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Savvy collectors are gravitating towards lesser-known gemstones

There's an entire world of rare, valuable gemstones outside the big four of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.

In the world of gemstones, the Big Four – rubies, emeralds, diamonds and sapphires – are among the most appealing for their investment value and beauty. Increasingly, however, other coloured gems have been basking in the spotlight as collectibles – their value enhanced by the rarity of finding them displaying astounding colours in a natural state. Alexandrite, red beryl and grandidierite are just three of the top 10 rarest gems. As testament to their appeal, jewellery houses have been featuring them in collections.

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Singapore-based luxury jeweller Caratell, for instance, debuted a high jewellery line in 2017 dedicated to red beryl. In terms of scarcity, a 2-carat red beryl is as difficult to find as a 40-carat diamond. In another example, luxury Italian brand Rubeus debuted a collection featuring ultra-rare alexandrite (a crimson/green colour-changing chrysoberyl) just last year. Even in the auction world, rare stones have made headway, with a 4.78 carat grandidierite selling at a Phillips auction last year for US$52,500 (S$73,000).

  • Bixbite Diamond Ring

    RED BERYL, 2.2 carat

    This emerald-cut gem adorns Caratell’s Sun Ray ring. As red beryls are usually under half a carat, a 2-to 3-carat stone is considered huge.

Theatre veteran Harris Zaidi, 48, knows well the allure of these lesser-known gemstones. Less than three years ago, the self- professed gem geek embarked on his collection with a pair of 7.8-carat naturally indigo-blue tanzanites. As most tanzanites are heated to attain this hue, the two gems were a scarce find. A friendship with Arte Oro’s bespoke jeweller Danilo Giannoni led him to Bangkok, one of the largest trading centres for coloured gems. There, he sifted through trays of sapphires and emeralds in a multitudinous array of hues. It was love at first sight, however, when he set eyes on a 10.8-carat grandidierite that was flown to Singapore.

Paraiba Tourmaline

This 7.5 carat Paraiba tourmaline from Brazil is of the neon blue variety, which is extremely sought after.

A 1-carat gem-quality grandidierite is known to be impossibly hard to find, let alone the mega rock
he was examining, with its remarkable clarity. Initially misidentified as a tourmaline, the stone exhibited colours of blue and green, and flashes of yellow at different angles. Harris eventually purchased it for a six-figure sum. He explains candidly, “I approached it very personally. I didn’t buy it simply because it was rare, but because it was beautiful. And that is something really special that I can leave to my family.”

According to Simone Ng, the executive creative director of Simone Jewels, savvy collectors are on the lookout for rare gemstones such as Paraiba tourmaline, unheated tanzanite and spinel.

“We have seen some of the per carat prices for the above-mentioned jump by three times, and they will continue to rise,” she says. Important qualities to look for include size, zero heat treatment, overall finishing that affects lustre, and colour. Unless a collector is banking on gems purely for investment, one should view colours in a personal and even emotional way. Ng shares, “The first rule of thumb is, how does the colour speak to you?”

No doubt, Harris knows exactly what Ng means. He says, “I only buy a gem if I love it. Otherwise, it is just an acquisition.”

Lessons learnt

Harris Zaidi Portrait

Gem collector Harris Zaidi on collecting gems for investment.

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Certification

“All my gems are natural because those are the most investable – and certificates are important. Even if there is an existing cert, have the gem recertified at reputable gem labs like Gubelin or SSEF. If there are multiple certs, look at the dates, too, because enhancements may have been done in between.”

Faceting

“This cuts a stone in a way to trap light. I like emerald cuts, and for such step-cut stones, I’ve learnt the gem has to be clean. Otherwise, simply holding it up to the light will reveal impurities. It must have great colour intensity and be in a good size too. If not, the stone will look washed out,
without enough body to reveal its colour.”

Don’t settle

“You must be able to let go. Don’t be in a hurry to get a stone just because it’s rare, if it’s not something that you truly want – for instance, the gem may have a lovely lustre and is just the
right size, but the colour is not intense enough for you. It’s like falling in love – don’t settle.”

Photos: Caratell + Harris Zaidi

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