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Articles from GEMSTONES - LOOSE (254 Articles), OPAL JEWELLERY (73 Articles), OPALS - LOOSE (21 Articles)











Blue zircon
Blue zircon

Bright future for coloured stones

While disclosure of treatments and the need for better education on coloured stones continues to challenge the sector, its future continues to shine brightly – in a rainbow of vivid shades. CARLA CARUSO reports.

Gemstones in a variety of hues continue to appeal. From emeralds and opals to coloured diamonds and pearls, the sheer variety of stones means there's a look out there to suit most customer styles and budgets. Add to this the fact that coloured gemstones often provide a price-friendly alternative for shoppers, and it's easy to see why they're so popular.

Of course, there are challenges for the sector, including a reluctance to disclose treatments of stones in some cases that has impacted upon customer trust and sales. There’s also a need to better educate consumers and retailers on the diversity of stones available and their various qualities to help boost sales.

For now, though, such hurdles have been unable to stymie the allure of the kaleidoscope of hues and styles on offer. Trend-wise, there is much to get excited about in the sector, with new-season designs making a big splash.

“Green and blue shades of tourmaline are popular and selling in many areas, especially in the US and China,” says Barbara Wheat, executive director of the New York-based International Colored Gemstone Association. “Ruby, sapphire and emerald are still in high demand also. Cool blue aquamarine has been a hot item at trade shows, while Australian opals are doing very well in high-end designs around the world, especially in Europe and the US.”

For John Joris, the owner of Sydney gemstone wholesaler Joris Gemstone Traders, the outlook is red-hot: “We’re seeing a resurgence in ruby sales as Baby Boomers celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, thanks in large part to the recovery in property and equities markets.”

Young clientele are also being lured by coloured stones – even in engagement rings, according to Joris: “Some of the younger customers are stepping-away from the diamond as the prescribed stone for engagement rings. We’ve seen some demand for aquamarine and Ceylon sapphires, as well as pink sapphire.”

Also in coloured stones, emeralds are doing well and there’s a strong demand in cushion and emerald cuts.

Brendan McCreesh, a co-owner of Brisbane wholesale gemstone business O’Neils Gems, observes, “Last year, tanzanite was very big for us, especially in larger, high-quality stones. There has also been a lot of interest in pure black – black diamonds, onyx and diamond-cut, black sapphires. Birthstones are also consistently popular as gifts around their corresponding months.”

Neutrals work well for Sydney jewellery designer and wholesaler Diane Watson: “I’ve decided that what women like to do is to wear their jewellery a lot, which usually only happens if you buy more neutral colours. This is especially the case if you want to coordinate a stack of bracelets.” Elegant hues favoured by Watson include beige South African opal and smokey quartz.

In diamonds, Sydney retailer Michael Neuman, a gemmologist and co-manager of coloured diamonds specialist Mondial Neuman, says customers are thinking pink: “Pink is always the most popular because it’s a unique Australian product.” Little wonder the Queen Victoria Building retailer is dubbed the “Pink Diamond Gallery” then.

Neuman says the outlet is also well-known for its red and blue diamond varieties: “In white diamonds, you pay for a lack of colour. When buying coloured diamonds, however, the more colour there is, the more you pay.”

As previously mentioned, black diamonds have also steadily risen in popularity during the past decade, though they were once considered “flawed”. US-based celebrity-favourite designer Azature – the “black diamond king” – visited Sydney to further promote this look late last year, inspiring local designers to try dark.

“Black diamonds have become a fashion thing because of the contrasting look between black and white,” Neuman says, adding that it's a trend customers are unlikely to see in his store. “Black diamonds are something that we generally don’t stock because they are usually treated to have a uniform colour," he says. "They’re not usually transparent so they won’t give you any of those spectral rainbow colours. It’s much more of a fashion thing and they’re very inexpensive.”

While the store’s main game is made-to-order ring designs, it has also branched-out with its Diamonds Dreaming range, combining natural coloured diamonds with modernised, iconic Aboriginal motifs – to impressive effect.

Moving to pearls now where Erica Madsen, director of Sydney wholesaler Ikecho Pearls, says popular hues largely depend on the season. “Warmer golds and browns tend to sell more in winter," she says, adding, "Although, a really good seller of ours is always a black, silver and white pearl necklace.”

Ikecho Pearls has also matched its pearls with other coloured stones like citrine, amethyst and rose quartz to create new collections.

As for why shoppers enjoy such a splash of colour, Madsen enthuses: “People like to match different outfits with their jewellery, as well as the fashion of the time, and sometimes make a move away from a more traditional, tried-and-tested look.”

For the first time in a long while, opals are also attracting attention in the sector thanks to lines of branded opal jewellery in recent years. “Now that we’ve got a branded range and display materials, it’s helped a lot," says Clayton Peer, national accounts manager for Sydney manufacturer Opals Australia. "We’re also selling a lot more silver jewellery, because of the price of gold, which is appealing to younger customers. The opal is something that is very unique and can have a play of colour.”

