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Ed Bristol
  

 

 

News and KnowHow
from the gemstone market.

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Buying Flaws

Most aspiring gem-lovers are overwhelmed by the depth and width of the market. If they have been confused in a B&M jeweler, a quick web-search is going to do the rest. But, alas, there is no competence for the lazy. Selecting antiques, real estate or vintage cars requires homework too.

101 buying guides offer good reading and places like this help. Be prepared to spend weeks in a fog but do not despair. Collecting gems is a passion and the learning never ends.

Here is a fresh perspective for the determined beginner. It comes out of a thousand discussions with early stage buyers and their consecutive decisions.

First allow this axiom: "No natural gem is perfect."

The deeper your knowledge the better your choices will get, but there is no final word. All veterans know this.

Consider that 95% of what comes out of a mine goes straight back into the pit. Most rough material is too small, too included, too dull or too unshapely to be cut into gemstones.

Only the remaining 5% make it into sales and they all are flawed.

It is those flaws that need attention: Evaluating gemstones means recognizing imperfection.

Here is an exemplary list of common flaws rated with negative numbers:

1. Clarity: From lens-only bubbles (-1) to visible black inclusions (-3)
2. Window: From small and symmetric (-2) to big and uneven (-5)
3. Color-zoning: From faint (-1) to dramatic (-2)
4. Cutting: From not-precise (-2) to native egg-shape (-5)
5. Treatment: From heat-only (-1) to surface coating (-10)
6. Color: From off-ideal (-1) to pale or dark (-5)

Remarks:
1) A terrible gem could here, theoretically, make it to minus 30. Yuk!
2) Color includes tone and hue

This individual list has no fixed reference. You can add or disregard issues or give reverse ratings. It needs to look different for cat's eyes, pairs or color changers; in fact, the list will look different for every single purchase.

Professionals make this kind of evaluation automatically and in seconds.

You need not to be that fast. Also, you need not think of anything other than what you want or like; and that is entirely up to you. You may find a specific color perfect and some treatment acceptable while other buyers might not be interested in the same stone for half the price.

As always, if you want what everybody wants you need to dig deeper.

Imagine the one elusive but perfect stone: It would have no window (not even a tilt window), be free of inclusions but not synthetic, have no color-zoning, sport an art-full precision-cut, be untreated and have exactly the hue you want it in and in exactly the right tone. Plus, it needs be in the desired size and shape, have ideal proportions, be of your preferred origin and have a perfect certificate. And it must be for sale at an affordable rate.

Back to reality: On the one side we have a set of negotiable flaws. On the other side we have restrictions in budget and time. A successful purchase needs to balance these two sides (only eternity or unlimited budgets are excused).

Practically, you might be shopping for a round yellow sapphire in 2 carats and you need to order soon. The web shows legitimate offers between 250 and 2000.

Study the flaws that make the difference between 250 and 2000.

A terrible window may bring you from 2000 to 1000, a pale hue downs it to 500 and heat may bring you to 250.

Below 250 (e.g. bad window, pale, BE-treated and included) the definition of gem-quality sapphire gets shaky.

If you like numbers you may actually chart your alternatives with prices and flaws on a rough scale.

In the end, I advice to follow your heart, not the numbers.

Remember: "There is always a better one".

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Gem hunting taking over

 

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.

 

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Let Burma In

Beyond the headlines of war, a good thing is happening. Some may have noticed that lonely Myanmar, aka Burma, has turned and reached out to the West. It has installed ATMs, freed opposition leaders, voted a parliament and now is even talking to Hillary Clinton. To those who've seen the country only five years ago this is nothing less than a miracle.

Five years ago Burma was oppressed into a 18th century time warp from which even Sri Lanka, Pakistan or Cambodia seemed like beacons of freedom and prosperity. I was arrested for simply looking (with binoculars) over the lake to the house where Aung San, the daughter of Burma's founder, was locked up for 15 years. Aung San now runs for parliament and meets Hillary!

Those days, $50 would get you three kilo of Kyat notes with which you could buy, well, nothing really because nobody wanted it. There were no telephones, no internet, no newspaper, no ice-cream, no healthcare, and no credit-cards - it was perfectly medieval.

