Cecile Raley Designs

How We Source Stuff: Hunting for Gemstone Treasures

How We Source Stuff: Hunting for Gemstone Treasures

Since Cecile Raley Designs started selling gems on Etsy, the number of shops offering cut stones online has pretty much exploded.  In addition, international gem cutting centers like Jaipur, India can now sell gemstones directly to you without a “middle-man” or “retail shop.” 

Because I was always more fascinated with unusual and rare gemstones, I found myself gradually moving more in the direction of “curating” - buying and showing only special and selected gems, rather than buying and selling large mixed quality parcels.  I also never wanted to sell gems like citrine or amethyst or blue topaz because they are too ubiquitous.  If you are a treasure hunter, then ubiquitous is a bad word.  And I think of myself as a treasure hunter.

So what are the considerations for a treasure hunter?  What counts as a true gemstone treasure?

 

 

Gemstone treasures have to attract the eye.  It is a basic rule.  If you don’t like the way it looks, don’t buy it.  (Why would you buy an ugly dress?).  Certain kinds of brown dravite tourmaline are fairly rare, but it’s not a color that many people enjoy, and so it has never interested many buyers.  But both the "Jedi" red and "cobalt" blue spinel as well as the bright turquoise of Paraiba tourmaline just forces the eye to look. Alternatively, compare Namibian and Russian demantoid.  Both are rare, but Russian demantoid is significantly more eye catching because it’s not brownish or olive green.  (Sidenote: The rarest of all Russian demantoids is actually the yellowish brownish andradite garnet, and it is, nevertheless, the least expensive).

 

 

Gemstone treasures have to be rare.  Both citrine and amethyst are pretty, and some amethyst can be downright gorgeous.  But unless you consider rare origins, there’s a lot of gorgeous amethyst out there.  So even though amethyst from Russia or Morocco are now rare, they do not fetch a high market price.  Alternatively, Tanzanite is fairly available on the market despite the fact that it has only one origin.  This means that even in large sizes, Tanzanite is not as expensive as unheated sapphire in the same color.  However, single origin can make something very rare if it is not found in sufficient quantities or supplies have run out.  Such is the case with Benitoite.  Benitoite is a lovely blue similar to sapphire but it’s not neon and eye catching like hauyne or even top-quality sapphire; its value is in its rare single origin.

 

 

Gemstone treasures should not be enhanced.  Let’s face it, most of us are attracted to the pure and unadulterated.  And perhaps rightfully so.  Gemstone enhancement, i.e., heating, irradiating, oiling, are “beautification devices” that make a gem seem better than it is or to appear to be something it is not. But it also moves a stone in the rare category into something less rare, as it is a way to enable a more readily available gemstone to rival the beauty of the one that is natural.  Emerald is routinely oiled on a sliding scale, and the more oil used, the lower the price.  One reason why Afghani and Russian emeralds are so sought after is because, in addition to the rare origin, they are so clean that they need little to no oiling (even if one did oil them, very little would be absorbed by the gems because they do not have enough fissures).  On average, Colombian emeralds are not as clean and require more oiling, but the extraordinarily clean Colombian gems, which also have a neon like color, will fetch a price equal to Russian emeralds, if not higher.

Gemstone treasures have rare qualities. There are many ways to think about rare qualities of gems.  Color change is one of them and is probably the main reason why alexandrite is still valued so highly, despite its mostly “muddy” daylight appearance.  (Sidenote: we can easily source alexandrite but we prefer to market the actually rarer blue garnet which also has a much better color change and clarity).  Another rare quality of a gem is dichroism or trichroism, which makes a gem appear different colors from different angles.  Unheated tanzanite has trichroism, iolite is dichroic but unfortunately it’s secondary color is brown.  Kornerupine is trichchroic showing green, blue and lavender. 

