Book Review • Imperial Jade of Burma & Mutton-Fat Jade of India • Lotus GemologyBy Richard W. Hughes

 Source: LOTUS Gemology
Samuels, S.K. (2014) Imperial Jade of Burma and Mutton-Fat Jade of India: Mining, Trade, and Use from Antiquity to the Present. SKS Enterprises, Inc., Tucson, AZ, USA, 248 pp. ISBN: 978-0-9725323-4-1

Jade is a subject that most in the Western world find hard to fathom, in no small part because much of the appreciation of this stone exists in non-Roman (re: Chinese) scripts. Thus a discussion of the finer points of jade connoisseurship by someone unable to read Chinese is not unlike a eunuch’s guide to pillow talk. The thought is nice, but…

While Myanmar (Burma) has been the chief source of fine jadeite for more than two centuries, the Middle Kingdom’s history with jade goes back thousands of years and involves far more than jadeite’s glassy shine and neon hues. Here’s a case in point: as of the time of this writing (May 2014), the most expensive piece of jade ever sold at auction was not jadeite from Myanmar, but nephrite from western China. How’s this for another stunner: the color of this “imperial” jade is not green, but white. Perhaps this helps to illuminate just why the Western world considers jade to be “inscrutable.”

The current volume has been penned by S.K. Samuels, a Burmese native who has lived in the USA for many decades. Its stated goal is to:

“…correct misconceptions and present a coherent picture of how jade was discovered, mined, and used in Burma over the centuries.”

In the book’s Preface, the author includes this statement:

“In fact, most of what appears about Burma’s jade mines in Western literature to date is not only inaccurate but also incomplete and incorporates unsubstantiated legends. It was written during the colonial and the post-colonial eras and ignores a body of literature that exists in Burmese and English. Then this misinformation has been repeated by more modern writers.”

As evidence, Samuels cites the account of Mr. Warry, a British consular officer stationed in China who visited Burma in 1888 with the first expedition of British troops to reach the jade mines. Warry not only spoke Chinese, but in his 7000-word essay gave a detailed description of jade in China, including the nephrite deposits in Xinjiang. In touching on the discovery of jade in Burma, he spends just 200 words relating a story told to him of the discovery of jade in Burma by a Chinese trader in the 13th Century (Hertz, 1912).

Samuels dismisses this tale, but as evidence against it offers only vague statements by authors writing decades later, none of who had actually visited the Burmese jade mines. So whom should one believe, a China expert who visited the source and was [presumably] told of its discovery by someone at the site, or others who never visited the source?

This reviewer has read Warry’s essay and finds it entirely believable, reproducing it in his article on the occidental history of jade (Hughes, 1999). Samuels is free to disagree, but he needs to build a better case than what is contained in this book.

It does not help Samuels’ case that his book contains provable inaccuracies:

p. 7: It is stated that the Ruby Mines Ltd. Company was founded in the late 1930s. Actually it was founded in 1934 and closed in 1941.

p. 139: According to Samuels, by 2001, it was impossible for foreigners to visit either Mogok or Phakant (Hpakan; the jade mines). This reviewer visited both in 2004.

p. 63: “The Western press wrote about the gem and jade mines from 1885. History prior to this did not seem to matter or was unreliable; apparently, only history after 1885, written by colonial writers, is valid.”

Even a casual browsing of the early issues of publications like the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (founded in 1784) reveal a strong Western curiosity regarding all things Asian; indeed the goal of that society was to study all aspects of the great continent. The first European visitor to the jade mines was in 1837 (Griffith, 1847), while the first eyewitness Western account of the ruby mines was published in 1833 (d’Amato, 1833).

In this text, Samuels repeatedly makes reference to the mistakes of other writers, but includes little in the way of quotations or citations to support his censure. And yet he makes unsubstantiated statements of his own, such as the following:

P. 51: “In the early years of the tenth century, some Burmese jade was exported privately by traders in small amounts.”

No references whatsoever are given to support this claim. While it was certainly not his intention, such passages leave Samuels open to the charge that, while accusing others of hearsay, he is peddling a stone of similar nature.

