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Why are coloured gemstones so underrated?

In Australia, coloured gemstones often play second fiddle to diamonds, and outside the big three – ruby, sapphire and emerald – the knowledge of the general population is lacking. This is a problem because not only are customers missing out on an array of wonderful gemstones, retailers are missing many opportunities to make sales.

The classic example is opal: for years the average person thought of it as something that a tourist would purchase for $6 – or alternatively, was sold overseas for tens of thousands of dollars. However, artisan jewellers and the custom-make market has changed all that. Today there is a flourishing market for opal varieties such as boulder, pipe, fossil, crystal, plus standard white and black.

It’s up to us, the experts, to change perceptions in a similar manner about other gemstones. So, let me set the record straight on a few of the most underrated stars.

The amount of times I’ve had people turn up their nose at zircon is off the charts! This is purely because the name sounds similar to cubic zirconia, so the customer thinks you are trying to sell them a synthetic.

It can be so bad, that once I had a jeweller with over thirty years experience tell me they weren’t interested in zircon, because they didn’t carry synthetics – at which point I politely informed them that was fine, because the tray of stones I was presenting came from an artisanal mine in the Northern Territory.

While zircon has an acceptable hardness of around seven, it is seen as less suitable for jewellery because it is less durable. But emerald, which has a tendency to chip, and pearls, which are soft and susceptible to chemical wear – are still widely used without protest.

"There is a growing trend to use a diamond cut on spinel to produce very attractive pieces, especially in lesser known colours such as grey and steel tones"

With a refractive index exceeding almost any other natural stone, and a range of hues from pure white to sultry mauves and pinks – not to mention the vivid blues produced with heat treatment – zircon can produce the most amazing sparkly gems.

Stones such as apatite, kyanite, fluorite and facet quality varieties of minerals like sunstone and moonstone have all been overlooked often, due to slightly lower durability. But these days, consumers are looking for something fresh and exciting; less durable gems, if set sympathetically and cared for properly, can fill this demand and usually at a fraction of the cost of other stones.

There are also more obscure stones creeping into the market. For those who have not seen a stunning teal or vivid electric blue apatite, it is definitely something to seek out.

Garnet is a durable and cost effective gemstone that also has good recognition with consumers. Most people think of garnets as orange-brown or very dark, wine coloured gems, yet green garnets like tsavorite and demantoid can be unbelievably beautiful.

Rhodolite garnet is also becoming more prominent: an amazing range of hues from the most intense pure violet, to almost candy like raspberry tones are now available – no longer only the dark ruddy purple it was often associated with. If that were not enough, it’s also not uncommon to see colour-change garnet on the market. These make an excellent alternative for people looking for an affordable multi-hued stone.

I have also noticed a growing interest for raw gem material. As with the rise of opal, people are looking for organic, naturally styled jewellery, and this is the perfect avenue to use more obscure and interesting rough gems. If your customer shows an interest in less mainstream styles – why not show them a few more colour options?

The demand for deep red spinel in South East Asia is filtering down to Australia too. Another great looking gem with a refractive index and hardness approaching sapphire, there is a growing trend to use a diamond cut on spinel to produce very attractive pieces, especially in lesser known colours such as grey and steel tones. Encourage your customers to admire these combinations – if they don’t know about them, they can’t buy them!

I enjoy the teaching process, and the recognition a consumer gains when they come to me looking for, say, a standard blue sapphire, and end up with a steel blue spinel they never knew they would fall in love with. There really is an amazing world of coloured gemstones to be discovered which can provide beautiful, cost effective, and unique alternatives for gemstone jewellery. We just have to be willing to take the plunge; first ourselves – then to help our customers do it too.

Name: Charles Lawson
Business: Lawson Gems
Position: Owner/Director
Location: Brisbane
Years in the industry: 12

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Monday, 01 June, 2020 03:21pm
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