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Precision Cut Garnet

Above: Our famed precision-cut rhodolite garnet


More and more people turn to the internet buying gemstones
for jewelry, investment or simple fascination with color and sparkle.

Here you will find advice on how to...


Judge a Gemstone online:


 

Alexandrite
 

Precision Cuts
 

Diamonds
 

Emerald
 

Sapphire:
Blue, Padparadscha, Yellow, GreenPurple, Pink, White, Color-Changers


 

Ruby:

 The Mild and the Wild


 

Ruby vs. Sapphire


Aquamarine

Amethyst

Chrysoberyl

Diopside 

Garnet
(Tsavorite, Pyrope, Hessonite, Almandine, Rhodolite, Raspberry, Color-Changer)


Jade

 

Kornerupine

Opal

Peridot

Rubelite

Spinel 
 

Sunstone (feldspar)


Danburite

Tanzanite

Titanite/Sphene 

Tourmaline

Topaz


Opal

Zircon
____

 

Star-Gems 


 

Pairs
 


Gems in Jewelry

Title 

Alexandrite on photo: Better murky than perfect


Below from left to right: Green/Blue Russia, Green/Red! (opaque) Pair Zimbabwe, Green-Blue/Purple-Red India, Green/Orange & Green/Red Ceylon, Green/Brown-Red Cat's eye India.

Color-changing Chrysoberyl or Alexandrite is perhaps the most challenging gemstone variety for any buyer (on- or off-line).

Given its price, it is, next to Padparadscha, also the most faked gem on the internet.

The usual trick is to take two photos of a plain Chrysoberyl and then, with a click of the mouse, change one photo into red and the other one into green, re-name it "Alexandrite" and raise the price eightfold.

Less scrupulous, but still a scam, is to take a color-shifting Chrysoberyl and tweak the color-shift into a color-change; and then raise the price fourfold.


Finally, when legitimate Alexandrite refuses to be photographed correctly (or somebody dreads the extra work) people may re-produce the actual colors digitally. Some argue this to be OK in some cases but 100% trust and confidence in the seller is then required. Since such trust is rare the challenge of buying Alexandrite online lies in detecting digital coloring.


Here are some hints:

1. Pure green to pure red color-change has never been found in Alexandrite, much less photographed. If you see such a 100% color change on photo you better move on.


2. Average, yet still expensive, quality Alexandrite's colors will often look blurred on photos. Day-green will be mixed with blue or yellow and/or brown, while purple is diluting the red or is even the dominant color at night. Such quality may still be rightfully called Alexandrite but it needs to backed up by a full gem report including:

a) That it is an 'Alexandrite' (not only a chrysoberyl)

b) Defining the two different colors (blue-green-brown to purple-red-orange)

c) Judging the degree of change (weak, moderate or strong)

Without a lab report aka 'certificate' photos of Alexandrite are even less conclusive than those of padparadscha or ruby. As always: Never buy without certificate (aka report).
 

3. Most traders will (or should) show day and night images. It is good and normal to detect the opposite color (e.g. some red in the green day-light, or some green-blue in the night photo). Exceptions exist but they are amongst the most expensive materials on earth.


4. It is theoretically possible to shot day/night images with two different light sources but 100% identical positioning, and thus identical luster and light pattern in both photos. However, such an identical light pattern in both day and night image are a good reason to suspect digital coloring. Individually shot day and night photos will always show different light pattern.


As far as inclusions, windows, cutting, brilliancy, cat's eye, crystal etc. are concerned Alexandrite is no different from other Chrysoberyl's.


Below is a legendary 8 carat Alexandrite cat's eye.
 

See our Alexandrites!


Alternatives to consider: Color Change Garnets, CC Sapphire, CC Fluorite, CC Spinel, plus Multicolor Opal, Tanzanite, and Sphene.

Title 
Fine Mint Tourmaline in prescision cut

Above: Small but fine mint tourmaline



Precision cut: Must be perfect on photo.
 

Precision cut gems look terrific on photo. If they don't look perfect they probably are not. To say that any precise cut gem will look great may be far fetched, but that is the direction it goes. Nevertheless even precision cuts can go wrong. See examples below.

 

A perfect cut will mask gray, strengthen weak colors, cover-up inclusions and make even black-outs look sophisticated.

 

You have to be aware that, as far as material value goes, a pale included gem is still a pale included gem even if it is precision cut and thus looks very sweet on photo. Of course, the pale included gem will actually also look better in person than the same gem cut badly, but it still needs to be significantly cheaper than a top-end stone. 
 

If you enjoy a good cut expect to pay precision mark-up but don't buy lesser quality at top rates just because of an exciting looking photo (unless perhaps there is an award-winning star-cutter or an artist involved).

 

For example, the following precision cuts made good photos but come from "normal" quality rough; they deserve a mark-up for great cutting but they must not be the most expensive in their variety:

From left to right: Zircon, rhodolite, green garnet, green grossularite, spinel, zircon, tourmaline, mali garnet (always untreated).


 

BUT: Not all are perfect. Below are precision cuts; and yet they do have flaws or are darkish:

Left to right: Not-perfect sapphire, almandine, two zircons, amethyst, cobalt spinel.

 

Note: High-end gemstones in precision cut must look absolutely perfect on photo.


You can not be too critical here (but you will need a healthy budget). The best gems of each class get their first cut close to the mines and not many gems are, or can be, re-cut into perfection later.

Precision cutting needs size in rough and availability for cutters without the buying power of big cooperations. Hence one will find more topaz than demantoid, more off-color sapphire than Burma ruby in relatively 'wasteful' precision-cuts. If you want the latter, bring time and money. 


What constitutes a precision cut?

- Facets are exact and meet in one place
- Symmetry and order in every dimension
- Flawless polish
- Maximized brilliancy  

 

A pro-cutter can add many more topics but these are the basics which should be visible in any image.

 

Here are some examples of high-end precision cut gems:

From left to right: citrine, mahenge spinel, rhodolite, hessonite, topaz, amethyst, color changing fluorite.
 

See our precision cuts.

Title 

Color-Diamonds: No big problems (except on a budget)

We do not deal in white diamonds except on demand and as sidestones. They make good glitteratties but that is about all. As gems they are neither rare nor value storing. 'diamonds are forever' may be true but was perhaps the biggest consumer heist of last century. Rapidly falling white diamond prices across the board speak for themselves.

Only colored diamonds are value keepers. The ultra rare blue or red but also more frequent fancy yellow, orange, brown, even black have given their owners pleasure not only of the visual kind. We focus here, and pass by the mostly well documented treatments.

It is true that you need only a day to learn about diamonds but a life for opals or sapphires. Color give diamond an extra dimension to consider yet the regulations for diamond reports are so detailed and enforced that they are almost grading reports in their own rights.

On photo they pose equally few problems. All do's and dont's of colored gems are valid. No color changes, cat's eyes, or stars make them complicated to show. Plain what-you-see-is-what-you-get rules the day except for luster. Diamonds are mostly well cut, often precision cut, up to the so-called 'ideal-cut. They lead, next to some some others, the pack in dispersion splashing a rainbow of sparks in all types other than black or heavily included quality. Even videos cannot show them all but you may trust in their existence because that is what diamonds stand for. 

Colored diamonds are not for color beginners. Start with zircon and titanite to get ready. 

See our Color-Diamonds

Alternatives to consider: Sphene/Titanite, Demantoid, Sphalerite

Judging Natural Sapphire Online 

 

Sapphire is commonly known as a blue gem (or red, then called "ruby"). However, in 2005 the so called "fancy" sapphire (neither red nor blue) have surpassed ruby sales worldwide.

 

The most famous fancy of all...

Padparadscha

Pads (amongst friends) are one of the most sought-after gemstone varieties. They have a long tradition and come with an outstanding mystical image. Described as a color merger of the lotus flower and a tropical sunset, they are a famous topic of discourse amongst gem color specialists.

However, anyone who knows how many colors the lotus flower shows (not to talk of a sunset), can imagine the confusion regarding the definition and usage of the term "Padparadscha". 

Pads on photo: Delicate, but not difficult

 

The color effect of a true natural padparadscha is easy to capture.

 

But, given their extreme value, natural Padparadschas are probably the most faked variety on the Internet. The combination of orange and pink is more a challenge to the photographer's honesty than to his skills. Precison cuts, no windows, no inclusions are an often wished-for extra in the extremly costly material and a challenge for any budget. Above right is such a fine specimen.

 

One will find anything from pinkish lavender to dull brown offered as "natural Padparadschas". Some sellers do not even go through the hassle of "photoshopping" their stones, but simply sell all half-way suitable off-colors with an idea of pink or orange as Padparadscha:

NO PAD: Orange Yellow (may-be)NO PAD: Orange Red (may-be)

To qualify as true Padparadscha, a natural sapphire must show orange and pink at the same time.


Here we may distinguish two forms of Padparadscha:

 

  1. Pink and orange merge throughout the stone. The eye is puzzled with the melting color equilibrium. Some might perceive more pink, while others see more orange. Fascinating especially when a natural gems shows more pinkish orange in tungsten light, while being crispy orange pink at day.
     
  2. Pink and orange are separated. An orange sapphire with pink areas also qualifies as true Padaparadscha in our opinion (and the other way around). Though Pads with thoroughly merging orange and pink are even higher priced than those with "simple" color zones, the latter can also make fascininating gems in their unique color structure. Color zoning of this type is also an indication that you are looking at a natural unheated Padparadscha. Nevertheless you should insist on a lab report or certificate.

Additionally Padparadscha connoisseurs distinguish between "pinkish orange" (orange is the more dominant color) and "orange pink" (pink being more dominant).
 

Thus, we may define four types of natural Padparadschas as shown below:

 


1. Orange Pink
(merging orange into pink)


2. Orange with pink
(pink zones in an orange stone)


3. Pinkish Orange 
(merging pink into orange)


4. Pink with orange
(orange zones in a pink stone)

1. Merging orange in pink2. Orange with pink zones
 
 
3. Merging pink in orange4. Pink with orange zones 

In Asia the "Orange Pink" (1.) is the most valued variety of the four.

In Europe, it seems, "Pinkish Orange" is favoured.

Some do not like to count color zoned orange sapphires as pads but we feel not so. Look at the report: it must say 'padparadscha' and nothing else matters but your taste.


Because of their value Padparadschas have always been the object of heavy treatments. Not only heating but complete "re-coloring" is common. Treated padparadschas are however of little lasting value.

Diffusion treated beryllium padparadschas for example are about as a rare and valuable as traffic jams in
ColomboAny good looking natural Padparadscha that does not cost significant money is a fake (no exceptions). When buying true Pads on the web, make sure that the stone is graded as "pinkish orange" or "orange pink" by an independent lab.


See our padparadschas: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat or over 2 carat


 

Alternatives to consider: Spinel, tourmaline of orange pink types, also diamonds but only with bigger budgets.


