The Rise and Fall of Grandidierite

The Rise and Fall of Grandidierite

One of the ten rarest minerals on earth! That’s how grandidierite has been advertised in the last decade or so, until… Well, what happened exactly? Why do the most recent online lists of the rarest minerals no longer include this pretty gem, and is the change in attitude towards grandidierite justified?

The first question I ask myself when I read these ‘rarest gem’ lists is how those who establish these lists define the term ‘rare’. Clarity on what counts as ‘rare’ is obviously needed before we can determine if a particular gemstone goes on the list of rare gems. The second question is how it is established that a particular gem then falls under that label. For example, one definition of ‘rare’ is that the gem has only one origin. This is why tanzanite makes so many lists of rare gems. It is found only in Merelani, Tanzania, and nowhere else.  

Grandidierite PearSee in store here

But having a single origin is not a great standalone criterion for rarity. Tanzanite is ubiquitous in the gem market and even fine, larger specimens (say 3 carats) are not that expensive or hard to get. A rare mineral should probably also have some sort of limited availability, and if it is pretty, it would also have a correspondingly high price. Benitoite is an example: it is single origin (Benito County, CA), and hard to find in the marketplace. Additionally, pieces over one carat are almost unavailable for sale.

This brings us to grandidierite. Found only in the south of Madagascar, grandidierite is also a single origin stone and it used to be incredibly rare in the gem market. In fact, even now, you can go around the entire GJX or AGTA show in Tucson where all the world’s best materials are displayed, and find very few gems (and almost never above a carat). So why is it no longer on some lists?

I would say before 2015 or so, hardly anyone carried grandidierite, including vendors who bought a lot of goods from Madagascar and then more material was discovered in the Anosy region of Madagascar’s south. Now there are many pits in the region, all of them mining grandidierite.

With some google education, the Malagasy quickly figured out that they had stumbled across a very rare mineral that was traded at a premium, and prices started going through the roof for even included cabbing material. Gemmy rough was still hard to find but initially people paid high prices even for the semi-translucent stuff. I remember some rather overpriced and opaque cabochons being offered to me in Antsirabe in 2016.

Grandidierite CushionSee in store here 

And as happens so often, when digging really started, a lot more material surfaced. However, over 99.99% if it was merely the totally opaque ornamental quality – meaning you can make tumbled pebbles and low grade beads out of it. You can now find these beads everywhere on the internet. But high-grade faceted material was still almost totally unavailable. At ground level, prices for gem grade rough have gone down significantly but vendors are not able to sell at the prices at which they purchased several years ago, so the material just sits around at the shows, getting no interest at 6K/ct for truly gem grade material in the one carat range. Consequently, vendors are no longer buying grandidierite either, and the market has more or less collapsed. Mining still takes place but the non gemmy material is quite cheap.

Grandidierite jewelry, pendant, ring, earrings

When I went back to Madagascar in 2018, I bought some grandidierite for less than in 2016, and in 2022 I received another shipment, also reasonable in price but not top quality either as that material remains extremely rare, even in Madagascar.

One factor that affects price and perception of rarity is how the material is presented online. Unfortunately, with a lot of rare gems, photos of piles of rough material, or small parcels of faceted material, are shown by several vendors, creating a false impression of ubiquity.

That’s exactly what happened with gahnite around 2020. Also called zinc spinel, gahnite is a rare blue form of spinel that is found only in Pakistan. It is very hard to buy in the gem market with larger facet grade gems nearly non-existent. Nevertheless, gahnite does not fetch as much money as it should because buyers falsely believe the material to be abundant and hence over-priced. Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, there was a small find perhaps in 2018 or 2019, and nothing has shown up on the market since then. Notwithstanding, prices remain below what I paid for it back in 2020.

If you are a collector or investor, what should you do if such a situation occurs? If the gem is truly rare in the sense that you are not able to buy what you already own elsewhere (for the same price or a higher one), and if furthermore, the material is pretty (nice color, brilliant), then you should do what we do: put it away and stop worrying about it. Don’t try to put it out on the market, it will be of no use and you will just end up adding to the perceived flood of the material. Sooner or later the market adjusts itself.

That’s how it is in the gem trade. You must have time and patience. I still have gahnite, and grandidierite, but I’m not rushing to dump it out. I cannot replace what I have at the same price, or at all, and that is a simple and hard to argue with criterion of rarity.

Should you invest in grandidierite? Probably not because you need a kind of minimum momentum to be able to resell it at a higher price, and right now that momentum is not here. However, you never know when things will change. Both tsavorite and the mandarin garnet variety of spessartite used to be quite abundant and reasonable. When the market started to get crowded, the smarter vendors took their larger pieces, and even parcels of the more sellable smaller sizes, and put them away for a few years (up to 10 years in some cases). Now this market has stabilized and the harder to sell orange garnet is getting renewed interest. Prices for mandarin garnet are now fairly high and the material sells much better, too.

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Benitoite: A Rare Prize for Gem Collectors

Benitoite: A Rare Prize for Gem Collectors

Somewhere about half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, along the coast of California, you will find the rolling hills of the San Benito Mountains – the origin of the famous and exceptionally rare Benitoite. The mineral whose chemical name is barium titanium cyclosilicate, can also be found in Japan and Arkansas but facet grade material comes only from the San Benito Mountains.

What is the current availability of Benitoite?

First discovered in 1907, only a small piece of the Benitoite mine is currently still in operation - its website even advertises gem hunts and private digs, but the gemmy material has long been mined out. You can find a fairly detailed account of the history of Benitoite here:

The more valuable available rough has made it into the hands of very few gem sellers, with the lion’s share being owned by a small wholesaler in Ohio. The crystals and loose materials have already all been faceted and sold off but the company still treats pieces in host rock (natrolite) with acid a couple of times a year and then has the resulting gemstone rough faceted by a cutter who specializes in the material. The yield is typically very small at this point, with little to no material above .3 carats in weight.

