Idar-Oberstein: The Gems of October

V eterans of the Las Vegas or Tucson shows might assume they can work Idar-Oberstein’s Intergem show in a single day with time for a leisurely lunch. Perched atop a steep hillside overlooking a residential district, Idar’s Tennis and Squash Center is roughly the size of six tennis courts, and during the Intergem show, it houses about 90 dealers, approximately 60 of whom are stone cutters. That’s minuscule by Las Vegas standards, but given the unsurpassed quality in color, cutting, and style at each booth, you’d be lucky to finish the show in the allotted four days that it’s open.Every exhibitor offers something to catch your eye, like no-longer-produced Nigerian spessartite or 30-year-old iridescent aventurescent Oregon sunstone. You’ll also meet the people behind the names in gem-cutting history, like Becker, Henn, Munsteiner, Pauley, Petsch, Ruppenthal, and Wild. These are the cutters, the artists, the Germans whom everyone talks about.

And their inventories are deep. Gem experts know that once a deposit is depleted, the good cutting material is gone. So they typically buy in large lots when deposits of good quality and color are discovered. They also search out gem rough collectors or miners who save the best rough for the best cutters.

What was hot? The firm of Wild & Petsch, upriver in Kirschweiler, showed beautifully finished peridot in faceted goods, cabochons, and carvings. The company’s inventory included hundreds of carats of aquamarines in cabochons and brilliants, displayed beside heliodores, morganites, and green beryls. Tourmalines included cat’s-eyes, blue greens, “rose” color, purple, bicolors, “mint,” rubellite, blue-greens, Namibian green-blues, and carvings. There were tanzanites, Mandarin and Malaya garnets, rhodolites, tsavorites, every color of sapphire, spinels, topaz, zircon, chrysoberyl, and emeralds in cabochons and carvings, as well as Context Cuts and Spirit Sun Cuts in a host of gem varieties.

Carl Egon Wild, partner in Wild & Petsch, says that blue and other pastels were the colors of choice for this year’s show. Aquamarines and tanzanites were especially popular in the blue range. Among other pastels, morganites, golden beryls, and light pink Nigerian tourmalines were prominent. Mandarin spessartite garnets also were popular this season. Paraíba-like Nigerian blue tourmalines were another blue of choice, and, because their color was less saturated, they were priced more affordably than true Brazilian Paraíbas.

Keeping a well-supplied inventory requires buying a lot of rough. Wild confirmed that he buys when the rough is available. As if to remind himself of why he has so much inventory, he says, “If you buy when they are rare, you tend to overpay.”

Diamonds in Idar-Oberstein? Diamonds have been cut in Idar-Oberstein since the late 1800s; in fact, the most prominent (and only high-rise) building in Idar-Oberstein is the diamond bourse. Although diamonds are not the focal point of the show, a few local diamond cutters and one lone Belgian firm, ABC Diamonds, exhibited at Intergem.

ABC sells only HPHT-treated diamonds. According to ABC representative Nobuki Sugihara, the company treats type IIa rough diamond crystals at a plant in Ireland, then cuts and polishes them in Antwerp. One of two impressive HPHT stones—graded and laser-inscribed by the GIA Gem Trade Laboratory—was a 6.08-ct. fancy purplish-pink oval brilliant, VVS1 (based on internal graining) with crown angles listed at 40°. (High crown angles are commonly seen on fancy color diamonds, pushing the color into the center of the stone.) The second diamond was a 1.78-ct. fancy vivid blue, HPHT treated and graded VVS2 (also based on internal graining). Even though the stones are HPHT enhanced, they are still considered very rare.

Buyers were buying. Results for the 2003 show were good, and show managers Martin Schmidt and Kai-Uwe Hille were very optimistic about the years ahead. This year’s show hosted 92 exhibitors, and a new hall planned for construction in downtown Oberstein should hold an additional 50 exhibitors. According to Hille, attendance was up 15% over last year’s figures on opening day, and second-day figures also showed an increase over last year’s. Dealers were quick to mention that last year only two out of every 10 visitors bought merchandise, but this year eight of 10 visitors made purchases.

Overall, there were more visitors to the fair this year than last. Dealers noted that buyers were mainly German jewelers plus retail jewelers from the United States, England, France, Austria, and especially Italy. There were no Japanese buyers.

Obituary. On a sad note, Jörg Munsteiner, age 37, died in Lugano, Switzerland, on Sept. 5, 2003, just one month before the Intergem show. Jörg, the eldest son of renowned gem artist Bernd Munsteiner, was a jewelry designer/manufacturer who had recently returned from vacationing in Egypt. Jörg was thought to have recovered from a recent virus when he fell ill one morning and died suddenly.