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Gypsy Rose Garnet

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

At 21, jeweler Sean Criss probably sells as many garnets as any jeweler in America. Lately, he thinks he may be selling the most. While that may not be a distinction many of his peers are vying for, it fills him with pride anyway.

Criss is second-in-command at Federal Way Custom Jewelers in Federal Way, Washington, 30 miles south of Seattle and seven miles north of Tacoma. The store, which opened in 1955, was bought by his father Rene in 1981. Criss says he grew up in the business and inherited his father’s pronounced passion for colored stones, pursuing a private predilection for garnet as soon as he decided to work at jewelry retailing full time three years ago. “I’m known as the garnet guy around here,” he says.

No doubt about it, Federal Way Custom Jewelers is not your ordinary jewelry store. Only 30 percent of its gross sales come from diamonds; the remaining 70 percent comes from colored stones. Since garnet is Criss’ favorite gem, it is no accident that this complex, sprawling, dynastic group accounts for seven percent of all the store’s colored stone sales and may soon reach 10 percent. “There are eleven types of garnet, by my count, that are readily available for sale to jewelers,” Criss explains, “and you’ll find ten of them in this store right now.” And not just in ones and twos, but the half dozens and even dozens. In addition, Criss thinks he may be selling a breed or two before anyone else.

At present, the most popular garnet is a relative newcomer from Tanzania which the Crisses have named cherry garnet. “It was sold to us as something else, but we took one look at its juicy-red pie-filling color and rechristened it.”

Like any other most-wanted, cherry garnet has its share of aliases. When first discovered around 2005, miners sure there was some spessartite (academics prefer spessartine) DNA in the stone took to calling it Rose Malaya. Soon afterward, an American lab identified it as pyrope-almandine-spessartine and the new market name began to stick.

However, to make absolutely sure which of garnet’s many strains ran through the gem, cutter John Dyer, based in Edina, Minnesota, who had bought as much of the rough as he could, submitted it to GIA’s mobile lab at the Tucson show in 2006. GIA, which has published extensive studies on garnet groupings and interminglings, challenged earlier identifications and called the stone a pyrope-almandine-grossular garnet. Stunned by this classification, Dyer renamed the stone gypsy rose garnet-after the flower and not, as I first suspected, the entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee. “The word ‘malaya’ is only appropriate with garnets that are in whole or part spessartite,” he explains. But he quickly acknowledges the poetic logic of calling it cherry garnet.

RHAPSODY IN RED

Whether called “gypsy rose” or “cherry,” Tanzania’s red garnet sets new standards for the presence of this color in garnet. Do the following mental exercise. Imagine pyrope, the most common red garnet. What comes to mind? Most likely, you’ll picture a gem with a muddy, over-dark ruby color. Next, conjure rhodolite. What do you see in your mind’s eye? If it’s a red rhodolite, chances are, it’s purplish-red. Now, turn the page and feast your eyes on Tino Hammid’s gorgeous color-accurate shot that shows a boisterously bold pop-tart hue.

But wait, gypsy rose has more going for it when it comes to appearance. Dyer, who cut our specimen stone, raves about gypsy rose garnet as much from a clarity as a color standpoint. “Stones can be cut to be consistently loupe-clean,” he says. “And that’s pretty amazing for a gem that is hard to find in eye-clean stones.”

No wonder Dyer bought as much of this material as he could when it was first offered to him in 2005. He is still working off that stockpile, and figures he’s got enough to meet current demand for several more years-cutting stones between 3 and 15 carats and selling most of them at prices that keep them from retailing for any more than $300 per carat.

We have our doubts about whether he will be able to handle orders once word gets out about this remarkable garnet and his remarkable stash of it. Criss splurged on eight stones between 5 and 7 carats each at last month’s Las Vegas Show and he sold half of them in rings before June had even busted out into summer. At this rate of demand, he figures he’ll soon be needing replenishment stock.

For the time being, fans of gypsy rose will probably be able to meet their needs. But lately rough is reported to be of lesser quality and quantity. Unless supplies improve, jewelers like Criss used to affordable top-notch material may suddenly find themselves in dire straits with dependable sources like Dyer when trying to plug holes in inventory.