Because so many collectors are trying to buy the small yield that is sold every year, the owners of the rough do not sell it on the open market. They used to exhibit at the Inn Suites in Tucson but buyers would sleep outside the vendor’s room the night before opening (or camp out starting at 5 a.m.), only to storm the room once they opened and buying out everything within a couple of hours. As that left the regular buyers in the lurch at times, the seller decided this process was unfair to the regulars, some of whom are vendors also and cannot simply leave their booth during showtimes, or sleep on the floor in a hotel hallway. Nor should anyone have to!

Benitoite Shape Collage

I remember one show in Denver where I had a pass for setup day from another person, and I circled the Benitoite booth for hours waiting for them to have pieces out. So did others but the sellers said “tomorrow, not before.” So I used my pass to get in an hour before the official opening the next day and made my purchase then. I never slept in a hotel hallway though! No way.

In 2020, the sellers decided to create a short list of buyers for the amount that they can sell each year and set up private meetings with the buyers instead (this also worked well because of Covid). If I do a search online for Benitoite, I recognize the other names from the list of buyers, most of whom I have run into over the years.

To sell the faceted Benitoite fairly, the current owners divide up the yield from each production as best they can so that each listed buyer gets a small number of gems based on their preferences. Buyers can accept their entire lot or reject some or all of it. Prices are fixed but fair. By the end of the 2-3 days of private appointments, all the Benitoite is sold. Leftovers from previous buyers are either saved for the last day or shown to the next buyer. Then we have to wait for the next show date. A week before we get an email with the details of where they will be and an appointment time. This information is kept private for each buyer.

What makes Benitoite so special?

Visually, Benitoite looks almost exactly like sapphire, and in those tiny sizes, sapphire is much cheaper. So if you just want to have a rich blue gemstone, you do not need Benitoite. The gem is popular among collectors because of its single origin. It is especially popular among Japanese buyers, perhaps because Japan is a place of origin for non-gemmy Benitoite.

Benitoite emerald cut

The Benitoite above (.13cts, 3.54 x 2.24 x 1.45mm) is available here in the shop. 

Benitoite also fluoresces strongly, so it can be distinguished from sapphire under UV light where Benitoite turns into a bright neon blue and sapphire doesn’t. The natural color of Benitoite ranges from blue to white and there is no known treatment that improves either clarity or the blue color, so you will mostly buy it in its original state.

What is orange Benitoite?

Orange Benitoite is prized among collectors and when we carry suites that include orange they usually sell on the first day. I am personally not sure what makes them popular however.

Orange Benitoite

To get orange Benitoite, you need a very clean specimen of clear Benitoite that is then heat treated. The reason the material has to be clean is that high heat will open up fissures and crack the stone. This is a problem for heating any gems, in particular those with a lower hardness such as aquamarine and tourmaline. Both have the tendency to crack.

Since even clear (or white) Benitoite sells very well as is, sellers don’t really see a need to create orange Benitoite from it, especially given the added risk. That’s an additional reason you rarely see it on the market. Less than half a dozen people in the world know how to correctly heat a Benitoite to get the coveted orange color. So this is nothing for you to try at home!

And what about cost?

If you are reading this blog then you already know that Benitoite is quite expensive. Above 1 carat Benitoite is in excess of 10K per carat wholesale, and larger pieces are anybody’s guess. It’s a total seller’s market and anyone who has it can name their asking price. If you want to buy and you don’t want to pay the asking price, you simply won’t end up owning any. Even non gemmy and ugly pieces can end up being very overpriced if they are a little bigger. Most people who own these larger pieces are not fussed at all about selling them. They know they can only do so once and then the opportunity does not come back, which means there’s little reason to allow bargaining or sell at a discount.

At CRD, we mainly offer smaller, cleaner and gem grade material that we feel is worth having and still affordable. We can also source larger pieces for you as we are aware of a few sellers who have materials between .5 and 2 carats and are happy to buy it for you. But please note that you cannot bargain for lower prices or payment plans or any other special treatment. If I go to a vendor with those requests, I will just be ignored. Just as with the top grade Paraiba and other valuable gems, there’s so little around and those who are desperate for cash already sold out of the good stuff years ago. The main thing we can do for you is offer to source it in the first place, but it isn’t going to be a “Bargain Basement” kind of deal.

Does Benitoite need to be certified?

Technically you do not need a cert for Benitoite. All you need is to make sure it isn’t sapphire (or something else, i.e. a blue spinel). For that, a simple gem ID will be more than sufficient. As mentioned above, there is no known treatment for Benitoite, so you don’t need to have it tested for heat. And since it has a single origin only, it also doesn’t make sense to ask for that. From that point of view, therefore, Benitoite is a safe buy!

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Kornerupine: One of Our Best Kept Secrets!

Kornerupine: One of Our Best Kept Secrets!

Kornerupine is a gem that had a very short heyday, and mostly in my own shop. This tells you a lot about its rarity. Or rather, the rarity of the particular Kornerupine that I’d like you to meet. 

The gemstone Kornerupine has been found in several locations, and it is not a new discovery. It was first discovered in Greenland in 1884 and is named after Danish geologist Andreas N. Kornerup, and it now comes from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Madagascar, Kenya and Tanzania. 

However, most Kornerupine is not very visually interesting. It is olive green or yellow and mostly opaque. Nice specimens can be cut into cat’s eyes, which are neat and also rare. Please contact us directly for more information regarding the pieces pictured here:

Cats eye kornerupine rare

Most of the cat’s eye Kornerupine is found in Sri Lanka. Madagascar yields green and yellow Kornerupine, but I have seen more faceted material than cat’s eye come from there.

