The event was held at the International Gemological Institute offices at 551 Fifth Ave. Newman spoke about how once-ignored soft stones such as fluorite, amber, and prehnite now have a prominent and salable position in the fine jewelry world.
“New finds have made these nontraditional gems more available, and retailers are using the stones to set themselves apart from their competition by creating unusual items to wear and give as gifts,” she explained.
And while jewelers have long questioned the durability of these varieties, some of that resistance has melted away since designers learned to work around the limitations of those stones. Heather Moore, for example, bezel-sets fluorite in charms and pendants to safeguard the stone edges from nicks. Plus, proper care and storage of soft gems can go a long way in maintaining their beauty and integrity.
Newman also gave attendees a little history. For example, the four Cs—cut, color, clarity, and carat weight—of diamonds were born in the 1950s, and industrial-grade diamonds first appeared in the fine jewelry arena in the 1980s. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, when Todd Reed truly put those stones on the map.
Monetary value of gems depends on many factors—cut, color, and carat weight included—but geographic origin, treatment status, clarity, and transparency also matter. Many stones are cut into cabochons when the color is good but the clarity (inclusions) or transparency (degrees of being cloudy or opaque) are not. In fact, gem beads are often thought of in the trade as being a lower-quality material, though that’s not the case for every gem species. “Jade dealers use their highest grade material in beads,” she says.
Most important about these “exotic” gems, as Newman calls them, is that they are in the spotlight thanks to high-end designers like Gurhan, brands like Chanel, and retailers like Tiffany & Co.
Collectors, however, must understand the differences in quality and value in order to make wise purchases. Newman cited a media report from 2011 about some semi-opaque stones found in a Detroit fish tank. The stones sold for tens of thousands of dollars, but the buyers didn’t understand “the effect of transparency on gem pricing,” she explained. “You can buy stones like those at gems shows for as little as $10 a carat.”
Newman sold some of her books on gemstones at a discount to WJA members last night, but her titles can also be purchased on Amazon.com.