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Monday, November 22, 2010

The Real Rarity of Gemstones

So at the end of my last posting I mentioned that you could forgo diamonds and get some of those purple sapphires I love so much....but maybe not. People tend to forget that the product that I deal with (truly fine quality gem materials) is actually in relatively short supply. A number of jobs I've taken on recently have shown just how short the supply really is. The piece pictured here is a new pendant that I just finished up. The center stone is a black (well more grey than black) South Sea mobe pearl. A few years ago I got my hands on a small (very small) collection of a few of these round beauties. Since then I haven't been able to get a single one of any quality.

Two years ago I took an order in for a pair of carved spectrolite faces (like this one) that I so like to work with. The stones had to match a pendant that my customer had bought from me. I kept ordering stones and the carver kept sending me labradorite (which is a lighter color material usually with speckles in it), which of course didn't match. I've been after my supplier to keep at him about getting the right material and, while I kept getting nice faces none were what I needed. Then earlier this year another customer of mine came to me and wanted me to get a matched pair of faces similar to these but with the faces facing each other. So I placed the order for those as well as the smaller ones I was looking for. When they came in finally guess what? They were also labradorite. Pretty but no comparison. So after many discussions with my supplier she finally found out from the carver that he had, in fact, run out of spectrolite material entirely and was running out of carvable labradorite as well. The only other material my supplier has been seeing (uncarved spectrolite) has nothing near the colors or intensity that all of my older cut faces had.

I also recently took in an engagement ring order from a very nice couple who spent a few hours with me. They picked out a design (this one) but they saw a very nice lighter toned blue/purple color shift sapphire that I had from my regular sapphire supplier but it was round and the design takes an oval stone. So I first went to my primary suppliers but no ovals were to be had in this color range. I expanded my search. I went to a number of other suppliers I have used in the past and eventually a few new ones as well. The first thing I realized when I started seeing the stones they sent me was that the stones I now sell are even better than I realized. Most of the ones sent to me were dark, poorly cut, windowed, included and all over the place in color. When I finally got the other suppliers all focused on the actual color I wanted, no one (so far, although I have more stones coming in this week) could actually produce a single stone that was an exact match to the one in my case. I have one or two that are close. I have one or two that are actually pretty. But it surely isn't like when I want a blue sapphire where I can get a bunch in whatever size or shape I want almost immediately.

So what's my point you might be asking. Well I have a couple. The first is that while there is a plethora of junk out there, the existence of high quality stones is in fact fairly rare, especially when dealing with things that are out of the ordinary. The second is that we are, in fact, running out of material at a fairly rapid pace. Fine quality gem material is a rarity, not a commonplace thing. With the booming Asian markets absorbing huge amounts of the remaining high quality materials, Americans being ever more concerned about the price of things (and hence gem dealers offering the better goods to Asia first), and the depletion of many of the world's most prolific mines we are going to see less and less high grade, fine gem material. I wouldn't ever consider the purchasing of gems to be an investment but if you want your grandchildren to be able to own some of this better material it might be a good time to invest in a few pieces to pass down.
The pendant is 18k and 22k yellow gold with chrome tourmalines, a pink sapphire and a diamond and is currently available.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

De Beers

Because I am located in a somewhat intelligent part of the country (you know, MIT, Harvard and a plethora of other universities are located here) I have, over the years, had to listen to a lot of (mis)information about diamonds over the years. The biggest complaint I have had to deal with is that diamonds are not really worth what they cost. And the reasoning behind this is that one company, DeBeers, controlled the market entirely through the stockpiling of diamonds over the years and that the price was completely controlled and not based on a fair market system. Well since 2001 DeBeers has steadily divested itself of this role, through a systematic, planned and controlled reduction in the amount of the market they controlled and a complete elimination of the stockpiles they held, those held ostensibly in an attempt to support the market (from the complainers standpoint). It currently controls approximately only 30% of the total production of diamonds worldwide. And yet, except for a slight dip in prices in 2009 due to the worldwide economic crisis, the price of diamonds have continued to rise, especially for higher quality goods. So the question comes to mind, why, if the price was not real, are they still going up in value?

Did you know that almost 1 ton of rock must be mined in order to produce 1 ct. (1/5 of a gram) of diamonds? Then the production has to be hand sorted (there are no computers that can do this) to the different quality levels. After this the material has to be sold to cutting centers (most now located either in the countries where the mining is taking place or countries such as India which are only recently stepping up from third world countries) and hand cut (often, although the Israelis have pioneered a large amount of computerized cutting), then sold to wholesalers who must then move the material to manufacturers or retailers. Let's also not forget that HIGH quality stones (like I sell, only top color D-E-F color and top clarity VS clarity or better) are actually in short supply (or being bought rampantly by the exploding Asian countries).

So the next time you're thinking of complaining that diamond prices aren't justified, think about what goes into getting those sparkly little things onto your fingers. Of course you could always opt out of diamonds and get some of those amazing purple sapphires I love to sell which will always be less expensive than diamonds.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I know, I know, I keep telling you I'm going to write a blog on opals and then nothing shows up. But let me explain my problem. Every time that I get started on the entry about opals I go back to reading this great opal book that I own. Then I get so engrossed in reading it that I never get back to writing. If I can actually finish it one of these days I'll actually write something about opals. Really. I promise.

But in the meanwhile, since I have been so bad about keeping up with my opal blog writing I thought I would show you guys one of my latest projects. Back in March of this year I got an envelope in the mail one day with a couple of blurry pictures of a ring, a check for $700, and a short note from someone I had never met before. She said that she had seen some of my work on a customer of mine (one of my oldest ones actually---not her age---but how long she's been a customer) and she just knew that I could recreate the ring her grandmother had worn for years, passed down to her and that she had subsequently lost/had stolen.

Now I love to get money I'm not expecting. But this person had never met me or been in my store, I could barely tell what the ring she wanted duplicated actually looked like from the picture (as you can see here), and she had no idea how much I might actually charge for the finished job. So I emailed her and told her that I would not cash her check unless she actually came in and talked to me personally. So she did. We had a long discussion about what the ring had actually looked like and I agreed to take 0n the job (and subsequently cashed the check!).

It took me awhile to decide how to approach this job but the idea of building a ring in a cone shape with a plethora of leaves by hand was a little daunting so I decided to use the CadCam approach, allowing a computer to at least get the first part done. As it happens there was a fair amount of handwork involved afterwards anyway so there is still quite a bit of me in the ring. The pictures here are of the finished ring and the original photo I had to work from, and yes it was no better than what you can actually see here in this copy of the picture.
While I can't tell you that this particular design is actually my style of ring, it's always nice to be able to help a customer maintain their connection with their past through their jewels. And as I will always do, I made it up the way that, if it had been my design, I would want it made so that it would last for years.