Read more about padparadscha

Star Padparadscha

2008: Once in a decade or so a star padparadscha is found.

4 carat star padparadscha

2015: A second star padparadscha was hunted down for a loyal customer and collector in a year long epic quest.

Title 
Deep Kashmir BLue Sapphires

The Big Blue

 

Though, as mentioned before, natural sapphire comes in a myriad of colors, most people think of sapphire as being blue.

 
Blue sapphire is in fact the number one in sales of all colored gemstones. Famous are Cornflower, Velvet- and Sky-blue and the rare Kashmir blue. The roots of the latter color come, of course, from the famed origin Kashmir. However, since the mines there have long run dry the term 'Kashmir' is commonly used for a specifically sleepy and hypnotic type of deep blue (like the 3ct natural Burmese sapphire above). Some Kashmir sapphires come from Pakistan but they tend to be purple/red, not blue (so far).

 

Blues are routinely ultra-high heated to create this darker kashmir-like shades.

Sri Lanka exports containers of an ugly whitish stone ("geuda") which turns into blue sapphire under ultra-high heat. An estimated 95% of all Sri Lanka sapphire is treated. Untreated natural blue Ceylons are a rarity.

 

Natural Blue sapphire on photo: The chameleon

 

Anybody who has tried to capture unheated blue sapphire on photo will have realized that it is extremely sensitive to the light source. Far from understanding the color perception of the human eye versus that of a camera, we can only note that blue sapphire is a camera-chameleon.

 

The slightest change in angle, distance to, or the light itself result in tremendous changes of the captured color. The photos below show the same 3.5 carat blue sapphire without any further editing (other than sizing).

 
  
  


Photos above: Blue sapphire can be photographed "into" many hues. 

 

Depending on the light source and angle the camera transmits different hues and shades. Hence, a "sell & run" trader could offer this stone as cornflower blue, purplish blue or even as a light Kashmir blue - resulting in very different prices.

 

Yet, the "real" color, meaning the one which the eye perceives, could be graded as 'deep steel blue', and is best shown in two photos: #1 & #3 in the 2nd row.

 

However, deviation between reality and the photo are not always the result of bad intention or fraud. Especially light colored sky-, marine-, and steel-blue stones are in fact difficult to capture correctly. Therefore any photo should be accompanied by a straightforward grading and a written description taking up any issue that the photo might withhold from the buyer.

Many blue sapphires shift towards purple and violet in different light settings without being true color changers and there is nothing bad about it but you should be aware if you are allergic against purple, or violet (then better go to alternatives).

 

The lesson to learn: When buying natural blue sapphire on the web, always carefully read and consider the seller's description and grading. When the "real" blue might be hard to capture, it is worthwhile to pay attention to all other information the seller gives. (Hence, if we say that a stone is lighter colored or more steel than sky blue, we mean it.)

Alternatives to consider: Blue Spinel, indicolite, euclase, or aquamarine.

 

See our blue sapphires: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat, over 2 carat.

Title 
Yellow Sapphire

Sunshine Yellow

In Sri Lanka we find particularly bright yellow sapphire. Though not strong in color they do excel in luster and crystal. A well cut light yellow natural sapphire is a delightful lively gemstone.

 

Very often, these light yellow stones mark the border to white (colorless) sapphire. White sapphires with only an idea of yellow (or any other color) are here called "Tinted White". Such a natural yellow can be just as fascinating as a fancy diamond but will cost only a fraction.

 

Intensely colored yellow sapphires of bigger size may come with a tint of orange or green. Thus they can range from a rich canary yellow to an intense greenish lemon hue. Deeper colores come from Africa (orange and brown yellow), Australia (green yellow) and occasionally Burma (pure yellow).

 

In the past years light yellow has been the favorite sapphire color amongst collectors, and their prices have soared. Nevertheless they are still affordable when compared to blue or pink.

 

Natural Yellow Sapphire on Photo: Pardon those inclusions

 

Like most lightly colored stones, yellow sapphires do not stomach inclusions very well. Even an only "lightly included" yellow may seem to be somehow dirty on a photo, though, in fact, the eye will not perceive any inclusions at all. In deeper colors even the lens would not reveal those fine inclusions, but in a yellow they seem to spoil the photo. In the same sense color zoning poses a problem in light yellow. Only strong color zones of green make for easy shows on photo. The two precision cuts come with white zones but the great cutting turns a liabilty into an asset. Number three exhibits the problem with only little inclusions: The gem is a great sparkler but looks cloudy on all photos. Images do not equal value but a web-seller knows he cannot offer a bad looking gem at a premium. If the web is his only sales channel he is forced to compromise. If you are cleverly seeking bargains, do not forget this fact.

 
 

Photos above: Four untreated yellow sapphires from left to right: precison-cut, slightly windowed, lightly included but 'dirty' of image, precision-cut.

A natural yellow sapphire free of inclusions is a grateful gem to work with. They will shine and sparkle especially when exposed to a little bit of sunlight.

Frequently however their luster is so strong that the camera captures them just as a blurred light source. In this case the photographer has the choice to either show the stone as a somewhat fuzzy shining star, or he has to sacrifice the luster and show the stone from the side only. We usually prefer the shining stars.

Photos above: Three natural yellow sapphires shining close to a camera's abilities.

Frequently we also experience that the greenish character of a stone becomes strongly exaggerated by the camera. Some stones in fact turn so green that they are hardly recognizable as yellows anymore. This presents one of the rare cases in which it might be legitimate to manually decrease the amount of green captured by the lens. If necessary, we will say so in the comment section. This is not a color shift but simply a false representation in the age of digital images. In fact there are no color-changes or - shifts to muddy the waters here. Nor are there, so far, stars to catch on photo.

 
 

Photos above: Natural lemon yellow sapphire (some windows) that showed mostly green through the camera. Only after reducing the green digitally did the real color prevail.

Again, the primary goal of any selling-photo is to present the stone as close to reality as possible, yet the additional description ought to mention any potential deviation between photo and eye perception.


Alternatives: Citrine, imperial topaz, clinohumite, yellow diamonds, golden/yellow tourmalines, sphene.
 

See our yellow sapphires: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat, over 2 carat.

Title 
Purple sapphire unheated

The Hidden Purple
 

Some cultures and languages use the term "purple" differently. As most North Americans and Europeans, we take purple as a color on its own. Violet, also a mixture of blue and red, lies closer to the blue and is therefore counted into the blue gemstones. You may be surprised what inviduals define as 'purple' and others insist is NOT 'purple' - don't get mad but see it as a chance to buy what you like off the beaten path.
 

Unheated purple sapphires are far undervalued given the strong color sensation they offer. A good natural purple is as thrilling to the eye as a good blue or violet. Nevertheless they have not been getting much attention until the quest for untreated ruby made many people consider other colors than the classical pink and red.


Yet, besides the terrific but rare electric purple, collectors seem to prefer stones with an undertone rather than fully saturated purple ones. This looks like an exception to the rule "the higher the saturation the higher the price".


A reason for this exception may be found in the way pure purple defies the camera.


Purple sapphire on photo: Poor in Solitude


When looking at images of natural purple sapphire on the web one quickly realizes that they can not compete with the dazzling presentation of good blue, ruby or pink.


Whenever you see a breathtaking image of a purple sapphire it is mostly the secondary hue that gives it the "bang". Pinkish purple, reddish purple or violet/bluish purple are great models, but purple on its own does not perform well in front of the camera.


The following sapphires are fine gems for the eye, yet the image does not transfer them equally well. They are examples of purple in different tones and secondary colors:

Purple may seem somewhat dull or lifeless in front of the camera.

The following three stones, all with strong color cross-over, do very well in front of the camera. They immediately catch the eyes attention and leave no doubt about their attractiveness.

Photos above: Purple as/with a secondary hue is very photogenic. Of course, these stones are in deed fabulously intense colored but they also show it straight away.
 

Thus, when buying purple sapphires on the web: Give them some credit!


You might well be surprised how reasonably you have obtained a fully colored untreated sapphire. Note that purple is a crossover color often moving not changing between blue and red in various light settings, some actually being color-changers in their own right.
 

Though prices shall not be a function of the photogenic capabilities of a variety, they do influence the market situation. Hence, purples are sold relatively more expensive in the traditional in-person channels than they are sold on the web. This is true for all gems, but especially for the camera-shy purple.

Alternatives to consider: Amethyst, Spinel, Rhodolite, Tourmaline.


See our purple sapphires.

Title 
Untreated hot pink sapphire

Shocking: Pink
 

Pink, being a lightly colored form of red sapphire or ruby, has become popular in recent years. Above THE color in 2 ct to scare pink diamonds at 10% the cost even if at 10k/ct in unheated natural hues.

Its colors range from a light lavender rose to the so-called "hot pink", which resembles a vivid bubble-gum hue.

Aside from padparadscha, which is partly orange, natural pink sapphires have become the most expensive variety within the fancies.

Prices of pinks vary greatly with size and color intensity. However, untreated hot pinks of several carats have buyers lined up at the mines. In the wake of this popularity prices of pink spinel have increased as well.

The fact that heart shapes are much more frequent in pink sapphires than in any other color points to the emotional occasions they like to be used for. Especially Japanese buyers love big pink hearts.

Hot pink was once a unique offer from Sri Lanka, but we do not see that continued. Madagascar has taken a dominant position for pinks, but most stones are heat treated and are not clean.

(Remark: Though Madagascan stones are sometimes heated at lower temperatures (600°C), we feel that "treatment is treatment". To distinguish between low and high temperature heating does not help at all, but further complicates the situation for the buyer and increase the confusion in the market. Either a stone has been artificially pampered with, or not. If there was no change, then why was it heated in the first place? "A little pregnant does not count.")

If you want a truly natural pink you will have to search longer and, no doubt, pay more.

Pink on photo: Well, that depends.

Ranging from the most tender-baby-complexion to alarm-button-shocker-hue, natural pink does not allow a simple evaluation.

Light pinks are notoriously difficult to capture. Like yellow they suffer from exaggerated display of inclusions, re-pay good luster with fuzzy images and pretend to have windows where the eye sees none. In fact light pinks are known to have made photographers quit their jobs (or being fired).

Below are three adorable pink sapphires that will stop your breath in person, but they are hard to capture digitally in an attractive manner.

Far from cheap untreated light pinks don't forgive shallow areas, over represent inclusions and either swallow their luster, or turn out fuzzy.

Hot pink must show on photo. Period! If it doesn't look like fire it is not hot. Warm lavender pink can be just right for those who like it a tat understated but sparkly.

Photos above: Light pinks are mercilessly self-critical.

Strongly colored pinks on the other hand are more than robust. The following shots were immediate photographic "bull-eyes", and do neither exaggerate the stones beauty nor understate their weaknesses. Further around the color wheel this is taken to the extreme when even opaque rubies still make relatively good photos.

Photos above: Only the two in the middle are hot pink jumping straight into the camera without problems. The other two are fine pinks but no fire-in-the-whole.

