Star ruby and star sapphire are two of the most fascinating gemstones on the planet. When ruby or sapphire is discovered filled with rutile (silk), some may be cut cabochon (domed), and occasionally they produce a six-legged star. A gem that creates an eye or a star is called a phenomenon or phenomenal gemstone. Naturally, these gems are sought worldwide by connoisseurs.
Why Stars Star
As mentioned earlier, the essential element in producing a star ruby or sapphire is rutile. The more densely packed the rutile, the better the star. When light is reflected from the crystals it produces a "sheen". Asterism occurs when the light is concentrated into three rays that intersect at right angles to the direction of the needles, thus creating a six-legged star. As most know, these stones usually only star in sunlight or under strong indoor light. Of course, the synthetic stars star perfectly in all lights, which makes them simple to detect.
African and Thai corundum do not produce stars due to the lack of rutile in the material. Only Sri Lanka and Burma produce these wonderful stones. Naturally, the Burma material is the most coveted. Star ruby from Sri Lanka tends to be purplish brown. Star sapphire from Sri Lanka is light blue or grey.
Star Ruby Guidelines
The six legs of the star should be sharp (not wide and blurry) and centered. The main ray should run lengthwise. The star should be silvery or milky white. From a clarity standpoint, the stone should be semi-transparent. A star cannot be completely transparent because it is the rutile that causes the star. A star must be properly cut to create a six rayed star. The stone should not be too flat on the top or too heavy on the bottom. Many bottoms of stars look almost unfinished. This is because the gems are so rare that the cutters do everything to save weight and assume they will be mounted anyway.
In an ideal world, star ruby should be the color of a Marlboro cigarette box with pink or orange secondary colors. However, if large, three carat red stones are discovered in Mogok, Burma, they are usually faceted and sold for serious money, or cooked to remove the rutile. This puts undue pressure on procuring these gemstones. Most star rubies today are red/pink or pink/red. As a general rule, the pinks have the best stars. You can be a little forgiving of the reds if the star is not as good because reds with a perfect star are almost impossible to locate and can reach $50,000 per carat. In general, gem three carat pinks sell for about $3000+ per carat and reds begin at about $7500 per carat.
Star Sapphire Guidelines
In the 1940s, Linde, a division of Union Carbide, began manufacturing synthetic star sapphires. The synthetic stars' legs were perfect, and consumers began demanding the same from the natural gems. This is really too much to ask from a natural gem. Here are some tips if you are interested in collecting natural star sapphires:
The quality of the star is vital. Grayish sapphires tend to have better stars than the top blues. Gray stones tend to be better cut than the blues. The blues tend to have sagging bellies, while the grays are flatter. This is because the blues are more translucent, and cutters must keep more of the original rough to retain a star. Therefore, to collect fine blues expect to pay for extra weight. If the star is perfect, expect to pay $5000 per carat - if you can find one. Prices of 5 carat stars are below $1000 per carat. For collectors on a budget, you can buy light blue or gray stars for 1/10 of these prices.
The most famous star ruby is the 138 carat Rosser Reeves at the Smithsonian. A famous blue star sapphire is the 563 carat Star of India. A great movie that can sometimes be found on cable is "Murph the Surf" (1975), which tells the true story of two Florida beachcombers who stole the priceless Star of India from New York's American Museum of Natural History.
Many stars trade with country of origin only reports from the AGL. This is due to the subjective nature of grading and viewing a star. What is important is the fact the gem is not heated and from Burma.
Rarity and Price History
How rare are these gems? For every 100 faceted corundum (ruby and sapphire) mined, approximately three stars are discovered. One will have good color and a bad star. One will have a great star and bad color. Only one out of a hundred will have a good star and good color. Fine stars are rarer than rare. Until the 1960s, these stones always sold for more than the faceted ruby. For example, in the late 19th century, three carat star rubies went for $3000 per carat. Stones found today that could be cut into stars are routinely heated to dissolve the rutile and then faceted. Also, US buyers must compete with the Japanese and the Europeans who will pay any price for these gems. Production today in Mogok is yielding a small amount of goods. It makes sense to collect gemstones that are 100X rarer than faceted stones and sell for less on a per carat basis. We believe these stones should eventually trade for more than their faceted counterparts. This would reflect their true value based upon rarity.
If a fine star ruby or sapphire is properly lit, the needles reflect the light in such a manner that it appears the star is hovering over the gemstone. The star wanders as the light is moved, enhancing the mystery of these special stones. Every serious collector should own one of these gemstones. If your budget is tight, you can trade in the light blue sapphire stars or pink star rubies. If you are seeking the ultimate stars, search for fine reds and intense blues. These stones are becoming popular again and are in high demand.
This is a book about obsession. The obsession of Alan Bronstein and Harry Rodman to collect colored diamonds and the 7 year obsession of Stephen Hofer to produce this significant work.
This book begins with a study of the Aurora Collection. Alan Bronstein started the Aurora with 10-12 stones as masters. He was simply a collector who searched out colored diamonds. Rather than specialize in one color, he bought as many different colors as he could find. Eventually he collected nearly 60 gems. With the financial help of Harry Rodman, the collection was aggressively expanded. By 1988, it contained 128 colored diamonds and was put on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Today, the collection numbers 260. The book has a photograph of every diamond in the collection with descriptive and technical data. Although the majority of the colored diamonds are small and most of the colors are yellow and brown or their derivatives, the fact they collected these stones is an amazing feat.
Why collect colored diamonds? According to Hofer, people collect colored diamonds because they are intrigued with a particular color, are fascinated with the history of a specific stone, fall in love with an old piece of jewelry that contains colored diamonds, or are in search of perfection, such as a flawless fancy intense gem.
What colored diamonds do individuals collect? Some specialize in only one color, such as yellows or blues, some collect obscure colors, such as browns and purple, some collect nature's colors such as yellow and orange, some collect somber colors, such as gray and olive, and some collect odd shapes. To be a serious collector you must:
White diamonds were always scarce and expensive in ancient times. The first colored diamonds came from Persia and the Far East. The value of colored diamonds have been driven by the success of world economies. For the last 15 years, colored diamonds have broken worldwide price levels, leveled off and then continued to reach new highs. Today, colored diamonds are the most valuable gemstone in the world. For those interested in pricing information, a table of the highest prices paid at auction for colored diamonds is included.
Perception is the art of seeing the color in colored diamonds. The three factors in grading colored diamonds are the light, the observer, and the colored diamond. What collectors and connoisseurs understand and gem dealers do not is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. According to Hofer, too many dealers get hung-up on labels such as "Fancy Intense". His advice is to learn how to grade colored diamonds yourself.
How to Grade Colored Diamonds
Hofer recommends using the rapid color method to grade colored diamonds. Place the stone face down on a white grading tray and gently tilt it until your eyes become familiar with the true "body" color. Once you have imprinted the body color into your mind, flip the stone face-up (90 degrees) and try to become familiar with the pattern of colors in the face. Then grade and rate these areas into color-area-micro-patterns, or CAMP. Of course, rounds will show the most consistent color pattern.
Problems in Colored Diamond Classification
One major obstacle in devising any colored diamond grading system is the lack of available colored diamonds. Hofer's system grew out of photographing every colored diamond that went through his CDLS lab and the Aurora collection. Hofer believes a major problem of the new GIA colored diamond system is that it is based on Munsell opaque chips. He believes you cannot compare opaque color samples with transparent diamonds.
Universal Diamond Color Language
Hofer has devised a six level Universal Diamond Color Language. For example, a brown diamond might look like this:
The colored diamond industry has not accepted this new language because it is too complicated. Hofer has forgotten a basic principle of any grading system: KISS, or keep it simple stupid.
Even dealers who dislike the present system have been slow to embrace this new terminology. Collectors are more interested in the terminology because it allows them to buy with more accuracy. Hofer contends his lab failed because the established diamond market is too steeped in politics and tradition. He criticizes the diamond industry for preserving the mystique of diamonds for marketing reasons rather than learning about them scientifically.
Face Up Color
According to Hofer, color grades today are incomplete, educated guesses. Labs do not characterize all the different colors of a colored diamond in the face up position. Instead, the colors are subjectively determined to represent the characteristic color, or the colors are "averaged" compared to a set of opaque masters. This causes confusion among buyers and sellers. Terms such as "intense" are appealing and favor the seller but may create disappointment for the buyer.
Classifications: Varieties, Modifiers, Tones
Hofer has measured thousands of colored diamonds with a Colorimeter and plotted the data on two-dimensional charts and graphs. The result is 12 different colors: black, blue, brown, gray, green, olive, orange, pink, purple, red, white, and yellow. This book provides a color code system for classifying over 275 colors.
This section is invaluable, prime reference material. It is impossible for most of us to acquire a large number of colored diamond masters. These photos serve as masters and will give you a starting point when buying/selling colored diamonds. Although it is difficult to accurately compare a two-dimensional photograph with a three-dimensional diamond, it is better than using your color memory.
This book pushes the envelope of colored diamond grading science. This serious work needs to be read and discussed by diamond dealers, jewelers, gemologists, and collectors. Although a great deal of the book is extremely technical and will require re-reading, it is well worth the effort. Colored diamond books are almost as rare as colored diamonds. Collecting and Classifying Coloured Diamonds will also be a welcome addition to your gemological library.
To order call Ashland Press at 1-800-451-2558.
Christie's Magnificent Jewels, April, `98
Christie's New York April auction sold $31.43 million or 71 percent of lots. A 9.12, vivid yellow diamond went for $178,235 per carat and 51.04, G, VVS1 diamond sold for $32,376 per carat. Sales of unspectacular fancy colored diamonds were very disappointing. A 5.16, emerald cut, Colombian emerald sold for $85,756 per carat and a 5.07, oval, Burma ruby fetched $30,868 per carat.
Eva Peron Brooch
This brooch of Argentina's flag was created by Van Cleef and Arpels in the 1940s. It was owned by Eva Peron, the wife of Argentinean leader Juan Peron, who ruled the country from 1946 to 1955. She wore the brooch at gala evenings, on official visits, and during public appearances. The brooch is platinum and has 7 baguette diamonds as a flagstaff, the top and the bottom of the flag are square cut sapphires, and the center is square cut pave diamonds. The sun is represented by yellow diamonds.
Argentinean star Susana Gimenez flew in from Buenas Aires to bid on the piece. She was described as blonde, tanned, and scantily dressed in black. The rumor was she was bidding against Madonna on the telephone. The exciting bidding war rocketed the price from its $80,000-$120,000 estimate to a final sale price of $992,000. The new owner of the piece turned out to be a private American collector of historical objects.
US Customs Colored Diamonds
As reported in GF 15, #4, the US Government confiscated 33 colored diamonds from Stephen Jenks, an infamous drug dealer who also collected fancy colored diamonds. In 1982 Jenks was being investigated on 17 charges of transporting 55,000 pounds of marijuana from Colombia between 1978 and 1982. He fled to Europe to avoid prosecution for 12 years. Jenks returned to the US in 1994 and began recontacting his old business partners. Due to a wiretap, he was arrested in Ft. Myers, FL in 1994. He was sentenced to three years in prison and all his property was confiscated in 1995. The colored diamonds sold for $1.9 million, or close to four times the pre-sale estimate.
Here are what the major stones sold for:
A 2.84, step cut, blue grey diamond, VS1 sold for $35,593 per carat. Two matching 3 carat, pear shaped, blue diamonds, VS2-VVS2 sold for $67,475 per carat. A 3.12, vivid yellow diamond, IF, sold for $51,861 per carat. A cushion, 4.42, Burma sapphire fetched $8258 per carat and a 3.29, Burma ruby fetched $20,574 per carat.
The spring auction season in New York ended with a whimper at Sotheby's on April 9 with the sale totaling a mere $17,114,482. The sales room was half-full at best and many pieces remained unsold. Historical, signed pieces did well, with the famed Tiffany Moonlight Rose bracelet garnering $525,000. White diamonds sold if the quality and price were right. Yellow diamonds sold well with a 9.38 carat, fancy vivid yellow diamond from Van Cleef & Arpels stealing the spotlight when it sold for $855,000. Perhaps the most disappointing moment of the sale came when the fancy deep blue diamond, weighing 15.98 carats, failed to sell. The bidding stopped at $4.5 million, short of the $5 million estimate. Despite the GIA fancy deep blue grade, observers described the color as "depressing and over saturated" and the cutting of the stone as "windowed and black because of the bow-tie."
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