Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gemstone gets set to shine again

Long considered two counties yet to fulfill their economic potential, eastern Taiwan's Hualien and Taitung are ready to shine at the Eastern Taiwan Gems and Jades Exhibition. Hosted by the National Taitung Living Art Center from event features more than 1,000 pieces of precious stones and jewelry.

Three famed gemstones found in eastern Taiwan, hornblende (commonly known as Taiwan jade), blue chalcedony and red coral are the highlights of the fair--a joint effort between the government and industry aimed at kick-starting the island's dormant jewelry industry and generating local employment opportunities.

According to Hsieh Jing-lin, chairman of the ROC Gems and Jades Association and co-host of the exhibition, in the 1960s and 1970s, Taiwan hornblende held a 90-percent share of the global jade market. "Back then, Hualien's Fengtian Village was a mining town best known for the precious stone and the county boasted more than 1,000 gemstone factories," he said.

But toward the end of 1970, Hualien's jade industry went into steep decline as local deposits of hornblende were exhausted. "Over the years, many people believed that untapped veins of the stone could be found in the county's mountainous regions," Hsieh said.

"Exploration was never carried out because at that time, Taiwan did not possess the know-how to prospect for these deposits," he added.

A native of Taitung, Hsieh considers Taiwan's blue chalcedony--distributed over ranges in Hualien and his hometown--to be the world's most beautiful "natural" specimen of the quartz. "Unlike blues from abroad, Taiwan's stones do not need heat treatment to improve their color," he said. "They naturally possess a pure luster and clarity, which make them the darlings of Japanese collectors."

The gem dealer said the region's old mining towns, if tastefully transformed into tourist attractions, could breathe added life into eastern Taiwan's precious stone enterprises. "People would be interested in trekking along winding paths through mines where gemstones exposed can be seen," Hsieh suggested.

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