Aquamarine

Unit recently, aquamarine was a stone that I had difficulty seeing the beauty in. I tended to think of aquamarines as large and unattractively colored stones that belonged in the now outdated jewelry of the 1980s. Aquamarine is a stone that is rarely celebrated on places like Pricescope and has never really had its moment of popularity like other stones, such as mandarin and mint garnets and Mahenge spinels, have had on Pricescope.

At the beginning of this year I found a setting that I wanted to use. I spent a few weeks poking around online to see if any of my favorite vendors had a stone that would fit the setting before I reached out to Jeff White of whitesgems.com. The conversation began as me looking for a stone to put into this setting and evolved into talking about new aquamarine rough that he had in stock. I decided to go ahead and commission an aquamarine, which had nothing to do with the setting that I wanted to use, and about two months later I got an unheated aquamarine from Jeff White in the mail! As usual, Jeff’s cutting was superb and the stone was certainly very attractive. It was big, clean, and had a nice color that never went grey or green. Unfortunately, the stone just didn’t speak to me and I decided to sell it on Loupetroop. I was left feeling like aquamarine just might not be a stone that I could appreciate. Then, Gary Braun of finewatergems.com released a bunch of new stones on his website and I was immediately mesmerized by an oval aquamarine from Nigeria that was 2.40 carats, unheated and internally flawless. Gary described the stone as having a double blue color and that was the factor that made me want to purchase the stone. By the time I was ready to buy it, the stone had already sold. Dejected, I didn’t contact Gary until a few weeks later. When I emailed him about the possibility of him having more rough in the same color he told me that the stone was actually being sent back to him! I was thrilled and shortly thereafter I had the double blue aquamarine in my possession.

I must say that this aquamarine far exceeded my expectations and I have been excitedly dreaming up settings for it ever since I received it. I am planning on having it set in a white gold setting surrounded by deep blue sapphires and white diamonds. Having my stones set in white metal is a rarity for me and I vastly prefer my jewelry to be in yellow or rose gold but I think that this stone will really benefit from being set in white metal. The difference between the oval stone from Gary and the cushion from Jeff is color and sparkle factor. The oval from Gary has a slightly better color and is a much more sparkly stone. This isn’t to say that Jeff’s cushion didn’t sparkle or have nice color, I just prefer the one from Gary.

As a side note, I have to mention that Jeff White’s stones retain their value in the second hand market. I have bought a total of six stones from Jeff and sold four of them via Loupetroop. All of these stones sold for exactly what I purchased them for and sold in less than forty eight hours.

Photo Credit: Jeff White                           Photo Credit: Gary Braun

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Golden South Sea Pearls Revisited

About a year ago, I posted about a golden south sea pearl strand that I purchased from pearlparadise.com I recently received another golden south sea strand from PP but this time it is a round strand with an AAA grade. PP is currently having a sale on all of their golden south sea pearls and I am sorely tempted to buy another strand to make into a few bracelets or add to one of my current strands to make a rope!

When I was first learning about pearls and fell in love with them when I was about 14 years old, I anticipated that when I had the funds to do so, my first significant and expensive pearl purchase would be a strand of Tahitians. I felt this way because I loved Tahitian pearls immediately after seeing pictures of them online and even more so when I had the chance to see them in person at several jewelry stores and gem shows.

As a high school student, most high quality pearls, even freshwater ones, were out of my price range. After I graduated college and had a “real” job, I made several expensive jewelry related purchases but none of them were pearls. Finally, last year, I bought my first expensive pearl strand and then received another this year for my birthday, both comprised of golden south sea pearls. I also wore a stunning pair of white south sea drop-shaped earring enhancers at my wedding and love those pearls, as well.

I worry that I am ruined for all other pearls that aren’t south sea pearls! I love that the south sea pearls have a satin luster and sharp orient and that the overtones, even on white pearls, are so apparent. The only downside that I can think of when comparing south sea pearls to freshwaters is that strands of south sea pearls, especially in larger sizes, can feel quite heavy around the neck. It was very helpful to be able to try on several different sizes of south sea pearl necklaces at my local jewelry store. I found that I am most comfortable wearing non-graduated strands that are a maximum of 12 mm in diameter and graduated strands that range from 9-11 mm in diameter. Remember that the larger a pearl is in diameter the more it weighs. Bead nucleated pearls, like Tahitian and South Sea pearls, will be even heavier as they increase in diameter because the bead nucleus at the center of the pearl will be larger and heavier in a larger pearl.

