Jules Roger Sauer: The Visionary

In Memoriam: Jules Roger Sauer (1921-2017)

Jules Roger Sauer, founder of the iconic 75 year old Amsterdam Sauer gem and jewellery chain in Brazil, was a gem passionate, visionary and adventurer that contributed decisively to the early development of the modern gem and jewellery industries in Brazil.

Jules Roger Sauer was a sociable, smart and outspoken boy that grew up in Antwerp, Belgium. He was actually a german speaking Frenchman, since he was born in Alsace in 1921, little after the Treaty of Versailles that handed the territory back to France after decades of german administration. The instability and insecurity of the 1930’s in Europe were not friendly to young Jules’ political views and Jewish heritage and he eventually joined the massive migratory movement towards Southern America to escape the Nazi invasion of Belgium in 1940 and the ideological prosecutions that were taking place in the region. Argentina was his destination, but a short stop in Rio de Janeiro would change this young refugee’s life forever.
Soon after he set foot on Brazilian soil, he met Oswaldo Dantes dos Reis, a gem dealer that claimed to have discovered the famous Presidente Vargas diamond. Oswaldo invited him to work in his lapidary firm in the city of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, and it was there that, with no experience whatsoever in gems, he became passionate about those beautiful rocks and began his expert journey in this field. In 1941 he opens his own firm, Lapidação Amsterdam, putting in place the lapidary expertise he gained with Oswaldo and a natural skill for gem collection in the field among the garimpeiros, the local name for artisanal miners.

In the 1950’s the once lapidary company turns into a jewellery design retail brand, introducing Brazilian coloured gemstones as central role players.

After the war, Jules decides to push the company to the next level and, with the precious help of his newly appointed manager Zilda Waks, he moves to a prestigious spot in the waterfront Copacabana area in Rio de Janeiro. Later in 1950 they got married and, with the two at the top, the company named “Sauer” and later renamed “Amsterdam Sauer” starts a new flourishing journey.
His passion for gem hunting in the field and his credibility among the miners and garimpeiros enabled him to have a privileged position to get priority in viewing new findings. One of the most significant highlights of his early career that proves his great standing was his baptism of one of the most famous aquamarines of all times: the 36,5 kg “Martha Rocha” crystal of a deep and intense blue colour found in 1954 near Marambaia in Minas Gerais by Tibúrcio José dos Santos, a local garimpeiro (Sauer, 2011). Warned by his field scout, Jules went immediately on location and was the first major gem dealer to see the gem.He was astounded. The colour was absolutely unique and reminded the beautiful blue eyes of Martha Rocha, the young Miss Bahia and second place in the Miss Universe competition in that year, hence the name. Martha Rocha became associated with the highest quality aquamarines (Bastos, 1955) and from time to time cut stones claimed to have been cut from the Martha Rocha rough reach the market (Scarratt, 1989; Proctor 1984).
A rare 1954 photograph of the 36,5 kilogram Martha Rocha aquamarine rough that was considered the bear the highest quality colour for this gemstone.

By that time, the firm began to go further in the beneficiation of the Brazilian natural gem resources, investing more workforce in the fashioning of rough, a key element of today’s Brazil gem industry. In those days, in the 1940’s, the vast majority of the country’s coloured gemstone production was exported in the rough to many countries like Germany, Switzerland and the USA. Lapidary skills was, therefore, an advantage to achieve greater profits. At the same time, local jewellery shops did not use national gem materials much and Jules saw the opportunity to make a difference in the domestic market, both for locals and visiting tourists, creating jewellery designs incorporating Brazilian cut coloured gemstones, primarily aquamarines, tourmalines of various colours and quartz varieties. This bold decision set more solid bases for the development of the country’s lapidary industry and for the emergence of a national jewellery design industry that is, today, recognised worldwide.

At the Piteiras mine with his son Daniel, CEO of Amsterdam Sauer, examining a large emerald crystal in 2006

His name, however, will gain international recognition in the 1960’s over a dispute on emerald nomenclature between the european gemmology community led by the late Basil Anderson from the Gem Testing Laboratory of Great Britain and the american community led by Richard T. Liddicoat from the Gemological Institute of America (Liddicoat, 1966). In June 1963, emerald green beryls were found in Salininhas, east of the São Francisco river, in the state of Bahia, but due to their high vanadium content that was acting as a chromophore, the more strict nomenclature authorities did not recognise the material as being emerald, naming it chromium-free beryl. By then, the definition of emerald implied the presence of chromium and not vanadium as the cause of the green colour, hence the naming problem of the gem material that had to be called something like green beryl or “emerald” between brackets (Wood, 1968), not emerald, in observance with the rules. He had made personal contacts with the GIA - Gemological institute of America when he studied gemmology in California and asked GIA for help in the process of recognising the Salininhas’ green beryl as emerald. A GIA Trade Laboratory document dated August 9th 1963 reports on two green hexagonal crystals from that location and identifies the samples as emeralds.

