Colored Stones: Sapphires in Sri Lanka, the AGTA in Las Vegas

The Sapphire Scramble

In mid-February, a new deposit of blue sapphires was discovered near Kataragama in southern Sri Lanka, inspiring a gem rush among local miners that reportedly caused a great deal of mayhem. But what has transpired on the ground since then underscores the vagaries of mining for color—not to mention the hoopla over the gem world’s most popular stone, blue sapphire.

“It’s probably not going to turn out to be much,” says ruby and sapphire expert Richard Hughes, whose account of the Kataragama find and its subsequent exploitation is a testament to the apocryphal nature of most reports from the field. “A lady or some kids found some stones in roadfill material near Kataragama,” Hughes says. “Then a bunch of villagers descended on the area.”

According to Hughes, Sri Lankan government officials decided to hold an auction for the material, but by the time the auction diggers showed up, there was “nothing left.”

“There were rumors that the government, the police, the president’s family took out what was left or there was nothing there to start with,” Hughes says. “The stories I hear are that it’s just a flash in the pan.”

Contrast that with reports that surfaced in late April, indicating a massive new corundum discovery in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena region of eastern Madagascar. The news prompted Hughes to declare, in an April 27 Facebook post, “2012 is turning into the year of sapphire, at least so far.” (See Gem Pricing Report for more information.)

The news of additional sapphire supplies to supplement a perennially scarce marketplace—particularly this year, with blue poised to reach even greater heights on the fashion scene—is welcome, but based on past experiences, seasoned buyers may want to wait until the size and quality of the deposit are irrefutable: After all, seeing is believing.

Tango & Cash

Courtesy of AGTA
18k white gold bracelet with 37 cts. t.w. aquamarine and 9.75 cts. t.w. diamonds; $33,000; Michael John IMAGE, Los Angeles; 213-623-4042;

The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) returns to JCK Las Vegas this year with its proprietary GemFair, featuring a fresh incentive for retailers to buy with the organization’s 220 vendors: Any buyer who spends $200 with an AGTA vendor will get $200 off an annual $350 AGTA membership.

Of course, the deep discount isn’t the only reason to shop with AGTA members, who are bound to strict ethical guidelines when buying and selling gems. “When you buy from an AGTA member, you know what you’re buying,” says Adam Graham, AGTA’s head of marketing. “It’s the safest and smartest way to buy.”

The five-day show will kick off with its usual educational seminar on May 31 (known as Gem Day), featuring speakers like Douglas Hucker, chief executive officer for AGTA, and emerald expert Ron Ringsrud.

Courtesy of AGTA
Platinum ring with a 5.36 ct. heart-shape sapphire and 0.94 ct. t.w. diamonds; $42,895; Omi Gems, Los Angeles; 213-622-4533;

And, of course, vendors will display any and all new finds in colored stones, with a special emphasis on what’s trending in the industry. Graham predicts that Pantone’s color of the year, the hot and spicy Tangerine Tango, will be well represented at the show, along with “gemstones that complement that orangey color—things like aquamarine and blue sapphire.”

Niveet Nagpal, vice president of Los ­Angeles–based Omi Gems, an exhibitor at the show, agrees that “sapphires will be really hot.” The manufacturer is incorporating the deep blue stones—along with rubies, alexandrite, and spinel—in its first-ever jewelry collection, set to debut at the show.

Fore more colorful gemstone talk

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