Gems

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 wikigempedia.com'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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Spinel Spinel Spinel: Origins and Colors Explained

Spinel Spinel Spinel: Origins and Colors Explained

I’m not sure if you know, but about two years ago spinel was added to the list of birthstones. It now accompanies peridot on the August list, making for a lovely variety of colors in addition to green for those who are born in August but don’t like that color. 

Spinel exhibits a lovely color variety of almost anything under the sun (even green), but most spinel ranges from red to blue with all the intermediate colors: pink, lavender, purple, etc.  Most spinel has a grey modifier, and a large quantity of spinel is actually mainly grey with modifiers of pink, blue, purple, and lavender.  Only a few localities show fairly pure colors. 

Spinel is a fairly hard stone, easy to work with, and up till now there’s no known treatment to either enhance the color or melt away inclusions.  Generally spinel is fairly clean anyway, so that is another plus.

There’s a ton to say about spinel, but I think the easiest way to get an idea of what this gem has to offer is to go through the various localities of origin and look at the individual qualities and colors available there.  For a personal twist, I’m going to talk about this in the order in which I was introduced to spinel.

Sri Lanka. My first exposure to spinels was around the fall of 2009, when I saw what looked to me (at first) like pink to purple sapphires with a few purplish blues.  Back then they were so cheap because it was a very underappreciated gem.  Very few people knew about it.  Most spinels from Sri Lanka have a stronger greyish cast, which is why I have gotten away from selling them over time but some of the better more saturated purples and blues come from this country.  There are even a few gems with cobalt content (this is what makes spinels blue) though it’s not as strong as the cobalt blue from Vietnam.

Here are some spinels from Sri Lanka that I owned back in 2012:


Grey Spinel

Mogok, Burma. This area is mostly known for it’s bright red spinels. But you can also get all the pink tones there, and most of the now popular greys are from that area as well.  Grey spinel is very abundant, even in larger sizes, and despite it’s popularity I don’t list very much of it.  Basically, this is because grey spinel is not rare, and I don’t want to overstock and then sit on them as the popularity wanes.  I can source greys of almost any size and shape without any problem, if need arises.  The Man Sin mine in Mogok is famous for it’s Jedi spinel, a reddish pink, or pinkish red (depending on personal preference) that is especially neon color.  My personal preference are the reddish pinks, not the pinkish reds because those are the most neon of all.  But the true reds and reddish pinks are pretty much equally expensive.  Of note: the black prince’s ruby in the British crown jewels is a spinel. Click here for a fantastic article about Jedi spinels. You may recognize Hemi Englisher, a fairly well known gemstone wholesaler who exhibits in Tucson.  These days, Hemi sells other gems more, though he still moves quite a bit of spinel.  His Mogok material has long ago wandered into other hands, though.

Click here for some neon red spinel currently available in our Etsy shop.

Burma Spinel Earrings and Loose Jedi Spinel:

Mahenge, Tanzania. It was the summer of 2010, when I went to the JA Show in New York city, browsing through the AGTA section. All the way in the back there was a young man from India, proudly showing off some very neonish pink gems that looked very similar to the red spinel I had seen, yet had a unique shade of their own: more of a warm pink by comparison, and except for a little bit of overlap between the colors, fairly easy to distinguish from Burmese material after a little practice.  The young man turned out to be Jaimeen Shah from Prima Gems, whose uncle (an Indian born in Kenya, who lives in Arusha, Tanzania) had bought up most of the initial claim back in 2007.  Previously the family had mostly dealt in Tsavorite and some Tanzanite, but the find in Mahenge changed everything.  Now fairly mined out, Mahenge spinel has brought much deserved attention to this beautiful gem, and drove up the price from $50 a carat wholesale in 2010 for half carat pieces to over ten times that in 2020.

Here's some Mahenge spinel from 2014, all sold.

Click here for mahenge spinel currently available in our Etsy shop.  

