Cecile Raley Designs

Tucson Gem Market: What's In and What's Out – February 2024

Tucson Gem Market: What's In and What's Out – February 2024

For the gem dealer, gems are exactly what the title of this blog suggests: a financial instrument which, if purchased and sold wisely, will yield an increase in value over time and ideally generate a living. So for us, gems are the stocks, options or futures of the trader on Wall Street; and they are the properties of the real estate investor. Additionally, however, gems are really cool to look at, easy to keep and transport, and finally, buying them can take you into the world of international treasure hunting. All of which adds to gems being a lot more fun than buying stocks or bonds, or pork skins for that matter. It’s a commodity like gold, but it isn’t publically traded because the knowledge base required to evaluate the worth of an individual gem is far larger than what you need to know to buy commodities, stocks, or even houses. I speak from some experience: I have my series seven, I worked in the foreign exchange market, and I have bought and sold real estate both for personal use and investment.

How, then, would gem dealers report on the current pulse of the gem market, as measured by prices and availability (as well as gossip!) of Tucson 2024? Let me give you a glimpse by discussing some of the gems that I had mentioned as purchase options for me for Tucson and how I fared as I shopped and chatted with my favorite dealers at the shows.

  1. Kornerupine: there has not been any production of Kornerupine in several years. Material may still be available but the locals are not doing any digging and the market in Arusha has dried up. Current productions (which are miniscule) are dominated by greenish material from Madagascar without tri-chroism. This does not generate retail interest as there are other, now cheaper, gems available in those colors (i.e. tourmaline). Dealers were showing more material this year but with sharply increased prices. In fact, prices to buy are higher than the prices in my shop, and the material is not flying out the door even at my lower prices. I therefore opted against purchase.
  1. Benitoite: 100% of the material available directly at the shows is now overpriced in my view, except for the vendor I use who has only 5 US buyers (from what they told me) out of 15 total that receive a share of the quarterly production. Pieces over .25 cts are very rare. Most buyers do not resell right now, the market is fairly wiped clean except for collector’s pieces at very high prices, and there’s little being shown at GJX or AGTA, which means that people are holding back what they have. It’s a complete seller’s market as the material generates retail interest from collectors. Anything semi useful that hits the market at a reasonable price moves quickly.

  2. Cobalt Spinel: the market is a little soft this year despite dwindling production. Out of the half dozen or so vendors carrying it, a few had lowered their prices for the more glowy but poorly cut material that had dominated offerings of the last several years. One dealer claimed that most of the very measly production from Luc Yen is going into the hands of one company and they are not reselling right now. A few other vendors needed money as the market of 2022 was very slow – at a near standstill starting July – and so vendors dug deep into their old inventory, offering it at good prices. I was able to move several nice pieces for a smaller markup directly at the show. I left behind a near 1 carat 6mm round that I really wanted but the money didn’t stretch. The Mahenge cobalt spinel, by contrast, entered the market at too high a price because it was being priced in comparison to Luc Yen material – but in my view, investors didn’t consider that the Mahenge discovery would at least temporarily dilute the market and therefore prices should have started lower. Also, most Mahenge has too much grey in it, which makes it a little too similar to the slightly more available Sri Lankan material. It is a good time to buy cobalt but also a good time to hold on to it. The prices of cobalt never scare me as the material has so much inner beauty that it will retain value (better than Benitoite in my view, simply because it is just as rare and much more beautiful).

  3. Grandidierite: dealers are not buying any right now. Madagascar had overproduced once they found deposits in the south and there was a sense that there is a lot of gemmy material out there which led to high asking prices at ground level. As it turned out, most of the material that is currently mined is just ornamental quality (to make pebbles to put into bowls, or lower quality beads). The gem quality is still very rare but consumers have a sense of the prices being too high – they might also be right! – so vendors are now stuck with the material that they cannot move without a loss. It’s best to wait this out and see if prices come down. I have material still from my own purchases in Madagascar and I am selling that down at lower prices than the current market. But I also will not reinvest in the near future unless I find something unusually pretty and reasonable.

  4. Burmese Jedi Spinel: for geopolitical reasons, production is at a near standstill and what little is coming out of the region (illegally, I presume), is not that good. Only old material is floating around, with decreasing availability and increasing prices. Several of the vendors who used to specialize in it have left the market and concentrated on other goods because getting into that market is just too difficult. There are still older productions of melee though not as abundant as in 2019 and before. I tend to buy goods that have tiny flaws, eye clean if possible but not loupe clean. I personally feel that while the clean material is over-valued, the very slightly included material is undervalued. Flawless (or nearly flawless) gems attract private investors and dealers with big pockets, who are taking the long term view that these are still worth their money.

    Jedi spinel cushion pair
  5. Sapphire: there are many sub-markets here so I can only mention a couple. Smaller size blues are usually Madagascan these days and readily available if heated but prices have gone up. Unheated fine quality blues (like royal blue no heat) have jumped up a lot in the last decade or more because demand is outpacing supplies. Blue sapphire is probably the most well-known and ubiquitous investor tool for the private buyer, and it is a popular engagement ring alternative. The retail market remains strong as U.S. buyers are becoming more educated and are increasingly demanding unheated goods. World demand is also on the increase, especially foreign markets. Melees prices are steadily increasing at a slower pace, this year the older parcels are starting to be sold out and newer and more expensive productions are hitting the market, with corresponding price changes of about 10% over last year (some are 20-25% more). The same is true for the colored melee, in particular, purple. Darker purple melee remains sold out as the only newer goods in purples are coming from Madagascar, and below 2mm they barely have lavender color.

  6. Ruby: smaller heated Burmese material (3mm and below) is still readily available though prices start jumping up at 2+mm. The finer and less pinkish goods are now sourced from Mozambique, market prices this year are the same as last year or even a tad softer. Most vendors seem to think that the reasons for this are mostly the world economy. Demand has been high for fine goods, in particular 2+ carats with pigeon blood certs, even though those have a darker color than buyers usually anticipate when they see the gems in real life.

  7. Emerald: this is always a complicated market because there are literally dozens of substances that are used to enhance emeralds, from various natural oils to synthetic oils and mixes (some of them colored), waxes, resins like Opticon and ExCel, and even hardeners and glue. Not all of these treatments are permanent so the emerald needs to be re-treated. While gem sellers have to answer all buyers’ questions regarding treatment, if the right questions are not asked then answers will not be volunteered. One should generally assume that all emeralds on the market are moderately to significantly treated as those with insignificant to no enhancement require certificates from independent laboratories and are priced much higher due to their rarity. I have noticed that in the last 2-3 years, public awareness of emerald treatments has increased sharply and even an uneducated buyer will ask me to get them an emerald with “less” treatment rather than more. Buyers don’t always understand the meaning of their request but they do understand – correctly – that there is a distinction to be made both in terms of value and in terms of “shelf life” of some treatments. I have pulled back a little from the emerald market for this reason, trying to source melee from Zambia, Pakistan and Afghanistan (the latter is very hard to do nowadays, also for geopolitical reasons). Those tend to require less oil. Russian emeralds are a complicated product because of the war in Ukraine, and some large retailers have backed out of buying Russian goods altogether. Colombian material is 99.9% treated but U.S. sellers are rushing to get most of their goods checked. Correspondingly, prices here have risen as well.

    Emerald pair

I could go on and on. Consumer interest in natural colored gems remains high, but of course the higher prices of gems, and everything else for that matter, are slowing spending. I expect a sluggish recovery just because the high prices are here to stay for the most part, and income has not gone up correspondingly. We will just have to see how the situation progresses.

Questions? If you would like to know more about the market of a specific gem, let me know and I will make inquiries. Much of the information one can obtain in this secretive market is haphazard and anecdotal, but much of it has also proven to be highly reliable, as the number of companies that are movers and shakers in this trade is smaller than you might think

And inside the trade at least, we all benefit from information being sufficiently accurate to provide us with direction. Gem dealers are competitors but they also rely on the trades they do among themselves to be safe and functional, just like the stock market and the real estate market. The industry is based on trust, and this trust is enforced by social pressure (less so by laws as most laws have little international enforcement, and this business is 99% international). If you cheat another gem dealer, that information gets out. And then you are out too. Sometimes for good.

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Should your Gem Purchase Come with a Certificate of Authenticity?

Should your Gem Purchase Come with a Certificate of Authenticity?

Does this gem come with a certificate of authenticity? This is a question we are being asked almost every week, especially on Etsy. This used to be a rare question aimed at high value items, but now it is common, even for items as low as $1.50 a piece (I am not joking!). The context of the question is understandable given the number of gems sold under false pretenses. With just photos and description, and perhaps a U.S. drop ship location but no other legitimate business information online, it is difficult to know when you are being sold what you bought, and when someone is trying to cheat you.

Personally, the number of gems I buy from companies without referral is zero. Even on location I start with people I know or people I know through others. As a reseller that lives in the U.S. and is bound by U.S. consumer protection laws, I have to be able to stand by my goods. Also, if Etsy were to close or censure my shop due to a complaint about cheating, I could not just open another one the way vendors from other countries do. As a U.S. business, I would need a new tax I.D. for that. Then I’d have to create a whole new business identity and start over, which is not worth my time or effort. It’s way cheaper and easier to just be honest, whereas if I had a foreign account on Etsy or sold direct on Instagram from overseas, I would not have a tax I.D. in the first place. I could therefore create as many identities as I wanted to. On Instagram this is particularly common as zero references are needed. It’s easy to just add photos from other accounts or anything else downloaded, attract customers with those, then pretend the gems are sold and offer one’s own cheaper, and unverified goods. I continue to be amazed at how many buyers there must be for that kind of thing.

