Gem Market Pulse November 2017


Featured Stone: Unusual Black Gem Materials

Currently, the market is experiencing decent demand across a range of colored stones. However, dealers do note that overall buyers remain cautious. Many are reporting that stock orders are lagging significantly behind expected levels for this time of year. Most orders from the independent retailers are for immediate needs and memo goods. The one undisputed trend this year is that self-purchasing, especially among women, continues to rise. This is an important shift, especially among millennials, where the percentage of those married is significantly lower than their parents’ generation. An inventory dominated by bridal may be less enticing to a generation that is less focused on traditional mores. Today, buyers are looking for quality that is affordable. Smaller but better is key to colored stone sales in the current market as big and ‘bluffy’ is out with style conscious young professionals.

Dealers returning from the September Hong Kong show note that the greater Chinese market is active but at levels well below the enthusiastic pace of consumption observed at the height of the market earlier this decade. Those at the show were mostly testing price levels. This is generally the situation in other key gem markets. The consensus among those we spoke with is that business is good for special stones but high prices are restricting market participation.

Unusual Black Gem Materials Used in Jewelry

Typically attractive jewelry has always been considered with transparent and sparkling colorful gems, if not colorless diamonds. Black gems are too often at the bottom of the list when popular gems are encountered. With exceptions of Victorian times when black gems were worn as a symbol of mourning, most of these have not have not enjoyed a prevalent use in jewelry. Recently, black diamonds are seen in high end jewelry. This paved the way for other black gems to be used as an alternative in many forms. There is no doubt that inexpensively produced black materials such as dyed chalcedony and simulants dominate the mass market. Since the identification of black gems creates a challenge for the gemologist, it is not unusual for them to be sold unnamed in the market. Modern designers explore unusual natural black materials that have not been used before. The appeal of an uncommon natural gem in designer jewelry never fails. These gems may be a less recognized variety of a better know gem such as black garnet (melanite) or black tourmaline (schorl). Others are unexpected materials such as black rocks rather than gem minerals.

Eric Braunwort of Columbia Gem House has encountered several black gem materials that are almost impossible to identify with conventional gem testing techniques. However, as a gem manufacturer, he recognizes the need for untreated natural black gems so he started producing black jasper from Oregon. Similarly, the jewelry designer and goldsmith Cristina Rosich, Christina Rosich Jewellery, London, UK, uses black slate in her jewelry. She says the material is a byproduct of tiling manufacturing from Germany. The manufacturers reject the slate when it has pyrite veins yet it makes an attractive tablet for setting. It is always interesting to watch the market for new and unusual materials.

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