 

14K Rose Gold Ring with Lavender Spinels

 

Do gemstone treasures have to have a good cut?  Generally, cut matters – a lot – because a good cut tends to increase how much we are attracted to a gem.  But there are two caveats to that.  One is that if the material is so rare that any bit of “weight loss” in cutting matters for value and price, it is best avoided, i.e. recutting a cushion Vietnamese spinel into a round (the gemstone rough lends itself to a cushion or long pear cut).  Rare gems do get recut, but usually the seller will increase the price accordingly so that the buyer pays the same even though the gem is now smaller.  The second caveat is that in some naturally darker or more included gems, such as Burma ruby or Colombian emerald, it’s not always necessary to cut the gem down to eliminate window or remove inclusions as the inclusions will obscure both anyway.  Finally, rare gems are almost never cut into very unusual cuts, like a kite or trapezoid or tapered baguette.  For shapes that don’t respect the crystal of the gemstone rough, it’s best to use inexpensive material.  So yes, cutting matters a lot, but to a degree only: it matters insofar as it enhances the gem, not insofar as it entices the buyer to purchase an unusual cut. 

So what are our favorites at Cecile Raley Designs?  The answer to that is probably not hard to discern given our listings.  While we try to offer a broad array of gems for design purposes, the gems closest to our heart are only a small number.  Here they are -- can you guess which of the criteria above fits these gems?  All of them fit more than one.

    1. Jedi Red and Pink Spinel
    2. Purple Unheated Sapphire
    3. Vietnamese Lavender and Lilac Spinel
    4. Bright Royal Blue Sapphire (unheated preferred but heated ok)
    5. Hauyne
    6. Cobalt Spinel
    7. Kornerupine
    8. Paraiba Tourmaline
    9. Russian & Colombian Emeralds
    10. Russian Demantoid
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2020 Kicks the Bucket. A New Year, a Fresh Start

2020 Kicks the Bucket.  A New Year, a Fresh Start

 

Well, I can say this much: 2020 has decidedly been the most bizarre year of my entire life. Granted, I haven’t been through a war; I grew up in, and live in a wealthy country, so maybe that doesn’t say much.  But BOY, do I not want to repeat these past 12 months, despite the fact that I finally had time to redo my basement.  Let’s hope for better years ahead for all of us!

While I cannot offer you a vaccine, I do hope to provide you with some distractions until the latter kicks in for everyone.  CRD starts off the new year with a new Logo, designed by The Brand Shop “The White Zebra”.  And there’s more to come: new graphics, newsletter design, banners, packaging materials, and eventually, a revamped website.  We hope for your input along the way, as we are in the midst of finalizing a questionnaire that will ask you to help us with your thoughts.  Our next newsletter will fill you in on the details.

Here are some new packaging drafts.  

After that, Tucson.  Well, kind of, as there will not be any actual Tucson shows.  Not yet anyway.  A number of the organizers are trying to put together some shows to take place later this spring but amidst uncertainties about travel, new shutdowns, and more virulent mutations of COVID, I’m not holding my breath.  But later rather than sooner, it will all be back on track. 

In the meantime, I’ve made arrangements to get some stuff shipped to me for a gem sale starting mid-January.  Having skipped the semi-annual sale so that I could go to Germany to see my mom (she was VERY happy), and so that we stand a chance of Priority Mail NOT taking 3+ weeks to arrive, we are now starting to stock up on fresh gems for your perusal.  Listings are starting to roll out this week.

Rosette Pendant — zircon, sapphire & kornerupine

Also, for the first and perhaps the only time ever, we will have a Valentine’s jewelry sale in February.  We usually don’t have that because we are too busy with Tucson.  But this past fall, we created a lot more finished jewelry than in previous years and we were surprised at how well it sold, so we will make a push for more stud earrings which had record sales in November and December, more stacking rings, more pendants and statement rings.  New designs are on the way, and we continue to grow our Stuller collection in particular, with stud earrings that include shapes for which we have no proprietary designs.

Spinel Baguettes in Stuller Prong Settings

So. What new gemmy stuff can you expect?  Well, there have to be some surprises, but let me give you a hint.  One will be a type of spinel you have not seen on the market from an old find that has been freshly cut, and the other will be a gemstone cut you have not seen, at least not in colored gemstones (hint, the cut does exist in the diamond world).  Both will be an exclusive to my shop, both are Limited Editions. 