When I get asked to provide certificates, however, I am in a predicament. The AGTA rules of ethics prohibit me from offering any home-made printout that says ‘certificate.’ So I can’t just go to Staples and get laminated cards printed - nor would I want to but let’s set that aside for the moment. According to the AGTA, I must also disclose all treatments at the point of sale (i.e., in the Etsy listings). Furthermore, I cannot claim that a gem is ‘investment grade’ or any other type of grade, like triple A or whatever people use as marketing terms. Nor may I use the now obsolete term ‘semi-precious.’ Lastly, I must provide full disclosure and I cannot use hyperbole or self-referencing. (There are actually a lot more rules but this gives you a basic idea).

So what is it that CRD can offer by way of guarantee for its gems? Let’s review the legitimate options.

  1. A written bill of sale with all the details. We are often asked for a separate bill because Etsy does not automatically add all that information to the invoices, and we do not have the ability to change what you can print. A written bill of sale or invoice will be helpful if you want to add your gem or jewelry piece to your homeowner’s insurance policy.
  2. An appraisal from an independent appraisal service such as Gemological Appraisal Laboratory.

Appraisals cost about $60 and will include all relevant information such as type of gem or gems used in the jewelry, the dimensions and weights as well as the current estimated insurance replacement value (or another value of your choosing). The limitations of an appraisal report, however, are that while most appraisal labs can I.D. a gemstone, diamond or metal, and can make sure that nothing is fake, they cannot determine details such as origin or in some cases, treatment of gems. For origin determination, a lab needs to have a library of comparative scans and expensive X-Ray equipment. Most appraisal labs do not have these. Heat treatment or fillers are usually detectable by an appraisal lab, but the type or degree of filler used is another matter. For example, an appraisal report can say that the gem is an emerald that is oiled, but not that it is a Colombian emerald with a moderate amount of cedar wood oil. The only exception I want to mention is that if you have a gem that already has a laboratory report stating origin and treatment, you can hand that to the appraisal laboratory together with the gem and/or the jewelry it is in, and get it appraised for value. CRD sometimes gets appraisal reports for expensive items so that clients can have the satisfaction of knowing they are paying a fair price.

  1. A report from a gemological laboratory such as GIA, GRS, AGL, etc. These reports typically do not state value. They often come in two forms, such as a smaller report card like AGL’s Gem Brief for $70, which will provide ID, photo and measurements, as well as enhancement information.


    For AGL, the minimum gem size is .25 carats and up, probably because it is difficult to get accurate reads on anything smaller. (Some labs, such as GIA, offer batch testing for smaller gems). A gem brief will not state gem origin or degree of enhancement, however. When it comes to the question of heat/no heat, no further qualification is needed, but with fillers, the type or degree of filler can be valuable information. If origin or degree of enhancement are needed, AGL offers a Prestige Origin Report that starts at $230 for a single gem.

    A matched pair will require two separate reports, though one can request the reports be combined into one. Many of our more expensive gems come with an AGL Gem Brief or Prestige Report, depending on the value of the gem and the information we thought would be most valuable for you to have.

    A cheaper alternative to the AGL colored stone report is GIA, which tends to be in the range of $85 (GIA offers only full-size reports, no laminated cards). 

    So: where does this leave the buyer of a $3 no heat tiny sapphire who demands a certificate of authenticity (or whatever else they call it)? Honestly, there will not be any guarantees other than those made by the seller unless there’s an independent way for the buyer of vetting the seller him or herself. The gem cannot be verified in any way that makes financial sense for either the buyer or the seller to pursue.

    And how do you vet a seller? Depending on where you live or where are buying from, you might look into fair business practices of the relevant country and what kind of protection these provide for you as a foreign buyer. In the U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia, for example, the law provides some safety for you, and as I said above, cheating is not so easy to do. You might get away with it once or twice, but not on a continuous basis.

    Also, you can look into what organizations the seller is a member of. For U.S. sellers the most prestigious is the AGTA, which has fairly strict membership guidelines. But there are others, such as the American Gem Society or IGS, the International Gem Society. I’m not the best person to ask about these, but all of these societies have their guidelines posted on their websites and you can ask if a member is in good standing.

    If I was to spend more than a few bucks on a gem, or if it was very important to me that the jewelry I am making contains even small gems that are what a seller says they are, I would buy only from sellers that meet the following conditions: they come with references that I can check, they sell within countries that have consumer protection laws and/or are members of a reliable gem association. I would simply skip the other sellers.

    Does that mean that at times you will be paying more for a gem because you are buying from a more reliable seller? Yes, it will mean that, and that’s the trade off you need to decide for yourself. The source countries for most gems are developing nations and these cannot necessarily offer the assurances you want. This is why experienced gem sellers have the role of functioning as a middle man, and as the guarantor of your purchase. That is the only way.

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    Buying on Location: Gem Shopping in Sri Lanka

    Buying on Location: Gem Shopping in Sri Lanka

    My clients say this to me all the time: “it’s cheaper to buy on location, right?” And I have heard many a story where people are asked by their relatives to, say “bring back a sapphire” when they go to Sri Lanka, or Colombia, or any other place known for gems. Let me tell you: it often isn’t cheaper on location. The prices you get will very much depend on what country you are going to and where you shop once you arrive there.

    Unless you are in a jewelry store or at a gem show where all the gems you are looking at have a label with a fixed price, all gem trading, wherever you are in the world, is done via offer and counter offer. First, the seller will try to get you to make an offer. But unless you plan to make a low offer and you also know your prices extremely well, this is unadvisable for you as a buyer. And low offers, mind you, can offend a seller and ruin the trade. Sometimes it signals that you don’t know your stuff, or that you don’t want to be serious.

    It is therefore best if you push for a price from the seller. This can have the advantage that you get a better sense of expectations, or of where the market currently is. But most of the time, especially in a situation where buyer and seller do not know one another, the first offer price will be too high. Sometimes it is far too high. It can be too much by a factor of two, three, or even a factor of ten. It can easily be a wildly imagined price. You might also be told that this wildly imagined sky high price is a good price!

    Pay no attention to what you are told. It might be true that the price is a good one, more likely it will not be. Make the counter offer you want to make and watch the seller’s reaction – though also note that that a gem seller has a lot of experience in gem selling. Reading his (or her) face may not tell you a thing.

    If I receive an offer that is sky high, I often just say “no thank you” and do not make a counter offer. I have many gems, I am not a needy party, and I am not loaded. If the offer I get is somewhat reasonable, for me this is two to three times my asking price, then I will make my counter offer that is slightly below what I am willing to pay. We then go back and forth a while, and we will either come to an agreement or not. “A while” can be a minute or two or an hour or two; or it can be a day or two as the seller might come back the next day having thought it over and agree to my asking price. Or I will tell them I have to think about it and get back to them. Sometimes I take all week, sometimes I just buy at asking price or at last offer. It depends on how much inventory I have, or if I have a buyer, if I think the gem is cool and new. Etc etc.

    When you first start buying in a new location, you have to take some time to let people show you stuff, and you may go back and forth on pricing a lot. I often don’t buy on the first day, or I buy very little. If I want to make a good impression and show my interest, or if I see a really good thing, I will try to make a purchase even at a higher price.

    The sellers will of course talk to each other about your purchases, your attitude, your interests etc. When I am new to a market and am starting with small buys, I want the sellers to communicate with one another because that will speed up the process of getting the right goods at hopefully the right price. This is something I do not do at a gem show. My buying usually lasts 3-5 days all in all (possibly with a day trip in between). If you are interested in something rare, it might take a day or two for sellers to get a hold of some gems for you, and if you are spending more money, people may also travel from further away to come and see you.

    HIGH END BUYING

    Very expensive deals are not done the way I just described though, or rarely (to give you perspective, I am talking a few thousand dollars and up, maybe 2,3K, maybe over 10K, that all depends). For security reasons, and relatedly because not all sellers/buyers want the exact nature of their deals to be public, those kinds of trades do not take place in full view of other sellers or buyers. My travel companion Joerg M., who had some previously established connections and was planning to make larger buys, met with the sellers on the terrace in front of his room and asked not to be disturbed. A good alternative meeting place is a guarded or otherwise secured office that is not open to the public. Sometimes people rent an office from a local seller for that purpose (and that seller may or may not get a commission if he also arranges some of the viewings). We had the option to do high end trading at the hotel office because Bhanu, the owner, had built an office specifically to that end. Deals like that might not even get concluded on your visit, though experienced buyers will want to be where the gem is so they can look at it in person. Additionally, they may want or need a lab nearby. Ratnapura has gem labs where you can get a 24 hr confirmation regarding whether a sapphire is heated, for instance. Bogota, Colombia, had a lab also.

    Jochen, by contrast, was doing his $5-50 deals right in the middle of the market, or just standing in the middle of the street, leaning against a Tuk Tuk pushing back the crowd. I took some photos and videos of him trading like that in the neighboring town of Nivitigala, where I helped him keep track of the fast-paced trade by putting price stickers on his sapphires and putting them into bags, counting the money etc. And our third buyer, Michael M., a private collector, bought some gems for several hundred dollars directly at the market also. It just took him a few days to get comfortable with the idea and with the going prices for the items he wanted.

    HONOR

    As money exchanges hands, everyone watches and follow along because, again: all sales are final. Someone in the front of the crowd may show a parcel with a gem belonging to someone in the back, call the price to the back and collect the money if a trade occurs. Somehow it always works out. I have never seen a mistake. Or rather, if a mistake occurs, it is rectified within seconds. Having 10-15 pairs of eyes on a transaction can be very helpful in this case, even though it can also seem really weird at first.

