Color Controversy

If this year’s gem extravaganza in Tucson Ariz., this past February—33 gem shows in 38 venues—could be symbolized by a single stone, it would be the Mozambique Paraíba. With colors ranging from bright minty green to intense robin’s egg blue, with a few teals and lavenders thrown in, the Mozambique Paraíbas were a hit, much to the chagrin of those who still had some (but not much) of the original Brazilian material. That’s because the name Paraíba has officially shifted from a gem locality to a gem variety, courtesy of CIBJO (World Jewellery Confederation) and LMHC (Laboratory Manual Harmonization Committee).

The Mozambique Paraíbas were not only a hit but also a source of controversy. The best Mozambique color still does not match the best color from Paraíba, Brazil; but with little or no output coming from the old São José da Batalha mine, and the lower cost of the Mozambique material—one-third less than the Brazilian—the Mozambique Paraíbas became very attractive.

Along with this year’s inevitable question “Where’s this Paraíba from?” there was also the issue of the typical Tucson pricing fluctuation. On the first day, in the first hours of the opening of the main shows (American Gem Trade Association, Gem & Jewelry Exchange, Gem & Lapidary Dealers Association, and Gem & Lapidary Wholesalers), dealers and buyers scoured the market to see who had what and for what price.

In usual fashion, by noon, pricing had settled and several stones had changed hands. Asking prices for the Mozambiques started around $8,000 to $10,000 per carat for extra-fine material, compared with $30,000 to $40,000 per carat for the few original Brazilian stones. Fine-quality Mozambiques ranged from $5,000 to $6,000 per carat. That’s when buyers starteddoing the Tucson two-step: stepping up to see some beautiful Paraíba tourmaline, and then stepping back because there was so much in the case. In fact, there really wasn’t that much, but there was the perception that the Mozambiques seemed plentiful because they were all in Tucson at once. That affected prices, especially for midrange-quality goods. A mini price war broke out, lowering prices throughout the week. Comments such as “If there’s so much of this stuff, then why’s it so expensive?” brought back memories of big piles of Nigerian raspberry rubellite (seen in Tucson in 2003), Brazilian Itabira alexandrite (1987), and the original Brazilian Paraíba tourmaline (1988 and ’89). Nowadays, those stones are available only here and there and have price tags to match.

Bill Larson, Pala International, Fallbrook, Calif., pointed out that, now, only two years after discovery, the Mozambique Paraíba find is almost completely mined out. That’s why most dealers say when you see it, you should buy it. Abundance this year doesn’t guarantee a gem will be back again next year—or ever.

“Clearly the price structure for the Mozambique copper-bearing tourmaline has yet to find a leveling point,” writes Stuart Robertson, research director for TheGemGuide, Glenview, Ill. “There did seem to be a lot of it in Tucson. And prices fluctuated significantly once dealers started seeing what the competition had on hand. In the long term, this material is poised to move up in price.”

Robertson did note that the Idar-Oberstein gem dealers, in customary fashion, had already purchased large amounts of rough before last year’s show. They should have a fair supply of rough and cut for the next several years.