Katherine Kovacs, of K&K Export Import Co, a Melbourne supplier of natural gemstones, agrees: “Based on recent enquiries, our belief is that opals will reclaim ground in popularity. To our surprise, more and more designer jewellers really appreciate and buy opal, rather than just the mass-market tourist shops.”

In general, Kovacs adds, “We find the Australian market appreciates stones that, as we say, ‘look at you', by which we mean that they display a superior colour and cut. Generally, these stones are being sold to be made into hand-made jewellery pieces for consumers.”

Despite a bright outlook, one challenge for the coloured stones sector remains the lack of transparency and disclosure of treatments of stones that customers believe are completely natural. This has the potential to harm consumer trust, and in-turn, sales.

For this reason, experts say full disclosure is much-needed. Terry Coldham is the president of the Gemmological Association of Australia (GAA) and a director of the ICA. He is also the managing director of Sydney gemstone wholesaler Sapphex.

“The industry believes that full disclosure of treatments must be made throughout the wholesale chain and especially at a retail level," Coldham says. "Different treatments have different levels of stability and acceptability in the industry. Some are permanent and stable, whilst others can be quite unstable – certain dyes, for example.”

Coldham says treatments may affect the consumer’s perception of goods, which, in turn, affects their value: “An increased premium is being put on the value of untreated stones versus similar-looking stones that have undergone a treatment process. In particular, prices for untreated rubies have risen quite dramatically. As well, the popularity of stones known not to be treated, like peridot, has also increased.”

World Jewellery Confederation CIBJO met in March to discuss the correct terminology for treatment nomenclature and industry codes.

Closer to home, Joris, of Joris Gemstone Traders, says: “The Jewellers Association of Australia's (JAA) Code of Practice, launched in November 2009, aims to ensure transparent and honesty in disclosures. Our gemstones are now coded according to ICA categories.”

These categories include "N" for un-enhanced, where only cutting and polishing processes have been employed; "E" for gemstones that are likely have been heated or clarified by colourless oil; "T" for stones that are likely to have been dyed, irradiated, diffused or coated; "Bet" for those likely to have been heated in the presence of beryllium; and, "S" for synthetics.

The number of treatments of stones is ever-increasing, with low-temperature, glass-filled composite rubies being the latest addition. Coldham says these have proven to be adversely affected by chemicals, such as acids and pickling solutions. Therefore, it’s essential the treatment is fully disclosed at every point in the supply chain and especially at a retail level: “Fortunately, they are quite easily identified by any competent gemmologist.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) also says full disclosure of treatments is a must.

Still, Kathryn Wyatt, publicity officer of the GAA, says jewellers should not regard treatments as a bad thing: “Treatments can enhance inexpensive gemstones by improving their appearance and making them affordable to more people. If jewellers understand treatments they can explain to their customers how they can be a benefit to them. If the customer does not like the treatment, the jeweller can sell them an untreated gemstone. The key is in knowledge.”

Also an issue for the sector is the need to better educate customers – and retailers – on the different varieties and qualities of coloured stones.

In this, the sector has to work extra hard, according to McCreesh: “The diamond industry has a massive marketing budget, so the gemstone industry in this country just has to be innovative and clever to make its own mark.”

To help retailers, O’Neils Gems offers posters, web-based video, DVDs and a price-guide with quick-reference information on coloured stones, to make it easier for retailers to make sales.

“A retailer needs to be able to advise their customer on the basics of the stone they’re selling, like hardness, dos and don’ts, and care information," McCreesh adds. "All retail jewellery staff are well-drilled in the process of selling a diamond, though not so with coloured stones but, with just a small amount of good, solid information, coloured stone sales can increase. We’re working at improving the situation all the time.”

Another detractor for the sector is that created or synthetic stones are being used to satisfy the trend – in direct competition with natural stones. Sydney moissanite retailer Moi Moi Fine Jewellery recently released a line of created pink diamonds, which it says can save customers over $100,000 per carat.

Still, challenges aside, there are also many pluses for the sector – like, the often attractive price points. “The ‘big bling’ still works in semi-precious stones, like amethyst, citrine, lemon quartz and green quartz," Joris says. "You can get a big piece for a good price.”

For Wheat, coloured stones do indeed provide a splash of colour at every price level: “Designers seem to be gravitating more towards coloured stones with the increases in prices for diamonds and precious metals,” she enthuses. “There is much more versatility in coloured stones. I’ve seen more fashion houses promoting coloured stone accessories, sending out the message that you can change your jewellery with a change of your clothes, to match the entire outfit.”

With disclosure of treatments and better education, coloured stones can only continue to shine brighter in the jewellery realm.


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