GemNotes

Polish Consortium Offers Amber Waves of Gems

Eight of the world’s largest Baltic amber manufacturers have joined forces to promote the organic gem in the United States. The consortium of Polish companies, called Amber8, offers the retail jeweler a wide variety of authentic Baltic amber and amber jewelry from which to choose.

The amber takes its name from its source, the Baltic Sea, which divides Sweden to the north from Poland and the Baltic states to the south. Baltic amber can be found afloat; it also washes up on the beaches of islands off the Polish coast. It’s commonly found near Gdansk Bay, in layers 25 meters beneath the water’s surface. The amber-rich layer extends northeast into Lithuania and Latvia.

Scientists refer to Baltic amber as succinite because it contains high levels of succinic acid, a product of the ancient pine from which it originated. The term “amber” has been used as a generic description for nearly all of the world’s fossil resin deposits, but very few contain succinic acid. Dominican Republic amber, probably the world’s second largest deposit, likewise contains succinic acid, although not as much as the Baltic material. Baltic amber has been dated to the early Tertiary period, which means it’s 45 million to 50 million years old. The age of Dominican amber varies from 15 million to 40 million years.

CD of product lines. Amber8, located in Gdansk, Poland, consists of eight companies: Art7-Silver & Amber Jewellery, DUDNIK, Myrta, RAV, Silvart Poland, Silver and Amber, Joachim Sokólski Zlotnictwo, and Venus. Because most of these amber manufacturers are unknown to U.S. retailers, Amber8 has created a compact disk showing the amber and amber jewelry lines of five of its members:

DUDNIK Jewellery Company has been around since 1989 and offers a wide variety of sterling silver, set mainly with amber. Other items come with such decorative stones as malachite, synthetic opal, and mother of pearl.

Myrta, celebrating its 30th anniversary in the business, produces amber beads, barrels, coins, cabochons, pendants, and other items. Myrta is expert in reconstructing famous works of amber art. Its art department can create amber platters, caskets, mugs, tankards, carvings, chandeliers, clocks, and pictures. The company also trades raw amber.

RAV began producing amber-set silver jewelry just over 10 years ago. Its products include rings, earrings, brooches, bracelets, pendants, chains, studs, and necklaces. The company also offers faceted spheres, amber artwork, cameos, and drop- and tear-shaped stones.

Silver and Amber Co. creates both traditional and modern designs. The company displays more than 900 varieties of bracelets, brooches, pins, earrings, pendants, necklaces, rings, and jewelry with faceted classic and fancy-cut amber.

Venus specializes in spheres, Hawaiian-style necklaces, dice, cabochons, eggs, and polished amber.

Color reveals origin. Amber comes in a variety of colors, which suggest its geographic origin. Red, for example, is distinctive of Burmese deposits. Dark brown and opaque amber is typically found in Borneo. Origin can’t be definitively proved, however, since many deposits produce amber of widely varying color. Baltic and Dominican Republic amber are two prime examples.

Baltic amber has a unique vocabulary to describe its great color variety. Some of the more common color names of Baltic amber are:

  • “Water” or “water-clear”—completely transparent, with very little color.

  • “Yellow-clear” or “red-clear”—transparent but with a slight hint of color.

  • “Cloudy, fatty” amber—semi-transparent, caused by a light cloudy appearance.

  • “Cabbage leaf” amber—clear with cloudy swirls.

  • “Kumst”—yellow or brownish-yellow amber with cloudiness throughout.

  • “Bone-colored” amber—typically dense with white coloring throughout.

  • “Frothy”—amber that is white and extremely soft.

Amber can change color over time as a result of oxidation. Pieces of fine translucent yellow amber, which have been cut and polished for jewelry, may gradually darken, turning red and eventually black.

Amber8 can be found in the United States at 1050 Main St., Second Floor, River Edge, NJ 07661; (201) 342-6224, or on the Web at www.amber8.com.pl.

Sri Lanka to Import Gems from Madagascar

As the colored-stone business becomes increasingly global, it may become harder to identify the origin of gems. Just as Brazilian diamonds were shipped to India in the 18th and 19th centuries to take advantage of India’s reputation for high quality, gems from Madagascar may wind up in the trade as Sri Lankan material.

