Professional Jeweler Archive: Horn of Plenty

March 2000

Gemstones & Pearls/News


Horn of Plenty

Good supplies and reasonable prices suggest times are good for sapphire, ruby and emerald


Jewelers are excited about the prospects for sapphire, ruby and emerald this year, and that’s good news for you. Sapphires are pouring out of new sources in Madagascar in a blaze of delightful, often exotic colors. Rubies are in shorter supply, but prices are firming up for better qualities. Even emeralds are waking from a hibernation caused by enhancement concerns. Combined with a feel-good attitude among consumers worldwide and a rebirth of business in the Far East, the Big Three gems are on the fast track. Here are market conditions underscoring this optimism. (See p. 55 for price information.)

Sapphire

This is shaping up to be the Year of the Sapphire. Madagascar, a huge island east of Africa, is producing high-quality blue sapphire in unprecedented quantities. The finest qualities rival sapphire from Kashmir. Fine and commercial qualities compare with Sri Lankan sapphire. Some commercial grades resemble geuda (a milky, sometimes colorless corundum from Sri Lanka) and are lightly heated to turn a permanent cornflower blue. Barring government intervention, production is expected to improve.

Pink sapphire is another big story in Madagascar. “It’s going gangbusters,” says Tom Cushman of Allerton Cushman & Co., a gem dealer in Sun Valley, ID. “I’ve seen kilos and kilos of the material. Basically, it’s a slightly brownish pink that is lightly heated to turn a hot lipstick pink.” Other colors are reported also, including green, brownish and color-change.

The effect of all this on the sapphire market? “It will revolutionize the sapphire business,” says Ron Rahmanan of Sara Gem Corp., a wholesaler in New York City. “Customers can expect to see a lot of nice 2-caraters available in matched pairs or suites. In fact, if production keeps up, prices could begin to go down. For now they are stable.”

Stuart Robertson, director of research at Gemworld International, Northbrook, IL, which publishes a gem pricing guide, doesn’t expect prices to go down in any but a few categories. “But there are some tremendous values in matched goods and in gems that designers are sure to make use of – at very reasonable prices,” he says.

Ruby

Ruby has been the best bargain among the Big Three thanks to unprecedented quantities from Mong Hsu, Myanmar.

Glass fillings found in fractures and pits in ruby surfaces were well-publicized in 1998-99, eroding confidence and value. Later in 1999, the picture brightened. “Prices were soft at the start but firmed up throughout the year,” says Jack Abraham of Precious Gem Resources, New York City. “Dealers have sent a strong message to suppliers in the Far East that we won’t tolerate treatments such as glass fillings that harm consumer’s interests.”

Meanwhile, fine rubies from the Mogok area of Myanmar have become hard to find. “By next year I expect prices for fine Burmese rubies over 3 carats to go up,” says Ron Rahmanan of Sara Gem Corp. “Traditionally, the Far East has paid higher prices than the U.S. for fine gemstones. Now thanks to an economic recovery, the Far East will likely end up with the finest gems.”

Stuart Robertson of Gemworld International adds this note on the ruby market: “People are willing to pay more for average-looking natural rubies than for better-looking enhanced rubies.”

Emerald

The stock market’s buy-low/sell-high axiom might well follow for emeralds. “This is the best time for retailers to buy emeralds,” says Arthur Groom of Arthur Groom & Co., New York City. Prices have dipped dramatically despite low production. Behind the slump are retailers who have been reluctant to stock emeralds, fearing enhancement issues could come back to haunt them.

However, there may be a silver lining. “The high end of the emerald market is bouncing back,” says Ron Ringsrud of Ron Ringsrud Co., San Francisco, CA. Ringsrud says spectacular emeralds commanding $20,000 per carat are back in demand in the Far East, for example. “People around the world are beginning to recognize bargains available in high-end emeralds,” he says.

In addition, several promising new emerald sites are being developed. A new alluvial mine in Tocantins, Brazil, is producing strongly blue-green emeralds (colored by chromium), says Brian Cook of Nature’s Geometry, a colored gemstone wholesaler in Graton, CA.

Tom Cushman of Allerton Cushman & Co. adds the once-famous Mananjary mine in Madagascar is producing fine emeralds again. Mananjary is one of a few mines producing emeralds colored by vanadium. (Vanadium emeralds react differently than most emeralds when viewed through a Chelsea filter: they don’t appear red.)

New emerald sources are being found in Colombia also. Ringsrud says farmers recently discovered a mine between the Muzo and Cozquez mines. Called La Pita, it produces fine, deep green Muzo-like emeralds.

Growing consumer demand worldwide should stimulate even more exploration. “Customers keep asking retailers for emeralds, so there’s definitely money to be made in the emerald market,” says Ringsrud.

Because emeralds are unique in appearance, they will never be commoditized like some other gems. This presents a good opportunity for jewelers to sell beauty and romance – and make a profit in the process.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.


Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications