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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.


  1. Interesting! I wouldn't have guessed. With that in mind--you've blogged about how reusing old gold isn't really practical. How do you feel about reusing "estate" gemstones--what are the pros and cons?

  2. Hi Laurel,
    I routinely use old gemstones that people bring me. Unfortunately most of them are not very good quality either; it is usually because they are sentimental pieces that the customer wants to reuse them. But the idea of going to estate dealers to get decent gemstones isn't a bad idea. You just have to remember that a) the number of high quality stones available won't be a lot greater than it is in general (since good and bad stones have been mined throughout recorded history) and b) sometimes the information you get from estate dealers is a little shaky. Also you have to have a pretty good eye to get the really good ones (and if they are really nice they aren't going to be much cheaper than from a new source). Often they need recutting as well. This is not to say you can't find nice stuff---I just got a catalog from an estate company that had some absolutely amazing estate pieces---I don't believe a single thing in their catalog was priced under $60,000 and they had a number in the $500,000 to multi million dollar range!