Green Tourmaline

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

In 1912 the National Association of Jewelers overhauled the birthstone list for the American market. Among the changes the group made was the selection for October. Beryl, which had for centuries been the month’s most widely accepted representative, was out, tourmaline was in.

At the time, some believed commercialism was behind the jewelers’ decision. Yet we would wager the jewelers’ group was prompted in its choice by nationalism as well. From a standpoint of quality, and perhaps quantity, America was then the pre-eminent producer of tourmaline: not just California pinks but also Maine greens. And given the fact that green and golden beryl was what was replaced, we would venture to say that Maine was uppermost in the jewelers’ minds. One look at a fine apple-green Maine stone explains why.

Sorry to say, that New England state is no longer producing to any significant degree. But the color associated with Maine can be found in stones from other localities. Indeed, tourmalines that ape the best color of just about every coveted green gem — from emerald to tsavorite — are found today. And they often cost a fraction of the gems for which they stand in.

East African Wonders

To many collectors, green tourmaline is synonymous with dark olive stones, usually from Brazil. If that’s your mental image of green tourmaline, you are out of touch with the major finds of this gem during the past two decades.

The most spectacular greens have been discovered at the Paraiba mine in Brazil and in East Africa. These tourmalines have set new standards for value, commanding prices never before reached by this gem: five or even six figures per carat.

Paraiba tourmalines are most celebrated for the unusual teal and greenish blues that are unique in the gem world. What is sometimes overlooked is that the Paraiba mine also produces pure and lively green stones, a green that rivals tsavorite or even emerald.
Saturated green tourmalines from Tanzania that are colored by chromium, the same coloring agent as emerald, are another premium green. Chrome tourmaline has a rich darker green color, sometimes tinged with blue. Although these chrome tourmalines don’t reach the stratospheric levels of Paraiba prices, they are the next most-valued type of tourmaline.

Toward the blue

After these two speciality tourmalines, Nigeria’s mint-colored stones, mined intermittently since early in the 1980s, come next in appreciation by connoisseurs. Nigerian tourmalines boast suberb pastel green colors that are similar to the colors of Maine material.

What dealers find especially endearing about Nigerian green tourmalines is the fact that so many of them possess a blue secondary color. If a green tourmaline must veer toward its neighboring colors of yellow or blue on the spectrum, blue is always preferable. Afghanistan material also leans towards the blue. Only these stones possess deeper tones and, as a result, sometimes lack the brilliance of Nigerian goods.

The one reliable producer of green tourmaline is and has long been Brazil. However, as tasted in green tourmaline have grown more demanding, this South American country has found her run-of-the-mill material falling increasingly out of favor.

This isn’t to say that Brazil doesn’t come through with her share of gorgeous greens. Be on the lookout for “grasshopper-green” material, most of it that looks as lively as it does lovely in jewelry. And for those inclined to deeper body colors, note that Brazil also excels at producing dense forest-green stones.

The Dichroism Dilemma

Even when Brazilian greens possess desirable body color, many balk at buying them because they only seem to come in emerald shapes. This preponderance of rectangular cuts does not stem from any perversity on the part of Brazilian cutters but, rather, from sheer necessity. Brazilian material usually looks its best when cut this way.

Why? Because tourmaline is plagued by dichroism- the multi-directional transmission of light along different crystal axes of a gem. When cut into ovals and other shapes that heighten this property, great color variances appear in the stone when it is viewed at different angles. But when Brazilian material is cut into rectangles and squares, this effect is minimized. Lighter toned tourmaline is spared the dichroism dilemma. As a result, they can be cut into far more popular ovals and other forms of brilliant cutting.

Green Amethyst: Hail to Pale

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

A new gamma-greened Brazilian quartz has become the most popular member of the extensive gem family since dusty blue chalcedony took the fashion world by storm some years back. As this newcomer has become a market sensation, dealers and designers have sought to capitalize on its family ties by naming it “green amethyst.”
There’s only one trouble with this trade name. It’s already taken. Well, sort of.

