Friday, April 12, 2019

Music Friday: Neil Young Is a Miner for a 'Heart of Gold' in the 1971 Classic

Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you classic songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Today, the incomparable Neil Young searches for a soulmate in his 1971 chart-topping classic, "Heart of Gold."

Penned by Young, this song is about a man who has been unlucky in love. The protagonist of the story wonders if he's ever going to find someone who will cherish him unconditionally.

He sings, "I want to live, I want to give / I've been a miner for a heart of gold / It's these expressions I never give / That keep me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old."

Ranked #297 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs, “Heart of Gold” remains Canadian Neil Young’s only #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song also reached #1 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles list.

Interestingly, this ubiquitous song was a result of a couple of serendipitous events:

Young had suffered a back injury and, unable to stand for long periods to play his electric guitar, returned to his acoustic guitar and harmonica. “Heart of Gold” was one song that came out of those sessions. Second, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor happened to be in Nashville for a television appearance while Young was recording Harvest, the album on which “Heart of Gold” appears. The album's producer arranged for the high-profile artists to sing backup on Young's track.

"Heart of Gold" has been covered by more than 30 artists, including Dave Matthews, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash, Tori Amos and Willie Nelson. Canada’s CBC radio named it the third best Canadian song of all time and it was included in the Eat, Pray, Love movie soundtrack.

Born in Toronto in 1945 to a sportswriter dad and quiz show panelist mom, Young contracted polio as a five year old. The disease damaged the left side of his body and led to seizures he would experience throughout his life.

Young idolized Elvis Presley and listened to rock 'n roll, rockabilly, doo-wop, R&B and country and western music on the radio. Young taught himself to play a plastic ukulele, and he would soon step up to a banjo ukulele and baritone ukulele. Young formed his first band, the Jades, while attending middle school and eventually played with several rock bands in high school. Music dominated his world, so he decided to drop out of school to pursue a musical career.

He formed the influential band Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills in 1966 and toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, starting in 1968.

Young is one of the few artists who had been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. He was first honored as a solo artist in 1995 and then as a member of Buffalo Springfield in 1997. In 2000, Rolling Stone named Young the 34th greatest rock 'n roll artist.

Please check out the video of Young's live performance of "Heart of Gold." The clip is taken from his 1971 appearance on the British TV show BBC In Concert.

"Heart of Gold"
Written and performed by Neil Young.

I want to live, I want to give
I've been a miner for a heart of gold
It's these expressions I never give
That keep me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old
Keep me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old

I've been to Hollywood, I've been to Redwood
I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold
I've been in my mind, it's such a fine line
That keeps me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old
Keeps me searching for a heart of gold and I'm getting old

Keep me searching for a heart of gold
You keep me searching and I'm growing old
Keep me searching for a heart of gold
I've been a miner for a heart of gold

Credit: Screen capture via

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Let's Celebrate April's Birthstone With a Close-Up Look at the Oppenheimer Diamond

In honor of April's official birthstone, let's take a close-up look at one of the largest uncut yellow diamonds in the world. At 253.7 carats, the Oppenheimer Diamond is a nearly perfectly formed octahedron, a shape that's essentially an eight-sided double pyramid connected at the base.

Named in honor of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, former chairman of the Board of Directors of DeBeers Consolidated Mines, the 20mm x 20mm gem was discovered at the Dutoitspan Mine near Kimberley, South Africa, in 1964, and acquired that same year by luxury jeweler Harry Winston.

Instead of cutting the rough gem into a hero stone and a series of smaller finished diamonds, Winston decided to leave it in its natural state and donate it to the Smithsonian in memory of Oppenheimer, who passed away in 1957 at the age of 77. The surface of the gem is reminiscent of an icy pond.

Vivid yellow diamonds are extraordinarily valuable. In May 2014, for example, the 100.09-carat Graff Vivid Yellow was sold for $16.3 million at Sotheby's.

The Oppenheimer Diamond is now on display near the Hope Diamond in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals in Washington, D.C.

The gem owes its vivid yellow color to nitrogen impurities that were substituted for carbon atoms as the crystal formed. Similarly, the presence of boron in the chemical composition of a diamond will yield a vivid blue color.

Unlike their yellow and blue brethren, pink and red diamonds get their rich color not from chemical impurities, but from a molecular structure distortion that occurs as the diamond crystal forms in the earth’s crust.

Credits: Images by Chip Clark/Smithsonian.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Researchers Find World-Class Blue Spinel on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic

On Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, University of British Columbia researchers discovered deposits of cobalt-blue spinel in qualities that rival the finest in the world.

Researchers Philippe Belley and Lee Groat attributed the surprising find to the high levels of a "magic" ingredient present in the area — cobalt.

Pure spinel is colorless, but impurities in its chemical structure give rise to a range of colors, from pink and red to purple and blue. Baffin Island spinel, the researchers found, contains up to 500 parts-per-million of cobalt, which gives it a vivid blue color — a color comparable to the highly coveted material found in Vietnam and the Himalayas.

“Baffin Island is geologically similar to the Himalayas, where some of the world’s finest gems have been found,” said Belley, a recent PhD graduate of the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric science. “Canada hasn’t been widely recognized as a source for fine, colored gemstones, but our research suggests that we have all the right ingredients.”

Belley added, "There’s considerable interest in cobalt-blue spinel for gems and jewelry. There are few stones that match its intense blue color.”

Spinel formed on Baffin Island from sedimentary deposits of dolomite-bearing limestones. These sedimentary rocks metamorphosed at temperatures of about 800º C (1,472º F) under immense pressure.

“We found that cobalt was added at some point during sediment deposition or up to early metamorphism,” said Groat, a UBC mineralogist.

The researchers noted that even small spinel crystals with good transparency and fine cobalt-blue color can sell for about 10 times the price of comparable sapphires. But supply is an issue, and even production from the most significant source, Vietnam, is limited and sporadic.

The researchers explained that, despite the prevalence of hungry polar bears on Baffin Island, finding blue spinel there might be easier than exploring for the gem in the thick jungles of Vietnam or the challenging terrain of the Himalayas.

"[In those areas] most new deposits are found by accident,” said Belley. “But there’s excellent rock exposure on Baffin Island, which facilitates exploration and the use of more advanced techniques like imaging using drones or satellites.”

Spinel, which in 2016 joined the official list of birthstones for the month of August, is famous for being the jewelry-industry's "great imposter." Before modern testing became available, deep red spinel was often mistaken for ruby.

Credit: Image courtesy of Philippe Belley, UBC. Map via Google.