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January 2000

Gemstones & Pearls: News

Fashion & Supply Converge

Fashion's embrace of color and a plentiful supply of gemstones should mean big business at the February gem shows in Tucson. Our preview points to big interest in orange and red

To get a handle on your Tucson experience, take a peek at what gems were produced in the months before the February festival. This year, that means oranges and reds.

Stocks of spectacular rubellite tourmaline and vibrant spessartite garnet, both from new finds in Nigeria, will be plentiful. The color ranges seen in both gems and the (so-far) moderate prices will provide retailers and designers with new possibilities. The warm tones of other gemstones, including ruby and pink sapphire, will contribute to the excitement.

And don't forget the blues, purples and greens that were so popular throughout 1999. Be prepared for better prices and continuing consumer interest in green and blue tourmaline, blue sapphire and tsavorite garnet.

A more optimistic outlook for the world's major economies – especially the recovery under way in Asia plus the embrace of color by the fashion world could bring more buyers to Tucson this year. This growth in demand might even signal the end of color's slump. Israel Eliezri, president of the International Colored Gemstone Association, calls it the beginning of a healthier climate for gemstones. He predicts not only an acceleration in demand but also an increase in production across a wide selection of gemstones.

On this and the following page, take a closer look at some of the gemstones you'll see at the Tucson shows this February.

Guaranteed Goods

There are three sure bets for good business in the gemstone world.

Rubellite Tourmaline: Look for bright pink, clean gems in the 5-10-ct. range. Prices are still moderate, having dropped some 40% since last year. "The exact source is hard to pin down; it's in the middle of nowhere, but apparently it's not far from the area where alluvial tourmalines were once found in Ogbomosho, Nigeria," says Bill Larson of Pala International, Fallbrook, CA. (Alluvial deposits are created by wind or water and are easier to recover than deposits deeper in the earth.)

In early October 1999, there was word that large quantities of Nigerian rubellite were being faceted in Bangkok, Thailand. The wholesale price range for cut gems is expected to range from $18-$50 per carat for lower quality, small sizes to $200-$300 per carat for top-quality rubellite. As with the Ogbomosho find, this surface deposit seems played out already.

Spessartite Garnet: This intense bright yellow and orange gemstone will be available at moderate prices. It comes from the same general location as the rubellite, suggesting the area is gemologically rich, says Bill Barker of Barker & Co., Scottsdale, AZ, who has acquired strong positions in both gems. Barker and other dealers who have seen the garnet compare it to some of that mined in Namibia and call it "pumpkin" orange. Prices for 2-5-ct. gems of high quality are about $250 per carat; 5-10-ct. gems fetch about $400 per carat.

Ruby & Sapphire: Rubies continue to sell well, particularly finer qualities. New sources in the Mogok area of Myanmar are keeping supplies steady for fine qualities; commercial quality production is strong also. Meanwhile, pink and blue sapphires are being produced in quantity in Madagascar.

Potential Performers

Three gemstones are poised to hit the market with good prices supported by steady production.

Topaz: "Precious topaz has seen an accelerated pace of production" says David Epstein, a gem dealer in Teofilo Otoni, Minas Gerais, Brazil. As a result, he says, prices have dropped 40%-50%. Retailers can expect better qualities and finer selection of precious topaz at Tucson and in the months ahead, he says. Yellow to light-sherry topaz in the 2-5-ct. range is $18-$280 per carat. Finer gems range between $550-$1,800 per carat.

Tsavorite: Good production in Kenya and a new source in Tanzania have brought a wider selection of tsavorite to market than seen in more than 10 years. Prices for smaller gems and commercial qualities have dropped. Prices for finer and larger qualities appear to have increased slightly, dealers say. Even though tsavorite is more plentiful, it remains a rare gem so prices range from $350 to $2,500 per carat, depending on size and color (anything over 3 carats is considered rare).

Fire Opal: A Brazilian source of fire opal once considered only alluvial has now gone underground. Producers expect rough and cut goods on the streets in the gem trading center of Teofilo Otoni, but some will find its way to Tucson in February. Prices will be $15-$65 per carat, depending on quality.

Wait and See

High prices, languishing production and elusive supply may cause you to tread lightly around three gemstones, though you shouldn't rule them out completely.

Tanzanite: "Prices are way up and supplies are way down, especially for calibrated sizes of tanzanite," says Dana Schorr of Schorr Marketing & Sales, Santa Barbara, CA. Prices have eclipsed the $500-per-ct. benchmark and seem to be edging higher for fine qualities. Other dealers say this has strengthened the market for blue sapphires. "Buyers don't want to pay so much for tanzanite and are opting for blue sapphire, which is readily available and a lot more durable," says Jacqui Grande of Radiance International, San Diego, CA.

Emerald: Prices remain soft and production is languishing. Some buyers have taken advantage of the bargain prices. Dealers say demand for emeralds at the consumer level remains robust, making it a particularly good buy right now. But some retailers continue to shun emeralds because of continuing confusion and concern about enhancements.

Paraíba Tourmaline: Rumors continue to surface about new finds at the tourmaline mine in Sao Jose da Batalha, Paraíba, Brazil. Observers say sustained production remains unlikely, though occasional pockets may be uncovered. Prices for the elusive electric blue Paraíba tourmaline remain stratospheric. Good colors larger than 5 carats are more than $10,000 per carat.

by Robert Weldon, G.G.

High-quality Nigerian rubellite tourmaline (the pink and red gems) and spessartite garnet (yellow and orange) have entered the market in large quantities at moderate prices. Gems are courtesy of Mayer & Watt, Maysville, KY, and Stephen M. Avery, Lakewood, CO.
Heavy production of blue and pink sapphires in Madagascar and Sri Lanka has kept prices for high qualities stable. In fact, some buyers are choosing blue sapphire rather than tanzanite, production of which has been much slower. Gems are courtesy of Radiance International, La Jolla, CA.

Tsavorite, more abundant than ever, provides the market with an alternative to emeralds. Gem is courtesy of The Tsavorite Factory, New York City.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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