Thursday, June 29, 2006

Head Rolls at AGTA

Mozambique tourmaline controversy continues...

Just received information from a very reliable source that Richard Kremetz, President of the American Gem Trade Association has resigned.

In other action the AGTA membership has overturned the decision made at the February meeting of the Lab standards committee.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Quality, Rarity & Value; Pricing the Crème de la crème of Gems, Part III

By Richard W. Wise, G.G.

© 2006

Lab Games:

Over the past two decades we have seen the proliferation of the gemological laboratory. Ostensibly the function of these labs has been to provide gemological services that require a higher level of expertise and technology than that available to the average jeweler-gemologist and to “certify” the identity, origin and treatments, if any, done to a particular gem.

It is no accident that the growth of the gem labs has coincided with the booming market for colored gemstones. The labs have provided the credibility that has for so long been missing and made this rapid growth possible. The labs are not the only cause; the advent of aggressive marketing spearheaded by the television shopping channels has had a strong impact. We have entered the Age of Information; today education in the form of books, magazines and information provided by the shopping channels themselves has replaced the age old “keep em stupid” strategy that has for so long been favored by the industry.

Cuprite tourmaline from Paraiba, Brazil (see post Pricing the creme Part II) pretty much had the market to itself until 2001 when Cuprite tourmaline in northwest Nigeria and just lately similar gems in Mozambique. Dealers working with these stones naturally wanted to cash in on the Brazilian gem’s market cache and call these gems Paraiba. This has sparked a lot of controversy in the gem trade and promises to create a lot of confusion among collectors. In February 2006 the Gemstone Industry Laboratory Conference (GILC), a committee made up of representatives of most of the leading labs met and decided that they would use the term Paraiba to describe this variety of tourmaline regardless of its source.

Image: Paraiba tourmalines; origin: Brazil. The pear shaped gem (left) is the highly desirable Carribean Blue (image courtesy Pala International)

The standard scientifically accepted nomenclature for describing a gem is to use the species name followed by the variety and finally origin, for example, species: Corundum, variety: ruby, origin: Burma. Until just recently this standard had been applied universally by gemological laboratories. The GILC’s action effectively turned the standard terminology on its head. Thus, it is now possible to encounter certificates with language such as: species: Elbaite tourmaline, variety: Paraiba, origin: West Africa, the proper variety name, Cuprite, is simply ignored.

It is important to recognize that although the public is wisely demanding written assurances from gemological laboratories of type, treatment and origin of gemstones prior to purchase, these certificates, grading reports or whatever euphemism is used to describe them, come from dealers and it is the dealers and jewelers who purchase the reports and are, therefore the laboratory’s best customers. Laboratory reports have become defacto sales documents and labs are under pressure from the dealers to put the best spin on things. Just as the public has begun to trust the labs to "certify" and thus guarantee that a stone is what the seller says it is, the labs have begun to betray that trust.

Reductio ad absurdum; geography versus beauty:

Unfortunately uniformed buyers have reduced the appreciation of the qualities described earlier (see posts Pricing the Crème Part I & II) to the absurd pursuit of any gem with a desirable geographic pedigree. Kashmir gems without the fine color and lacking the misty quality, emeralds that look like broken coke bottles and Burmese aquarium gravel will command a premium price in the market simply because the have an origin certificate from a recognized gem lab and despite the fact that they lack the very qualities that made these gems great.

This absurdity is the result of a very common market assumption that involves the logical fallacy of assuming the inverse. The proposition: All gem dealers are idiots may or may not be true but assuming the inverse: All idiots are gem dealers is both logically invalid and demonstrably false. Each of us knows at least one or two idiots who are not gem dealers. Likewise the proposition: All the finest rubies are from Burma may also be true but the inverse: All Burmese rubies are fine is also invalid and demonstrably false.

Gems are all about beauty. They have no nutritional value; they won’t keep the rain off or warm you in winter. What does it matter where a gem was found so long as it is beautiful? The fact is there are some very fine rubies found in other geographic areas and some really poor quality found in Burma. In the final analysis it matters little weather the stone was found in Burma or New Jersey.

The problem is, the market subscribes to this fallacy and geographic pedigree does affect price. Returning to cuprite tourmaline, the Paraiba designation does carry a market premium. The action taken by the labs sacrifices consistency for the sake of marketing and can do nothing but sow confusion and foster distrust among consumers.

This just in….

