Blue sheen moonstones, like those pictured above, are among the most popular and most valuable on the market currently. Photo credit: Shira Price Marshall of Boston GemsNew York--There’s just something about the shine and play of colors in a moonstone that makes it a perfect fit for fine jewelry, and now that the stone is getting hot, it looks like it will finally have its day in the limelight.

Moonstone’s particular type of shine is created when light falls between the thin, flat layers that comprise the mineral and scatters in many directions, creating a natural phenomenon called adularescence, which also shared by other stones in the feldspar family like labradorite and sunstone.

The occurrence gives moonstone its own unique look, making it arguably the most well-known member of the feldspar family and also cementing its place as a popular stone for both designers and consumers.

“Because of its particular adularescent quality, the precious moonstone that I use is beautiful on its own or set in multiple patterns. In a way, I paint with gemstones and the moonstone gives me great flexibility,” designer Temple St. Clair Carr said.

Even though it’s a stone with a long history, moonstone’s star really began to rise about five years ago, increasing in demand after a number of gem dealers and designers began buying and selling it in growing amounts.

According to Philip Zahm at gem trading company Philip Zahm Designs, this movement started mostly with the material coming from India, followed by the rise of the Burmese material.

Now, virtually every category and type of moonstone is benefiting from its recent popularity, popping up in increasing amounts and seeing strong sales at virtually every price point.

The current market
Moonstone today comes mostly from India, Sri Lanka and Madagascar, and to some extent even Tanzania--though less has been coming out of that country of late--and the market is picking up as buyers look for high-quality stones.

“The public is really drawn to phenomenal stones,” Zahm said. “Think about star sapphires and cat’s eyes. Moonstone is the same way. It’s the adularescence that people really go for.”

He attributes part of the gemstone’s recent boom to a drastic increase in capital coming from China, which has been used in part to invest in the colored stone market.

This has driven up the prices for many gemstones, as Chinese buyers are willing to spend more, and also has negated any effects that an increased supply would’ve had on the market price.

Zahm said he believes that another force behind it might also be a movement from retailers to start selling more colored stones, both as a way to make money, with profit margins on diamonds down, and to set themselves apart from the competition.

But, even as prices increase, the demand for moonstone continues.

“It really is the time for moonstone, based on what we’ve seen over the last two years and what we expect for the next two,” said Paul Dragone of gem trader Boston Gems.

According to Dragone, African material is readily available these days in both calibrated sizes as well as well as free-form larger pieces.

The rainbow moonstones and those with the blue sheen currently are among the most valuable in the market. This is what many people today are looking to buy, but prices of the exceptionally clean moonstone with the blue sheen has gone up around 25 percent in recent years, he said.

He added that the, “Indian colored moonstone too is selling as briskly as the rare rainbow labradorite these days.” Ceylon moonstone, meanwhile, hasn’t been on the market in some 20 to 30 years, so what available is material that is being reused and recycled.

Dragone has a contact searching in Tanzania for new sources of moonstone, a contact that has so far been unlucky in his hunt.

The price is right
At the recent AGTA GemFair in Tucson, Boston Gems was offering moonstone mostly ranging in price from as low to $3 a carat to up to $25 to $30 a carat and saw activity at all price points.

Dragone said he is even seeing buying and selling reaching the $600-per-carat level. “All areas appear to be selling,” with buying coming from both designers and brands as well as large U.S. retail clients.

He also noted that he had a large parcel, around 350 carats, of new material from Madagascar which got “tremendous” response at the show.

Though Dragone has sent a sample to the Gemological Institute of America and suspects that it will technically be classified as a rainbow labradorite, the stone exhibits adularescence similar to moonstone but offering new shades of reds, oranges and blues.

Whether it turns out to be moonstone or rainbow labradorite, the response at the show just goes to show that the shine of these stones isn’t going out of style any time soon.

While the small sizes of certain types of moonstone might be more affordable, the bigger pieces tend to be much more expensive, not only because of size but also due to the rarity in finding larger stones, especially if they’re clean.

Looking ahead
Like many other colored stones, moonstone stands to benefit from consumers looking beyond the traditional precious gems like sapphire, rubies and emeralds, expanding their fashion jewelry collection into new areas.

It also benefits from an unique quality--each moonstone is different from the next, with adularescence varying from stone to stone and different colors displayed every time, speaking to the desires of today’s consumers for uniqueness.

“It’s flexible and takes on different personality depending on what color gold it’s set in, or what stones are set with it,” said designer Candice Pool of Finn. “For example, a moonstone cabochon set in yellow gold is bohemian, a moonstone cabochon set in rose gold is feminine and innocent, and a moonstone set in white gold is elegant.”

With moonstone available at so many varying price points, it also offers a true chance for most everyone to own a piece of jewelry set with the gem.

The challenges it faces stem mostly from the question of its availability.

This is a story that is common with most gemstones on the market and, indeed, one that has been highlighted in every other installment of Rocks On so far: the decreasing quantities of high-quality stones and the question of where the next big source will be to supply the market.

“If it’s available in three to four years, I think that moonstone will be very strong in both the U.S. and abroad. It’s such a classic stone,” Dragone said.

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