It’s easy to understand why people love emeralds, rubies and sapphires. These are gems with mostly primary colors, and they are colors of passion.

They also have a deeply rooted history and name recognition the world over. What’s not to love in the smoldering red of the ruby, the calming deep blue of a sapphire, the lushness of a tropical emerald? All true, and yet…

Many jewelers feel timid about treading into gemstone territory that goes a few steps beyond these gemstone giants. After all, it’s been a comfortable world with the proven sales record of the Big Three and diamonds.

But the jeweler’s world is changing. Several factors are forcing retailers to look at gems the world had scarcely heard of 10 years ago. Iolite. Tanzanite. Rubellite. Tsavorite. Indicolite. These names were unknown not all that long ago.

Then came television shopping networks, which have helped to popularize colored gems, including far-rarer ones than those mentioned. All of a sudden, a new breed of consumer began to visit traditional jewelers and ask for these gems.

Demand for unusual gems is fine, but there are other good reasons to consider them. Rubies, sapphires and emeralds, while beautiful, have become ubiquitous at jewelry stores, department stores and even discount stores. Savvy customers demand new designs, and their interest is growing in unusual – even one-of-a-kind – gemstones. To meet this demand, major U.S. designers now use such gems as drusy quartz, agate and rare transparent stones, often in juxtaposition with one another or in startling combinations of color.

Even customers who come to your store looking for one of the Big Three can become interested in alternatives. Cynthia Renée of Cynthia Renée Co., a colored gemstone expert and dealer in Fallbrook, Cal., offers this scenario: “I show gems to my customers and they ask ‘is that emerald?’ I respond ‘isn’t it beautiful?’ Once they nod, I tell them tsavorite is often confused with emerald, and that tsavorite is actually a rarity from east Africa. This environment – where consumers are free to explore other things – excites and inspires them.

“Our job is to show consumers how they can wear gems. This gives them confidence to wear unusual gems and make them part of their everyday lives.”

Beyond designers

The trend toward the unusual is not limited to major designers. Larger manufacturers have heard the message and are beginning to look for “one-of-a-kind” gems with unique inclusions, colors or patterns, but also with repeatable shapes that can be mass-produced.

One trend at the Tucson gem and mineral shows this year was the use of unusual material that was also exquisitely faceted. Gem dealers have learned there are better profit margins with low-cost rough, as long as the material is pretty to begin with and cut well. It’s a lesson retailers are taking to heart too.

Price, of course, is another factor. The per-carat prices of the Big Three are not as strong as they’ve been, but they’re still high enough to be out of reach for some consumers with a genuine interest in colored gems.

Herein lies an interesting observation – younger consumers are interested in good-quality gems at the best possible price, and they’re interested in the unusual. Sounds like an invitation to sell color beyond the Big Three.

Making the commitment

Let’s make a deal. You get to keep the rubies, emeralds and sapphires in stock. It should never be a question of giving up these lovelies. In exchange, take the opportunity to venture into uncharted waters. Have the courage and vision (and a few dollars) to take a step beyond. This colorful leap of faith will spur your imagination, stimulate your sense of adventure and whet your appetite – and that of your customers – for something unique, beautiful and, yes, profitable.

When selling gemstones, the color itself – not species or variety – is the main attraction, according to a recent poll of the JCK Retail Jewelers Panel. Because red, blue and green are the most recognized gem colors, it might be a good idea for you to offer Big Three alternatives in similar colors. Here is an abbreviated list of gems in the red, blue and green color families and a few selling tips for each.


  • Bright, saturated reds that compare with or often

  • surpass the saturation of ruby.

  • A rare gem, far rarer than ruby, spinel has long been confused with ruby and sapphire.

  • A steady supply, at least in the short term, is guaranteed by new sources in east Africa and India and continuing supplies in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

  • Spinel is remarkably free of inclusions and is singly refractive. Both factors affect brilliance and scintillation.

  • Spinel is never treated or enhanced, other than faceting.

  • It’s hard and durable.

  • Spinel is available also in blue, purple, teal, gray, pink and orange.

  • Prices: $400 -800 per carat for 1.5-3-ct. gems (price

source: The Gemstone Price Report, Northbrook, Ill.)


  • A great variety of colors and shades, including burgundy, purple, purplish pink, red, yellow, orange, brown and green.

  • Abundant supply in most red varieties.

  • Not treated or enhanced, other than faceting.

  • Price: under $100 per carat, even for popular varieties such as rhodolite.

Red beryl

  • Closest relative of the emerald family without being green. Often called “red emerald.”

  • Exclusive American gemstone.

  • A rarity, especially in larger sizes; an excellent conversation piece.