I am hearing a new rumor. According to sometimes reliable sources, the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) Board of Governors has voted to reverse the decision made by its lab representatives at the GILC meeting in February. Stay tuned…

Richard W. Wise is a goldsmith and gemologist and is president of R. W. Wise, Goldsmiths, Lenox, Ma. Gems & jewelry available at: . His critically acclaimed book, now out in paperback can be reviewed at

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Quality, Rarity and Value, Pricing the Crème de la crème of Gems Part II

Quality, Rarity and Value, Pricing the Crème de la crème of Gems Part II

By Richard W. Wise

© 2006

Wildcard Properties:

Some gem varieties also sport particular qualities, what I shall call wildcard properties that affect one or more of The Four Cs of Connoisseurship (color, cut clarity, crystal) and will dramatically effect the price of a gem particularly in the upper reaches of quality. The following is a list of wildcard properties, their affects and effects:

Colorless Diamond; (Crystal): Diamonds reputedly from the old Golconda mines located in northwestern India that exhibit a particularly high degree of transparency. The Golconda fields were the primary source of diamonds from antiquity until approximately 1725 and Golconda stones sometimes come up at auction. Gems with this property are also referred to as super-ds, something of a misnomer because they are really super-transparent and may be found in lower color grades.

Emerald; (Crystal): They are called old mine stones; emeralds mined in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries at Colombia’s emerald mines as well as particularly fine gems from Pakistan and Afghanistan that leaked into the Indian market during that period.

Oddly enough green sapphire (Oriental Emerald) was so deeply entrenched in the European psyche that the lovely verdant true emeralds of Colombia, stones from mines at Muzo and Chivor that were pried from native hands beginning around 1580, were not well accepted in Europe and were transshipped to India via the Philippines. The Indian Maharajas knew a beautiful stone when they saw one and paid princely sums for Colombian gems.

There is controversy about what constitutes an old mine stone; some experts maintain it is a pure green hue without secondary hues but it is in fact a honey like quality of transparency also called gota de aceite or “drop of oil”.

I had the privilege of comparing several of these old mine gems. This quality can be s

een when comparing a very fine crystalline emerald mined recently with one of these old mine gems. They do indeed exhibit a thick crystalline quality reminiscent of light passing through honey or oil.

Ruby: Mogok Origin: (Color):

“At a carat there is a price. At a carat and one half that price doubles. At two carats the price triples…at six carats there is no price.”

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, 1688

In 2005 a world record price for ruby was set when a private client from Asia paid the fabulous price of $2.2 million or $274,6

56 per carat for an 8.01 carat oval ge

m. This bested the previous record of $228,252/ct. set back in 1988 with a 15.97-ct. gemstone. In February 15, 2006 Christies St. Moritz shattered that record selling a 8.65 carat cushion shaped ruby to a dealer for the final hammer price of $3.6 million or $425,000 per carat, nearly double the record set just one year before.

What makes Burma ruby so special is a normally invisible quality of ultraviolet fluorescence, rubies from locations in Thailand, which was the ruby standard bearer in the years between the closing of

Burma in 1962 and the discovery of the new Burma ruby deposits at Mong Hsu in the early 90s, have concentrations of iron that quench the gem’s natural fluorescence. In Burma type ruby, found at geologically simila

r locations in Burma (Mogok) (Namya), Vietnam, Pakistan and Afghanistan, some ultraviolet emissions fall into the visible red (at 692.8 and 694.2 nm). The red body color is supercharged by red fluorescence. Vietnamese gems are particularly strong in this quality.

Some dealers are beginning to discriminate between g

ems produced in the Mogok Valley and those from other sources. It is sometimes possible, by inclusion study to separate Mogok stones from other Burma-type rubies from Pakistan, Afghanistan and other parts of Burma (Namya and Mong Hsu). Taking the cue from Emerald, ruby from the original source are referred to as old mine.

Blue Sapphire; (Crystal): Kashmir stones, those mined on one side of a rocky hillock in the Indian State of Kashmir f

amed for their fine color and the quality of transparency or crystal, that is variously described as a velvety, milky, misty, fuzzy glow. This affect is the result of light passing through myriads of extremely small inclusions called, variously flour, sugar or snow. Like the Starship Enterprise passing through an asteroid belt, light colliding with these tiny particles results in the signature fuzziness in the Kashmir gems. Kashmir sapphire from the original deposit was essentially mined out in the 30s and though some continues to dribble out from adjacent areas, they rarely show the quality of gems from the original mine.

