A new chapter and a new jewel mystery! What kind of people will our boys encounter next?
Case 2: The Ruby’s Truth
The place with the most expensive land rent in Japan.
Until spring, that was about the extent of my knowledge of “Ginza.”
In that corner, there was a store that only opened on the weekend. A multi-tenant building that was a street away from Chuo-dori. On the left was a general store, and on the right was a sushi restaurant. On the second floor of the building was a sign that read “Jewelry Étranger.” The entrance was a normal door, there were no viewing windows that allowed you to see inside the store, and there were no showcases that made you want to look inside.
What was in the store were four red single-seater sofas that you could recline on, and a single low table. Since there was still a lot of space left, there was a low bookcase with many Western books on gems lined up next to each other. In addition, there was a kitchen, washroom, and a personal workspace for the vault owner in the back.
On my first weekend working there, not a single customer came in.
I thought that we were definitely on a deficit course.
The store owner, Mr. Richard Ranasinghe Dvorpian, was beautiful enough to look like he could appear in a BBC historical drama and was proficient in Japanese, but even now I had no idea what he was thinking about. While thinking that surely before long his account balance would drop to zero and we would have to vacate, I still cleaned the store and boiled milk with tea leaves as a serious part-time worker. Whatever happened, you still had to work for your salary. In the end, I still worked at the TV station two times a week.
However, my pessimistic prediction was far off in the second week.
The customers came by taxi. Perhaps they rode the Narita Express to Tokyo Station and then came here by car. They called Richard’s cell phone in advance for when they would come to the store. Chinese. Koreans. Indians. Arabs. Latinos who rolled their r’s. Black people who spoke fluently in a language with inimitable pronunciations. And sometimes, white people who spoke English. Richard spoke intimately to them all in their own languages.
Once you stepped foot in Ginza, you would see that it was one of Japan’s best international tourist destinations. If you went to the main street to buy cakes served with tea, all you would notice were sightseeing buses and tourists running about Uniqlo, Shiseido and Kyukyodo*, but the only goal of Richard’s customers was this store.
(TN: Kyukyodo is a store that sells traditional Japanese paper goods, incense, books, etc.)
While I served royal milk tea and baked sweets to the customers sitting in the red sofas, Richard brought out a black velvet box from the back room. Its contents were the gemstones that were packed into his suitcase when he entered the store. It looked like Urashima’s casket directly sent from the Palace of the Dragon King.* There were no price tags. He had it all memorized. Aquamarines. Sapphires. Garnets. Jades. Corals. Ambers. Five thousand yen stones, fifty thousand yen stones, five hundred thousand yen stones, and sometimes, stones that were even more expensive. The “gemstone only” items that Richard called “loose” were the most, but at times there would be accessories like rings and pendants. If there was an order from the customer in advance, the assortment of gems was changed accordingly.
(TN: The Palace of the Dragon King and Urashima’s Casket are from a Japanese folktale where a fisherman named Urashima Tarou is taken to the palace as a reward for rescuing a turtle. He thinks he only spent a few days there, but when he returns to land he discovers a hundred years had passed. When he opens the casket given to him by the princess of the palace, he turns into an old man.)
Some customers made prompt purchases on the spot, and others would drink tea and then say goodbye as though it was just small talk between friends. Richard never made persistent sales promotions. He always just smiled and bowed with perfect manners, saying he looked forward to seeing them again.
This was an arbitrary guess from a part-timer who didn’t even know the account book or tenant fee of the store, but Richard’s main job was probably a weekend jewelry café in Ginza. Clients like Miyashita-san from Kobe were surely all over Japan, possibly all around the world.
From the Mondays to Fridays that were unknown to me, he went around to their homes, showed them gems, and sold them off.
If there were sales from that, then he was probably in the black. With or without this store.
If that was the case, then was this store just an office for tax deduction purposes? I learned about this kind of thing in my business administration class. But still, wasn’t Ginza too expensive?
I especially thought about things like that in this way on days when customers didn’t come.
“Part-timer-san, you are wrinkling your brows. Is there something the matter?”
“Oh…I’m just thinking about something.”
Sitting on the window-side sofa that was close to the vault, Richard was drinking royal milk tea. It had only been recently that I could have him drink more than one sip. For my first three tries, I ruined them because the tea leaves were too bitter, I let it simmer for too long or I burned it, but for my fourth try, I was able to get him to say, “Well, it tastes fine.” I was still far from feeling familiar and at ease enough to ask him if the management of the store was going smoothly.