    I have also never seen anyone steal during a trade. Not a gem, and not money. If you cheat that way in this trade, you are out. You are unreliable and nobody wants to deal with you again. But keep this in mind too: overinflating a price is NOT considered cheating. If you pay too much, that is your problem. And buying a heated stone that you were told is not heated is also your problem, unless perhaps you have or want to establish a continuing and mutually lucrative relationship. In those cases people are more careful. When I push a seller and see how certain he is about a sapphire being heated, I can often see him backtracking a little, then I know to be cautious. If they say they ‘guarantee it’ and they know I might come back or buy more, my confidence is greatly increased. But even then there are no real guarantees.

    Cheating by selling a gem as another gem (i.e. a zircon instead of a sapphire, or a spinel instead of a ruby) is not something I have seen happen before either, but I have seen it happen to Jochen quite often. In his case, however, I think the claims sellers make are partly the result of ignorance. Luckily, Jochen is an expert in gemstone rough, and when it comes to rare minerals, he often knows more than the seller does. I think some of these cases are more snafus than anything else. Just to give one example, most sapphire dealers do not know all the properties of serendibite (which co-occurs with sapphire finds). Minerals like that can sit unrecognized in a pile of yet to be sorted rough for months or even years before someone who is actually interested in them shows up. And then they are not sent to the lab for testing.

    It also is amazing how these small pebbles can be handled with such care on a busy street. Rarely does something fall (placing a white towel on the table where you transact is a helpful and frequently used tool). If it does, all trading stops until the gem is found. There is a kind of respect for the value, but also for the owner of the gem, in all this convolution.

    MY TREASURES

    And what did I actually buy? I will start out by saying that I came to Sri Lanka with low expectations. As I have said repeatedly, ground level (by which I mean the mining region) has changed with the advance of technology, but also because of the geographic isolation due to Covid. People need to live, and so they adapt. You will now find many (many many) Sri Lankans, as well as Indians, Thai, Vietnamese etc. directly offering their gems to the general public via Instagram, or by taking their trade directly over to WhatsApp. Fast upload speed of photos and videos, cheaper and wider internet access, as well as the expansion of PayPal and TransferWise have facilitated such direct trading. Correspondingly, when you go to buy direct, local expectations are that you will pay the same retail pricing as an unsuspecting and uninformed online retail buyer. Sales are still considered final, it is still buyer beware, and consumer protection does not exist. I will say it again. Paying too much may be immoral, but it isn’t illegal.

    As a result, prices on ground level have become highly inflated, making it difficult for the more discerning wholesale buyer to find good deals.

    But good things come to those who wait. I am always in the market for interesting, rare goods that do not have a large retail market. For instance, I knew that green zircon comes from Sri Lanka, but I had not seen any on the US market in years. To me, this meant that if it turned up, it would be affordable because it probably had not been sold in a while (green zircon is not that common, not even in Sri Lanka). I turned out to be right.

    Another thing I always keep a lookout for is blue spinel. Now here there are complications. The closer you get to ‘cobalt blue’, the more the prices go up, as everyone has now heard that the cobalt color fetches a pretty penny. But when it comes to other shades of blue, prices are better. I got a very pretty blue pear shape spinel for a good price for instance.

    Lastly – for now – star sapphires had become rather scarce in the US market. And I had heard from Dudley that he had not seen many either. So I was surprised to be offered some really nice specimens on the first day for a good starting price. I didn’t negotiate down that far because I knew US prices were rising, and I know a good price when I see one. No need for me to cheat the seller. I got three pieces. I passed on the blue tones because most of those were still too high priced, and the ones that weren’t tended to be light blue to almost white, but not really white either.

    Regarding things I didn’t buy, there were a few of those also. For example, I had hoped to find some nice chrysoberyl. And I did see quite a bit of it but most of it was brownish, or greenish brownish, and that is not a very popular color. There was some chrysoberyl cat’s eye, perhaps I should have bought some, but I didn’t unfortunately. I just wasn’t sure about it.

    I also saw a rare star spinel with a beautiful star, but unfortunately it’s day color – when you move the strong light that shows the star away and take it outdoors – was muddy looking. With the torch the color was purple, without it a kind of hard to identify brown with a purplish tint. So I passed on that also. It wasn’t cheap either, so that was another reason against it.

    Finally, I did buy some colored sapphire (the blues were all too expensive in my view). They are all at AGL right now to confirm ‘no heat.’ I got a glowy pink oval that was supposedly unheated, a few light apricot colors that won’t pass for pads nowadays because of the color stability test, but will satisfy people seeking something in light peach. And I got some cool and unusual shapes like a pair of hexagons, some more kites and two pairs of fancy or fantasy cuts that we don’t have a name for, but we’ve decided they should be called parallelograms.

    SRI LANKA'S OTHER BEAUTIES

    Lest you think that gemstones are the only thing to see in Sri Lanka, let me end this blog by pointing out a few other noteworthy things.

    My personal favorite experience was meeting baby elephants. I had planned on doing a safari on my 5th day of being in Sri Lanka but I came down with food poisoning. I wasn’t the first – Joerg was out sick two days before me. Nor was I the last, as Jochen got sick the day after me. Our guess was a particular restaurant, and because we had each eaten different things there on different days, we presumed it was the water with which some of the things we ate were cleaned. It’s hard to say though.

    Generally food is safe to eat for a foreigner, though remember your intestines do not know all the local parasites and may wish to fast track or entirely expel a meal in an abundance of caution. I’ve often had tummy problems on location. Most food in Sri Lanka consists of curries: Sri Lankan curries, Indian curries, Thai curries. Because they are spicy and heated, they are fairly safe to eat. The base food in Sri Lanka is rice or Kottu – roti bread cut into thin slices. Kottu is mixed with egg, vegetables, and curry or eaten with grilled meat on top, such as Tandoori chicken. Most menus offer beef, chicken, mutton, fish or vegetarian options. There’s no pork. Cold foods such as salads should be avoided, but fruit is good to eat if peeled. I recommend fresh fruit juices though remember that the fruit might get washed with local water. All drinking water should be bottled. Ice cream – delicious – should be avoided because the cooling chain is not guaranteed in developing nations, but I ate it anyway. I love Kulfi. My personal opinion on the food though is that I wouldn’t travel there for it unless spicy curry is something you want to eat every day. Because no matter how mild you ask the cook to prepare it, most of it is too hot for me to taste the rest of the spices. However, my experience might have been somewhat limited.

    What I do recommend, however, is that you visit a national park. While Sri Lanka does not offer the variety of large animals you can see on Safari in Tanzania, Kenya or Namibia, there’s a lot to see nevertheless (it also costs way less than it does in Africa). In particular, elephants in Sri Lanka are a protected species, and the locals have a great appreciation for them. At dusk, when the elephants come out for feeding and to enjoy bathing, you can see Sri Lankans drive up to the outskirts of the national parks and sit outside, watching the elephant herds eat and play.

    Many national parks also have nearby elephant orphanages, where you can visit during the feedings. The entrance fee goes to helping buy milk for the babies. A baby elephant is fed up to 8 times a day, and orphans might stay at the rescue for several years until they are old enough to seek out their own herd to join. The little ones are adorable to watch, sometimes they fall over their own trunk when they are in a hurry. And they show much affection both to their keepers and to other orphaned elephants. This is definitely a must see!

     

    Feeding Time in the Elephant Orphanage

     

    Sadly, because I was out of commission for two days, I didn’t get to tour more of Sri Lanka. The Kandy region (the central highlands) was strongly recommended to me and that is what I’d like to see the next time I go. And yes, I will definitely go back!

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    From Mining to Markets: Sri Lanka’s Gem Industry

    From Mining to Markets: Sri Lanka’s Gem Industry

    Gem mining has always been a rugged business. It involves hard and uncomfortable physical labor, high risk of injury, and a lot of patience. But it can also pay off. The dream of a big find has been attracting humankind to the trade for centuries. If you are lucky, you may not have to work another day in your life. If, that is.

    THE GEMSTONE MINE

    The trip to Ratnapura offered me the unique opportunity to get a feel for gem mining firsthand.

    While I have been to mines in Tanzania and in Colombia – and even ventured 300 meters into an emerald mining tunnel in Chivor – I had never climbed down into a mine below ground.

    In Sri Lanka, much of the sapphire mining is done at a specific depth where you reach a layer of old river sediment consisting of pebbly rock that is washed (or rinsed, really) in the hopes of finding small pieces of rough in between. In the mine we visited, this layer was found about 15 meters below ground. To get to this level, a vertical shaft is created and secured with thick cross beams, which then leads to another shaft a few feet away. In some parts of the world, i.e., Tanzania, these shafts can go several hundred meters below ground that you climb down through a system of ladders; or, as in this case, you climb down the cross beams, while holding on to a wooden pole that is tied to the beams with a rope. The beams can be far apart, not like a ladder, and they are not always directly underneath one another, so as you go down your foot dangles in the air looking for the next ‘step’. If you have a little bit of climbing experience, you can let yourself ‘hang back’ so you can look underneath the next beam to see where you have to place your foot. Just don’t let go of the pole!

    For an added level of challenge, the beams can be wet from the water seeping through the porous ground and dripping all over the place. This happens especially when mining occurs near rivers and when your level of depth is at ground water and below. I was pretty wet when I arrived at the layer of sand on the bottom. Also, you have to climb bare foot because even a shoe with a tread designed for rock climbing will not properly grip when the surface is wet.  

