by Li Ching Chia-Heng

SapphireThe beauty of gemstones is their raison d'etre. Perhaps more so than anything else in the world, fine gemstones are PURE LUXURY. Unlike property, cars, watches, jewelry, leather goods and other luxury items, gemstones have little to no utilitarian value. At its most basic, a gemstone serves as an ornament or object of art for plain and simple enjoyment. At its most complex, it is a financial and yet also an emotional investment. Because of its multifarious nature, it can be hard to be objective when buying a gemstone!

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when buying gemstones. Think about these before you go to a shop or meet your dealer. Many retailers/dealers will show you what you didn't plan to consider to purchase. Setting some kind of "parameter" will help you to focus on your objective, and also helps you recognise and be open to alternatives and suggestions your jeweler/dealer might offer you.

Pink SapphiresWhy do you want to buy?
As you would with any other commodity, decide "why" first. Have a clear objective. Why do you want to buy? What is it for? Is it for jewelry? Is it a gift? Is it for "crystal healing"? Feng Shui? Is it for collection? Is your collection simply for enjoyment? Do you want to eventually bequeath your collection to your descendents? Or is it for the purpose of investment?

What kind of gemstone do you want?
What colors do you want? What type of stone do you want? What cut? What shape? What size?

What is your budget?
How much money are you willing to spend? Are you in a hurry to acquire? Or are you willing to wait?

Who should you buy from?
Depending on what you want, as well as your budget and connections, you can buy from jewelry or gemstone stores, brand name auction houses like Christie's or Sotheby's, or from gemstone wholesalers and dealers. Whoever you buy from, it is best to buy from someone who is not only trustworthy, but has the knowledge and expertise in the right areas to help you make a good buying decision.

The gemstone market ranges from very low quality to very high quality. Most markets, including Thailand's, are segmented into retailers/dealers that specialise in a certain quality, for e.g. commercial quality (Jewelry quality), middle market quality or fine quality / collectors stones. No single retailer/dealer will deal in all market segments. Why is this pertinent to a buyer? Effectively, because of the way the market is segmented, retailers/dealers that sell commercial quality gemstones may not necessarily be skilled in grading and/or pricing fine gemstones, and vice versa. In fact, gemstone grading and appraisal is a specialised skill that not many jewelers or sellers have.

If your purpose in buying gemstones is for collection, here are some insider tips and pointers that will definitely be helpful:

Blue Star SapphireCollect What You LOVE!
Most established gemstone collectors will echo the same advice, “Collect what you love!”. Collecting gemstones is just like any other hobby. Even if you plan to one day sell off your collection for a profit, you should also take pleasure in buying and owning gemstones. Although a gemstone dealer may recommend you certain types of stones, do not be afraid to collect other species or varieties of stones that you find yourself interested in.

"Fine" A Good One!
There will always be a market for fine quality stones. While commercial quality gemstones seem attractively priced, and the potential of re-selling for a profit looks good - the actual probability of selling them for a good profit is low unless you are dealing in wholesale quantities.

Look for stones with good color. In general, good color is pure, eye-catching and of moderate tone. Different markets have different color preferences. For instance, the Japanese like Rubies red with a slight pink. A good gemstone dealer will be able to tell you the market preferences for colors of different gemstones. While a good cut is advantageous, keep in mind that some badly cut stones may still be saved by re-cutting and still retain their value for money. When buying fine quality stones, make sure they are of a reasonable size. In generally anything you collect should be at least 1ct and above and of a size that can be used for jewelry.

Star RubyNo Heat - No Sweat!
The market is always hungry for untreated material of good color. The majority of gemstones in the market are subjected to heat treatment to improve color and clarity. This is a traditional process and is an accepted practice. Unheated gemstones accounting for less than 1% of the entire gemstone market! That said, don't buy unheated stones just because they are unheated. An unheated stone must be of fine quality to be considered valuable. These are exceedingly rare and are becoming increasingly harder to acquire. If the untreated gem comes with a certificate, it is an added assurance. If your investment is sizeable, it is prudent to ask your dealer for a certificate from a reputable lab#.

Up Size!
If you can afford it, buy larger sized stones. Large sized stones of most gemstone species are generally rarer than smaller sized stones. Depending on the type of stone, large can mean anything from over 1 carat to over 20 carats. For example, whereas fine Rubies above 3ct are considered large and rare, fine Sapphires and Tanzanites may come in sizes of 10 or more carats. The rule of thumb is that the gemstone should be large enough to catch your eye, but not too large to be used for jewelry.

Seize the Day
Unlike other products, fine gemstones are freaks of nature. No two gemstones are ever exactly the same. No gemstone is perfect. You can delay buying a new PDA or mull over a Prada bag or even put yourself on a Hermes Birkin wait list and it will still be available for order or purchase the next week or eventually. This is hardly the case with gemstones. If you are sure, don't pass up the opportunity at acquiring a fine quality gemstone that you feel is a worthwhile purchase. You may never come across a stone like that again!

# I recommend these laboratories for their professionalism, integrity and reliability:
Bangkok, Thailand: Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences (AIGS) Lab / GemResearch Swisslabs (GRS ) ; Singapore: Far East Gem Labs ; Hong Kong: Hong Kong Gem Labs ; Europe: Gubelin Gem Labs