IN DEPTH: Gemstones now

Gem experts and dealers discuss current market trends in the UK.

The appetite for coloured gemstones has grown in the UK and globally as consumers seek gems that stand out from the crowd or to own as investments. Kathryn Bishop asks gem experts, from auction houses to fair trade stone dealers, about current market trends.

You only have to step onto Bond Street or peruse the windows of luxury jewellers from Paris to New York right now to spot a recurring theme: coloured gemstones.

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While gemstones have played a huge part in jewellery design for millennia, there has been a notable renaissance for punchy, juicy coloured stones that consumers are no longer afraid to wear.

There are two sides to this story, however; firstly the UK and Irish retailers selling fine gemstone jewellery in their shops, and secondly the booming pre-owned market, where auction houses are selling gemstone jewellery and loose stones for millions of dollars, breaking records and making headlines as they do.

Gemfields chief executive Ian Harebottle explains why coloured stones are having a renaissance. “Research has shown that consumers have always had an inherent love for colour, just look and see which window catches people’s attention as they walk down the street,” he states.

Gemfields itself has been at the forefront of major gemstone campaigns this year, promoting its emerald collections with a little help from brand ambassador Mila Kunis, and high-profile collaborations with jewellers from around the world. “It’s been a fantastic year for Gemfields and for coloured stones,” Harebottle adds. “Colour has been prevalent in the windows of high-end jewellers [and on] red carpets around the world.”

Through its campaigns, Gemfields aims to inspire consumers, and this year plans to direct consumers to retailers and jewellers to purchase Gemfields gemstones.

So what is it about coloured gemstones that, sleek marketing aside, is winning the hearts of the consumers? For Holts Gems Jason Holt, gemstones are the new diamond, at least for brides-to-be. “We have noticed an increase in coloured gemstones amongst our consumers, especially those who seek alternatives to the traditional diamond engagement ring,” he says. “Instead of a diamond solitaire or diamond three stone ring they ask for striking green tsavorite garnet and red spinel.”

Holt adds that statement necklaces in onyx, coral or amber have been popular, and cluster rings are now very much in demand, as are particular hues of stone such as peach-coloured sapphires and aquamarine.

As a result, the company launched its Engage with Colour collection this year, featuring pop-colour centre stones, launched to boost the profile of “under the radar” gemstones, while also being a response to growing demand from Holts’ customers seeking engagement rings with a difference.

The Gemmological Association of America (GIA), while offering training and education for diamonds and stones, also keeps an eye on the evolving markets. Its senior industry analyst Russell Shor agrees with Holt that stones considered obscure have become increasingly popular in recent times. “For many years the popular notion of garnet was a brownish-red coloured stone, however garnets come in nearly every colour of the rainbow, and in all price ranges,” he explains. “The popularity of these so-called ‘obscure’ gemstones has increased exponentially in recent years because consumers have come to know their beauty through [mediums] such as telvision and the internet.”

Shor adds that the impact of fashion magazines and celebrities wearing coloured stones has positioned them before more consumers. “Interest has progressed well beyond the big three – ruby, sapphire, emerald– largely because TV shopping channels in the US and Asia feature a variety of gems, while the internet allows people to learn more about alternative, affordable gems.”

Unlike precious metals, where price is dictated by fineness and the impact of the wider global markets, gemstone prices can vary wildly from a few pounds to millions, based on factors such as colour, quality and cut. In some cases, per carat prices have increased three-fold in the last few years for high quality gems, while stones considered exotic owing to their colour or source environment are attracting buyers with big bucks ready to spend.

The Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A) has been providing gemmological training for the UK jewellery trade since 1908 and has representatives travelling the world to gemstone fairs and conferences, keeping up to date with the latest gem developments. Gem-A’s former chief executive and current international ambassador Jack Ogden has watched gemstone prices evolve in recent years and explains how the coloured stone market has been impacted.

“Low to medium quality gems and those selling in the trade for less than a couple of hundred pounds a carat have probably changed little in price over the last year or two, but with finer gems a lack of sufficient supply and demand has forced prices up,” Ogden says. “With certain categories, such as good blue sapphires, prices have risen some 20% in the last six months and have probably tripled in the last five years. Fine rubies and emeralds have also seen huge growth. Generally the lower end of the market has been static, but there is demand at the high end, and not just for the big three.”

At the recent Hong Kong trade show, for example, Ogden was shown a set of fine Paraiba tourmalines of about 2.75cts each, offered at US$60,000 (£37,460) per carat, prices that are comparable to a fine Burma ruby. He also notes a rise in the price of high quality black opal.

At a retail level, Holt says gemstone prices continue to rise, adding that the price of sapphires of all colours, as well as aquamarine and ruby, have gone up in the last 18 months.

The big three, as they are known, have been popular stone choices through the ages, and this year emerald has enjoyed a boost thanks to Gemfields’ high-profile campaigns. Harebottle says that with its first rough auction of ruby from its Mozambique mine scheduled for early 2014, Gemfields plans to place as much importance on driving ruby stones towards consumers as it has emeralds. “We have already initiated many of the steps that we put into place for emeralds, including our desire to provide the world markets with a consistent supply of ethically sourced and quality graded rough rubies,” he says. “We are already experiencing high levels of demand for the gems, before even having held our first ruby auction, and I have no doubt that the demand will only increase once we have started in earnest.”

Harebottle also notes the changing trends in gemstone demand on a global level and speaks openly about the impact of diamond marketing on Western tastes. While many emerging luxury markets such as China, India, Africa and South America have never, in Harebottle’s view, lost their desire for coloured gems, the impact of colourless diamonds has made Western consumers somewhat colour cautious.

“The trend over the past 50 years or so has been towards more conservative tastes when it comes to personal jewellery purchases, with much of this change being driven by post-war conservatism and the extensive marketing initiatives of some organisations,” he explains. “Much of this is now changing, and rapidly so, with a measured shift within the Western markets towards increased individuality and creativity. All of this has led to a considerable and sustained increase in consumer demand for coloured gems.”

Beyond the classic sapphire, ruby and emerald choices, it is bright hues such as Paraiba tourmaline that are repeatedly mentioned as stones to watch, along with fine example of Padparadscha sapphires. Holt says that the stone is becoming a popular choice for bespoke jewellery customers seeking something a little different. “Our younger customers ask for purple, pink, peach and red, either spinel or sapphires set in 18ct rose gold. For our customers who love a unique design, Paraiba tourmaline set in white gold is very popular.”

For Harebottle, the time is now for gemstones and he muses that opinion about coloured gemstones is changing among consumers. “I believe that we have entered into a new era in which colour is going to play an increasing part in our lives, our jewellery and our luxury purchases.”

This feature was taken from the October issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here




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