Second, I’m calling the Cecile Raley Designs colors for the year: green and lavender.  You’ve seen a lot of those colors already but you will see more.  More emeralds, from Russia and Afghanistan and Colombia, and more lavenders and purples (spinel, sapphire, and anything else I can dig up).  I will also offer some additional jewelry designs in those colors.  From what I have heard, the color of the year in the gemstone industry is a buttery yellow.  Eww.  Sorry.  I love butter, but it’s not going to work for me as anything but butter.  And we don’t sell that.  Green and lavender it is.

Custom Design, Emerald and Sapphire
Custom Design, Tourmaline, Emerald and Sapphire

In further developments, I’m negotiating a fresh batch of Benitoite, hoping for larger pieces but with prices being rather unpleasant, I will see what I can offer.  Same with more Burmese spinels.

More Paraiba melee are on the way to me as well, and some smaller single pieces, though I can’t offer many larger gems.  Demand continues to outstrip the measly supply, and those vendors who still have fine quality pieces are charging through the nose.

While I haven’t had much luck with selling diamonds, I want to continue to dabble in offering them because there’s so much interesting stuff out there that’s not, well, round and white.  I love the different available cuts, especially rare ones, and I love naturally colored diamonds. 

Any suggestions on your part?  Please don’t hesitate to let us know!

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Fortune Favors the Brave: Treasures Unearthed at The Denver Show During a Pandemic

Fortune Favors the Brave: Treasures Unearthed at The Denver Show During a Pandemic

Somewhat belatedly, here’s my review from the Denver gem shows:

I arrived two days before the shows started because I was given a "Vendor Pass" so that I could get into the show at the Crowne Plaza during setup day.  This was so that I could pick gems in peace without crowding and so that I could get the best picks.  Dudley had reserved some parcels of demantoid garnet for me from his secret stash, so I was able to secure some unheated pairs and a few carats of the deep vibrant greens in 2mm rounds.  He also recut some spinel that I had gotten in Madagascar but didn’t know quite what to do with. Finally, Dudley had set aside some recut cobalt spinel but those are already sold out. Apparently, those were acquired some time ago but were very poorly cut so he had to have them reprocessed (and ended up tossing a bunch that was useless), and was able to make new parcels. 

In addition to those buys, I got more Russian emeralds along with lavender, purple and blue sapphires (the blues are mainly heated just because there’ve been requests for the popping colors). I bought a few spinels as well, some white sapphire kites (so cute — especially for earrings), and a few other odds and ends. 

I went to pay a visit to New Era Gems as well but there was not much new material. Apparently, Steve, the owner, had traveled to Thailand in February and has since been stuck there, so there are no new goods, or not very much. 

I saw one of my opal dealers and got several black opals, all cut in Australia. This, too, was the result of someone getting stuck somewhere due to COVID-19. This is my US opal guy from upstate NY, not the Aussie guy whom I have not seen since February (but who is doing well, I hear).  My US opal guy got stuck in Australia for 4 months. He essentially traveled around illegally because they were on shutdown and there were considerably high fines for traveling during the shutdown (starting at $1000 for the first offense). Along with many others, he mined illegally in small groups in the outback.  He cut his gems there as well, which he doesn’t normally do, but I gathered from his enthusiasm about getting stuck, that it was overall a very positive experience. Now his mom and dad have him back and I think they are pleased. Younger people are always up for the experience of course, and in the outback with so few others around, I guess the risk of getting caught was reasonably low.

Finally, I went to my benitoite vendor and got some newly processed material. He explained that after Tucson, when everything shut down, his rough ended up stuck in China for some time but he finally got some shipments again. He had bought his benitoite rough several years ago when the mines were still active. He works up several carats each show and parcels them out in small batches, so he doesn’t run out (since the mines are all closed now). I think that’s a smart move. Prices for those melees stay fairly constant as does supply, as very few buyers only get a few boxes every few months. The same vendor also has Rhodochrosite and he explained that the Sweet Home mines are producing a bit again after a new pocket was found. Those gems are super soft though, so I am always reluctant to buy them, but as long as I don’t have to set them for you I am happy to get more. The best way to set them is with yellow gold or platinum and then two prongs pushed down before sliding them in sideways, then bending the other two prongs gently. They are definitely not good for rings.