“Hey, that talk about carats. I remembered it. I was surprised to hear it last week. It’s a unit of weight, right? 0.2 grams equals 1 carat?”
“You are correct, but what part of that talk worries you?”
“I was thinking that wouldn’t it be alright to just use grams, instead of specially using another unit?”
“…You will understand in due course.”
Richard’s attitude was that there was no need to force myself to get familiar with gems if I had no interest in them, but he answered my questions and when I told him I had put the pink sapphire in my fridge, he got angry and told me to quit doing that because the box would get moldy, and then gave me a new jewelry box and cloth. He really did love jewels. Richard had placed a hardcover book called “Illustrated Book of Jewels” out for customers, and in my free time I would idly peruse it. There were no other Japanese books in the store other than that one.
Abruptly, Richard raised his head and placed his teacup on the table. The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs could be heard. The sound of heels. I cleared the food and wiped the table.
The sound of the intercom.
After the store owner unlocked the door, the customer entered. How rare. No appointment, and what’s more, a Japanese person.
“Hello. You are open, correct?”
It was a woman with long black hair. She was fair-skinned and had almond-shaped eyes. A pretty woman. She wore a tight skirt and a white dress shirt. Was she on her way home from work? She looked to be in her late twenties. I felt a bit uneasy.
“Um, this is a jewelry store. The tenant office is on the first floor.”
“…That was on the sign, wasn’t it? Do I have to make an appointment in advance to come here?”
“Welcome. There is no mistake. I am at your service.”
To the golden-haired, blue-eyed man who said “There is no mistake” and “At your service,” the customer seemed struck for a moment, then quickly returned to her original expression. The women who met Richard for the first time either smiled excessively like there was a feast before them, or pretended to be sullen to disguise their shyness, but she did neither. An unflappable person. Or not so much that, but rather…
She looked like a soulless husk whose emotions had all fallen out.
She was very thin. On a closer look, the shoulder of her shirt was a bit loose and hanging off of her. Her voice was strong, but her walk was unsteady. Was she alright?
“Is this store managed by the foreign gentleman?”
“I am the store owner, Richard Ranasinghe Dvorpian.”
“I am Akashi Mami.”
Akashi-san said she would like a jewel appraisal done, and then took out a somewhat large black jewelry box from her light brown shoulder bag. She did it immediately without batting an eyelid, like it was a wallet or something.
Inside the box was something like a brooch. It was in a strange shape. Many thin ribbons made of diamonds, like a rising aura, stretched from the red gem in the center. The gem flower looked like its long petals were swaying in the blowing wind.
“Do you wish to perform a check on the diamonds?”
“I am not interested in the surrounding diamonds. I would like to have only the center ruby checked.”
“Well, this is merely minor detail, but that would be a type of checking called ‘identification.'”
“Hmm. Then, I will have that.”
Akashi-san, whose tone was, sure enough, somewhat distracted and dazed, stared at the wall behind Richard’s face with unfocused eyes. Her eyes were open, but she didn’t seem to be looking at anything.
“I read it on the internet, but there are a lot of rubies that have heat added to them, right?”
“It is called a heat treatment.”
“Yes, that. I want check if this is a heated stone, or a non-heated stone. That is all.”
Heat treatment. That was the first time I heard that term. Richard took out guides about the gem identification agency from the document holder, arranged it, and explained the costs and time it would take, but Akashi-san quickly filled in the necessary documents and almost immediately stood up after the conversation was over.
“Well then, please go ahead. I work during the day, so if possible, contact me after six p.m. I am sorry, but since I do not have enough time, this will be all for today. Please excuse me.”
Without time for me to call out to her about the tea, Akashi-san left. I learned how to deal with cases if there was a customer who would try to make off with something, but this was the opposite. She left something behind and escaped.
“…Is this a new scam? Scary people saying ‘They stole from me!’ afterwards and using this as pretext.”
“We have the footage from the security cameras, so there are no worries.”
“She was like a storm, that woman.”
Were there customers who used jewelry stores in this way?
I peered hard into Akashi-san’s stone again. It was a brooch decorated with a bright red ellipse-shaped ruby in the center. The metal fittings were a shiny silver color. I counted twelve diamond ribbons rising from the red gem. Each had at least ten small diamonds. The design was also elaborate.
“I’m a total amateur at this, but this…is quite a high-class item, isn’t it?”
“There is no doubt.”
Unbelievable. Were there really people who would just leave something like that in a store they visited for the first time without batting an eyelid? What would she do if there wasn’t a store here the next time she comes?
“She should treasure it a little more.”
“I doubt it is also a good idea to leave them in a refrigerator, but gems are something that people project their emotions upon, for better or for worse. It is also reasonable that one’s emotions would also show through in handling them.”
I ignored his nagging and drank the milk tea that wasn’t even taken notice of. When there were no customers, even when I do this kind of thing, Richard didn’t especially complain.
“…Richard, this is my first time seeing a ruby.”
Since the owner didn’t care, I freely stared at the brooch. What drew my eye was of course the red stone in the center. It looked twice as big as my pink sapphire.
It had been one month since I started working here, and there were only five real working days, but during that day, there were many jewels with “names I had heard once” that trickled before my eyes. But I had never seen rubies in Urashima’s casket.
“It’s so red… I wonder if those drops of blood clots on poultry meat has this same color.”
“Was that a joke? Or did you say that because you know about it?”
“Hmm? Know what?”
“Pigeon blood,” Richard pronounced. Pigeon as in the bird. The blood of pigeons?
“That is a term used to describe rubies of the highest grade. The blue of extraordinarily excellent sapphires is compared to the cornflower and called ‘cornflower blue,’ but for rubies, it is pigeon blood. The vibrant red of the finest rubies. But if you said that without knowing anything, then good for you.”
Richard said that last part elegantly and smoothly. It meant “you did well.” My mother Hiromi originally didn’t have much time to cook and Grandma had a poor person’s taste in food, so cooking was just a survival skill for me, but once in a while, good things like this happened. The best way to cook chicken thighs was removing the tendons and then deep-frying them. The trick was to raise the temperature of the oil. Which reminds me…
“What was that ‘heat treatment’ thing you mentioned before?”
“For rubies and sapphires, they are heated for the purpose of making the gem’s color more vibrant.”
“Whoa! That’s amazing, a complete chemical reaction… But wasn’t the person who first thought about burning the gems afraid? Wasn’t it a whole lot of gambling? Wouldn’t they burn if it failed?”
“Because it is heating at an extremely high temperature, if it could not withstand the heat, it would disappear into smoke rather than burn.”
I knew it. When my face stiffened, Richard smiled slightly.
“In books from the seventeenth century, there are records of Indians burning rubies, so it was known since old that there is a relationship between heat and color. The most stable heating technology has been developed over the last fifty years.”
When he asked me if I had any other questions, I was a little happy. Richard was good at explaining things. At first, I assumed that the customers who came to jewelry stores all loved jewels and knew everything, but the customers who turned up here seemed to be ordinary people who were much the same as me—just seeming to enjoy beautiful gems and talking with Richard. That man could probably sell vacuum cleaners from three generations ago with his eloquence. It was a lecture about the wonders of the world. If I had just one teacher like him for my middle school science classes, studying for exams would probably be a little easier.
“For extremely high temperature, what’s the temperature of the heat you add and for how long?”
“It depends on the craftsman and the gem, but generally it is about one thousand and six hundred degrees, from tens of seconds to several minutes. Of course, it doesn’t mean you can burn anything. The value of corundum is greatly influenced by the presence or absence of heat treatment. The padparadscha, which you possess, is the name for pink sapphires which did not went through any processing for their color in principle.”
“Corundum? Non-processed pink? Wait, hold on, I’m getting confused.”
Question marks were dancing around in my brain. Richard sighed and dragged out the Illustrated Book of Jewels. He opened it to the page about rubies. The next page was on sapphires.
“Let us start from the beginning. Do you know the difference between rubies and sapphires?”
“…One’s red, and the other’s blue?”
“Precisely. That is generally all it is.”
“These two stones are like brothers. Corundum is the general term for them. The red stones are rubies, and all the stones that do not have that color are sapphires.”
So, it was something like a color difference. If that’s the case, why give them different names? Why is the pink sapphire a “sapphire” and not a “pink ruby”?
“Isn’t pink red?”
“The origin of the word ‘ruby’ is ‘rubeus‘, which is a word from Latin, the official language of ancient Rome. It means ‘red.’ In Rome, red was the color of the war god Mars, the color of flames and the blood in your body. Do you know anyone who has pink blood flowing through their veins?”
“I get it now. Pink is not red.”
The world of jewels was complicated. But the principle was simple. Beautiful things were good.