TV REVIEW : 'Splendid Stones' . . . Polished to Perfection

"Splendid Stones" is a sparkling gem of an hour. A look at the timeless appeal of some of nature's smallest, most expensive works, "Stones" is a fine mix of science documentary and cultural investigation--with a heavy emphasis on the cultural.

Part of the charm of this "National Geographic" special, airing tonight at 7:30 on Channel 28 and at 8 on Channels 15 and 50, is the stones themselves. It's hard not to be beguiled by the diamonds or emeralds or, well, pick your favorite rock. They are gorgeous and mystical, with a primitive, powerful lure that isn't diminished by the small screen's third-hand remove.

A greater part of "Stones' " charm is its picture of the men and women who work with the gems on a daily basis, either hunting for them, trading them or, in the case of the scientists, trying to duplicate them. Writer-producer Irwin Rosten wisely makes the most of this human element, weaving history and sociology into the "Stones" segments on the massive diamond trade, Columbia's emerald mines and a look at nature's imitators--a Tennessee pearl farmer and two Southern California scientists who are growing "real" rubies.

Some of the best material comes in the behind-the-scenes glimpses of the wholesale trade--old-fashioned horse-trading in a high-tech world of laser "fingerprints" and computer printouts. In Bangkok, we see a hilarious "This hurts me worse than it hurts you"/"Even though it's killing me to make this deal, I'm only concerned with your happiness" exchange between two merchants.

And at the New York Diamond Dealers Club, we see Old World schmoozing and megabuck deals that are sealed with a handshake and a blessing; those who violate club ethics are ostracized at clubs worldwide, effectively shut out of the game.

"Splendid Stones" is a thoroughly enjoyable hour, a bewitching look at the stones that have bewitched us through the centuries.

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