According to gemologist Robert Webster, heated amethyst that turned leek-green was sold as prasiolite in the 1950s. Prase is a long-established color word that refers to green and greenish quartz. Since the new green quartz is produced by irradiating and then heating colorless quartz (rather than amethyst), calling it amethyst is a bit misleading. Just think back to the controversy that erupted when dealers adopted the name of “red emerald” for red beryl from Utah. We think similar nomenclature strife should be prevented from repeating itself whenever possible. But many in the jewelry world have no such qualms.

Whatever the new quartz is called, clearly this sage-green gem has arrived. Already big-name designers like David Yurman and John Atencio are making much ado about this gem, whose whispery hues conjure the pale salad-greens of cucumber wedges and hearts of palm.

How did a stone with nearly desaturated color become the jewelry world’s newest green grosser? The answers to this question will shock traditionalists who think the best gemstone greens are deep luxuriant summer-foliage colors. Don’t get the wrong idea. The lush, plush hues of Colombian emerald and Burmese jadeite will remain the standards of connoisseurship.

Nevertheless, purists would be mistaken to cast cold eyes on the fair-skinned shades of green quartz. The sudden success of this irradiated gem signals the emergence of a new color palette and, with it, the rise of a new design aesthetic. Listen closely to the spin on green quartz. Designers who use it say this gem speaks to women in a way few established gems do. What’s more, it speaks directly to their ever-strengthening spending power and vastly altered wardrobe needs. Here’s why green quartz is riding high and likely to ride higher.

VISIONS OF VERSATILITY

A few months before the 2004 Las Vegas show, a well-known designer approached Cesar Habib of Kaiser Gems in Los Angeles to ask his opinion of a new sage-colored quartz from Brazil. “Since this designer used sizes up to 30 carats, I had to make sure supplies would be plentiful in stones that large,” he says.

A trip to Minais Gerais, Brazil’s famous gem cornucopia and the source of green quartz, convinced Habib that size would be no problem. So he gave the go-ahead. As other designers quickly joined the clamor, green quartz became his biggest seller. It still is. Indeed, Habib thinks it could become as mighty a market mover as irradiated blue topaz.

Green quartz is already a screen star at Tennessee, Knoxville-based Jewelry Television by ACN, where it currently vies with red labradorite (sunstone) as the top-performing loose gem. “Every segment devoted to green quartz is a sell-out,” says Shawn O’Sullivan, one of the shop-at-home network’s gem buyers. “We can’t keep enough of it in stock.”

O’Sullivan thinks both price (viewers pay anywhere from $5 to $7 per carat for stones) and uniqueness are the keys to sage quartz’s success. But there’s another equally, if not more, important factor: versatility.

Green quartz is one of a new kind of gem whose primary purpose is to blend in rather than stand out. The traits that traditionalists hate in this gem-its light tone and low saturation-are its chief virtues to strong admirers like Nak Armstrong of Anthony Nak, the big-buzz designer duo based in Austin, Texas. “Green amethyst is made to meld with other gems,” he says. “The washed-out, watery color makes it great for picking up the complementary colors of other stones.”

Furthermore, Armstrong continues, green quartz boasts versatility and, by so doing, boosts wearability. “Women don’t want the candy green color of a gem like peridot that fights with so many other colors,” he explains. “They want a color that’s understated and that goes with a wide variety of hues and fabrics. Keep in mind that jewelry is an accessory. Gem colors shouldn’t overpower. They should enhance.”

Armstrong is taking full advantage of green quartz’s team-player qualities to combine it with other shades of green (usually tourmaline) and light blue to create pleasing color ensembles. He is also using it solo in distinctive, elongated large shapes that allow women to look different-but subtly so.

However, these stones cost a bit more. While green quartz is abundant and inexpensive, much of the material tends to be too light and too often cut for bulk and not beauty. Expect to pay at least $15 per carat for good-looking, well-crafted stones -and even more for custom cuts which sacrifice lots of weight.

Grape Garnet: Shock Rock

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

Judging by its reception in Bloomington, Minnesota, you might think that grape garnet was a new Nike shoe or the latest Chanel fragrance. Last fall, local jeweler Dan Wixon stocked nearly 70 pendants, pairs of earrings, and tennis bracelets featuring this budget beauty for Christmas. Despite prices as high as $3,000, every piece of grape garnet jewelry was gone by mid-December, too late to order replacements in time for the final frenzied tide of Yule shopping that made 1996 the store’s best year ever. As a result, Wixon is sure he lost thousands of dollars in extra sales. “It was a stupid error on my part,” he chastises himself many months later.

