Professional Jeweler Archive: Real Beauties

June 2001

Gemstones & Pearls/News


Real Beauties

Ramaura rubies top the lab-grown gem pile. Now the pioneers who created them plan to retire, leaving in question the gems' future


What one gemstone author calls “masterpieces of the crystal grower’s art” may be on the endangered species list. Ramaura rubies created at J.O. Crystal Co., owned by Judith Osmer and Virginia Carter, could soon be as rare as their natural cousins. While the industry is used to slackening supplies when a mine is tapped out, lab-created gems don’t face the same prospect. However, Osmer and Carter say production could end next year unless they find a buyer for their company when they retire.

But not just any buyer. “They have to have the right attitude and the right aptitude,” says Osmer. “They should be able to look at the crystals of a given production and decide what needs to be improved.” Osmer says the company will not be sold simply for the sake of selling it. However, given the right combination of talents, Osmer feels sales could increase fourfold to fivefold.

The Product

“We’ve spent 20 years educating American retailers that Ramaura is a cultured product because, scientifically, cultured refers to a product grown from a nutrient. Ours is,” she says. “We never imply that our product is natural.”

Compared with other lab-grown rubies, Ramaura stones look more like fine natural rubies, says Osmer. “The Ramaura cultured ruby is grown under conditions very similar to those deep in the earth’s crust,” she says. “Only experts can identify our spontaneous-growth flux process because it so closely replicates nature’s process. But we’ve made sure they can be identified as laboratory-grown by adding a fluorescent dopant to our recipe.”

Ruby expert Richard Hughes, author of Rubies and Sapphires, agrees with Osmer’s assessment. “Unlike melt synthetics [another growth process], the slow growth of solution processes produces stones that more closely resemble those of nature,” he says.

Lab-Grown Stand Alone

“If I were madly in love and wanted to give my loved one a ruby, I would strive for a natural stone if possible,” says Carter. “But natural stones, particularly superb ones, can cost tens of thousands of dollars per carat. Sometimes that’s simply out of someone’s range. That’s where we come in. Our eye-clean stones are in the $160-per-carat range to retailers.”

Carter and Osmer strive to differentiate their products from the more common hydrothermal and quick flame-fusion synthetics that have hurt their business in the past decade. In the early 1990s, J.O. Crystal produced well over 6,000 cut carats annually. Now production is down about two-thirds, largely because less-expensive flame-fusion synthetics from Russia and China are produced by the ton. “We are probably among the world’s last producers of luxury synthetics,” Osmer laments.

Praising Beauty

Many retailers swear by J.O. Crystal’s products, particularly the rubies. “Customers see what a superb natural ruby is supposed to look like at a fraction of the price,” says Anthony Mohr of Anthony M’s Visions in Gold, Wheat Ridge, CO. “I prefer a lab-created ruby that duplicates what nature does. Our 14k, 18k and platinum designs should never frame an 89-cent-per-carat flame-fusion ruby.”

Designer and manufacturer Camilo Granados of Long Beach, CA, even designed a line of jewelry featuring J.O. Crystal Co.’s synthetic ruby crystals. “They appeal to the more artistic and free-spirited customer who likes the look of the unusual angular shapes,” he says.

Adds Osmer, “Our rubies are an easy sell because consumers fall in love with them. But you must properly inform the public without scaring them away because the gems are not natural.”

• J.O. Crystal Co., Long Beach, CA; (800) 289-0736, ramauras@aol.com.

–by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Three faceted gems (from left) are a 1.73-ct. antique cushion-cut Nicholas-created alexandrite, a 5.03-ct. Thai-tone trillion-cut Ramaura created ruby and a 3.19-ct. Burma-tone cushion-cut Ramaura created ruby. Photo by Robert Weldon.
Lab-grown ruby crystals such as this unique star-face rhombohedral twinned sample is a collector’s piece. Some designers use less-rare rough crystals because of their interesting features and angular crystal faces. Gem courtesy of J.O. Crystal Co. Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications