TUCSON GEM SHOW 98by Robert Genis
Although the Tucson Gem Show includes 20 shows in 22 locations and lasts approximately two weeks, the three main shows are the AGTA, the GJX, and the GLDA. The AGTA started on February 4 and ended on February 9 and was held in the Tucson Convention Center. The GJX started on February 5 and finished February 12 and was in the tent across from the Tucson Convention Center show. The GLDA began on February 4 and was done on February 11 at the Holiday Inn.
All three shows started with a rush similar to the good old days during the rising bull market in gems of the early 1980s. Buyers stood in line all day at the AGTA waiting to receive their passes. It was impossible to find a place to park near the shows. The aisles were packed with people and buyers waited in line three to four deep to get a look at the merchants' goods. Most important of all..dealers and retail jewelers were buying.
But by the end of the first weekend, the show had slowed down. The mad rush of the previous week had subsided. However, we heard many claims such as, "This was the best show in years" or "Our sales doubled from last year".
Here is a gem by gem analysis of the stones NGC monitors:
A few years back, it seemed like every dealer had an inventory of Mong Hsu ruby. The last two years have seen a definite decrease in ruby stocks. Fewer dealers have Mong Hsu rubies, except the commercial dealers with material in the hundreds of dollars per carat range. The largest Mong Hsu I saw was a heated, three carat gemstone. The largest rubies I saw were a 4 carat pink Vietnamese stone at $130,000 total and a 7 carat Thai ruby which sold for $50,000 total. I spent days searching out unheated Mogok rubies. I only found a couple and they were carat size pinks for $3500+ per carat. I believe this remains the number one collectible gemstone. The trend of unheated Mogok Burma ruby remains up.
I saw two noteworthy red star rubies. One had a terrible star and was almost red/black. The best star I saw was a four carat reddish/pink. I saw the stone early in the show. By the time I got back to purchase the stone, it was sold. I saw a nice 7 carat pink star that technically was a pink sapphire. The dealer was asking over $2000 per carat.
I saw a couple of Kashmir blue sapphires. They were both carat sizes and priced at approximately $10,000 per carat. The supply of Asian and African blue sapphire was plentiful. There were small pockets of dealers with Mogok Burma sapphire. There was definitely a good availability of star sapphire compared to star ruby.
Of all the markets, emerald is the most confusing. Depending upon which dealer I talked to, the emerald market was either dead or just fine, thank you very much. Some emerald dealers complained sales have fallen dramatically since the "Dateline NBC" expose and the bad press from the Blue Planet Gems emerald case last year. A major emerald dealer said some emerald dealers were going out of business and some wholesalers complained their goods were not selling. Compared to years past, this market is weak.
Probably the most available colored diamonds at the show were the yellows and the browns. I saw some pinks and blues, but they were subcarat stones. Prices appear to be stable from last year.
For years, there has been a definite lack of Burma spinel on the market. A few major collectors and dealers have held all the finest gems. The problem with this is that if no one can find Burma spinel, eventually interest wanes in the gem. Last year, the new Vietnamese spinel was introduced at Tucson. The vast majority of the goods were pink, color change, and a few fine reds. This year Tucson saw an explosion of Vietnamese goods. Color change stones were rare but a new find of reds was evident. I saw some of the biggest reds I had seen in years. Many of the Vietnamese stones were between 5-10 carats, almost unheard of in Burma spinel. I even saw some red stones over 20 carats. Although most of the gems were not as red and punchy as the Burma goods, some of them rivaled the old Burma stones. This new find may spark interest in spinel. New finds tend to excite dealers and collectors. Who knows how long this new find will last? It probably makes sense to collect one or two of the finest specimens from this strike.
The largest Burma spinel I saw was over 6 carats. It was beautiful color, well cut, highly brilliant but a touch dark in tone. I did see some Burma spinel production but most were included.
Tsavorite, like spinel, has been locked into a market of too few goods equating to a lack of interest from jewelers, dealers, and collectors. This year saw a dramatic increase of tsavorite from a new African find. Once the market starts to absorb these goods, look for price increases as there is renewed collector demand.
Mandarin Orange Garnet
I met with Alan Roup regarding his mandarin orange garnet mine in Namibia. Contrary to earlier rumors, Alan was in an Israeli hospital earlier this year and his mine was not closed down. It was simply frozen and now production is soon to begin again. However, the quality of goods is down dramatically from years past and prices are at least 30% higher from 1997. About 90% of his goods were below a carat and the largest mandarin he had was about three carats. The Far East remains the number one market for these vibrant orange stones.
Top gem supersaturated intense blue tanzanites were strong in price. Dealers recently returning from Tanzania report paying more for the material. Prices were up 10% from last year for fine goods. Lower quality light violet or light blue tanzanites remain weak.
