Hot-Button Issues in Color

Following are some of the critical gemstone issues that retailers should be aware of.

Burma Ban: No Ruby for U(S)! The Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008 prevents rough or cut jadeite and rubies of Burma origin from being imported into the United States. It doesn’t matter whether it’s carved in China, set in Thailand, or an estate piece from Europe. If it’s Burmese jadeite or Burmese ruby, it can’t come in to be resold. However, jewelers are allowed to sell Burmese jadeite or rubies already in the United States.

Tiffany & Co. supports the ban, but the International Colored Gemstone Association has asked jewelers, suppliers, and retailers not to make any hasty decisions about a systematic ban of Burmese gemstones. An ICA statement recommends that jewelers “cautiously consider the negative impact and collateral damage that indiscriminate measures could inflict upon independent and poor populations engaged in mining, processing and trading activities in Myanmar and other countries.”

Emerald Enhancement. There’s an ongoing debate in the emerald industry about whether or not filling rough and preformed emeralds is causing a major problem. Emerald expert Ron Ringsrud, owner of www.emeraldmine.com, says the issue is of small concern in the larger Colombian emerald picture.

Filling emeralds prior to cutting can allow some larger stones to be cut. The filler acts as a glue to hold the stone together during cutting. While many emerald suppliers say this is rare, jewelers should examine every emerald for filled fissures that may cause a problem later. Reflected overhead illumination under high magnification will help find surface-reaching fissures. Try to follow any fissure while turning the stone through 360 degrees.

Opal. Black opal from Lightning Ridge, Australia, is the rarest and most prized opal, and prices remain steady. At the opposite end of the opal business are non-play-of-color opaque Peruvian blues and pinks. This material, used for beads and carving, is showing up on television shopping channels. Beware of misinformation regarding mine locality, which is largely irrelevant anyway. Work closely with your supplier to get first-hand information, including specifics on possible enhancements.

Pearls. Expectations for 2009: Typhoons in consecutive years hurt Chinese akoya harvests. Another one this year would result in a severe scarcity. Further south, Perles de Tahiti GIE has closed. Reports in late October said there were no plans to reopen the office. Tahitian pearl promotion will be left to individual suppliers and retailers.

The TanzaniteOne Mine. Mining production has increased and could reach 3 million cts. by the end of the year. Gemfields, which owns emerald mines in Zambia, has made several offers to buy TanzaniteOne’s mining operation but has met with strong resistance.

Paraíba Tourmaline. At press time, the name Paraíba was still at issue. A $120 million lawsuit filed by David Sherman, chief executive officer of Paraiba.com, to limit use of the name to cuprian elbaite from Paraíba, Brazil, was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for Paraiba.com’s “failure to prosecute, and for failing to respond to the court’s order to show cause.” But the lawsuit may get a second life. Sherman has a hearing scheduled to try to reinstate the case.

The original lawsuit claimed the American Gem Trade Association and others were misusing the place name Paraíba as a varietal name for any cuprian elbaite, including gems from localities other than Paraíba, Brazil.

Madagascar Misery. Gem mining has slowed in Madagascar, since no gem materials are allowed to exit the country. The country’s president seeks the return of a large emerald mineral specimen—which he claims is a national treasure—that was purchased and sent out of the country. Madagascan gems in the market were most likely purchased prior to the export ban, which is on all gem materials, including opaque ocean jasper as well as transparent ruby and sapphire.

Fair Trade Gems. Fair Trade gems are becoming more popular with concerned consumers. Nyala ruby from Malawi and cultured pearls from the Sea of Cortez are two examples. For more information, visit www.fairtradegems.com.