GemNotes

SOUTH SEAS PEARL PRICES RISE

Prices at the March auction of Australian South Seas pearls in Hong Kong averaged 20%-30% higher than last year despite a pullback by Japanese buyers, say dealers.

A closed-bid portion of the auction consisted of 260 lots containing 30,257 pearls carrying a total reserve price of $11.4 million. About 15% of the pearls failed to meet their reserves, but the total was about 30% above that amount.

An open-bid portion of the auction consisted of 12,372 pearls with a total reserve of $8.5 million. Sale prices in this group were 30%-35% higher than the reserve.

Salvadore Assael of Assael International, New York, N.Y., says prices were strongest for quality white and golden pearls, especially rounds. Weakest were greens and grays, especially in button, drop and baroque shapes. “This was due to the weakness of the Japanese buyers,” he says. “Only 13 out of the 50 successful bidders were Japanese. By their standards, that is very little.”

The absence of fine quality round pink pearls was a major disappointment in the sale, says Assael.

Another buyer, Alex Vock of Provockative Gems, New York, N.Y., says U.S. buyers were the strongest force at the sale after years of Japanese dominance. “The U.S. market seems to be the strongest right now, along with Southeast Asia,” he says. “This is in spite of the fact the U.S. dollar was trading at record lows against the yen.” He also notes that U.S. buyers are growing more interested in golden pearls.

The Australian pearl dealers who hosted the sale contributed 1% of the proceeds to the Kobe Earthquake Relief Fund and buyers were asked to contribute an additional 1%. This raised about $300,000, say dealers.

Australians donated two large South Seas pearl necklaces in hopes of raising $700,000 to help the quake victims. But one piece went to Mikimoto for $290,000 and the other went to a Hong Kong dealer for $175,000 for a total of $465,000, says Richard Torrey, editor of Pearl World of Phoenix, Ariz.

Assael also contributed some $200,000 of his own funds to the relief effort.

TURKISH DELIGHT SEEKS A NEW NAME

Eur-Asia Ltd. has announced a Create-a-Gem-Name Contest for a gem material it sells. Known officially as diaspore, the material comes from a new source in Turkey and has a color-change phenomenon described as sea green to violet rose (or bordeaux), depending on the light source. A cat’s-eye diaspore with color change also is available.

The grand prize in the contest is a 7-ct. Turkish diaspore that Guven and Deborah Cankur of Eur-Asia describe as a flawless emerald-barion cut appraised at $10,555. The winning name will be chosen by a panel of industry experts and gemological academicians and will be announced at the JCK International Jewelry Show in Las Vegas June 7-12.

Some 400 names already had been entered in the contest at press time. Among the suggestions were sultanite, turkalos, dayenite, chameleonite, bosporite and alexporite.

Written entries should include your name, address and an explanation of why you chose the name. They should be sent by May 30 to Eur-Asia Ltd., P.O. Box 601816, North Miami Beach, Fla. 33160-1816; fax (305) 945-7778.

INDIA’S TRADE POISED FOR RENEWAL

The diamond industry has been through difficult times but the future appears bright &endash; especially in India, says Mark Boston, managing director of H. Goldie & Co., a London diamond broker. Boston recently spoke at a reception hosted by Bank Leumi in New York City for about 200 key Indian diamond dealers.

Growth in the Far East and the dismantling of former communist and tightly controlled economies will help to open new and potentially huge markets, he says. India’s diamond industry holds a key to much of this growth. “The reason for this is the overwhelming capacity and flexibility within the Indian industry, combined with an expertise based on an amazing blend of manual skills and high technology, all supported by a global sales network,” he says.

In addition, India’s modern export-oriented jewelry industry &endash; which has grown from the success of its diamond industry &endash; has already made its mark on world markets. As long as Indian manufacturers work closely with market leaders in these countries, he says, the industry will continue to grow.

India’s diamond industry has suffered from overstocking and overextended credit of late, he says, but this has forced companies to improve their operations. “In the long term, this is a healthy development and one which will eventually lead to renewed confidence,” says Boston.

INDIA BUYS NIZAM COLLECTION

One of the greatest private collections of gems and jewelry is now owned by the government of India. The government paid about $66 million for the collection, reportedly less than half the appraised value, after a decades-long battle with heirs.

The collection belonged to Mir Osman Ali Kahn, the seventh nizam of Hyderabad, who died some 40 years ago. The nizam, whose family acquired most of the 173 gems and jewels in the 18th and 19th centuries, was a Mogul ruler until India won its independence in 1947. The new government stripped the Mogul rulers’ powers and took most of their incredible wealth through high taxes.

The nizam held onto his collection of gems and jewels and passed it on when he died. Legal battles began when the nizam’s oldest son, Azam Jah, died in 1970. At that time, the collection went into the Nizam Jewellery Trust, which was appointed to oversee the sale and distribution of proceeds to some 300 heirs.

The trust offered to sell the collection to the government in 1972 but failed to receive an acceptable offer, according to India Today magazine. When the trust tried to sell the collection through an international auction house, the government declared it a national treasure and blocked its export. In 1978, the government held two auctions of pieces from the collection to raise money to cover back taxes; it never announced how much was raised in the first auction and rejected all bids in the second one.

In the ensuing years, the trust, the heirs and government battled in court over the collection. Four years ago, rumors circulated the trust would try again to sell the collection when it called in auction houses for appraisals. Sotheby’s valued the collection at $162 million, Christie’s at $135 million. The government blocked the sale again, but then India’s Supreme Court ordered the government to buy the collection by January 1995 or release it for sale.

The cornerstone of the collection is the 184.75-ct. Jacob Diamond, which Ali Kahn’s father acquired in the mid-19th century from a trader named A.M. Jacob. The diamond was valued at $12.8 million. The collection also includes many emeralds. A set of 22 unmounted emeralds weighing a total of 414.25 carats was valued at more than $2.3 million. Other pieces include a necklace with more than 100 emeralds, a turban ornament with 30 faceted and cabochon emeralds weighing 510 carats and diamonds weighing 90 carats, a similar piece in rubies and a buckle consisting of 638 carats of diamonds and more than 900 grams of gold.

The government plans to display the collection in a special exhibit in the capital of New Delhi.

ISRAEL’S DIAMOND EXPORTS CLIMB

Israel’s diamond exports jumped “a surprising 24%” during the first two month of 1995, says Moshe Schnitzer, president of the Israel Diamond Institute. Exports of polished totaled $728 million in January and February, compared with $587 million for the same period last year.

Pacing the increase was a 66% jump in exports to Japan, from $95 million in 1994 to $158 million this year.

While the depressed state of the U.S. dollar contributed to some of the increase in Japanese exports, Schnitzer says business has been strong all around. “Buyers are flocking to the bourses here in larger numbers,” he adds, noting the value of diamonds going to U.S. buyers rose 13% and to Hong Kong buyers 10% in the same two months.

Schnitzer says a new 756,000-sq.-ft. building is going up next to the existing four-building diamond complex in Ramat Gan. Called the Paz Tower, it will house gem offices and support businesses such as computer and accounting firms and travel agencies. A moving walkway will connect the building to the Tel Aviv rail station, making travel to neighboring suburbs and to the cities of Netanya and Herzliya very convenient, says Schnitzer. The building is scheduled to open early next year.

The building’s developer is Paz Diamonds, which logged $110 million in sales in 1994 and is listed as one of Israel’s top 10 manufacturers.