By Kirsten Ehrlich Davies
The online world has forever altered even an ancient trade such as coloured gems. For merchants, manufacturers and consumers alike there is a new set of norms regarding buying and selling gemstones online. Trust is essential, but these days the internet isn’t generally associated with trust. How has the coloured gems community thrived in an online marketplace?
From the earliest times, the rich mesmerising hues of coloured gemstones have captured the imagination and desire of potential buyers. The colour of a high-quality gemstone has an almost mystical power, and ancient myths still perpetuate that various gemstones can restore health, bestow good luck or protect the wearer from harm. From a practical financial perspective, the value of a gemstone is in its unique investment appeal, an appreciating asset that is extremely portable, fitting easily into your hand.
In the era of social media, coloured gemstones have soared in popularity, as social media sites such as Instagram promote the individualised appeal of different stones and provide inspiration for original new jewellery designs. Noting the power of media over consumer interest, Erica Miller of Ikecho says that she has observed a greater interest in opals since the television show Opal Hunters began. “It makes me so happy that people are choosing to buy opals now for dress rings and even engagement rings, as they are so unique and no two opals are the same,” Erica said.
Established in 1999, Ikecho is an Australian wholesaler of the world’s finest pearls, and the first pearl company to import natural pink pearls to Australia. In late 2017, Ikecho began incorporating opals into its range of jewellery designs. “When an opal has light and fire, it will catch the buyer’s eye. We generally find that blue-green opals are the most popular on the market, and the Australian market tends to go for bluey tones, although red is the most valuable,” said Erica.
While social media does an excellent job in promoting coloured gemstones, it can potentially be deceptive. As every coloured gemstone is unique, with its own unique colour, cut and proportions, they cannot be assessed on similar criteria in the same way as diamonds.
With diamonds, customers know that what they see is what they get – they can rely on the assurance of the GIA certification, plus the photographs of a clear stone are more likely to match the reality than the photo of a coloured gemstone. Therefore, it is very important to establish a trustworthy relationship between supplier and jeweller, and between jeweller and customer, to maintain confidence and accountability in the quality of coloured gemstones.
“Colour really incites a very personal, subjective and emotional response from people and making sure that a photograph represents accurately a gem’s colour is absolutely vital,” said Natalie Barney. As a jewellery designer who specialises in coloured gemstones, Natalie will only ever buy gemstones she has seen in person, so she can ensure they meet her quality standard.
When selling her pieces online, she has established quality controls at all stages of the photographic process to ensure the colour, cut and clarity of the gemstones is accurately represented. “Since closing my boutique in December 2016, I have been selling my pieces online through my own website and lately through third party websites like 1stdibs.com, a large American online portal,” Natalie said.
“We offer customers the opportunity to ask for a video of particular pieces. Cabochon gems create another challenge as they sometimes appear a bit flat in photographs. So besides getting accurate colour representation, showing the play of colour in the gems is another selling point, meaning we want to bring the gems to life online.
We also make sure we show as many views as possible. Sometimes I will offer the customer the option of a different gem that I feel would fit the agreed design better. Customers look to me as not only a jewellery designer specialising in coloured gemstones but also as a certified gemmologist who will come up with the perfect stone.
Trust along the chain
Punala Kiripitige of The Gem Monarchy says that trust is an integral part of the gem trade. The Gem Monarchy is a multi-national operation based in Australia, dealing in gemstones from all over the world, along every stage of the process from the mine to the jeweller’s hand. They purchase rough stones which are then hand-cut and polished in Sri Lanka, and then individually checked for quality before being brought to Australia or exported elsewhere.
Identifying and purchasing rough gemstones is a precision art in itself, requiring a great deal of practice, and Punala says that while an agent for the company will physically inspect the gemstones before purchase whenever possible, they have also gradually built up some trustworthy online connections.
“Gemstones do not come out of the ground all sparkly and ready for jewellery, so rough selectors must first identify the genuine stones. From there, it involves both mathematical and scientific knowledge as well as artistic evaluation of the stone to work out the stone’s final outcome. Pricing of the rough largely depends on the expected outcome of the final product.”
Responsibility and accountability
Accountability is also an important element of maintaining trust. Punala says that an Australian qualified gemmologist inspects each stone for its authenticity before The Gem Monarchy sends the stone to a jeweller. “We always make sure that our lapidarists check the final stones individually to make sure that we maintain the standards of our product so our customers can trust us one hundred percent.” Natalie agrees that accountability is growing in importance in the industry.
“You have to trust that the quality of the gems, where the gems were sourced and the prices of the gems are trustworthy,” she says. “I believe that we are moving into an era where the customers will expect a transparent supply chain showing where the gem was mined, where it was cut, and where it was then set and turned into the piece of jewellery they are planning to buy.
While coloured gemstones are easy to promote online, the only way to maintain quality and accountability within the industry is to maintain close relationships based on trust, so clients and customers Pink sapphire, The Gem Monarchy, and mauresque tzavorite drop earrings by Natalie Barney can be confident that the coloured gemstone they purchase matches the beauty and quality of the original image.