Many jewelers have begun to get creative to keep shoppers of all price points engaged and buying their products during the Great Recession.
One top pick with both designers and consumers is exotic gemstones. They are available in every price range, so there is something to lure any jewelry lover who may have dropped out of collecting during the downturn economy.
Recognizing Exotic Gems
The term “exotic gems” may be confused with phenomenal gemstones, because occasionally a stone is both exotic and phenomenal. Here’s how to sort it all out. Phenomenal gemstones are so called because of their repeated ability to display unusual optical effects; including changing color when exposed to different types of lighting or heat, or showing other naturally occurring optical effects like the cats-eye or star effect.Exotic gemstones encompass a broader field because they may be well known gems discovered in a surprisingly new color. They may exhibit intriguing inclusions. And they might be organic. They can simply be newcomers to the industry; offering consumers distinctive jewelry options. Exotic gems may also come from a single source or be harvested in finite supplies adding to their mystique and desirability. At the end of the day, irrespective of which gemstone it is, exotic stones will doubtless elicit a probing “What are you wearing, anyway?” from a curious admirer.
Padparadsha sapphire, a superb peachy-pinky-orange fancy sapphire is a fine example of a recognized gem deemed exotic since it was found in this unexpected color and in limited supply. Zultanite, a rare gem variety of the plentiful mineral diaspore is single sourced, phenomenal with its color change and considered exotic because of its Turkish origin and the atypical soft green to pinky-brown coloration.
Certain opal can be exotic when sourced from out-of-the-blue deposits or when it displays curious colors. And it’s also phenomenal, when it exhibits a play-of-color optical effect.
Digging up The Wild Ones
Kenneth F. Brittain, co-owner of Portland Oregon based Rogue Gems LLC has his hand on just about any exotic stone you could dream up. He’s seen the interest in these gems escalate over the years. “Some gems once thought of as exotic are now mainstream, like many of the popular African garnets and of course Tanzanite.” Conversely, some stones that once weren’t even considered gems are now accepted as genuine exotics owing their exposure at trade shows and public reception at artisan jewelry fairs.
“Our best sellers have been stones with lower price points. But, of course low price is not enough. With less expensive materials we need to get the highest quality rough available, have pleasing designs and see a great make on the stones. That’s the only way we can compete with the cheaper stones produced in other countries like China. We get to the rough dealers early, pick through and buy the best quality we can, and come up with cool designs that are well cut,” Brittain explains.
Clever jewelry merchants have begun stocking up on exotic gemstones because of the tremendous visual appeal to both budget minded customers and those who value shop for couture jewels. It’s a win-win for both retailers and shoppers who crave evocative jewelry irrespective of their budget. Merchants often look to jewelry artisans who create one-offs and rely on exotic gems to make their pieces memorable. Often the special gem becomes the muse to the designer, nudging them to create an item worthy of a curious stone.
The Designers’ Muse
Vancouver, BC jewelry designer Kristen Eloise Jones of Queen Bijoux Designs understands the importance of unusual stones in her original designs. “People fall in love with exotic stones. Their eyes light up and they say, ‘What is it?! I have to have it.’ This is exactly how I buy the stones myself,” Jones reveals.
Jones is drawn to exotic moonstone and instinctively believes her customers will also appreciate its ethereal and delicate appeal. “I recently showed a client a faceted moonstone which she thought looked like a lotus flower and now wants it for her wedding ring,” Jones confides. She understands that not all exotics will be around forever, or at least when she needs them. “I can always get a diamond or sapphires when I need it. When a gorgeous exotic comes along I grab it because I may never see anything like it again.”
Which comes first, the design or the gemstone? Jones explains: “With the exotics I design around the stone. The stone will be the star of the piece and determines how it’s going to look. Clients appreciate that. They notice how well the stone and metalwork work together.”
North American couture designer Paula Crevoshay is lauded for her lavish use of many brightly colored gemstones on one piece. She’s also sought out for unusual gems that become the focus of her exquisitely crafted items. Its not so much serendipity as it is calculated planning. Crevoshay’s jewelry becomes collector’s items for their beauty and their intrinsic worth. “Yes I definitely know that rare exotics increase the value of a collector’s groupings,” she acknowledges.
Crevoshay has also observed the increase in value of certain exotic gems over time. “I have seen four figure stones leap to six figure stones in two or three decades. This is a very specialized market,” she notes. Crevoshay believes that collectors should buy what they love, just like she designs what is personally appealing to her. But it’s wise to remember that exotics can be a very shrewd choice. “It’s true that many unique rare and exotic gems will hold their value and exceed their value over time.”
“I’m always on the lookout for gems I’ve never seen before or new and unusual colors found in the various gemstone family groups like pink, blue and yellow opals from Peru and unique and rare green Serbian opals,” Crevoshay said. “I was immediately attracted by their glorious intense hues and their almost fluorescent glow. I find these opals extremely sexy, sensual and ultra-feminine; which echoes the beautiful woman’s allure I wish to portray.”
Ones to Watch
Trade fairs showcase unusual, odd and unknown gems each year. Some exotics need to be snapped up immediately, since their finite supply means just that - you won’t have long to decide if you want them because they risk being mined out. The pros share their short list of gems worth keeping an eye on.
Designer Jones says, “My most recent purchase was a strand of intense bright blue lapis lazuli, very large nugget slices. I have not seen lapis of this quality and color in years.” She also has an eye on certain spinel. “Spinels are a really excellent choice for ring stones with their amazing range of colors. They are hard enough (8 on the Mohs scale) to take constant wear as a ring. I think spinels are going to become more popular as I have seen the price going up and up.”
Rogue Gems owner Brittain says, “Top quality Pietersite belongs on the hot seller list. Sourcing the material is difficult and the price is very high. Ruby in Fuchsite was a pleasant surprise for us. We were able to source it at a very good price and it has been a steady seller even though it is a softer material and doesn’t take a mirror finish. High quality purple with white bertrandite, although scarce and expensive is also a super seller. I guess purple is in right now.”
Designer Crevoshay rhapsodizes over colorful exotic opals, but also favors the exotic feldspars with their hypnotic adularescent quality.
Education Key to
Merchants who provide their clientele with exotic stones afford a wider array of options for those customers who are value shopping but crave an emotional attachment to their jewelry. Exotics do require retailers to provide some education about these unusual stones however. But that reinforces the customers to reliance on their jeweler, and that strengthens their bonds of loyalty. Today’s jewelry lovers appreciate the sense of individuality that exotics help create with their own style.