Tanzanite, Tourmaline: Tucson’s ’95 Favorites

Tanzanite was the hottest gem at the Tucson gem and mineral shows this year – again. A special reason for the interest? Prices are on the rise.

Wholesale prices of tanzanite will rise 25%-45%, predicts Abe Suleman of Tuckman Mines & Minerals, Seattle, Wash. Prices for most fine 3-5-ct. stones range between $260 and $350 per carat, with an upper limit of $400. Suleman, who lives in Tanzania, cites “an inordinate demand” for calibrated goods, but says “the colors are just not there for the smaller goods.”

Among other African gems on plentiful display this year were rhodolites, which continue to ride a high wave of popularity, tsavorites, chrome tourmaline, golden tourmalines, rubies and chrysoberyl. Rock bottom prices made rubies from Africa strong competitors with those from other sources, according to Fu Gemstone Imports of Seattle, an exhibitor at the American Gem Trade Association GemFair. The company quoted $125 per carat (at or under 1 ct.) for the African material, which tends to favor a slightly orangy color.

Rubies from Burma, especially those from Mong-Hsu, were popular, as were tourmalines – especially blues and blue greens. Eric Braunwart of Columbia Gem House in Vancouver, Wash., adds that “nice pinks and rubellites are becoming very popular as well.” Sources for tourmaline include Brazil and Africa. More dealers offered what they describe as a “mint-blue” from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Blue stones in general seemed stronger this year, including some rarer gems such as blue zircon and bluish spinels. Aquamarine from Brazil and Africa staged a comeback – especially deeper blue gems with a slight greenish cast – while blue topaz sales continued to retreat.

New gems, new sources: Peridot from a source near the Indus River in Pakistan was one of the most talked-about new gems at the Tucson shows. Many dealers compared the material to Burmese peridot, historically a standard by which extremely fine peridot is compared, due to the saturation of color and ample size range.

Some dealers feel the Pakistani material may have an edge over the Burmese in color and clarity. Josh Hall of Pala International, Fallbrook, Cal., says Burmese peridot tends to be a little “sleepy” while Pakistani peridot cuts very well, yielding a brighter, very rich green. “These new peridots measure right up with the best Burma peridot,” he says.

While production in the area seems plentiful, it’s described as geographically challenging. “New sources like these get gem dealers all jazzed up,” says Hall. “We only hope this location will continue to produce for a long time.”

Russia’s role: A bicolored topaz from Russia was another new find that aroused great interest this year. The material is natural (not enhanced) color, according to the exhibitor, Alex Grizenko of Russian Colored Stone Co., Golden, Colo. At its best, the color division is a golden-pink (Grizenko calls it “zinfandel”) changing almost imperceptibly to blue. Much of the material has fracturing at the color line (a trait shared with bicolor tourmalines), he says, so the yield for clean stones is relatively low. Prices at his booth at the Gems & Jewelry Exchange show ranged from $50 to $125 per carat, depending on the saturation and division of color and the size. Grizenko says the new topaz has reached a great level of popularity in Europe, where it was first shown.

Russian gemstones in general seemed to be popular again this year, perhaps due in part to their increase in visibility in world markets. Among those on display in Tucson were spinels, alexandrites and chrome diopside – a “rising star” jockeying for recognition as an inexpensive alternative to tsavorite. One note of caution: chrome diopside is much more brittle and has distinct cleavage . Also seen at the show were a few small Russian demantoid and uvarovite garnets.

Gee-whiz gems: The Russians also made an impact with some rarities. At the AGTA GemFair, for example, Crystal Reflections of San Anselmo, Cal., exhibited a collection of rare Russian quartzes that the company’s Michael Randall dubbed “strawberry quartz” because of visual similarity to the fruit. The quartz derives its overall color from iron oxide inclusions, possibly lepidocrocite inclusions. The gems also show a phenomenal effect, a glittery aventurescence when illuminated with direct brilliant light. Larger gems are known to show a defined hexagonal star.

Also at the GemFair, Judith Whitehead of San Francisco displayed unusual amethyst “star” quartz with star-effect color zoning together with lepidocrocite and goethite inclusions. It’s broad, polished and slightly cabochon-cut to best show the colors and inclusions. Also displaying some unusual “stars” was prize-winning gemstone cutter Bill Day of Apache Junction, Ariz. His exhibit at the Gemstone Lapidary Dealers Association show, featured gemstones with a star cut into the pavilion so it shows through the table or a six-point (Star of David) frosted polish star formed right on the table.

Another rarity: a small but well-defined cat’s-eye, bicolored tourmaline shown by Evan Caplan of Los Angeles. The gem is cabochoned to create an optical illusion: only the blue side exhibits chatoyancy (due to minute parallel inclusions); the reddish side is not chatoyant – but the cutter orients the cat’s-eye precisely through the center of the stone!

