Gem hunting as part of our business
Individually searched stones (gem-hunting) have, in 2011, overtaken the value of our direct online sales.
(pictured is a 22 carat unheated Tanzanite)
I think this is an interesting development and I have collected some experiences:
What does not work for a hunt?
1. Demanding an exact weight like 2.26 carat or a very precise dimension like 6.40x4.55mm is not realistic. You may be lucky in the end but it is better to leave some wiggle room to start with.
2. Unless he has nothing else to do, and no family to feed, a professional trader will not want to hunt for a low value stone, even if it is rare and special. It just doesn't pay the bills. Budgets may start somewhere around $1k, depending on how exotic your search is.
3. Finding a stone immediately. Nothing will happen in under a week. A month or two is realistic. If a hunt takes longer than twelve months, there might be a problem. (I searched for an unheated blue zircon for 2 years, canceled the hunt and then found one two months later)
Why do people decide to go for a hunt?
Buying a gem is fun so it usually is not laziness but lack of availability that frustrates the do-it-yourself search.
What kind of people start hunts?
Usually they are rather well informed buyers searching a gem for a special occasion. They are not long-term collectors or investors. The latter acquire what they like and when they can find it, but they are not fixated on a certain quality and timeline.
Is it more expensive?
Yes, a hunted gem will generally be more expensive than a chance-find on the web. This is natural effect of supply and demand. Once word is out that a specific color/size/shape combination is wanted, sellers will try to make extra margin. A professional hunter will have several searches open at any time so he can conceal the exact specs wanted. However, the more specific your demand, the more likely it is to push up prices. E.g. if want nothing but a 5 carat trillion untreated padparadscha you will find the one guy who has a 5ct trillion is asking the highest price. It will cheaper to search for a 4-6 carat oval/round/cushion and see what comes along.
Do I have to commit to one trader?
It may be tempting to send mass-emails, but that is not useful. It is unlikely that somebody hides a trillion 5 carat padparadscha and is just waiting for your email. In any case you will drive up prices because several traders will be asking around for the same specifications without knowing from each other.
All-in-all, this is a very demanding part of the business, great fun at times but also very stressful: Usually negotiating are done over various times-zones and cultural settings, with highest expectations on the buyer side and a strong position on the seller side at the same time. E.g. I had this case where a Chinese seller raised the price twice after we had already agreed on a deal and my American customers were going nuts on the other end.
Try it out!