    At the bottom of the shaft, workers collect the rocks to be washed and gather them into sacks that are transported up on a hook with a rope that winds around a wheel on the surface. This system can also be used to bring down other things – like my cell phone inside a plastic bag so I could take video.

    Air is pumped into a shaft through a long hose that is fueled by a generator, and for communication there is a pipe you can yell into. Once above ground, the sacks are emptied into large sieves (the sacks are white and probably made of nylon, think of the large bags used for rice or beans you might see at a large wholesaler like B.J.s – just to give you a more familiar image). The sieves are made of wicker; they are a good foot or more across and to get rid of the dirt, they are moved around in a circular motion inside a man-made pool filled with muddy water up to your waist.

    Once the rock is washed, the sieve is brought to a dry area and searched through by hand to look for the promising pebbles of treasure. Months can go by without a good find.

    This method of mining has been in place for centuries. These days, larger companies bring in excavators that can till the ground in a matter of weeks – compared to the months, or even years, it takes with the old fashioned method. But excavators are a big expense requiring funds that most locals cannot raise, thus putting the less fortunate parts of the population at a disadvantage; and of course also destroying an ancient trade. Such is a sad aspect of the advance of technology.

    INVESTMENTS AND RETURNS FOR THEM

    While we are on the subject of funding, let me give you some idea of how money is raised and distributed in the industry. The mine we visited had four owners: the owner of the land and three investors, one foreign, two local. They each receive a contractually arranged percentage of the yield. The miners themselves get paid a daily wage (the equivalent of $7 a day in this case), plus lunch, and they will also get a small share of the profits if they find something. Pay for miners varies widely around the world of course. In some countries they get only food and lodging plus a profit share. In other nations, notably more industrialized ones, they do not get a share of the yield but they receive a regular monthly salary.

    Once enough gemstone rough has been found, it is sold at market via a broker (unless of course the mining operation also handles cutting and distribution as is the case with larger mines such as the main Tanzanite mines in Merelani, Tanzania). Or, if cutting options exist in nearby villages, the gem is cut first and then sold.

    In Sri Lanka, the government prohibits the export of all gemstone rough so the gems are cut in the country. This is sometimes done by hand with old equipment where the cutting wheel is turned by rope. And with very sophisticated cutting machines, all the angles are worked out and set by computer.

    THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

    The reason why a government might regulate the trade and prohibit the export of gemstone rough is because much, if not most, of the profit, is generated after cutting. This is when the true value of a gem can be determined. The reason for this is that the yield of a piece, while predictable with some degree of exactness, is not 100% certain until after the gem is actually cut. (I am skipping, for the sake of this discussion, far more sophisticated prediction methods in use in the diamond trade, where a piece of rough can be scanned and analyzed with 3-D software. That is another blog entirely).

    Countries with older mining histories, such as Sri Lanka but also Colombia, prohibit the export of gemstone rough. Countries that have entered the gem industry more recently, such as Madagascar, do not have these regulations - yet. Other countries, like Tanzania, have switched around between different regulations depending on the current government in place. This can wreak havoc - at least in the short term - because gemstone cutting requires years of training and that training has to be provided. Alternatively, cutters must be ‘imported.’ A lot of Sri Lankan cutters are employed in Tanzania for example.

    THE TRADE

    Gem trading in Sri Lanka has a history as long as that of gem mining, and with some modifications, it also operates in the same way it did centuries ago. The main gem trading takes place in Ratnapura, but there is also a market for rough gems in the neighboring village of Nivitigala. My supplier Dudley Blauwet sources his gemstone rough mainly from there.

    Trading mostly takes place in the open air, along the road or in the market square where you can sit at tables and purchase tea or cold drinks. The Ratnapura market square is really a triangle, and it is set up for the express purpose of trading by the town itself. Along the trading street that is widely referred to as ‘Gem Street’ there are also small booths, like open front offices you can rent, where the tenant can keep a safe and you can make purchases away from the public eye.

    Street trading is cash based. Sometimes you can use foreign currency like US Dollars. You can also exchange dollars and Euros for Rupees at a local bank or directly in the street. Credit cards are not a thing but I assume that larger transactions are not all cash but make use of wire transfers and the like.

    The government exacts a tax for all exports which means you do need receipts for your gems when you take them back. And if you are not just a tourist with a small purchase, you have to get your export assessed and evaluated at the mining office in Colombo where you will also pay your taxes. There, you will receive export clearance for customs at the airport. Evaluation at the mining office can take several hours if there are long lines, so it is best to save a half a day for it at the end of your trip. If you are travelling for the trade, it is also advisable to get a business visa instead.

    As I have said before, gem trading is not for the uninitiated! Once you arrive at Gem Street and make your interests known – essentially by loudly saying into the crowd what you are looking for – you will quickly get approached with cut or rough gems in parcel papers. Jochen, my travel partner, looks mostly for terminated crystals that are not for cutting, so once he starts being shown stuff, he yells “crystals only” into the assembling crowd. I took some nice video of how he does it and you can see how quickly it can work when you are buying lots of small items.

    For more valuable items, you can take your trading elsewhere, i.e., you can rent a space from a local shop owner where sellers (a mix of owners and brokers) can approach you one by one. I spoke to one such buyer, strangely also from New Jersey, and he told me this has worked well for him and gives him more private space for purchase and negotiating.

    For my two German buying buddies and myself, our hotel owner Bhanu had arranged things ahead of time. He had built a well-lit, open windowed office right at the roadside next to the hotel entrance. It was quiet and fully air conditioned (thank you Bhanu).

    Every morning, sellers would line up outside the office, enter one by one or in small groups and present their parcel papers. We had brought tweezers and loupes though Bhanu had some as well, and one of our companions, Joerg, had also brought a scope for inspecting sapphires for heat.

    Now while I would hardly say that sellers will outright cheat you, assertions that a gem is unheated need to be taken with a grain of salt. For my part, I verify these claims when I get home by taking the gems to a lab, and I will take only low financial risks when told a sapphire is unheated. When you come as a tourist you are more likely to be told what you want to hear (it’s the best, cleanest, and certainly most valuable gem you have ever seen, and it is totally natural… yada yada). As possibly repeat and larger buyers, we were approached with more caution. All sales are final, so if a trade goes south, you are not likely to come back or deal with the same vendor again. That is not in anyone’s interest.

    And in the next blog, I will tell you how my own buying adventures went. Meanwhile, keep looking out for Etsy listings of my treasures. 

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    Sri Lanka: The Treasure Hunter’s Holy Grail

    Sri Lanka: The Treasure Hunter’s Holy Grail

    For over 2,500 years, Sri Lanka has been known for its wealth of precious gems. In particular, the Ratnapura area is one of the world’s most dense regions of gemstone deposits, and these treasures are mined and cut in much the same way they were thousands of years ago. Some of earth’s most beautiful sapphires are sourced from there. But Ratnapura is not known for its sapphires and rubies alone; it is also among those countries with the world’s greatest variety of gems. The British crown jewels are made with some of the largest red spinels from Sri Lanka. Zircon, alexandrite and chrysoberyl, hessonite and rhodolite garnet, cobalt spinels, topaz, tourmaline and aquamarine are some of the other gems sourced in Ratnapura and its neighboring Nivitigala, where most of my sapphires come from.

    The gem market in Ratnapura is also one of the oldest in the world, and it is said that its gem street (yep, it’s locally just called Gem Street) still moves more cash back and forth – in the actual STREET – than any other gem trading district in the entire world. You can swap and borrow currency right on the pavement, get your gems cut in the old and the new ways at a local booth; you can buy gemstone rough and faceted gems, both locally sourced ones and imported ones, especially sapphires.

    Ratnapura gem hunting is not for the uninitiated, however. You are expected to know gem prices and make distinctions between cuts, color, and clarity on your own. If you want to rely on a ‘trusted source’ to sell you something, this is not the place for you. The novice is easily spotted by how he or she looks at a gemstone, and gem prices will rise accordingly. Most, if not all, brokers and miners in Ratnapura have been part of the gem trade since before they learned how to count – just about. 99% of them are men as women in mining areas are considered bad luck, and they know gems as well as they know people. News about foreigners in the market travels around town at the speed of light, including what you are interested in buying, how well you pay, how much you bargain, etc etc.  

    But I should probably back up and start the story at the beginning:

    Together with 3 buying buddies from Germany (Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Mineralien, my longtime friend and purchaser of rough crystals, Joerg M., a gem dealer, and Michael P., a private collector), we set out for Ratnapura upon our arrival from three different airports in Europe on Monday July 24th. I had gone to Germany first to visit my dad, sister and new niece and met up with Jochen in Amsterdam to join his flight to Dubai, then Colombo. I splurged on a business class ticket because it was going to be an arduous journey: 9 hours to Dubai, a 5 hour layover and then another 4 hour flight to Colombo. I had left Frankfurt on Sunday the 23rd in the late morning, and we arrived Monday morning at 9 a.m. Sri Lanka time (3 ½ hours behind Frankfurt, and 9 ½ hours behind New York). To manage the time change, I felt that I should be as rested as possible, and I did get a good few hours sleep on the second leg – and then a couple more on the ride from Colombo to Ratnapura.

    After dealing with the visa and immigration lines (you need a visa but you can apply online and it is very quick), we met with our driver outside the airport who would take us to the hotel. For about an hour we drove on a small highway, and then we turned into the foothills of Adam’s peak along winding but fully paved roads through a dense yet populated area of rainforest, along streams, palm trees and many roadside stalls offering fruits, vegetables and other necessities. Just like Colombia and the parts of Africa I have been to, life takes place outdoors, mostly along the main roads, the same way it used to be in Europe before the invention of the car changed everything.

