A shortage of extra-fine grade ruby and sapphire and their ensuing high prices have contributed to a sharp rise in demand for more exotic gems, some of which now are seeing a corresponding rise in prices. Although many of these varieties, like scapolite and sphene, remain affordable, prices are climbing sharply for some of the rarer varieties. Demand for fine Paraiba tourmaline from the original Brazilian source has pushed prices to levels inconceivable just a few years ago. In contrast, newer deposits of alexandrite have allowed this desirable phenomenal gem to gain broader market appeal.
One of the more interesting things suggested by sales patterns at the JCK Las Vegas show in June is that market conditions in the United States are improving. For years now, the U.S. market appeared mostly limited to demand in the high and low ends. This is no longer the case. Jewelry featuring colored stones in the midrange of good qualities and with retail price points of $2,000–$4,000 is selling once again.
But gem buyers still have to contend with a few political obstacles. In a move that surprised many people in the industry, the Obama administration extended the Burma embargo by at least one more year. Many trade organizations were anticipating that the embargo would be lifted in light of the reforms enacted by the government of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Although the administration did exempt a number of products from the embargo, these do not include gem products.