By Brecken Branstrator
An 11.4-carat aquamarine with a “Regal Radiant” cut from gemstone cutter John Dyer
New York--Aquamarine has long enjoyed popularity as the birthstone for the month of March and for its popular blue hues.

“Americans and really people all over the world are infatuated with the color blue,” Arun Bassalali, president of Lali Jewels, said.

In the last few years, however, the stone has moved past this association and into being a year-round stone, with more and more jewelry designers incorporating it into their pieces.

Blue colors also continued to trend during the Las Vegas trade shows, especially on the lighter end of the spectrum due to Pantone’s Colors of the Year, and aquamarine specifically had a strong presence on the show floors.

“As part of the beryl family, it played second fiddle to the big brother emerald for many years and, more recently, to the little sister morganite,” Bassalali said. “But the middle child, aqua, has always been and will continue to be tried and true.”

Aquamarine’s upper hand
Demand for the gem has been fairly steady for the past few years.

Gemstone cutter John Dyer said that he sells a lot of aquamarine, with a “new demand source” for the stone coming from the burgeoning colored stone bridal trends.

“I’m seeing more and more people wanting to put it in engagement rings,” Dyer said, adding that it’s probably his third most popular colored stone for bridal, behind sapphire and morganite.

Aquamarine also has come to the forefront as a premium gem with great color and quality, providing collectors with a great option, and continues to benefit from the fact that it now seems to be something of a staple.

Aquamarine is, Dyer said, his favorite stone to cut--the gem comes quite clean and in good sizes, and is relatively easy to work with because it isn’t overly heat sensitive. All of these factors speak to a custom cutter like Dyer.

It’s also easier to polish, which jives with his unusual techniques, and it’s faster for Dyer to cut aquamarine than it is to cut, for example, a quartz or an amethyst.
“What used to be primarily sold only as a birthstone item in March has really developed into a year-round seller. When this happened a few years back, the supply took some time before it was able to follow suit.”--Arun Bassalali, Lali Jewels
Its lighter saturation, as well, plays well with a wide variety of cutting styles.

“Concave faceting, for example, tends to make the gem just a tad darker, so it’s not good for garnets and (other gemstones) that tend to be dark. But because aqua tends to be medium-colored to light, that means you can do almost anything to it,” Dyer said.

This gives aquamarine an added benefit over some other stones in how creative cutters can be and what cuts can be featured to show off the blue hues.

The supply side
Aquamarine seems to have successfully moved beyond its association as a birthstone.

“What used to be primarily sold only as a birthstone item in March has really developed into a year-round seller,” Bassalali said. “When this happened a few years back, the supply took some time before it was able to follow suit.”

Another huge factor in the stone’s lack of availability in recent years has been the Chinese market, according to Dyer. Chinese buyers were buying a lot of tourmaline, sapphire and, to a slightly lesser extent, aquamarine.

This meant a huge new market for gemstones that was growing quickly, resulting in a large number of buyers traveling globally to get more goods.

“But a lot of (these people) are relatively new to the gem trade, and they were just paying whatever they had to pay at the mines in Africa, and they were very rapidly inflating the prices on many kinds of rough,” Dyer said.

This drove up the price of many gems.

But the American market, he noted, “is not used to such wild price fluctuations as the Chinese market is or other overseas markets,” so supply of rough for a number of gems, including aquamarine, was really tight for a few years.

Then two major factors started to have a huge impact on the Chinese gem market: their financial crisis, and the Chinese government’s crackdown on corruption, which has affected many luxury goods as spending on gift giving was curbed.

Now, there’s a greater availability of aquamarine than there was two to three years ago and supply is more stable.

“I’ve been able to purchase a ‘reasonable’ amount--not tons of it, but a reasonable amount--recently at reasonable prices,” Dyer said.

Dyer does a lot of his own travel to Brazil to buy aquamarine at the source but less so to Africa, as his job doesn’t allow for the months of travel time that could be required for that.

Rather, he said he has people who visit Nigeria and Tanzania for him, as most production of aqua these days is coming from some parts of Africa, he said.

Prices have been high when compared six or seven years ago, Dyer said, due in large part to the effect of the Chinese market. But then again, there aren’t many gems that haven’t gone up in price since then.

Mona Khan of Vista Gems said the increase in price that happened a few years also affected their sales of aquamarine. The prices went too high, she said, and even though they bought it then the demand just wasn’t there.

Even today, when they continue to try to sell their inventory at lower prices, the demand still doesn’t seem to be there, she said, as she doesn’t see the same popularity in the blue stone from her buyers that others have noted. The only thing that wasn’t hurt were cabochon aquamarines, which are cheaper than the faceted stones and continued to sell just fine.

These days, a finished piece of aquamarine from Dyer with a better medium color in and a nice cut could sell for between $180 and $250 per carat.

Interestingly, Dyer noted that he generally sees that the pricing of cut stones usually are a bit behind the overall market trends. The rough he buys often doesn’t get cut for a year or two after purchase, so if he buys it at a more affordable cost today, he also can sell it for cheaper two or three years down the road.

On the other hand, when the market makes it difficult to sell cut stones and the prices decrease, it often doesn’t make its way back to rough prices for a while, which means that dealers might be trying to sell their inventory at a lower price but the price of rough to purchase new material hasn’t gotten cheaper along with it.

Both Bassalali and Dyer indicated that they expect aquamarine prices to increase only slightly over the next few years, if at all.

“A lot of it depends on the Chinese market and where it goes,” Dyer said.

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