Are You Challenging Me?!
I was recently talking to a friend about work. We were discussing coloured gemstones and I happened to mention that we had just taken in a rather spectacular Burma sapphire that I had become rather fond of. Every now and then something comes into our inventory and I seem to become attached to it - it becomes my 'bijoux jouet', at least for a few days. (I'm trying to make the expression 'bijoux jouet' happen, but I think it's probably going the same way as Gretchen's 'fetch' #meangirls. Everyone in the trade has one, that piece that you can't stop looking at, admiring and playing with). After describing the astounding colour and appeal of this new piece to my friend he looked me right in the eye then confidently and loudly exclaimed "But it's not Kashmir though. Kashmir is the best, so it can't be that nice. Fact."
Bearing in mind that my friend is by no means a jewellery expert and at best mildly au fait with the trade, I was astounded to hear these words come from him. Firstly, I was surprised at his assertion that Kashmir sapphires were best. Where did he garner this gem of wisdom (pun absolutely intentional)? Secondly I was curious where the confidence to exclaim with such certainty came from. There was no tentative or hesitant tone. No rising of the pitch of his voice towards the end of the sentence to indicate a question seeking my (obviously) professional, well informed and experienced opinion. It was a statement. To be honest, I felt like I was being challenged!
But it got me thinking... Is gem origin really important? 15 years ago I would sell emeralds, sapphires and rubies to customers and the subject of origin wouldn't even be approached. Occasionally I would be asked if the gemstone had been treated, rarely I'd be asked if it was synthetic. Never was I asked 'where did it come from?' Now it's more rare to not be asked the origin and even people who do not buy jewellery are educated on the importance of origin, as my learnéd friend has illustrated.
As a matter of course gem labs now issue certificates with the origin clearly stated. Some go so far as adding an appendix letter or statement to illustrate the rarity of gems from certain locations.
Image courtesy jewelsdujour.com
Location Location Location
Or more specifically origin origin origin. While pondering the importance of origin to a gem's value and trying to think of an analogy elsewhere in life, I thought of Champagne and an argument I had had with another friend recently. I had boldly stated that Champagne 'was the biggest con in history'. Years of careful marketing has lead us to believe that Champagne is the best of the sparkling wines. The prices reflect this. My friend interjected. "Méthode champenoise", she said, "is used to make Champagne. Only certain grapes grown in the Champagne region are used. It's very different from Cava or Prosecco. The bubbles are smaller!"
No argument with that. It's true; a certain method and grape varieties grown in the Champagne region are used. Legally (in the UK anyway) Champagne can only be labelled as such if it fits these criteria. My argument was from another angle, I don't deny that Champagne might be 'different' to Prosecco. I have had many (usually too many) glasses of Champagne. Some have been an absolute delight to drink. Others have been so disgusting they've been either diluted with orange juice or left to go flat and warm. Likewise with Prosecco. So quite honestly and probably at the risk of causing great offence to the French, I would rather drink a bottle of Prosecco from my local Aldi store than a bottle of Moët et Chandon. There are such varying degrees of quality of Champagne that simply being 'Champagne' doesn't automatically make it the best sparkling wine available. I like some Champagne, I like some Prosecco. I've also been known to enjoy a glass of Asti Spumante when nothing else is available. My point - origin doesn't guarantee quality. Why would I pay £30 for a bottle of Champagne that in my opinion smells like sweaty feet when I can enjoy a bottle of Prosecco that costs me only £7?
Equally, why would I pay top dollar for a Burma ruby that is nothing more than average in appearance when I can get a more beautiful gem from say, Madagascar, for less money?
Pigeon's Blood' Burma Ruby Ceylon Sapphire Colombian Emerald
When we exhibit at gem fairs around the world we always showcase our finest coloured gemstone antique and signed pieces. It's what we are known for in the trade. As a result, we are often approached by people offering us items. In March at the Jewellery and Gem Fair in Hong Kong we were approached by a gentleman. 'Are you interested in my Kashmir sapphire?" he asked. 'Kashmir', the word that piques the interest of any member of the jewellery trade. The most beautiful and valuable sapphires ever mined have come from Kashmir. That is a fact that goes undisputed. They are also relatively rare compared to sapphires from say, Ceylon for example. Of course we wanted to take a look. What a disappointment. It was dark, lifeless and full of inclusions. But because it was Kashmir, instead of saying 'No thank you', we began to calculate the value per carat and formulate an offer. It was at this point I said to my colleague "If this was a Ceylon sapphire we wouldn't even be interested. It's not gem quality. Why would we want to buy this?"
So, why are gemstones from certain locations especially valued? Burmese rubies are famed for the pure red colour that is known in the trade as 'pigeon's blood' and a distinctive fluorescence that is rarely found in rubies from other locations. The very best Burmese rubies have a velvety soft glow. But, not all rubies from Burma have this fine gem quality. Most are not pigeon blood and are heavily included. Just like Kashmir sapphires, they have earned a reputation and therefore a higher price tag based on the fact that the finest specimens ever mined have come from Burma.
Sure, if you have a fine, gem quality perfectly flawless, royal blue stone that just also happens to be from Kashmir, then you're lucky to have a truly valuable and rare stone. The rare origin adds to the fact that the stone is beautiful. But surely origin only becomes a factor if the gem is top quality? Gem stones are prized for the beauty. Why would you value a less attractive stone, just because it comes from a certain location, over a more beautiful stone? Buying gemstones purely on origin would be a mistake. All mines produce a very small amount of top gem quality stones with a majority of second and third rate stones.
I'm sure origin will continue to be important when it comes to value. Mr. NerdyMcGemmyPants might be very interested to know where the gemstone he is looking at was mined and might like to show off his indepth knowledge and ability to identify the origin. But I think we should also remember gemstones from other sources than the famous mines. Gems are a natural phenomenon that occur through pure chance. We value and prize gemstones because they appeal to our senses. Origin aside, it's the velvety, smooth blue of a sapphire, the mysterious glow of a ruby or the delicious green of a sparkling emerald that makes our hearts skip a beat. That's what makes them so appealing - the way they make us feel. Surely pretty is pretty no matter where it came from...
You can browse sapphires, rubies and emeralds from all over the world on our website, including Ceylon, Burma and the elusive Kashmir sapphires, Burma and Thai rubies and Colombian emeralds. Contact us if you have any questions about origins of any of our pieces by clicking here.