Thanks Hillary, for going there. I am sure the trip wasn't easy, but you will have recognized the beauty and authentic goodness of its people. Probably you haven't seen their terrific gemstones but we here all love them and, please, please, let us again buy and sell them legally. If you do, we promise to be very good, pay taxes and all.

The Burmese have been traders and business people since the dawn of commerce. They are very good at it; honest but tough and hard working; and they will be again. If only we let them in now. It must have cost the Burmese military a lot of courage to overcome their pride and reach out to the West. I wish our politicians had, at times, the guts to say: "Heck, I was dead wrong, sorry folks. Let's do better."

It is on us now to acknowledge their courage and show that we too can change and do better.

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The voice of truth confirms:

The Economist about colored gemstones.

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The Dragon and the Alexandrite:

 

An extraordinary piece of jewelry deserves attention from gemstone connoisseurs and jewelry lovers.

 

The above shown ring was crafted out of platinum and weights nearly 50 grams. The eyes of the dragon are made from custom cut red Burmese spinels of best quality. The center stone is a stunning Ceylon Alexandrite, also custom hunted and re-cut from 2.5 carat gem.

 

In daylight, this Alexandrite displays deep rich ivy green and then surprises with a dramatic change to berry red in tungsten light. Intense luster and greatest clarity make this gem a rare dainty.

 

It work was commissioned from Asia. The hunt for the Alexandrite, the design and production took over six months to conclude.

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Why are many gem mining countries so poor; and do not profit much from their riches?

Because their governments choke off local business by regulations which were initially intended to support the local trade. The main value of gemstone is not in mining itself but in the work that lies behind it. Namely cutting, setting and marketing of gems and jewelry. Strangely though, this part of the value chain is always located in countries that have no natural gemstones, like Thailand, Hong Kong or Germany. Why?

We have seen this in many countries, but here is an example from Sri Lanka:

To obtain a license for the legal export of gems from Sri Lanka one needs first to cut through much red tape. Compared to the red tape we may bemoan in the west this red bared wire. (Many miners do not even have an ID)

If you have a license (and a costumer to ship to) you will spend at least one day in the "Gem Authority" where your export is examined, registered, certified, valued, packed, and finally is sealed with 6 wax seals and six (no kidding) different signatures on twelve documents with double copies. If something went wrong in this paper orgy or somebody didn't show up to work you will have to come back next day and next.

Finally, when all is done, the package goes into the Gem Authorities safe and stays there until DHL, and only DHL, comes once a week; and charges you double than Fedex or 50 times more than normal airmail. (There is rumor that the boss of the gem authority is a close friend of the boss of DHL but who knows?)

Hence all shipments from Colombo are made in big parcels, preferably pre-shaped, to Bangkok or HongKong, where they are split up, cut, set in jewelry and or marketed as gemstones. Bang, like that, 75% value creation has changed the country. The miners are left with digging in the dirt. A few whole sale traders do OK but thats it. 

Thus, Sri Lanka shots itself straight out of the most valuable part of gem business.

Why does the government do this? No bad intention. Actually they intended exactly the opposite. They wanted to control rough from leaving the country to be cut elsewhere. But, as governments tend to do, they got it wrong; and far too late.

 

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Thanks to their fragility and foreign additives, glass-lead-ruby composites are worth a fraction of the value of real rubies.

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USA cracks down on Irradiated Gems

 

The US government has finally started to worry about irradiated gemstones.

 

For starters, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NCR) has targeted the $1+ billion sales of "London" blue topaz into the USA.

 

Though the laws regarding irradiated gemstones are as old as 1986, the trade has so far mostly ignored the testing requirements. Blue topaz with excessive radiation levels can be found in any corner jeweler.

 

But the winds have changed: In a meeting on the 26th of July, the NCR stressed a renewed determination to protect consumers from radioactive jewelry.

 

As a result, retailers are already pulling blue topaz off their shelves. Further enforcements are scheduled. It is expected that diamonds, cat's eyes, beryl, tourmaline and kunzite are going to be included as well.

 

The NCR states clearly that any unlicensed sale of irradiated gemstones in the USA is illegal. Read the original NRC document here 

 

We think: Right so. Well done!