The Kornerupine I really love, however, is Tanzanian material. It is found in Maramba, north west of Tanga, close to the Kenyan border. Or at least that’s where it used to be found because nothing much has come out in recent years.

Tanzanian Kornerupine is among the finest material I have seen on the market, it is very brilliant, clean, and the colors are beautiful. Kornerupine is a tri-chroic material but you do not always see all the colors displayed in the specimens. The material you want to look for is predominantly some kind of teal color, between blue teal and green teal, and it contains purple. It is very similar to some unheated tanzanite but in the top specimens the colors are more intense. Even included material from that region still shows off its beauty. 

I have this Tanzanian Kornerupine that is not yet on Etsy. It's gorgeous and is 1.51 carats, 9.5 x 6.4mm. Please inquire directly: 

Teal blue kornerupine

If the color is just right, a more monochroic Kornerupine can also look fantastic. Teal is an incredible color anyway and its shades from blue to green to darker to lighter really attract the eye. That’s why indicolite and lagoon tourmaline are so popular. 

The most beautiful piece of Kornerupine I ever saw looked just like a tourmaline, not quite blue, not quite green, it had exceptional clarity and a specific neon glow that wasn’t like anything I’d seen before. I asked the vendor if it was a tourmaline (thinking: it couldn’t be a tourmaline but it really couldn't be Kornerupine). It really was a Kornerupine. A unicorn. He wanted 9k for a three carat stone (also unusual as most Kornerupine is fairly small). I didn’t have the money for it but then changed my mind later – this was in Tucson in 2023. When I went back to the vendor to see if we could do terms, it was gone. I never saw anything even closely similar again. 

Sadly, even the tri chroic material is now pretty sold out and I have not found any good source for new stuff. Most pieces I see are under .3 carats, if I see them at all. 

Here are some examples of the kornerupine we currently have in the shop. You can see them on Etsy here

Kornerupine in CRD Etsy Shop

If you design with this color, you will be pleasantly surprised. It lends itself  to pairing with softer colors, i.e. Padparadscha tones, while you can also liven it up with similar colors and pair it with tanzanite, sapphire, purple sapphire, tourmaline, including Paraiba tourmaline, and lighter emerald.

Here's an example of some of the ways we've worked with Kornerupine in the past to give you an idea of its versatility. The ring on the center right can be found in the store here

Kornerupine jewelry designs, pendants, studs, rings

The greenish specimens look great with purple and vice versa. It’s a very versatile stone that pairs well without overwhelming because it can be strong colored but isn’t neon.

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Fracture Filling in Paraiba Tourmaline: A New(ish) Problem

Fracture Filling in Paraiba Tourmaline: A New(ish) Problem

With Paraiba tourmaline prices through the roof, more and more clients request that the stones are fully certified by an independent lab. As we are busily adding certs to our listings, we started noticing that an increasing number of Paraibas are coming back clarity enhanced. The fillers are not typically identified but currently in use are Opticon, ExCel (both polymer resins) and oils (natural Cedar Wood and synthetic oil such as baby oil). Traditionally, these fillers are used for emeralds, but they are also often detected in other gems, even in expensive sapphires and rubies.

And I am not the only one seeing this trend. In a conversation with staff at AGL I found out that they have seen a fairly noticeable increase in clarity enhancement in Paraiba (as well as in other stones). I was also told by a vendor friend that Richard Hughes from Lotus Gemology has released a note to the same effect; I don’t know where to find this note and I didn’t see it on the website, if you do please let us know so that we can share it.

The problem is not new. Opticon has been applied to emeralds since the 1960s and of course oil fillers have been used on emeralds for centuries. What is new is that there has been (a) a proliferation of fillers and (b) increased use of fillers on gems other than emerald (or red beryl). Even spinel now enjoys this treatment, in addition to another new one that I am mentioning as a side bar: nickel diffusion ( So please be careful about your purchases, especially if they are from countries that do not have the same consumer protection laws in place as the US or the EU or where you do not have any recourse for returns.

The reasons why fillers are used are obvious: supplies are dwindling, demand still on the rise. Most gems that would have been deemed cabochon grade a decade ago are now being faceted and that is not an easy thing to do when they are full of fractures and fissures. Opticon can be applied to help stabilize the material, and even if the hardener is not used to seal the fractures (this is the part that is sometimes referred to as ‘gluing the stone together’), cutting a fracture filled gem is easier. This goes not just for faceting but for cabbing also. I have heard figures quoted at up to 50% use of fillers for lower grade material. How much is really treated is anybody’s guess though, as this part of the trade is not regulated (FTC regulations are mainly about disclosure, we do not have regulations about what can be done to a gem, not here and not anywhere else).

Unfortunately for you and me, it is not really possible to see fillers with the naked eye or even a loupe. On occasion, slightly duller appearance in a cabochon and stronger yet less glowy color can be a tell-tale sign, and I tend to assume that most of the less expensive Paraiba cabs are fracture filled when making a purchase. But for the most part, figuring out if the treatment is present will require a more in depth examination, and sadly, even the brokers who sell the gems do not always know.

This article here by Richard Hughes will show you some photos of how a treated emerald looks under a microscope, and much the same is true for Paraiba since the fillers are the same: Another tell-tale sign is the appearance of rainbow under the microscope, which indicates a fracture even when you cannot see the fracture itself. It’s not easy to interpret inclusions however, and that requires a lot of viewing time (full disclosure: my skills in this department are fairly rudimentary).

Few gem dealers have this much experience with a scope, and even some gemologists and geologists cannot identify fillers. For rough or faceted materials bought on the open market many brokers rely on their own sources to know, and those sources in turn may not be excited about making disclosures they are not required to make in their respective countries, disclosures and that will reduce the value of their transactions. Even for gem dealers, therefore, it is ‘buyer beware.’

