Cecile Raley Designs

Gemstones Travel the World: New Gems from Madagascar and their Many Adventures!

Gemstones Travel the World: New Gems from Madagascar and their Many Adventures!

I announced their arrival somewhat prematurely in the fall of 2021, right before all exports from Madagascar stopped because of an illegal export scandal in Antananarivo, the capital. A Sri Lankan gem dealer was caught with about a million dollars’ worth of sapphire rough in his hand luggage and an invoice claiming it was only garnet. The man was imprisoned, the goods confiscated, the Department of Mining closed down. Several more customs officers were arrested for taking bribes, even though, mind you, that is standard practice and the government knows about it. The ordeal ended up disrupting the entire gemstone trade including Tucson 2022. Rumor had it that higher ups in the government felt that they were not getting enough of the financial pie so they started to confiscate shipments occasionally so that they can collect “new taxes” before they release them to the relevant parties. The ensuing bottleneck is still creating issues for export.

In any case, my gems are finally here, after an adventurous journey from Antananarivo (Tana) to Mauritius, to Europe and then to the U.S. The Department of Mining in Tana is operating on a limited basis, and while there are still a lot of restrictions, some export is possible, in the semi legal fashion in which so many things work in African countries. The Sri Lankan who was jailed made it out safely a few months later, to Bangkok I am told, after some negotiations, which surely involved significant funds collected by the Madagascan government. Meanwhile, my faceted stones traveled underneath a layer of less expensive collector’s minerals that were exported this fall. That’s as much as I can say, except to add that I wasn’t part of the journey. Until export questions are fully legalized again, yours truly prefers to purchase remote. 

My shipment involved five parcels of gems: a largish box of yellow and green sphene in various mixed qualities, a smaller lot of color change garnet cushions, a large parcel of aquamarine, two parcels of mixed quality grandidierite, and finally my surprise gems, several large lots of Sapphirine. No, not sapphire. Sapphirine! Looks like sapphire and is named after sapphire, but isn’t.

My being the proud owner of a bunch of sapphirine is actually the result of an error, as the material was supposed to be Serendibite, a related mineral with extremely similar crystal structure and RI. Here’s what happened:

Back in the fall of 2021, I was told about a new find of gemstones in the South of Madagascar, where the grandidierite mines are located (not far from Fort Dauphin, if you want to check it on the map). The area is dangerous as it is populated by Dahalo, criminal gangs, so even other Madagascan clans do not go there. Incidentally, the Dahalo also do much of the gemstone mining in that and other regions but to sell it they bring it to adjacent villages. Rarely do Madagascans go to the remote areas in which the Dahalo live.

Additionally, much of Southern Madagascar is exceptionally poor due to droughts caused by global warming. Anyway, word had it that the material was Serendibite, normally found mainly in Sri Lanka; and a lab report was produced – a report that has since turned out to be either fake or simply mistaken. A refractive index test might confuse the two gems because their RI values are so close, but an X-Ray would be able to distinguish them. X-Ray machines are expensive however, and it is unlikely that a Madagascan lab would have one. Also, if you look through the information logged on MinDat here, you will see that Serendibite (but also Sapphirine) have indeed been found in Southern Madagascar before. So perhaps however the lab (or “lab”) report came to be, its author made an educated guess. Here’s the info for Sapphirine if you are interested.

Now as it turns out both minerals are rare when it comes to the world of faceted gems, so from that point of view, it didn’t matter to me which of the two I was buying, so long as the material was pretty. Serendibite would have fetched more money though, and I would have been the only one to own it. If you check on Etsy, sapphirine from Madagascar, though rare, is indeed available on the market.

So how do I know that what I have is Sapphirine? I sent a non-faceted sample to GIA, and they X-Rayed it for me. It’s definitely Sapphirine: a vibrant blue and brown di-chroic material, included and dark but the color itself is not at all ugly. 95% of what I have is not gemmy and I will probably sell it at a low price, but a few pieces are pretty enough to make jewelry out of them. Some of the faceted material was also cut along the wrong axis, so it looks more brownish than it should, or actually striped if you loupe it.

So there you have it. Would you like some Sapphirine? I will put it on Etsy of course but in the meantime you can just contact me.

Let me wrap up this blog with some notes on the other gems. The color change garnet is fantastic, the color change is complete, in blue light the gems are very blue, in daylight greyish blue, and in incandescent light a strong red. There’s a larger cushion as well which shifts from purple to pink, a lovely clean 6mm stone, and a matched pair of cabochons (4mm). The prices are good on all of these, and gems from Bekily are rare right now.

The sphene is gorgeous, at least most of it, including this pair here:

Here are some of the other sphene waiting to go on Etsy:

The aqua is lovely too but some pieces need recutting. The aquamarines are quite large for the most part, with the largest clocking in at 9 carats. Aquamarine has gone up in price significantly. I am not known for selling a lot of aqua but that was mainly because up until the last 3 years or so, it was readily available on the market. This is no longer the case when it comes to the finer goods.