The image (left) shows a Kashmir sapphire of indifferent color with a very distinctive velvety glow: The affect is often difficult to capture in an image. The image (below left) shows a Kasmir sapphire in its full glory, fine color and glow. (image courtesy Pala International)

Padparadscha Sapphire; (Color; saturation/Crystal): Speaking of padparadscha (see Grading the creme, Part I); though some experts insist upon Sri Lankan (Ceylon) origin, geography (gratefully) plays almost no role in pricing. Padparadscha is all about color. Which hue should dominate and what are the preferred mixtures of pink and orange? This remains undefined. However, it is safe to say that a true padparadscha has significant percentages of each hue. Although labs are now calling gems with even a trace of one or the other, orange

stones with less than 20% pink and pink stones without similar percentage of orange secondary hue should not be considered. The gem pictured ( right) is a padparadscha sapphire from Malawi, West Africa.

Some padparadscha’s will exhibit a strong orangy fluorescence under ultraviolet. Like the rubies of Burma, this quality tends to supercharge and sometimes overcharge the

saturation of color in the gem. To much fluorescence may overcharge, that is, reduce the transparency or crystal of the gem. Moderate orange fluorescence can be a plus though one not truly recognized or quantified by the market.

Paraiba Tourmaline (Color; saturation)

In the late 1980s a new type of tourmaline was found in the Brazilian state of Paraiba hard up against the border of Rio Grande do Sul. These unusual tourmalines had trace elements of copper that endowed the best of these gems with an intense neon-like saturation. What we call color is scientifically divided into three components hue, saturation and tone, hue is the term for color as we normally use that term and saturation refers to the brightness or intensity of the hue. (see Secrets Of The Gem Trade Chapter 2) International orange is an example of a particularly saturated hue.

The best of these copper colored beauties are a medium toned Caribbean Blue, a visually pure highly saturated blue similar to the color of the shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea that is considered the finest color in this gem. The gems of Paraiba became the gemstone success story of the Twentieth Century as the prices for these stones escalated from a few hundred dollars a carat into the tens of thousands.

Cupriian tourmaline from Paraiba pretty much had the market to itself until 2001 when Cuprite tourmaline in northwest Nigeria and just lately similar gems in Mozambique. Dealers working with these stones naturally wanted to cash in on the Brazilian gem’s market cache and call these gems Paraiba. This has sparked a lot of controversy in the gem trade. In February 2006 the Gemstone Industry Laboratory Conference (GILC), a committee made up of representatives of most of the leading labs met and decided that they would use the term Paraiba to describe this variety of tourmaline regardless of its source.

To be continued...

Interested in reading more about real life adventures in the gem trade? Follow me on gem buying adventures in the exotic entrepots of Burma and East Africa. Visit the gem fields of Austrailia and Brazil. 120 photographs including some of the world's most famous gems. Consider my book: Secrets Of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseur's Guide To Precious Gemstones. Now only $39.95. You can read a couple of chapters and order online:

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

10 Things you should know before you go shopping for that special Engagement ring:

by Richard W. Wise, G.G. author: Secrets of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseurs Guide To Precious Gemstones.


  1. Manufacturers are required to label gold according to its purity, Karat is an old standard that divides into 24 parts, 10k is 39%, 14k is 58% pure, 18k is 75% pure, 22k is 90% pure and 24k is 100% pure gold.

  1. Platinum is not labeled in Karats but by percentage of purity. In the United States the percentage of metal must be at least 90% before a ring can be legally labeled platinum.

  1. A platinum ring to cost at least twice the price of the same ring in 14k gold. Why, platinum has greater density, a one inch cube of platinum weighs 40% more than an identical cube of pure gold. Platinum is currently priced at about twice the gold price, it is used 90% pure and it is more difficult to work with.

  1. Today wedding rings are available in a variety of finishes, polished, buff and sandblasted. Will they last? In a word, no, precious metals are relatively soft. If you buy polished and she wants buff, they will both look about the same in a couple of years. Like your relationship, the longer you are together the more alike you become.

  1. Durability: Gold is the most plastic of metals but, platinum is the more durable. However, a heavy, high quality ring made of either metal should last for many years.

  1. 18k is the aristocrat of golds. Some U. S. jewelers will often tell you it is too soft. Though a tad softer than 14k, over the years, 18k will develop a rich buttery patina. Like your relationship if it is of quality, it should grow richer and more beautiful with age.