In the United States, the FTC (The Federal Trade Commission) requires that all treatments which affect the value of a gem significantly have to be disclosed (such as glass filling in rubies) and while the fine tuning of this claim leaves something to be desired, failure to comply is considered fraud. It also has to be disclosed if the treatment requires special care instructions (such as with glass filled rubies and oiled emeralds). Here’s a detailed article by GIA on what kind of disclosures are required and their history:

The AGTA (of which we are members) actually requires full disclosure of all gemstone enhancements, not leaving the judgment call about value in the hands of gem dealers. It also forbids us to issue our own gemstone certificates or appraisals. They may only come from an independent laboratory.

As you may be aware, not all treatments affect value in all gems. Examples are heat treatment in zircons, aquamarines and most tourmalines. These treatments are permanent, do not affect durability or care, and are in any case difficult to detect. In gems that do not have inclusions, or not enough tell-tale inclusions from which we can draw conclusions, it is actually impossible to tell if they are heated, and this happens even with sapphires and rubies. (This is why a gem lab will say “no gemological evidence of heat” as opposed to “gemological evidence of no heat” – note that the negation, the word “no”, is in a different place and that changes the meaning.)

So how can you, as a buyer of Paraiba, be sure that you know how your gems are treated? The same way I do: by getting a report from a reliable lab. Here’s an article by Hughes on how to select a gem lab for your purposes:

That said, however, you may not be able to expect consistent results, at least not at this stage in research and development, and this can be problematic!

Anecdote: last spring I gave two red beryls to GIA to determine if they were clarity enhanced. In red beryl, the price differential between clarity enhanced gems and those that are not is significant: 30-40% in my estimation. My red beryls came back as clarity enhanced, which was annoying because the seller was certain they weren’t. When I got my results, I requested to see a lab tech for clarification. The tech explained that the majority of red beryls were clarity enhanced. Well yeah but what does a statistical result tell me about THIS beryl? That’s what I wanted to know, I didn’t want to know about most beryls, just this one. I requested a recheck. This means that if they change the results, they pay, if they don’t change the results, you pay ($35 in this case, worth it in my view). The retest was performed – I was told a different tech would be assigned, and the result changed in one case, it didn’t change in the other.

I’ve since had a few of my gems rechecked when they came back as clarity enhanced (mostly I had the emeralds retested), in 9 out of 10 cases the results did not change however.

Last month, I received a GIA report that unexpectedly said ‘clarity enhancement’ on one of my Paraiba cabochons – this gem was from a trusted vendor so I called him with the results. He asked me to please resubmit to AGL because he felt that the report was inaccurate, so I did. It’s expensive by the way, GIA currently charges $65, AGL charges $208, an already discounted rate for AGTA members. I added three more of my Paraibas to the pile and requested a call once they had the results. I even added the GIA report.

After two weeks, I got a call from Chris Smith, the owner of AGL. He told me that none of my four gems submitted were clarity enhanced, and one was also unheated – I didn’t expect that. Chris said he saw the GIA report I included. So why the different results? According to what I wrote down, Chris said that foreign materials trapped during the natural mineralization process are not classified as filler by AGL. A difference in opinion or a difference in interpretation of the visual data? The latter, presumably.

But these differences in interpretation do leave one wondering how fine grained distinctions can really be made with a visual examination. My view? Any gemological results are only as good as the machinery used; only as good as the comparison and research library they have; and only as good as the person’s experience is in interpreting what they see. Also, I would expect less from a report that costs $65, and a more expert answer for $208. And I would expect even more exactness from a $500 report from Gubelin (or $800, depending on the size of the Paraiba). Some labs also get more than one gemologist’s opinion on an image and the more money I spend, the more expertise I want thrown at determining the answer.

It also can’t be ignored that gem labs have different areas of expertise and the expectations they have when they hire staff would correspondingly differ also. Gubelin has an extensive gem library with scans and images they can use for comparison. AGL is known for colored stones, GIA is known for diamonds. Each lab has different equipment for different tests. We cannot assume that a small lab can spend $100,000 on equipment but we also cannot assume that any large lab has every piece of technology that can be bought on the market.

My own experience has been that AGL provides answers most consistent with what my trusted vendors claim in terms of origin and treatment of Paraiba. So that is where I go for the more valuable Paraibas I have. Given the cost, I obviously do not suggest getting a small gem tested. While the value of a gem can be increased if it comes with a report that verifies the stated information on that gem, a $50 gem does not become a $258 gem just because it has a report! I believe AGL will not take any gem under half a carat, and in any case the smaller the gem the more difficult it is to find sufficient inclusions to make a fair assessment. And only appraisal labs will work with mounted gems, so it is best to certify prior to setting or the gem has to come back out.

Obviously I don’t have a magic number for when you should expect a seller’s gem to have a genuine and independent lab report. That is a matter of opinion. As a buyer, I follow these rules: I rarely buy from sources I do not know personally, and to establish a new relationship I may start with a small purchase that I may test. Alternatively I check references. When I buy on location from a smaller broker, I never spend money I cannot afford to lose. I would never (NEVER!) fly to another country to buy a large gem on location in the hopes of saving money unless that particular country has a reliable gem laboratory where I can drop and pick up the gem myself from the lab and buy subject to that certificate. I do not trade with buyers, I do not buy breakouts or used jewelry items with gems, I do not buy from anyone who is not in some sense a vetted seller. Doing business this way costs more money but it exposes me to far less risk. This business can be risky and the only way to minimize it in the end is by knowledge and trust.

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Fifty Shades of Green: Colombian Emerald Origins and Varieties Explained

Fifty Shades of Green: Colombian Emerald Origins and Varieties Explained
This Colombia trip was my first real adventure since COVID hit, but after a few days in Bogota and on dirt roads, visiting Muzo, Chivor and this time also Cosquez, I have returned safe and sound.  

