By Bernardette Sto. Domingo
Amid a challenging business scenario, the seemingly indomitable Paraiba tourmaline has sustained its sparkle as buyers continue to seek out its stunning colours, rarity and versatile charm.
Whether it’s the mint green or electric blue variety, the Paraiba tourmaline has remained intensely sought after in the coloured gemstone arena, irrespective of the market situation. Given its electrifying appeal, it’s no accident that this beloved gemstone has made waves in the fine jewellery universe.
Just in May this year, the Paraiba tourmaline made it to the top 10 for the first time at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong. A pair of earrings adorned with Paraiba tourmalines of 7.46 carats and 6.81 carats respectively, was bought by a private bidder for US$2.78 million or US$194,730 per carat – a record auction price for this highly coveted gem.
According to Farhat Amin of Thai gem dealer Azizi Enterprises Co Ltd, Paraiba tourmalines managed to buck the trend and continued to move fast despite uncertainties in the coloured gemstone business.
“The Paraiba tourmaline has taken the jewellery world by storm. Designers love it; the trade is enamoured by it. It’s always been an attractive stone,” noted Amin. “Right now, Paraiba tourmaline sales comprise 80 percent of our business.”
Azizi’s strongest markets are Japan, followed by the US and Europe.
Gem-quality bright blue to green Paraiba tourmaline is currently mined in various sites in Africa and Brazil, with Brazil producing the more vivid, neon bluish-green variant.
Gems from Mozambique with good quality and colour command a per carat price of US$10,000. Per carat prices of Brazilian Paraiba tourmalines of 1 carat to 1.5 carats meanwhile range from US$15,000 to US$20,000, depending on clarity and colour.
Brazilian stones in bigger sizes are currently difficult to source, revealed Amin.
In terms of cut, no particular shape is preferred since the stone sells itself – may it be rough, free form or polished stone. Every colour category – blue, green, neon or turquoise – has a strong following, added Amin. When it comes to sizes however, the market seems to gravitate towards melees of about .60mm to 4mm.
Peter Valicek of Brazil-based Peter Valicek Gems validated this observation, saying that the market is constantly on the lookout for smaller-sized Paraiba tourmalines that can be set alongside other fine coloured gemstones to accentuate jewellery pieces.
A few select buyers however still favour extremely rare Paraiba tourmalines in larger sizes bearing exceptional neon blue and bluish green colours mainly for designer pieces.
Valicek cited a growing worldwide interest in Paraiba tourmalines, with buyers from Asia, Europe and the US constantly asking for these products at international gemstone and jewellery shows. The gem is also becoming a staple in the high jewellery world, with prominent designers frequently incorporating it in their masterpieces.
Allure of colour
Paraiba tourmalines appear in a wide variety of colours such as bluish green, greenish blue, blue, green and violet but consumers are partial to glowing, neon hues, according to gemstone specialist Vikar Ahmed of Germany.
“Colour is the number one consideration of buyers, followed by clarity. Sometimes inclusions don’t matter to them as long as the colour is as intense or captivating as they want it to be,” explained Ahmed. Buyers are also prepared to pay premium prices for top-grade stones with alluring hues.
Ahmed’s clients prefer oval, cushion, pear and round shapes although all cuts are practically sellable. The market, he stressed, is more concerned about the colour and whether their Paraiba tourmaline is giving off a fiery, neon glowing hue, no matter the shape.
Ring-size stones of 2 carats to 5 carats move the fastest but bigger sizes of 7 carats to 8 carats for pendants are likewise required by customers.
“Over the years, we’ve seen a rise in demand for the Paraiba tourmaline from the Chinese market. The stone has always been strong in Europe, especially Switzerland, France and Germany,” noted the company official.
Prices depend largely on colour, clarity and size, with some light-coloured neon blue stones of 1 carat to 3 carats selling for US$600 to US$3,000 a carat, while 5-carat to 8-carat stones are priced US$5,000 to US$12,000 per carat.
Top-range stones could sell for as high as US$30,000 per carat, he added.
For Alexander Wild of Wild & Petsch Gmbh, a deeper blue or a saturated greenish-blue are the most desired colours by his customers. “One thing is true for all gemstones: The bigger and cleaner it is, the more expensive it becomes,” he added.
At the moment, supply of ultra-fine and clean Paraiba tourmalines is scarce but prices for Paraiba tourmalines from Africa are expected to remain fairly stable in accordance with the supply situation, remarked Wild.
New York-based jewellery designer Caroline Chartouni has had a long-standing love affair with the Paraiba tourmaline, with the scintillating gem taking its pride of place among her award-winning designs.
According to the designer, choosing the best stone to use in her designs entails a tedious process of knowing its origin, choosing the colour, ensuring the clarity and conceptualising the cut.
“Brazilian Paraiba tourmalines come in an eclectic variety of shades including fuchsia and violet with a range of neon electric blues and greens. Those from Mozambique meanwhile are lighter in colour like sky blue,” stated Chartouni.
Colour is the primary price determinant of Paraiba tourmalines, with electric neon blue and green with a strong saturation, commanding maximum prices in the market, she added. Cutting is likewise critical since a stone’s brilliance, proportion and finish help obtain its maximum value. Clarity and carat weight also help establish the value of Paraiba tourmalines.
Chartouni regards the Paraiba tourmaline as the “star of all gems” as it is present in almost every piece that she creates. “I began using it in my designs long before it started gaining worldwide attention. It will continue to be a centrepiece in my designs. The neon electric blue colour is incomparable and offers infinite design inspirations,” she added.
The future is bright for this enigmatic stone as connoisseurs and traders continue to appreciate, and be fascinated by, its formidable charm, she continued. The designer however acknowledged difficulties in sourcing fine-quality Paraiba tourmalines.
“Production is sporadic since miners are performing limited excavations and mines are running out of material. Tests are being done to determine the remaining potential of existing deposits. As such, production has not kept up with growing market demand,” revealed Chartouni.
Valicek echoed this sentiment, adding that supply of high-quality materials does not match the market’s actual needs. With less production, prices are also on the upswing, he added. Ahmed concurred, noting that shortage in rough supply could result in higher prices of Paraiba tourmalines in the next five to 10 years.
Azizi’s Amin however maintained an upbeat outlook for Paraiba tourmalines. “It’s the easiest stone to sell. The colour is mesmerising and relaxing and makes one feel pleasant – that in itself is a solid selling point. I’m very optimistic about the business over the coming years. Despite supply issues, it is still a joy to sell these stones,” noted Amin.