Firstly, it is critical to appreciate what it is that makes these books special: both are written through the eyes of a gemstone dealer with incredible wealth of knowledge and expertise in the gem mining and cutting businesses. It is common for books to be written by academics who have laboriously studied the topic at hand, although they have not necessarily had first hand experience at the coalface of the trade. Burma Gems and Sri Lanka Gems is a different story - in two tomes Vladyslav Y. Yavorskyy has shares his own photos taken during his numerous trips to the gem mines of these regions, and collated his first hand anecdotal accounts. The texts seek to contextualise all facets of life within these countries through the prism of one man's search for gemstones.
The circumstantial aspect of the writing means that these books are truly unique and very personal to the author. The composition of the images in Burma Gems and Sri Lanka Gems is unlike anything I have seen before; bringing to mind a travel journal of a folkloric adventurer. Vivid examples of the native gems which Vladyslav has collected are combined with photography of local people, the natural beauty of the region, as well as the working conditions of miners - an insight which many of us would never be privy to were it not for books such as this.
The Sri Lanka edition features a huge spectrum of spinel (including the colour change variety) as well as Padparadscha, multi-colour sapphires, Ceylon sapphires, rhodolite, and Sri Lankan pigeon's blood ruby. The Burma book showcases spinels, mandarin garnets, aquamarine, sapphires, jade, moonstone, Burmese ruby, peridot, Padparadscha and zircon. Vladyslav notes that he was fortunate to be one of the few purveyors of gems who realised and appreciated the value of spinels long before the much of the jewellery industry did; meaning that he was able to accumulate a vast, high quality collection of this wonder of nature.
It is worth keeping in mind that these books are published with the intention to celebrate the key gem-mining regions which they bear the names of. Both books read like a catalogue of gemstones; simultaneously promoting the sought-after minerals and the countries, whilst putting the significance of these treasures into context. A great example of this is found in the Sri Lanka edition, where Vladyslav draws the apt comparison of witnessing the prices of both yellow coconuts and yellow sapphires being negotiated by hand.
Although other contributors add to the books, it is Vladyslav’s first hand recollections that add true value to the reader’s experience. Insights into the reality of life for those who work on the ground with gemstones aid in putting their importance into perspective. Vladyslav recounts seeing small scale, four feet gem mines, with miners carrying gems on their tongues in their mouths - “the only place to carry them when you are wearing few clothes with no pockets,” notes the gem dealer. The photographs which illustrate these stories make comprehension of this reality a little easier for those of us who have never been confronted with gemstone mining.
Having spent decades of his life in both Sri Lanka and Burma, Vladyslav Yavorskyy is uniquely positioned as an “alien” - in his own words - to convey these countries through books which are as lovingly dedicated to the gemstones which he has discovered, as they are to the people who enabled him to discover them.
Burma Gems is published with support of Gemforest Co. Ltd., with all photographs taken by Vladyslav Y. Yavorskyy. Sri Lanka Gems is sponsored by Sri Lanka Gem & Jewellery Association and Facets Sri Lanka, with thanks to Gemforest, and features photography by Vladyslav Y. Yavorskyy, Vitaly Maksimchuk, Preeta Prasertarporn, Indika Rathnayake, Andre Tissera, Alex Leuenberger, with drawings by Olga Oprunenco.