“My life as a child was very similar to Huckleberry Finn’s,” says Yianni Melas, who remembers unearthing ancient treasures after the rains on the Greek island where he was raised. “And if it wasn’t ancient treasures it was WWII bullets, helmets, rusted German guns and all the fun things boys at that time loved to play with,” says now Cyprus-based Melas. “To pick up something knowing it’s been touched for the first time again by a human after thousands of years. It’s an incredible feeling to imagine who held it before you.”
It’s the that same emotional high that the gem explorer gets while he’s on the hunt for stones, “except when I touch a gem out of the ground, I know it’s the first time a human hand has touched it,” says Melas, who got his start in the jewelry world as a colored stone instructor for the Gemological Institute of America in 1988 before going on to work with Swarovski CEO Helmut Swarovski and the Leviev diamond magnate family in Botswana.
Such was the case when in 2012, when Melas accidentally came upon gemstone now known as Aquaprase, during a four-year dry spell of searching for diamonds in Africa. “When I first discovered it, I immediately knew it was something I had never seen before. Something very special. Its color constantly shifted to different shades. It had turquoise-blue clouds surrounded by clear areas as well as paraiba colors that were more translucent and clearer,” explains Melas, who first revealed his find to the world in an Instagram post in 2013.
In 2015, the stone was recognized by the Gemological Institute of America as a new variety of chalcedony. Melas coined the name “Aquaprase” for the stone, drawing from the Latin and Greek words “aqua” (sea) and “prase” (leek). It comes in two colors, he explains: Candy (“which has more transparency and looks like the tropical sea and islands”) and Blue Cloud, (“a variety which looks like crystallized baby blue turquoise clouds,” he says).
Jeweler Lola Brooks first stumbled upon Aquaprase several years ago, while wandering the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show. “It is a delicious balance of blue and green, that glows from within,” says the designer who uses the ethereal stone in her namesake line for everything from rings to pendants. “Cut as a cabochon it is like a pregnant drop of water caught in the moment right before it is about to fall, and captured in gold it will be your constant companion, offering a reminder of the possibility of water’s life force wherever you find yourself.”
To be clear, Melas doesn’t lay claim to discovering the gemstone. “Aquaprase was discovered thousands of years ago by every African indigenous human that walked over it in Africa. Africans are never given the credit they deserve.” In the western world, he explains, real discovery in gemology isn’t who touched it or saw it first, but who realized it was indeed a new gem discovery. “And this I can proudly say I was a part of.”
Though gem exploring will always be in his blood, Melas also plans to combine his passion for stones with a jewelry collection. “It will be a way to support the artisanal gemstone miners. For years I keep reading about jewelers using ‘ethically sourced’ gems,” he says. “And sadly, it got advertised also by unethical people who use the term just to sell jewelry with no ethics in mind. That’s not fair to the real ethically minded jewelers who are trying their best to make a difference.” @gemexplorer