There is rarely a dull moment here in Thailand. In September there was a military coup. In October there were major floods in more than half of the country. Our home of Chanthaburi, unfortunately, was one of the worst hit areas.
The water began to rise on October 6th and by the next day the narrow streets of the old town were under about 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water. The floodwaters soon spread to the rest of the city, and we had 6 inches (.15 meters) of water covering the ground floor of GemSelect headquarters. Fortunately we have a 3 story building and we were able to keep our operations running. But for a couple of days most of our staff couldn't get to the office, the gem market was closed, and the FedEx trucks couldn't reach us to pick up our shipments. We're glad to say that the gemselect.com website - which rarely goes down for any reason - was up and running throughout. Life soon returned to normal here, as it always does. Now the streets are dry again, a civilian government is running the country, and the gem market is back in business. We're happy with a little less excitement for a while.
In our newsletter this month:Making Sense of Gemstone Prices
Why does a reasonably nice 1 carat heated VS ruby sell for $500 while a fine untreated 6 carat VVS tourmaline goes for $200? Why is a clean untreated 10 carat amethyst only $30? In this month's feature we try to make sense of gemstone prices.
The simple answer, one would think, is that it's just a matter of supply and demand - if a lot of people want to buy a particular kind of gemstone and the supply is limited, the price for that gemstone will be high. However, this answer doesn't really tell the whole story of how things work in the gemstone business.
Consider the case of one of the most rare and expensive gemstones, diamond. In the 19th century, world production of diamond was only a few pounds per year. After the discovery of the huge South African diamond mines in 1870, diamonds were being dug out of the ground by the ton. There was such a glut of supply and so little demand that the British financiers of the South African mines were in danger of losing their investment. Their solution was to create the powerful De Beers cartel that to this day controls worldwide diamond production and supply. Quality diamonds are actually not scarce at all. But De Beers controls how much supply comes on the market and that keeps prices high.
The De Beers consortium also mounted a concerted advertising campaign to create an association between diamonds and love, courtship and marriage, under the now familiar slogan "Diamonds are Forever". The result was increased demand and higher prices for diamonds. The diamond engagement ring, once unknown in most parts of the world (including Europe), is now considered an essential part of the ritual of marriage. This was probably one of the most successful feats of social engineering in the 20th century. (In Thailand a bride still prefers gold, however).
In the colored gemstone world, there is fortunately no cartel, though many forces try to influence market demand and perceived value. Consider for example the terms "precious" and "semi-precious". As almost everyone knows, the precious stones are diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald. But did you know that the list of precious stones once included amethyst? What happened? The discovery of major amethyst deposits in Brazil made amethyst widely available and it was dropped from the list of "precious" stones. It would be hard to maintain prices for the other "precious" stones if one of the group sold for only $5 per carat! So amethyst was demoted.
These days some rare semi-precious stones such as alexandrite and demantoid garnet can be more expensive than ruby and sapphire. In fact the US Federal Trade Commission now discourages the use of the misleading distinction between precious and semi-precious gemstones. But ruby, sapphire and emerald continue to command premium prices.
According to the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICGA), the "traditional gemstones" - ruby, emerald and blue sapphire - command a high price due to "their lasting appeal and distinguished history". Even though today most of these stones are treated or enhanced in some way, the price remains precious, though ruby and emerald tend to be more expensive than sapphire.
The ICGA identifies another category of gems that they call the "new classics" - tanzanite, tourmaline, aquamarine, imperial topaz and tsavorite garnet. These stones are considered "the rising stars of gemstone jewelry" and they are also rising in price as their popularity increases. Tanzanite, in particular, has been very heavily promoted.
Less well-known stones that are not heavily marketed often have very reasonable prices. These stones, which the ICGA calls "collector's gems", include spinel, zircon, moonstone and morganite and other beryl gems.