As a rule, the more color in a pink the more critical you should be about any flaw you can see on the image. Be wary with hot pinks that look too included or windowed, they probably are. Unless the price reflects the visible flaw and the seller names it for what is it, you might have a bad awakening.

On the other side you can make a good catch if you find a fine, but lightly colored, pink that is undervalued due to its bad photo manners.

Alternatives to consider: Pink spinel, tourmaline, ruby

See our pink sapphires: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat, over 2 carat.

Title 
no-heat sapphire white

White Sapphire

Truly colorless sapphires are called "white", and are said to be found exclusively in Sri Lanka (not true anymore).

Fine untreated white sapphires have become rare since they can be turned blue, orange or yellow with high heat, irradiation and various other treatments.

White sapphire rivals diamond in some ways. Thus they were often used as a substitute. However, many people have become aware that they do have their own charm, and since then they are valued far above mere cheap wanna-be diamonds.

Most white sapphires like the pinks, are heated, even if on lower temperatures. Some like to conceal this as "only blow-heat". We don't. 

Many whites do have light hues - pink, purple or a tint of blue. The border between a pale blue and a white sapphire with a blue tint is not clearly set. From the point of untreated stones, we define the border in favor of color.

A white sapphire that shows some, say, blue but may not be called a blue sapphire, is here referred to as a "tinted white". Such a tint may be imagined as the lightest of all tones. Clear water in a glass bottle for example or ice leaves an impression of being bluish, or white marble might shine yellowish. However, one wouldn't call this blue or yellow straight away.

The tints in white are in fact often so fine that professional graders can not agree on them. Some gem labs define such a stone as "faint blue" some tend to call it "colorless". At the end of the day it comes down to your personal perception and taste. In any case we will explicitly mention the faintest idea of color in our comment.

All whites do exhibit color when in colored light of course, but that does not count as a tint.

White sapphire on photo: Capturing the stars in the sky.

Here are some examples of sapphires that show various tints, but may still be counted as whites, sometimes called 'tinted white':

Photos above: Three unheated white sapphires with just an idea of color. The pinkish center stone is the same as above. One photo was taken with some sunlight, the other one in very cold dim day light.

When choosing a tinted white sapphire on the web, make sure that the stone does not only show colors resulting from an external light effect. Ask the seller and see for the color definition of the lab certificate if you are not sure.

If there is a tint, and you like it, you might have the chance for a bargain in your color of choice.

At any rate, white sapphires are thankful photogenic models. They sparkle and shine with all might. Surprisingly they are not as sensitive to inclusions as one would expect from the experience with yellow or light pink.

The only difficulty one encounters with whites is to rightly capture their luster. Some well cut whites are so good in throwing back light (which is somehow the life-purpose of any gem) that they can't be photographed from the front. Those stones you will find to be shot from a side angle.

Though not satisfying this is often the only way of capturing the stone without simply having a fuzzy light in, say, oval shape on the picture.

Here are some whites that had to be photographed from the side because their luster was too strong to be captured.

Photos above: Close to white-white, colors more a reflection of room light, full sparkleers, no windows, most precision cut.

The following stones have fine luster but they dispense the light in a way that does not blind the camera, and/or have been shot in slightly dimmed day light, and thus are less aggressive.

Photos above: Whites allowing frontal shots in low light.

As so often in gem photography, one can not show all qualities (or flaws) in one shot. If the value of the stone (and thus the invested time) does justify multiple views, a row of photos is probably the best way to overcome this issue.

However, there is an obvious connection between an in-depth multi-angle multi-light photo-analysis and the price of a gem. Thus we do not generally photograph every stone from every angle in all light conditions, but deliver additional photos on request.

At any rate, a seller should be willing to provide you with a written statement or an additional photo if you have doubts about certain feature like color or are worried about a flaw.

A last advice regarding untreated white sapphire: Buy them before prices go up.


Alternatives to white sapphire: Topaz, danburite, quartz, white diamonds.

See our white sapphires.

natural unheated green sapphire

Green Sapphire:


Earthy or Arctic Montana
 

Compared with other green gemstones (say tsavorite or tourmaline) the green variety of sapphire makes honest but simple photos. Compared to other sapphire colors like pink or blue, they are, well, not-so-shocking but quietly beautiful. There is no striking emerald green or neon-electric or extraterrestrial chrome green in sapphire. Exceptions excist but cost as all exceptions do collector premium. With iron as color agent they tend to be an earthy topic. Even the most painless photo-shoppers on Ebay do not dare to display them in shock-green. Green sapphires are pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get.


Green sapphire does come in certain types from certain origins, from left to right: Montana, Africa, Tanzania, Australia, Ceylon, Montana (check full list in our shop)

Classical green sapphire from Australia mix with blue in various degrees. 

When buying untreated Australian green sapphire keep away from too dark stones. Check for the light settings on the pictures: It should not seem artificially over-lit or brightened. Australian greens are still a great bargain.

unheated blue-green sapphire

More floristic greens come from Sri Lanka; and her geological neighbors in east Africa. Typically underplayed with yellow or brown they range from brownish olive to the most tender sprout green with frequent blue-greens thrown in.
 

Watch out for the blue-green like the one here, they have gained much financial ground over the last years. Especially those rare specimens holding equilibrium of green and blue have been strongly appreciated.

Bargain hunters may still find such stone priced at greenish levels.


Montana (got its own section below) has a very special range of green on offer.

Cold Montana (above: 1., 2., and 6.)
 

Finally there are are the legendary US sapphires from Montana with bright metallic often bluish watery greens. With mostly light tones they are a difficult bunch on photo, but very rewarding in person.

More often than not, they display cross-overs between blue and green; and they also have great luster which is desired but difficult for images:

Aren't they truly different in character? Like cold rivers, lakes in winter, bluish green as ice. They do not compare with the posh blue or pinks of the world. Austere, frugal and often pale; they have an arctic charm and it shows on photo.


Simply said: One must like them. And many do.


Alternatives for green sapphire: Green tourmaline, peridot, jade, sphene, zircon, garnets, emerald.


See our green sapphires: under 1 carat, 1-2 carat or over 2 carat

Title 
untreated star ruby and sapphires

Star Sapphire & Ruby


 

Commonly stars are known in ruby and sapphire but they also appear in garnet, spinel and other less known varieties. There are differences between those stars but we will here pretend that nature made all stars equal.
 

Gemstone phenomena, especially asterism, are a tough call to judge on photo. However, no normal jeweler will be able to show you a fine natural star sapphire, let alone a selection to choose from. Good stars are rare even beyond the normal gemstone rarity. Unless you live in a metropolis or travel to Tucson or Basel, the internet is the only place to compare and buy such a gem.


Looking at images on the web, true stars seem to be quite an ugly bunch. Rarely do they show nice colors, often they are zoned, patchy, heavily included, silky, egg-shaped and at times the asterism is hardly visible at all.


And of course you will find many "perfect", "fully colored", giant star sapphires or rubies for a few dollars. These are synthetic or surface diffused or lead-glass filled gems which are mostly worth just as much as they cost.

 

There is nothing wrong with twenty carat Linde star for fifty dollar, but be wary of those sellers trying to offer them as real deal for $20,000.

 

Here are some typical examples of undisclosed fake stars:

So, they are either ugly or faked?

No, don't be discouraged. Real natural stars are mind-shaking and heart-breaking.

Many star skeptics have become sworn star fans after their first encounter with fine quality:   

Ceylon Star SapphireMogok Star Ruby12 Ray Burmese Star

Here is what to look for when selecting a star sapphire or ruby online.
 

The value of any star gem depends strongly on the quality of its asterism, which is defined by (no order):
 

  1. Sharpness
  2. Symmetry & linearity
  3. Completeness (6 rays mostly)
  4. Travel (smoothness of movement)
  5. Position
  6. Lucidity & Depth

The relative importance of these criteria are questions of personal taste, culture and fashion. Most collectors would perhaps trade in some off-centeredness for good movement, or overlook a meandering leg while frowning at a missing one.  
 

We feel lucidity, travel, position and completeness may be most important and price relevant.
      

Only then, with decreasing relevance, come:
 

  1. Color
  2. Clarity (inclusions)
  3. Shape
  4. Finish (top and bottom)

Asterism and color together easily make up 80% of the value of a star (sapphire, ruby or any other variety).
 

With ten dimensions (as compared to the old 4 Cs) stars are a quite demanding topic. But they are rewarding, too.


Let us tackle each issue separately from the web's point of view:


1. Sharpness is easily shown on the web. Here are three stars (spinel and sapphire) with decreasing sharpness:

Star SpinelBlack SapphirePink Sapphire

Easy, right?

Three remarks, though:

  • There is an ideal distance between spotlight and the gem bringing out the sharpest star. You may assume that the photo captures this point. (unless stated otherwise in the grading report)  
  • In general, a camera shows stars not as sharp as the eye perceives them. Hence, when you see a sharp star on photo you can safely conclude that the star is actually very good in person. If you can just make out the star on the photo, it will be fleeting and in need of a strong single spotlight.
  • Please be advised that one may well find faked (photo-shoped) sharp stars on Ebay or elsewhere. As always, if it is too good to be true... and never buy without 3rd party report.   
symetric natural white star sapphire


2. Symmetry and linearity are easy: What you see is what you get.

Photo: A rather symmetric white star sapphire with some snaky rays.

flawed blue star sapphire


3. Completeness: No problem either. Count the legs. If the gem on the photo misses one leg it is likely missing for real (unless the grading says otherwise.) Rare if with visible legs are 12-ray stars (shown below - which we wish we never sold and today would buy a house).

Photo: Star Sapphire with two missing legs


4. Travel, the ability and smoothness of the star traveling over the stone, is not really possible to show on the web (not yet at least). Until online video technology has advanced further, you will have to rely on the seller's description and check later in person.

 

Ideally the star follows a light source smoothly, not jerking and jumping, while staying intact and sharp. Don't expect perfection though: Every star has a weak area or two. Value reducing would be a loss of completeness or even a sudden disappearance of the star during movement.


6. Position too, is a tricky business on the internet. In order to show the star on a photo one must bring it close to the center. Thus, on a photo, the star will usually be centered. But that does not mean it actually is.

Photo: Three stars looking halfway centered which are in person off centered:

Even a 100% centered star would need camera and spotlight in the same position (which is next to impossible). Hence, position is always a criterion that one must question further even if the photo looks great.
 

Sometimes you may see the light coming obviously from the side while the star sits centered, meaning that, when the light is moved up, the star will probably shift off-center. However, this is not 100% conclusive. Mostly you will need to rely on the seller's evaluation.


Whenever useful we try to put a number to off-centeredness: "45 degree off-center" for example indicates that when the spotlight is positioned straight above, the center of the star sits half way down the stone. Ten degree would mean the star is just slightly off center and more than 60 degree would send it nearly over the edge.

natural star ruby

6. Lucidity & Depth are connected. In one extreme we will have completely opaque material with the star sitting on the surface. Opaqueness is easy to spot on photos. It looks like a solid piece of material with the rays fixed or painted onto the surface.

