What is green, red or blue, and shimmering? Coloured gemstones can be as alluring to women as candy to children. But there is more to know and consider when buying these rocks
By: Soumya Jain
Posted on: January 23, 2018
From the ancient Roman empire to the Mughal kingdom to the Art deco period, colored gemstones have been enchanting civilizations and their leaders endlessly. Treasure hunters, too, have had their eyes and heart set on legendary vessels (such as the Spanish San Miguel lost in 1715) holding emeralds and so much more. Flip through Joanna Hardy’s books ‘Emerald’ and ‘Ruby’ – commissioned by mining company Gemfields - to understand the pedestal these stones enjoyed in the coffers of kings, queens, governments and renowned people.
A successful campaign, by their subtler cousin, diamond, changed the fancies of the next generation. In 1938, after Depression and at the brink of war, Harry Oppenheimer of De Beers, commissioned the New York ad agency N.W. Ayer to increase the popularity of diamonds in the United States. The price of diamonds was falling around the world. And so, N.W. Ayer worked on a hard-hitting campaign, hinged on the now popular tagline “Diamonds are forever”, to convince young people that diamonds were synonymous with romance, lasting love and great value.
Even though diamonds became more popular, the ultra rich and jewelry connoisseurs stayed true to their love for emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Stones passed down from generations to generations continue to be nurtured as the supply of newer ones becomes scanter, and of course, more expensive.
Emily Barber, Department Director, Bonhams Jewellery, London, says, ”Rubies, sapphires and emeralds are traditionally seen as the “big three” in the coloured gem world and prices at auction have rocketed in the past few years with global demand exceeding limited supply of the very best specimens. For example, Kashmir sapphires are today some of the rarest of all coloured gems and their distinctive velvety blue colour is the benchmark by which all sapphires are judged. The Kashmir sapphire mines were in production for a relatively short period of time, from the late 19th century and the mines were largely exhausted by the 1930s. Today, top-quality specimens come from a diminishing pool of antique collections.”
Much like the historical onslaught of diamonds, today, colored stones are turning a new page in their saga. Millennials are accepting them as new symbols of love, grace, power and style. Heena Shah, designer at Valani, a New York-based jewelry brand, says, “Women are moving ahead in the workforce, investing in a wardrobe that is both sophisticated and modern, and looking for jewelry pieces that are transitional. Ideally, they want a piece that can be worn from day to night, without the look of the 'mass market' or the usual diamond accessory. There are both sophistication and edge in rubies and emeralds that appeal to many generations of women. Both are gaining significant popularity with the modern luxury consumer, who is looking for jewelry piece that is as fiercely individualistic, feminine and confident as her style.” Significantly, she points out that emeralds were the gemstone of choice during the recently held Golden Globe awards.
Very interestingly, after analysing lots sold at auction, Bonhams is reporting meteoric prices now being achieved at auction versus a decade ago. These include a 970 percent price increase for sapphires; a 1,100 percent increase for rubies and a 1,900 percent price increase for emeralds.
Bonhams has also come out with a ‘Top 10 List of Hot Jewels’ after must research and deliberation, where rubies feature at number 2, sapphires at 4 and emeralds at 5.
With the rise of colored stones, jewelry is becoming more interesting in terms of design and style. Mrs. Shah says, “Every colored gemstone is unique; unlike diamonds with their GIA grading, there are no generalized classifications that exist in Emeralds, Rubies or Sapphires. That makes designing for each individual piece that much more exciting and technically more difficult.”
But even though there is no grading system, Bonhams recommends keeping some points in mind when purchasing colored gemstones. “Look at the transparency of the gem and the liveliness of the colour in daylight, in artificial light and when held away from a light source. The colour should not look flat or ‘die’ when the jewel is worn. The colour should also look even throughout the stone, the colour should not look ‘patchy’,” says Ms Barber.
While coloured gemstones are the force to reckon with at the moment, do you want to know what’s next? Along with the big three, auctions are proving that there is a greater appreciation for more unusual coloured gems. In 2015, Bonhams sold the 50 carat “Hope Spinel” a rose-coloured gemstone that achieved a world record price ($1.4 million) for a spinel at auction. Spinels continue to make high prices and are increasingly seen in the contemporary collections of luxury brands. Spinels are also featured at number 10 in Bonhams’ list.
Investing in jewelry has never been so flamboyant before.