Cecile Raley Designs

Knowing When to Sell Your Colored Gemstones (& When to Wait!)

Knowing When to Sell Your Colored Gemstones (& When to Wait!)

A couple of months ago I asked one of my gem sellers if I could "memo" (i.e. the jewelry trade practice of borrowing) his 1.07ct Benitoite that he had just acquired, and list it in my shop for sale. “No,” he said, firmly. “Because it will accrue value faster than inflation, so it’s better for me not to sell it right now.” Better than an 8% annual inflation? Yes, better than that. And he’s right (too bad for me but a smart move).

In Tucson 2022, the first Tucson with a sizable show of international vendors, I spent just about every penny I had in the bank. And then I did something crazy: I put many of those gems in a box, for later, even though I was flat broke! I also locked in several payment plans for merchandise so I could avoid paying more for the same stuff a few months later. To do this, I used up the “street cred” I had built up with them over the last decade or so. I’ve had to pay some purchases off very slowly, but my vendors know that in the end, I am reliable, and if they needed a little extra cash or I needed to stretch things, we could up or down the payments as needed. The basis of such deals is a lot of trust, but that goes both ways as I also trust my suppliers to be honest about their goods and current pricing. 

In the past few years, I've had several clients tell me that they'd rather save up and wait to buy a larger Paraiba (or other gem, but mainly Paraiba) at a higher price, but that strategy has backfired; unless they save very quickly, inflation will outpace them. As a gem seller it's tough to tell people "please buy now and find a way to finance on your own, it is better for you" and not sound like I'm giving a sales pitch. But I will say that the last few years have borne out my predictions.

 

1.8-carat Paraiba Tourmaline Trillion Sugarloaf Cabochon
1.8-carat Paraiba Tourmaline Trillion Sugarloaf Cabochon

 

It’s been a tough 2022 sales wise but I am happy with what I own and not worried that I will get stuck with my gems. The Paraibas have already accrued over 20% since I bought them in February, and while the trend may level off, I am certain they will never go down. Other gems, like my powder blue cobalt spinels (and a few deeper ones I have), will accrue more slowly, but they have already exceeded blue sapphires of the same color in value. My 2.2ct blue Burma sapphire has already doubled in price since I got it in 2020. My emeralds are up 30% since the same time.

Three Blue Spinels from Luc Yen, Vietnam.
Three Blue Spinels from Luc Yen, Vietnam

 

I did sell all my Benitoites, unfortunately. Should have saved those too, lol. Instead, I took one of my red spinels off of the website because I realized that it had been there since 2019 and the price was now too low. While I am happy to pass good purchases on at a discount, there is such a thing as feeling that the value of an item has not been fully appreciated. So now I get to enjoy the spinel myself until I feel it may be time to put it back out there. In the meantime, this is a good opportunity to get it certified – not something that’s needed for most spinels because they have no known treatment, but I do recognize that many novice buyers feel reassured by this (whereas any buyer should certify origin and treatment of any sapphire of value). My two rubies on Etsy, meanwhile, are quite reasonably priced at this point but I’m leaving them up for sale as my heart beats faster for spinel than ruby. And I am, after all, a gem seller, not a gem hoarder! :)

 

AGL Certified 1.32 ct Unheated Ruby from Lake Baringo, Kenya
AGL Certified 1.32 ct Unheated Ruby from Lake Baringo, Kenya

 

(Entertaining side note: Pantone just named “Viva Magenta” – 18-1750 – to be the color of the year 2023, and of course the AGTA followed suit, wanting to market gems of that color to promote sales of Magenta colored gems. But what gems are those??? Magenta colored Mahenges are completely wiped off the market, Magenta Burma spinel practically sold out, and ruby doesn’t have that color, it’s more red. That leaves a few not easy to come by Magenta red tourmaline as the only option. Am I wrong about that? Do you think that pink sapphires or some rubies are 18-1750 or rather a different tone? Let me know, I am drawing a blank, and I love that color.).

Viva Magenta — Pantone's Color of the Year, 2023
Viva Magenta — Pantone's Color of the Year, 2023

 

But I digress. Let me pass on another anecdote. One of my old friends in the trade, Jaimeen Shah from Prima Gems, once said to me that you can measure the health of a gem business by how long it can hold on to merchandise. If a seller needs to flip gems for immediate cash, then the business is in bad shape. If he or she can afford to hang on to their stock for over a year and be blasé about making the sale, then they are doing very well. A healthy business might keep stuff in the safe for decades. They might even put higher price tags on their gems and then just shrug their shoulders if you ask for “their best price,” telling you that they don’t care if you can’t buy it at the full asking price. They figure that sooner or later, it will sell, and they are right. (Asking for the best price is a practice that many of us find rude – a healthy business is not desperate to make a buck).

If you enjoy buying gems but also enjoy selling and trading, don’t fret if things aren’t moving right now. And don’t get desperate. Give it time. While there are gems that really never have much value – iolite and apatite come to mind – the sheer rising of labor costs over the last half decade have even made those more expensive than they used to be. You may remember for example that back in 2010, you could buy cheap citrine and amethyst for $1/ct wholesale, and those days are long gone despite the fact that the vast availability of both gems has not changed one bit.

Remember that as the public gets educated, colored gems will become more and more of an alternative to diamonds. This is a good thing for you if you already own some colored gems because while white diamond supply (for jewelry) is virtually endless, this is not the case for most colored stones. Not just for the short lists of examples you find online, but really it’s true for most of them, even the non-spectacular. The exception I want to hedge over is quartz, and if you throw in bead quality gems the situation might be different. Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, any spinel, any zircon, any apatite, peridot and iolite even, are rarer than diamonds. They are just not all super pretty or sparkly or super hard and durable. They are also not carefully controlled and cultivated.

 

4.8mm Emerald Cut Blue Gahnite Spinel from Nigeria
4.8mm Emerald Cut Blue Gahnite Spinel from Nigeria

 

Already one can see the influence of clever marketing strategies affecting colored stone pricing on the commercial market. Padparadscha sapphire and aquamarine come to mind, and blue sapphire, as we find European royalty and international movie stars flaunting their colored stone engagement and anniversary rings. Before 2014, lighter to even medium colored aquamarine traded at $5-15 a carat. Now they are at $35, and larger specimens are $100/ct and up in the trade. In Madagascar, prices of aquamarine went up by a factor of five in the last six years.

 

Aquamarines From a Recent Shipment from Madagascar
Aquamarines From a Recent Shipment from Madagascar

 

It should be noted that aquamarine, especially fine goods, were fairly underpriced given their availability, at least in my view. Maybe that’s because the lower quality goods are very light colored and sort of, well, boring looking. Prices of color change garnet have gone up similarly – and those don’t look boring to me at all. I don’t mean the ones that just lightly shift “hues” like from pinkish to purplish, but the ones that shift from teal blue-green or grey blue-green to purple, or a strong pink to a strong purple. Lindi (Tanzania) appears to be mined out, and Bekili (Madagascar) is right now difficult to come by and difficult to export.

 

 Bekili Color Change Garnets (From a Recent Shipment from Madagascar)
Bekili Color Change Garnets (From a Recent Shipment from Madagascar)

 

The upshot: if you own some finer quality gems, reasonably well cut, low on inclusions, pretty, and let’s just say to be on the safe side, not quartz, then I think you can expect a continuing increase in value. Granted it is harder to resell for a retail buyer, but whatever you paid whenever you paid it, expect it to be at a higher price now. And this is NOT the case for your engagement white diamond which loses 10-20% of its value as soon as you leave the store with it (one last note on that: untreated colored diamonds, especially pinks, reds, peach, blue, natural grey, purple, green, have skyrocketed in the last 20 years. Pink diamonds have doubled in just the last two years, one of my vendors told me. So those are not to be compared to white, which are up right now because of supply chain issues but will come back down when that is resolved. Remember that Russia is a huge supplier of white diamonds and right now we are not buying anything from Russia.

 

Matched Pair of Radiant Cut Fancy Yellow Diamonds, 1.01 Carat Combined Weight
Matched Pair of Radiant Cut Fancy Yellow Diamonds, 1.01 Carat Combined Weight

 

I’ll end this blog with a quote from an overseas vendor that was part of a conversation literally today, when I told him that this year has been slow (something everyone in the trade is saying): “Good stones in the safe are not going anywhere… nor is their value.”

3.71-carat Mahenge spinel set into rose gold with peach diamonds, mahenge and Burma spinel.
From the Title Photo: Rose Gold Necklace
Featuring a 3.71-carat Mahenge Spinel Center Stone
and Halos of Peach Diamonds and Mahenge and Burma Spinels
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The Third C - Using Color in Design

The Third C - Using Color in Design

Finally, let’s get back to talking about color. In this final entry in our discussion about color and gemstones, I want to focus on how I like to use color in design.

First, a little background. When I first started making jewelry, I was using beads. I initially strung up glass beads and Swarovski crystals with base metal spacers but I very quickly graduated up to gemstone beads and wire wrapping. Since natural gemstone beads don’t come in just any pantone color, I realized that combining colors for a pleasing result could be challenging.

What helped me was mixing color “themes” either on tissue paper or a white plate. I pulled some beads off the strands, mixing until I had the right colors, the right proportions of those colors, and the right metal for spacers. (I used to have a LOT of beads). 

I still work this way. As we carry a lot of melee gems, I can lay them out together until I have a combination I like, and I can use the little sticky boxes from Stuller to make gems face right side up. But given that I’ve done this for over a decade, I can offer some shortcuts:

    1. Start with the gem you really want to use. This does not have to be the focal gem, it might be a single accent stone or a few melee. In many of my designs, the center stone is the complement and the side stones the attraction. This makes particular sense when the bigger stones are too expensive.
      Mexican Fire Opal and Ruby Ring
      Mexican Fire Opal and Ruby Ring
      Malaya Garnet and Paraiba Tourmaline Ring
      Malaya Garnet and Paraiba Tourmaline Ring
    2. Once you have your main focus, you work on complementing it. I personally like working tone in tone, meaning ombres or gems of the same variety because they always seem like they belong together. But availability doesn’t always allow for that, so another way to go is contrastive: pinks and greens, purples and blues, peach and teal, pink and orange, yellow and purple. Always keeping in mind which color should be dominant.
Pink Sapphire and Emerald Ring (Camellia Ring)
Our Camellia Ring Featuring Pink Sapphire and Emerald
Malaya Garnet, Ruby and Diamond (Camellia Ring)
Our Camellia Ring Featuring Malaya Garnet, Ruby and Diamond
Malaya garnet and Kornerupine (large Cocktail Ring)
Large Cocktail Ring Featuring Malaya Garnet and Kornerupine

 

All Sapphire (Kite Style Pendant)
Kite Style Pendant Pendant Featuring Multi-Colored Sapphires

 

Diamond, Paraiba and Hauyne (Juliette Ring)
Our Juliette Ring Featuring Diamond, Paraiba and Hauyne

 

Zircon and Red Spinel (Rosette Ring)
Our Rosette Ring Featuring Zircon and Red Spinel
Gatsby Malaya Garnet Kornerupine
Our Gatsby Pendant Featuring Malaya Garnet and Kornerupine

 

    1. Metal is a color. Here’s a link to the blog I did on metals. Rose gold blends the most with other colors, yellow gold is a totally independent color, white gold cools the temperature but can look like too much metal if the side stone gems are not diamonds.
      zircon mint garnet Camellia
      Our Camellia Pendant Featuring Zircon and Mint Garnet

 

  1. Don’t forget that gemstones have other properties besides color, and they matter. Gems can be transparent (aquamarine) or satiny (emerald), and it’s often easier to combine just transparent and just satiny stones, unless again you are trying to complement. Gems also range from very brilliant (diamond) to almost not brilliant at all (Paraiba Tourmaline). Combining these will be more contrastive, less complementary.
    Paraiba and Diamond (Cleo Ring)
    Our Cleo Ring, Featuring Paraiba Tourmaline and Diamond
    Paraiba and Hauyne Ring
    Paraiba Tourmaline and Hauyne Ring

     

  2. Natural gemstones also have hues, bi-color effects, color change, di- and tri-chroism, all of which have to be considered in the overall color scheme. For example, purple-pink sapphires often have a bi-color effect that is due to zoning in the gem. Sphene, kornerupine and unheated tanzanite often exhibit some degree of di or tri-chroism, and some garnet, sapphire and alexandrite exhibit color change. For gems like this, it’s best to complement the colors that are already there, as opposed to trying to introduce an entirely new color.
    Purple Garnet, Mahenge Spinel, Tanzanite, & Cobalt Spinel
    Purple Garnet, Mahenge Spinel, Tanzanite, and Cobalt Spinel

     

    Purple Garnet and color change garnet (Edwardian ring)
    Our Edwardian Ring Featuring Purple Garnet and Color Change Garnet

     

    Purple Garnet, Hauyne and Mahenge Spinel (Tudor Pendant)
    Our Tudor Pendant, Featuring Purple Garnet, Hauyne and Mahenge Spinel

     

    Elizabeth Ring with Sphene
    Elizabeth Ring Featuring Sphene

One final tip. When I first learned how to use a real camera, back in 1982, my dad’s simple advice was this: if you don’t like the way it looks through the camera, don’t take the picture. In other words, trust what you see, not what you want to see. If you don’t like a combo, don’t try to like it, it won’t work. I often used to make pieces where after an initial ever so brilliant idea, my reaction to the actual combination was “meh.” Most of those pieces had to be sold at discount. That’s not a mistake you need to repeat. ☺️

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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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