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Wednesday, June 29, 2011


What's in a pearl? No, I mean quite literally, what is in a pearl? Virtually all pearls today are cultured, meaning that they have been started by man in some way. One hundred and fifty years ago there were only natural pearls. Divers would go into the water pull up a bunch of oysters and, if they were lucky, find a few pearls. But in the 1920's the world's major natural pearl producing regions were fished out and production of natural pearls basically came to a halt. As it happens, at about that same time, a couple of Japanese gentlemen happened to perfect a method to produce a pearl by inserting a bead nucleus into an oyster and having the growth form around it. These were the world's first salt water cultured pearls.

For quite some time the size was somewhat limited because the oysters that grew in the colder waters around Japan weren't large enough to produce much of anything over 8 mm round. However over some time it was recognized that in the South Seas there were much larger oysters available that could grow much larger pearls.

So what's in a cultured salt water pearl? Actually a round bead nucleus made out of shell makes up approximately 95% of the total pearl size. The actual pearl growth is usually quite thin (and got thinner over the years as production time was decreased due to demand). Consequently most of the pearl is actually starter material.

Natural freshwater pearls had been known about for quite some time too. Actually the Mississippi River produced a large number of pearls over the years, although overfishing reduced the yield dramatically over time. In the 1960's the Japanese however, also figured out a way to produce freshwater pearls by inserting mantle tissue from another mollusc into a mussell instead of a bead. Many of you probably remember (or still own) the rice shaped pearls that were produced in some rather large quantities over the years by the Japanese. I always enjoyed using freshwater pearls because they were unusual shapes making them far more interesting in rings, pendants and earrings than a traditional round pearl.

However as always time marches on and things change. Japanese labor got quite expensive. Some of the best freshwater pearl producing lakes in Japan got too polluted. So the Japanese exported their pearl expertise to China. China is a huge nation and they have a tendency to do things in a large way. Once they began producing freshwater pearls they began producing so many (and so cheaply) that they flooded the market, prices plummeted and quality suffered dramatically. In the meanwhile however, the Japanese salt water cultured pearl production of round pearls was falling rapidly.

So the freshwater producers saw a new area opening up and began to attempt to produce perfectly round freshwater pearls, which they achieved. Initially only available in very small sizes, over the years they boosted the size until they were able to produce perfectly round freshwater pearls in the same size range as the Japanese cultured pearls had been.

And then they began to look at other, alternative production methods, which brings us to the picture above (apologies as always---it's my own photo). The picture is of two strands of bead nucleated freshwater pearls I just purchased. In other words they are now putting round bead nuclei into freshwater mussels and producing pearls. Admittedly they are baroque (odd shaped) at the moment but it is pretty obvious where they are heading. Of course, I have always liked the odd shapes so these are working fine for me. But someday they will have perfectly round freshwater bead nucleated pearls and I'll have to begin the search for something else.

In the meantime, these two strands are very reasonably priced and way, way more interesting than those boring round pearls your grandmothers used to wear. Come on by and see them (or better yet send your significant other in with a credit card in hand)!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rarity of Gemstones

People today often think that everything can be bought for a price. In some cases this is actually true. But what people forget about, especially when dealing with a natural product like gemstones, is that many of them are finite (and in some cases extremely finite) resources. I have been seeing a huge increase in prices across the board on my gem materials. The top color, top clarity, ideal cut diamonds that Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers sells are becoming harder and harder to come by. I have had a standing order with Lazare Diamonds for stones under a half carat in my quality range for the last three months and they have only been able to come up with one stone for me. I have had to start looking elsewhere to try to fill in with the types of goods that I believe are truly rare and that I think it's worthwhile for my customers to own. Diamonds in general have seen a significant spike in price recently but my super rare goods have gone up even more than the bread and butter goods that most jewelers use. One of the reasons for this is that high quality material is being sent overseas to Asia where there are now more buyers than ever and where quality is the first thing they want (as opposed to many Americans who only care about size). But there are additional factors. Rarity, of course, is one of them, especially in the better goods. People are also demanding better environmental practices as well as fair trade type practices. These things all cost the companies mining the goods more money so you have to expect the prices to rise from these factors as well.