    Just like Africa, traffic signs are a rarity, and who goes first is determined mostly by honking. The rest of the swirl of honking cars and Tuk Tuks is regulated by traffic circles that can be found at the center of every town. I would guess that this is an inherited remnant of British colonialism, as is the rule of driving on the left side of the road. Traffic lights are also a rarity – I only saw them in Colombo, the capital, despite the fact that Sri Lanka seems to be well connected in terms of electricity.

    The latter turned out to be quite a welcome change from the other remote places I have been to. The hotel, which I highly recommend, offered both air conditioning, hot water and high-speed internet. The latter came only upon our repeated request, the going speed there is 3G and when too many people are online it slows down to molasses. But it was all available, which is more than I can say for Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar.

    Gem Field Rest, as our hotel was so aptly called, was located across a river just 100 yards from Gem Street, and considerably quieter than the regular hustle and bustle of ‘downtown’ Ratnapura. The three-story building contains only six rooms, each larger than even the most luxurious US hotels I have been in at less than 20% of the price (and I do not mean New York prices, which are twice the national average at least). I would estimate the rooms to be about 500 square feet if not more, with a king and an extra-large twin bed, a seating section with lounge chairs, desk, fridge, a modern shower, windows along two sides, and large glass doors opening on to a luxurious private veranda with more seating options. And last but not least, each room has a bell for room service of breakfast and tea which I ordered at no charge at least 3x a day (excellent tasting Ceylon tea with hot steamed milk).

    Bhanu Samarankaye, the hotel owner and manager, lives on the grounds with his entire family, hotel staff (two I believe), three cats and a resident stray dog – more about her later – and everyone appears to be available 24/7. Bhanu arranged all airport pickups and drop-offs, drivers for trips, Tuk Tuks (wee cars with 3 wheels) for local getting around, as well as gem viewings and the ensuing export. We didn’t have to think of or plan a single thing. Breakfast was served fresh every morning in a newly finished side building:  eggs any style, toast, marmalade and sausages, fresh fruit and fresh fruit juices such as passionfruit and watermelon, or a young coconut with a straw. Or you could eat breakfast local style with roti and daal.

    For dinner, the Tuk Tuk took us downtown to any restaurant of our choosing or by recommendation by the host. For any other problem or inconvenience, we could contact Bhanu by WhatsApp all day, and he would just ‘take care of it.’ In all my life I have never had service of this kind in any hotel I have ever stayed in.  

    We also visited a local sapphire mine run by one of Bhanu’s neighbors (that will be in the next blog), and he organized a private safari for me including a (wonderful) driver named Thushara who for $45 was at my service for over 12 hours, taking me everywhere, arranging every service, any food and who essentially didn’t leave my side (I paid all of his meals, not that that was expected but I was more than happy to). If any of you would like to be connected to either of these 100% trustworthy and lovely people, do not hesitate to ask. I know that feeling safe and being able to get around without issue in a strange country is an absolute necessity. If the hotel appears booked on booking.com, contact Bhanu directly (gemfieldrest70@gmail.com) as he only makes a couple of rooms available through these portals.

    This brings me to another very basic point: Language. While English is not a native language in Sri Lanka, it is spoken among most, and most signs including restaurant menus are in three languages: Sinhala, the majority language, Tamil, the second officially recognized language, and lastly English. It’s rather cute and colorful to see all three scripts on most shop signs, and of course the English is reassuring. So for the most part you can get around without needing a translator. The majority of the population is Buddhist, followed by Hindu and Muslim; and as you will see as I continue my narrative, these have all had a major influence on the ways of life and the gem trade.

    In fact, let me get to what struck me as one of the most important differences that I assume is fueled by these cultures. I suspect what I am about to describe is due to Buddhism, but I’m only writing from the vantage point of direct observation, not informed by a more in-depth sociology: the treatment of animals!

    As we arrived on the hotel property, we were not only greeted by the owners but also received a gentle wag of the tail of the resident dog. “She’s new, isn’t she,” Jochen exclaimed when he saw her – he had already been there twice before. “Yes,” Bhanu said, “she’s a stray, but she moved here about four years ago.” Apparently, one day, she was there, and she just decided to stay. Twice they tried to release her back to nature by arranging to have her transported a few miles outside of town with a Tuk Tuk, and twice she came back within a week. After she came the second time, they let her stay for good.

    Lest you think that this sounds cruel, wait for it: Most dogs in Sri Lanka seem to be strays but they are well fed and most appear to be healthy. Why they are not starving like African dogs and why they are friendly was a mystery easily explained by Thushara. The leftovers from restaurants are fed to all the strays, and private households feed them as well. The dogs move around freely and sleep where they choose as the constant 85-90 degree weather allows. I only saw two dogs on a leash in the week I was there.One was a small dog, some sort of breed that cannot survive or fend for itself without human assistance. The other was a long-haired German shepherd who was probably quite hot (and certainly not the local ‘breed’). All other dogs roam free and go where they like, mostly staying within a territory.

    Just like the dogs, cats, goats, cows, monkeys, and even some elephants, the animals are not restricted in their movements by humans.They provide for themselves using the plentiful fruit from the trees, grass in the fields or by the roadside; or sometimes they are fed by humans. With the exception of cows, they mostly do not have owners. We saw all these animals roaming free, with cars going around them slowly, though the dogs, just like the dogs in Colombia, knew exactly how to cross roads safely and stay out of the way of traffic. I watched a fruit stand owner crush a watermelon on the ground to feed a cow, and I saw other cows wandering down the street without a leash to join some cow friends.

    I did find it odd that none of the animals had names. Even the stray that moved in with Bhanu’s family didn’t. I couldn’t resist giving her a name, so now she’s called “Lina” and even listens to the name when you call her with food (a cheap trick, I know).

    Lina loves cuddles and German liverwurst, she was unfamiliar with salami but liked it in the end, opposed the spicy leftovers of rice and curry but enjoyed crunchy tandoori chicken bones. She even received a visit from the neighboring dog for a romantic interlude, luckily she was fixed due to some volunteer trap-neuter-release programs that bear witness to the fact that the dog population is being observed. I also noted the existence of veterinary hospitals, something that was entirely absent in the three African countries I have been to.

    I will close this blog with a more philosophical observation on the above. If you subtract from our Western history the part where we decided that we (humans) are the pinnacle of creation, made to dominate the rest, then the way Sri Lankans view their animals makes a lot more sense. We name the living to designate not only belonging but also ownership. In the US and in Europe, animal’s being property is even essential because without it you cannot define “theft” or “damages incurred.” But if animal ownership is not a strongly enforced concept, names are not needed. We name only pets, animals we own, we do not name the squirrels or hedgehogs, even if we get to know them individually. (We have a skunk family residing in the nearby neighborhood, much to the amusement of my cat Lucy, but even they do not have names. Lucy, meanwhile, is MY cat, and she belongs to my household, so she has a name.)

    More about my Sri Lankan adventures, and my gem buying in particular, in the next blog!

     

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    Cobalt Blue: The Other Jedi Spinel

    Cobalt Blue: The Other Jedi Spinel

    They were never cheap, at least not since I have been in this trade. But now the red Jedis, the famous Burmese red spinels, have vanished completely. In Tucson this past February (2023), Yavorskyy Gems was down to just a few dozen boxes and they used to be the market leader in reds, with more choices than any of the other vendors specializing in Burmese spinels. Nomad’s Gems has been out for a while, Dudley B. has been out for years except for the occasional bright melees that are ‘basement mined’ from old stock; my spinel melee supplier is down to a few boxes as well (they bought up a slew of melee in 2019 and are just selling down until done). Many of these gem productions are smaller than you think, far smaller, so for a while the stuff is everywhere and then it goes poof. I was told that a top of the line one carat red Jedi can now go for 20K/ct, but I didn’t see one anywhere at the GJX or the AGTA anyway.

    And now that these supplies are finished, people are turning to blue: Vietnamese cobalt spinel from Luc Yen, and the single find of blue cobalt bearing spinel from just south of the town of Mahenge, Tanzania. Spinel with cobalt content can also be found in Sri Lanka, but none of those are neon in any way because they also have too much iron content which makes them greyish. Most of the Luc Yen and Mahenge material isn’t neon blue either, but a small percentage of it is. Prices for cobalt spinel have been at the top end of the colored stone market for years already but the melees have not gone up as much in price as the larger pieces (wholesale for 2 carats can run you $50,000/ct).

    To get you a sense of what’s out there and what the colors are like, let me start by comparing cobalt spinel to hauyne.

    Facet grade hauyne is mined only in one small area in the world, in the Eifel in Germany, where it is actually a biproduct as the mining site itself is for construction materials. Very tiny amounts are also found elsewhere in the world, but I have never seen facet grade material from any other location on the market. You can read about it on the website mindat.com which has an extensive database covering locations and discoveries of any mineral you can think of (not just gemmy material). Its strange name comes from a French priest and curator of the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Many people call it 'hauynite' because that’s easier to pronounce.