I would like to put the quality of goods shown at Tucson into perspective. First, the AGTA show used to be the elite show in Tucson. All the finest gems were shown at the Doubletree Hotel. This is no longer true. AGTA is basically a commercial show with a few dealers with fine goods. The AGTA dealers say they no longer bring their world class gems to Tucson because no one buys them. I question whether these dealers really have any fine gems left and have simply moved their operations downstream with the market. The AGTA has some fine gems, but you have to search out the stones on a one by one basis. The GJX is the main competitor to the AGTA show. Although newer, they have a similar amount of commercial goods, but tend to show more important single gemstones. This is where you can find red beryl and obscure gemstones such as hiddenite. The GLDA used to specialize in fine gems and again the quality of goods has dropped dramatically, however you can find a few dealers that have some fine gems. In searching out the best gems in the world, the bottom line is you are not going to find a dealer with a million dollars of unheated Mogok Burma ruby, but once in a while, you may find a dealer with one or two stones. As a Burmese dealer said at the show, "I traveled 10,000 miles for this?!" In summary, most of the finest gems never find their way to shows such as Tucson.
One of the main topics of discussion at the show was treatment and disclosure. AGTA, the gem trade organization, announced plans for the creation of a new lab. This lab will be run by Ken Scarratt, formerly of Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences (AIGS) in Bangkok. AIGS was owned by Henry Ho in Thailand and is now defunct. The new lab reportedly will make country of origin and enhancement calls, but not color grading quantification judgments. No matter how good AGTA's intentions are with this new lab, I still find it smacks of the inherent appearance of the fox guarding the hen house. Does anyone really want to buy a Kashmir sapphire from an AGTA dealer that is graded by the AGTA lab?
The gem market remains healthy with the possible exception of emerald. The rising stock market should continue to boost diamonds and gemstones. The supply of fine gems remains limited. Even the dealers at Tucson complained of lack of goods. The market should remain strong throughout 1998.
Moissanite is interesting because it tricks thermal testers into reading "diamond." This is because moissanite is a carbon-based material similar to diamond. Synthetic moissanite is the lab created version of silicon carbide. This material was first found in a meteorite by Henri Moissan, who thought it was a diamond. Moissanite is the second hardest substance known to man after diamond. It is harder than ruby. It has a higher refractive index and dispersion than a diamond.
According to the Gemological Institute of America, moissanite is optically different than a diamond. When you look at a moissanite, you see a doubling of the facet junctions. Moissanite also appears grayish or light yellow when compared to white diamonds. In addition, a moissanite floats in specific gravity liquid 3.3.2, while a diamond sinks. As a secondary profit source, C3 is marketing a $500 machine to detect the difference between moissanite and diamonds. You can purchase one by calling 1-800-210-4367. The GIA is expected to manufacture their own machine at a considerably lower price.
Moissanite should retail for 5-10% of the cost of a real diamond. The first batch of moissanite will be between .10 and .50. Later, the stones will weigh between .50-1.00. C3 plans to sell the stones loose to mass marketers and high volume independents.
A European private paid $69,783 per carat or $1.8 million for the 26.14 Rajah diamond, D-VS2, from the collection of Isabella Stewart. An Asian private bought two pear shape, D-VVS1 diamonds for $1,032,120 or $43,167 per carat.
A 2.05 oval, intense pink, internally flawless fetched $178,900 per carat. Two matching, circular, blue diamonds of 1.63 and 1.70, VVS, sold for around $115,000 per carat. A 3.20 blue, VVS1 sold for $188,500 p.c. A 5.15, intense blue, VS1 sold for $200,400 per carat. Two internally flawless, oval, vivid yellows weighing 2.38 and 2.41 sold for $70,300 per carat. Two matching, internally flawless, rectangular, intense yellows sold for $23,000 per carat. A 20.73 marquise, intense yellow, VVS2, sold for $64,300 per carat.
A cushion shape, 11.08 alexandrite sold for $382,680 or nearly $35,000 per carat to an Asian buyer. A jadeite necklace sold for $9.4 million. It had 27 flawless, matched jadeite beads from 15.09 to 15.8 mm. It was cut from a piece of rough weighing 22 pounds. The beads are highly translucent with vivid green color. It was sold in Asia for double its estimate. Christie's sold $37.9 million worth of goods.
A 5.67 round, pink sold for $256,803 per carat to a Middle Eastern dealer. An oval, 11.75, vivid yellow, VS1, sold for $160,699 per carat to a European private. A 10.03, princess, pink diamond, VVS1, went for $125,588 per carat. A 3.07, oval, intense yellowish green fetched $125,291 per carat to an unidentified dealer. A 5.19, pear, blue, IF, reached $117,052 per carat. A 5.83, oval, deep orange yellow sold for $44,903 per carat. An anonymous private paid $1.8 million, or $113,000 per carat, for a 15.92, Burmese step cut ruby. Sotheby's sold $34.9 million worth of goods.
Far East markets are going from bad to worse as the Hong Kong market goes down. Pac Rim consumers are selling more diamonds than they are buying. The rest of the international markets are weak. All of the international diamond dealers are bringing their goods to the United States. US sales of diamonds were up 10% in the United States. A DeBeers spokesman said the outlook for 1998 is "rather gloomy". DeBeers sales were down 16% or $1.76 billion for the second half of 1997, a total decline of 4% for the year. Total sales for 1997 were $4.64 billion. DeBeers shares, which traded as high as 37 this summer, are now trading around $20 per share.
