Professional Jeweler Archive: Coming Up Roses

April 2005

Merchandise | Gemstones


Coming Up Roses

Liberated from issues that have hampered business in recent years, buyers focus purely on the gemstones in Tucson

By Robert Weldon, G.G.


The singular joy of greeting old friends at every corner during the annual gem and mineral shows in the dusty old cowboy town of Tucson is always tempered with a serious question: Is there any business in colored gems? Judging from the cheer that erupted at the close of the American Gem Trade Association GemFair this year, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Not everyone had a good show, of course. “Business was heavily concentrated on the top end of the market,” says Stuart Robertson, research director at GemWorld International, Northbook, IL. “Those selling middle to commercial goods or treated goods didn’t do as well.”

Dealers say important buyers came knocking early at the AGTA show, held in the Tucson Convention Center. Upstairs, at AGTA’s new designer gallery, exhibitors were generally pleased. At the Gem and Lapidary Dealers Association Show, which moved west to the new Starr Pass Marriott Resort on the outskirts of town, business appeared steady despite grumblings about the time it took to get there. At the Gem & Jewelry Exchange Show across from the convention center, an added tent provided more space, and dealers generally reported brisk business.

What interested these buyers?

Popular Gems

Sapphire and ruby remained popular as expected. However, corundum (the family to which sapphire and ruby belong) in general wasn’t as abundant as in recent years so expect wholesale prices to head up. Buyers were willing to pay a premium for proven natural corundum, a message that dealers say is getting back to sources in Madagascar and Sri Lanka, where sapphires and rubies are often heat-treated.

Robert Kane of Fine Gems International, Helena, MT, says buyers also want top-quality sapphires from Madagascar, possibly because of government sanctions against imports of products from Myanmar, a major sapphire source. (At press time, U.S. Customs & Border Protection appeared to have taken a more lenient view on the importing of Myanmar goods, provided they have undergone substantial transformation – such as by treatment, cutting, carving and polishing – and are bought in a third country, such as Thailand or China.)

Buyers also wanted fine-quality peridot and spinel, say dealers. These gems are not treated, so their popularity bolsters the argument that buyers want to avoid any treatment controversy.

Pink to red spinel was particularly sought-after, say John Bachman of John M. Bachman Inc., Boulder, CO, and Mikola Kukharuk of Nomad’s Co., Bangkok, Thailand. Kukharuk raves about the beauty of large, vibrant pink spinels from a new deposit in Tanzania. This news comes just as the Pamir Mountain spinel deposits near Afghanistan begin to produce only sporadically. Wholesale prices for fine spinel have risen 30%-40% as demand rises, adds Robertson.

Peridot, in addition to being treatment-free, appears to have benefited also from a recent article by Robert Kane in Gems & Gemology, the quarterly publication of the Gemological Institute of America. Kane, who exhibited several large peridots from Pakistan at his booth, says two full suites of Pakistani peridot were sold to customers sight unseen. Other dealers reported a surge in peridot interest also.

Joining pink spinel and green peridot on Tucson’s color wheel of popularity were morganite and aquamarine (respectively the pale pink and light blue varieties of beryl). Emerald sales rose only modestly.

Chinese freshwater pearls made news again, this time in relation to increased quality. At the top end, Chinese freshwater cultured pearls are now available in consistently round shapes and lustrous qualities, says Armand Asher of Albert Asher South Sea Pearl Co., New York City. He also notes renewed interest in these pearls since many of the rich colors – once suspected as being treated – have now been proven natural. Some dealers, including Asher, have found that mixing smaller South Sea and Tahitian cultured pearls together with Chinese freshwater pearls can create beautiful and affordable multicolor strands. Despite this development, pearl prices are up some 40% across the board because of higher quality, higher demand and tightening of production, particularly in Tahiti. Some dealers say pistachio colors were popular in Tucson, as were paler golden shades.

Second-generation freshwater pearls – sometimes referred to as freshwater Keshi – in baroque shapes resembling flower petals or butterflies also sold briskly.

New Finds, News Gems

The gem shows yielded a number of news items:

A deposit of ruby and/or pink sapphire has been discovered in Ambuimandrusu, Madagascar, says Tom Cushman of Allerton Cushman, Sun Valley, ID. The deposit has produced several kilograms of semigem material in fuchsia to red shades. Cushman says the deposit looks promising, though material hasn’t made it to market yet.

