How Do You Solve a Problem Like London Blue?

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When I first started selling gemstones 10 years ago (blimey) one of the first stones that I focussed on was London Blue. It was reasonably priced, plentiful and the colour was like no other. Before I started my journey into gems, blue topaz to me meant swiss blue; bright, vivid cornflower blue. I’m not really a bright and vivid kind of girl (!), or at least, the colours don’t look good on me, so it wasn’t a stone I was interested in selling. London Blue, however was a different story. Prussian blue, petrol blue, I had so many names for this distinctive and elegant shade of greenish blue. No other stone could touch it, except perhaps blue tourmaline (indicolite) but you needed deep pockets for that. And my customers appeared to agree! They couldn’t get enough so I started cutting it in all shapes and sizes. However, around 2015 something unpleasant started to happen; the price started jumping up, the quality began to waver. What could be happening? Well, there two main drivers of this price increase. First of all, let’s be clear. When we are talking about blue topaz we are talking about treated topaz. Blue topaz is irradiated white topaz. It has to be irradiated, and then it has to be cooled – that is, allowed to sit whilst the radiation disperses. The darker the topaz, the longer it has to sit. So whilst sky blue topaz has a 3-month cooling period, London Blue has something like 18 months. There are not many places that treat London Blue, and so that in itself puts a pinch on demand. Added to that you have the increasing popularity of the stone, the unwillingness of suppliers to treat more rough – since it effectively ties up millions of dollars for a year and a half with no return during that time. There is also a natural caution amongst suppliers around the popularity of London Blue. Is the increase just a blip, or is it here to stay? Because it’s one heck of an expensive gamble to treat more rough because it is popular now, only to find that in a year and a half it’s gone out of fashion and they have a whole lot of treated rough that they cannot shift. In my view this wont happen; I think the colour is unique and it has enduring appeal, but I’m not the one having to stump up the cash.

However, this is only half the story, and the woes of London Blue go further back, as so many things do, to the recession of 2008. What happened is very simple; topaz is sourced largely from Brazil, and during this time many mines were forced to close. They have never re-opened and now topaz supply is down by around 60% from pre-2008 levels. For a while there was enough rough in circulation to not have too much of an impact, but this corner was turned in around 2015, when demand began to seriously outstrip supply. So there is now a serious problem in that there are two major pinch-points in the supply chain; a lack of good quality untreated rough coming out of the mines resulting in an increase in price at this point. This has then led to suppliers taking a very conservative attitude towards treating the rough, not wanting to tie up increasing amounts of money in a stone that they fear may be something of a bubble. In reality this seems unlikely. Demand for the stone is still high; it is still a unique colour, and it still is available in clean quality. Although the colour has much more variation than it has in the past, with more greyer, less saturated material on the market some people prefer this, feeling that it looks more natural, more gemmy.

So in short, the outlook for London Blue is that prices aren’t coming down anytime soon. This makes it more expensive to buy, but it also means that it’s unlikely to be a wasted investment. And you could do worse than start here, from top, Ananda Khalsa’s London Blue Topaz ring is set in warm 22 carat gold and sterling silver and highlighted with sparkling diamond dots. I love blue topaz in silver, but putting it in gold takes it to a completely new dimension. I’ve always loved the solid, crafted simplicity of William White’s ring settings; in fact I have a number of stones in my collection I’d love him to set for me. The ring below is a 10mm cabochon in a satin-finished sterling silver band.  I do like the angular lines of Eva Dorneys London Blue topaz rings in 9kt gold and sterling silver and I also love the cool stacking system of Barbara S Jewellery. That’s 2 rings, not one; an aquamarine and a London Blue

Ananda Khalsa London Blue Topaz Ring with Diamond Dots, $1,190
Ananda Khalsa London Blue Topaz Ring with Diamond Dots, $1,190
William White Blue Topaz Cabochon Ring, $594
William White Blue Topaz Cabochon Ring, $594
Eva Dorney London Blue Topaz Rings, $305
Eva Dorney London Blue Topaz Rings, $305
Barbara S Jewellery Aqumarine and Topaz Contemporary Stacking Ring, $485
Barbara S Jewellery Aqumarine and Topaz Contemporary Stacking Ring, $485

 

I do have new stocks of 6mm London Blue topaz cabochons; they are more expensive than I would like them to be but trust me when I say I have shaved the price as low as possible! You can find all of my London Blue here.

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Almandine Garnet 6x4mm Rose Cut Round Cabochon

Not Your Grandmother’s Jewellery

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What could I be talking about except garnet! You know what I mean; dull, rusty red stones set in gold-plated filligree. Nope. It’s just not fair. Garnet is one of the most exciting and varied of gemstones. It’s got a very wide colour-palette and price-wise it varies from the highly reasonable almandine to tsavorite at the top-end. It is also the birthstone for January.

Garnet has particular gemmological properties that make it reasonably straightforward to cut – it is what is known as singly refractive so what this means in real terms is that it is not at all pleochroic and therefore cutters don’t have to worry about what angle they are cutting it to make sure they are getting top colour. Many varieties also have a relatively high refractive index. What does this mean? Well, it is a measure of what happens when light hits a stone – a high index means that much of the light is reflected back to your eye; a low index means that much of the light passes right through. In real terms, stones with higher refractive indices are more sparkly. With the darker stones it’s not so obvious, but the sparkle on some tsavorites is simply amazing. See below and bottom for some examples of seriously stylish garnet jewellery.

