For most gem lovers in the trade, the term Mahenge means one thing: bright, pinkish-red spinels from Tanzania.
Discovered in 2007 in the Mahenge region of south-central Tanzania, the gems singlehandedly rejuvenated the market for spinel with their translucent and highly valued crystals. To this day, Mahenge spinels remain among the gem world’s most sought-after stones.
Now, the region has produced an encore. Cobalt blue spinels discovered at a nearby deposit last October are trickling into the market, and they are said to rival the exceptionally rare vivid blue spinels from the Luc Yen district in northern Vietnam.
“Color-wise, the blue is deeper, more saturated,” Wez Barber, managing director of Singapore-based Mahenge Gems, tells JCK. “It’s less ‘neon’ but more ‘electric.’ It’s almost impossible (like most stones!) to capture on camera, but in the flesh, the color is truly unique and extremely ‘wow!’ ”
At the recent JCK show in Las Vegas, Mahenge Gems showcased faceted specimens, the majority of which are around 1 carat in size. “We have seen stones over 10 carats in size,” but stones over 5 carats are “super rare,” Barber says.
People who stopped by the company’s booth in the Gems pavilion were intrigued “by the possibility of large sizes, by how clean the material is compared to Luc Yen, and, of course, the gorgeous electric color that’s quite unlike any other gemstone out there,” says Sabrina Leong, head of marketing and PR for Mahenge Gems, adding that one client even considered the cobalt spinel as an alternative to a blue diamond.
Trade pricing, according to Barber, starts around $2,000 per carat for a 1 carat stone of second-tier color and second-tier clarity, and surpasses $20,000 per carat for top color, eye-clean material in larger sizes.
As with all great gem finds, however, there is a caveat: “Supply is dwindling already,” Barber says. “Today there is only a fraction coming into our office compared to January of this year, but even then, back in January, there was not a lot of this material at all.”
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