A JEWELLER nicknamed “Indiana Gems” because of his adventurous lifestyle has vowed to slow down after cheating death on a snow-lashed mountain.
Alistir Tait is renowned as Scotland’s leading gem experts – and for his willingness to travel the world tackling caves, mountains and rivers in his hunt for precious stones and metals.
But he has now promised to ease up after becoming trapped on a freezing mountain with four other enthusiasts during a trip to seek out valuable Scottish beryl and cairngorm quartz went horribly wrong.
The lucky escape is the latest drama in a rollercoaster year for Alistir, as he celebrates 25 years in business and comes just months after he was badly injured in a road accident.
He told how he helped organise this month’s annual conference for the Scottish branch of the Gemmological Associaion of Great Britain and took the opportunity to visit the Cairngorm mountains with other delegates.
They included a visiting Russian mineralogist and Brian Jackson, the Curator of Minerals and Gems at the National Museums of Scotland, who had gained the necessary permission for the group to visit a normally-restricted area.
Alistir said: “We headed about five miles into the Cairngorms and were pretty excited because as well as looking for cairngorm quartz we were also visiting an area which is renowned among gemmologists for its beryl.
“Everybody in the group is experienced in mountain craft and was well-prepared, but when we got to 3000ft we were caught in the most appalling weather. There was horizontal snow and it was incredibly cold.
“The conditions were as bad as anything I have seen and there was no way we could turn back or push on any further. We were extremely fortunate – and incredibly grateful – to find a shelter stone.
“It would have been perfect for two people to bothy in the shelter of the stone and a bit of a squeeze for three. As it was all five of us ended up huddled in there praying for the storm to break.
“I was in my sleeping bag, wearing my Gore-tex coat with the hood up and two hats on and I was still numb. None of the others fared any better. At about 6.30am the following morning we all woke up with a coating of snow over us.
“We all looked at each other and got down the mountain as fast as we could. Almost unbelievably by 11am we were back in Braemar eating a cooked breakfast, drinking tea and talking about how lucky we had been.
The drama took place on the eastern corries of Beinn a’Bhuird, last week and Alistir added: “This was a real shock for all of us. We were experienced and well-prepared and reasonably expected decent weather in the middle of May. It really brought it home exactly how dangerous the mountains can be.”
As the owner of Alistir Wood Tait Antique and Fine Jewellery on Rose Street, Edinburgh, Alistir is noted as a leading expert on traditional Scottish jewellery, including the estate and pebble jewellery that was globally sought-after during Queen Victoria’s reign.
He is also the youngest ever Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain and a world expert on Scotland’s own precious heritage. During his long career he has panned for Scottish gold and combed mountains, beaches, caves and islands for other native Scottish gems including garnets, sapphires and amethyst.
This year he made the finals of a prestigious business awards in recognition of his work to draw up a detailed map of Scotland’s precious resources, as well as efforts in education, conservation and promoting Scotland’s history.
In his silver anniversary year he has also led a fact-finding mission to root out jewel trade exploitation in the Far East and visited the world’s biggest gem fair in Tucson, Arizona, where he bought £100,000 worth of rare, unusual and exotic gems to be sold in Scotland.
He said: “I have been collecting gemstones since I was 12 and I suppose I have something of a reputation in the trade, because not many jewellers actually get out in the field to see where precious stones and metals actually come from.
“It can seem quite an adventure at times, but I will definitely be taking it easy after a scare like this. It really brought it home to me how you can suddenly find yourself in real, life-threatening danger without any warning at all.”
• Cairngorm is a smoky Scottish quartz which is an important part of Scotland’s jewellery heritage. Beryl is a family, which includes emerald and aqauamarine and can be found in pink and blue. Scottish beryl is usually pale blue to green.