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Coloured gemstones

(A tumbled purple sapphire from London DE’s inventory)

Last June an 18.04 carat Colombian emerald fetched US$5.5 million when it went under the hammer at Christie’s. Although this incredible price of over US$300,000 per carat was partially inflated by the fact this particular stone was once in the private collection of the Rockefellers, it does show the astonishing premiums for which the finest coloured gemstones are transacted. The stone was purchased by Harry Winston, who’s CEO, Nayla Hayek, ordered her representative to “bring this magnificent gem home at any price!” This level of publicity is clearly helping to raise awareness of the value and saleability of coloured gemstones the world over, which is in turn increasing both interest and investment along the full length of the supply chain. This is driven by the fact that these headline grabbing high value sales are increasing demand from retail consumers of all shapes and sizes. In the words of Gary Roskin, Executive Director of the International Coloured Gemstone Association (ICA): “There are several things working all at once here. Coloured gemstones are still quite rare compared to diamond. Prices and values remain steady or are increasing as mother nature produces a relatively small amount in each deposit. Once that deposit has been depleted, we have to move on to another area to find more gemstones.” The desire to own something that is truly unique is also a major driving factor behind the rise in popularity of coloured gems, as white diamonds are increasingly viewed as mainstream, rather than individualistic.

(A Ceylon ‘star’ sapphire)

This phenomenon is also enabling small to medium sized jewellers to differentiate themselves from their competition and large chain retailers by offering unique products. Demand for corundum (ruby and sapphire) is strong and growing year on year, partly driven by increasing awareness of this stone and the many tones an hues in which it can be found. Pink sapphire and ruby in particular are coming to the fore but so too are green and yellow sapphire. Peach and apricot sapphire are finding a niche, as are parti sapphire, which contain two or more colours within one stone and are often found in Australia. The Antipodean coloured gemstone market tends to favour ruby, emerald and blue sapphire, regardless of whether it is from Africa, Australia or southern Asia, as well as London blue topaz, tanzanite, morganite, aquamarine and yellow and pink sapphire. Fashion, publicity and celebrities often set the agenda when it comes to many jewellery trends and the rise of coloured gemstones is no exception. Sales of notable gems for record breaking prices at auctions often captivate the public imagination, as does celebrity endorsement. A fine example is the blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring of Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge), which was formerly in the possession of Diana, Princess of Wales. This has actually lead on to other coloured gems, including ruby, spinel, emerald, aquamarine and many more, being utilised in engagement rings. Gemfields use of Mila Kunis in its emerald advertising campaign was also profound.

(Orange sapphire)

Recent discoveries of blue sapphire in Madagascar, opal and emerald in Ethiopia and purple garnet in Tanzania (among other finds) have encouraged prominent jewellery houses to experiment with a more diverse spectrum of gemstones. Education is key to persuading consumers that have been drip-fed on the De Beers diamond advertising campaigns over many years that coloured gemstones have some unique and unrivalled qualities. Gem expert Charles Lawson explains: “When teaching customers some of the basic facts, such as the history of gemstone species, where and how certain gemstones are mined, how they are cut and what impact the industry has around the world, customers often become excited about the prospect of owning a coloured gemstone.” This lack of understanding of coloured gemstones extends far beyond the end consumer, encompassing jewellery and gem retailers as well. Many jewellers have become so accustomed to dealing with diamonds they actually have little true understanding of coloured gemstones, their relative qualities, rarities, prices, treatments and other crucial characteristics. The restricted supply of coloured gemstones means that prices go up rapidly with even modest increases in demand or shortages in production. This is further exaggerated by globalisation and e-commerce, which has served to greatly increase the potential market size over the last two decades and placed increasing demands upon disparate production sites around the world.

(A cabochon cut, star pink sapphire)

Greater public awareness of the gemstone industry has also served to heighten the ethical concerns of the well-informed modern consumer. Savvy producers are seizing this opportunity to weaponize truly ethically sourced gemstones as part of their marketing and advertising initiatives. Conversely, those retailers that neglect to do their homework regarding the provenance of the stones they are offering risk alienating their customers and driving them into the clutches of their competitors! The greater the understanding of the seller the more genuine the conversation he or she can have with the buyer, leading to greater trust and transparency. Here the sage advice of Gary Roskin to purveyors of gemstones is of great relevance: “find the suppliers who can give you the full story about the gemstone you are buying and you will find that the beauty of the gemstone – along with that fantastic story – will sell itself.” This explains a crucial difference between the diamond market and that of the coloured gem, the importance of provenance. With some niche exceptions, such as Argyle pinks CanadaMark stones, most diamond buyers are less concerned with the origin of a stone than they are with its 4 C’s (not withstanding ‘blood’ or ‘conflict’ diamonds). In the coloured stone market, an almost imperceptibly colour difference between stones of different geographical origins can result in an enormous price difference. It is clear that with coloured gemstones, as with many other valuable commodities, knowledge and experience in handling them is key to understanding and mastering their true value, characteristics and qualities.

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