Photo: Opaque star ruby with the star confined to the surface.

fine blue star sapphire untreated

At the other end of the spectrum we may have highly transparent quality with the rays reaching into the body. One can, however, not expect 100% transparency because needles are necessary to break the light and show the star.

If the needles are very fine and yet the star is clearly visible, then ... There is magic: The rays sway like silver curtains inside this most dense material.

Photo: Semi-Translucent star sapphire with rays reaching into the gem 

Most stars however are rather opaque characters and transparency is highly priced. 


So much to the evaluation of asterism.
 

The remaining four points are also relevant in normal gems but some additions are helpful.

7. Color: Strong colors are extremely rare in stars. Even the best star will have a silky, silvery sheen to it which clouds its saturation. This is unavoidable. A star needs needles.

Most stars come in grayish, foggy mild colors. Exceptions, like the one below, exist but they are very costly and yet can not rival the intenseness of a 100% transparent gem:

fine unheated star ruby

Novices will be disappointed when expecting to find a neon red ruby or a hot pink sapphire with perfect asterism
 

One has to appreciate the silkiness as part of the phenomena, and see the color as an add-on. Even grayish white stars have good value if their asterism is of high quality.


The main problem, however, when judging colors on photo springs from the fact that any spotlight, needed to show the star, affects the character of the color. There is no cure to this.


If the spotlight alters the color too much we often add a "no-star" image to show the gem's "2nd" color. This means one image to show the star, and one more to show the color (without a spotlight) under mixed and diffused light conditions:

 
 

However, this is not fully satisfying since star quality and color saturation interact. Again you have to read the sellers description carefully and trust his judgment until you can examine the stone yourself.
 

There is a trade-off between a weak star and a full color: The finer the needles, the better the color potential, but the weaker the star.


Hence, the worst of all possible stars will be valued close to a cabochon of similar quality. Thinking of ruby, we would, at some point, discard the asterism and cut the cabochon into a facetted gem with that sought-after silky ruby sheen.

rare star padparadscha orange pink star sapphire

8. Clarity: Stars are by nature often more included than normal facetted gemstones (beyond their needle structure). This may be connected to their geological origin as semi-transparent material. However, inclusions should not dominate the overall appearance or hinder the rays from traveling.
 

Photo: Star padparadscha with orange inclusions and yellow color zones adding beautifully to the sunset theme.


Stars also often display stronger color zones. Here too, one has to be tolerant. As long as the star runs unhindered through those color zones you are still on the good side, even if the price of such a gem must be well below an evenly saturated sample.

oval star sapphire

9. The shape of a star is limited to round or oval cabochon with rare exceptions.
 

Photo: Pear shape star sapphire (pair) 


Generally, asymmetric shapes or other unevenness will reduce prices or should be re-cut straight away. Stars may come flat or dome shaped but this isn't of much importance since there are no windows or blackouts to fear as in facetted gems.

rough back side of star sapphire


10. Finally the finish of a star: While the dome must be smooth and evenly polished the bottom is often left rough and uneven, frequently even with unattractive edges, holes and other flaws. Don't worry about it.


Photo: As-good-as-it-gets back of a star sapphire: Unpolished, no over-weight, no flaws. BTW the back of above 12ray sapphire


The only thing that counts in a star sapphire or ruby is the top. Of course, in an ideal world, the bottom too can be pretty but don't count on it.


The bottom does not need to be nice but must be as small as possible, not bulging and thus producing extra weight. Enough bottom to accommodate a setting is all weight you want to pay for. A tiny star sitting on a giant rock of corundum should not be priced per carat.  

Summary:

  • The most important quality of a star sapphire, ruby (or any other variety) is its asterism
  • The main criterion of asterism may be lucidity, completeness, position and travel
  • Lucidity and completeness are possible to judge online
  • Position and travel are not conclusive by photo only, but need the sellers input
  • Asterism and color together determine the value of a star gem
  • Strong colors in transparent stones are highly priced but extremely rare
  • Some fogginess/silkiness is necessary in every star
  • Colors may vary depending on the type and intensity of the spotlight
  • Watch out for over-weight bottoms


Treatment of Star Sapphire & Ruby:


Many gem dealers will claim that stars can not be treated. This is nonsense. They can not be ultra-high-heated above 1200 degree because this might melt the needles. Stars are regularly heated below 1200 degree, lead-glass-healed, diffused or filled with bismuth or other chemicals.


Alternatives: none really. 


See our stars: under 2 carat, over 2 carat.

Title 
unheated pair of blue sapphires

Buying Pairs on the Internet

 

If you adore individual jewelry you may soon be searching a matched pair for earrings or side stones for a ring or necklace. The internet is often the only venue to visit.

 

Here is some advice on how to judge pairs on the web. These are valid for all varieties, not only sapphires. Images of pairs are tricky even by gemstone standards. It is best to concentrate on facts (clarity, tone, dimensions etc.) and use the photos as additional information and overview.

 

The collector knows there are no two identical gemstones. If you see a 100% identical pair online it is most likely one stone copied and rotated digitally.
 

Unless you settle for a calibrated and artificially colored stone cut by a machine you will have to accept some differences, especially when you use the lens. However, two gemstones need to have a similar appearance and character to be in harmony as a pair.

 

A practical test for two similar gems is simply to mix them up. If you need the carat weight to sort them back to their certificates they have passed the test.

From left to right: Mali Garnet, Zircon, Grossularite, Sapphire, Topaz, Tanzanite, Titanite (all untreated)

In a more thorough approach let us follow the classic 4C to evaluate a pair:


Carat (size): Many people get overly focused on searching identical carat weight in pairs. This is not necessary and indeed very rare to find. More relevant is the so called "face", the upside dimension of a gem. Two gems might have the same carat weight and yet very different faces and vice versa.


As a rule of thumb you should be searching for gems in the same weight class, say 2-3 carat and then, more importantly, look at the dimensions of the face. Consider width and length. They are most important since they determine the visible face. A pair with too much deviation in the visible part is no good for jewelry.


How much deviation is too much? This is better looked at in relative, rather than in absolute terms. One millimeter difference on a 20mm pear shape might be acceptable but a catastrophe on a 4mm round gem. Barring exceptions we allow pairs to have max. 5% deviation from each other.


The third dimension, depth, is less relevant for your choice assuming that the face is similar and that there are no bad windows. Depth however is the main parameter for weight. Hence, you may find gemstone pairs with equal face dimensions but very different carat weight. Yet, they can be perfect twins for jewelry if the cut is good enough to cover up missing depth, which leads us to the next point:


Cut: Choosing two different cuts or even shapes, say a trillion and a square in a pair is quite exotic; and it is done rarely (but could be charming).


Generally, however, people want near identical cuts. Ideally a pair has been cut to match. It was thus faceted by the same cutter from the same rough material. With "same mine run & same cutter" one has a good chance of getting two gems with a similar character to begin with.


The more important luster is for a gemstone, the more emphasis will rest on identical cuts. A pair of white diamonds for example needs to be machine cut to be 100% equal (which they mostly are in calibrated sizes). In a less lustrous gem, say a midnight blue sapphire or a brown tourmaline, the details of each facet will not be so influential. 


As mentioned before, differences in depth can be covered by a clever cutter but this has limits. Too little depth results in windows and there is no way out. If both gems show similar windows that might be OK, but it is very disharmonic to have one fish-eye and one full body sparkler displayed together.


Color: As always in this trade color beats them all. Ruby, tsavorite or sapphires are primarily bought for their magnificent colors and only secondarily for their luster. Some gems like Mali garnet, titanite or demantoid come with fire and color. As pairs they shall be judged by cut and color in equal parts too.

However, most gems are color-first animals.


Tone: Differences in tone are easier to stomach than differences in color composition (mix of 1st, 2nd and 3rd color). This is true especially in darker varieties. (Remember: Tone is the amount of black/white not the saturation). A deep blue sapphire of medium dark 75 will easily fit with a medium dark 80. But be careful with e.g. light yellow or green. There, even small differences in tone will be very visible.


Remark: We would rather suggest using pairs of completely different colors for jewelry than allow different hues in one color. Using two unconnected colors however is quite exotic and we do it only on request. (How about a neon red spinel set with two chrome green tourmalines for example?)

pair green tsavorite garnets

Hue: Where color is king - in pairs it is double. A pair with different color composition will hardly make a nice pair. Add only a bit of purple to a ruby or a tint of violet to a blue sapphire and you will need many meters (not only a face) to separate them from a red-red ruby or sky blue sapphire. A greenish blue and a bluish green sapphire, or a rose red and an orange red ruby, can not be called a pair at all. As soon as the color is visibly different there is no pair.
 

Remark: Hence, matching pairs are even rarer in natural gems because they lack the uniformity of treatment. Heat or diffusion brings out similar colors in similar rough. The result is a more consistent color mix. Matched unheated ruby or sapphires are therefore a difficult hunt. In fact, this is one reason for the spread of treated gems: Making a necklace with 50 matching sapphires is only possible on a high budget or with high heat. Similarly the industrial production of 5,000 rings with a similar colored blue gem demands controlled artificial coloring.
 

Clarity: A matching pair should be on the same clarity level. One may accept a "free of inclusions" next to a "very slightly included", meaning both are clean to the eye, but anything that is visible in jewelry should at least be visible in both gems. If a pair comes from the same mine-run, one can actually find beauty in combining identical types of visible inclusions: individual, charming and easy on the budget (think rutilated topaz in a pair).


To summarize:

  1. Width and length determine the visual similarity of a pair not the weight
  2. Better two windows than one
  3. The more important luster is, the more important are identical cuts
  4. Same-mine-same-cutter pairs are best to start with
  5. Differences in tone are sometimes tolerable but differences in saturation are no-no
  6. If inclusions are tolerated they must be visible in both stones

See our pairs.

Title 

Ruby on Photo

 

To judge ruby on photo I dare to separate them in two main characters:

no-heat rose red ruby

The Mild

Dense red glow with introverted, rich and earthy colors

neon red pigeon blood ruby untreated

The Wild

Flamboyant neon radiation in flashy and energetic red

With this short-cut, we will be able to extract some basic rules for an otherwise unmanageable multitude of ruby varieties.

 

 

The Mild

 

Such a ruby can vary from fire engine (red-red) to rose red (add some purple) to an earthy crimson red (add some brown). Highest prices are paid for fire engine red, with rose red and then crimson following. Brownish brick red rubies shall be rather reasonable.

 

Pictures: Three famous ruby colors in mild hues

Traffic LightRose RedCrimson

We avoid the term "pigeon blood" because its abuse has rendered it meaningless (except when a rare GRS report allows it).
 

Rule 1: Insist on at least one image with light in the back.