Some opals from Brazil showed a very well-defined chatoyancy. Owner and promoter Jean Claude Nydegger of De Wal in Belo Horizonte says the material actually is a pseudomorph after asbestos, which accounts for the fibrous, stark cat’s-eyes. Most of the gems are either greenish or orangy, though colorless material was also noted.

New products: Swarogem Ltd, a division of Swarovski Corp., Wattens, Austria, formally introduced in the U.S. its line of natural, calibrated gemstones – a product first announced in the November 1994 issue of JCK. The line of calibrated goods includes amethyst, citrine, peridot, iolite, rhodolite and pyrope garnet, all in sizes as small as 2mm. Plans for emerald, ruby and sapphire in calibrated sizes are in the offing, says Jack Malinowski, president of Swarogem USA. The line drew a great deal of interest at Swarovski’s AGTA booth. “They will have a definite effect on the calibrated market,” says Dana Schorr of Schorr Marketing & Sales, Santa Barbara, Cal. “They have jacked up the standards of that particular end of the business. They will have a good effect, even on high-end goods, simply because they will generate a lot of interest in gemstones.”

Malinowski says Swarogem products are calibrated to within 1Æ10 of a millimeter, while other calibrated goods may have variances that approach 1mm to 5mm. “That makes for a product that is much more economical to use, especially if you have a massive production scale,” he says.

Another new product – shown at the GLDA event – was a line of synthetic ruby and sapphire from TrueGems, San Francisco, Cal. Promoters say the synthetics are made “differently,” in a method by which natural corundums are “recrystallized.” Robert Kammerling, director of identification and research at the Gemological Institute of America, says GIA doesn’t use the term recrystallized. “It doesn’t matter what the feedstock is,” he says. “The nature of the raw material used to make a product is irrelevant to us; the material is still synthetic.” Another source questions the company’s use of the term “TrueRubyTM” to describe synthetic products, fearing it could lead consumers to believe the material is mined naturally.

TUCSON’S `JEWELRY’ SHOWS OFFER NEW BUYER APPEALS

As always, in the first two weeks of February, Tucson becomes the colored gemstone capital of the world. This year, 23 shows catered to an ever-shifting audience that ran the range from camper-driving rockhounds to some of the world’s best known jewelers.

The prime jewelers’ show, run by the American Gem Trade Association in the Tucson Convention Center, had a couple of new wrinkles. It opened earlier than usual, on a Wednesday, and for the first time it included a special exhibit area for members of the Manufacturing Jewelers & Silversmiths of America. Exhibitors had mixed feelings about the earlier opening; some liked it, but others felt it had a bad impact on attendance. Overall, buyer attendance over the six-day event totaled 9,420, just a shade over the 1994 figure. Buyer companies declined from 4,486 last year to 3,954.

The MJSA exhibit, in an adjoining hall, attracted just over 40 companies. Most said they were disappointed with traffic and business; the common complaint was that MJSA had not publicized their participation enough. Swest Inc., Dallas, Tex., which had three hands-on demonstrations throughout the show, was one of the very enthusiastic members of the group.

Even though traffic on the main floor at AGTA seemed thin at times, many exhibitors said they did good business – with a few very nice cash transactions.

The Gem and Lapidary Dealers Association show in the nearby Holiday Inn seemed a little less hectic than in previous years. But some exhibitors reported good business. Judith Osmer of J.O. Crystal, Redondo Beach, Cal., said her booth was very busy. The good feelings stretched to the cramped upstairs Gemstone Row, where designer Barbara Westwood of Monument, Colo., also reported brisk business.

The third show directed primarily to jewelers, the relatively new Gem & Jewelry Exchange, established itself as something of a comer this year. The show was held in a large air-conditioned tent close to the Tucson Convention Center and the Holiday Inn. It grew from just over 30 exhibitors in 1994 to about 160 this year; organizers have set a goal of some 250 exhibitors in 1996. By next year, the show is expected to have a permanent exhibit area on the same site.

Many seminars, some conducted by the Gemological Institute of America, ran concurrently with the AGTA show. There also was a busy social calendar, with many events in the AGTA show hotel, the Doubletree. At the association’s annual banquet, David Federman, executive editor of Modern Jeweler magazine, was named an Honorary Lifetime Member of AGTA in recognition of his “distinguished service to the natural colored gemstone industry.” Federman has won many awards for his writing and also is coauthor of The Professional’s Guide to Jewelry Insurance Appraising and author of Modern Jeweler‘s “Gem Profiles” series.