A full chapter is devoted to the gem material maw sit sit, but the name Eduard Gübelin does not appear at all. While this reviewer appreciates that maw sit sit had been mined for centuries and was mentioned by H.L. Chhibber in 1934, it was Gübelin’s publications that put maw sit sit on the world gemological map. Not to mention them is a significant omission in a book that claims to be an attempt to set the jade record straight.

But this is not to say that the book is entirely negative. There is much within its pages that will both thrill and enlighten. I was particularly impressed by the author’s wonderful accounts of Chinese nephrite brought to India for working by the subcontinents’ expert lapidaries during the Mughal period.

This volume has been privately published, but could have benefited greatly from a professional editor and comprehensive fact checking, as the following examples show:

The index omits important places like Mogok, even though it is mentioned in several places in the text.

While the book contains 163 photos, maps and diagrams, many are of poor quality and/or reproduced too small to be effective. In certain cases, outside illustrations do not appear to be properly credited.

Citations appear in footnotes at the bottom of the relevant pages, but with little consistency in style, some missing pertinent information like the date and even name of publication.

Scholars (and this reviewer in particular) would welcome a comprehensive English-language volume on the history of Burmese jade, particularly one written by someone fluent in Burmese who could provide insights that only a native speaker might glean. Unfortunately the current book falls short. The thought is nice, but…

As a fellow author, I appreciate the amount of work that goes into producing a book of this type, and as someone who has self-published, I also understand the pitfalls. It is my sincere hope that the author will consider preparing a second, corrected edition. If done properly, it has the potential to become a valuable addition to the world gemological literature.

d’Amato, P.G. (1833) A short description of the mines of precious stones in the district of Kyatpyin, in the Kingdom of Ava. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. 2, pp. 75–76.

Griffith, W. (1847) Journals of Travels in Assam, Burma, Bootan, Affghanistan, and the Neighbouring Countries. Calcutta, Bishop’s College Press, 529 pp.

Hertz, W.A. (1912) Burma Gazetteer: Myitkyina District. Rangoon, Superintendent, Govt. Printing and Staty., Volume A, reprinted 1960, 193 pp., map.

Hughes, R.W. (1999) Burma’s jade mines: An annotated Occidental history. Journal of the Geo-Literary Society, Vol. 14, No. 1, January, pp. 15–35.

First posted online in Gems & Gemology on 19 May, 2015. 
Buy the book from LOTUS

Buying and Crying, the Longest Diamond Recession

Source: Edahn Golan

Author: Edahn Golan

Sometimes, when talking with Sightholders, they have a strong, even passionate opinion about their Sight supplies, prices and the state of the market. This happens at times of instability. At other times, their views are quite moderate, yielding to the market and everything that is happening in it at the moment. However, during a turbulent period, it is very rare when Sightholders remain subdued or accepting of the situation, as it is now.
Currently, it is difficult to assess the size of De Beers’ Sights. The consensus among brokers is that De Beers offered about $600 million worth of rough diamonds, and another $50 million were requested as ex-plan. There was no clear trend to the prices, although many changes were made – both up and down.
Read more at: Edahn Golan website


Source : Stuller 

Read Elizabeth’s latest installment about June’s birthstone

Pearls for June and Far Beyond
To limit pearls to June birthdays would be a lot like limiting water to streams and ponds. Pearl beauty, appeal, and style — whether freshwater or saltwater — finds its way into almost every woman’s wardrobe. And thanks to cultured pearls, developed in the early 20th century, most women can afford them.
Pearl Personalities
Like most other gemstones, pearls don’t fit neatly into one particular category. Their subtle, luxurious beauty boasts multiple personalities to suit the many customers who choose them.
Pearls are feminine, fun and flirty, a personality typified by trending pearl fashion jewelry. Think of Sarah Jessica Parker’s style in “Sex in the City.”