  • Great for small calibrated lines of jewelry.

  • Not treated or enhanced, other than faceting.

  • Price: $1,000-$3,500 per carat for fine gems just under or close to 1 carat.

Rubellite tourmaline

  • Attractive hazy, sleepy red, mainly because of inclusions. Certain localities, such as the Cruzeiro mine in Brazil, produce quite clean stones.

  • Available in larger sizes (2-7 carats).

  • A variety of color ranges from a pinkish red to red to orange/red.

  • May appear as a bicolored gem.

  • Comes from Brazil, Africa, Madagascar.

  • Price: $100-$200 per carat for 3-5-ct. fine quality gems.


  • A rarer gemstone than sapphire, especially in “true-blue” hues.

  • Can be heat-treated to accentuate or de-emphasize color saturation. A guaranteed conversation piece when friends comment on “your sapphire.”

  • May appear as a bicolored gemstone, generally blue/green but also blue/red and other colors.

  • May appear as a cat’s-eye gem.

  • Comes from a variety of sources, including Brazil, Africa, Madagascar, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S.

  • Price: $80-$250 per carat for fine 3-5-ct. gems.


  • Spinels can come in a variety of colors and shades, including teal, deep cobalt blue, blue and grayish or purplish blue. Stunning cobalt blues compare with any sapphire, though these stones are rare.

  • Spinels are never treated, other than faceting.

  • Spinel hardness (8 on the Mohs scale); durability is legendary.

  • Spinels are remarkably free of inclusions and are singly refractive. Both factors affect brilliance and scintillation.

  • Price: $200-$500 per carat for 3-5-ct. cobalt blue gems.

Other spinels range between $60 and $200.



  • “Electric” blue; may tend toward greenish blue.

  • Because of high refractive index, this gem has the sparkle and liveliness of a diamond, but with dramatic color.

  • Generally has few inclusions.

  • Blue zircons are sometimes heat-treated to enhance the color intensity.

  • Price: fine gems are very affordable – 5-10-ct. gems of good color are $60-$150 per carat.


  • Discovered less than two decades ago, tanzanite has gone mainstream.

  • Abundant supplies have created a short-term glut, causing prices to fall to bargain levels.

  • All tanzanite is heat-treated, turning the natural brown to purple and deep blue.

  • Tanzanite is still a rare gem, found in commercial quantities only in Tanzania, east Africa.

  • Tanzanite is available in small sizes for calibrated goods or in larger sizes for center stones.

  • Price: fine tanzanite in the 5-10-ct. range is $175-$400 per carat.


  • Bright, deep greens to slightly yellowish green gems are excellent as center stones in multistone mountings.

  • Peridot is not treated or enhanced, other than by faceting.

  • Comes from a variety of sources, including Arizona,the biggest source.

  • Peridot is available in all sizes. Large gemstones are no longer uncommon, given new sources in Pakistan and new mining in Myanmar.

  • For those who enjoy the internal “life” of gems, some peridots have spectacular “lily-pad” inclusions.


  • Green tourmaline or “verdelite” is available in an almost infinite variety of color combinations ranging from yellowish green to a bluish green that rivals emerald, peridot and other green gems. Chrome-colored tourmaline is the rarest and deepest green.

  • Some very dark greens are heated to lighten the color. But generally, greenish tourmaline is not treated.

  • Tourmaline may be cat’s-eye, bicolored or particolored.

  • Tourmaline comes from Brazil, Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S.

  • Prices: fine colors from 5 to 10 carats are $90-$125 per carat. Larger gems can reach $400-$600 per carat.


  • This green grossularite is often called the “King of Greens.” Tsavorite is rarely modified by another color.

  • As a singly refractive gemstone with a high refractive index, tsavorite sparkles beautifully.

  • Tsavorite is not treated or enhanced, other than faceting.

  • It’s available commercially only from a source in Kenyaand is mined in limited quantities in a few othereast African countries

  • Price: Gems over 5 carats are rare indeed. Prices are generally negotiable for anything over 3 carats. Fine stones of 3-5 carats may sell for $1,500- $2,000per carat. Compared with an emerald, that’s still a bargain for a stone that is entirely natural.


  • Green zircon can rival almost any other transparent green gem at a fraction of the price. The color can be modified by other colors, such as blue.

  • Zircon is doubly refractive and highly reflective and scintillating because of its high refractive index. The double refractivity can cause a hazy appearance.

  • Zircon is available from various Asian countries and Australia, Russia, Africa, China, India and Sri Lanka.

  • Price: $30-$50 per carat for 3-5-ct. gems of fine color and clarity.