On this trip, I dug a bit deeper into the characteristics of emeralds from these locations and learning how to differentiate them.  You'll find me listing our new acquisitions on Etsy over time, but feel free to inquire directly or check out the videos on our YouTube channel as we are continually posting little teasers like the one below!  



Some of the new treasures are still awaiting batch testing at GIA for oil content, but we already have available some some trapiche emeralds and emerald cuts from the famous La Pita mine near Muzo: these gems are a rich deep green, they are very clean for emeralds and hence low in oil.  Unlike Chivor material, these gems have a rich velvety almost neon green tone, as you can see in the video below. These gems are for decorative use only and were given to me as a parting gift. They are actual remnant splinters from the cutting factory, but they show off the color beautifully!



Currently in the lab are also a 1.5 carat piece of rare Euclase, and two large Chivor emeralds awaiting full certification.  Below is a video of a sample piece (this one is sold already).



I also acquired some lighter colored Muzo pieces (locals call them "emerald crystal" because they might be closer to green beryl than to the traditional emerald colors), and an emerald oval from Cosquez.  Currently the Cosquez mines are producing a lot, but not that much has reached the market, and in the US, Cosquez pieces are actually quite rare. Known for a more yellowish tint, Cosquez gems have a bright open color.  Chivor emeralds, by contrast, are more blue, though also lighter than the La Pita Muzo gems.


Not sure you can see the differences in this photo, but the two gems on the left are Cosquez, the center two are La Pita, Muzo, and the two right pieces are Chivor.



From Chivor, I bought emerald cabochons of various sizes, including this lovely sugarloaf suite cut by Don Julio M. in Bogota: 



Don Julio owns a small shop in the Casa Esmeralda, and he was very helpful in explaining in more detail the color nuances from the various emerald locales, and he proudly showed us the dabs he uses to hold emeralds as he's cutting them:



Chivor emeralds gems are often cut into long baguette shapes because the crystal shape is long and thin.  I sourced a a suite of three available for a nice ring or Ava pendant, a small no oil emerald cut, a tiny cabochon and this sweet, little very clean briolette, cut by a fellow named Hermann, whom I sourced the briolette directly from:


emerald briolette


And here are some of the newest Colombian emeralds, now available in the shop for purchase:



Stay tuned: In our next blog post, I'll tell you a bit more about the actual trip!
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The Hidden Jewels of Afghanistan

The Hidden Jewels of Afghanistan

Ravaged by decades of off and on war and religious oppression, Afghanistan is getting a lot of negative attention lately, and needs our support.  As a woman-owned company, we would like to do our part by donating the profits of all of our Afghanistan gems that we sell to the women's rights organization,  Women for Afghan Women.

Because of its unique geography, Afghanistan has a very rich and long-standing mining culture with over 1400 mining fields, going back thousands of years to Alexander the Great and even earlier.  Its most well-known gem, lapis lazuli, can even be found in Egyptian jewelry. 

However, much of the gem mining industry is still at an artisanal stage, with small and often independent groups trekking into mountain ranges such as the Panjshir mountains north of Kabul where the famous emeralds are found.  This Wikipedia entry is fairly comprehensive and more detailed than what I can offer.  

Many of the mining regions for colored gemstones can only be reached on foot, and this is another reason why gem mining has never turned into a large-scale operation.  Additionally, many of the fields have never been seen or reached by trained geologists. Consequently, our knowledge of the exact geology is second hand. 

As you probably know, emeralds and rubies from Afghanistan are quite well known and well regarded among gem connoisseurs.  Panjshir emeralds have a rich minty green color and tend to be very clean, somewhat similar to Russian emeralds but with warmer tones and more fissures (hence somewhat more oil).  The material rivals that of the Muzo mines in Colombia.  This older GIA article goes more into detail.  Another location, the Swat Valley in Pakistan, is also known for emeralds of very similar color to Panjshir.


Panjshir Emerald and Gold Earrings


Emerald Cut Panjshir Emerald


The Afghanistan ruby is similar in body color to the Burmese ruby, but can sometimes be more reddish because of the iron deposits.  It also has very bright and beautiful fluorescence.  We have a beautiful bi-color piece available that shows off the nicest color of Afghan ruby.  Bi-color rubies are extremely rare (and very unique to Afghanistan material).


Rare Bi-Color Afghanistan Ruby


Tourmaline (green and lighter pink) is also very common in Afghanistan.  The greens tend not to have the deep blueish tones one used to find in Brazil but are more minty or grass colored and lighter.  You can also find some very nice bi-color specimens.  The pinks tend to be on the lighter side, so I haven’t invested in these. 


Bi-color Minty Green Tourmaline from Afghanistan


The same region that produces ruby also produces Spodumene (kunzite, hiddenite).  The kunzite is a gorgeous strong pink color but we do not carry kunzite because it can lose its color in sunlight.  Hiddenite hasn’t been very available on the market in recent years.  The last batches I got, years ago, were from areas bordering Pakistan.

As I said above, lapis lazuli is probably the most widely known Afghan gem and production of lapis in Badakhshan is quite large. Turquoise from Afghanistan is also popular in the gem market.

Of course, my favorite gem – spinel - is mined in Afghanistan as well but this is not as well known yet.  Richard Hughes wrote an informative article about it here.   The more well-known spinels are from what is now Tajikistan (which borders Afghanistan to the Northwest).  Tajikistan spinel has a soft to padparadscha colored pink. 

The spinels I’ve seen from Afghanistan have a lavender tone and are produced in the Parawara mine (also in Badakhshan).  Most of that material is not clean but there is some gem grade stuff available which we locked in a few months ago.


Lavender Spinel from Afghanistan


Of course, the future of gem mining in Afghanistan is uncertain at this stage, but in the end, gems outlast all humans, and all human strife.  Only time will tell but I think in the (very) long run, Afghanistan’s mining culture will find a way to continue. 