In an effort to increase diamond prices, the next three CSO sights are expected to be at around $280 million, or about 50% less than last year.
According to the US Customs Department, the United States imported 44.8% less emeralds in the first 10 months of 1997 than in 1996. Total caratage shrunk from 9.9 million carats to 5.5 million. However, it should be noted the value of the goods increased from $180 million to $185 million.
The Colombian government plans to institute new mining laws in 1998 to improve Colombia's production of emeralds and the cutting industry. The plan is to allow foreign investment in the exploration and mining of emeralds. There will be a 1% export tax to fund the development. The center will be in Bogota and will include a bourse, training center, laboratories, and a cutting center. Many dealers remain skeptical.
Thailand is still reeling from a financial crisis. Exports of gems and jewelry are down 20%. Gems and jewelry have slipped from the second largest export to the sixth largest. The gem industry is already mired in bankruptcies and many believe it will shrink another 30% before it becomes healthy. This might take two or three years. Gem dealers have been flocking to Bangkok looking for reduced prices due to the 40% devaluation of the bhat (the Thai currency). However, Thai dealers are simply revaluating their inventories to reflect the new exchange rates. This financial crisis will create fewer, but larger, companies in the long run. Presently, Europeans are the biggest buyers in Thailand, followed by the United States and Japan.
Khun Sa - He's Back!
For more than 10 years, Khun Sa ran the Golden Triangle on the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos. He controlled an army of 20,000 men and the area's opium and gem trade. After being indicted by the US Government in 1996 on heroin trafficking charges, he surrendered to the Burmese in 1996. The Burmese government refused to extradite Khun Sa or prosecute him. He has been running several legitimate business from Burma.
Khun Sa is now reuniting his army to fight the Burmese Government. This new guerrilla force recently purchased a cache of weapons and a sharp surge of fighting is expected. The ethnic Shans have been coordinating hit-and-run attacks on central troops in the Shan state. This new trouble discredits the Burmese Government's claims of controlling the area and solving the ethnic insurgency problems.
Continued fighting will probably mean higher prices for Burma ruby and sapphire.
Burmese Financial Crisis
The Burmese currency, the kyat, has been devalued dramatically recently. As a result Burma can only buy a fraction of the foreign goods it once did. In January, Burma banned the import of all Chinese "nonessential" items.
During the 1990s, Burma was booming. Millions of dollars poured into hotels, shopping centers, and a gas project. However, foreign investors soon found they had to bribe the government's generals to get anything accomplished.
The Asian currency crisis hit Burma in mid-1997. Burma only had $156 million in foreign reserves to protect its currency. When the kyat fell, the Burmese government began arresting everyone involved in the black market. For a long period of time there were 100 kyat to the dollar. In the summer of 1997, the currency went to 150 to the dollar. By September, it had slipped to 250 to the dollar. In December, it reached 400 to the dollar. The Burmese government then arrested the owner of Burma Pepsi for trading in black market money. Recently, the Burmese currency is trading for 300 to the dollar. Therefore, according to economic theory, gem buyers with American dollars should be able to buy Burma goods cheaper. However, the Burmese traders have simply revalued their goods in American dollars to show a price increase! Obviously, the Japanese, Europeans and Americans are still willing to pay a tariff for these rare and wonderful gems while they are still available.
Burmese Tourism Dead
Burmese authorities revoked the tourism licenses of 135 tour companies for engaging in unauthorized activities. They were found guilty of irregularities, including doing business other than arranging travel and tours. They were accused of failing to make monthly reports as required and didn't show up at official meetings for long periods of time without any kind of explanation. "Visit Myanmar Year" in 1996 expected to bring foreign exchange from a tourist boom into the country. Over 1 million tourists were expected, but only 100,000 came.
The Vietnam National Gem and Gold Corporation (VIGEGO) now has buying centers in Hanoi and Saigon. They are trying to market pink Vietnamese ruby that is not heated to the Japanese. The theory is international buyers will flock to Viet Nam to buy natural stones. This is a direct assault on the Thai gem industry, who regularly treat their rubies and fail to disclose it to the buyers.
Alexandrite, a gem which has always been hard to find, is now becoming impossible to locate. A recent article in "National Jeweler" describes how it has all but disappeared in the US marketplace. The Russian mines were worked out by the 1900s. Most of the Sri Lankan Gems are not worth owning. There is some minor production from Zimbabwe, Africa. Most of the African stones have low brilliancy, dark tone, and a poor color change. Today, the only source is Brazil, and here 99% of the alexandrite found are rejected. Usually only one out of 10,000 crystals can create a clean alexandrite with a strong color change. The crude Brazilian mining techniques are at fault. Further, the majority of fine alexandrite is shipped and sold to Japan, despite their economic crisis. Prices are rising for this material.