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Royal Saharan Jasper


There are 15 distinct varieties of picture jasper shown in Ron Gibbs’ new photo-intensive book, Agates & Jaspers. Of them, the author says the most beautiful is the most recently found member of this family: Royal Sahara Jasper. This material was discovered three years ago in the eastern Sahara by husband and wife gem miners, Janet and George Sechler of Oasis Prospecting, Seattle, Washington, and named after its rugged, easily-romanced birthplace.

Like every other kind of scenic jasper, Royal Sahara jasper cut stones resemble paintings and sometimes even satellite photos of the terrain in which they’re found. In this case, the locale is dry and sweltering with mid-day temperatures often a hellish 140F. "You’ve heard about places that are so hot, you can use rocks to fry eggs?" George asks. "Well, my wife and I are living proof that rocks can and do serve as frying pans."

The Sechlers, who have frequently prospected in northern Africa, have been rewarded on every trip with incredible badland bounty, including groves of petrified wood with 40-foot trunks and quartz crystals the size of serving plates.

But the desert became even more generous in April 2006 with a single outcropping nodule of picture jasper more spectacular than any other kind they had ever seen. It took them a month to find a sequel--one of thousands buried 5 to 15 feet under the sifting sands of an ancient riverbed. Finally, in July, the couple started hand-digging operations in what proved to be a kind of inexhaustible quartz quarry.

Just before Tucson 2008, they sent samples of their latest roughs and readys to this writer who, in turn, showed them to leading lapidaries at the Tucson Show. It was like I was carrying mineralogical manna. Greg Genovese, a drusy master based in Cape May, New Jersey, was literally struck speechless when I put a small boulder in his hand. He passed it around the table at the restaurant where he had convened a small group of fellow cutters and there was a chorus of awed murmurs.

"Where did you say this is from?" Genovese asked. When I told him Egypt or thereabouts, he gave the material the highest praise a scenic jasper can earn. "It is better than Biggs [a legendary source of picture jasper in Oregon]," he exclaimed. And every head nodded yes in agreement.

WHY THE EUPHORIA?

Gibbs, who tends to be far more understated than Genovese, also gives this material his highest praise. First of all, he explains, at least 80 and often up to 90 percent of the material is useable. The impressive yields help to explain the somewhat high cost of rough--around $60 to $80 per pound. Second, the material is very hard and takes an exceptional polish. Third, it can be oriented from anywhere and always show interesting patterns.

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