Rapaport Magazine

Bigger is Better

Russia is a big country; everything big attracts immediate attention and, according to many Russian jewelers, big stones attract buyers.

By Anastasia Serdyukova

Some say that a period of financial turmoil is a time to cut expenses and curb your appetite for luxury. Russian jewelers, however, say that’s the time to go big. At the Junwex jewelry show in St. Petersburg, held February 1 to 5, large stones dominated most of the stalls. “The demand for items with big stones is increasing,” said Ekaterinburg-based jeweler Viktor Tulupov, the head of exclusive Tulupov Jewelry House. Many of the stones exhibited at the show were not only big, but precious. Sales of expensive premium-class jewelry are stable and even increasing, according to many companies. Cocktail rings and big necklaces made up the bulk of premium-class jewelry items on display. In the past ten years, Russians have learned both the monetary and the artistic value of a stone, so the pool of customers for exclusive stones in good settings is growing.

For some companies, making such jewelry is a way of saying, “Yes, we can.” St. Petersburg–based manufacturer Nevsky Diamond presented a collection of large diamonds, in sizes ordinary Russians might see only in the Armory Chamber of the Kremlin Museum. The biggest stone was a 50-carat emerald cut diamond, G, VS1, named Aleksandr Nevsky after a legendary thirteenth-century Russian prince. The stone, which could fetch $3 million to $5 million, according to the company, took three months to cut.

Alexey Pomelnikov
“We were keen on keeping the size at 50 carats because it is a good number,” said Irakly Aneli, director general of the company. The stone has a small inclusion at the girdle very close to the edge. It could have been cut to a smaller size, but the company decided to sacrifice some clarity characteristics in order to retain the size. When it comes to exclusive stones, the size not only increases the price, but also adds a certain cachet. 

The second-largest gem displayed at Junwex by Nevsky Diamond, a cushion cut of fancy intense yellow with VS2 clarity, was cut precisely to 39.888 carats. “Forty is believed to be an unlucky number in Russia and in many other countries; a 40th birthday often is not even celebrated,” said Aneli. “On the other hand, the number eight is believed to be magical.” This stone was named Aurora, a name selected through a contest conducted by the company during the show. The company estimates its value at $2.5 million.

The other gems in the Nevsky Diamond collection also were given names associated with St. Petersburg. A round cut diamond of 33.10 carats was called Suvorov after an outstanding Russian general. A pear-shaped 25.02-carat diamond is named Catherine the Great because it reminded its manufacturers of the Russian Empress. A 17.27-carat pear was called Northern Palmira, a nickname for St. Petersburg. And a 33.39-carat fancy cushion was named Hermitage.

As for diamonds set in jewelry, selections were showcased in a variety of colors, sizes and prices at the Junwex show, and they attracted the attention of the public, as well as dealers. A men’s ring with yellow diamonds from Gallery of Exclusive received a “Classic of the 20th Century” award at Junwex. The ring, with a 2.8-carat center N color SI3 stone in a yellow gold mounting, was named Golden Fleece because its curvy design was reminiscent of sheep hair. It was priced at $17,000.

Smolensk Diamonds got “The Best Diamond Jewelry” award for a ring with a 5.27-carat fancy yellow SI3 center stone and 138 small diamonds. But the star of the company’s color collection was a ring with a 10.02-carat heart-shaped fancy yellow stone. Priced at approximately $400,000, it was produced two years ago. Dmitry Kuntsev, director general of Smolensk Diamonds, said that such items are difficult to sell in Russia because the price is high, but, as the demand for colored diamonds is growing, there’s more interest in such jewelry. “Items with 2-carat to 4-carat diamonds sell very quickly,” he said.

Russians are beginning to appreciate big colored gemstones and more companies are making jewelry with large rubies, sapphires and emeralds. “People who can afford expensive jewelry have begun to understand the value and the quality of these stones,” said Mikhail Epstein, director general of Mousson Atelier, a company that specializes in jewelry set with color stones. Its collection includes a ring with a 12.82-carat emerald valued at around $170,000.

The ring, which also has 8 carats of diamonds, is surprisingly light due to a manufacturing technique developed by Mousson. “The final stages of assembling the ring were conducted with a laser because high temperatures could damage the stone,” said Epstein. The company rehearsed assembling the ring several times using less expensive stones to perfect the procedure and make sure the emerald would not be damaged.

Another piece in Mousson’s exhibit that got lots of attention was a necklace featuring an 8.05-carat pink sapphire that seems to be suspended in air. Epstein explains it was a special order commissioned by a customer who asked that the stone be positioned in the necklace in such a way that it would not lie against the skin. The company made an exact copy of the necklace, now priced at over $400,000.

Epstein said the majority of Russians are not accustomed to the high prices of sapphires and rubies because during the Soviet times there was an abundance of artificially grown stones. Almost every Russian family would have rings and earrings made with such stones and now the general public is struggling to see the difference between natural gemstones and artificially created stones. The other challenge for many jewelers is finding good stones. “Gems in Asia are sold by weight, so the priority in cutting is to keep its carat weight,” said Artur Zakaryan, director of Gallery of Exclusive. “We have to repolish gems to reveal the play of light and color.”

But there is one natural gemstone that Russians do know and appreciate: emeralds from the Malyshevsky mine. Whenever there are items with emeralds on
display, inevitably there will be an avalanche of questions as to whether the gems come from that site. The Malyshevsky emerald beryllium deposit was discovered in the 1830s. Its stones, most of which were extracted more than 650 feet below the surface in a deep underground mine, are characterized by good hardness and unique color characteristics, most of them being opaque. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mine enterprise has changed hands a number of times, which often led to a halt in production. As a result, its emeralds are rarely seen in the market but, when they are, their origin gives additional appeal to jewelry items set with them.

“Malyshevsky emeralds is the brand everyone knows in Russia,” said Olga Semina of St. Petersburg–based exclusive jewelry maker Alexey Pomelnikov. The company made a set of earrings with these stones, at left, which were bought in a rare sale by Russia’s state treasury.

Semina said the classical design of the earrings highlights the beauty of the stones: two round cabochon emeralds with a total weight of 4.43 carats and two drop-like cabochon emeralds weighing a total of 20.9 carats. The pair of earrings is priced at $100,000. “Jewelry with expensive stones serves as a great advertisement for the company,” said Semina, although she added that finding a customer for such jewelry may take years.

While items with big precious stones attract customers to the companies, when it comes to sales, the big hit is large, semiprecious stones set with diamonds. Tulupov said this year he increased his collection of items with semiprecious stones. But unlike previous years, the items are more expensive due to the design and the addition of diamonds. Many other companies at Junwex made a similar upgrade in their collections by adding diamonds.

Russian jewelers worry about the financial turmoil in Europe and its effect on Russia’s economy, which has been growing faster than Europe’s. Yet, they say that making expensive jewelry may be the safest bet as this category declined the least during the global economic crisis. The challenge is to convince the country’s wealthiest consumers that domestically produced jewelry meets the same high quality and fashion standards as those set by such leading designers as Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany & Co.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2012. To subscribe click here.

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