Last but not least, the grandidierite I have is super nice. We have one on Etsy here. My photo here shows only a part of the parcel, I have another box. Much of it is satiny, not brilliant, save for a few pieces, and the nicest looking piece at AGL (because I am not entirely sure that it is grandidierite, it was very clean and slightly different color; whereas the rest looks right and also can’t be anything else given the color and inclusions). The color ranges from a deep greenish to a lighter blueish teal.

You will see all the material rolled out on Etsy in the next few weeks, as I get to it piece by piece. If you’d like to get ahead of the line for the best of the grandies, sapphirines, and color change garnet, please contact me.

 

 

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Too Soon for Tucson? The Reality of Gem Buying in 2022

Too Soon for Tucson?  The Reality of Gem Buying in 2022

I either have antibodies already, or I am the luckiest person on earth, having traveled to Germany 7x since Covid started, having to test incessantly to get into my mom’s home, always coming up negative.  I was in Colombia, Denver twice for gem shows, and in Tucson in April.  Yes, I am very careful, I am triple immunized, and one of the most tested people outside the health care industry, but still!  Last week one of my closest friends got Omicron (3x immunized) and several of my more distant ones did too - all independently of one another. 

Hence, I say this with a great deal of caution: in two weeks I am going to the Tucson gem shows - not to one, but to several super spreader events.  I am going to self-test every single day both for myself and for the sake of everyone else that I am going to see.  

But I SO want to go, even if I have to hole up in the hotel every night and get room service.  I am really hoping to meet some of my long missed vendors from Bangkok – four in total – all of which are going to be there if they don’t test positive beforehand.  My budget is small but my appetite for gems is high, especially for multi colored and blue sapphire melee, emerald melee, benitoite, and spinel

 

4x3mm Blue Sapphire Oval
4x3mm Blue Sapphire Oval

 

 

Loose Pink Burma Sapphire Rounds, 2.1mm
2.1mm Loose Pink Burma Sapphire Rounds

 

 

I am also on the lookout for specialty cuts.  The ones in the lower price range often sell out quickly.  Two years ago I saw some lovely zircon hexagons and long kites, but when I went back to GJX on day two to get more, they had all gone.  Also, while I can get sapphire melee shipped from Thailand, the reason MY stock of blues, purples and greens, even yellows is always so well matched is because I do this myself at the show and it takes hours, yielding only small batches.  I cannot get anything matched down that well when it’s shipped to me.  Nobody in NY has these melees, at least not for the prices I get them for in Tucson.

Of course, I am also curious about what vendors are managing to bring.  Vietnam is still difficult to access, so my favorite location for spinel, other than Burma, is not likely to have much of interest.  I have asked around for cobalt spinel, but so far, no luck.

Madagascar, as a source, remains problematic as well.  I had hoped to get my shipment this winter, but the Mining Office, which provides the export documents, remains closed.  A large Sri Lankan smuggling operation was outed late last fall, which led to arrests of Madagascan custom’s officers, several people from the Mining Office as well as the director of the Ilakaka mine.  The director of the Mining Office, meanwhile, has vanished without a trace, and a new one is being trained.  Until that’s sorted, they are not reopening.  This means, in turn, that there will be zero exports of gemstone rough, faceted gems, and collectors’ crystals.  Only commercial goods such as decorative and ornamental stones (i.e. tumbled calcite that you can put into a bowl on your table) are allowed as those are handled by four other local mining offices located in other towns.

Ergo: my grandidierite, color change garnets, sphene, aquamarine and a small production of a new find of gems that I am excited about is stuck.  My friends are keeping everything at their house and I know I will get it sooner or later, but if any other gemstone dealer hoped to have Madagascan material for Tucson, those hopes are dashed at this point.  It is simply too late.

Color-change garnet lot in Mada waiting for shipment
Color-change garnet lot in Mada waiting for shipment

 

Sphene lot sitting in Madagascar waiting for shipment
Sphene lot sitting in Madagascar waiting for shipment

 

Finally, I am going to switch out several sets of memo gems, which I usually do toward the end of the AGTA show, when vendors are winding down and are offering them out to me for a few months to work with.

TWO SALES FOR TUCSON

 

For this reason, you’ll see a flash sale of last chance memo’d items offered at 20% before Tucson (January 26-29), and then the rest will go on sale on the 30th of January for two weeks. I wish I could offer a steeper discount on memo gems but much of the profit of gems on memo is not ours, so there are limits to what we can do.  That said (and if you read that far), if you contact me directly you can get 25% off because I pay 5% to Etsy anyway, on top of any advertising fee should you have clicked on a Google Ad for my shop within 30 days of your purchase from me.  If I sell direct, none of that applies and I am happy to pass it on, as well as save you taxes outside the state of NJ. 

In addition to the gem sales, all jewelry (with the exception of custom) will be on sale as well.  We have never had a Valentine’s Day sale because we are always in Tucson, but now that we are selling more jewelry again, we think we should.  So it’s all gonna happen at once.  I hope you will keep us busy!

So, fingers crossed, Tucson is going to happen as planned.  If not, I certainly won’t be the only one not going... and I will find a plan B, as I always do. 

Here are a few of the "Last Chance" gems, disappearing from the shop after January 29th, but available from January 26th-29th at 20% off:

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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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