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Opal Options: What You Need to Know Before Buying

Opal Options: What You Need to Know Before Buying

Though I rarely wear opal jewelry (because I like faceted stones), I find opal to be one of the most fascinating stones to look at and to buy.  Although it’s a soft stone to work with in jewelry, the colors lend themselves to so many designs by adding halos and side stones that show off or complement its main colors.

Most of the world’s opals come from Australia but they are also mined in Ethiopia and Mexico.  Mexican Opal tends to be milky white to yellow, orange and intense red, but it does not show any play of color.  Mexican Fire Opal is a bit difficult to set so I don’t recommend it as a ring stone but it will look great as a set of stud earrings and they make for a reasonably priced center stone in a prong set pendant. 

Ethiopian, or Welo Opal is mostly crystal opal: it is milky white to clear in appearance (many are also yellowish or orangey), and they can have a nice play of color.  Welo Opal is usually more reasonably priced than Australian Opal, and you can find Ethiopian opal more often in the form of beads.  The two downsides of Welo opal are that (a) it is not very durable for jewelry and (b) it is often treated.  Ethiopian opal can absorb up to 15% water and will crack once it dries up.  I have heard that there are Ethiopian opals that are more durable but could not find a way to back this up.  Generally, it is not advisable to immerse Ethiopian opal in water for a longer period of time, though it’s ok for cleaning. 

Ethiopian opal is often dyed because it absorbs liquids so easily.  The same porosities that can absorb water also make it easy to treat by smoking it or coating it with a sugar and acid solution to darken the body color of the opal.  This will enhance the play of color. 

Australian Opal, by contrast, is rarely if ever dyed or smoked, though some of them are sugar/acid treated, and of course, many Australian opals are doublets. 


Matched Pair, Also Seen From the Side, You Can See it Isn't a Doublet,
Less Brilliance But Good Rolling Flash and Several Colors


There are two prevalent and reasonably priced forms of opal from Australia. Boulder Opal is from Queensland and consists of a thin coating of opal with a natural backing of sandstone. Crystal Opal is mostly from Mintabe and Cooper Pedi and is milky white to almost clear. Boulder Opal comes in large sizes and makes for prominent jewelry, but smaller pieces can often be used in pendants.  Matched pairs for earrings are rare, as they must be cut from the same rough.  One downside in working with Boulder Opal is that most of it is free form and doesn’t fit into any ready-made settings. But because of its natural sandstone backing, one often finds gorgeous and intense color combinations.

Crystal Opal, by contrast, often does not show its play of color very well due to the lack of the dark background color.  This is why it is often glued to a dark background made of plastic or industrial glass, among other things, to make an opal doublet.  In a white opal triplet, a third and clear layer is glued to the front of the opal.  When viewed from the side, doublets and triplets are easily identified; this is a little bit more difficult when they are already set, but one indicator is that doublets and triplets are usually very thin and flat. 

A more natural way to enhance the play of color in a crystal opal is to set it into a closed cabochon setting.  Gold and silver both lend themselves to this, but one can also oxidize the silver or rhodium plate the gold to get a black background.  I’ve even seen people just using a permanent black marker on the inside of the setting to enhance the color of the crystal opal. 

The rarest form of Australian Opal is Black Opal. With a fine quality Black Opal none of these enhancements are necessary.  The darker the body tone of the opal, the better.  In fact, opal experts rank the body color from N1 (darkest, almost black) to N9 (lightest, basically crystal opal).  The lower the ranking, the more valuable the gem.  Black Opals are primarily mined in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales.


Exceptionally Brilliant Opal with Super Bright Rolling Flash
that is not Directional, Medium Body Color


Black Opal with Mainly Blue Body Color



Black Opal (N1) with Rolling Red Flash



Black Opal with Harlequin Pattern


With Black Opal one can also best judge its play of color, which seems to be simultaneously on the surface and inside the stone (this is not a characteristic of Boulder opal).

Play of color is also the most important identifying characteristic of the rarity and value of an opal. It involves a number of factors:

  • Number of colors displayed in the gem: the more different colors, the higher the value. The rarest and most expensive of colors is red, and the least expensive is blue.  A solid red opal will also have high value even if it shows only red.
  • Intensity or brightness of color: The more intense, the better. In opal this characteristic is called brilliance. The opposite of brilliant is subdued.
  • Whether or not the flash is directional – that is – only seen from a direction, or whether it can be appreciated best from the front, and then all the sides.
  • The ratio of color versus the background (i.e., black).
  • The pattern type: there are actually a number of patterns mentioned in the literature, such as harlequin and flagstone, which are two of the most favored patterns, or pinfire (tiny bits of color). Generally, however, large patches of color are preferred over small dots. 

Here are a few opals we have currently for sale on Etsy:



Fairly Solid Turquoise Opal Showing a Lot of Brilliance - Bright Color


Free Form Australian Boulder Opal


Australian Black Opal Oval


Pair of Pear Shaped Australian Boulder Opals


Bright Orange Mexican Fire Opal Stud Earrings


For more detail on Australian Opals, watch my interview with Adam Sawiki of A & S Opals, from earlier this year at the Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson:



Don't miss our latest YouTube opal videos -- none of these have been listed yet, so if you see something you like, make sure to let us know!






And for even more information on opals, check out's entry here.

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Paraiba Tourmaline: from Beads to Unicorns

Paraiba Tourmaline: from Beads to Unicorns

I got into Brazilian Paraiba tourmalines during my first Tucson show in 2015. I had heard all the lore about them and could immediately see why they were so special.  I financed my first Tucson trip by flipping them on Facebook and Etsy, buying 2-3 each day and selling them immediately.  Prices were less than half of what they are now, in some cases a quarter of the price.  (If any of you bought from me then, you are very lucky).  