  1. Be careful when gem set rings. Many of this type are manufactured offshore. They are cast all in one piece and the prongs that hold the stones are soft. Ask your jeweler. A yellow gold ring with yellow prongs set with white diamonds should be viewed with suspicion. High quality rings are made in two parts with tempered die-struck prongs soldered in place. For diamonds, the prongs should be white. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true. After you replace a few stones, your great deal may turn into your worst nightmare.

  1. Want a unique design to symbolize your unique relationship. Consider a handmade original design. Expensive? Most handmade rings are made by a goldsmith and sold directly to the consumer. Most commercially made rings pass through several hands before reaching yours gathering markup all along the way so handmade may be a better value for your money and, often the craftsman will do the design work for free. Remember these rings the single most enduring symbol of your love. You will wear them for many years while the wedding gown gathers mothballs in your closet. You should love them!

  1. Should I buy an antique ring? By definition an antique has been around a long time. Art-Deco period rings made in the 1920s are very popular today. When you buy an antique you become its custodian. Jewelers will usually not warranty antique pieces. Be sure to check. Remember these rings were made for women who lived a less active lifestyle. Be practical! That delicate lacey design will not last long on a woman who’s hobby is rock climbing.

  1. If you don’t know the product, know your jeweler. What you don’t want is a pretty face in a pin-striped suit. Ask questions, if you don’t like the answers, move on. If you are shopping for gems, seek out a Graduate Gemologist with a diploma from the Gemological Institute of America.

Richard Wise is a goldsmith and gemologist. His critically acclaimed book, now out in paperback can be reviewed at

Quality, Rarity & Value; Pricing the Crème de la crème of Gems.

Quality, Rarity and Value, Pricing the Crème de la crème of Gems Part I.

By Richard W. Wise, G.G.

At Christies April 2006 Magnificent Jewels auction a pear shaped D IF diamond weighing 50.53 carats sold for 4.2 million (83,450 per carat), another D-color pear shape stone weighing 50.67 carats sold at the same auction for 2.6 million. The difference: two clarity grades, the second diamond was a GIA certed VVS2. The vast difference in the two prices brings into sharp focus the role of rarity in the pricing of a fine gemstone. I choose this example because the GIA grading system is precise and universally accepted. If there can be such a dramatic difference in value between two visually identical colorless diamonds consider the difficulty in pricing colored gemstones which are not so similar and for which no universally recognized system of grading exists. Lets take the worse case, consider the padparadscha sapphire. A moment to define our terms; we are talking about a natural untreated g em. On June 7, 1995 Christies sold a magnificent 20.84 ct. padparadscha sapphire at $374,400 ($18,000 per carat).

What the heck is a padparadscha sapphire anyway?

Unlike ruby and blue sapphire, padparadscha cannot be separated from other varieties of corundum by chemical analysis or any other scientific test. Padparadscha is not a type or variety of sapphire, it is simply a color. So, what color is it? Most experts, at least those in the U. S. subscribe to Robert Crowningshield’s definition stated in an article published in Gems & Gemology Magazine in 1982:

“…this color range should be limited to light to medium tones of pinkish orange to orange-pink hues…”

This seems clear enough but consider the following:

Lacking delicacy. (emphasis mine)The dark brownish-orange or even medium brownish-orange tones of corundum from East-Africa would not qualify under this definition. Deep orangy red sapphires likewise would not qualify as fitting this definition.”

How do you define delicacy in a gem lab? Ok, so delicacy in this context refers to “light to medium tone” as opposed to a dark robust tone, certainly definable even quantifiable.

but here comes the really difficult part. The definition of hue, pinkish-orange to orangy-pink, presents an almost infinite range of hues. Given the grading tolerances, one D color is pretty much like another, whereas two padparadscha sapphires can be worlds apart. How is it possible to develop comparables on gems with such a broad range of possible hues? And, what constitutes the most desirable and therefore most valuable hue? Is it a pink stone with an orange secondary or an orange stone with pink?

Working Without a Net:

Whether its a connoisseur, a serious collector or just a fussy consumer who desires the finest of the fine, will find himself working without a net. As you climb higher rarity assumes a greater role and as you approach the pinnacle smaller nuances in the four Cs of Connoisseurship; (color, cut clarity and crystal) that I define in detail in my book Secrets Of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseurs Guide To Precious Gemstones, make for broader variations in price.