Here is the latest YouTube video I made explaining the differences between Sri Lankan, Burmese, & Mahenge spinels: 

 

And another exploring Burmese and Mahenge Spinels even further:

 

Tunduru, Tanzania. Jaimeen also introduced me to spinel from the south of Tanzania, close to the border to Mozambique.  Tunduru spinel, to my eye, has much in common with Sri Lankan spinel.  Ranging from baby pinks to (a few) lavenders and purples to blue, much of it has a grey cast.  However, you can find more of the blue tones in the Tunduru region, usually lighter pastel blues, and these do have a bit less grey than Sri Lankan spinel.  If you see parcels of each side by side, you will be able to distinguish between them fairly easily.  Tunduru spinel will be lighter in color, and it will have more blue mixed in.

Tunduru Spinel:

For more on Tanzanian spinels, you can watch this video I posted to my YouTube channel:

 

Luc Yen Region, Vietnam. About five years ago, when I first met Hemi, he had shared his booth with a young Israeli residing in Bangkok named Nir.  This is where I first saw Vietnamese spinel.  The colors were the purest lavender I had ever seen, and the neon pinks had a very unique tone to them as well.  Having looked at oodles of spinel in half a decade, I immediately noticed that these were different in tone with much less grey on average (though the less valuable material also has some grey).  There are also lilac tones, just a slightly more pinkish color than lavender, which are amazing and probably my personal favorite.  The most famous Vietnamese spinel, however, is the cobalt blue color, which now fetches prices of up to $50.000 a carat wholesale for 1-2 carat pieces, and up to $30,000 wholesale for well matched suites of smaller sizes.  This Luc Yen find has since disappeared.  There was a smaller find of blues in the summer of 2019, which was bought up very quickly.  Most of that material, however, did not have quite the same intensity.  I have a purplish blue almost two carat (AGL certified for Cobalt) in my personal collection that will remain with me, probably forever.

Vietnam Spinel: 

Cobalt Spinel from the 2019 find:

For more on Vietnamese spinels, you can watch this video I posted to my YouTube channel:

 

Ilakaka, Madagascar.  Until I went to Madagascar, I didn’t actually know that spinel originated from there because this origin is not always identified.  Also, Madagascar is a relatively young mining country, not very organized.  Lately, spinel is mainly found as a byproduct of ruby and sapphire in Ilakaka, but also in many other regions (Itrafo and others) as well.  Much of this spinel looks very very similar to Sri Lankan spinel, just like Madagascar sapphire looks very similar to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) sapphire.  The two were actually confused by well known gem laboratories until enough of a database could be established.  Most of what I have seen is purple to grey, blue to grey, and the occasional pink.  This material livens up considerably when well cut (I’ve gotten some from Nomads that I have loved). 

Click here for lavender spinel currently available in our Etsy shop. 

Madagascar Spinel on the Left, the rest is Burmese

Mozambique. This is a relatively new source of spinel (see this article).  So far all of the specimens I have seen from Mozambique are pink with the occasional secondary hue of lavender, and they have very fine silky inclusions. Ordinarily this is material I would have dismissed, as I favor clean stones like most people, but this material is unusually attractive and the silkiness enhances the appearance instead of distracting from it. 

Mozambique Spinel:

Here is the finest I have seen in this listing here:

Tajikistan. Another unusual origin, and rarely seen in the market because the area isn’t that safe or easy to travel.  I have seen very little material from there with my own eyes, but what I have seen is also less grey, a nice medium saturation pink.  Orangy tones from the area are also very famous but I’ve not yet seen one in person.  Maybe some day…

This is my only spinel from Tajikistan.

 

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Padparadscha – Lab Certification Roulette

Padparadscha – Lab Certification Roulette

Guest Blog by Inken Krause, Enhoerning Jewelry

Entire book chapters and countless longish essays have been written about the ideal color of Padparadscha sapphire and the cultural history of this special color descriptor so full of romantic idealization and metaphoric meaning. Now Yvonne has asked me to edit a short guest blog (emphasis on short), so I will try to work on a more practical question.

What does a sapphire look like that will, in all likelihood, be ennobled as Padparadscha by the most important American/European* gem labs?

Several labs, AGL among them, agreed that this 2 ct unheated Ceylon sapphire is a Padparadscha. The perfectly balanced mix of orange and pink leaves very little room for doubt.

This 2 ct Padparadscha was most likely tested for color stability by AGL, although they do not explicitly mention this on the report. I hope they will start doing this on future reports. 