Colored stones (again in the better qualities) are also experiencing significant price jumps. An example of this is a stone I recently pulled out of a piece of my wife's that she was no longer wearing. It was a 2.90 ct. purple/blue colorshift, unheated, natural color sapphire. When I took it out I realized that the stone was horribly cut on the back (my standards 15-20 years ago were not quite as rigid as they are now). So I sent it off to my cutter and he recut the back so that it was a much better looking stone. I ended up with a 2.73 ct. oval stone that is quite magnificent. I sent it off to my sapphire supplier to get an idea of current pricing on something like it. Now honestly I have no idea what I paid for it, who I got it from or even exactly when (although based on the age of the piece it was in, 15-20 years ago is the general time frame). I also know that while I have no qualms about spending money on beautiful gems for my wonderful wife, there was no way I spent anywhere near what the stone is going to be put out for now that it's been refashioned and readied for sale. The asking price on this beauty is going to be in the $9-10,000 range. When I purchased the stone the asking price would probably have been in the $2500-3500 range. My sapphire dealer told me that there is so little of this kind of material (especially untreated material) coming into the marketplace that the prices have just skyrocketed. Now this isn't a complete surprise to me because it's very similar to the material I already sell and I have been watching prices rising rapidly on it in the last few years. But it certainly gave me some perspective on what is really going on in the gem world. A computer 15-20 years ago that cost $3000 would cost you less than half that today thanks to technological and production advances. Not so with a nonrenewable resource.

The piece pictured above is also an example of material that is too pricey today or simply nonexistent. I have been unable to find any black South Sea round mobe pearls for over three years; either because it isn't being produced anymore or again because the Asian market is sucking it up. So I couldn't make a pendant like this one for you at ANY price. I simply can't get the material.

So now, as well as the price of metals having skyrocketed, the stones are beginning to as well. It might just be the time to get out and buy that piece that has been on your wish list for a few years before it just gets more expensive!

Friday, June 17, 2011

I"m back from the missing in action!

I know, I know it's been awhile since I wrote anything. I'm happy to report that it was mostly because I have been so incredibly busy here. April and May were both tremendous months for me, and while I always love the income, I had been working seven day weeks since the beginning of February. It has finally quieted down a bit and even though I always love more business (more business=more money eventually) the slowdown is allowing me to attempt to catch up on all of the work I've been running behind on (and that I need to finish before I close for vacation in July) and I've actually been able to reduce down to only six day weeks (and you guys all thought working for yourself is easy).

A few of you may also know that I came down with Bell's Palsy 3 weeks ago today (a compression of the nerve that controls one side of your facial muscles) but I'm happy to report that I have about 90% of my face back already (this is on the extremely short end of normal recovery periods which usually don't even start until about 3 weeks out and often runs much, much longer). I attribute it to my good attitude and tequila!

In the meanwhile I've had a number of successful engagement rings go out there. A young man who recently bought an alexandrite engagement ring from me (an absolutely stunning stone---and I'm not always a big fan of them) proposed in his underwear and she said yes (he emailed this to me---I'm not kidding). Perhaps this is a little reminiscent of a certain Congressman's recent infidelities, but my thought is that the ring was so stunningly beautiful that the young woman didn't even notice he was on his knees in his underwear. He claimed that it was because of the heat, but I think there might have been other reasons. I just heard from another client that an emerald engagement ring I made up for him (and yes I repeatedly warned him about the fragile nature of emeralds in rings but it was what he wanted) was successful as well although no underwear was mentioned in his email. Again, I must attribute it to the wonderful ring, but I have to give the proposers some kudos for being smart enough to use me for their jeweler.

A few posts ago I also talked about a young gentleman who had a problem with an engagement ring he bought elsewhere. A diamond had fallen out almost immediately and then they had charged him for the replacement. You can see that posting here. Well he came back in again because, guess what, the diamond had fallen out again (although they didn't lose it this time). So beyond what I had already suggested to him about attempting to recoup some of his money, I suggested that perhaps this ring design just wasn't going to work. So he, and his lovely bride to be, picked out a new ring of mine in platinum which they picked up recently. She was so thrilled with it that first they brought me a box of chocolate macadamia nuts and then a gift card for Starbucks (both wise choices as I consume a lot of both chocolate and coffee) which really wasn't necessary as I had been paid for my work, but I was delighted to see it made her so happy.

Anyway I have posted a picture of a new pendant I made up recently. It was taken by me with my phone as the young gentleman who was doing most of my photos is no longer with me. I apologize for the quality. But the piece is 18k yellow gold with a blue sheen moonstone, part of a batch of these stones that I got recently. They are very attractive moonstones and I have sold a number already. I also have come into some orange sapphires just this week that are all natural color, unheated stones in the 1-2 ct. range from the Umba Valley region. They came out of an old collection that my sapphire supplier came upon recently. It's worth a trip in to see what I got (I have a nice pair of rounds in this too).

I hope to get one more posting up before my vacation. See you soon!