    Hauyne melees are a bit cheaper than neon spinel, clocking in at about 20-30% of the price of the latter. The problem with hauyne is that it has limited use in jewelry. With a hardness of 5-6, the material can easily break when not set into a soft metal such as 18 kt yellow gold. Just like with rhodochrosite, you cannot file the prongs into tips after setting, and you have to pre-bend one prong and slide the gem in, then gently bend the other prongs. Another drawback for hauyne is that the prongs cannot touch the stone (but it also shouldn’t rattle). As a result, the slightest deformation of the jewelry piece will make the gems come out (especially with tiny prong set gems). Bezel setting hauyne is nearly impossible and pave setting causes a lot of breakage (figure on 10%). We always keep a few extra stones in most sizes in case clients do not buy sufficient amounts for setting, and occasionally I have to turn down a setting job when I have sold out of all spares in that size. Hauyne cannot be steamed with too much pressure, as any polishing wheels that are too stiff will scratch the table of the gem. So while I carry hauyne and do occasionally have access to larger stones of ¼ carat or so, I do not want to sell you that size. At the current price tag of up to 10K/ct retail I do not think it advisable to carry them if I also have to offer setting. Who wants to spend 2.5K on a stone that will break? I wouldn’t.

    Cobalt spinel, by contrast, has a hardness of close to 8, so the likelihood that a colored stone setter will break it is fairly low. A diamond setter can easily break it of course so when you consult a setter, pick the right one! Most setters are diamond setters because most jewelry is diamond jewelry and diamond setters have very little experience with colored stones except maybe ruby, sapphire or emerald, so do keep that in mind. The other good thing about cobalt spinel is that it doesn’t have any problematic cleavage like kyanite which tends to split in half if a prong is pushed over it along the cleavage lines instead of against it.

    In my experience there are two color hues of neon cobalt spinel and one of them is very similar to hauyne. This is a medium vibrant blue that can look almost 100% like hauyne. It is lightly included, which probably enhances the neon color, and occasionally very poorly cut (at least the Vietnamese pieces). The other hue is slightly darker, cleaner, with a wee bit of secondary purple – which turns into a strong purple under incandescent light, so you also get the color change effect.

    That is probably my favorite color but the market often demands more money for the more vibrant and slightly included kind. I have seen Mahenge and Luc Yen blue in the more included color and the deeper color tends to come just from Luc Yen (as far as I know, anyway).

    There are also lighter colors of cobalt spinel, i.e., a color I would call “powder blue”, it is a very similar tone to the included neon color but lighter and less saturated. You can find this one in our Etsy shop here.

    It is not quite as expensive but not cheap either because it still has significant cobalt content. I love that color a lot also and I think that no sapphire looks quite like it. (And now that I said that, no sapphire looks like Jedi cobalt spinel or hauyne, as even the best specimens aren’t that neon.). The sapphire below is on Etsy here. Please contact us directly about the cobalt spinels in the image. 

    And finally there are those cobalt spinels who also have a lot of iron content and are more greyish as a result. As you may have noticed, all spinel, now that it has gone mainstream, has significantly increased in price in the last decade. It was made popular by the famous Mahenge find, which was more neon pink than the Burmese reds but quite gorgeous in its own right. Now depleted, attention has turned to other pinks, then the less intriguing grey Burma spinel which is now pretty much finished also. Grey spinel was a biproduct of the more popular pink and red colors and for years it was stockpiled to train cutters with material that could then be discarded. Yes: once upon a time nobody cared about grey spinel. Until a market opened up for it, that is. Now the stockpiles are down and the newer greys are produced in Mozambique. Burmese material is pretty much out of reach, probably largely due to political reasons, though one does hear rumors that there’s not much being mined either. Vietnam spinel continues to be mined but new diffusion and heat treatments are being detected after export and some of my vendors have ceased trying to bring Vietnam spinel to market. The Mahenge find is already partly depleted as it was only one pocket for now, although efforts are ongoing to find more. In the meantime, those who have stockpiled the blues, waiting for the right time to release them, are making them available now until they are sold down.

    A final note on the new treatments: I started to hear about heat treatment being effective for spinel about two years ago, and diffusion treatment being successful about one year ago. Efforts to make these treatments work have been made for at least 10 years and may very well have been going on for longer. Since laboratories often lag behind a little in their detection methods or uses for particular gems, it can take a while before these treatments are found in reports or before tests for them are even suggested.

    As you can imagine, you cannot trademark a gem treatment in Vietnam (for example), so the way people get an edge on the market is to keep their methods secret and push out as much material as possible until the secret gets out and the treatment is replicated elsewhere, at which point the price for that material drops. That’s pretty much how it works, and it is important for any gem seller but also collector to remain aware of these changes.

    As you may know, blue is my favorite color. Mostly I love turquoise blue, like Paraibas, or greenish blues, but I also love vibrant and neon blues with or without purple tint, such as cobalt and royal blue (in sapphire for instance). I have more to offer in cobalt than I have on Etsy so if you want anything let me know. I have two current sources and some private stock, and I continue to invest because I believe it is worth the price. There are no guarantees ever in this market, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but with most of these rarer varieties of colored stones, even a new find can be small and is quickly depleted. You have to play the long game. Most people in this trade put away what doesn’t sell for a while, let the market recover and wait for it to be popular again, then put it out until it’s gone. “Sooner or later everything sells.” That is the motto.

     

     

     

     

     

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    What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Stay There!

    What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Stay There!

    This is probably the first question you have and so I will answer it right away: Yes. Prices are up. And if what everyone says is true, they are staying up. I found my costs to have increased for most gems (with two exceptions that we will discuss) but in particular, for the market leaders: blue sapphire, Colombian emerald, Burma, Madagascar and Mozambique ruby. As you already know, compared to the diamond market, any colored gem is a rarity; and when the market starts to demand colored stones in quantity, this creates a bottleneck.

    The first place where I noticed a change was with sapphires: a few years ago I had a call for an emerald cut sapphire, no heat, about 1 carat and a nice vibrant royal blue. The client rejected a few pieces initially but has since asked me on occasion to keep on the lookout for a piece for her. The budget she provided is at this point not enough for wholesale, never mind any kind of markup on my side.

    On my last day at the show someone nearly bought out my favorite vendor, purchasing over 100 gem jars of just blue sapphire. One should be happy about such a sale, but his concern was how to then produce more for the next show. The mantra I heard over and over again was how impossible it now is to repurchase the inventory even at the prices at which the current inventory has sold. One vendor reported that each time there is an auction in Bangkok for gemstone rough, prices are up by 20%. (Another example: A fine quality no heat Burma ruby will now retail at 20k/ct for a one carat piece with a cert. And a fine quality red Burmese spinel can even wholesale for that much, but the market for Jedi reds has gone totally dry so there's nothing to buy anyway.)

    I also had a call for an emerald from Colombia, an oval. Prices have doubled since I was in Colombia last May. And because there is now high demand for certified emeralds, in particular those certified minor oil or less (even for gems under a carat) many vendors are sending all their inventory to the labs and are rolling those added costs into the stones, raising the premium on anything certed minor or less. In the past, I didn’t see a lot of certified Colombian emeralds because 99% of them are heavily oiled anyway and this was well known among dealers, so why bother sending them to the lab. But now everyone is gunning for that top 1%, creating a wider price gap between standard oil and minor and above. Unheated sapphires used to cost 30% more than heated ones, now they cost twice as much, again probably because they are so rare and consumers now care for them a lot more than they did even 5 years ago.

    While the show was not a success for everyone, the mood was not low. “What doesn’t sell this year for this year’s prices will sell next year for more” is what many people were saying. One seller told me that he is not even showing his unheated rubies this year because he felt that the inventory was underpriced, so he would rather hold back for a few months and then reprice everything to get it up to market at that time.

    The market is going through an adjustment, and everyone recognizes that, so people are willing to wait it out and then reprice their goods. Other vendors were pushing for a fast turnover, especially for smaller stones (i.e. one carat and below, unless they are super rare like cobalt spinel). The idea is to sell them off and then start fresh at new prices in a few months. The Greenland ruby company I was going to buy from didn’t display at the show at all, despite having rented the booth without an option for a refund: “not enough inventory,” their U.S. rep told me over the phone when I asked why I couldn’t find their booth. It would not surprise me if next time they vend in the U.S., which will be Tucson 2024, prices will be different.

    It is not just cost of rough material that is up, it is also labor prices. It used to cost $1 to cut a small stone (3mm and below), one seller told me. Now it costs $4. This is actually a good development, if buying ethical stones is what you are hoping for, because it means that people who cut the gems are getting paid better – and I assume ethical buyers want wages to be fair because that is part of what ethical gemstones entail.

    Demand for ethically sourced gems means that gem dealers must consider spending more time (and money) on proper sourcing, fair wage cutting and transparency in disclosure. Bringing a murky international market with little government oversight up to those standards isn’t cheap, but it is an effort to be applauded, not criticized. Consumers are asking for that, and the trade is listening. Organic foods go for up to twice as much money as regular food, and gems with pedigree cost more too. This is as it should be as far as I am concerned.

    So did prices for everything increase? As I said above, no, not quite everything. Russian demantoids are one such case. The Russian sellers I work with have had to sponsor production since Covid, with very difficult selling conditions because of the war. Flights from Russia must go through the countries that allow planes from Russia to land: Turkey, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, among others. The inventory, meanwhile, is first exported to Hong Kong (with shipping going through intermediary countries as well). And in Russia, it is expensive to obtain the permits and paperwork to do the mining in the first place. As a result, there’s a bit of an overstock situation right now and prices are the same as they have been in the last five years. (I need to hedge here: I don’t know that much about prices for gems above two carats as I do not have much demand for those. I am going by prices for smaller goods).

