Building a Gemstone Collection

Over the past several years I have built a wonderful collection of jewels with a client of mine. She started out pretty slowly, but about 5 years later, through a lot of time, trial and error and wading through a pool of contacts, she has managed to build one of the most beautiful and thorough collections I’ve ever seen (in a collection that’s not in a museum, at least!).

One of the most important factors we learned in building her collection is that sometimes stones will pop out at you at the most unexpected times. You may have been searching for a fantastic blue sapphire, and stumbled on the perfect ruby instead. I would absolutely jump on the ruby rather than keep pursuing the sapphire. Bump the sapphire down a notch on the priority list, but keep an eye out for it. In other words, when opportunity knocks, answer the door.

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Beyond making opportunistic buys, it’s important to have a plan moving forward as you build your collection.

Strategies for building a stunning gemstone and/or jewelry collection:

  1. Make a list of the gems/jewelry you absolutely want. Try your best to order this list according to your personal priorities (see 2-9).
  2. Keep in mind this list is going to grow and change as your expectations and desires change.
  3. Color. What colors do you want? What colors would you wear? Is there any special significance to colors/types of stones?
  4. Hardness. Are you hard on your rings? Do you need to be limited to the very hardest stones? How does that limit you color-wise? Are you willing to wear something sparingly in order to have that color in your collection?
  5. Some of the best overall collections I’ve seen have a full variety, a rainbow of color. But some collections have a concentrated color group – a friend who is a huge fan of blue green for instance, may build a small army of blue-green stones in a variety of shades, while other colors in their collection may appear sorely neglected.
  6. Know yourself. What makes you get butterflies in your stomach? What makes you gasp in delight? Is it a certain variety of stone? Or a certain color?
  7. Keep budget in mind and know where you want to make concessions. Things like cut and clarity can help stretch the budget.
  8. Keep your setting budget and wants in mind. Sometimes people balk at spending more on a setting than on a stone. Know what your priorities are! For some people (myself included!) the setting costs and the stone cost ratio doesn’t matter, it’s the end piece that has to make your heart sing.
  9. Do you want fewer more expensive items or a larger number of cheaper items?
  10. Try to finish some of your pieces. You can go down a rabbit-hole of buying gems or settings and never complete anything (unless, of course, your goal is to collect gemstones and settings!).

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Just keep in mind that beautiful collections don’t necessarily grow overnight. Gemstones are often very hard to track down, especially as you reach for more high end or rare stones. Building a collection takes time and requires patience, but is well worth it in the end.

In the event that building your collection hits a wall, feel free to reach out to me for help with new rocks to overturn or who knows – one of my contacts may have just what you are looking for!

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Gemstones: What to look for

So, buying gemstones is a tricky business. I’ve been doing it for many years, but I’m still far from being an expert at it.

Now, having said that, I do have some guidelines that I try to follow when I am after something. There are just too many variables for an easy how-to kind of guide the way diamonds have. There isn’t a lot of set pricing for various colored gemstones, so you have to do a lot of research to know if you’re getting a good deal or at least a fair deal.

Color
Color dictates everything. Red, especially pure red stones will be the most expensive stones you can buy. Pure blues, greens, yellows, and beautiful pinks won’t be far behind. Oranges are also very difficult to find, and are typically best found in garnets, but occasionally a great orange sapphire will come around.

Cut
This is something that’s different for everyone. I can overlook cut flaws for great color, some people are not as lenient as I am.

Clarity
This is something else that’s different for everyone. I don’t mind some inclusions, especially if they are cool looking (bubbles in spinels! Horsetail inclusions in demantoids!) but some people want completely clean and flaw-free. With most colored stones, this just isn’t possible. Not only that, but inclusions can help indicate the treatment level of a stone.

Size/Carat/Dimensions
Always buy by dimensions! Sapphires, for instance, are very dense and heavy, which means that 1ct will face up smaller than stones that are less dense.

Price
What is your budget for the project? How much does the gem in the size and color you desire typically cost? How savvy of a negotiator are you? You aren’t going to find a well cut, ideal blue with violet secondary in the 5ct range for $1k, unless it’s a fakey.

Treatment
Gemstones are constantly being treating in new and interesting ways that would lend to better color and clarity, not to mention making fakes. So the labs out there are having to stay on top if new treatments and innovative ways to, lets face it, scam people (ugh, the jewelry industry has such a bad rap when it comes to this topic!). The gems that are worth the most come out of the ground as you see them. There are different levels of heating, and other type of treatment – so many that I won’t got into all of them here. The GIA and AGL websites have tons of information on treatments.

Helpful hints:
1. If you’re buying a sapphire, ruby or emerald of a larger size, get a lab report.
2. Ask questions and ask for more pictures. If the seller doesn’t know the answers to the questions, and doesn’t seem to care about getting you the information you need, I’d reconsider doing business with them.
3. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of buying the gemstone variety you’re looking at. Blue topaz is almost always irradiated. Emeralds are almost always oil treated. Sapphires are almost always heated. Garnets and spinels typically aren’t treated (although lately there are rumors of heat treatment for color and clarity enhancement.) Look for comparables. I always go to reputable seller’s sites and compare compare compare. I try to find at least 3 other stones of similar size, shape, color.  If you’re after something really rare, this is harder than it sounds.
4. Ask outsiders for help! If you don’t know, ask someone else! Develop relationships with jewelers and utilize their knowledge. Ask for my help!
5. Understand that if someone acts like an expert on everything, they probably aren’t. Most jewelers are not well versed in gemstones because they aren’t as popular as diamonds.
6. Google is your friend. Seriously, I google stuff all of the time!
7. Don’t buy from the TV stations.
8. Buy what you like.
9. Manage your expectations!

Two unheated 5ctish Aquas. Blue is precision cut, green is not. Both are glorious in their own ways!

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