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Howard's End: A Secret National Treasure

Australia has its precious gems like opal, sapphire and diamonds but New Zealand hasn't been similarly blessed - right? Wrong! Imagine a rare gemrock with precious red ruby, blue sapphire and crystal all encased in emerald green - and it's unique to New Zealand. John Howard writes.

Despite the prophets of doom and gloom, you can't help but love the diversity and the beauty of this country which awaits around every corner for those who want to open their eyes.

Yesterday, my eyes were opened yet again, when I was shown what looked like a brown rock to which I wouldn't have normally given a second glance.

In fact, had I come across it when walking along a path, I would have kicked it out of the way.

But when cut, polished and set by Gerry Commandeur, a Dutch-born master gem cutter and faceter who has recently come to live in Hokitika, the interior of this rock revealed colours which took my breath away.

The contrast from the rich red ruby's, to the deep blue sapphire's surrounded by crystal and all encased in emerald green was truly striking.

The amazing thing was the contrast from the colour of each gem in the one small area. It was almost as though each gem was competing for attention. I have seen single gems in the matrix of the earth, but I have never seen different gems so close together in one rock.

Gerry Commandeur is a gem cutter with more than 25 years experience and has "faced" precious gems all over the world. He has specialised in uncovering the beauty of sapphire, ruby, emerald, and other precious stones.

Originally based in Queensland, he heard about our "rock" and decided to move here five years ago to concentrate his expertise on this gemstone which he calls ruby rock.

The "rock" was first discovered around 100 years ago by gold miners fossicking through boulders in the Southern Alps. But the miners had only one thing on their mind - gold, and the rock was thought to be worthless.

Around 1890 William Goodlett, from Otago University, took a chip back to a Professor Ulrich in Dunedin who tested the rock and published what he found in the Institute of Mining Journal under the title - "On the Discovery of Oriental Ruby in the Province of Westland, New Zealand."

It was originally called "Oriental Ruby" by Professor Ulrich but apparently was later officially changed to Goodletite as a courtesy to its discoverer, William Goodlett.

The rock is said to be formed around 30km below the surface of the earth because of huge pressures and temperatures there. The gems inside the rock need around 3 million years to grow.

Gerry Commandeur has now developed cutting and facing techniques which reveals the vivid emerald green diffused with sapphire's and ruby's creating a gem landscape with no two stones the same, yet each one as exquisite as the last.

I'm ashamed to say that far too many New Zealanders, including myself, have only seen the beauty of imported precious gems.

For example, who hasn't bought a diamond from South Africa or an opal, sapphire or emerald from Australia?

Yet staring us right in the face is a New Zealand gemstone treasure as rare, unique and beautiful as any of those from overseas.

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