    Also, my benitoite dealer supplied me with my usual small parcel at the same prices as he had in February. There has been a small increase in the past year, but not more than 15% and that is not much for a gem that is completely mined out, yet in high demand. My dealers, who are the owners of the remaining rough, have gone through all of the small material and now they remove the host rock from larger pieces with acid, a dangerous proposition that has to be done outdoors and requires inordinate amounts of baking soda to neutralize it. Each larger rock they soak is a crapshoot: sometimes there’s something gemmy in there, sometimes not.

    Now, let me tell you a bit about what I actually acquired:

    I bought a lot of sapphire melees again, including 4mm hexagon pairs, kites, pear pairs, small ovals and a lot more that I have to go through. All those prices were up only about 20% from the whole year, but the sellers told me in no uncertain terms that once the production is sold out, they cannot cut more at those prices. I expect that market to double in the next couple of years once the current productions are moved out.

    Hexagon pair above currently in the shop here

    Paraiba prices went up a lot in 2021 and the first half of 2022. Right now, they are stable with a small upward trickle. I spoke only to two vendors, one of them is my standard NY supplier but their offerings are down to very little. The other is a company that has claims to a mining area in Brazil and they run a big production. Smaller stuff is coming out, larger stuff is rare. I bought only one piece, which is going into a ring that you will see in a few weeks. I still have smaller stock available.

    I have a few surprises in store for you but I need to have them batch tested and also get mini certs for ‘no heat’ to make sure you are getting what I was told I was buying. Several will be sapphires. I expect most of it to come out just fine but it is best to double check when in doubt. I even bought two diamonds this time, both fancy yellow VS, one of them an amazing marquis. Again though I feel you need the cert for them and it’s only $65 with GIA so it will not break the bank for me or for you when you buy them from me.

    My favorite purchase this time around was actually cobalt spinel (again). This material, despite the astronomical prices, is getting very popular in the market, and so I figured I should go “long” as they say in the stock market. Also, I cannot help myself, I just love (love love) the stuff. Please inquire about these as I am not sure I will list them on Etsy anytime soon. Most people who have cobalts are actually hoarding them right now.

    More to come as time permits! Happy shopping. Please inquire about any of my other purchases in the meantime.

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    Glamor, Glitz & Gems: JCK Las Vegas

    Glamor, Glitz & Gems: JCK Las Vegas

    I almost decided not to go. Flight and hotel together will run me 2K, never mind food and drink, plus I had to buy a portable coffee maker. For those who may not be aware, Las Vegas hotel rooms, (even fancy ones!), do not have coffee machines or refrigerators. They want you to go downstairs so you are close to the casinos, and they want you to spend money! It’s so annoying because I answer many queries in the morning in my pajamas with coffee or tea next to the bed. In Vegas this means I have to schlep downstairs and stand in line with dozens of other show attendees who are not there to gamble, many of them in their pajamas as well!

    Seriously, though, I also considered not going because I wasn’t sure if I had a long enough list for purchases. Not all my Tucson material is even processed yet even though this year is less sluggish than the last. But then again, I really can’t just skip it, can I? And I really can’t - because of the Russian demantoids, the benitoites and the Greenland rubies.

    Those are among the things I have to buy there or in Tucson, because the inventory is not in NY and the owners of those pretties do not come to the U.S. otherwise.

    Demantoid

    There’s good news and bad news about demantoid. The bad news first: I have not seen the vendor I used to work with (and who made the yellow to dark green ombres) since February 2020, back when none of us knew what would happen next. He lives in Moscow, and they’ve not had it easy. First Covid, now a travel ban, grounded airlines etc.  

    The good news is that there is one other demantoid vendor who does come here (there are probably just three total in the world, everyone else buys second hand). I forgot how these guys do it, I know you cannot fly direct anymore as most airports do not allow Russian planes to land. They are friends with my original vendor and specialize in nothing but demantoid from the Urals and the prices of both vendors are exactly the same. There are more or less two available colors: apple green and emerald green.

    In melee sizes the emerald green is roughly 2x the price of the apple green. In larger sizes you see all the greens, with the brownish or more included pieces being more reasonable than the top-grade stuff. Should you want a larger demantoid, now would be the time to let us know because after that, I will see them again in 2024 in Tucson.

    Benitoite

    Most of you know this already: the small company that bought up all the benitoite rough several years ago cuts and sells only 3x a year, and only in private meetings to a small set of people, less than a couple of dozen. I do not know most of the other buyers and the sellers really do keep their meetings confidential, spacing them apart so you do not know who else has access. Some of the buyers are private collectors, others are resellers like me. I get about 12-15 boxes each time, most of them are matched sets of 5 or 6 of the same size melees, or they are shaded ombres of 5 pieces (or 6 with an orange). The orange colors are heated blue pieces but very few are produced because the material has to be exceptionally clean or it will break during the heating process. The blues are popular too, so it is difficult for them to gauge how many oranges to produce.

    I always ask for matched pairs or larger single pieces but the production above .25 carats is miniscule. The largest pieces I get these days are .2 carats or so. But I acquired a few more in a trade so you will see additional pieces listing in the next few months. And I may be able to buy morevin Denver, if they decide they have enough material to come there in September (yes I am definitely going as I really like Denver. I just don’t like Vegas, plus I get an AirBnB in Denver which is so much more relaxing).

    Greenland Ruby

    While the Greenland Ruby company does have an office in New York, they do not keep any inventory there. It has to be shipped from Europe, and they basically just ship what you ask to see, and that creates a lot of buying pressure. Since I curate gems and don’t just buy ‘off the rack’ so to speak, that doesn’t really work for me. I want to see all the inventory and pick the best, so I have to buy at the shows.

    The rubies below are all available in the store as of the time of writing. Click here to take a look. 

    Prices are also very good, especially compared to unheated, but even compared to low temp rubies, which I normally buy. I was hesitant at first but the flux heat is permanent and it improves the material significantly (if my information is correct, the Greenland material is not usable unless it is enhanced with flux heat). You can read up on how they do things here: greenlandruby.gl. They sell pink sapphires as well, obviously. If you want to have information on larger pieces before I go, I am a registered buyer with them and have access to the wholesale site with pricing.

    And that’s it?

    No but these three are the reasons I am going in the first place. I think I will be able to get more blue Mahenge spinel and I have also heard of lighter steel blue colors coming from the same region, and those sound interesting. I have not seen them in person yet.

    Click here to see the ones we currently have in the shop that are featured in the graphic below. 

    Blue Mahenge spinel oval pair and single pear shape

    Another one of my regular vendors showed me some very nice smaller Mozambique spinel that I want to buy more of - I just had three pieces but they sold in a flash. I have my eye on a heated Vietnamese ruby but it may get graded as a pink sapphire; it’s a recent purchase and I am hoping I will have information from AGL before I make a decision on that one.

    Finally, another melees vendor should be there, they had really pretty and very small purple sapphires last year. Hopefully I can find those again! Also, the company that sells the kites and hexagon sapphires will be there. They also sell baguettes, triangles, trillions (they were out in February so hopefully…), all material from Madagascar. I hope to restock on all those.

    More when I get there, of course. Stay tuned on all of our channels! 

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    Gem Hunts and the Law of Diminishing Returns: How and When to Compromise

    Gem Hunts and the Law of Diminishing Returns: How and When to Compromise

    I’m sure you have noticed this too but prices in the gem world have been nuts lately, and while the increases seem to have leveled off, decreases are not to be expected. More people are buying colored gems now, and ground level (where the gems are mined) has pushed prices up, while demand is not keeping up, or prices would be lower! So, how can you still win when no matter how close you get to the source, prices are not deflating? Let me tell you how I handle my buying, and maybe this will be helpful to you.

    First, a more minor point: don’t get too scared about prices being higher than you are used to. The first rule in any kind of trading or investment is that if you are buying in a rising market, the initial cost is much less of a big deal. As a retail buyer, you may need to keep the gems longer but that is true for any kind of investment, even if you are buying stocks on the internet as a private individual rather than a bank or investment company that has a higher buy in. Focus on what is going to happen, not what did happen. The first hamburger McDonald’s sold cost 15 cents. Yours won’t.

    With this issue out of the way, let’s look at how to compromise when you are buying gems. And how NOT to. Let’s start with the three most important aspects of colored gems and how to order them: Color, Cut/Shape, Clarity. Then let’s take into consideration origin and treatment.

    Color

    So here is where I do not compromise. Because the first thing you see in a gem is the color. You see it before the inclusions, and before you ascertain the shape. A brightly colored gem can be seen from across the room and out of the corner of the eye, and you will get pleasure mostly from the color. If you don’t like the color, you will fall out of love with the gem. We react strongly to color, all of us (yeah, even people who don’t like gems like sunsets and green meadows and flowers and the turquoise waves of a gorgeous beach). Accept it and move on. 

    This demantoid (see it here on Etsy) is lightly included but this doesn't detract from its vibrant apple-green color:

     

     

    This Greenland ruby (on Etsy here) has stunning color but there is a small white feather on the left in the photo. It's invisible to the naked eye and shows up only in magnified pictures.

    Cut/Shape

    I have to buy gems that work for my settings to make things easier for you, so I cannot always compromise on cut. Though if I could, I would. But let me be clear, I mean that I would compromise on the overall shape, not on a wonky cut. I can design around any shape whatsoever and I can adapt styles to fit shapes. Layout styles are like that, they are very adaptable, you just need the right sidestones or you need to place the center a different way, like East - West. You can accommodate a long marquis or fat pear shape and still make a nice ring. If I had free choice, I would just forget shape altogether.

