Idar’s Finale Is Tucson’s Prelude

Idar-Oberstein saw the usual gem names from the usual gem merchants, but in true Idar fashion, there was nothing usual about the quality of cutting on display at Intergem.

Ekkehard Schneider, known for his aquamarine sailboat-cut design labeled “Tradewinds,” traversed a more traditional course, cutting flawless top-color single stones. Schneider, who took first place this year for “Competence in Cutting,” entered three gems: a fine green 25-mm x 150-mm oval step-cut Namibian tourmaline weighing 50 cts.; a rare pinkish-red tourmaline, labeled as a “conceptionally sophisticated cut,” weighing more than 40 cts.; and an exceptional 65-ct. Namibian heliodor in a pendeloque cut, measuring 37 mm x 29 mm.

Then there was Constantin Wild. Always looking to cut multiples of fine color, Wild displayed a suite of 13 octagon-cut top-color Santa Maria Africana aquamarines, 284 cts. in all. Wild noticed that tanzanite, peridot, and rubellite were good sellers, along with morganite and aquamarine. He also introduced this year the new find of “spinel-red” sunstone from Zaire. Looking for another cutting option, Wild teamed up with Paul de Maere and his patented Lion Cut. Originally for diamonds, now in color, it’s described as a fusion of the classical rose cut with the brilliant cut.

Another tandem cutting team, Karl Egon Wild and Thomas Petsch, displayed their trademark Context and Spirit Sun cuts alongside traditionally cut stones. Also mixing traditional with modern, Hans-Dieter Haag highlighted gem designer Horst Nees, who’s Munsteiner-esque fantasy cuts are in contrast to the precision calibrated square-cut lines of tsavorite, grossularites, and garnet suites for which Haag is most famous.

Tucson. More of the same will be seen in Tucson, not only from the German contingency at the GLDA show but also from fine American cutters. And one should note that with the limited supply of top-quality goods, and higher demand for same, asking prices could be more than retailers might wish.

But there should be bargains in Tucson, too. In a recent Bangkok and Chanthaburi gem report, Simon Bruce-Lockhart, FGA, ThaiGem.com’s gemological manager, stated that since Burma has reopened its border with Thailand, large numbers of rubies are coming in. According to Bruce-Lockhart, this has caused “an unsettling of prices,” and with the large quantity of Madagascar ruby already in Thailand, any influx of Burma ruby could drive down ruby prices even further. The caveat, however, is that there have been reports of bulk-diffusion-treated ruby in the market. Of course, unheated rubies from Mogok are available, at what always seem to be high prices. Don’t spend any time looking for unheated ruby from Mong Hsu.

Economic worries this past holiday season in Thailand should leave Thai dealers with plenty of stock for Tucson. This should also provide some much-needed relief for U.S. retail jewelers.

Sapphire. Bruce-Lockhart’s blue sapphire report notes that some of the biggest traders in the Bangkok export business indicated that unheated blue sapphires account for only about 0.05% of the total traded by carat weight, or about 2% of the market in value. This suggests that there may be hefty premiums on unheated stones in Tucson. The caveat here is that Madagascar blue sapphire requires only a mild heating to improve color, so it may be visually confused with natural-color sapphire. This will not be an obvious or easy identification.

Also, Bruce-Lockhart’s Thai gem-trader import survey lists Madagascar sapphire as leading the way at 27%. More important than the blue Madagascar sapphire is the pink, which is used to create bulk-diffusion-treated “padparadscha.” Coming in second place is Australian sapphire with an 18% market share. Again, buyer beware: The Australian sapphires, typically very dark greenish-blue, also may be bulk-diffusion-treated to create a lighter, brighter, green-blue. And watch out for bulk-diffused colorless sapphire that ends up as wonderful yellows and oranges. Overall, we may be in for a tough year for sapphire.