Pearls are classic simplicity — the strand and studs worn by any woman who appreciates an understated look. Think of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Pearls are sophisticated — a long, lush strand of fine large pearls looped around the neck or a multi-strand necklace perhaps clustered or twisted, with or without a diamond or gemstone adornment. Think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

And last but not least, pearl is extravagant and spectacular — one-of-a-kind designer styles accented and interwoven with diamonds and gemstones. Think of Rhianna draped in strands of pearls or Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina.

A Moment in Time
Imagine that moment millennia ago when mankind first encountered a small wondrously luminescent object. Was it round, oval, teardrop or baroque? It had no name, only its shape, color, and dazzling luster. Was it a stone? It didn’t look like one. It appeared almost alive. Yes, it was beautiful and unusual; surely it had some greater purpose.
We can surmise that since that moment, pearls have fascinated us. One pearl carbon dated to 5500 BCE — more than 7500 years ago! — was buried with its owner. In all likelihood, older ones exist and sooner or later someone will find them.
Each Pearl Tells A Tale
The story of pearl formation sounds much like a fairytale in which the heroine is perceived as a threat and shut away from the world with no obvious possibility of redemption. Here’s how this tale unfolds.
Each pearl begins when an irritant somehow enters an oyster or other bi-valve mollusk. On perceiving the threat, the mollusk reacts to protect its soft inner tissue. It encapsulates the irritant with successive translucent layers of nacre, smoothing its surface so oyster and irritant can coexist. As far as the oyster knows, the irritant will be there permanently.
Then miraculously, perhaps with the help of a Fairy Godmother, someone opens the mollusk to find a treasure of great beauty. The once disdained “irritant” emerges as a pearl and enters a world of love and appreciation to live happily ever after. The end.
I don’t think so.
We can’t just leave this story for pearls. Let’s apply it to our lives too. After all, don’t our biggest challenges/”irritants” develop our greatest strengths and bring inner beauty to light?
Pearls in History
With so many pearls available today, it’s hard for us to understand the rarity of natural pearls, particularly those of any size. They are so rare that for millennia they were the most coveted gems. To have one was to possess beauty of incomparable value. Only royalty and other wealthy individuals had any hope of ever owning pearls.
The Hope Pearl is the most famous natural saltwater pearl weighing 1,800 grains — 450 carats — or 4-ounces. It once belonged to the owner of the Hope Diamond. Currently it is in the British Museum of Natural History.

La Peregrina is a perfectly pear-shaped pearl weighing 223.8 grains (55.95 carats). Its famous owners included Prince Phillip II of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte — who stole it from Spain, British Marquis of Abercorn, and finally in 1969, Elizabeth Taylor, gifted to her by Richard Burton.

The Mary Tudor Pearl, now known as the Pearl of Kuwait, is often confused with La Peregrina. They are both pear shaped. The Mary Tudor Pearl weighs 258.12 grains or 64.5 carats. It was owned by Isabella of Portugal; her daughter Joanna of Austria; Joanna’s cousin, Phillip II of Spain; and Mary Tudor of England.

Alive With Beauty
Living organisms — bi-valve mollusks — create pearls. As such, they have a presence, a vitality that attracts the eye with mesmerizing beauty. Their luster emanates from within, giving them a spiritual allure.
Some historians have proposed that pearls were first used and sought after for their spiritual powers and only secondarily for their value. Perhaps they were, but frankly, I find that hard to believe. When something combines rarity with beauty, it’s valuable no matter what the use.
Pearl Power
Both ancient India and China gave rise to astounding pearl myths of their origins and powers. Vedic texts relate that pearls were born of earth’s water and heaven’s powers, each fertilized by a lightning strike. Pearls were considered “daughters of the Moon,” reflecting her luster.
In today’s youth-oriented culture, we would all do well to buy pearls and lots of them. In 17th and 18th century BCE, the Babylonians believed that pearls had life-giving qualities including the ability to restore youth.
To Look Their Best
What do pearls have to do to stay beautiful? They need to be worn often. If stored in a hot, airless environment, they can dry and crack. Pearls need oil from the skin to enhance their luster and color and after each wearing they should be wiped with a damp cloth to remove hairspray or other damaging chemicals.



