Some gemstones are so ubiquitous that they’ve sparkled in our imaginations and in popular culture for ages. Marilyn Monroe sang “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in 1953. Sapphires had their day in the sun when Kate Winslet wore “The Heart of the Ocean” in the 1997 film, Titanic. Rubies and opals, too, spring to mind immediately when scanning the catalogues of fine jewelers, museums, and auction houses.
While popular gems often reach skyrocketing prices at auction, in this installment of “Specialists Speak” we decided to hone in on lesser-known semi-precious stones.
For a multitude of reasons – whether for their vivid color or ability to transform in any setting – many jewelry experts are choosing to look beyond the traditional when it comes to gemstones. Often, one can find prime examples of these overlooked jewels for a fraction of the cost than what one might spend on a smaller or lesser-quality precious stone. We spoke with 7 jewelry experts from some of our top auction houses to shed light on their favorite “hidden gems.”
F.G.A, D.G.A, Expert & Owner of Mayfair Diamonds
“When I started to study gemology in London in 1982, one of the first things my teacher said was ‘a gem, in order to be considered a gem and valuable, has to have beauty, rarity, and durability.’
For years at Phillips & Sotheby’s from 1982-1999, I found his statement fairly correct for diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. But spinels, though similar in their red form to the ruby and also found in Burma & Tajikistan, remain priced at a fraction of their Burma ruby counterparts. Interestingly, red crystals of spinel are even found within Burmese rubies which can be sold for $10 million or more per carat.”
Senior Vice President & Sales Director
“My favorite ‘overlooked gemstone’ is the aquamarine. My favorite color is sky blue, so to me aquamarine is the perfect color. Within that palette, one of the things I love most about colored gemstones is that each one has its own unique color, which makes every piece special. Aquamarines show particularly well in an emerald cut – if I could have any stone, it would be a big, emerald-cut aquamarine. The stone is also comparatively affordable, so you can get a very big look without spending as much as other gemstones. Aquamarine was often used in the Art Deco period for cocktail rings, and then in the ‘40s set in yellow gold. It lends itself so well because it’s beautifully clear and even-colored, and keeps coming back, to me, as the stone of choice for cocktail rings.”
Prudence Hopkins, G.A.
Jewelry Valuer & Auctioneer
Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers
“The history of the Peridot is definitely an underrated and overlooked gemstone; it is the magnesium rich variety of the mineral Olivine, known prominently for its use in Edwardian jewelry. Peridots history can be dated back to the early 1700s when the Bishop of St. Albans Abbey bequeathed various items to the Abbey including Peridot stones. Olivine is an abundant mineral, but large beautiful gem-quality Peridots are rare and examples from Kashmir sell for high prices. Although often overlooked, the rich green color of the stone set amongst other gemstone can be mesmerizing.”
“I always enjoy watching people preview estate jewelry at our auction house because, while most people are drawn to diamonds, many others seek pieces with unique stones. Take the emerald: with its vivid, evenly distributed color and unique characteristics, I believe this is one of the most overlooked gemstones. And like all things vintage, we’re seeing more demand for emeralds at our Scottsdale auction house.
I continue to be amazed at how people tend to steer away from purchasing an emerald due to its inclusions. These flaws give the stone its unique character. If you look at an emerald under a microscope, what you’ll see is actually quite captivating. Not many other gemstones are as heavily included as the emerald.”
Claire-Laurence Mestrallet, G.G.
Head of the Jewelry Department
Adam’s Fine Art Auctioneers & Valuers
“When it comes to overlooked gemstones, I am very fond of blue chalcedony. This stone is a member of the quartz family and I’ve always found its inviting, soft blue color to be soothing. We’re featuring a blue chalcedony necklace in our next jewelry sale, set with diamonds and signed by Margherita Burgener, who is one of my favorite contemporary jewelers.”
Head of Jewelry & Watches
“For me, one of the most exciting stones is agate. It’s the great unsung hero of jewelry design. This adaptable hard stone has been used by many great designers over the last century. In fact, The Duchess of Windsor coveted blue chalcedony (a microcrystalline type of quartz occurring in several different forms, including agate) in her jewelry designed by the Parisian jeweler Suzanne Belperron.
I chose this stone because it is used as a vehicle for great design; gold, diamonds, and precious gems can be set into the agate, or on top of it. Agate comes in many colors: blue, white, black, brown, and orange. Carnelian and onyx are also forms of agate. It’s as versatile as it is stylish, and it definitely deserves a turn in the jewelry spotlight.”
“I would say the most overlooked gemstone, to me, would be the aquamarine. It probably has a bad reputation primarily because it resembles a blue topaz. However, an aquamarine has the versatility of fitting anyone’s budget, from a greenish-blue to a cool blue hue set primarily in platinum or white-gold, while still offering a relatively large carat size.”