I love wearing golden south sea pearls for several reasons. One, a strand of pearls is a classic fashion staple but a golden south sea pearl strand makes a huge visual statement due to its deep golden color while still maintaining that polished and sophisticated feeling. Two, I find that when I wear my golden south sea pearls I feel both luxurious and powerful. As someone who is still relatively new at their job and still looks very young, I often find that my physical appearance, no matter how I dress while at work, can sometimes make me appear to be inexperienced to certain people. When I wear my golden strand to a parent meeting I feel as though I sit up straighter and speak with more confidence. Three, golden south sea pearls are beautiful. I love all pearls but there is just something special about the goldens.

Mandarin Garnet Pendant

I have long been negligent with posting and I think that a great way to break the dry spell and to usher in the summer season is with a post featuring a gorgeous mandarin garnet pendant.

The stone that is the focal point of the pendant is a stunning, precision cut mandarin garnet from Loliondo. It was cut by Gene of precisiongem.com in November of 2016 and I had it set by David Klass earlier in the month. The garnet weighs 3.365 carats and is 8.260 mm in diameter. Here is how Gene described the stone in its listing:

“A very nice color Spessartite from Loliondo Tanzania. Very clean stone for a Loliondo, with just a very small amount of “sugar”. This one measures 8.260 mm and is cut in multi faceted round design. I don’t have many of these left in the rough, and the material is no longer being found.

Color: 10/10 Clarity: 8/10 Brilliance: 5/5 TQR: 9.0”

The color of this stone never quits. It is always “on” and I find that it is a highly complimented piece of jewelry. Working with David Klass was an easy and smooth process and I received the pendant a little less than two weeks after I mailed him the stone. I highly recommend David’s work.

 

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Prices

GemologyOnline.com is an informative forum that is mostly frequented by people in the gem trade. There was an interesting thread on how lapidaries price their finished stones. In this thread, Mahenge garnets were used as an example. One lapidary  explains how he prices his Mahenge garnets. While his pricing formula works out very well for him, it certainly leaves the customer to pay an inflated price in comparison to what he paid for the rough material. On the other hand, Gene Flanigan explains how he prices his finished stones and it is once again clear that he passes on the lowest possible prices to his customers.
Take for example this Tsavorite that Gene posted to his website earlier this week. The stone has a great color and has been cut in a desirable round shape. Gene explains in the listing that the 1.055 carat garnet is priced at 528 dollars because he bought the rough five years ago when prices for Tsavorite were far lower than they are now. Gene is one of the few lapidaries that I have encountered that passes on this type of savings to his customer base. Many other lapidaries would price the Tsavorite based on the higher current market values and their profit margin would be far greater than it would be had they priced the garnet based on what finished stone prices were at the time the rough was purchased.
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Photo Credit: Gene Flanigan of precisongem.com
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the practice of pricing finished gemstones for many, many times the price that the rough was purchased for, it does make it difficult for me to buy from certain lapidaries when I know that they price their stones in this manner and it makes me more likely to buy from lapidaries that I know consistently offer high quality material at lower prices than I can find elsewhere. While I am not a person that hunts for ridiculous bargains when I am looking to purchase something, I have a limited budget that I can use to fund my gemstone purchases and do want to make sure that I am getting as much for my money as possible. In order to be savvy consumer, it is very important to be aware of which lapidaries and other trade members routinely offer the best prices for their stones.

Bling on a budget

Before I was employed full time and I was still in school, my budget was really the deciding factor when I was making any kind of purchase and especially when I was trying to buy a gemstone. No matter how big or small someone’s budget happens to be, it is a factor for the vast majority of people when trying to buy a gemstone. There are countless posts on Pricescope asking the forum members for advice on finding a stone that meets a certain set of criteria and adheres to a specific price point. These posts are usually about buying a blue sapphire for an engagement ring and I fondly refer to them as “bling on a budget” posts. I would like to think that after many years of buying gemstones I would be able to give some pointers and tricks that always helped me when my budget was pretty much microscopic.
Tip 1 Be flexible. It is incredibly important to remember that colored gems are not like diamonds in the sense that diamonds are a highly traded commodity and almost any combination of size, shape, color, and clarity in a diamond is immediately available. Colored gems hit the market in waves and it is very rare for any type of colored gem to be consistently obtainable from year to year or even month to month. Because of this, it is important to know what criteria are really important to you. For example, if you are looking for a blue sapphire under 2,000 dollars is the color more important than clarity? Or are you willing to compromise on color but the stone has to be round in shape? Remember that the more flexible you are, the farther your budget will go.
Tip 2 Shop around. Very few people make a purchase, especially one that costs more than your average grocery item, without shopping around for the best price. Certain vendors, like Gene of precisiongem.com and Dana of mastercutgems.com, have a great reputation on Pricescope because of the fact that they offer high quality stones at lower prices than what can be found elsewhere. A perfect example of this is how Gene has consistently offered the lowest prices on the new Mahenge garnet material and he is selling Mahenge garnets for about quarter of the price of what other vendors are charging.
Tip 3 Ask questions. Many people spend over a hundred dollars in return shipping costs when they buy several stones to compare them in person and have to return the stones that didn’t make the cut. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about a stone that you are considering and ask for more pictures. Some vendors are very accommodating and will take a few extra pictures or a video to show you. Doing this will help you to eliminate stones from your search and thus save you and the vendor time and money.
Tip 4 Start your quest early. If you have a firm deadline to meet, make sure that you start your search as early as possible. This is especially important if you have a narrow set of criteria to meet. The more specific your criteria are, the longer it will take to find a stone that meets your specifications at your desired price point.