Mild colored ruby will easily hide inclusions from the camera. Make sure the image does not only focus on the surface of the stone. A mild ruby needs an image with light falling in from the back of the gem. This will show you inclusions with all honesty.


Pictures: Mild colored rubies in front of daylight

Many images on the web are "front-loaded". They show only the surface of the gem but not the inside. This is done to peddle translucent, or even opaque, cabochon quality as facet grade ruby.


Rule 2: Mild colored ruby needs clarity.
 

Heavily included ruby in mild colors looks dull in person. The value of such cabochon quality corundum is low in comparison to transparent ruby (unless it displays a star ruby of course).


The scarcity of good material has somewhat lowered the bar to what is labeled as facet-quality ruby. A translucent or opaque mild ruby might look OK on the photo, but the stone will be boring in person and have zero luster. No good.

mild red ruby unheated

Ruby is by nature more included than, say, tourmaline. You will only get a "free of inclusion" if you have very deep pockets. However, some inclusions may be wanted to gain silky shimmer and sleepy hues, while others like black spots or white areas are to be avoided.

Picture: Extreme Neon Ruby with rare "Free of Inclusions"

 

Finest silky needle structures are delightful, shattering light rays into a hypnotic gleam. Thicker needles are interesting under the lens and do little harm to beauty.

 

Less attractive, and hence price reducing, are whitish clouds, visible black spots, growth lines with weak color zones or broken crystals.

 

Rule 3: See inclusions but imagine glow and luster.

 

While mild ruby will swallow its inclusions, it will also hide its luster and no high-end camera can change that. However, even the worst cut ruby has luster as long as it is clean. Unfortunately, it is often impossible to capture this on photo.

 

Hence, in mild ruby photos, you need to be picky with inclusions but may be generous with luster and radiance.

 

A pleasant mild ruby will never disappoint as long as it is clean.

 

 

Translucence!

Translucence!

Image: This only fine sapphire and ruby does in red. Quite stunning.

no heat burma ruby

THE WILD

Often described as "neon", "vivid" or "electric", these rubies may have a good deal of purple, pink and violet in them, yet their main feature is a radiant, almost aggressive red.
 

Picture: Mogok ruby in sunlight


Such a ruby will always catch your attention. It will stand out, even in a shop window loaded with other gemstones. They are the masters of the red universe. No other material (man-made or natural) can beat them. Some flowers come close, but of course they lack fire and glow.


Rule 1: The three most important qualities of a wild ruby are color, color and color.

Ferociously red rubies are found in Ceylon, Kashmir and Africa, but rarely. Burmese rubies, on the other hand, are often on the wild side. (The craziest ones are coming from Namya these days.)


Wild Burmese rubies have been worshipped for millennia. They are the fame of Burma and are extremely costly. Most jewelers, and even many dealers, have never seen one. Most mortals actually never get to see anything but mild colored cabochon quality. Mild colored opaque ruby is the standard in jewelry, mostly treated.

 

Others have shed many words to describe high-end rubies, so I won't try any longer. Nothing beats the eye-to-lens sensation of a buster neon ruby, but a good image will get your appetite started.


Rule 2: Best wild rubies separate violet and purple from red 

The magic of ruby comes from the ruby-only ability to mingle blue/violet into red and then set it aflame in radiation. Some pink and purple sapphires can do the same trick (see below) but red spinel never does.


In straight sunlight many good wild rubies will show themselves more like a blob of red gleam. Though this is a sign for a good gem, it is not enough. With light intensity reduced to a manageable amount, blue/violet and purple will separate from the red. This might look like color-zones, but it is exactly what you want: A digital separation of blue/violet from red (with purple and pink in-between) is the best indicator for intense red ruby.

 Image: A set of untreated Winza rubies with nice colors from purplish to red, mild and wild with not exactly clean crystals.

included unheated ruby

Picture: A strong color can make up for a "Moderately Included"

 

For wild rubies inclusions are only a secondary concern. Color is king. A neon ruby can easily be moderately included without looking dull. Even in translucent material a neon red is still very attractive and many budgets will be limited to more or less included material. Translucent rubies are OK as long as the color is extra terrific and the price right.

Rule 3: A fine wild ruby never holds still on an image. 

 

Something always seems to be moving in them. Often it looks as if a flickering fire or a hot swirling fluid is caught in the gem. As if there is something alive in them - now, if that is not wild!

 

Pictures: Best rubies have "inner life" and split purpel/violet from red

NamyaMogokCeylon


Rule 4: Beware of digital enhancement


Since color is half the rent, some are tempted to "improve" their pictures for the web. Avoid "super bargains", plastic-like hues, and check the photos background: It shall be neutral and real (the gem should not be "cut-and-pasted" into a new background). Light conditions shall be normal (mixed light, filtered sunlight). Tungsten light alone is not enough. Ask for images in different light settings and angles. One can't easily repeat a faked or stolen photo in variations.  


Pictures: Common digital tricks in ruby images

"Front-loaded" image hides inclusions; Pinkish background indicates digital color enhancementExtreme (artificial) hue for $199/carat too good to be true

Sapphire vs Ruby

Regularly discussed is the line between pink/purple sapphire and ruby. Yes, pink is a pale red but only what is independently certified as ruby can be sold as ruby. All else is wishful thinking of the seller. Period.

 

You may trust a third party laboratory to draw the line between red and pink. They are professionals, have no stake in the classification and will not risk their jobs for favors.

Rich red-purple or hot pink sapphires can be as extra terrestrially glowing as ruby. In fact the translucent gem above is a pink-red piece classified as a 'sapphire'.

Sri Lankan rubies tend to be more on the pink side. Deep neon purple or pink sapphires from Ceylon, the ancient famed island of gems, are terrific alternatives to ruby and are not that expensive, yet.


Pictures: Pink/purple sapphires with ruby qualities but sapphire prices 

Above: pinkish purple, pink, purple-pink, pink-red, purple-red, pink, purple.


SUMMARY:
 

The Mild

  • Translucent or opaque rubies in mild colors are dull in person 
  • See an "inside" image with light falling in from the back
  • Avoid brownish brick tones unless the price is appropriate
  • A pleasant color in a clean ruby will always have glow and luster, even if the photo doesn't show it

The Wild

  • Highly visible in any light and exploding with color in sunlight
  • Color is king, even included material has its price
  • Camera separates purple, pink, blue/violet from red: Very Good
  • Camera shows a fuzzy ("living") inner structure: Very Good
  • Be wary of digital photo tricks or stolen images
     

New(s): Rubies on TV.



 

Our Rubies: <1ct, 1-2ct, >2ct

Alternatives: Pink/red spinel, rubelite, various garnets, purple/pink sapphires.

Emeralds:

From left to right: Sandawana shines even in melee sizes, neon green beryl to emerald in a clean crystal and precision cut, twice Sandawana, Zimbabwe earthy green, Columbia in WG, Sandawana inside.

If you want trouble, photograph Emeralds. Not as tough as Alexandrite but near. With the relative contents of chromium, vanadium, and iron determining an emerald‘s color every gem is different. The term ‚relative‘ causes major trouble and iron is never good news for the camera. Hence some specimens are a joy, others refuse to come across anywhere near real life.

There is an easy way out for the shopper, assuming no digital enhancement is used by the seller: Great Emerald look great. And this may happen from all locations although it is far more likely from Columbia or Sandawana than other locations.

Clarity is rarely an Emerald’s forte. You will have to call it a ‚jardim‘ and learn to love it for what it is: a sign of a pure natural beauty, individual and ever different in each single gem. It is true, certain locals tend to show specific inclusions and offer to ID the local but never with a 100% certainty.

Though we do have some utterly untreated no-oil emeralds in stock (even if never for long) they are too rare for a commercial inventory. Furthermore, a little oil often kreeps in via cutting and during handeling. Lab reports flag oil without it being a deep reaching, let alone coloring, treatment. Blame us: If we accept some oil, you can, too.

Similarly to ruby, avoid front-focused images, steer clear of too-green-to-be-true cheap offers, never buy without lab report, accept that ‚jardims‘ will dominate inner life and cloud luster. Anyways, emeralds are not famed for luster but magic color. For green luster move to demantoid, zircon or tsavorite. Especially the latter leaves little to wish for but it does not carry an emerald’s magic brand name even it fit looks better.

Emeralds being one of the most expensive gems on earth they do not sell easy. Unless you call oil fields yours purchasing quality emeralds without know-how and go learning along the way, one must learn first and buy later.

neon green tsavorite untreated

"New" Gemstones online

We would like to offer some insight into the 'new' gemstone varieties which, thanks to the Internet, have become available to a wider public. 

Titanite: The master of fire

We define Titanite as sphene from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are different from other sources in so far as they show a multitude of colors at the same time. Though some may have one dominant color like orange, yellow, green or red, they almost always exhibit the other colors as well.

Sphenes from other origins (Africa, Russia and others) are mainly green with some yellow. Vanadium Sphene is the green master of all sparklers but a rare find. If you find one... keep it! See the green ones below.

With dispersion higher than that of diamond and a rainbow of colors, Titanites are a must-see for anybody who loves fiery gemstones. Especially in candle light they are gemstone mystic pure. Even a half carat will turn heads.

Titanites are not as tough as diamond or sapphire hence they can't be worn while free-climbing.

However, there is zero risk of scratching them in earrings at a dinner party (not unless your date is Hannibal Lecter).


We have set quite a few Titanites and sphenes (below) in protective rings and pendants and they all stand their ground in daily use:

Titanite on photo:

  • Sparkle can not be transferred on a photo, it needs movement. When you shop for Titanite (or any sparkling gemstone) the quality of the cut is most important. Diamond cuts (invented to work with high dispersion) are the best in Titanite too. Avoid windows and cuts with too few facets.
     
  • Though they do display many colors Titanites may have different characters. These may range from an earthy green or hay yellow to a lively red ocher and many other combinations. This is sometimes hard to transfer on photo, so pay attention to the seller's description. If our grading reads "orange/green/red/yellow" then orange is the most dominant colors followed by green, red and so on.

Given their affordability and the spectacle they offer, Titanites are a simply terrific deal.
 

Unfortunately our contact to the Pakistani mine (build up in the relative calm of 2007) has defaulted so we are not able to predict future availability or prices at this time (07/08).


See our titanite and sphenes

Spinel: The much hailed secret.

Above: Neon pink mahenge pair, black spinel, red Ceylon, blue Tanzania, Cobalt Tanzania, purple-blue Ceylon, red Ceylon.
 

Spinels come in a vast variety of colors, but are not as confusing as the garnet family. The most famous colors in spinel are blue and red both having been thought of as sapphires until science crashed the dream while getting people to wonder about the valitity of the term semi-prescious. Ever since spinel has (after a steep fall) become as, or even more (because rarer), expensive than 'normal' sapphire.