The ancient Romans theorized that moonstone, with its unearthly shimmer, was formed from frozen moonlight. This appealing gem variety does shine with a cool lunar light but it is the mineral feldspar, quite terrestrial in origin. The shimmer, which is called schiller or adularescence, is caused by the intergrowth of two different types of feldspar, with different refractive indexes.
Moonstones come in a variety of colors. The body color can range from colorless to gray, brown, yellow, green, or pink. The clarity ranges from transparent to translucent. The best moonstone has a blue sheen, perfect clarity, and a colorless body color.
Sometimes moonstone will have an eye as well as sheen. Another related feldspar variety is known as rainbow moonstone. In this variety of labradorite feldspar, the sheen is a variety of rainbow hues, from pink to yellow, to peach, purple, and blue. Sometimes one gem will show all these colors.
Fine moonstone is quite rare and becoming rarer. It is mined in Sri Lanka and Southern India. The rainbow variety can be found in India and Madagascar.
Moonstones are usually cut in a smooth-domed oval cabochon shape to maximize the effect. Sometimes they are carved to show a man-in-the-moon face.
Moonstone has a hardness of 6 to 6.5. It should not be stored in contact with your other gemstones to prevent scratching. Clean with mild dish soap: use a toothbrush to scrub behind the stone where dust can collect.

Tiffany uses same-sex couple in ad. Who’ll follow?


Source: National Jeweler
Author: Michelle Graff

January 12, 2015

As part of the company’s new campaign offering a modern take on love, Tiffany’s will debut its first advertisement featuring a gay couple this spring.

New York–Tiffany & Co. is set to debut its first advertisement featuring a gay couple this spring, part of the venerable 178-year-old retailer’s take on modern love.

Called “Will You?” and shot by fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh, the spring 2015 campaign takes a “truly modern look at love, the proposal and marriage,” Tiffany said.

It features seven different scenes of couples.

The ad with the same-sex couple–which the retailer publicly has confirmed is its first–has two men who are not models but, rather, a real-life couple. It shows them sitting together on a New York City stoop and the text reads, “Will you promise to never stop completing my sentences or singing off-key, which I am afraid you do often? And will you let today be the first sentence of one long story that never ever ends? Will you?”

Tiffany said the scenes depicted in “Will You?” are meant to convey the idea that they were captured at that moment in time when the couple realized they were meant to be together forever.

The New York-based jeweler joins the growing list of companies, both in and outside the jewelry industry, now openly marketing to the LGBT community. Family-owned chain Rogers & Hollands, for example, added Rony Tennenbaum’s line of wedding jewelry geared toward the LGBT community to the inventory of two Chicago-area stores this past spring, following Ben Bridge Jeweler, which added Tennenbaum’s line to some of its stores in July 2013.

In addition to the gay couple, there are more traditional couples in the Tiffany campaign–young and just starting out–as well as a couple that already has a child together by the time they reach their wedding day, a nod to the growing number of people who are choosing to have children outside of marriage.

“These impactful scenes convey that modern love is not linear and that true love comes in a variety of forms,” Tiffany said. “These couples represent the spectrum of people who visit Tiffany every day to find that uniquely symbolic ring, the ultimate expression of love.”

“Will You?” is a global campaign that will use digital, video and social components. It is set to debut in the spring.

Diamond Cutters Approaching Era of Disruption


Source: Rapaport
Author: Ronen Schnidman

RAPAPORT… Diamond manufacturers are entering an era of fierce competition as the looming decline in rough diamond supply is expected to place additional pressure on their already razor-thin profit margins.