Wixon can be forgiven for underestimating the potential of an obscure deep-purple garnet from India that first hit the U.S. market in 1996. While he prides himself on having one of the largest and most varied colored stone inventories in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Wixon had no inkling of the newcomer’s immediate impact on customers. “I have stocked every garnet with the slightest commercial appeal that has been discovered in recent years,” he says. “But this stuff blows every other garnet in its price range out of the water.”

There are many reasons grape garnet made such a big splash-the most obvious, of course, being the uncanny resemblance of its color to grape juice. “We’re not talking the usual pinkish or brownish-red garnet color here but pure purple,” Wixon says. “This is a color that commands full attention the moment you notice it.”

But there’s more to this gem’s success than its unique wine-dark color. Wixon notes that grape garnet delivers more dazzle and durability for the money than just about any other gem he has ever sold. “When customers saw tennis bracelets in my showcases with color so unique and brilliance as good as that of diamonds, they did double takes,” he recalls. “So even with prices from $1,000 to $3,000, those bracelets flew out of here.”

No wonder Wixon lauds grape garnet as “today’s best gem value” on his rather extensive list of affordable colored stones. “My salespeople love to sell it,” he says.
Such praise is music to the ears of Eric Braunwart, president of Columbia Gem House, Vancouver, Washington, the man who patiently accumulated enough material to make a market for this gem and whose daughter inspired its apt name one morning at breakfast while drinking guess what (a clue: it’s the most famous grape drink other than wine).

Trial and error

While grape garnet got off to a running start in Wixon’s store, it got off to a very slow start as new gemstones go. Indeed, when the stone, found only at one alluvial area in the Indian state of Orissa, was first shown to Braunwart 15 years ago, its glorious Welch’s grape-juice color was not enough to get his juices flowing. “The flat, windowed pieces of rough with lots of exploded bubbles inside them that I saw presented seemingly insurmountable problems,” he recalls.

For this reason, Braunwart took a flier on buying any of the new discovery. Apparently, so did everyone else offered what the Gemological Institute of America would later classify as a pyrope-almandine garnet. Seven years later, when Braunwart studied the stone for a second time, he felt more kindly toward it. “I always loved its color,” he recalls, “but was put off by the tremendous problems in cutting it. I decided to try and solve them.”

Braunwart’s cutters in China took a year to begin to get the hang of cutting it. Even then, the stone was far from marketable because yields were usually 5 percent: too low for cutting this gem to ever be a paying proposition. “The goal was to get yields up to 15 percent,” Braunwart says.

Finally, after two years of trial and error, Braunwart’s workers learned how to fashion bright, vibrant stones with rich, even color. Yet the garnet was still not ready to bring to market because supplies were insufficient. Only when he had accumulated enough rough to fill several oil drums did Braunwart give the go-ahead to amassing a sizeable inventory of finished stones. That was just a little over two years ago.

Scene stealer

Given the fact that grape garnet rough was mostly suited to cutting small sizes, Braunwart had to think of the gem in terms of finished jewelry. As shipments of cut stones started arriving at his factory in America, he assigned his designers the job of creating ultra-affordable, smartly-designed, and well-crafted settings which would allow the newcomer to be sold with margins as enticing as its looks. Customers like Wixon think Braunwart has succeeded admirably. “I make custom pieces,” Wixon says, “but there is no way I could compete with his styles and quality from a standpoint of cost.”

Looking at a selection of Columbia’s grape garnet tennis bracelets, we knew exactly what Wixon meant. Each piece was composed of uniformly bright and superbly matched princess cuts that stole attention from just about every other gem in Braunwart’s showcase. We could imagine ourselves in Wixon’s store, stopped dead in our tracks by one or another bracelet’s brilliance. Indeed, Wixon says grape garnet makes the same initial impression as diamond. That’s because brilliance is as much a distinguishing characteristic of this garnet as its color. “This gem has such an incredibly high refractive index-1.79 or higher-so you can’t always get a reading on a regular refractometer,” says Braunwart.