I have attached a video for you that I took with Dudley on my last day there.  He talks quite a bit about the state of the industry.  In Dudley’s view, there will be long term consequences for the gem industry, and many of the gem dealers and jewelers who were just hanging on might not make it.  Dudley talked about his future travel plans, his views about Tucson 2021, and at the end there is a very interesting bit about how he met his "family" in Ratnapura Sri Lanka, how he groomed them to become his suppliers, and where things stand nowadays.  Dudley talks very quickly so there are a lot of little bits in between, for instance about how he got started buying unheated gems and more.  Enjoy watching.

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The Show Must Go On: Vegas in New Jersey

The Show Must Go On: Vegas in New Jersey

As advertised in our previous newsletter, we have decided that even though the Las Vegas show is cancelled, we will source some fun new product for you and have our annual Vegas sale anyway!  To be honest, we are all starting to get antsy here in the epicenter.  New York vendors are slowly going back to their offices a couple of days a week, though they do not take personal appointments.  Many of the buildings are open so that those who have rented space to operate small workshops can go in, access their safes, their machinery, and to receive/make shipments.  They have to make rent, if nothing else!  And while I very much miss physical gem shopping, I confess I am seriously “over” Vegas.  Gambling is boring to me, the food is overpriced, and its waaaay too hot! 

So, instead of Vegas shopping, I am doing it virtually, like most of you.  Overseas packages are trickling in, and my vendors are sending me emails, texts, or WhatsApp video for me to peruse.  They all know my taste, and I know their product, so I’ve arranged with a handful of them to get some brand sparkling new inventory!  Some of it will be on short term memo, some long term memo, and some of it I will purchase outright. 

As you read this blog, I have a favor to ask: if there’s anything you would like to see, tell me asap, as some of these packages are coming to me in the next few days.  As I am getting shipments for “selection” (meaning not yet memo and I pick what I want to buy), I can show you items without you needing to commit right away!  But please act fast.  Additionally, if you are getting private photos from me of gems that may get returned to the vendor, I ask for your discretion in sharing them so that if the material goes to another seller at a later point, that person does not feel undercut.  Because yes, rare goods don’t necessarily get pitched by one person so all of us sellers have to be respectful of that.  Whatever is on my website, on the other hand, is exclusive to our shop and public.

And what, you may ask, am I getting?...  Here’s an overview for you:

Paraibas: despite previous indications to the contrary, a small parcel made it from Hong Kong to NY and a subset of that parcel is arriving here shortly.  I get to make a very quick pick and then I have to turn around the parcel and ship it back so others can pick as well.  I’m getting faceted gems only as the cabochons don’t seem to be moving in my shop.  And Brazilian only, none of that overpriced Mozambique material...

Custom Ring Featuring Paraiba and Sapphires
Green and Blue Paraiba Pendant

Ceylon Sapphire: I hit a home run a few of weeks go with three nice bright blue rounds flying out of the shop at record speed!  So I’m getting a few more, as well as some matched pairs.  I’m keeping sizes a bit smaller so that these don’t become big ticket items for you in this ever-changing world.  I’ve asked for purples and lavenders as well, but there aren’t pairs coming, just single slightly larger gems. 

Pink Sapphire and Silver Spinel Ring
Ceylon Sapphire

Other sapphire: I’ve asked for some Montanas and some smaller Madagascan 4x3 pear shapes.  I will see what turns up, as that package is being prepared for me now.

Tanzanite: one of my vendors has old stock of unheated material as well as some nicer rich colored blues, I’m getting a little of that and I am getting more purple garnet.

Spinel: As always, this category has to be broken up into locations, as each is unique.

