Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Somewhere in the Rainbow

A dazzling private collection of gemstones showcases the rare and the beautiful.

By Lael Hagan
Bleed Heart Bicolor Tourmaline
In five short years, a husband and wife team has amassed a collection that Dr. Jeffrey Post, curator of the Gems and Minerals Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, calls, “one of the most extensive privately owned collections of fine and rare gems I have ever seen.” The collection is called Somewhere in the Rainbow™ (SITR), a name chosen by the wife, and it is a fitting description of the span of color and diversity of gems. Currently at 405 stones, SITR covers 32 species, highlighting gem color varieties, phenomena or mine sources. Several gemstone categories are covered in depth, including 153 tourmalines, 79 sapphires, 49 beryls, 44 spinels, 35 garnets and 21 topazes. Forty percent of the stones have been set into jewelry and the other 60 percent are unmounted faceted gems and carvings.

Starting The Journey
   SITR is a private collection that started by chance. In 2008, Shelly Sergent was working for a retail jeweler when the husband and wife, customers who had never bought anything grand, became interested in alexandrite. They were shown several fine Brazilian stones and purchased a 10.5-carat and a 4-carat cushion-cut alexandrites, as well as a 15-carat tanzanite.
   A couple of weeks later, the husband told Sergent, “That was fun and fascinating. Give me another stone and let me research it.” Sergent suggested padparadscha sapphire. This time, the couple bought a 5.55-carat spinel, a 17-carat bicolor topaz and a 9-carat padparadscha. Over time, a gem-buying pattern formed: Each time there was a request for something new and unusual. The initial goal was to buy a few unmounted stones and turn them into pieces of jewelry. Somewhere in the process, the wife’s love of color and the unique appeal of each gemstone took over and many different stones were purchased to remain unset.
   The turning point came in 2009 with the acquisition of an important electric blue 15-carat paraiba tourmaline. It was then that Sergent and the couple realized that the collection was growing to be far more important and serious. Sergent, who became the full-time curator for SITR in 2011, says, “In three years, they had amassed extremely rare and valuable stones without paying much attention to the unique direction of the collection.”

A Different Direction
   A decision was made to continue to collect fine examples of colored gemstones but the goal changed — the collection would be used for education and study. The new strategy was to make SITR accessible to the public through exhibitions in museums and galleries, jewelry associations and retail jewelers.
   “Before they bought their first stones,” recalls Sergent, “the collectors would not have been able to tell the difference between a tsavorite and an emerald.” Their rapid education came not only from exposure to fine gems, but also from their consultations with expert dealers, museum curators and gem laboratories.” They also hired their own independent gem appraiser, Craig Lynch. Early on, Lynch advised them, “Don’t buy the biggest, buy the best quality of whatever you are offered.” Lynch researches each potential stone for quality, country of origin and provenance, treatment issues and marketplace pricing. The stones are routinely sent out for laboratory testing before purchase.
   The SITR collectors, Sergent and Lynch work as a team. Sergent is the first to look at a stone’s potential before bringing it under discussion. While the couple has four gem dealers on continual lookout for stones, gems for the collection come from a plethora of sources: mine owners, gem cutters, the Tucson gem show, Spectrum Award winners from the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA), museum deaccessions and auctions.
   At some point, when SITR became more education oriented, stones or gem cuts the owners might not have chosen personally, such as pearls or cabochon gems, were added. Although SITR does not sell stones, a few stones have been sold from the collection if better examples of that period or that category became available.

Designer Showcase
   Contemporary jewelry design also is a feature of SITR; the collection aims to showcase fine craftsmanship and design. Eddie Sakamoto is the premier designer for SITR and designed jewelry for the first gems the couple purchased. Henry Dunay, Erica Courtney and Paula Crevoshay are other designers who have been invited to design jewelry for the collection; they are allowed to freely choose stones that inspire them. Many of the gems are custom cuts by recognized cutters and carvers like Bernd Mundsteiner, John Dyer and Daryl Alexander. As a member of AGTA, SITR has a deep involvement with the Spectrum Awards, both purchasing award-winning gems and submitting its own jewelry and faceted gems as candidates for awards.
   In addition to contemporary jewelry, SITR embraces jewelry history, with examples of early gemstone cutting and period jewelry design. There are important Art Deco jewels by Boucheron, Cartier and Tiffany & Company, purchased as beautiful examples of period style and impeccable workmanship.
   As curator, Sergent oversees the direction of the collection, cataloging, exhibition arrangements and publicity. SITR participates in the American Gem Trade Collection™, which promotes colored stone jewelry, making it available for wear at the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globe awards. Pieces from the collection were displayed at the San Diego Museum of Natural History and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. In November 2013, both Sergent and Lynch spoke at Gem-A in London, with a hands-on session featuring SITR green grossularite garnets and zoisite from East Africa.
   For retail jewelers and jewelry conferences, SITR is partnering with AGTA to exhibit parts of the collection in conjunction with gem education materials for association members. 

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

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