“A manufacturer always operates with a benchmark margin, which is the minimum he needs to make a reasonable return on equity,” explains Vishal Doshi, the executive director of the manufacturer Shrenuj & Co. “In spite of all the efficiencies, we have reached the border between the business being either sustainable or unsustainable.”

Some manufacturers are already adapting their business models to cope with this problem, in ways that industry observers believe will alter how the entire diamond pipeline operates in the coming years.

Differentiate or Disappear

However, Dinesh Navadiya, the president of the Surat Diamond Association (SDA), notes that manufacturers have limited options to cut costs and improve margins. While they tend to expand their labor force when rough supplies grow, cutters avoid retrenchments when the profits run dry, he explains.

“Employers never lay off workers,” Navadiya says. “There is a scarcity of artisans in the industry so the question of layoffs does not arise.”

Even during the 2008 financial crisis, factory owners in Surat tried to avoid layoffs, preferring to retain their workers by instituting temporary salary cuts.

Navadiya further dismisses the likelihood that factory owners will increase profits by absorbing smaller or weaker companies to reduce competition. He states that no notable consolidations have occurred in Surat in recent years and that he does not expect significant consolidation to occur in the future.

Consequently, the only way that manufacturers will be able to contend with tightening profit margins is through product differentiation and factory closures, concludes Mike Aggett, the managing director of H. Goldie & Company, a De Beers accredited broker.

Aggett notes that the diamond manufacturing sector is undergoing some consolidation, but this is occurring at a slow pace and largely through companies exiting the industry. He attributes this to the fact that the industry is predominantly made up of family-run businesses that find consolidation more difficult than would purely corporate entities.

“Certainly in India a number of smaller operations have disappeared,” he says. “It will be a slow, ongoing process but the less sustainable businesses will disappear.”

Aggett stresses that manufacturers who wish to remain in the industry will have to focus their efforts on design and branding as a means to improve their profit margins. Consumers are becoming increasingly price conscious, and the only way to make price secondary in their buying decisions is by presenting them with a differentiated product, he explains.

Emanuel Namdar, the general manager of S.N. Asia, a diamond manufacturer, agrees with Aggett and adds that branding is essential because the jewelry marketplace is already crowded and intensely competitive even in emerging markets.

“When you head out to the Far East and pass the jewelry displays on the street, you can see that every consumer interested in buying a diamond ring has hundreds to choose from within a 10-minute walk,” Namdar says. “You must add value through branding. Otherwise, the competition at the consumer level is too fierce.”

Doshi notes that many diamond manufacturers are integrating downstream to achieve that added value and differentiate their product and services.

“The more you can sell diamonds in jewelry, the more your gross margins will go up,” he explained in an interview with Rapaport News earlier this year. “But not everyone can execute it because it’s a different business with a different mindset and a different business model.”

Declining Rough Supply

Most manufacturers who spoke with Rapaport News agreed that manufacturing rough into polished alone is not sufficient to cope with high rough prices and the further forecasted increases.

According to industry consultants at Bain & Company, diamond prices are expected to rise in the long term as supply is forecast to decline from 2018 onward, while demand continues to grow.

De Beers expects that global rough diamond supply will peak at slightly over 160 million carats in 2018 but will plummet to 120 million carats around 2025. This constitutes a 25 percent drop from peak production in less than a decade. De Beers estimates that approximately 146 million carats were recovered in 2013.

De Beers attributes this drop in production to a lack of new mining projects expected to come on stream after 2025 that have potential production volume large enough to impact the overall market. Even if new, large mines are discovered, De Beers noted in its recently published Diamond Insight Report that these would not be developed fast enough to prevent the contraction in supply. The company estimates that the latest generation of large diamond mines have taken on average 22 years to reach production from their initial discovery.

