Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

True Green

A green garnet, tsavorite is gaining recognition for its bright color and reasonable price.

By Mark Lepage

IVY
Tsavorite is the purest and truest green of all the colored gemstones,” says Bruce Bridges, president of Bridges Tsavorite in Tucson, Arizona. Unfortunately, it also has a bloody recent history.
   A relatively new addition to the market, vivid green gemstone tsavorite was discovered in Kenya in 1967 by Scottish geologist and prospector Campbell R. Bridges, Bruce’s father. After decades of mining the stone in East Africa, Bridges was ambushed and murdered by claim jumpers on August 11, 2009.
   “A well-known local gangster teamed up with two politicians who wanted our mining concession and figured the best way to take it was to kill us all,” says Bridges. He describes a gang of 35 to 40 attackers with knives, machetes, spears and other weapons. “I survived, along with four other eyewitnesses. Tragically, the attack was fatal to my father.” Bridges succeeded his father as president of the company. A protracted court trial of the seven accused ringleaders is scheduled for a September 29, 2014, summation, “and we’ve been promised a ruling before the end of the year,” Bridges says.
   That ugly recent chapter in its history cannot overshadow the stone’s allure. “In my opinion, tsavorite is far more beautiful than the price it’s sold for,” says Jay Boyle, Gemological Institute of America (GIA) graduate gemologist and senior buyer for Jewelry Television (JTV). “It’s been overlooked. Supply was always quite thin — not enough to supply lines of jewelry — and that’s the threshold to establish a stone on the global market.”
   It is, of course, a young stone with only 50 years of history. The name comes from Tsavo National Park in Kenya, although tsavorite is also mined in Tanzania. William Larson, president of Pala International in Fallbrook, California, “was involved in tsavorite by 1970” and remembers selling “a few 1-carat to 3-carat stones to Tiffany’s in New York in 1971 to then-president Harry Platt,” the great-great grandson of founder Charles Tiffany. “It was not a huge amount of money at the time,” he recalls. In the decades since, Pala has “sold millions of dollars in tsavorite.”

Turning Green
   Tsavorite’s intense green is due to two trace elements: vanadium and chromium. “They represent from .5 percent to 1.5 percent of the entire composition of the stone,” says Raja Shah, president of wholesaler Color First in Tampa, Florida, which specializes in East African stones. Tsavorite isn’t the only green garnet. Demantoid garnet is also green, but the two stones are different. Tsavorite is from the grossular family of garnet, a calcium aluminum silicate, with a hardness of 7.5 on the Mohs scale. That makes it very durable for jewelry that can be worn every day. Demantoid is from the andradite family of garnet, a calcium iron silicate, and is softer, a 6.5 on the Mohs scale.
   The two stones also differ in price. While value estimates vary, all dealers agree that demantoid is more expensive, with 10-carats-plus stones priced at about $30,000 per carat. “A tsavorite that’s 5 carats-plus and fine quality will be priced at $9,000 to $10,000 per carat,” says Adam J. Gil, vice-president of Jerry Gil & Co. and the third generation of the New York City wholesaler. Bridges vastly prefers the color of tsavorite. “I’ve seen $50,000-per-carat demantoid and I’ll beat that color with tsavorite for a quarter of the price.”
   Tsavorite also compares favorably with emeralds, in both price and color. “A nice Colombian emerald would still be five to ten times the price of tsavorite,” says Shah. Gil asserts, “Tsavorite shouldn’t be considered a step down from emerald. It’s a beautiful stone” in its own right.
   Shah also points to “controversy over emerald treatments, which sent some people looking for alternative green stones.” Why tsavorite? “It’s completely untreated. It comes out as nature intended. There’s usually a little bit of inclusion, which is okay, as long as it doesn’t detract from the stone’s beauty,” says Shah. Tsavorite has twice the dispersion of emerald, making it appear brighter. Boyle adds, “More than once or twice, I’ve read articles in the jewelry trade press about tests conducted with people rating the gemstones for color without knowing which was which, and tsavorite always won over emeralds.”
   Although still a comparative bargain, “Prices have really skyrocketed recently,” says Gil. “In the past five years, value has tripled or quadrupled.” The increase in prices “has been a long time coming,” says Shah. It’s risen for several reasons. “Very few people were familiar with tsavorite, given most people associate garnet with the color red. And it was only discovered 50 years ago, whereas emeralds have 5,000 years of history,” Shah adds.

Television Show-Off
   Boyle also credits JTV’s “television sales, a long-form infomercial, if you will, that allows us to inform people about the stone and show off its beauty. That’s helped to popularize the stone.”
   Asian market demand has also raised prices. “Especially in the past three years. China happened — the Chinese started buying it and have driven demand,” says Shah. That increased demand raises prices because of the rarity of the stone. “Tsavorite is 1,000 percent rarer than emeralds,” says Bridges. “And as its size gets larger — anything 3 carats and up — the rarity increases exponentially.”
   Tsavorite is likely to remain rare, in supply terms. Ongoing mine-related violence and death threats mean the Bridges mines, and most others in Kenya, are shut down. That, combined with limited, sporadic production in Tanzania, means there is very little new material. “My father loved the romance and magic of mining gemstones,” concludes Bridges. “He didn’t really like to sell gems. He stockpiled a great deal. So we have been cutting and selling material that had been stocked up for decades.”

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

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