In February 2006 at the AGTA Gemfair, Pala International owner Bill Larson introduced a new gemstone claimed to be from a mine located in the high desert of Tibet. The mine location was reported to be at such a high elevation that no trees could grow, and yet the photograph presented by Pala International supposedly depicting the mine entrance had a mass of trees showing fall foliage in the background. While many questioned the authenticity of the presentation, the fact that it was Bill Larson and Pala International making the presentation that caused the issue to be dropped.
This turned out to be a major mistake by those in attendance who realized the error but admitted to saying nothing due to the standing of Bill Larson and Pala International.
This gemstone, later known as "Tibet andesine" would soon be purchased in massive quantities by several television shopping channels, including Direct Shopping Network, and well over the next 2 years over $100 million dollars of the material was sold to customers throughout the world. The marketing draw of this gemstone was it being a copper-bearing feldspar, the same as the well-known Oregon Sunstone, which had been marketed for years as the only copper-bearing feldspar in the world. Just as the Oregon Sunstone miners were beginning to establish a market for their unique gemstones, Pala International appeared on the market with this new find of copper-bearing feldspar from a far-off mine location in Tibet.
Questions were quickly raised about the authenticity of the claimed mine location and truth of the entire matter as presented. These questions were raised both by industry jewelers and consumers who had purchased the "Tibet andesine" from the television shopping channels, only to find out that there were serious questions about the validity of the claims. As a result, the television shopping channels sent specimens to the major gem labs for verification.
As seen at left, the major gem labs such as the AGTA-GTC issued Identification Reports verifying the Tibet andesine as natural and under "Enhancements" listed: None.
As was later exposed, the AGTA-GTC lab had never seen these "Tibet andesine" before, and these certificates were issued and signed by non other than Richard W. Hughes, a long time friend and employee of Pala International.
If you click on the AGTA-GTC report at left you will see the full and accurate report. Notice that the signature will be Richard W. Hughes along with John Koivula. It was later revealed that no actual testing of this feldspar was done to verify and confirm the report of NONE in the enhancement section.
Below is the actual signature of Richard W. Hughes from the report at left.
In spite of these highly questionable identification reports, consumers and the industry continued to question the validity of the claim of natural origin of this Tibet andesine, due to three factors:
The questions began to pile up until finally Jewelry Television commissioned an expedition to the Tibet mine location to verify the location, source and authenticity of the Tibet andesine gemstone.
The expedition was led by the same person who signed off on the AGTA-GTC Identification Reports as the Tibet andesine being natural and untreated, without doing any testing of the material: Richard W. Hughes. The expedition was funded by Jewelry Television and problems immediately followed.
Prior to the Hughes expedition, the photographs of the claimed mine were seen at left. The mine shaft was an opening going down into the earth and the crystals were sharp, well formed crystals with significant red coloring.
This story inexplicably changed with the Richard W. Expedition...
Hughes First Expedition brought back pictures of a mine going into the side of a hill as you see at far left. Additionally, the crystals were now water worn pebbles and not sharp, well formed crystals. The entire story of the mine suddenly changed with the previous story being totally ignored and the new story amazingly different.
But there was a major problem with this report....Fraud!
The fraudulent intent of the Richard W. Hughes expedition was proven by the image at left. The mine is supposedly located at very high altitudes of the Tibet desert. A very dry environment.
At left you see a photograph published by the Hughes Expedition that claims to show the Tibet andesine in natural matrix. The problem is, this supposed matrix is wet and muddy, with a clear thumb print showing where someone created this "andesine matrix" formation out of mud created for the purpose.
The astonishing changes in the claimed mine appearance, and the effort to create fraudulent photographs caused many questions to be raised about the validity of the Richard W. Hughes Tibet Andesine expedition. As a result, the National Gem Testing Lab of China sent a team to the claimed Tibet andesine mine to inspect the area and report.
This obviously proved that the Richard W. Hughes Tibet andesine expedition was a hoax. Most believed the story would end there as the Hughes expedition report was proven by a Chinese government office to be false. However, with so much money at stake, the television shopping channels commissioned Richard W. Hughes to undertake another expedition, but this time the supposedly rare and unique mine location in Tibet turned into 5 different locations, and Richard W. Hughes included his daughter, E. Billie Hughes to join him in his fraud.
Hughes Second Expedition worked very hard to cover the fraudulent errors of the first expedition. Scientific evidence was now being done on the claimed Tibet andesine and the claims of the first expedition were falling apart. As a result, Hughes and daughter Billie carefully contrived the second expedition to counter the reports of scientists and the National Gem Testing Center of China. Rather than claiming a mine location, the Tibet andesine was suddenly located in an alluvial fan located high in the Tibet desert. A complete change from the first expedition. It was later revealed by a professional geologist that for this alluvial fan to contain these gemstones from the Hughes claimed source, the material would have had to travel 130 kilometers away....uphill all the way. Totally impossible and yet another fraudulent claim by Richard W. Hughes.
The Hughes Expedition report now was that the local Tibetan village people were going out into this alluvial plain and simply picking up the andesine crystals. The problem, of course, was that by now over US$80 million dollars of "Tibet andesine" had been sold by the television shopping channels and there was physically no way that a small village of Tibetan people could be just walking around and picking up that kind of volume of stones.
At left is a picture of the alluvial fan area of sediments reported by the second Hughes Expedition to have produced over US$100 million dollars of Tibet andesine. To reach this point from where Hughes claimed the primary volcanic source was located, the material you see at left would had been required to travel over 130km away and uphill to reach this point. Geologists have debunked this story as impossible.
The images below, from the Hughes Expedition photographs, show Richard W. Hughes coaching these local boys how to pose for the camera to appear serious about their Tibet andesine find. When questioned later by other reporters to the area, the local Tibet people of this region had never heard of Tibet andesine, and none of these reported gemstones was found in local jewelry or in local markets. And yet, Richard W. Hughes and daughter Billie Hughes claimed that over $100 million dollars worth of Tibet andesine had been simply picked up from the ground by these same local villagers.
Over the coming months another expedition to the reported Tibet andesine mine by Dr. Perritti of the GRSwiss Lab. That expedition returned with video proof of the Hughes fraud as it showed the mine workers walking ahead of the expedition members dropping pebbles of red feldspar from their pants pockets in the path the expedition was walking. This video was widely viewed at a conference at the Tucson Gem Shows.
The final blow to the fraudulent claims of Richard W. Hughes came from world-renowned mineralogist, Dr. Joel Arem. In his report: Observations on the Occurrence of Plagioclase Feldspars, Dr. Arem reviewed all possible paths by which andesine of the size and quality reported could have formed, and concluded that it could not. You can click the link below to read the full report, however the final paragraph is as follows:
There is obviously far more to this story that includes lawsuits and accusations across all sorts of venues, but the end result is that the Richard W. Hughes expedition reports of a Tibet andesine mine have been proven to be fraudulent hoaxes, assisted by his daughter E. Billie Hughes. Richard W. Hughes was paid by certain of the television shopping channels to perpetrate these hoax expeditions for the purpose of allowing the shopping channels to continue reaping huge profits from the sale of the artificially colored feldspar.
The facts speak for themselves and it is time the world knows about these people who run Lotus Gemology Lab and the multi-million dollar fraud they helped perpetrate on consumers around the world.