Big Rocks are Back

Illustration by John Ritter; Source images: Henry Arden / Getty; Arthur Edwards / WPA-Getty

Last week American news wires reported, in a single-sentence article, the discovery of the world’s largest sapphire, a 93-pound specimen that a Sri Lankan company reportedly hacked into pieces, including an 85,000-carat chunk that it hopes to sell for some $800 million. “We are very positive that this stone will bring a lot of fame,” an unnamed company representative revealed in an on-camera interview that appeared on The Wall Street Journal’s website. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a Christie’s auction set a new per-carat record for a nine-carat Kashmir sapphire—just one of a string of landmark jewelry sales that occurred this year.

Gems are making headlines due to a perfect storm of sorts. Interest in rare jewelry and colored gems has been on the rise for years, thanks to wealthy consumers who want to find a reliable way to diversify their assets. At the same time, gems are benefiting from a bit of celebrity cache: the Duchess of Cambridge and her Sri Lankan sapphire engagement ring are said by the country’s National Gem and Jewellery Authority to have been responsible for a double-digit spike in the sapphire market last year.

At auction, rarity is the main cause of record-breaking prices. Sotheby’s, bolstered by the sale of the Evelyn and Estée Lauder estate jewelry, reached landmark totals for single-day and annual sales of jewelry this year. Among the most coveted pieces was Evelyn’s 6.5-carat pink diamond ring, which sold for $8.6 million—$3.6 million more than the expected price. At Christie’s in Geneva, Switzerland, last month, a 76-carat colorless diamond from the 16th century sold for $21 million, 40 percent more than its expected price.

But, as far as the world’s biggest new blue bling goes, “these [hyped discoveries] are usually ridiculous,” said gemologist Edward Boehm of RareSource, a company that buys gems from mines. “It could be a very large sapphire that’s nowhere near facet-grade. It could be a big piece of junk.” Just this past January, gemologists were scoffing at the hoopla surrounding a watermelon-size emerald that was carrying a $1 million–plus price tag even though it was known to be partially dyed. (The gem’s owner was arrested for unrelated charges of fraud before the auction even started, and the gem ultimately went unsold.)

Still, the search for the next big thing never ends: last week, the Travel Channel greenlit a seven-episode run in 2013 of Gem Hunt, which will follow a gem dealer as he searches for the perfect stone in Sri Lanka.

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