Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

The Price Of A Slice

Jewelry featuring gemstone slices has risen in popularity in the past few years. But is there any value to the stones?

By Mark Lepage

Courtesy EF Watermelon
Dealers and appraisers agree that gemstone slices represent a burgeoning market, fueled by attractively low price points and a one-of-a-kind look, which have made them popular with designers, retailers and consumers alike. Dealers just don’t agree on much else about them.
   If the colored gemstone business is hard to quantify in general, gemstone slices are particularly resistant to any formal valuation. Slices are precisely that — flat pieces sliced away from gemstones, then sanded and polished. Since the gemstones from which they are cut are not gem-quality, the industry is unsure of how to value slices and some question whether they have any inherent value at all.

Wondering About Value
   Slices “have no value as a gemstone,” says Richard Freeman, co-owner of EF Watermelon of Old Lyme, Connecticut. “I’ve been in the business for 35 years, and was a wholesale gem dealer for 30 years. I’ve seen all of it. The corundum slices are all new material that would never have a selling value as rough-to-cut stones. You don’t see getting faceted material out of that. It’s opaque, so how do you valuate that? I mean, I saw a necklace in Neiman Marcus in Bal Harbour, Florida, which stopped me cold. I think it was $38,000 — sapphire and ruby slices that were opaque. I didn’t see any value to it.”
   Freeman believes the slices from lower-end stones could be hugely profitable if they are set in jewelry because the piece of jewelry would have inherent value, whereas the stone from which the slice was cut had little or no market value. Todd Wolleman, president of New York City’s Leo Wolleman, Inc., which calls itself the oldest operating colored stone house in the U.S., says there “is not a fabulous margin” in slices.
   As to prices, Stuart Robertson, research director at consulting and appraisal firm Gemworld International in Glenview, Illinois, says slices still have low prices although they have increased in response to the rising demand. He estimates prices of slices “have increased 400 percent over the past few years as designers have embraced them.”
   “Unlike faceted stones,” explains Robertson, “where we tend to see standard proportions, slices tend to present more of an issue in that you’re looking at an overall presentation” of a uniquely proportioned stone. “They’re hard to pin down to a single standard price,” he adds. Because they are singular in shape and size and configuration, slices can’t be measured in calibrated sizes or against size charts.

Popular Appeal
   While gemstone slices may be hard to pin down on value, there is little mystery to their appeal. The range of slices available now embraces a wide variety of colored gemstones. “What slices offer is a bold, dramatic look for not a lot of money compared to faceted stones,” says Robertson.
   Wolleman notes that “we tend to inventory popular gemstones of the moment.” In 2013, that meant slices, which “have become a regular part of the jewelry arsenal over the past five years.” The increased popularity, he says, is “due to an interest in vintage jewelry. Slices look like an updated classic — vintage with a twist. And I think a lot of the tastemakers and celebrities picked up on the trend and have worn them.” Slices accounted for 20 percent of Wolleman’s business in 2013. Incidentally, “a lot of this is female self-purchase. Women are buying more jewelry, period,” Todd says.
   Llyn Strelau of Jewels By Design in Calgary, Alberta, won second place in the Spectrum Menswear category for his “HEXactly” cufflinks at the AGTA Tucson GemFair in February. The design is set with faceted hexagonal emerald and sapphire crystal slices. “If you Google ‘gemstone slices’ today, you get way more hits than you would have seen even four years ago. Corundum is becoming quite popular because it’s durable and strong in a sliced section.” In other words, slices represent a profitable way to “save” an inferior stone that is not “gemmy” enough to be faceted.
   But when it comes to quality, Freeman believes that, in general, the slices he is seeing are of very low quality. “In Tucson this year, we bought no stones,” he says, because he felt the stones at the show either were not special stones or they were overpriced for their quality. Freeman added that watermelon tourmaline, which he likes to buy and for which his company is named, is also becoming harder to find.
   The one certainty is that the slice itself will not dictate the value or price. “Most people come to me with a finished piece of jewelry,” says Cindy Konney, an independent certified gemologist and appraiser who has an office behind the EF Watermelon store in Connecticut. “As an appraiser, I have to go back to the person who designed it and say ‘What is this worth?’”
   The slice itself is almost incidental to the value of the slice jewelry piece. Establishing a value because of the slice would be like “pricing a painting by the paint,” says Konney. “You can’t do that. It’s the painter who represents the value. In jewelry, it’s the designer. Jewelry pieces with slices are all one-of-kind pieces. That’s how their value is defined.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2014. To subscribe click here.

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Tags: Mark LePage