  • Mahenge: I’ve asked for some but I do not know what’s coming. It will be a surprise to you and me both.
  • Mozambique: that’s the silky looking pink stuff, there will be some singles available.
  • Burmese: there’s some melee coming my way, and I have asked for one or two bigger stones but that is still being negotiated.  I will have a few red round pairs available in the 3.5-4mm range, and some more singles in 2-3mm.
  • Vietnamese, my new favorite: yes coming, possibly more single pieces.  Lilacs, lavenders, and I think down the line (later in June) a little surprise in a reasonable price category.  (Nope, I’m not giving it away!)
  • Cobalt: possibly, there’s some material being recut and I am waiting to hear if and how it will make its way to the US from Bangkok (it’s in with a larger parcel of color change garnet I had bought in Madagascar that needed recutting).  Same on hauyne (the other cobalt spinel, lol).  I get approached about that stuff through various channels, so if someone has it I usually find out.  But that too is a “still in the works” thing and may not happen right now.
Hauyne Custom Ring with Paraiba
Hauyne and Pink Sapphire Layout

Emerald: my New York connection for Colombian material just sent me photos of some nice matched pairs, and a single round is waiting to be listed.  Since I can’t go to Colombia right now and probably won’t until next spring, I will stick with my previous source.  He’s always had excellent material and prices anyway.  Some Russian material is making it to me as well.  

Custom Ring with Russian and Afghani Emeralds

In further news, I am still hoarding some Tucson gems that you may see online or you can request private photos: there’s a little bit of Benitoite and some more Demantoid Garnet.  I have not listed either because I will not get more until next year, most likely. 

Ok that’s all for now, folks.  To be continued!  Stay well, stay safe.

 

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Greetings from Chilly Tucson!

Greetings from Chilly Tucson!
Updates on Yvonne's gem buying trip to the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show!  Find out what she's finding as soon as she gets it -- and there's still time to let her know what she can purchase just for you! Continue reading

Pack your Virtual Bags: You’re Coming to Tucson with Us!

Pack your Virtual Bags: You’re Coming to Tucson with Us!

Hooker Emerald Brooch

Hooker Emerald Brooch, designed by Tiffany & Co, previously exhibited at Tucson Gem & Mineral Show & worth $5,000,000 USD!!!

I can't believe how quickly the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show is coming around this year: I got back from Germany last Thursday night, where I spent a lot of quality time with my mom, and then I realized: I leave in THREE WEEKS!  I changed my Tucson travel dates this year because several shows start before my big ones (i.e. AGTA and GJX shows.) The AGTA gives booths only to their own vendors, and the GJX has a long waiting list to get a spot, so gem dealers like my opal vendors and some of my spinel vendors attend some of these other shows instead.

Here then is the big question: is there really anything new this year?  How’s this even possible?  Well it actually is possible thanks to new finds, such as a spinel find in Vietnam last summer; with lucky buys from my vendors, and with lucky buys from yours truly, those will arrive from overseas in February.

Let’s start with, well, ME.  As my friend Jochen from Jentsch Minerals was just in Madagascar, I bought some high quality grandidierite through him.  This time the gems are a bit larger, but not so big that they will break the bank.  On my WhatsApp the colors looked juicy and the gems sparkly, but my friend Gael is still learning to take adequate video (and admittedly he doesn’t have a state-of-the-art cell phone).  

In other ways, too, my “Tucson buying” has already started, as several of my vendors have given me the opportunity to make pre-show selections.  I have several boxes of Burma spinel melees on my desk already.  You will see these roll out in the next three weeks.  If these move well, I may stock up!

 

I have also negotiated to buy up an old production of Vietnamese lavender and lilac spinel pear shapes, small sizes, good for earrings, stacking rings, and I will come up with some other designs for them as well.  I will be able to price those fairly reasonably.  I was hoping for more lilacs and neon pinks in other sizes but right now that market is wiped clean.  But, some larger purples and lavenders are an option for me.  I’ve seen most of what will be presented via WhatsApp, it’s just a question of what I want to put aside...These pieces would be more expensive though, figure on several thousand for one piece since they also weigh a couple of carats, so it multiplies out in two ways (price and carat weight).

Related to this, I of course, keep getting asked about paraiba.  Having scoured this market for years, this is what I know: there are about 6 decent paraiba vendors in all of Tucson.  One or two are Brazilian with outrageous prices and they don’t allow you to memo gems.  I don’t buy there.  I wouldn’t be able to offer a return and the price would be high for that.  There’s another vendor, not Brazilian, who has top (top top top) quality pieces but those are in the 30K and up range, so I haven’t ever bought those.  But, they are amazing!  Another vendor from the US used to have stuff but he’s fairly sold down and I’ve passed on the rest.  The final two with anything but crumbly overpriced stuff are here in NY and I see their selection before it goes to Tucson.  I have three pieces that I am holding back on for now, available only upon request, and for the moment at least, I have no plans to buy in Tucson directly.  For me personally, and therefore for you, there’s no advantage in doing so.  If you have requests, please let me know and I will source if I can.  For the rest, as you know there will be a sale coming up, so you can buy the stock I still have.