Rough Financing Impacting Pipeline

Bain expects that the demand-supply gap will further squeeze manufacturers’ profit margins at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain financing for the working capital needed to reap efficiency gains.

Des Kilalea, a diamond mining analyst for RBC Capital Markets, suggests that it is this lack of financing for rough purchases that will be the final nail in the coffin for smaller, family-owned manufacturing operations.

Kilalea cautions that the entire diamond pipeline has entered an unhealthy situation whereby manufacturers are financing the profitability of the miners and retailers with their bank credit. He predicts that the diamond pipeline will address the problem by evolving toward simpler supply lines with fewer, larger players.

“The longer-term issue is that the miners are not really going to be able to dictate any price to the market because the banks aren’t going to continue financing it,” he says. “Manufacturers will [then] become more reticent to pay high rough prices [in cash] and they will stop extending such crazy credit terms to their own buyers. Why should the guy in the middle be the bankers for the guys on the ends?”

Kilalea expects that the larger manufacturers will address the finance issue by increasingly raising funding from the stock and bond markets to finance their working capital.

Moreover, Kilalea forecasts that as banks reduce their credit lines for rough purchases, the mining and retail segments will be forced to ensure that their profits are not affected if manufacturers go bankrupt.

“The big retailers with financial muscle want to secure the rough and ensure that there are no financial interruptions,” Kilalea says. He explains that retailers are worried that their diamond suppliers may go bankrupt and leave them in the lurch without merchandise. Moreover, the retailers have an easier time of financing their working capital, often paying lower interest rates than their own suppliers.

As a result, Kilalea expects that more large-scale retailers will pursue arrangements similar to those of Tiffany & Co. The New York-based retailer has its own polishing division that procures rough through sight contracts with De Beers and ALROSA and also holds off-take agreements with junior miners Kimberley Diamonds and DiamondCorp to fulfill some of its specific rough requirements.

Bain said in its 2013 industry report that the trend of retailers integrating upstream along the diamond value chain is likely to continue, creating additional pressure on manufacturers as retailers compete for rough with their own polished suppliers.

Survival Not Guaranteed

The consulting company therefore expects further consolidation and integration in the middle of the diamond pipeline as manufacturers seek to maximize their profit margins through efficiencies of scale and scope.

Some manufacturers already predict that there will be consolidation in the cutting and polishing industry even if polished prices rise in the coming decade.

Namdar expects that polished prices will rise significantly in the next decade but diamantaires will need to continually find ways to add value along the pipeline in order to survive and benefit from these higher prices.

“There will be an industry and people will work hard because the ones that won’t work hard won’t be around in 10 years’ time,” he says. “I can’t even guarantee that I will be there, but I know that many good companies that are here today have a roadmap to get there.”

Opal’s essence continues to delight


Source: National Jeweler

Author: Brecken Branstrator

December 19, 2014

New York — With an appearance that long inspired cultures to believe in its supernatural abilities and powers, the opal’s value comes not only from the range of colors it displays but also the increasing rarity of high-quality stones.

Opals are the product of seasonal rains that drench the dry ground in an arid place, such as Australia’s outback. The water soaks in and penetrates deep, carrying silica with it. Then, the water evaporates during a dry spell, leaving silica deposits behind to form opals.

Even though all opals are formed through this same process, the resulting stones are unique.

No two opals look the same, and the play of color for each precious opal is different, giving them wide-ranging appeal. (There are two main types of opal–while common opal has a milky, dull color, precious opal displays the range of color that is so valued.)

“In Lighting Ridge black opal, people tend to like the combination of blues and greens, which have been the most popular with us,” said Niveet Nagpal, designer and president of Omi Privé. “But with true collectors looking for special pieces, if the opal displays more red flashes, these are the most sought after and valuable.”

Opal’s recently returning popularity with consumers also can be attributed to a greater number of designers using the stones in more of their pieces, bringing high-quality opals in front of consumers again and driving demand.