Then there is a list of gems that the ICGA calls "affordable gemstones" - nicely colored stones with good availability and attractive prices. These include amethyst, citrine, ametrine, peridot, rhodolite garnet, blue topaz, iolite, kunzite, diopside and andalusite.
What all of this makes clear, we think, is that there are several factors at work in determining gemstone prices. Supply is of course important, but the marketing power of the jewelry industry is also a major factor in determining the level of demand. If a gemstone is not widely available or not considered mainstream or "fashionable", it is unlikely to be heavily marketed, and the price is likely to be lower. If a gemstone is in very good supply, as in the last category, there is not much that the jewelry industry can do to influence prices unless they can control the supply like the De Beers cartel. But don't worry, there are no signs yet of a citrine cartel.
So what does this all mean for us? In our view, there are still many good value gems on the market. In the "precious" stone category, it is still possible to buy nice blue sapphires from Madagascar, Africa and Sri Lanka, starting from under $200 per carat. The market for fancy colored sapphire has changed with the introduction of beryllium treatment - the prices have dropped and the colors are more dramatic. Tourmaline may be a "new classic" now, but prices are still attractive and the range of available colors and cuts seem to have increased as tourmaline gets a wider distribution. Burmese spinel, with its excellent hardness and clarity, continues to be a great buy. The brilliance of zircon is hard to equal unless you buy diamond. Then there all the affordable stones still available for less than $10 per carat - wonderful stuff like garnet, topaz, amethyst, citrine and fire opal.
In the end, the most important thing is that you buy the stones that you will love and enjoy. But if you're looking for the best value gems, have a look at some of the lesser-known gems that haven't yet been heavily marketed.
New in Gems
Our buyers are busy every day finding the best value gems for our customers. Here are some of the excellent buys we've made in the last two weeks. Click on the gem names to view the latest samples.
This Month's Birthstone
The traditional birthstone for November is topaz. One of the most popular of all gemstones, topaz is highly regarded for its excellent hardness (8 on the Mohs scale) and high refractive index. In ancient times it was believed that topaz helped to improve eyesight. The Greeks believed that topaz had the supernatural power to increase strength and make its wearer invisible in times of emergency. Topaz was also said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink, a trait we hope you'll find no need to test.Gemstones Worth Knowing
Each month we focus on one of the lesser-known gemstones. This month's featured stone is kyanite.
There are very few gemstones that come in a rich royal to dark blue. For most people, sapphire is probably the only one that comes to mind. Sometimes you can find spinel or tourmaline in blue, but rarely in a highly saturated pure blue. So if you love blue, it's worth taking a look at kyanite.
Almost always cut en cabochon, kyanite has the same chemical composition as andalusite (aluminum silicate). Though found in colors including white, gray, green and yellow, a sapphire-like blue is the most desired color. However, kyanite color tends not to be consistent throughout the crystal, often showing white streaks in medium blue.
Kyanite has a variable hardness - it is softer when scratched parallel to the long axis of the crystal, though the material is quite hard when cut perpendicular to the long axis. Thus gemologists usually recommend that kyanite be used for pendants, earrings or brooches. Kyanite is still largely unknown and quite inexpensive. For more information see our kyanite information page.Finding Your Way Around Gemselect.com
In another regular feature, we look at some of the navigation tools available on GemSelect.com.
We have a large inventory on our website - usually more than 7,000 gems - so it can be a challenge when you're looking for something specific. Here's a good way to find exactly what you're looking for.
On the right side of nearly page of our website you'll see a button that says "advanced search". If you click on that button you'll be taken to a page with this panel:
Every month we answer questions of general interest from our customers. Please feel free to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, with "newsletter question" in the subject line.
A final note - if you send us email, please be assured that we answer all our email very promptly, 6 days per week. But we sometimes have problems with spam filters on the receiving end, so please adjust the settings on your email account so that you can receive mail from email@example.com.
Happy gem hunting!
Your friends at GemSelect
- First Published: November-01-2006
- Last Updated: November-03-2014
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