The 1963 GIA Gem Trade Laboratory report on two Salininhas vanadium bearing green beryls that were classified as emerald for the first time.

This was a major step to the international recognition of this material. It took many years to have this matter settled among the international gemmological community. Even in the 1983 fourth edition of Robert Webster’s Gems, the industry’s leading reference on gem materials, this issue is not totally accepted (Webster, 1983 p. 107) even after several authors had published towards the acceptance (Wood, 1968), but in the fifth edition, revised by Peter Read in 1994, there is no dispute on the subject anymore (Webster, 1994, p. 104).
Brazil, that had not produced commercial quantities of emerald in the past, became an important emerald producer despite the fact that the mine was exhausted in just one year. Subsequent finds in Carnaíba and Socotó in Bahia, Nova Era and Itabira in Minas Gerais and Santa Teresina in Goiás, placed the country in a unprecedented position as an emerald source, with implications in the development of the cutting industry in Jaipur, India, and in the world’s jewellery industry. Jules Sauer was an active participant in the birth of this position and his name was engraved in the history of emeralds.

Jules Roger Sauer in his apartment in Rio de Janeiro sorting out a large parcel of Campos Verdes emeralds in 1990. Photo by Francisco Saura Ramos

Jules was also very active in removing the “semi-precious” epithet from the gemmological and jewellery industries’ lexicon and he slowly had his arguments accepted among professionals. The fact that in his stock only emerald was traditionally called a precious stone, falling all others under “semi-precious”, might have fuelled his mission, creating a better standing for the majority of his coloured gemstones. Even today, though, we still hear the word “semi-precious” occasionally, but educated industry members do not use it anymore.
To perpetuate Jules legacy in the country’s history, in 1989 the firm decides to gather the very best gem mineral specimens and distinguished cut stones from his personal collection into a museum “The Amsterdam Sauer Museum” now located in the Ipanema neighbourhood in Rio. The museum has more than 3000 specimens and constitutes one of the most important and comprehensive Brazilian gem and mineral permanent exhibitions in the world and it is a must see for every mineral and gem lover.

The Amsterdam Sauer’s Museum in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, houses more that 3000 specimens and is one of the most important permanent exhibitions of fine Brazilian gem and mineral.
His vast knowledge and passion for the gem industry are also materialised in the several publications he authored, namely the renowned 1982 “Brazil, Paradise of Gemstones”, translated into seven languages  the 1992 “Emeralds around the World”, the 2002 “As Eras do Diamante” and the 2011 biographic “Jules Roger Sauer - O Caminho das Pedras” that is, in all, truly inspiring to read.

In 2002, at the release of his “A Era dos Diamantes” book next to his family.

Jules Roger Sauer, the adventurer, the passionate gem enthusiast, the collector, the author, the yoga master, the visionary and the family man, passed away on February 1st 2017 aged 95 shortly after celebrating the diamond jubilee of his brand in November with the release of a  charitable book with Bob Wolfenson’s photographs of 75 Brazilian celebrities wearing his creations which total proceedings will go to a local public art school for adolescents in Rio de Janeiro. Jules will forever be remembered and recognised as having contributed decisively to the country’s gem and jewellery industries and to the domestic and overseas desirability for Brazilian coloured gemstones.

Jules, a true visionary and a key historical figure in Brazil's coloured gemstone industry on his yoga comfort posture in his late eighties.

Balfour, I., 1992. Famous Diamonds, NAG Press, Colchester, Essex
Bastos, F. M. et al, 1955. The Gemstones of Minas Gerais, Gems & Gemology, 8(8), 229
Gemstone Book, 2015. CIBJO - The World Jewellery Confederation
Liddicoat, R. T., 1966. International Gemological Symposium, Gems & Gemology, 12(4), 99-102
Pough, F. H., 1967. Proceedings of the 11th International Gemmological Conference in Barcelona, The Lapidary Journal, 20,1268-1277.
Proctor, K., 1984. Gem Pegmatites of Minas Gerais, Brazil - Exploration, Occurrence and Aquamarine Deposits, Gems & Gemology, 20(2), 78-100
Sauer, J. R., 1992. Emeralds around the World, Jules Roger Sauer
Sauer, J. R., 2011. Jules Roger Sauer - O Caminho das Pedras, Odisseia Editorial, Rio de Janeiro
Scarratt, K., 1989. Notes from the Laboratory - 13, The Journal of Gemmology, 21(5), 294-299
Webster, R., 1983. Gems, their sources, description and identification, 4th Ed., Butterworth, Oxford
Webster, R., 1994. Gems, their sources, description and identification, 5th Ed., Butterworth Heineman, Oxford
Wood, D. L. and Nassau, K., 1968. The Characterisation of Beryl and Emerald by Visible and Infrared Absorption Spectroscopy, The American Mineralogist, 53(5-6), 777-800

Adapted from Galopim de Carvalho, Rui (2017) Jules Roger Sauer: in Memoriam. Gems & Jewellery News, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 42-43.
 All images courtesy of Amsterdam Sauer.