Regarding the melee paraiba, there is a little bit left with my melee vendor, and I source it as needed.  I would buy it up but it would tie up all my cash flow, so that’s not an option for me, but production of these ended years ago.

In other news, I am negotiating for a small production of benitoite before it hits Tucson (it sells out on the first day)!  I was also shown some Vietnamese ruby and sapphire melees that I am interested in, but I haven’t made a decision yet...

I am going to stock up more on the high quality moonstone this time.  The main cost there is from cutting, not lack of availability.  If there are any requests, please let me know as I will be a very busy bee this year!  

The other thing I will stock up on are ruby and sapphire melees in all colors and sizes.  This is pretty much an all day thing, or a several day thing, as I have to match down suites.  The vendor has pre sorted parcels, i.e. 5 shades of lavender rounds in the 2-2.5mm size.  He will then sift out, say, 2.2mm from the shade I like best, but then I still have to match them.  Sometimes I think there are as many lavender and purple shades of sapphire as there are stars (or maybe I’m seeing stars as time passes).  Matching these is a job only for the obsessed.  So it’s fine for me…

Let me list here what I can get, and if you want to help me, in a manner of speaking, let me know what you might like, i.e. size, shape, amount.  Otherwise, I will just pick what I think is best.  

Blue sapphire: shades of blue, vibrant to light to dark, 1-3mm rounds mainly but other shapes also.
Ruby and pink sapphire: same idea, from light pink to deep pink to ruby color, all pre-sorted.
Lavender sapphire: light to medium, not super dark, but nothing in 1mm.  1.8 is the smallest I’ve seen.
I can also get teal, tealish-green sapphire, and I can get other shapes: 4x3 ovals, marquis, small pears.

Anything aside from lavender is heated or a mix between heat and no heat.  Lavender is usually from Madagascar and is not heated, just because at the moment, that’s the main supply line for this shade.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but for now this is all I can think of.

One final note.  Photos: I will of course keep you posted on Instagram and Facebook, and I will put out as many listings as I can manage.  What I will not do, however, is publicly post photos of gems that I haven’t bought yet or of selections at booths.  I don’t usually do that anyway, but as this has become a widespread practice, here’s my two cents. Vendors don’t like it, especially for finer goods.  Once a gem is “out there and been seen”, possibly with exact specs, those gems are kind of “spoiled”.  And if several people show the same gems, it gives a false sense of availability.  

There are also small sellers that pre-sell goods based on vendor photos at a low markup.  But they can’t offer a good return policy and they run the risk of selling you something that is no longer available once you pay.    

On Instagram, I’ve also even seen photos from wholesale websites (taken without permission,) sometimes shown by several different vendors, but when you ask, the gem isn’t available.  I’ve witnessed a small retail jeweler doing so on his website, and I’ve even had my own photos taken and reused both on Etsy and on Instagram.  I’ve even seen sellers photograph gems in vendors' boxes with the price on the front, thereby signaling that they were selling without a markup, when in reality, wholesale vendors provide (sometimes steep) discounts on that product.  
As much as I love the internet as a selling platform, I find that it provides a lot of confusing information, and I don’t want to add to the confusion.  Whatever I have for sale is either (a) mine, or (b) given to me on legitimate memo and just for me to sell for the duration, and (c) to the best of my ability, has not been in the hands of other vendors.  Caveat on that: sometimes I decide to show a gem that I co-own, or that I know is on a friend’s website, or that I was told has been shown around.  That’s ok, as long as I can make that decision.  But increasingly, I have decided to forego some selling opportunities because the gem has “been around the block already,” possibly at a multitude of prices.  So if vendors show me their rare goods, I usually ask them directly.  That way I can give full disclosure to my own clients so that they can make the best decision for themselves.

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