Amazingly for a stone that rarely sells loose for more than $60 per carat, grape garnet is a durable, hassle-free stone whose good looks are completely natural. “You can make a compelling case for grape garnet on the basis of beauty, durability, and price,” Braunwart advises. “The fact that they’re not treated doesn’t hurt either.”

Golden Beryl

Written by rdjadmin On May 2, 2013.

Test your gem marketing skills by solving this problem based on actual history:

It’s somewhere around 1913. You work for a German mining company that has just discovered a fat pocket of stunning golden beryl (the same family to which emerald and aquamarine belong) in South West Africa (now Namibia). The problem posed by the new find is this: How do you arouse public interest in a very obscure, albeit beautiful stone?

Well, first you give it a name that suggests the gem possesses a quintessential yellow color. That name: “heliodor,” a Greek-derived word that means, in effect, ‘sun-stroked.”

Once you’ve got a jazzy name for your beryl, you then set out to capture worldwide publicity for the gem. So you commission a well-known artist-in this case, Lucas von Cranach-to design a heliodor jewelry ensemble and present it to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and his wife in 1914. Voilà, instant headlines everywhere.
But now you’ve got to keep the momentum going for your heliodor-brand golden beryl without allowing interloper stones from other deposits to benefit. What do you do? In this case, you claim your company’s beryls are blessed with unique gemological properties (even though they aren’t) that set them apart from species members found in Brazil and Mozambique. Among other things, you spread the word that heliodor phosphoresces blue when zapped with cathode rays, changes color like alexandrite between daylight and artificial light and is even a touch radioactive.

The end result of all your marketing efforts is this. In no time at all, heliodor is the talk of the whole gem world, briefly popular in a way it has never been before or, alas, after-and, modern admirers fear, may never be again. “It’s difficult enough to excite people about yellow gems in general, let alone golden beryl in particular,” one dealer moans. “Earth tones would have to catch on in a big way.”

Gold Standard

Even if earth tones were to catch on, golden beryl would probably struggle for a piece of the action in yellow and golden gems that would result. There are a lot of reasons why the going would be rough for this gem.

At present, most golden beryl, or “heliodor” if you will, is found in Brazil, a country whose beryls are probably better known for their quantity than quality. What ails run-of-the-mill Brazilian golden beryls? One dealer describes the color as “an uninspiring legal-pad yellow.” She means that its yellow tilts ever so slightly to green, a trait that prevents this beryl from faring well in side-by-side comparisons with another far-better-known Brazilian yellow gem, citrine.
And it doesn’t even matter that the yellow of golden beryl is purer than that of citrine. It still seems dull when compared to that quartz’s virile brown to orangey-brown undertone.

Maybe if the prices of better Brazilian golden beryl were more on a par with those of citrine, there might be more demand for this gem. At present, however, golden beryl is four to six times the price of citrine. “Who’s going to pay such a high price for a stone that reminds everyone of a quartz?” a dealer asks.

African Exceptions

From time to time, golden beryls with the kind of deep, intense color that inspired the name “heliodor” make their way to the market. Almost invariably they come from Africa, which has a knack for producing bright beryls that some dealers who are heliodor aficionados liken to sapphire.

Around five years ago, a small find of golden beryl, rumored to have come from East Africa or Madagascar, set dealer juices running for this gem in a way Brazilian stones never do. They describe them as banana peel or lemon.

Irradiated Gold

Not every bright golden beryl in dealer stocks today owes its color to African origin. Some might have found their fabulous hue in a gamma cell or a linear accelerator-at least, that is what many dealers suspect.

No one we talked to knows exactly how long or often treaters have been bombarding golden beryl. We’ve heard guesses of up to 25 years. But according to scholar John Sinkankas’ superb, compendious 1981 book, “Emerald and Other Beryls,” successful experiments with X-ray and gamma-ray irradiation of colorless beryl to turn it yellow date back to 1908.

In any case, since irradiation of golden beryl is currently undetectable, collectors should assume that all stones may be irradiated. The enhancement is believed to be permanent.


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