July 2011 Newsletter

Welcome to the new AJS Gems Newsletter! This month we're  introducing a new monthly newsletter format, with more information about gemstones and the gem world.

Each month we'll publish a feature article on a topic of current interest, as well as news from AJS and the gem trade. We'll also highlight some of our new aquisitions and special gems from our collection.

We hope you'll find our newsletter useful. We value your comments and each month we'll answer questions from our readers. Please fee free to use our contact page to send us your questions and suggestions.

Buying Burma Ruby: the Agony and the Ecstasy

Burma Ruby has long been an AJS speciality, and we have an extensive stock in fine ruby. But keeping a good selection is increasingly difficult. As we sell our rubies we naturally try to replace them, but they are fewer good rubies in the market and prices are higher. So as much as we love fine rubies, the process of buying them involves as much agony as it does ecstasy.

The formula for buying rubies is, at first sight, straightforward. First we examine the stones on offer and see if the color, cut and clarity meets our quality standards. Most of the material we see is rejected out of hand. From time to time we do see fine rubies that get us excited. These days they tend to be from Africa rather than Burma, since the Burmese mines are no longer yielding high quality stones of any size. For a while there were a number of Tanzanian rubies in the market, but now most of the material seems to be from Mozambique.

But collectors and investors continue to prefer Burma ruby, which still has the finest color of any ruby in the world. Since we are well known for Burma ruby, we often have the opportunity to buy rare rubies that come on the market. Recently we acquired two exceptionally fine Burmese stones that we selected out from a lot of rubies that had been mined in Burma some years ago. Handling these very rare gems is special, but buying them can be an agonizing experience.

The agony is, of course, the price. Every tme we look at Burma ruby, the price is way higher than we paid for fine rubies just a year or two ago (and those prices were way above what we paid five years ago). Since rubies are natural products of the earth, no stone is perfect, and the higher the price the more we agonize over every tiny shortcoming in cut, color and clarity. We have to confront the difficult decision -- it's a beautiful stone, but is it worth the price?

Arnold has many stories of beautiful rubies that he looked at over the years and didn't buy because he thought the price was too high. In nearly every case it's a story of regret, since the price that was too high then seems so cheap today. Burma ruby is about the most solid investment going in the gems trade, and very fine stones will always appreciate in value. So we have to resign ourselves to the fact that one has to pay the market price to acquire these stones. As we look at our ruby collection now, many stones we bought in the past now seem underpriced. At some point we'll have reprice them to reflect the current market. Owning so many fine rubies is indeed ecstasy, but buying them is often agonizing.


Notable Gems from the AJS Collection

Each month we'll feature new aquisitions or special gems from our collection.

  Production of ruby from Burma is a mere trickle these days, with virtually all the new material yielding sub-carat stones. So when Burma rubies mined years ago come on the market, we are always ready to buy high quality stones. In the past month we acquired two very fine Burma rubies, a 1.53 ct (pictured here) and a 1.35 carat stone. Both gems are a true pigeon's blood, nicely cut and exceptionally clean for rubies -- we've graded the 1.53 ct eye clean, and the 1.35 ct almost loupe clean. The 1.53 ct is certified by GRS, and the 1.35 ct is certified by AIGS.
  White sapphires are fairly rare, but most have a tinge of color even after heating. So a pure white unheated sapphire is quite unusual. But for a truly rare white sapphire consider this 8.60 carat unheated Ceylon sapphire. Not only is it a pure diamond white, it is an exceptionally clean stone that we've graded loupe clean. The elegant princess cut maximizes the brilliance and fire of this special gemstone. Certified by GRS.  [SOLD]
  Among our new aquisitions last month were two unusually fine blue zircons from Cambodia -- a 13.79 pear (pictured here) and a 15.43 ct oval. Both stones have exceptional color and clarity. The color is a rich blue rarely seen in zircon, which tends more towards pastel blue with a green secondary. These are very well cut pieces  and we've graded both stones loupe clean. If you've ever coveted a fine zircon, these are among the best we've seen.
  The big news in the opal market is some outstanding material from Wegal Tena in northern Ethiopia. Most of the high quality pieces are translucent and display a full range of colors against a white body. Large patches of red and orange are common, and play-of-color is sometimes distributed along parallel colums that resemble fingers. These digital patterns can be seen quite clearly in the 4.48 ct specimen pictured here. Many of these opals also display interesting hydrophane properties, becoming transparent when immersed in water. For more information see our recent article on Ethiopian Opal.

Morganite, the pink form of beryl, can be a lovely gem when the color is strong and the cut is well executed. But a lot of the material in the market is pallid in color or more orange than pink. We recently acquired two very fine Madagascar morganites: a 17.50 ct (pictured here) and a 15.41 ct. Both stones are very well cut cushions with a saturated lavender pink color. These are very clean gems -- the 17.50 is graded almost loupe clean while the 15.41 ct is graded loupe clean. [SOLD]

  We have some outstanding rubellite tourmalines in our collection. The finest specimen is this remarkable 18.51 ct stone from Nigeria. What makes this gem special is, first, the color -- it is a true ruby red which is very unusual in rubellite tourmaline. Most rubellite are purplish-red or reddish-purple. Second, this gem has excellent clarity for rubellite -- we've graded it eye clean. Most rubellite have significant inclusions and in fact many are cut as cabochons rather than faceted. When you consider the color, the clarity and the very large size, this is a very rare gem. [SOLD]

News from AJS and the Gems World


  • We're pleased to announce that Ronald Nash has joined AJS as webmaster and resident gems expert. Originally from Canada, Ron has worked in the gem business in Chanthaburi for many years and is a prolific writer on gemstones.
  • AJS Gems will be exhbiting at the Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair in September. This show has become one of the premier venues in the world for fine gems, with dealers coming from all over the world to buy. But it's the Asian market, especially China, which is driving prices higher. We'll have our booth details in the August newsletter.
  • The latest Burmese ruby to sell at auction for a multimillion dollar price was a 7.04 ct oval that was sold at Christie's in Hong Kong in November 2010 for $2.9 million to a private Asian buyer. The per carat price of $411,000 fell just short of the record of $420,000 per carat that Laurence Graff paid for an 8.62 carat stone at Christie's in 2006.


Ask the Gem Experts

Each month we'll answer questions from our customers. We welcome your questions and you can submit a question from our contact page.

I have my heart set on a Mahenge spinel and I'm just waiting for the perfect one to come along. I want the real neon pink-red color in a 2 carat or larger stone. How often do you buy these?  LT, Australia

We're sorry to tell you that no new Mahenge spinels have come on the market. These spinels were first discovered in Tanzania in 2007. There were several very large crystals discovered, the largest a 52 kg pyramid-shaped stone with a vibrant orangey pink-red color. The rough stone was brought to Bangkok for facetting. Many dealers have called this material the finest spinel they have ever seen, and we were lucky to buy some very fine pieces. But there has not been any new material found, so you will have to choose from the gems currently in the market. For more information see our article on Mahenge Spinel.

I am looking for a 6 x 6 mm square emerald cut blue sapphire, but I haven't been able to find one anywhere. Why am I having such a hard time finding one? Is there a sapphire shortage? NW, USA

You have discovered one of the important differences between diamonds and the finer colored gemstones. Sapphires are much rarer than diamonds, and it can be quite difficult to find a particular sapphire in a specific size and cut when you want to buy it. In sizes under 5 mm it is possible to buy calibrated sapphires in most colors and cuts. But in larger sizes, it can be quite difficult to find a sapphire meeting specific requirements. Emerald cuts with square proportions are particularly hard to find, because the rough material rarely lends itself to cut that shape. Fine sapphire is so valuable that the rough is always cut to preserve as much of the material as possible, and that is why most of the sapphires you will find in larger sizes are ovals or cushions. To get a 6 x 6 mm emerald cut blue sapphire might mean having to recut a larger stone. 


All the best in gems,

Arnold, Rung & Ron