story by Christine Thomas
photo by Chris McDonough
Gemologist Gary Bowersox holds an ice-cold, beveled aquamarine the color of a glacier lake and the size of an apricot. “This one is about 169 karats,” he says—and worth about $100,000 dollars. Bowersox is cheerful and unassuming, but the depth of his knowledge is evident as he discusses the cut and history of the stunning stone. Evident, too, are the rewards of the intrepid life he has lived: some 60,000 rare and unusual stones that fill his store and museum high on the fourteenth floor of the Waikiki Galleria.
Meeting Bowersox—who is clad in a blue polyester shirt and sits in this modern high-rise cradling a cup of coffee—it takes a bit of work to imagine him trekking through bomb-strewn mountain paths in Afghanistan. But when he starts to talk, he conjures a dramatically different picture: of stealing past border guards during the Soviet invasion and Taliban occupation of Afghanistan, often hiding among jagged rocks until nightfall; of being caught in rocket crossfire after visiting ruby mines; of
traversing steep mountain passes on foot and horseback, with soot hitchhiking in the folds of his robes and blisters protesting the archaic means of travel.
For over thirty years, Bowersox has traveled to remote parts of Afghanistan in search of gems, continuing a trading tradition that spans more than 7,000 years. Despite sometimes surviving only on green tea and unleavened bread, he has eagerly wound his way along ancient routes—even as far as the oldest mine on earth, where he reached a “Pharoah’s ransom” of shimmering blue lapis lazuli.
“It’s a treasure hunt,” Bowersox says simply of his adventures. But in the autobiographical film in which he stars (shown regularly at his store), he articulates a passion that seems to stem from more than the love of travel or the thrill of discovery. “I don’t know what it is,” he says of Afghanistan, “but every time I return to this country, I feel I come alive.” Though he lives in Hawai‘i now, Bowersox is driven, he says, to assist the Afghan people in developing their natural resources and their war-torn economy. “I’ll always go back and forth,” he’s quick to explain. He smiles, the aquamarine perched between his fingertips, a hint of an adventurer aching to return.
The Gem Hunters Corporation