Fine purple, violet, orange, mild pink, mauve, or with special charme black spinel. They also come with color changes but have not yet gained much attention, probably because they do change dramatically but 'only' between purple and blue. What dignifies all spinel is their excellent luster and durability for jewelry. Add to it near-white, periwinkle, rose, brown and stars to look upon a lifetime of fun and investment.

Mahenge spinel kicked the stuffing out of all other pink gems but have become so rare, and as expensive. Nowadays, even insider shudder at a mahenge hunt. 
 

The king amongst blue spinel is a rare variety colored not by iron but by cobalt. These cobalt spinels are found only occasionally in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere). Normal iron colored blue spinels tend to be grayish, as always with rare exceptions.


In the red hues, ruby-like colored spinel has sky rocketed in price and popularity, directly followed by hot pink and padparadscha colors.


It appears that in recent years spinel has made it from a sometimes hardly distinguishable, sapphire-substitute to a variety standing on its own. Thus they do not come cheap anymore. Even our remotest miners have started to distinguish spinel as better than other 'non-sapphire-gems' and thus have started to ask much higher prices. However, they are still a comparatively reasonable alternative to ruby or blue sapphire. The less known varieties of spinel (purple, mauve, etc.) offer not only superb visual experiences but are most likely also a good investments in the long run. So much has been written about spinels, filling books, we let our stock speak for itsself. 

 

Spinel on photo:
As one can see above: No problem! Like sapphire, spinel are quite photogenic. They do not deceive in color or luster and are a grateful object for exquisite images. As all gems they are sensitive with inclusions in the lighter tones only. Purple and blue can be close, there are color changers, opaque stars, no cat's eyes to my knowledge, blue may be grayish except when cobalt.

A finely colored and precision cut spinel is amongst the grandes pleasures in the gem kingdom.

 

See: Blue SpinelRed SpinelPink Spinel; Purple Spinel; Orange Spinel.

 


prescision cut white dunburite

Precision-Cut
Danburite

 

DanburitePoor photo show but great IRL

Danburites do not compute well on photos. They are unforgiving with inclusions, tend to catch even the faintest background color, display windows merciless and are a generally ungrateful lot on photo.

Even the cleanest Danburite tends to display a grainy greasiness which, though invisible to the eye, points to a unique crystal structure different from topaz.

A fine precision-cut danburite is always a good deal.

A Danburite that looks good on an un-doctored photo is probably a beauty in person. If you have a good eye you may make a snatch with a photo-shy Danburite that will be much nicer in person.
 

This said, Danburite has a relatively low refractive index and will not easily sparkle as much as you would wish in a colorless gem. Optimized for brilliancy they will shine but not disperse light as diamond or, to some extend, white sapphire do.


With not much color and little luster to show, Danburites rely on good cutting. Big and clean Danburites from South-America have been a recent boon for precision cutters worldwide.


So far we have not heard of any treatment in Danburite. If they come treated they will probably be diffused into some unnaturally intense color and easy to spot.

Colored danburite, yellow, brown, green, are a collector rarity and come mostly from Burma.

 

See our Danburites.


The Garnet family: Fairly priced and full of surprises.


Green Garnet (Tsavorite and grossular):


Green grossular garnets (of which Tsavorite is the more famous) truly are a "new" gem since their discovery has been quite recently (in geological time frames). Tsavorite are the most expensive garnets in the market (besides Russian demantoid perhaps).
 

They are found mostly in small sizes. A three carat Tsavorite is considered a giant. Most found are below one carat but even the smallest Tsavorite is far from humble. Brighter, mint green, tsavorites are also called 'merelani garnets' are not named after a new desinger fruit but come from the mining area Merelani.

The very best are shocking green and size doesn't matter. They are like a volcano of extraterrestrial green, and if you want a modest gemstone green garnets are probably not right for you.

 

They do have good luster too, but color is most important. Like in emerald, inclusions are no killer-criteria as long as the color is not affected.  

 

Tsavorite on photo: Difficult but VERY GREEN

Above: No comment but green.


They tend to look darker than they actually are, and often black-out. This may be a result of their unique dense hue. It is possible to throw so much photo-technology and light at them that they loose all blackout but then they also loose their individual character and start to look all alike.


This said one might distinguish between an intense metallic green and a more alarm-color "venomous" green. The latter being a more earthy color one might expect in a poisonous coral fish and the former being without parallel in nature.


Given their availability in small sizes and their intense color Tsavorite are ideal for small but visible studs or as side-stones to contrast an intense center stone.

 

See our green garnets.

 


Pyrope Garnet:

From left to right: Kashmir, Ceylon, Burma, Madagascar, Ceylon, Madagascar in earring, star garnet from Ceylon.

 

Pyrope is typically described as blood or wine-red, while his name refers to the Greek word for "fire". They have become a worthy target for those whose budgets are not compatible with ruby or red spinel.

Though pyrope does not have what one calls "fire" in a diamond it is definitely as red as it gets and reminds of glowing coal. How red is that?

In case you are familiar with Spanish wine you might have a look at a Senior de Los Lamos '67, which will cost you much more than buying a pyrope, but tastes better (pyrope does not). You might also take blood samples from your neighbor's ox, but that too might not be a particularly practical. It is said that once upon a time pyrope has been more popular and much higher priced. Today pyrope is, behind the almandine, the best deal if one wants a red-red gem without selling his family. Full size, clean crystals are available even on tight finacial controlls.


Pyrope on photo: Pyrope typically shows blackish areas and little luster on photos. Their color gets across well, but they usually tend to show more orange or brown than they actually have. Darker pyropes simply refuse to be photographed yet look good in person (better than overly dark rubies in fact). They are a fine color-bargain to hunt for.


 

See our pyropes.


Hessonite:

Above: yellow golden, ox-blood, orange-red, deep yellow red, golden giant, deep orange-red, bright red, opaque orange-red giant.


Hessonite is always clearly distinguishable: See a hessonite through a lens and he will appear to be melting inside, while you can not see anything special without the lens.

Melting?

 

Some gemologists call it a "treacly" or 'swirly' appearance, which comes from inclusions that actually look like a petrified fluid. Hessonite is a wonderful stone in all yellow-orange to brown-red hues. Though not in line with the standard scientific gemology literature, I find hessonite in all red garnet colors from a fiery orange to alomost a simply traffic light red. In any event they make exquisite colored gemstones and are a true miracle when seen under the lens.



Hessonite on photo: Though hessonite is wonderful to look at, they struggle with serious problems in front of the camera. Unfortunately 'treacly' transfers on a photo to 'fuzzy'. One needs to experience a hessonite live to be able to capture the information hidden in a photo. As a rule, concentrate on the color and blend out the fuzziness of the photo. If you like the color you will have to test the luster in person.



See our hessonites.

 


Almandine:


Almandine is the most common garnet variety in Sri Lanka. They seem close to pyrope but are a singular part of the garnet family, and of a more intense red mingled with pink and/or violet. Though often included with a very fine needle structure (which is a pleasure to see under the lens) they do have all fire and luster one might desire. In fact, a good almandine can be so amazing under a spotlight that you will not want to take your eyes off that sparkle again. Almandine is more expensive than pyrope but a still a fine deal compared to the price of a similar color thrill in e.g. spinel or ruby. Good sizes and clarity must here make do for neon and fluorocence found in ruby.



Almandine on photo: The needle structure in almandine tends to look a bit fizzy on photos. Nevertheless almandines are a pleasure to shot - they glimmer and sparkle in fine red tones and transfer well on images. Like pyrope, almandine color usually does not vary much between with day or tungsten light. Also like pyrope they tend to show black-out areas which are not as dark as they seem in reality.



See our almandines.




Rhodolite & Raspberry:

Above: Red-pink, neon red-purple, neon pink, neon purple-red, dark giant, red, neon purple.


Rhodolite and raspberry are red garnet with strong pink and/or purple hue. Both are characterized by their color and one will find different definitions over time and literature. However, if almandine and pyrope are wine & blood, raspberry and rhodolite are berry & flowers. They are mixtures of pyrope and almandine in different relations.

They are the best deal in town for progressive color adventures. Both have excellent luster and a "juicy" color play that often mocks any description in plain words. Truly appetizing colors: Grading them sometimes makes me want to rush to the market to see whether I can find some berries.

 

Rhodolite and raspberry on photos: Both stones can be miraculous and nerve-wrecking in front of the camera. They are the chameleons amongst gemstones. We have seen many furious discussions between photographer and grader about what is the "real" color.


Truth seems to be that there is no truth. But that doesn't matter much because these stones always excel their photos. Other than e.g. with sapphire one can not make a photo too good when in comes to a raspberry and rhodolite.



See our rhodolite/raspberry garnets.



Color change garnet:

 

here, perhaps for the first time, do we find something close to 100%Above: Round red night, Bekily mixed light, at night, at day, pair Bekily with both colors on show, Bekily at day, Bekily red to purple, Bekily day to night, needles inside Bekily, Bekily night, Tanzania green day - red night.



Color changing garnets are an exquisite rarity (and I mean rarity) in Sri Lanka. In absence of any gemologist most traders and miners in Sri Lanka consider (or wishfully think) any color change garnet to be an alexandrite and thus have dollar signs in their eyes when they get their hands on one. Therefore most color changing garnets start their life as alexandrites, but somewhere down the supply chain somebody has a bad awakening with them.

On the other side, one must ask why shall a beautifully changing garnet have only 10% of the value of a dully changing pale alexandrite? That of course is a complex question of market mechanism. If one simply admires the magic of color change he might forget alexandrite (and sapphire) and hunt the last color change garnets before the deposits are depleted.

African garnets have produced blue-green to purple, blue to red and yellow to green 
color changes. Beyond fantastic and costly have been the briefly found Bekily garnets which have crowned the best CC collections worldwide. Here, perhaps for the first time, can we see what was elusive in Alexandrite: a 100% colorchange.


Color-Change on Photo: Catching color change on photos is one of the trickiest tasks in gemstone photography. This counts not only for garnet, but also for all color changers. It is so tricky, that I can only warn of too good looking but cheap color changers.

A color change that is fully visible on photo without photoshoptricks is truly rare and will never be cheap (at least not in natural stones). Buying two carat 100% color changer on EBay for two dollar is like ordering a Mercedes Maybach for the price of a bicycle. No complaints about dishonest sellers please!


Alternatives to consider: not many but alexandrite and sapphire.



See our color change garnets.


Zircon: The underestimated victim.

CinnamonLight Blue AustraliaOrange YellowReddish PurpleYellowSunshine YellowIn platinum
 
In wood and silverReddish CinnamonPrecision cut BIG light BlueMaize yellowReddish Orangedeep redBig Green Burma


Zircon has suffered much bad PR due to synthetic stones with the trade name "Cubic Zirconia". In addition to this the use of zircon as a cheap diamond rip-off has led many people to believe that zircon is synthetic, or some kind of fake.


It is not! Zircon is a wonderful gemstone variety that has much more to offer than all the treated gemstones in uniformed colors roaming the jewelry market.