A few Canadian sapphires (blue, pink and yellow) were exhibited privately, bolstering the notion that Canada will emerge as an important gemstone producer in years to come. True North Gems Inc., a large-scale miner based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, reports the corundum finds are from new ventures at Baffin Island in Nunavut in the Northwest Territories.

Bright green demantoid garnets from a new find called the Rey Mine in the Kerman province of southeastern Iran range up to 4 carats, according to owners Rey Industries and Sanani Ltd. Initial observation draws close parallels between demantoids from the Rey Mine and those from Russia, though representatives note the inclusions are different from the “horsetail” inclusions that characterize Russian demantoids.

Vista Gems, Skillman, NJ, exhibited a new form of rock crystal quartz in various cabochons and faceted gems. For details on the inclusions and phenomenal effect of this quartz, see “Pink Aventurescence” on page 58.

All photos by Robert Weldon.

Tanzania is ascending as a favored source of pink and red gems. This 5.01-ct. African spinel is courtesy of Nomads Co., Bangkok, Thailand; (66) 2635-2911, mikolak@yahoo.com.
Among Tucson’s highlights was this 9.32-ct. Brazilian alexandrite, shown in incandescent light and daylight. Barker & Co. and Frank Circelli; (480) 483-0780.
South Sea, Tahitian, akoya and Chinese freshwater cultured pearls are mixed to create high-quality, affordably priced multicolor strands. Courtesy of Albert Asher, New York City; (888) 274-3777.
The asking price for this 13.14-ct. Paraìba tourmaline from the Sao Jose da Batalha Mine in Brazil: $50,000 per carat (a per-carat record). For the mathematically challenged, that’s $657,000. Courtesy of StoneWorld, Sao Paulo, Brazil; (55-11) 3259-5966, sergiomartins@ stoneworld.com.br.
Indonesian agates with iron oxide inclusions were collected for years to form an “alphabet” and “number” set. Schorr Marketing & Sales, Santa Barbara, CA; (805) 966-9966.
Peridot from Pakistan is from Fine Gems International, Helena, MT; (800) 436-7687.
Phenomenal gems are courtesy of Rafco Inc., New York City; (800) 697-8277.
Arctic gems: The blue sapphire is from Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, and the pink sapphire is from the Fiskenaesset district in Greenland. True North Gems Inc., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; (800) 399-8055.
Citrine carved by Glenn Lehrer, Mexican opal and garnets form the base of this pin by designer Paula Crevoshay, Mellika, Albuquerque, NM; (505) 898-2888.

Tanzanite Distribution to Change

Michael Nunn, CEO of TanzaniteOne (formerly Afgem), announced in Tucson the company plans a preferred strategy distribution similar to De Beers’ Diamond Trading Co. sightholder program. Six clients will be invited six times yearly to buy and distribute tanzanite to wholesalers, manufacturers and jewelers worldwide.

TanzaniteOne controls block C of the tanzanite mines in Merelani, Tanzania, the only known source of this blue-to-purple gem variety of zoisite. In the past few years, the company also became a preferred buyer of rough in local markets, leading analysts to suggest it’s trying to corner the market, especially for finer goods.

TanzaniteOne plans aggressive control and marketing of tanzanite. Gem courtesy of David Brackna, Germantown, MD; (301) 972-2201.

The company, however, says its goal is to maintain a consistency of supply and quality. This, coupled with aggressive marketing, will position tanzanite as the rare gem it is at prices between comparable-quality diamonds and sapphires, it says. TanzaniteOne believes the strategy will provide profitability and stability throughout the supply pipeline. The company is traded on the London Stock Exchange.

Meanwhile, the Tanzanite Foundation™ will promote and support the trade through its brand and mark, which is inscribed microscopically on each tanzanite. The foundation is funded in part by the company but is a separate entity. Among its goals is providing benefits to cutting and polishing centers in Tanzania and South Africa and ensuring member compliance with best-business practices, environmental controls and ethics. For retailers, the mark is a selling advantage because it assures consumers of the gem’s integrity.

– RW

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications