Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Couture Color

When it comes to colored gemstones, is there an equivalent to D Flawless diamonds?

By Mark LePage

Unheated 18-carat African ruby.
Courtesy Jack Abraham.
The D Flawless diamond is the acknowledged pinnacle of jewels. Is there a colored gemstone equivalent? David Wolf of New York City’s Just Appraisers says, “My first thought is ‘No: You’re talking about a class apart.’”
   With the D Flawless diamond, the qualities of rarity, beauty, durability, collectability and demand coalesce in a perfect combination. “The D Flawless type IIa has become something of a commercial entity,” Wolf says. “I think of a diamond as a hedge, like collecting art or furniture.” And when debating or ascertaining the existence of a colored gemstone counterpart, you need to start with the term D Flawless itself.
   Kristin Mahan, public relations project manager at Gemological Institute of America (GIA), points out that “The D in the term D Flawless diamond means ‘absence of color,’ while by definition, in a gemstone, it is the color that determines its value.”
   Term aside, Wolf adds that for colored stones, an equivalent might be “the finest Imperial Jade. Jade is going through the roof. For the Chinese, it’s a cultural issue. Jade was and still is to them what the diamond was and still is to the West. If it’s clear and translucent, I’d say a piece of jade — a really fine bangle — could go for a million and change. It’s a little thing but you could be carrying a million on your wrist. Still, I want to be clear: ‘Equivalent’ is too strong a word” in comparing the finest jade to a D Flawless diamond.
   Jack Abraham, New York City gem connoisseur and dealer, disagrees with Wolf on whether there is “equivalency” between a D Flawless diamond and a gemstone. “In a ruby, yes,” he says, noting that the pinnacle of a ruby is “pigeon blood, Burmese origin, no heat treatment —I emphasize: No Heat, with capitals.”
   Generally, when discussing “equivalent” colored gemstones, the focus would be on the “Big Three” — rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Doug Hucker, head of the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), states that value in gemstones runs from ruby to sapphire to emerald in descending order because “there are a lot of 5-carat emeralds, fewer sapphires and fewer still rubies.”
   The other thing to consider about diamonds, Hucker says, “is that there wouldn’t be a D Flawless if there weren’t a grading system for all diamonds. There’s enough value in diamonds that you can afford to grade a lot of them.”
   A GIA Identification Report will grade colored stones for weight, measurement, shape, cutting style, transparency, color and species, along with whether the stone is natural or synthetic and whether or not it has been heat treated to enhance its color. Untreated stones are always more valuable.
   Hucker adds that a diamond report “is understood and universally accepted,” while “there is no broadly accepted universally used grading system for colored gemstones.”

Why Not?
   People have worked on it, Hucker says. “There’s enough value in some rubies to warrant an origin report and a report on treatment, but broadly speaking, there simply is not enough value in colored gemstones when you start talking about half-carat stones. There are so many variables within each gemstone and the main variable is color itself.
   “In a D Flawless diamond, you judge the amount of color. With a fancy blue or yellow or pink diamond, the grading system is the same; the only difference is the color,” Hucker explains. “But the variations of color in a ruby are astronomically greater.”
   Hucker describes the three qualities of color. Hue is one, which he describes as “pure color, not modifying colors.” Tone is another, meaning “the presence or absence of darkness in the stone. Australian sapphires are typically darker blue than those from Ceylon,” now known as Sri Lanka. The final category is saturation or intensity — “how much color is in the stone?”

The Treatment Issue
   Hue, tone and saturation are acknowledged elements, says Hucker, but “you don’t have a qualitative scale for color. It’s judged by expertise. When you have the right equipment and you know that the stone is from Burma and untreated, that is going to be a ‘D Flawless ruby,’” so to speak. But flawlessness is a quality that naturally eludes colored gemstones. According to Hucker, “Emeralds typically have more inclusions, but as a general rule, if you talk about five of the top rubies sold at auction, I’d be hard-pressed to show you one that didn’t have visual inclusions.”
   All emeralds have inclusions, “so if you’re looking at one that’s clear, you have got to be really, really wary about whether you are looking at something synthetic,” says Wolf. However, he also insists that inclusions are not necessarily an indication of a defect in the gemstone. “They should be microscopic in detail. The inclusion can help hold the color more vividly. Inclusions add texture to color without darkening it. It should be like looking into Caribbean water.”
   The treatment issue is much on Abraham’s mind. In rubies, treatment is a simple heat process employed to improve the color. “It’s acceptable in the marketplace but people must be aware of it, must be aware of composites. They’re doing the same thing now to sapphires: using low-quality material, material that you could put in a fish tank. The shine on the gem comes from the glass” that they’ve added in treatment. The untreated Burma ruby will be worth two to three times what a treated gem is worth.
   When determining value, “20 carats is a point of separation when looking at a world-class gem,” Wolf says. “It used to be 10 carats. Once you hit 20 carats, you’re in another world. 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 carats, that’s almost museum quality. I might see five or six of those a year; $30,000 a carat and up is not unheard of. And people are asking $50,000 to $60,000 a carat for Burma rubies.”
   Indeed, Abraham confirms that “rubies, sapphires and emeralds have gone through the roof in the past two to three years,” with prices rising 60 percent to 70 percent in four years. “Two years ago, a ruby that I would have paid $200,000 for, this year, I’d have to pay $350,000.”
   But Abraham offers this irony about rising popularity: “If colored gemstones became as superpopular as diamonds, you wouldn’t be able to buy them. Billionaires are created more often than a 10-carat pigeon blood ruby. They’re extremely rare.” 

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2013. To subscribe click here.

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