Zircon is amongst the most brilliant of all colored gemstone (only thus he was misused as an imitation for diamonds). His brilliance and luster is unbeatable and his high birefringence is terrific. Naturally colored zircon can be (expensive) green, yellow, brown, (mostly treated) blue, (costly) red and always (treated) colorless.

In any color zircons show a stunning fire and magnificent luster. Mostly very clean and found in good sizes zircon is a yet little known opportunity for novice collectors and experimental jewelry makers. They offer adorable colors and excellent luster for every budget. A light yellow zircon is nearly as fascinating as a fancy diamond.
Sri Lanka has for centuries been the best source of gem quality zircons, especially intense yellow zircons. Precision cut zircons may well offer the best-looking deal in the current gem world. 

 

Zircon on photo: As a rule, zircons are even better than their images. The birefringence of zircon is so strong that he is difficult to photograph clearly. The lines and edges on the back may seem blurred (double refracted) or 'un-sharp' but that is a good sign meaning more fire and brilliancy in person. In fact, they are often so brilliant that they seem to simply mirror light on the image. The strong luster of zircon is rather hindering for the color show and when it comes to zircons, one shall rather trust the seller than the photo.

 

(This can be said as a general rule: Don't buy gems based on photos but on the reputation of the seller and with the security of his return policy. It is not a pleasant shopping experience if you get a bad stone with a super photo that can't be returned.)
 

 

See our zircons.


Alternatives to consider: In color many gems, in luster only diamonds, sphene and sphalerite.

Aquamarine: The elf stone.

Aquamarine Cabochon (not a cat's eye)Aqua in Platinum WheelPrecision Cut Aqua with bubblesRound Precision CutLight Green-Blue (precision cut but off center)Emerald Cut AquaNeon Trillion (pair with trillion Above)


Unfortunately, we do not get many aquamarines in Sri Lanka (at least not from Sri Lanka) but have to source them in Africa or Brazil. Those we get in Sri Lanka are of light colors (untreated of course) with a greenish blue hue. The most expensive color in Sri Lanka is a sky blue. In former times the most wanted color was actually (in line with the name) the greenish blue. However today the sky blue is higher priced. Even more than amongst sapphires, aquamarines are generally heated to get stronger blue. If you have decided to stay with natural gemstones look out for light colors. I personally think the greenish blue ones are very beautiful and make real unique stones.

Fine aquamarines come
from Africa and also Brazil. Neon pool blue-green! Must see, and also cat's eye aquamarines.

 

Aquamarine on photo: Light colored stones are notoriously difficult to capture. Especially in stones of good luster the light thrown back out of the stones tends to override the stone's color. Hence even if an aquamarine has a solid clearly visible blue hue he might in the photo show to be nearly colorless. Light colors also take inclusions much more serious on the photo than in reality. Again, trust the seller not the photo.
 

Alternatives to consider: Montana sapphire and green sapphire, light blue sapphire, some blue tourmaline.



See our aquamarines.

Amethyst: The color queen (or king?).

Cushion Checkerboard24k Yellow Gold StudsUruguay Quality!Big pear back - a sight on its ownNo commentPrecision Cut Light PurpleUruguay shell cobochon

Amethyst is very popular purple-violet quartz. It is available in fine colors and good sizes but does not demand high prices. A lot of amethyst is burned into citrine but the original stone is much more attractive. In fact, seen in color/price relation amethyst might compete with purple garnets.

The deep purple cross-over to violet is just delicious. Amethyst is probably the only gemstone variety one can collect buying only the best "excellent" stones on a moderate price. Rough amethyst is big and leaves space for precision cuts.

 

Amethyst on photo: No problem. Amethyst is truthful in front of the camera and makes easy realistic shots.


Alternatives to consider: Purple tourmaline, spinel, purple sapphire, purple garnets.



See our amethyst.

Tourmaline: Something for everybody!

Copper neon Tourmaline (makes heated paraiba)Paraiba-style tourmalineBlue-Green precision cutDrop Golden TourmalinePair Trillion pink TourmalineFine Tourmaline Cat's Eye

Tourmaline is the most versatile gemstone family. Not only do they show themselves in all colors from brown to pink, but they are also famous for bi- tri- and multicolored varieties, and rare color changers.

In
Sri Lanka we rarely find pink, blue and red tourmaline but are blessed with green, yellow and brown in all mixes and variation. For those who dislike today's flashy fancy colors, tourmaline with his mellow autumnal hues offers superb alternatives.

Turning a bi- or tri-colored tourmaline in the sun and watching his playfully change between reddish brown, yellowish green and mellow orange is most delightful!

Chrome tourmaline competes with fine emerald and tsavorites. Paraiba tourmalines are copper colored and amongst the most expensive gems on earth.
 

Pure green tourmaline is a very thankful alternative to emerald and is thus often cut in baguettes and emerald shape. Tourmaline comes in good sizes, is clean and often used as healing stone. We predict that tourmaline will gain more fame after the recent run for flashy colors has settled.


Tourmaline on photo: Mono-colored tourmaline does not cause any problems in front of the camera. His color comes out realistic and they are not too light sensitive. Multicolored stones (showing different colors in different zones) are also no challenge. But things get more difficult when it comes to bi- or tri-colored stones. Sometimes it is possible to capture all colors in one angle. But more frequently the photographer gets sore fingers and a heart attack before he leaves it to the grader to describe the color play in words.


Alternatives: Mostly sapphires, spinel and garnets.



See our green, golden/yellow, chrome, pink/purpleblue and multicolor tourmalines. 


 

Topaz: Much better than their image

Light Blue Fancy CutRutilated TopazPrecision Cut Topaz with three zircon crystalsImperial is the right wordFeather Inclusion in TopazImperial Topaz in PTRutilated Topaz

Natural untreated topaz in full colors are rarely available, and a lot of consumers buy all kinds of cheap synthetics, citrine or treated and irradiated stones under the name "London or so-and-so-topaz".

This has led to much confusion and a devaluation of the original untreated topaz. However, naturally colored topaz is an exquisite rarity and a true collector's item. Colorless topaz (which is often taken to be radiated into blue) is a reasonable alternative to white sapphire and a good place to start a collection. 

Big white topaz are great material for precision cuts and most attractive.

The light blue stones we find in
Sri Lanka and in the USA are a delightful brilliant sight, competing with bright fancy blue diamonds in all but price.

Yellow, golden or pinkish topaz (the famous "imperial" topaz) are the most expensive of the family. Most come from Brazil and must be tested for treatments


Topaz on photo: Bright naturally colored topaz is notoriously difficult for the camera. Topaz with their light colors outshine themselves and (like aquamarine) tend to look colorless even if the eye clearly captures a nice if tender color. In any case an untreated light blue topaz is a terrific stone with a dazzling luster surpassing many much higher priced stones. Fully colored topaz on photo is either heavily treated or heavily photo-shopped. If not, it will cost a good deal.

To my knowledge there are no cat's eye or color changers in topaz but (sometimes) pretty rutilated specimens in sizes over ten carats.


 

Alternatives: Golden tourmaline for imperial topaz, quartz and white sapphires, danburites and diamonds.

See our topaz.

Yellow CeylonPrecision CutGiant Vanadium ChrysoberylPrecision CutIvy Green cat's eye with white rayFresh YellowSpring Green with white ray

Chrysoberyl is yet another continent to discover. The famous color changing alexandrite is a sub-variety of chrysoberyl. Normal Sri Lanka chrysoberyls come in light to fully saturated green and fine yellow hues. They are hard and durable and thus much appreciated for jewelry. Generally of good clarity and fine luster they are a unique alternative to green or yellow sapphire.

Vanadium Chrysoberyl is a rare specialty even amongst collectors, found in colors from mint to neon green.
 

The fabulous chrysoberyl cat's eye is another miracle in the world of gemstones. Fine parallel needles throughout the stone break light in a way that the stone displays a ray moving across the stone. While garnets, quartz and other varieties might show the same effect, only chrysoberyl is correctly referred to as the cat's eye. Basic parameters to judge the ray is his definition (full and clear?), position (centered?) and his movement (flawless?) across the stone. See our section on stars for more details.


Chrysoberyl on photo: While faceted chrysoberyl is easy to capture, a cat's eye needs a strong single light source to display the ray. This is difficult without changing the color of the stone in the yellow tungsten light. Therefore when buying cat's eye on the web, one should also pay attention to the 'official' color description and grading. 


Alternatives to consider: yellow sapphires, tourmaline, and not many more.



See our chrysoberyl and alexandrite.

Kornerupine: Exciting new green.

   
Earthy greenBlack cat's eyeDark but intense greenNice deep green Cat's eye   

Kornerupine is a fine new opportunity for the collector of natural colors. Until recently quasi non-existent in the gem market, kornerupine has now found attention as a nice untreated gemstone in very unique hues: From mellow green mingled with yellowish and brown tints to forest green (2006).

Depending on the cut some stones show different colors from different angels but they are not as unpredictable as tourmaline (with which they are often confused). Though kornerupine has entered the gem market only recently, we have so far always received positive feed back from those who ventured to buy this unknown variety.

 

Kornerupine on photo: Similar to other green stones kornerupine likes to be photographed and does neither show too good nor too bad. When it comes to his pleochroic effects, things get more difficult but since we usually try and cut him into one color, this has not been of much trouble to us.

2020: Unfortunately we did not get the supply we hoped for, not even as cat's eyes, and their own product page was submerged in 'Wild Cards'. Stay ready for new discoveries.



See our kornerupine.

Diopside: No chemical but a gemstone.

Russian Deep green chromeCompetition for all green gemsBlack 4ray starVery close to chrysoberyl cat's eyeFresh green bought as Rough 'tourmaline' in Sri lankaChrome Diopside in 18k WG


Though soft, diopside has raised some attention from jewelry makers for his strong but reasonable priced green hues. Chrome diopside has actually become quite famous and expensive for his emerald green.

However it is soft and has to be protected in jewelry. In
Sri Lanka we mostly find the mellow green hues mingled with some lively yellow. Together with kornerupine, diopside make the most exciting new discovery in the world of green gems. Especially the cat's eye variety may have potential as an alternative to the more expensive chrysoberyl.


Diopside on photo: Due to his strong birefringence diopside tends to come out slightly fuzzy and light green hues present inclusions stronger that the lens shows them. Note there is chrome diopside and plain diopside. The latter lacks strong colors. Except from Russia the supply of true chrome diopside is sporadic at best.

2020: Again, as with kornerupine, we did not find a unique supply of gems or rough to expand on. The russians are reliably green but very conform and small.



See our diopside.

From left to right: Neon red from Mozambique, small but strong purple, ruby red Ceylon, dito, another trillion Mozambique, #2 without direct light, soft colored precision cut pair, neon pink-red Madagascar, Kenya set in platinum.