Gem deposits from Madagascar and Sri Lanka show great similarities and can yield stones of similar gemological properties and appearance. Now there are reports that more than 100 Sri Lankan traders are in the Madagascan gem market. Sri Lankans outnumber Thai gem dealers, who had previously dominated Madagascar’s gem industry. Sri Lankan gem and jewelry authority

R. Dharmaratne recently led a 19-member trade delegation to Madagascar to explore further business possibilities.

It’s been suggested that, in an effort to speed things along, the government of Madagascar is offering Sri Lankan gem dealers large-scale gem mining and export involvement in return for developing infrastructure facilities. Madagascar should be eager to do business with the Sri Lankans, who have long maintained a successful gem industry, producing, enhancing, and marketing fine-quality gems.

If the Madagascan gems were to be cut and marketed through more Sri Lankan gem merchants, it could lead to greater sales and spur increased Madagascan gem production. Madagascan merchants can learn a great deal from the more experienced Sri Lankans. Eventually, the trade-off may give gems from Madagascar a quality reputation of their own.

American Gem Goes Online

American Gem Corp., the Montana sapphire enterprise, has launched a gemstone retail and auction Web site at www.americansapphire.com. American Gem Corp. has one of the largest reserves of fancy colored sapphires from its Montana Gem Mountain site. Sticking to its agenda to refrain from mining and focus its efforts on selling inventory, American Gem Corp. is now enabling gem buyers to examine sapphires and purchase them through its Web site. Customers have the option of purchasing sapphires by traditional sale or by auction.

American Gem gives a 100% satisfaction guarantee and promises shipment within two days of purchase. The site features finished jewelry as well as loose gemstones, and offers a choice of more than 2,000 items. Prices range from $5 for small, simple stones to more than $10,000 for items in the “Signature Collection” of matched and mounted sapphires.

Benitoite: California’s State Gem

North American Beauties – this is one of a series of articles highlighting gemstones indigenous to the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

At first glance, benitoite’s medium-dark blue hue resembles that of a nice Ceylon sapphire. But look closely and you see something no sapphire can show, a magnificent diamond-like fiery display of spectral colors.

According to gem-mining historian Peter Bancroft, mineral prospectors L.B. Hawkins and Jim Couch discovered the blue gem in 1907 while riding into the San Joaquin Valley along a tributary of the San Benito River. The prospectors had no idea what they had discovered. They sent samples of the gems to George Lauderback, a professor of mineralogy at the University of Southern California, who gave benitoite its name.

Named California’s state gem in 1985, benitoite is found in San Benito County in what’s called the New Idria district, about 150 miles east of Monterey. The gem is a blue barium titanium silicate. Because of the titanium coloring agent, benitoite was initially thought to be a blue sapphire (which is often colored by iron and titanium). But its other physical and optical properties are noticeably different from those of sapphire.

Benitoite is much rarer than sapphire. The New Idria mine is the world’s only source of gem-quality benitoite. Unfortunately, its rarity keeps it from being a world-class gem. Elvis (Buzz) Gray and William Forrest, owners of the benitoite gem mine, estimated in 1997 that a meager 5,000 carats of faceted gems had been produced since the mine was discovered at the turn of the century.

Incredibly, faceted benitoites are comparable in price to fine sapphires and tanzanites, even though benitoite is far rarer than these gems. The average wholesale price for benitoite is currently about $1,000 a carat.

Mineralogy and mining. An interesting fact about benitoite is that its mineralogical appearance, an extraordinary dual pyramid crystal, was only a prediction until the gem was uncovered in 1907. With a hardness of 6 to 6.5, similar to that of tanzanite, benitoite can be abraded through wear. Heat should not be applied to the stone, as some benitoites have changed from blue to orange from heat treatment.

Benitoite is found in natrolite veins in very dense and tough blueschists, which are metamorphic rock composed in layers of different minerals. Michael Gray, son of mine owner Buzz, makes frequent trips to the mines every year. In August, Michael said that benitoites “were in the vein” and gem indicators were “looking good, with quite a few specimens and cutting rough” expected.

AZCO Mining Inc. recently paid $20,000 to secure an extension until Jan. 1 on its option to acquire the benitoite gem mine (Gem Notes, JCK, July 1999, p. 30). The mine’s value has been placed at $1.5 million.