About 6 years ago I, like Alice, fell down a rabbit hole and into a completely new world of lily-pads, horsetails, zebra-stripes, rain and silk. This kaleidoscopic universe is what you find inside gemstones. You can peek through the keyhole with a loupe but what you really need is a microscope to see any detail.
Glimpse into the internal world of a gemstone and you see a snapshot of the life of the crystal it was cut from often with enough detail to identify its variety and sometimes even its origin. It can also help you identify if the gemstone has been subjected to any treatment such as heating or dying which affects the price.
This world was kept hidden behind the two eyepieces of a microscope until someone had the clever idea of photographing them - photomicrography. These were used as teaching aids and lab inclusion guides such as the landmark tomes of Photoatlas of Inclusions of Gemstones Vol I to 3 by Eduard J. Gübelin & John I. Koivula. But I have always wanted to get in closer, turning the wheel of my microscope to try to zoom in and it never quite being enough...then I discovered Mineralien and the photomicrographs of Los Angeles based gemmologist Danny J. Sanchez.
His photos perfectly isolate the focal point inside each gem, expertly creating the depth of field required to tell the whole story and as such he manages to create something way more than a scientific reference tool but a piece of art.
Fast forward a couple of years and who should be speaking at the GemA conference but Danny who has flown over from LA. He led us on a mystical journey through his process elaborating on stacking and depth of field but all the time captivating the audience with slowly progressing shots within opals and flying through gemstones as if landing from another planet.
It was a moment after though, when Danny showed me the piece of quartz (below) from which he took his mountain range shot that took his photos to another level for me. I couldn't believe it was such a nondescript, if a little ugly, piece which would probably have been looked over by anyone else yet in his picture (below centre) it looks so magnificent.
Intrigued I wanted to know more so scheduled a stop off in LA on the way to Tucson Gem Show earlier this year. Danny kindly gave us a tour of his lab, let me dig through his past work and even let me have a go on his 'scope.
Having worked as a gemmologist in a jeweller's shop in Hatton Garden I’m familiar with the equipment which we are all taught to use but I’d never come across the epic set up which Danny has created. Using a Wild Heerbrugg microscope he then switches between either Leica or Mitutoyo lenses. This all gives him a magnification range of 5.8 through to 100. With such magnification comes various problems a lot of which is neutralised through it sitting on a vibration isolation table.
Key to capturing these inclusions is lighting and Danny talked through all the different ways he sets up his shots including a Xenon Arc, a light so bright you have to wear welding goggles to protect your eyes! All used in the quest to capture that perfect angle and highlight the internal beauty of something often only millimetres big.
So detailed are the nuances of photomicrography that in both my visits to his lab we didn't even get round to talking about the photography side of things, but then I feel that revealing too many trade secrets might just break the spell.
A glimpse at each of these stones, in order, without the microscope...
In our quest to bring you carefully curated gem related ranges to sit alongside our fine jewellery collection in our East London boutique we are proud to be stocking 8 different Mineralien prints, all printed on archival, fine art Giclée.
You can read more about Mineralien and the photomicrography of Danny by following these links:
Danny J. Sanchez: www.dannyjsanchez.com
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