Left to right: Ananda Khalsa Garnet Stud Earrings with Two 22k Dots, $440, David J Thomas Tsavorite Garnet and 18k Gold Ring, Coffin & Trout Spessartite Garnet, Rubellite & 18K Gold Pendant

Colour and Varieties

Red is the best-known colour of garnet, and the type that most people think of when they think of garnets is almandine. This commonly comes up very dark, what we call ‘closed’, and especially in larger sizes; however, it can be the most beautiful shade of deep blood-red. I have some almandine pears which just make me think of Sleeping Beauty every time I see them!  In fact, the name ‘garnet’ comes from the Latin word ‘granatum’ which means ‘dark red’. Pyrope garnet is also red; you see it more rarely and it often has a slightly pinker note to it – it lacks the rustiness you can sometimes get with almandine. For a more pronounced pink colour there is rhodolite which ranges from pinkish red to a deep raspberry pink. For orange, there is hessonite, with its gorgeous swirling inclusions, and more expensively, spessartite. Malay garnet runs from yellow-orange to a lovely pinkish orange. Then you get the greens; hydrogrossular garnet with its black inclusions, yellowish-green demantoid with its horsetail inclusions, and vivid green, sparkling, firey grossular garnet, more commonly known as tsavorite. This is one of my favourite stones and I would take it over emerald any day. Garnet is also a really good choice for anyone who is not keen on gem treatments as it is not routinely treated with heat or anything else.

Clockwise from top left: Jane Taylor Malay Garnet and 14k Gold Ring, Vintage Tsavorite Garnet & Diamond Invisible Set Cocktail Ring 14k Gold, Quadram Hexagon Almandine Garnet RingPamela Huizenga Hydrogrossular Garnet & Diamond Earrings, William White Hessonite Garnet and Sterling Silver Ring, Henn of London Spessartite Garnet and 18k Gold Necklace

I’ll be doing posts on individual types of garnet so keep your eye out for those. I have a large variety of garnet stones; click here to browse the collection.

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Keeping it real

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Lab Created Ruby Bracelet set in Vermeil….offered at aution with a starting bid price of $1.

It was a pair of padparadscha sapphires that first got me thinking. The beautiful colour, neither pink nor orange, but a gorgeous melange of the two, like a perfect sunrise…I coveted them. And then I saw that they weren’t ‘real’. And I felt a curious mixture of professional shame, slight embarrassment and a faint sense that I should not really like them. Because they were, you’ve guessed it, synthetic. By which I mean lab-grown. Created. Not real. And yet… I still liked them. And it made me wonder whether my snobbery was misplaced. I, like many people I’m sure, associate synthetic stones with cheap jewellery. I turn my nose up at it. It isn’t real. And yet, in order to be classed as a synthetic, a stone has to have the same crystal structure and chemical composition as its natural counterpart. The only thing that is different is that it is grown in a laboratory instead of being dug out of the ground. Without getting too technical, there are several processes for growing synthetics, and they divide into low cost-high volume, and high cost-low volume processes. It is the rapidly produced flame fusion and pulling processes that produce large, clean crystals with all the charm of a piece of coloured glass. Large pieces of emerald without inclusions do not look real. They are too good to be true and easily identified as synthetics. And they are cheap; a few dollars a carat. However, slow processes, where crystals are grown under carefully controlled conditions; flux or hydrothermal processes – processes that are hit and miss and you don’t know what you’re going to get until the crystal grows – these produce much more real looking stones. Nature isn’t perfect. In fact these are sometimes not so easy to tell apart from naturals. Hydrothermal emeralds tend to have very distinctive growth lines, but I remember for my GIA Gem ID exam – you know, the one with the 100% pass mark – I changed my answer on a ruby at the last minute. Thank goodness I did, because changing that answer meant I passed the exam! It was a ruby with fingerprints. Very natural looking fingerprints. But I decided at the last minute that the minute bit of yellow staining at one edge of the stone was a bit of flux residue, and I was right. Such slow-grown synthetics are not cheap stones; the sapphires I wanted were several hundred dollars – nothing like the price had they been real, but still, not the kind of money you’d throw away.

So why didn’t I buy them? For me, it comes down to authenticity and rarity. A ‘real’ sapphire, dug out of the ground, is unique. There is no stone like it. It maybe grew for thousands of years, or came up in the magma of a volcanic eruption. I know it’s real and I can be proud of it. It’s the same reason that I don’t buy knock-off designer handbags (apart from the fact it’s completely illegal of course!). I just think, what’s the point? Why not get something non-designer but beautiful and real. Instead of buying a fake sapphire, I’d rather have a beautiful piece of agate, or a gorgeous pearl, or something properly gemmy but cheaper, like an aquamarine, or tanzanite. That’s just me. I don’t buy them and I won’t ever sell them. I don’t think they’re bad, they just aren’t for me. So it was with interest that I saw that De Beers have launched a created diamond jewellery line; Lightbox. The news created an absolute bombshell within the industry with buyers and producers completely blind-sided. De Beers say that they are not trying to replace the existing diamond industry but create a new one. This might be a master-stroke – rather than turning up their noses and cutting themselves out of a potentially large and growing market. However, I’m not sure. I don’t see how they can promote either market without disparaging the other. Initial statements from meetings at the Las Vegas show report executives stating the that stones are suitable for “emotionally shallower occasions,” and that if you lost such jewelry at the beach “you wouldn’t be quite so concerned,”. Hmm, this doesn’t seem to have ‘PR coup’ written all over it. JCK news reckon they are trying to ‘steer into a skid’ – they can’t stop the car from heading in this direction, but they are trying to maintain control. And De Beers has always been about control. What do you think? Are you a fan of synthetics? Or do you favour the mystique and uniqueness of natural stones?

De Beers Lightbox jewellery
Lab-created diamonds from the Lightbox line. No piece will exceed 1 ct.

joopygems.com