pass. Even the local Colombians were shaking with fear. Although Jay has always been in the wholesale side of the gem business, his first love is gemstones for spiritual purposes. For over 18 years he has been a first choice supplier of Jyotish quality gems for some of America's leading Vedic astrologers. Selecting the right quality gemstones out of the thousands Jay sees on his overseas buying trips is a delicate and often time-consuming process, but one that Jay loves. Once a customer has received a gem recommendation from a qualified astrologer, the Jay B. Company is ready to provide the right gemstone for their specific needs.
Meanwhile in Myanmar, it turns out that the Mogok ruby mines are not doing very well these days. The quantity of the gems they are producing has decreased significantly. For Jay, that means the search continues for new sources of fine, natural gemstones for his customers and maybe a few more Indiana Jones-type adventures. "It's like a treasure hunt," he says. "Going to the source is the best way to find the quality gemstones that I need at the best possible price." On the list of new places Jay hopes to visit in the coming year are Brazil, Madagascar and East Africa.
The Jay B. Company can be reached by telephone at (800) 559-5090. Gems are also available to customers world-wide through their website: www.AstrologicalGem.com or by sending e-mail.
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