Color -- Hue
Modern definitions of Padparadscha ask for a pink-orange (called type “sunrise“) or orange-pink (called type “sunset“) color. Purists tend to prefer the sunrise type. The color mixture between pink and orange should be well balanced. If either pink or orange is very weak, most labs do not grant the pad label, and any hint of brown is a deal breaker for most of them. Some labs are very strict and exclude any yellowish (not orange) or lavender-purplish (not pink) color. In my experience, the New York based AGL is rather tolerant about purplish hues, but absolutely unforgiving about brown. Of the American labs, GIA tends to be the strictest when it comes to hue (see the round stone example below).

AGL certified this 4 ct unheated Ceylon sapphire as Padparadscha, GIA disagreed and called it “pink sapphire“.



This 2 ct unheated Ceylon sapphire was certified “Pad“ by AGL, and the color is so well balanced that almost any other lab would follow. It leans slightly to the orange side, making it a sunrise Padparadscha.





This 4 ct unheated Ceylon sapphire was certified as Padparadscha by an Asian lab, but AGL (with good reason) decided it is only a ‘light purple’ fancy sapphire, although there is indeed a very slight orange modifier.



Color -- Tone
Tone is the least critical aspect of Padparadscha color. Most labs will accept a wide range of tone (lightness/darkness), as long as the tone corresponds well to the saturation level. Higher saturation can have higher tone. A low color saturation with a high value of tone often leads to a brownish or grayish appearance of the gem. A sapphire with a strong grayish appearance will not be considered a Padparadscha by most labs.

This 2 ct unheated Ceylon sapphire was certified Padparadscha by several major labs, including AGL. It shows a slight grey modifier, but the orangey-pink color predominates in daylight.



Color -- Saturation
Saturation is the most tricky aspect of Padparadscha certification. Almost all Western gem laboratories ask for a light (“pastel“) to medium saturation in pad sapphire. The color should be “delicate“. However, in practice, lab certification can work differently. Many labs routinely reject pink-orange/orange-pink sapphires and do not grant the desired color descriptor if they find the saturation to be too light! (Happened many times to me and my stones). However, it is very rare that they reject a sapphire as a non-pad because of too high saturation, unless there is a brownish modifier. Almost no lab can resist the beauty of an intensely to vividly saturated pink-orange/orange-pink sapphire, even if these stones do not meet their official requirements for (lower) saturation. AGL seems to be notorious for this paradox, but I have seen it on lab reports by GRS and even the highly respected Gübelin lab as well.

This 1 ct unheated Ceylon sapphire was certified by AGL as “Pale orange-pink“. Because of the “pale“ it did not pass as Padparadscha but was labeled fancy sapphire.



Color -- Stability?
The color of a Padparadscha needs to be stable and may not fade over time and/or in the absence of UV light. Color stability in pad (and other color fancy-) sapphire is a hot topic right now and deserves another blog entry of its own. In the meantime, please feel free to read some latest research here: https://www.ssef.ch/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/2018_Padparadscha_colour_stability_facette.pdf

Most of the laboratories mentioned in this text routinely do color stability tests on potential Padparadscha sapphire and do not grant the color designation if a stone does not pass. If you buy a Padparadscha these days, make sure that it comes with a reputable lab report that is not older than a year. Even the most respected laboratories did not test for Padparadscha color stability until a couple of years ago.

This 5 ct Padparadscha was tested for color stability at Lotus Gemology, although they do not explicitly mention this on the report. I hope they will start doing this on future reports.



Geographic Origin?
For Padparadscha purists (like me) a real pad is from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) or from Burma (Myanmar). The very rare Padparadschas from Burma are incredibly beautiful. However, many mining locations produce Padparadscha sapphire, for instance Madagascar. A fair number of fancy sapphires from Madagascar do not pass the “pad test“, however, due to color stability issues. Pad-like sapphires from Umba, Tanzania, often do not get certified as Padparadscha due to brownish modifiers (or, sometimes, too much saturation).