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Confused Blues

 

After the market for yellow, orange and padparadscha sapphire has been thrown in turmoil and devalued by the so called "beryllium surface diffusion", the same is now happening with blue sapphires.

 

To the dismay of many traders and miners, this year has shown a new beryllium treated on blue sapphires. This, now second generation, beryllium treatment is not confined to the surface but penetrates deep into the gem.

 

It seems inevitable that the market for heated blue sapphires is going to plunge even further. Some talk about a collapse because the deep-surface treatment will hit a market that has already been fighting with falling prices for years. 

 

Beryllium treated sapphires are now being offered for as little as $10/carat in the wholesale market. With identical looking heated sapphire trading for $500+/carat one can imagine the confusion and mistrust amongst buyers.

 

As a side-effect, the prices of colorless sapphires (which are best suited for the new treatment) have been skyrocketing as well. This would explain why white sapphires have been so hard to obtain in 2007. 

 

The producers of heat treated sapphires seem to have the choice only between either starting beryllium treatment themselves or managing with even lower prices. While the latter might ruin smaller and midsize suppliers, the former will only lead to further price reductions, and the problem is only postponed.

 

Thoughts on the business implication of gem treatment can be found on this discussion forum or here.

 

Edward Bristol

 

P.S. New, again other, chemical treatments are in the coming: http://www.themelis.com/News.htm 

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"Incomplete Gems of Life!"

Don Ames in California has finished and sold, for an undisclosed sum, his first work of art based on gemstones.

 

Congratulations Don! Great project.

 

The "mirror" contains over 1000 carat of rough tourmaline, sapphire, ruby, aquamarine, topaz, spinel and other gems, as well as gold (river of life) and faceted diamonds.

 

See a detailed picture here and read the artists comments (allow some loading time)

 

Contact the artist (we will forward your comment).

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Where do all those scratches come from?

In recent years consumers and jewelers have complained about chipped and scratched treated sapphires. This raised questions about the durability of treated sapphire, and led to a discussion on various webforen showing that the percentage of damaged goods is in deed much higher amongst treated stones.
 
For this two reasons have been located:

a) Most importantly, heating sapphires increases their brittleness. This leads to surface weakness and chances are higher that a stone will be damaged during transport or setting. This is a widely confirmed experience not only of gemologists and gem buyers, but also of heaters.

 

b) In addition, treated stones are mostly handled in parcels and not in single boxes. Since sapphire can scratch sapphire they tend to get damaged while being carried around unprotected in plastic bags.
 
To make things worse the two factors, brittleness and handling in parcels, obviously reinforce one another.

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Tucson: From material to gemstones

Semi-precious is dead - long live semi-precious.

 

This year, Tucson has shown what all connoisseurs know: There are no "semi-precious" gemstones! A gemstone is per definition precious. If it is not, it is no gemstone.

 

The true measure is called "price per carat". Somewhere below fifty, ten or five dollar per carat, depending on where you stand, comes the transition from "gemstone" to "material".

 

Topaz, tourmaline, garnets, kornerupine and spinels finally get the attention, numbers and calls they deserve. Who will doubt that a fine color change garnet has more to offer than a treated and calibrated blue sapphire? While the former will draw crowds, the latter is sold as commodity, unseen in big parcels. If this trend continues, Tucson 2025 might be free of "material".

 

Hence we welcome and applaud the increasing diversity in the gemstone market. Over are the times when the jewelry buying public raised eyebrows and asked: "I thought sapphire is blue?" Over are the times when only hard-core-gem-junkies knew that chrome diopside is not a car cleaner.

 

With the big old three falling victim to treatments, the rise of other varieties sheds light in the tunnel.

 

And behold, educated consumers with choices are powerful consumers! Those in pursue of the quick buck in sapphire treatment will soon have tears in their eyes. Prices of what they contemptuously called semi-precious will easily outrun their "material", but by then Tucson will be for gemstones only.

 

Edward Bristol

Natural Gemstones Only!

No Heat, No Radiation.
No Bleaching, No Oil.
No Filler, No Diffusion.
No BE, No Chemicals.

Nothing but... gems!

Made by Earth.
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