EW Adams’ MD on soaring prices and demand for African gemstones.
Every year gemstone expert and EW Adams managing director Ed Adams heads to the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show in a bid to find the best precious gemstones. In this, his second diarised instalment for Professional Jeweller, Adams talks about the high price of sapphires, the rise of African stones and the perfect parcel of alexandrite.
DAY 1: PINK SAPPHIRES AND EMERALDS
This year’s March show was split between two venues with loose stones vendors exhibiting at the Asiaworld-Expo and finished jewellery in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The two locations added up to a rather daunting 123,000 square meters, filled with 3,850 exhibitors from 53 countries.
As always, the shows continued to draw enormous numbers, attracting some 74,000 buyers from around the world. It felt busier than ever, especially at the gem fair. One reason for this was the increase in buyers from Asian countries, including the Chinese mainland, India, Taiwan, and Thailand, all recording double-digit growth. Visitors from traditional markets, like the US, Germany, Italy and Belgium also recorded significant growth.
On my first day I had to go hunting for a 3ct to 4ct pink sapphire. It is no longer the stone of the moment, however it is now in very short supply in larger, better quality pieces. Eventually I spotted an emerald cut stone of about 4.03ct with a really strong colour and lustre. Then I got the price — wow. Plus it was heat treated. I agreed to buy a few other smaller bits and eventually walked away with a top pink sapphire at a very sensible price.
Next I had to buy some serious emeralds, a bit like the ones the team at Boodles set in The Million Pound Necklace, but perhaps a little smaller. I found a new supplier with an amazing selection of stones — pairs, necklace layouts, sets, all beautifully cut and with really nice colours, but not Colombian. This material was mostly Zambian, but not the slightly brown/blue colours as you would usually expect. This was very much like Colombian in its look, but half the price.
With sapphires, the Hong Kong show proved that larger sizes are much more difficult to come by compared to two years ago. Insider opinion suggests there is less rough material coming out of Sri Lanka and nearly nothing from Madagascar. The inevitable results of this are some fairly dramatic price rises, especially in 10ct plus. However, 30% price hikes can also be seen in top quality 3ct plus stones, which is especially apparent over the past two years. The major change was that even 0.50ct to 1.50ct goods were hard to come by in fine quality and again more expensive. Some small sizes were not available at all, demonstrating a real market shortage. A great Thai meal, a much needed Tsingtao and a surprisingly good night’s sleep, I’m already on to day two.
DAY 2: AFRICA VS BURMA
On to rubies and once again there was even less Burma material around in 1.50ct plus sizes. African goods, earlier examples of which were usually a little orange or brown in comparison to Burmese material, are now available in much more Burmese-like colours. The best example of this was a stunning 9.69ct cushion-cut, unheated stone with an amazing colour. It cost US$1.2 million (£717,000) — an incredible price for a non-Burmese stone. This demonstrated how sought after African material is now. It wasn’t one for me — but it is definitely a stone that would appeal to the Chinese mainland.
DAY 3: EXTINCT STONES AND TOP TOURMALINE
It’s always tough looking at aquamarine in artificial light, as the subtle differences in colour are so crucial. The trick is to always carry samples that you know are the right colour. Once again light-to-mid-colour commercial goods were everywhere. However, really good colours in 2ct plus sizes were virtually non-existent and the prices were the highest I’ve seen. There is no rough being mined and anything that is can be heavily included. The best I saw was a 10ct emerald cut aquamarine with a good colour, but not a top Santa Maria colour, that still cost US$1,000 (£598) per carat.
Looking at the more unusual stones, there was less Paraiba tourmaline on offer than previous years — perhaps the Brazilian dealers who all swore last year that it’s virtually extinct were correct.
There were some amazing pink and green tourmalines available, both of which are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. I found an incredible matching oval and pear imperial topaz set, the best I’ve seen with deep sherry-pink colours, about 8cts each, but an equally incredible US $1,800 (£1,076) per carat. My Brazilian friend tells me that this top material in now very rare hence the giddy prices.
THE POWER OF BLACK OPAL
Morganite was abundant in peachy pink hues (the preferred colour in the US), but the true pink was much harder to find and was costing more than $200 (£119) per carat. With high demand in the UK I was delighted to find some really good stones.
I was also really pleased to buy a lovely little parcel of really pretty alexandrite; with well matched stones all showing super green to red colour change.
My last night was spent with an Australian friend who is the world’s foremost black opal dealer. I learnt that the black opal business is booming and sales are up three-fold in the Far East. According to him, single piece sales of $200,000 to $500,000 (£119,624 to £299,000) are not unusual in the United States.
Ed’s Hong Kong Diary was taken from the May issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.