    I would not forget about cutting, although you don’t need top quality cutting unless that’s sort of what pulls you in (all my cutter friends prioritize cut over color, which makes sense). You don’t want window, but don’t forget that richly colored stones obscure window, and then it’s ok. You don’t want to see it, that’s what matters. That should be sufficient if you need to save. Ignore tilt window, it is standard in many cuts and with lighter gems. And consider that some gems, i.e., pigeon blood ruby, are cut with some window because otherwise the gem is too dark.

    I would also ignore extinction because most of the time you see the gem when it’s moving and then your eye will not be drawn to it. Real window though cannot be ignored, and a stone that is too dark can’t be ignored either (so in that sense, extinction is relevant).

    Clarity

    This is where the law of diminishing returns comes in. For a loupe clean gem you can pay up to double per carat. And who needs that? I don’t. In fact, when I judge gems at first pass I do not loupe them. For me, a loupe is used to confirm pricing, and to rule out inclusions that affect setting. 


    This round chrysoberyl (here on Etsy) looks silky to the naked eye but, when louped, there are small inclusions. The price is a steal given the size and the almost neon color. 

    Remember I offer to set all stones that I sell so it is in my own best interest to make sure they can handle setting. That’s why I don’t sell apatite or Mexican fire opal, and only smaller rhodochrosites. Vendors that sell only gems need not be concerned with that, and often they aren’t, or they don’t know how to look for that because they don’t make jewelry. So the job falls to me as a gem seller and jeweler. It is in my own best interest not to acquire stones like that. But for instance, a Paraiba can be included, even slightly windowed if it has enough color, it can be a marquis or pear, and all that will make it more reasonable to acquire. Just no scary inclusions.

    Origin

    This is a bit of a matter of taste. If you want a Burma ruby then you can’t compromise. But if another origin is just as beautiful to you, then why not get another origin? For example, a blue Madagascar sapphire can often look very similar to a Ceylon Sapphire, and initially even labs were confused because they did not have enough comparison data when Mada stones first hit the market. Mozambique rubies are often redder than Burmese rubies, and they cost less. More Mozambique rubies will be deemed pigeon blood than Burma, and a nicer alternative to Burma if you ask me is Afghanistan. They look more similar to my eye than Mozambique and Burma rubies do. Precisely because origin affects price, I often go with an unusual origin if I think I can find better quality.

    A sidebar here on Paraiba. The reason I do not buy many Mozambique Paraiba is precisely because I feel that the price is not justified. The color is often not the same as Brazilian, even though many Mozambique gems are cleaner. And the prices are not always lower, so for me it’s not a win-win. There are exceptions but as a rule, I favor more included Brazilian stones because of the intense color.

    Treatment

    This could be a blog in itself but let me just touch on a few things really quickly so you get at least a sense. If treatment is not durable, that is an issue. Some zircons that are heat treated revert their color, especially the peach and brown tones. A heavily oiled emerald may start showing fissures and cracks later. Same with a Paraiba. They are also not stable for setting, steam or ultrasonic. Heat treated sapphires, on the other hand, will be cheaper, often glowier and more neon blue. At that point I would say that is a personal choice, but if the price is right and you love the stone I’d say go for it. Personally, I would buy a heated blue sapphire for keeps. But not a heavily oiled emerald. And no diffusion treatment or glass filling, though that is simply because at that point you are looking at very low value gems.

    The main thing is that you pay the right price for what you are buying (therefore, on occasion, you will need a lab report to verify origin or treatment, and therefore price). And treatment affects price, just like everything else.

    Ok that was a lot, as usual. Perhaps let’s boil it down to its simplest terms. Don’t compromise on color, do compromise on shape, and determine if you like it without a loupe. Double check price and rule out problems with the loupe. Must have that flawless stone? I think that often it’s not worth it. I’ll get you flawless stones if you want them, I just personally don’t think it’s necessary, especially if you need to be on a budget and you are not trading in gems for a living!

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    Why Small Gems Rock, No Pun Intended

    Why Small Gems Rock, No Pun Intended

    Everyone wants big gems. I know this all too well because I get asked for bigger almost every day – and I get to dish out a case of sticker shock almost every day, too. And yet I keep buying small gems. Under half a carat, under a quarter even, with 3mm sizes being pretty much my favorite. Many of the larger gems in my shop are ‘on memo’, meaning I borrow them for a few weeks or a few months, depending on privilege with the vendor, until they either go home with you or back to the owner.

    Of course, one reason why I do this is financial. If I buy three small gems versus one large gem, I spread my risk out more. I have built up enough connections over the years so I can source larger gems as needed, borrow them long enough to show to clients, and I am trusted to reimburse the vendor should something happen (rule: never borrow what you can’t afford to lose).

    But there are other, almost more important reasons, to go small. Let me give you two. The first one you may not guess but is incredibly important to me. And incredibly obvious once it’s said.

    FACET SIZE

    A diamond cut diamond (or other gem) has 58 facets. A really big diamond cut diamond also has 58 facets and a very small diamond cut diamond also has 58 facets. Diamond cuts are not my favorite (not enough bling for colored stones), but they are a great example to make my point: large gems have large facets, small gems have small facets. That is almost universal. Portuguese cuts have more facets, sometimes many more facets, but unless a cutter really feels like playing around, you again have larger facets on larger gems. And facets are what make them bling, scintillate, make the light bounce around, reflect. It just makes the gems prettier!

    A well cut 3mm cobalt spinel or Paraiba tourmaline can, in my opinion, outperform a larger gem of the same cut because it can have so much more sparkle. This is especially true when you go to very large gems, by which I mean something like 4 or 5 carats and up.

    But what, you might object, can I do with a mini gem? The answer lies in the second reason for going small.

    CLUSTER DESIGNS

    While somewhat out of fashion these days, they are my personal favorite, as you can see with many of the designs I carry in the shop. I design cluster style, make color coordinated layouts, and when you start there, the possibilities are endless, as is witnessed by so much of the jewelry of the 1920s and 1930s, which heavily made use of these styles.

    For a cluster design you need a center that is 3-5mm, and you can surround it with gems that are equal in size to the center stone or slightly smaller, filling gaps with diamonds if needed.

    Contrast that with a larger stone design: what options do you have here? It boils down to three:

    Solitaire
    Three stone
    Halo

    Am I right? In a solitaire, you have one color. That’s boring if you ask me. Three stone rings are ok, so are five stone rings, but they are often interesting because they have a bed of color if seen from the top, and a fun gallery. Galleries are not the reason why I make rings. I care most about the top view because I like seeing colors in an interesting geometry. Plus I bang my rings around, so they can’t really be high, and that rules out the gallery. Finally, many of the modern designs use a large center and .5-1mm diamonds, which I find too tiny and, honestly, a bit skimpy. Diamonds aren’t cheap, but many of my personal favorite gems actually cost the same as diamond melee or more. Also, colored gems are hard to cut that small, being softer than diamonds. And once you get to 1.5mm gems surrounding a 4mm gem say, then you are getting closer to a cluster design.

    Speaking of design, there’s one more reason why I like smaller gems.

    PAVE SETTING

    1mm to 4mm gems lend themselves very well to pave setting, and that’s hands down my favorite style. Pave is harder to do, especially when the beads are not in the model, and the gems are sometimes set further apart because of the beads, but you can set almost anything in any kind of layout, and that is not the case with prongs. Pave design is almost like working with a blank canvas.

    Its drawback is that it’s easiest to make flat designs. For a gallery you must elevate the top and then build it up underneath, i.e., by using cutouts. Or you have to make a two-part ring so that the wax can flow properly during casting because the ‘pancake’ on top makes that impossible. With a prong design you can naturally use the prongs to form part of the gallery. But designing a prong ring that’s a cluster will have a lot of prongs in the way underneath and that can be a problem too.

    Our designs often feature a prong set center so that it can be the feature of the ring. We further elevate the center with a little ‘halo’ around the opening that can be millgrained. To make the design look more three dimensional, we then layer the design elements and angle them outward and down slightly to wrap around the finger. With colored gems you can make the angles steeper than with diamonds because diamonds can ‘grey out’ when seen from the top at an outward angle. Colored gems generally do not. This also gives you a lot of edges for the millgrain tool. The ring below provides a great example of this: 

    I want to close with a couple of caveats about working with smaller gems. Just like a large gem with a dark body color can seem too dark, a small gem that is too light can seem washed out. A good example is a Mandarin garnet, which I do not carry in 2mm and below for that reason. Other examples are: tanzanite, peridot, most blue zircon, aquamarine. Even Mozambique paraibas are often too light. That, by the way, is why it is fairly easy to determine their origin; Brazilian material tends to be richer in color in melee sizes, as well as more turquoise. So not all gems look great in small sizes.

    (Footnote: a pigeon blood rated ruby which is usually 80-85% saturated, is often cut with a small window to let in light, especially in larger sizes, so you either have a gem that’s not windowed but too dark or a gem that is brighter but has a window.)

    Another problem is that colored melees gems break more easily, and pave setting is tough on gems. And of course, they can abscond easily. And over time, these two issues can add up. I supply about 1 in 10 more hauyne and maybe 1 in 20 extra paraibas to my setters, mostly because they break (sometimes they come out during steaming also). And I don’t do handshots with these gems because I’m afraid to lose them.

    Have you ever lost or dropped a gem and found it in an interesting place? I have heard of a diamond flying off during cutting and ending up inside the casing of a window air conditioner. I also once dropped a ruby behind my freezer and could not get to it until we moved out. But my favorite lost gem story comes from a client, who actually vacuumed the grass in her yard because she dropped a small gem right outside the door when looking at it in natural daylight. I have vacuumed for gems many times, but never the grass. Have you?

     

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