The 5th C of Gemstones: Some Thoughts on Country of Origin
The country of origin is a value factor for colored gemstones, the 5th C that is used for assessment in addition to the 4Cs that are well-known for diamonds—color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. For certain gemstones, the importance of the 5th C far outweighs the other four in governing value. Think of it like the gem equivalent of a luxury brand. Kashmir sapphires, for example, have gained a reputation for being the most gorgeous blue sapphires on the market, far superior in appearance to sapphires from any other location (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Madagascar, and so forth). Simply knowing a sapphire is from Kashmir makes it automatically “better” than other stones, much as you might assume a designer handbag with a glaringly large, recognizable, coveted logo is “better” than one without obvious branding. It helps that the Kashmir mines stopped producing in the 1880s, making their blue sapphires scarce. Scarcity often breeds desirability, does it not?
I’m not into logos on my handbags, nor am I into name-dropping where my gems came from as a way to impress you with their rarity or supposedly superior beauty. I talk about geographic origin for a very different reason—I support increased application of fair trade protocols to gems. Letting you know that I know where it came from, and that environmentally and socially responsible practices were used to acquire it, is really important to me. And it might be important to you too, once you know where the gem you are considering comes from. For example, the finest rubies come from Myanmar (formerly Burma)—Burmese rubies are like the most coveted logo for a handbag, so you might assume that’s what you should want. But they’re also mined and processed by child labor—are you sure you still want that stone? Similar problem with emeralds from Colombia, considered the finest designer logo for emeralds—many are produced by forced labor.
I don’t mention geographic origin of gems just to be a downer. Another reason I talk about it is that quite a few great gems can be found right here in the U.S., and most people don’t know about them. In addition to the Montana sapphires I frequently use, other terrific American gems include garnet and peridot from Arizona, tourmaline from California, sunstone from Oregon, and quartz from Arkansas. Locavores, rejoice! If you’re into locally grown and produced products, you’ve got options when it comes to gems. Great options--"Made in America" has never been more beautiful! Drop me a line if you’re curious to learn more.