“Opal is re-entering the popular market and, where they were once using a little bit lower-quality (stones) at one point, they have delved into the finer goods over the last few years,” said Matt Hopkins of Hopkins Opal.

The rush slows
Today’s supplies of opal come mostly from Australia, Mexico, and the United States, though Hopkins said that supply is constrained in Australia at the moment as companies realize that there’s more money to be made in mining other natural resources in that country, such as industrial metals.

“There’s been a lack of producing areas for more than a decade,” he said, but noted that the increased demand for opals means that miners likely will return to prospecting for the gem once they realize that there is consistent consumer demand.

Hopkins said he sees a “glimmer of hope” in a few places in Australia. (He declined giving specifics as these locations–provided they start producing–will become a source for his company.) “The one decent supply we’re seeing is boulder opals in medium to high quality, which are still being cut and coming out.”

He adds that the only type of opal that perhaps isn’t seeing a major climb in demand is the commercial opal that is sourced for mass market, lower-end jewelry that has less play of color. “People don’t really have that much interest in that anymore.”

Overall, Hopkins said he sees opal demand outstripping supply in both the U.S. and Asia, noting that there is a renewed interested in colored gems in general as consumers see high-quality large gemstones as investment pieces.

This makes sourcing high-quality opals difficult. Many dealers that Hopkins knows still are working off old stock, though replenishing that at the same price they did even a few years ago is much harder.

Jonathan Farnsworth of Parlé Designs reiterated what Hopkins is seeing in the market, noting that the hardest to source currently are high-quality black and crystal opals, as well as opal doublets, which Farnsworth attributed to labor costs that had gotten too high to validate production.

He said there is plenty of Ethiopian opal in the market, which is helping to create demand for opals as a whole as more consumers are seeing them. He also said that he feels that production will begin picking up as trends drive demand.

“It’s a little cyclical, because as demand increases, more production should increase as well, especially as oil prices drop and it becomes easier for miners to mine. Then the supply will be there to further feed and grow demand,” he said.

A price hike
Like many of the rarest gems, the price of the highest quality opals have been rising slightly over the past few years, though Hopkins notes that fine black opal always has been, and continues to be, fairly expensive.

Intense red-orange fire opal from Mexico also is extremely rare and highly valued, with its strong play of color, with price and supply following the similar patterns as the other types of high quality stones.

Though the best fire opal generally sells for less than high-quality precious opal, fire opal pieces with exceptional color will go for more than specimens of precious opal with a less-than-stellar play of color.

Even though prices are climbing steadily at the high end, it’s the mid-range-quality opals–falling between $150 and $700 per carat at wholesale–where the upswing is the greatest, Hopkins said, a trend that he expects to continue for the next couple of years.

Hopkins said that he is seeing opal prices increase along all points in the supply chain, including “field prices,” which refers to the price of the opal when sold from the miners directly to the field buyers, which have gone up some 20 percent over the last year.

Designer’s delight
Much of opal’s value, and its appeal, is the stone’s ability to show so many different colors from every angle as it diffracts light. That’s why opals normally are cut into cabochons rather than being faceted; it enhances the color play.

From a design perspective, the gem’s color show gives jewelry-makers the ability to pair opals with a variety of other gemstones, bringing out different colors depending on the gem with which the opal is set.

“Pairing opals with multiple colored gemstones and even different metals can contrast with or emphasize specific colors found within the opal,” Nagpal said.

This is also one of the reasons that designer Penny Preville told National Jeweler that she loves to work with opals.

Not only do the stones come in her favorite color, blue, but the different speckles of color that come out means that it works well with many other stones that she may want to use, as well as any metal.

She said she has noticed that her customers currently want the dark blue opals the most.

“I see opals as becoming more of a staple and, in a way, becoming their own category of sorts. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes because there’s so much more that designers can do with it. I definitely think that opal has a long life ahead of it,” Preville said.