Colored Stones: New Sources, New Interests

Rich new gem finds as well as consumers’ growing income and interest in variety suggests a good year for colored stones.

An exceptional extravaganza is shaping up for the gem and minerals shows in Tucson beginning later this month.

First, 1995 was an extraordinary year for new and rich gem finds all around the world. Many of the gems from these sources will debut in Tucson. Second, the U.S. economy is growing, albeit modestly, as is the disposable income of many Americans.

This should mean supply and demand are well balanced this year. Indeed, colored gem sales started to rise last year. “In the last quarter of 1995, our gem sales picked up dramatically – especially for larger, beautiful, high-ticket material,” says Gina Taylor of Taylor Gem Corp., Sacramento, Cal. She and most other gem dealers contacted by JCK say demand will be stronger than ever this year for individual, designer-type gems – as opposed to mass quantity, calibrated goods.

Tanzanite is expected to continue its two-year reign of popularity. Supplies are good and prices reasonable, though climbing. But slower demand by big volume manufacturers suggests that consumer demand may be peaking, says dealer Alan Gross of Innovative Distributing Corp., Ft. Washington, Pa. (Calibrated tanzanite is still hard to come by in saturated, typically tanzanite colors.)

Dealers also forecast a resurgence of interest in orange, yellow, brown and red gemstones. Mong Hsu rubies will still dominate these warm-toned gems, but demand is growing for orange garnets (such as “mandarin garnets” from Namibia) and new fiery garnets from Pakistan.

Tim Roark of Atlanta, Ga., notes more interest in imperial topaz, spessartite garnets and yellow Umba sapphires. Dana Schorr of Schorr Marketing and Sales in Santa Barbara, Cal., notices more calls for brown stones. “It’s not really a trend yet, but they have finally gained respectability,” says Schorr. “There are a lot of fine gems that satisfy this demand, including ‘mocha’ colored zircon and some fancy sapphires.”

The interest in different colored stones is due to jewelers learning how to promote them, says Cynthia Renee of Cynthia Renee & Co. of Fallbrook, Cal. “People are tired of looking at the same old thing, and jewelers are more open to the possibilities this creates,” she says. “Now the volume of sales needs to increase.”

The sources: Here’s a quick look at major sources of the most popular gemstones this year.

Myanmar – Mong Hsu ruby has ruled the ruby roost for most of the past three years because it’s plentiful, easily treatable and a bargain. But prices increased dramatically in the past year as Myanmar curbed the flow of rubies smuggled into Thailand (competition caused by the availability of Mong Hsu rubies in both countries had kept prices stable). Myanmar also produces vast quantities of sapphire, spinel, jade, tourmaline and other stones.

Pakistan – Though some gem-bearing areas of Pakistan lie within hotly disputed territories, the gems have been reaching western markets in unprecedented quantities. A new find of larger, deeply saturated green peridot crystals has brought comparisons with Myanmar peridot, long considered the quality standard. Also catching attention is a new find of exceptionally brilliant orange to red spessartite garnets that are being compared with Namibia’s “tangerine” garnet and with high quality orange garnets from Tanzania, Kenya and the U.S.

Tanzania – Gem dealers are excited about the quality and volume of sapphires, chrysoberyl, spinel and diamonds in an exceptional new find along the Ruvuma River in Songea near the border with Mozambique. While tanzanite prices have climbed as much as 40% in the past year, they are expected to stabilize around $250-$375 per carat for fine quality 3- to 7-ct. gemstones. A new find of tourmaline in Sanga Sanga produces fine quality “watermelon slices” and fine green material.

Brazil – Bicolor tourmaline continues to be mined extensively at Morro Redondo in the northern state of Minas Gerais. A new mine for alexandrite chrysoberyl in Terra do Zeca has begun limited production. Production of fine quality emeralds is heavy in the small town of Nova Era, rivaling the Sta Terezhine deposit that first put Brazil on the emerald map. In the state of Rio Grande Do Norte, near Para’ba, a new deposit of “electric” blue cuprite-bearing tourmaline has yielded only mle thus far, but there is a promise of greater production – exciting news given the demise of the Para’ba tourmaline deposit.

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. New and rich finds ensure a good supply of colored gems this year.

  2. More disposable income will enable consumers to spend more on luxuries.

  3. Designer-type colored gemstones are growing in popularity.

  4. Tanzanite still captivates consumers, but they’re also warming up to reds, oranges and even browns.