However, when I got into Paraibas, the mines were already closed.  And Mozambique Paraibas have never held the same attraction to me.  While the material is cleaner, the color is, for the most part, significantly less vibrant.  And with color saturation being the most significant factor in paraiba pricing, I found that the Mozambique material just cost too much for what it is.  In 95% of the cases, when you see Mozambique and Brazilian material next to each other, you know the difference immediately.  It’s truly not hard to see. 


Neon Turquoise.95 Carat Brazilian Paraiba Tourmaline Oval 


Fast forward to the present situation. While I have said for years that Paraiba is running out, I think I can fairly say that at this point it’s official.  What’s left now is just morsels.  One problem is of course the pandemic.  Brazil is pretty much closed, with no mining activity and otherwise not much business activity.  My suppliers have negotiated for Paraiba via Hong Kong (actually for some time now) and the amounts they receive every few months have shrunk by about 80%, prices have consequently increased.  

So let me put out there exactly where we are at, so that you can make your choices accordingly.

Beads: I have approximately 40 beads left.  I put a lot of 5 on Etsy but for the next lot prices will be 25% higher.  I cannot offer selection of any kind, I just try to mix them up a bit so that each lot has more and less usable stuff.  A couple of years back there were 5 full strands of beads still on the market.  I bought one of them (they were expensive!) and the rest has since vanished into private hands.


Round Melee: I have been offering the same supply for about 5 years now, every few months I restock with the same supplier until he runs out.  The 1.8mm are now gone, there are some 1.7mm, and everything else left is smaller.  The prices have gone up by 20% already, and if I buy more I will have to pay another 20% more.  In April I was able to negotiate a payment plan for several carats of 1.3 and 1.6mm at the price that is now on Etsy.  I have approximately 7 carats total that I can sell for the $3500/ct listed on Etsy.  After that it will be $4000 per carat and I probably will not buy more unless there are specific requests.

Mixed Small Sizes: As you may have seen on YouTube and Etsy, I managed to buy two small lots of mixed but very bright colors privately.  I’m known in the Diamond District for wanting these pieces, so they come to me under the table sometimes for cash prices.  I also have other, more faint color material that I buy off and on, as those are still in better supply.  Some vendors turn those into bracelets with lots of diamonds in layouts, mixing varying qualities in batches, and they can really pop that way.  Remember that layouts are fairly easy to do; CADs as well as 3D prints have gone down a bit in price, so don’t be shy to ask me for options to make little stuff look like more.  

Lighter Color Larger Pieces: Those I can still get, and I have bought a couple that would look good in layouts with more saturated melee so that you have a paraiba pendant or ring but with mixed shades.  The lighter colors can cost significantly less.  In my view mixing the blues with the greens, the lighter with darker, can have a really nice effect.  

Off Shapes: One of the best ways to still get a good Paraiba is to be willing to buy a marquise or longish pear shape.  I can still, for now at least, get pears and marquise (.5-.7 carats I’d say), some more blue and some more green, for about $2500 a carat. Supplies change rapidly though.  

Unicorns: On probably a weekly basis, I get requests for unicorns. I have a client who has been looking for a matched pair of 6mm rounds for three years.  Last year I sourced her a pair of 7x5mm ovals for 15K, but she didn’t want those.  The vendor sold them to someone else, they laughed at me when I returned them because they are so rare.  Then I contacted a Japanese vendor I know who has hoarded some top quality pieces at prices that make your skin crawl.  They were willing to cut down some bigger ovals and pears but the price would have been quadruple.  Had she wanted a pair of pears or trillions at the time, I could have made it work.  Now I can’t.  Top quality material, if available, starts at 20K a carat.  Last week I had a client who was thinking of upgrading from her 1.6mm piece (which upon receiving she found to be too small, not realizing what a 1.6mm stone actually looks like) to a whopping 4-5 carat piece (effectively wanting to go from $48 to half a million dollars).  When my vendors have something interesting, they show me first.  When they get new stock, they call me first.  Paraiba has been my niche for quite some time.  So I have a pretty good idea of when a unicorn request comes my way.  Needless to say we don’t sell unicorns.  

For inspiration, here are some Paraiba pieces we've recently made :


Paraiba and Gold Stud Earrings
Paraiba and Gold Floral Stud Earrings



Paraiba Stacking Ring



Paraiba Engagement Ring with Diamonds


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The Great Padparadscha Debate PLUS Sapphire Tales from Denver

The Great Padparadscha Debate PLUS Sapphire Tales from Denver

The May Denver gem show is actually fairly tiny, even during non-covid times.  But with nothing else big coming up until late August and September, I decided to go anyway.  A few days away is always refreshing, especially when it involves looking at gems.

If you checked out my recent videos, you’ll know that I made at least a few scores: several small parcels of lavender and peachy lavender melee gems from Madagascar, some silvery lavender Vietnamese spinel and lavender sapphire matched pairs (a few of these will make it into the stud earring section), as well as a few more Russian emeralds. 


Vietnamese Lavender Spinel


Russian Emeralds (sold)


Teal Burma Spinel


Heated Ceylon Sapphire


Vietnamese Spinel


My main focus this time, however, was to secure more larger sapphires for the shop, and potentially for some showy jewelry.  I found some heated and unheated blue ovals, rounds and pairs, as well as some orange-apricot tones that I found unusual – some of these will get a mini cert to show that they are unheated before I post them. 

The apricot colors I got would not qualify as padparadschas because they contain too much orange, but for those of you who prefer to have a not quite pad that’s really a pink sapphire perhaps these gems are of interest. 