Rubelite is not a low-calory form of ruby but a type of tourmaline, red or pink ones to be precise. Some do not count pink tourmaline to rubelite but the borders from red to pink are fuzzy at best. True is that a lavender pink tourmaline will not get a report with a classification of ‚rubelite‘. However, you may trust a lab's judgement whether it is a rubelite even if the image LOOKS red or more pink. Chalk it up to light or personal taste and buy whjat you like

Rubelite can be clean, shocking neon, bigger and though never cheap they are less ruinous than spinel and ruby but more costly than most red garnets. Take your pick.

Other than the ever-true rules of reports-only, no digital colors etc., rubelite is very much a tourmaline in image behaviour regarding inclusions, luster and color. They are easily photographed close to real life with color, as so often, playing the key note in finance.

More sophisticated testing will hopefully vanquish the terrifying kill-all remark of ‚color can be achieved by heat treatment‘ which ruins every gem in many lab reports.

Rubelite still is a good entry point for red-pink gems. Buy small to start, trade your way up into the higher reaches of heaven.

From left to right: Water-Crystal Rainbow Welo, Honey-Web Welo, Crystal Welo, Mexican Fire, Welo Fire with green, Bolder with color play, Pure water, Australian Bolder, Blue-Black Bolder Australian, Water with rainbow fire.

Opal: DIFFERENT

As the images above show, opal is different. Books have and will be filled. New finds in Africa blow the collector's mind every other month. New wording, fresh classifications and changing groups have to be expanded and redefined annually. Setting the origin in front of opal will not describe a certain type nor does one type end where the next begins, they often merge, show various colors and optical effects in one place or distributed over the gem, they stubbornely refuse every clear-cut categorisations.

We can only describe the current affair as we found it:

Bolder: The easy way in. They are solid rocks with fascinating color pay, structural effects, often measured in pieces rather than carats. Except for surface color play, shimmer of changing hues, they are very much what you see is what you get. Buy what you like at the price you can accept. There are no 'pigeon blood' bolder opals although 'Lightning ridge' in Australia has a certain patina but no special bolder types. A taste off the beaten path can be satisfied at bargain prices. Everybodies' darling will be more costly. 

Fire Opal: These famous red-orange gems (mostly Mexico so far) are easy to interprete on photo and are a great value for such intense colors. Big gems of 5+ carats are available as long as the mines produce. Some silky inclusions are part of the color making it shine and glow. Only visible black spots or white cracks are wirth bothering about. From opaque to near transparent leaves addition spiel on a budget.

Crystal:

Black:

Matrix:

Water: In low light close to colorless translucent. Hit by light they start glittering with all colors and shapes. A stark change of character which can and should be shown on images with a torch or close to a light source, preferably different temparatures of light, warm tungsten, cold neon light.

Color-Changing Sapphire: Soft Glow and rare Green-Blue-Purple

One out of one hundred sapphires are certified as classic color changers (CC). They come from ceylon, Burma Madagascar and other locals. Nine out of ten such CC sapphires is changing from well tempered deep blue to purple-violet. Only Tanzania, so far, offers Alex-type moves from green-blue at day to red or purple-violet at night. Above a six carat Tanzanian square cusion of this rare kind shown in steel blue and green.

Classic changers are pretty to behold but need a keen eye to detect their unusual qualities. The one out of a thousand green-to-red/violet changer demand even more (as most CC gems). These special effects often go undetected or, worse, 'muddy' the body with both day and night hues showing at once. As such, CC sapphires are true connoisseur gems and not for the ignorant.

Always expensive, even in flourite or lesser known varieties, CC sapphires are a difficult set of customers for the camera man/woman. Capturing the 'pure' color extremes on both sides of the spectrum between night and day is at times impossible. Always demand a 'color changing sapphire' report with any gem over, say, $250. Offer to pay extra if needed. Should the gem come from the lab as a 'normal' sapphire the seller must pay for the report and you are not bound to buy. Is the gem to your liking a new negotiation will be at hand.

As far as inclusions, windows, cut etc. go, they are no different from 'normal' sapphires but you need to allow some creative imaging in the night shots where a torch is not only legal but needed. An artificial light beam will distort inclusions, depth and color. Take the day image to judge inclusions and windows in WYSIWYG mode. The night shot should only be taken to check the pure color in tungsten light. Subtract some yellow from these images. 

Once the gem is with you, take your time to discover its ever, well, changing aspects, enjoy mixed natural light settings, test direct and secondary sunshinne, candle light, dawn and dusk, rain and fog.

Like all great gems, a good CC will never cease to surprise and give you reasons to enjoy every new day and season.

Tanzanite: Not conform blue.

Untreated Tanzanite is dwarfed by the supply of deep blue heated zoiste (the gem's variety). While this classic blue is rare in unheated gems. Legend has it is that heating zoiste into blue was discovered after wildfire but don't count on it.

A multicolored melange of purple, violet, green and orange in earthy colors in untreated zoiste has far more on offer than ONE blue. It also is hardier than heated gems (always true) and well suited for (protected) jewelry. Prepare for an unmatched multicolored experience well below the 'normal' Tanzanite prices but with good chances of appreciation in the future. 

On photo they display truthfully when truthfully photographed meaning without overly stressing the blue parts. Assuming you want it unheated, search for violet and purple as indicators. Common 'ugly' brown rough is treated into blue while the naturally pretty pieces are skimmed for people like us. Rest assured you will there find exciting new beauties for your collection of gems or jewelry.

Tanzanite does sparkle but color is the main issue. Inclusions are visible on photo to the degree they are in real life. Be aware that every image even under identical light settings may look different to the extend that one may doubt to see the same gem. Count this as a plus. It makes for a new gem every day. Equally pairs can be 100% matched from the same mine-run but still continue to look differently even if you try hard to show they in identical angles and light.

Of the pairs shown above one was selected to be matching (even if they look different), the other trillion shaped was cut to a pair despite of their difference.

Untreated zoiste or tanzanites are not for the conform.

Peridot: Always green.

Peridot is found all over the world, from the USA to China with Burma and Pakistan regularly mining the best there are. The shown Ludwigite needles from the Himalaya make good dinner talk, apple green in all shades is the preferred Burma color. US peridot are squeaky green, and clean. Often well cut, free of inclusions and of good size they are a straight way to fine green gems. No strange color-shift, -changes, -zoning make judging Peridot a hasard.

Follow the photos you trust, buy green you like, watch out for windows (only when color is fine and strong as in the neon above), demand good cutting (when rough is big the cutter can damn well cut well), and chose them for pairs when possible. Peridot is hardy, not brittle, and does not flinch from yellow nor white gold.

Peridot is a fine green gem, start with Chinese, qualify in the USA and move to expensive Burma and Pakistan when you have the experience under the belt.

Left to right: Light grass green, reddish orange with strong copper strands, fine orange red in clean crystal (no visible copper, no pleo-chroism), precision-concave cutting with multi-chroism but little visible copper, ditto but silky crystal, extra strong red (!) in precision-concave, autumnal hues with silky schiller.

Sunstone: Complicated big beauties

It starts with 'copper-bearing labradorite feldspar from Oregon' or short: sunstone. Other than the name suggests, they can be also green, multicolored, multi-chroic and can come with the desired schiller (copper strand inclusions) plus some other unique optical magical. When close to the sun's hue at dawn you have reached the highlands.

Sunstones are not as deep and wide as opal but they do need a few years of study. 

With a low relative gravity they come in big sizes even for small single digit carat gems. 10x15mm is no problem in red sunstone. Try that in spinel or ruby, not that sunstone red can be compared to ruby, totally different, but red it is. Great cutting, concave and precision together are fantatastic as you can see above, is almost standard since most are cut right in the USA. 

As far as images go, it is hard to generalize in such a wide range of color and optical effects. You have to trust your dealer and the lab reports beyond what you can see, or not, on images. Schiller does not show much on photo but copper strands do. Multi-chroism on the other side does show well. Even if tempting, remember not to buy a 10 carat for a ring unless you have a ringsize above 15. 

If you are in Oregon, it may be a good idea to call at a mine and see for yourself. Once you know more, the web is still cheaper than travelling the US.

From left to right: A fine sky blue sapphire with a hint of as window and off-center cut, a fine star ruby in a gem-oriented setting, a precision cut color-changing zultanite, color-changing Bekily garnet in brushed YG and WG, a fine unheated Burma ruby, Burma ruby in fine hue, oil-only Columbian emerald.

Gems set in jewelry:

Should you want to buy a gem already set in jewelry and wonder about its value and quality keep on reading.

A good gemstone always dwarfs the value of the center gem unless it is an special antique or has a high brand value. Usually the setting can be understood as a replaceable and reproducible 'holder' for a valuable gem. Gold and small diamonds are not free but nothing compares to fine untreated ruby. Few exceptions.

The above tips and tricks to judge a gem online remain valid. A well cut and colored stone will not black-out just because of a setting even if that is the primary fear of all novices buying a gem for jewelry. A good cut reflects all, well most, light. Its tone does not go done. Nor will inclusions be more visible. On the contrary, inclusions can and will be hidden in a clever setting. 

For imperfect gems note that:

a) A gem cut too deep will black out faster inside a setting than on its own. Taking the gem out and recutting is possible and useful. Even if you have no access to lapidary and good advice, a deep cut gem is worth the attention as long as you are half way sure about the true crystal color.

b) The feared window can rarely or never be corrected without heavy losses. A window is commonly a result of too-flat cutting (except in a truly deep block-cut beyond back-out depth) and results in heavy weight- and size-reduction after a recut. The old setting is useless. The gem is half its former size. Such a financial gamble is only for professionals, best under supervision of an experienced lapidary. Get a pro to help or shy away.

Because lab testing is somewhat limited with gold and diamonds all around, you may ask the seller to remove the gem, get it tested, and offer gem only. Don't be surprised if the gem alone is as expensive as the whole ring the was. Removing and repolishing the gem plus lab testing will easily exceed the cost of a new setting. No saving there if you care about a true natural gemstone. Be sure to discuss all potential downfalls with the seller: What happens if the gem breaks during the process, is scratched or lost? What if the lab report comes with bad surprises (happens almost usually)? What if the news from the lab is better than hoped (happens sometimes)? Who owns the gold and diamonds (try for it to be the seller since you have little use for an empty ring or pendant)?

It must be said that purchasing a finished jewel is mired with more risks than getting a loose gem and setting it to your desire. The latter is a long and winding path, too, but in the end you get exactly (within reason) what you wanted without the compromises of a ready made piece, and is cheaper to begin with. Sure, immediate satisfaction is tempting but jewelry lasts a lifetime so the extra months are well invested.

To learn more about the process of custom setting, read here.


For an in-depth and more scientific study of gems we recommend you start with http://www.gia.edu or www.gemstone.org.

Both websites will easily bring you into the world of gems, the first one from the view of a gemologist, the latter more from the position of the trade.

To join the growing number of gem collectors on the internet we recommend:
https://www.gemologyonline.com/ 


 

Additional descriptions, stories and know-how in each variety's shop.
 

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