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How to buy a colored gem?

a gem dealer's journal Asia Lounges blog color color type gem Gem Cutting gemstome lotus gemology origin treatment

In today's world, where information is everywhere and in any form, finding the right type of knowledge is key to succeed. When it comes to purchasing colored gemstones, knowing how to buy and what to look for can make a big difference. Today, I will explain you how to make a smart purchase.

Very much like with diamonds, you judge a gemstone according to these four criterion: Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat weight. Then come an extra two: treatment and origin.

First came the cut:

Cutting is what gives the stone its shape, therefore, it has a very high incidence on the way the stone will look. What I mean by "looks" is whether the stone will have brilliance or whether it'll be dull, full of extinctions (areas of the stone where the light is no longer reflected to the eye) or not. It is basically what, in many ways, makes or breaks a gem, but we'll discuss this further during our interview of our friend and expert gem cutter: Karim Guerchouche from Premacut. Meanwhile, we invite you to read on the following article for more info on cutting and light dispersion.

On an other note, It is important to remember that certain shapes tend to be more expensive than others. This is either due to a sheer supply vs demand phenomenon, oval and cushion shapes being prime examples, or "wastage" (amount of rough stone lost in the process of shaping and cutting the gem), round and diamond cuts being the most expensive commercial cuts. On the other hand, when on a budget, pear and heart shapes are the shapes to look for as they tend to be cheaper.

Then He made the color:

Truth be told, I'm one of these people who tends to privilege color over the rest when it comes to colored gemstones. While a good cutting gives an extra push to the stone, a good cutting on a dark stone doesn't really help either (Purple garnet being a great example of that issue. Only clever cutter know how to get the best out of them and fortunately for you, we happen to have one). I invite you to read our post on color types as well as the one from Lotus Gemology, root of our train of thoughts. Long story short, pure colors tend to be more in demand, thus more expansive, simply because they are more difficult to obtain naturally. It is, however, always possible to get a better color by treating certain stones (ruby, sapphire and tourmaline being prime examples here) but we'll see that later.

From the crystal came Clarity:

A key factor in a gem's price indeed! Exception be made of, perhaps, emeralds, which have traditionally been sold for their "jardin" (more information here). The level of inclusions present in a stone, or rather the lack of it, is a key determining factor of price. Usually, traders refer to the different level of inclusion in the following manner: Loupe Clean (the best, High Jewelry and investment grade gems), Eye Clean (no inclusions are disturbing the naked eye, usually jewelry grade gems), included (inclusions are easily visible with the naked eye and disturb the general look of the gem), then comes cabochon and beads grade gems. Goes without saying that the clearer the better but also, the more expansive. A notable exception is to be highlighted here: Kashmir Sapphires, famous for their color, which beauty is a direct consequence of a series of very small "silk" inclusions in the crystal...

And on the carat weight He rested:

Pretty self explanatory, I guess. The heavier the stone, the more expensive it gets on a per carat basis. You might find a couple of exceptions here and there but all in all, sorry boys, size does matter...

Think you are done with the purchasing criterion yet? Think again! The reason why we, at Asia Lounges, systematically propose you a gemological report on our gems is as follow: 

Color and crystal enhancement:

A gem can be enhanced in a number of ways. Some can be heated to clarify their crystal (spinel and ruby being a great example) while other will get darker (sapphire) and others lighter (tourmaline) that way. Some may add foreign substances to the stone, such as borax, to "heal" the fractures in the crystal of the gems (rubies strike again) or oil (for emeralds). Finally, although you wont ever find said treatments in our pages, some gems are irradiated (blue topaz being the Queen in that department) to make them look better.

For those of you interested in the science part of the story, I recommend you to check what the boys over at Lotus Gemology have to say on the topic. Now, while I can't speak for my colleagues, I personally favor unheated, untreated natural stones over their altered counter part. They are more expensive but, on the long run, they turn out to be a better investment. While that train of thoughts works for loose stones it becomes less relevant for mounted stones. 

Last but not least: Origin:

Yes, gem traders are vile crystal racists but so are you so hey! Some origins turn out to be more expensive than others and in that category ruby and sapphire take the lead! The top two origins, the most expensive that is, being Kashmir and Burma. Kashmir on sapphires and Burma on rubies. Then come the twin sister islands, Ceylon and Madagascar and then the rest of the world.

On that particular issue you will find two "schools" opposing each others. The "origin doesn't matter" type people who run by the moto "the origin doesn't make the gem, the beauty and color does" tend to change their tune the second their Burmese sapphire gets certified Madagascar... And then come the other school, equally obtuse in my opinion, who will bolster the price of any stone the second it gets a premium origin. 

Let us not throw the stone too fast here, I somewhat agree with both sides but, truth be told, should the hypothetical situation of being  placed in front of equally beautiful Burmese and  Madagascar Blues... I'm pretty sure I'd go for Madagascar provided I'm buying for myself or with jewelry in mind. Once mounted most people won't make the difference anyway, so why pay more? If we are talking about investment...  That's a different game entirely and origin becomes VERY relevant.The other gems have their own ranking as well, Colombia being at the top for emerald, Brazil for tourmaline, etc.

Among the most commonly accepted reasons for such ranking to exist, you find the almighty historical relevance of the location. You usually find a king or famous historical figure wearing a gem from such or such location and it sufficed to seal the deal on origin. One notable exception to that rule is spinel. The most famous spinels in the world are from Tajikistan and yet we pay a premium for Burma but shun the Tajik / Afghan materials... Don't ask me why...

Low and behold, what matters in a gem? That it makes your heart sing! If it doesn't take your breath away, if you are not attracted to that particular gem... my best advice to you would be to pass your way regardless of price or certifications. A gem is, and should always remain, a treat. A gem is a treat for the eyes, something that is appeasing, appealing and soothing. It is a gentle reminder of a particular memory, a feeling or a moment that you shared with a special someone or with yourself. Keeping that in mind is the safest way to remain satisfied with your purchases.

I hope this paper will help you make a better judgement when buying and, as per usual, should you ever need an extra advice or have questions, feel free to ask me.

See you in the Lounges!

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