Mahenge Garnets Part II

Though I just wrote about Mahenge garnets a month ago, the market for these stones has been experiencing minor changes in pricing. Within the last month, I have seen three new Mahenge garnets offered for sale, all from Gene at precisiongem.com.

Gene is one of the only vendors that I am aware of who is consistently cutting these garnets and mentions on his site that these gems are quite varied in color. The colors available in this material range from purple to pink to red with a variety of secondary hues often occurring simultaneously in one stone such orange, salmon pink, yellow, and peach.

According to what I saw at the NY/NJ Gem and Mineral Show, rough prices are dependent on size and clarity, not color. This is interesting because prices for cut stones do seem to be dependent, to a certain extent, on color. For instance, vivid gems that exhibit a padparadscha like color (a mix of peach, pink, and orange) with a medium level of saturation have the highest price per carat. Price per carat of stones with this type of coloration range from 220-400 dollars per carat. On the opposite ends of the spectrum, stones that are pinkish red or reddish pink are commanding the lowest prices per carat. Like the purple Mozambique garnets, the Mahenge garnets are available in large, clean sizes. However, the Mozambique garnets in larger sizes seem to run the risk of being overly dark while the tone of the Mahenge garnets is not dependent on size.

Currently, Steve Ultowksi of neweragems.com is the only vendor that I am aware of who has Mahenge garnet rough available for sale. If I were in the market for one of these stones, I would contact either Gene of precisongem.com or Steve to see if they a specific color that you are looking for. Let it be known that Gene is not overly fond of custom requests and might not be enthusiastic about accepting a commission request.

The first photo below includes a group shot of a Mahenge garnet (bottom left), a purple garnet from Mozambique (top left), and another Mahenge garnet (right). The second picture is another photo of the Mahenge garnet on the right in the first photo. It is easy to see that the two Mahenge garnets are dramatically different colors, but both are beautiful. The more peachy Mahenge garnet is a little over 3 carats and slightly larger than 8mm. It throws off gorgeous sparks of blue and red and holds its color quite well in all types of lighting. Both photos were taken on a sunny day in the shade.

 

NY/NJ Gem and Mineral Show 2016

I have mentioned previously that I rarely have the opportunity to buy gemstones in person due to lack of opportunity or the sky-high prices that my favorite brick and mortar jewelry store charges. A vast majority of the time I purchase my gems online because there is a wider variety of higher quality material at better prices available.

I have attended the NY/NJ Gem and Mineral show three times. The first two years were fun but I left without purchasing anything. This year, however, I purchased two items! I would like to mention that the show is mostly dedicated to mineral specimens and fossils and cut gemstones of any kind are scarce.

My first purchase was a precision cut, purple Mozambique garnet from Kevin Green of Spectra Minerals. Most of Kevin’s inventory consisted of some very cool and interesting mineral specimens but I was immediately drawn to his small selection of precision cut, untreated gemstones. All of the cut stones that Kevin had available had been cut by Shawn Maddox. I asked to look at a 3+ carat untreated yellow tourmaline and the purple garnet. Both stones were gorgeous but I ended up purchasing only the purple garnet. It weighs 2.41 carats and is an 8mm square cushion. The polish is superb and my pictures cannot capture the stone’s dispersion and gorgeous color accurately!

My second purchase is an adorable and incredibly well-made sterling silver owl pendant with diamond eyes. I purchased the pendant from InnerVision Crystals though I believe it was made by JX-Goldsmith. The pendant is about the size of a quarter and its intricate details are quite striking. Though it is weighty and feels substantial while being worn, the pendant is not at all clunky or heavy.

I hope to be able to be able to purchase from Kevin Green again. He was friendly and helpful and I found his prices to be inexpensive and even less expensive than those at precisongem.com. The purple garnet was only $500 and I consider that to be a steal for an internally flawless, precision cut gem that exhibits top-color for its type. The yellow tourmaline that I looked at was about 3.14 carats, with great clarity and color and was only approximately $600. Kevin also had several larger rhodolite garnets, zircons, and untreated tanzanites available.