By Brecken Branstrator
New York--It’s no secret that many lesser-known colored gemstones are starting to have their day in the sun, as gem connoisseurs and even today’s consumers look for something unique and special.

Boston Gems’ Paul Dragone said that while there is a large supply of lower quality labradorite on the market, they prefer to deal only in fine labradorite, such as the stones pictured here. (Photo by Shira Price-Marshall, courtesy of BostonLabradorite, a feldspar mineral of the plagioclase series, is one of those.

Though the stone “has been a bit of a sleeper for the past five years,” Paul Dragone of gemstone supplier Boston Gems told National Jeweler, the “floodgates” for the gemstone opened about three years ago as people began to pull out more of the supplies that had been sitting in warehouses.

Eric Braunwart of Columbia Gem House also noted that “phenomenal stones seem to be doing well right now. So labradorite fits into an area that people like. It really is quite a beautiful stone.” Phenomenal gemstones are those that feature striking optical effects, such as asterism in star sapphires, adularescence in moonstone, and labradorescence in fine labradorite.

Part of the credit for labradorite’s popularity also could be due to the decreased supply, and subsequently increasing prices, of fellow feldspar moonstone. 

Phenomenal labradorite, with its sheen, can offer a similar look but with a lower price tag. In addition, it has a bit more availability in the larger sizes than moonstone in today’s market, Braunwart said.

On the rise?
Labradorite is riding an interesting trend in the marketplace right now. Whereas the high end is really where many colored stones are seeing growth in demand and sales, labradorite seems to be doing the opposite.

Demand for the stone is growing, but particularly in the more affordable, less fine material. Braunwart and Dragone both said that they’ve been seeing more and more of the lower quality material on the market.

Dragone also said he has noticed an increasing trend, particularly with the cheaper material, of more rough being cut for size rather than color, resulting in big cuts for statement jewelry but lacking the great look labradorite has been known for, or even the ability to see the sheen from the top of the stone.

“It’s really changed the dynamic of the market quite a bit,” he said, adding that the less expensive material, which can cost as little as $1 per carat, is outselling the finer material three to one. 

Plenty of people are using this material, especially when it still has those purple or blue flashes, because it is still a unique and interesting stone, Dragone said. Sterling silver and labradorite seem to make a natural pairing, he added.

This material can provide a better entry point price-wise for a starting designer or brand that may not be able to afford the finer material. But the lower quality, with its inclusions and visible veins that are similar to cracks, is more brittle than the higher quality material, according to Dragone.

“This is why you’ll see many of the higher-end designers shying away from these stones,” he added. “The high quality stones are just a much better product.” 

He said that he now can pay up to $40 per carat for high quality labradorite, which has gray, black or blue body color with minimal or no white veining. Most of that material he sees on the market comes from Labrador, Canada and through Germany, where it is cut.

While there isn’t necessarily a shortage in supply with the finer material, it can be harder to find these days as demand picks up at the other end.

And while there is still plenty of labradorite to be mined, the issue on the supply side of this stone stems more from the lack of actual mining activity than a deficit in Mother Nature.

According to Braunwart, as the market seeks lower and lower prices for the rough and subsequently shrinking profit for miners, the less time and effort they want to spend mining it. “There isn’t a lot being produced right now,” he said.

Future directions
If this trend doesn’t change, two things could happen, according to Braunwart: either prices will start to go back up or there will be very little labradorite available on the market soon.

Because many of his clients for labradorite these days are for what he refers to as “makers”--those who create small-scale, lower price-point handcrafted jewelry one might see on websites such as Etsy--he believes that’s the direction in which the stone is heading.

“I think we’ll see a really interesting market change,” Braunwart said. “Labradorite will continue to sell, and I think it will grow in sales, but I don’t believe that will be within the traditional jewelry market.”

Rather, he believes that it will continue to be a go-to stone for these artisans and “makers” who are looking for affordable yet unique stones, instead of being sold by more traditional jewelry retailers.

He added that he believes if this happens, the jewelry industry will be missing out on an opportunity to appeal to millennials, who are looking for unique pieces and colored stones like labradorite. 

Dragone, meanwhile, has another prediction for the future.

There’s a gemstone in the trade that’s frequently referred to as “rainbow moonstone,” but it’s actually a variety of labradorite, according to the Gemological Institute of America. 

Regardless of how it’s referred to, Dragone has seen this rainbow-sheened stone take off in popularity. While it’s is much rarer and more expensive, this could represent the direction that labradorite will take in the future, he posited.

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