Treatment?
Again, Padparadscha purists (like me) have their own view on things and think that only an unheated pad-color sapphire is a real Padparadscha. All of the labs mentioned in this article, however, certify heated (heat-only!) sapphire as Padparadscha, too, if the color is right. None of the labs mentioned in this article will give the precious title to sapphires that have undergone Beryllium-heating or any other invasive treatment.

Three Ceylon sapphires, all unheated/untreated. The middle one shows almost perfect Padparadscha color. The one on the left does not show enough pink. The one on the right is rather high in saturation for a Padparadscha, but shows a good balance of orange and pink (all of these are available through Cecile Raley Designs).




This 1.99 ct unheated/untreated Ceylon sapphire is currently available in Yvonne‘s Etsy shop. It is of the “sunset“ type and has a good to very good chance to be certified as Padparadscha by, for instance, AGL.



* comments made in this blog entry apply, to the best knowledge of the author, to the following gem labs: AGL, C. Dunaigre, GIA, GRS, Gübelin, IGI, Lotus Gemology, SSEF; this blog article does not make any promises about lab results for your sapphire.

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Hunting for "Diamonds" in Herkimer

Hunting for "Diamonds" in Herkimer

I assume you've heard of the Herkimer diamond?  It's actually quartz and but nicknamed "diamond" because of its shape: double terminated (meaning with two points) and with 18 natural facets.  It was discovered in Herkimer County, NY.  The currently open mines are "Ace of Spades" https://www.herkimerdiamond.com/ and "Crystal Grove" https://www.crystalgrove.com/

I'd been wanting to go for some time and so this year when my travel buddy Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Minerals came to exhibit at the Edison Gem show, we decided to tack a short trip onto his stay and headed for St. Johnsville, NY on Monday April 8 for a two night stay on an organic farm (because why just stay in a hotel….right?).  I admit it was a bit chill with just a wood stove, no hot water and 35 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Who says I have to have all my adventures in Africa anyway?

After a relaxing evening (interrupted by trying to make the wood stove work) with local beer, home- made chili, several games of Ludo, and a chill morning brightened up by fresh farmed eggs cooked on a camping cooker, we headed out for Herkimer.  The Ace of Spades mine is located close to the center of town, and right behind the main building, for $10 a day, you can hit rocks with a rented hammer (they can be rented for $1).  The diamonds are hiding in little cavities inside, sometimes loose (these are called floaters) and sometimes attached to the host rock.  Whatever you find, you get to keep.  We found three attached to host rock (no floaters) - in about two hours - and only with some guidance about which rocks to split open.  So our treasure consisted in a find of about $2-3. 

At around lunch it started to pour so we ended up spending quite some time in the quaint shop.  We found out that in order to have a real bounty, you need to have the owners open up a larger pocket for you - they apparently know where those are, they will bulldoze the area and then split open the pocket in your presence.  If the pocket doesn't contain anything interesting, they will open up another.  But if it is too valuable, they keep it and give you another instead.  This decision is at the sole discretion of the owners, and the fun sets you back by $1700.  But to be fair, living off a mine like this isn't exactly easy and the owners say clearly that the activity of opening up a pocket is supposed to be for family entertainment, not for profit by expert miners or geologists.  So this isn't something we will undertake.  But we got some nice video for you of the hard work this kind of mining requires, and of course I also bought a few crystals and some faceted stones for you to purchase. 

I realize you can buy those directly elsewhere for less, so I am marking them up very low and you get the benefit of me having hand-picked each stone for cutting, excluding the included and brownish materials, making sure there's no window and no abrasion in the girdles (several gems had those) and picking gems that are easily settable in my designs. 

Here are some photos, if you'd like one of the more included crystals just let me know, it's yours free (shipping is free with any purchase or $3.50).  If you want me to get it drilled and made into a pendant, I'll have to charge something though.

 The inclusions, by the way, are.... you guessed it (not): asphalt.  Petrolium, in other words, or unrefined oil.

Jochen was actually very happy that instead of finding crystals, he found asphalt in host rock instead.  I have a lot of asphalt already, outside the house, mixed with gravel and flattened for driving, no host rock of course, but I still passed!  That's ok, I got my Herkimer "diamonds" instead.

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What’s up with all these “new” Emeralds: Emerald Origins Revisited

What’s up with all these “new” Emeralds: Emerald Origins Revisited
Panjshir Emeralds: these lighter minty green emeralds are mined in the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan, and improved political relations have made these available in slightly larger quantities. My personal favorite, these gems are extremely vibrant and often cleaner than their counterparts. This website here has some fascinating videos of the mining process in Panjshir. We have some completely untreated material available in very limited quantity, and we can source more material if oil is ok. Continue reading

Padparadscha Sapphire – What’s the Story?

Padparadscha Sapphire – What’s the Story?

Every since Britain’s Princess Eugenie has been sporting a Padparadscha sapphire engagement ring valued at over $130,000, these lotus flower colored beauties have been all the rage.  Industry prices have actually risen as a result.  In terms of color, purists claim that a Padparadscha should combine peach-pink and orange tones, ideally mixed evenly (no color zones), and have light to medium saturation. But exactly how that looks is a point of contention.  The ideal comparison is the Lotus flower which it is named after.  Given the huge variation in both color and saturation of actual lotus flowers, it might be fair to say that this reference is more romantic than it is helpful.

Originally “pads” were mined primarily in Sri Lanka, and this is why “purists” still consider only a specimen with the famed Ceylon origin to be a true Padparadscha. Nowadays, however, gems from other regions with the same color characteristics, for instance from Madagascar or Tanzania, can be deemed a “pad” as well. Some gem dealers will refer to those as “African Padparadscha” but one should not rely on the nomenclature being exact. In any case, it is still true that a Padparadscha sapphire from Sri Lanka will command a premium in price, even if the color quality is the same as a comparable stone from Africa. Whether this is justified or not, the take-home message from this is: if a seller is asking an additional premium for the Ceylon origin of a Padparadscha sapphire, one should only pay the extra if the alleged origin is backed up by an origin report of a reputable lab (GIA, AGL, ...). 

 Traditionally only an unheated sapphire is eligible to be considered a “pad” but that has since changed s well.  Heating may turn an originally only very faintly peachy colored sapphire into a “pad.”  This should not command a premium in terms of price, however.  As to the nomenclature (is it a pad or not), I would probably stay away from the term, to be on the safe side.

 

GIA has a very interesting article on the historical development and currently use definitions of the term Padparadscha sapphire, which you can look at here: https://www.gia.edu/doc/Padparadscha-What-s-in-a-Name.pdf

According to the report, written by Robert Cownsingshield, no reliable laboratory criteria can be established to standardize the term Padparadscha – at least not one that all labs would agree on.  However that said, a color description can be given that will be used as a comparison base for color.  Here’s what Cownsingshield says about that:

It is GIA's opinion that this color range should be limited to light to medium tones of pinkish orange to orange-pink hues. Lacking delicacy, the dark brownish orange or even medium brownish orange tones of corundum from East Africa would not qualify under this definition. Deep orangy red sapphires, likewise, would not qualify as fitting the term padparadscha.

This definition is best applied by comparing to what the lab considers samples of the right color.  Unfortunately, some laboratories are much stricter in their application than others.  The strictest US lab is probably AGL at present. 

Candidates for the Padparadscha Label from our Collection - All Sri Lanka Origin, the rightmost stone is heated.

1.03 Ct. Sri Lankan Sapphire, 6.4 x 5.7mm, no heat Link here

1.56 Ct. Sri Lankan Sapphire, 7.5 x 5.7mm, heated, labeled "Pad" despite heat. 

 Oval Padparadscha Sapphire, Unheated, 6.67 x 5.36mm. Link here 

Now, it would be expensive both for sellers and buyers alike to have every single possibly qualifying sapphire evaluated by AGL.  So it is often left to gem dealers to decide how to classify their purchases, which is why it is so important for a buyer to find a reliable and also knowledgable source for their sapphires when it comes to the less valuable pieces (probably at a price over 1K, a declaration of “pad” should probably be verified by AGL.  My own source, as many of you know, is Dudley Blauwet, who has extensive industry experience and sources all his sapphires directly.  Here’s what Dudley has to say about the way he distinguishes a pad from a peach pink sapphire: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mx8eDQ4Px1A&t=1s

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