Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Story of a Sapphire

Sapphires seem to have disappeared from the face of the earth.  Literally – because we can’t get very far below it.  This is true of Ceylon in particular, and Burma is pretty much long gone.  African material you can get, Thai also, but not Ceylon.  The good stuff goes at exorbitant prices, and unheated stones have almost vanished.  Meanwhile, I have a small waiting list of people who are interested in one of these non-existent gems.

For months now, I’ve been waiting for Mohammed – I only know his first name – to come back from Sri Lanka.  He’s the guy from whom I’ve got my last unheated parcel this past summer.  It sold out within a month.  Presumably, one day when he has enough material to sell, he will just turn up on the street, and I’ll know the same day because someone’s bound to call me.  Last time I happened to be there the day he arrived, and I got first pick at a good price because Mohammed still had Jetlag (and I had cash).

But in the meantime, I have to look elsewhere.  Here’s one story of minor contortions.  My friend Anya, whose research skills in all things sapphire (and Russian literature) are unparalleled, dug up a seller somewhere in England who had a trillion cut, maybe Burma, maybe Ceylon, low heat only, 1 carat, very good price.  She bought it.  (Yes, there was return policy!)  And the stone, when it arrived, looked legit.  And stunningly beautiful.  So I wanted one, too, and contacted the guy.  He had one more, he said.  It came from a parcel of uncut rough that he had dug up in Thailand some years before, and had cut only recently.  The parcel itself was of mixed origin, no pedigree (meaning no further info was available).  That’s the sort of thing you only buy when you know what you’re doing, or when it’s dirt cheap.

Anyway, this stone was a cushion, 1.07 ct, nice and clean he said.  The picture he sent was fuzzy, but the price was good.  I figured, what the hell, accepted the paypal invoice – which my email system flagged as a potential risk, haha – and got my stone about 10 days later.  It was so beautiful I almost couldn’t believe it was real.  So before I even showed it around on the street, I took it to the lab.  Just in case I was had, I didn’t want to have to admit that to any of my friends. 

But the stone was good.  Everyone in the lab admired it.  Low heat only, just like the seller said, possibly just from the cutting wheel, which is unavoidable.  It might be Burma, if not then Ceylon.  Because that is, very broadly speaking, the same region (before the plates moved and all that).  How is origin judged?  Unless you go to GIA and pay an arm and a leg, you don’t get an origin on your gem card.  It’s an estimate based on color, nature of the inclusions, and the presence of zoning.  This is not an exact science, except that you can rule certain things out.

The lab guys also gave me the current estimated retail value, which is a list average based on overall quality (he decided it was “fine”, but shied away from “extra fine”), color (blue, not purple or pink for instance), size (over 1 carat but under 2), and origin (Ceylon and Burma have their own lists, everything else gets lumped together).  $1900!  Whew.  The list they use, called “The Gem Guide,” is technically a wholesale list, it represents the national average of loose stones of that kind sold in the past year or so; for retail you are allowed to add up to 30% to the price on the list.  And if you’re a jewelry store, or you’re Tiffany’s, you can do whatever you want in terms of overcharging the customer.

Armed with my card, I then showed the stone to two gem dealers I am friends with.  One always has an opinion: heat only from the wheel (which means no heat), Ceylon, not Burma, but an amazing stone.  Street price is about $1000.  The other dealer is always cautious: more likely Ceylon because there are so few Burma, no view on heat.  No view on pricing, because it depends on whether or not you are in a financial emergency: if you need money immediately then the price goes down drastically.

So then what is the final story of my gem?  For now, only the stone itself “knows”.  Even GIA, when not sure, will simply take a vote on origin.  If 10 guys see the stone, and 7 say it’s Ceylon, then it’s Ceylon. 

Right now my baby is with a guy who has a $50,000 machine which can actually determine origin with accuracy.  I don’t know what it does exactly, but it sounds cool (and when I do find out, I’ll let you know).  I’m anxiously waiting for the person to get back in touch with me….

My Little Sapphire

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How much would it cost in Gold?

This is a common question, but it has a disappointing answer: too much, for the most part.  14K gold is the most common metal used where I shop, and there are endless choices of rings, settings, even a lot of pendants, available.  But at $60-70 per gram wholesale, your average ring costs between $150 and $200, a setting anywhere between $20 and $100 (for an 8x6 heavy cast bezel for instance).

But if you pay attention to weights and market prices, you can get a sense of how to calculate costs ahead of time. 
Price of Gold: right now, gold is at about $1700 per ounce.  What does that mean?  14K gold, the industry standard, is 58% gold.  The rest is silver, nickel, copper or zinc.  So an ounce of 14K costs 1700 x .58 = $986.  One ounce is 30 grams, so divided by 30, one gram costs $32 in terms of the pure gold cost.
However: you have to add in the other alloys, plus labor fees (casting costs and the making of the setting, ring, etc).  When gold was hovering at $1000 per ounce, I paid a little over $30 per gram for settings and wire.  Now I pay around $60.  If I have a finished object that I can take to the casting service myself, rather than buy it at the wholesaler (i.e. my twig ring), then I pay a little less.
When I make customer quotes, I always round up, too, because you have to add in solder, wastage when clipping wire and such, maybe a sprue from casting, etc.  Plus on rare occasion a small or lightweight setting gets fried, or a jump ring has to be replaced.  Those accidents should spread out over my gold orders as a whole.
How much does jewelery weighIf you want to weigh something at home that’s in silver, add 20% for gold weight, because gold is more dense.  But don’t subtract out the stone, those are very light.  5 carats = gram and a standard 6mm round stone weighs only 1ct.
Here’s a sampling of the weights of some of my itms:
1.      My little twig ring, size 7: about 1.2 grams.
2.      Stacking ring, size 6: 1.5 grams.
3.      Size 8 lightly domed ring, 5mm wide: 5 grams.
4.      My 6mm cushion bezel: 1.4 grams.
5.      A 3mm button setting: .3 grams.
6.      1.5 x 1mm flat wire (for a very thin ring): .44g per inch
7.      3 x 1mm flat wire: 1 gram per inch
8.      3 x 1.5mm domed wire: 1.21 grams per inch
How many inches are there in a ring? A size 3 ring requires 2 inches of wire, a size 8 ½ needs 2 ½, so most rings are in between.  If I solder the setting in between I usually buy 2 inches of metal.  Or a tad more since they don’t always clip it evenly, or smush the edge while clipping, so you have to file it down.  You have to add a little on each end, therefore (btw., one inch is 2.5mm). 
Markup: for a standard wholesale markup you double the material cost (and also double the labor).  For retail you double that again so you can pay for the store and the employees.  The wholesale markup accounts for all the other indirect costs, which, in all honestly do add up to double.  I often calculate lower than wholesale, but most of you who are reading this know that anyway.  J
Happy calculating!

Princess Cut Emerald Ring in Gold, 2x1mm flat band