By Brecken Branstrator
Younger designers are looking for alternative colors in known varieties of gems, according to a recent market update session at AGTA GemFair helmed by the Gemworld International team. Pictured here is a pair of gray spinel from Color First.
Tucson, Ariz.—Every year, Tucson serves as the perfect backdrop for a market update from Gemworld International on current events, trends and other topics in the colored gemstone sector.

This year, President Richard Drucker and Vice President Stuart Robertson talked about pricing trends, and which stones are enjoying renewed popularity, among other topics.

Here are nine takeaways from their session held Thursday at the AGTA GemFair jewelry trade show.

1. Here’s what is happening in sapphires.

When it comes to the popular gem, blue still leads sales.

Most production of the corundum is now coming from Madagascar, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia, Drucker said.

He said prices for heated material have come down due to oversupply—as mechanized mining puts so much more material in the market—while unheated material is scarce and demand is high, so prices have risen.

2. There’s some old stock coming into the market.

Though aquamarine has always been a staple, one thing Gemworld has noticed, Robertson said, is that for the first time in a long time, old mined material is coming out of the safes and into the market, putting more expensive pieces into play.

He said they expect to see more of that, especially since the supply of good rough leveled off last year along with a dip in some prices; these rare, high-quality stones “resist all that,” he said, so it’s an opportune time to bring them out.

They also are seeing some of the same with rubellite tourmaline.

3. Spinel is having its day.

There’s been plenty of chatter around spinel the past few years, so it’s not surprising Robertson said sales of the gemstone have been strong recently, especially when it comes to unusual colors like gunmetal gray, which offer a unique look at an affordable price point.

This follows the trend, he said, of unusual stones—special stones within an already known variety—gaining in popularity.

Much of this is coming from younger designers who are looking for something different.

4. Australian opals are the benchmark.

One of the main drivers for the opal market over the years has been that the Ethiopian material expanded the base and the knowledge of opal, Robertson said.

But as the stability of the material became a concern, Australia re-emerged as the “benchmark for quality” in opals.

He added that they’re seeing more in the U.S. shows and prices for the gemstones have risen again.

5. Here’s the lowdown on popular red gems.

There aren’t a lot of Burmese rubies on the market anymore, and prices for the larger, finer stones have skyrocketed.

Where they are seeing strength in the market is for East African rubies.

Prices for the heated rubies, Robertson said, have gone down because there’s so much supply. Ruby used to account for only about 20 percent of the corundum category, but that’s gotten closer to 50 percent or more in recent years.

“The demand is probably not going to support the level of production coming into the marketplace out of Mozambique and other places in the last few years,” he said.

Mozambique is, in fact, the dominant producer of ruby today, but where prices had gone up dramatically, they’ve started softening within the last few years as the market makes a correction.

6. And here’s what’s happening in popular greens.

Tsavorite prices also have come down, so Gemworld expects it to be one of the stronger sellers in green, and in garnets in general.

However, there’s not a lot of production now, especially as Tanzania continues to more closely regulate its mining sector.

The emerald market, meanwhile, has seen a fair amount of change.

While the Ethiopian material offered a lot of promise, Robertson said it was difficult to figure out its positioning in the marketplace.

Now, the main source seems to be Zambia, where production is good and yields decent green stones.

The issue that really continues to affect the emerald marketplace, he said, is enhancements.

“Every time there is some understanding of enhancements at the retail level and with the consumers, the producers start coming up with new narrative or new nomenclature, and it really confuses things,” Robertson said.

7. Garnets are currently the “trade darling.”

More designers are using garnets, especially in alternate colors like the purples that have popped up recently. And even though prices have risen, garnets continue to offer affordable color alternatives to a number of gems.

Robertson said they expect garnets to have a strong run this year.

8. Zircons offer similar advantages.

There’s more interest in zircon again because of its affordability, according to Gemworld, and that interest is extending beyond blue to include the earth tones.

9. Some labs have changed their alexandrite labeling.

According to Drucker, some labs are now listing any color-change chrysoberyl as alexandrite, which is
confusing some dealers when it comes to pricing.

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