As you may or may not know, certifying padparadschas has become something of a nightmare to buyers and sellers alike. AGL has decided to subject all pinkish orange sapphire candidates to a color stability test, and most gems do not pass it, thus not making the coveted pad label.  This test has entered the gem labs world after it was discovered that orange pink colored sapphires from Bemainty near Ambatondrazaka, Madagascar, turn pinkish after a few weeks of daylight exposure. The color reverts back over time, largely speaking, though I’ve spoken to some vendors who feel that not all gems regain the intensity they once had and object to a color stability test on those grounds.

AGL reproduces the color stability test by a 10 minute exposure to short-wave UV radiation, and in conjunction with very strict color guidelines, classifies sapphires as just pink or some other non padparadscha color, even if those sapphires have received the pad certification from GIA, GRS, Dunaigre or any other combination of laboratory certificates.  It has even de-classified previously certified padparadschas from their own lab, as well as some sapphires that are of Sri Lankan origin.  As a result, many vendors, retailers, and some retail buyers are no longer sending any padparadscha candidates to AGL.  I should note that AGL is not the only lab applying the color stability test, but it nonetheless appears to have the strictest pad conditions.

Here’s an interesting article by Chris Smith from AGL with more detail, if you are interested.

While padparadscha sapphire is not a specialty of mine, this is an additional reason why I don’t carry many (or any, for that matter).  The "pad" label is now so highly prized that it can easily overprice the gem.  True padparadschas are beautiful indeed – even to my eye, and I clearly prefer more vibrant colors.  But that does not mean they are worth the headache or high price, unless you have very deep pockets and just don’t care. 

Here are some more orange-apricot gems that, paired with more lavender colors and perhaps set in yellow rather than rose gold, would make a lovely addition to a collection without killing the piggy bank: sapphires from left to right: two unheated peachy-pink Madagascans (too pink to be "pad") and two unheated Sri Lankans (too orange to be "pad")




Here is a closeup of the right-most orange-apricot sapphire featured above:



And here are a few videos from my YouTube channel featuring some more sparkling treasures from Denver:


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Loving Lavender Spinel: Where Can You Get That Color?

Loving Lavender Spinel: Where Can You Get That Color?
Oval Vietnamese Lavender Spinel Surrounded by Afghanistan Lavender Spinel

So I announced lavender as one of the colors of 2021, thus trumping (or dumping) the official color of “butter yellow”, as much as I like butter.  Obviously, this means we now have to talk about lavender gems: sapphire, spinel, and, if you like, amethyst, Tanzanite.  And for me, the discussion should start with the underdog: spinel. 

“Lavender” is not a color recognized by gemstone labs, which will use terms like “light purplish pink or light pinkish purple” instead.  Lavender tones can range from a more blueish to a more pinkish tone, some of which I call another unofficial name: lilac.  In many ways lavender is a subjective color: how purple can a lavender gem be?  How light, how blue, how pink?  Also, how much gray can it have before it becomes gray with a purplish tint?

This last question is particularly important when grading and valuing spinel, most of which has a grayish tint and is most valuable when there is less of that.  The lavender spectrum in spinel ranges all the way from fully gray with a slightly purplish tint to a very faint purple or lavender or pink that barely has any color at all, and everything in between, including deep purples and blues. 

And what is the most valuable lavender color?  The one with the least amount of gray, of course.  Purest colors are preferred by most eyes, and this goes for lavender as well.  The eye also loves some saturation, hence the strongest and least gray lavender is what we love most, where the direction of lavender – pink or purple – seems to be more of a matter of personal taste.

Lavender Spinel Baguettes from Burma

Not all locations produce spinels in the purple range, but many do. There are no lavenders in Mahenge, Tanzania but there are some in Tunduru, Tanzania.  Lavenders come from Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Burma, Vietnam, Afghanistan.  The most grayish tones come from Sri Lanka and Burma, which is why I don’t favor those origins.  Burma offers wonderful reds of course but also straight grays and grays with all other secondary tones like blue, purple, lavender, pink, up to platinum and silvery tones and even whites.  Sri Lanka has fewer pure grays but lots of grape tones, grey blue, rosy grayish pinks, as well as some greens and orangish tones. 

My favorite sources of lavender spinels are, ranging from least to most preferred: Tunduru - Tanzania, Parawara - Afghanistan and Luc Yen - Vietnam.

Spinel Rounds from Tunduru, Tanzania

Tunduru - Tanzania: As I noted above, that origin is not known for its gray tones.  Rather, you see a nice mix of light pinks, purples, blues with a little gray, silver, some peachy pinks but no orangish tones.  Lavender is less common than the other tones.

Oval Purplish Spinel from Afghanistan

Parawara - Afghanistan: This region is not far from the Tajikistan mines known for red and pink spinels, but produces lavender spinels instead.  The find is recent, first heard about in 2017 when gem dealer Dudley Blauwet purchased a 56-gram parcel of rough at a gem market in Pakistan – the faceted material from this you see offered as an exclusive in our shop (the three largest gems from this rough were analyzed by GIA to characterize this new spinel).  Another parcel made its way to Bangkok.  It yielded a small amount of very large gems sold on the Chinese market.  GIA characterizes the sample spinel received as having shades of blue and strong purple colors.  The smaller gems are lighter and more lavender.  Neither have any significant color change.  After 2017, not much of this material resurfaced, most of it heavily included, and the region is politically unstable so it’s unclear when there will be more. 

Lavender Spinels from Vietnam
Lavender and Lilac Spinels from Vietnam

Luc Yen - Vietnam: This is on the very TOP of my list for gem treasure hunts, as soon as it’s safe, and permitted, to be back out in the world.  In my view, the purest purples come from this region, but also lighter violets and pinks. Whether your preference is toward the more blue or the more pink, you will love looking at it.  There are also some light imperial tones, leaning towards peach but always with less gray and more pink than peach or orange.  Strong silvery or very light grays do not occur much or at all.

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