The last few years have continued to see an astonishing increase in the prices achieved by large and important gemstones. There are various contributing factors in this phenomenon: firstly, there is more money than ever before. In spite of the financial crash of 2008, we are in a golden age discerning buyers who not only know what they want, but also buy in a highly discerning and educated manner. In the case of precious stones, the best is becoming rarer- the Argyle mine in Australia produces 90% of the world’s pink diamonds and is due to close down in 2019. There is currently no other known source of pink diamonds, so prices even of moderately sized stones are sky high. The most expensive pink diamond in the world was the Graff Pink, a 24.78 carat stone which sold in 2010 for $46 million.
Kashmiri sapphires and Burmese rubies-the most impeccable source for each of these gems- of good sizes too, are increasingly rare. The majority of coloured stones have been enhanced by heat treatment (except emeralds, which cannot take it) so untreated stones command at least a 20% premium. With the political instability in Burma, and Kashmiri mines hardly producing at all now, rubies and sapphires recently broke world records too. At Sotheby’s Magnificent Sales last October a 17.16 carat sapphire became the most expensive at auction at $4.06 million and the pigeon’s blood 8.62 carat Burmese Graff ruby achieved a world record price of $8.6 million. So, should a buyer find himself engulfed by political uncertainty, these highly desirable goods become even more so due to their portability.
In the heady world of one-upmanship, nothing can beat provenance: the story of and legend of a stone cannot be tampered with, and it is rare to see important historic gems coming on to the market more than once a decade. The two stars of the recent years have been the Wittelsbach Blue Diamond and La Peregrina Pearl. The Wittelsbach is an intense, flawless blue stone of 31.06 carats that once formed part of both the Austrian and Bavarian Crown Jewels and was auctioned in 2008. La Peregrina is arguably the most famous pearl in the world, having passed through the Royal houses of France and Spain and owned by Elizabth Taylor- it sold in 2011 for nearly $12 million, four times its estimate price. With stones of such quality and pedigree, there is nothing more satisfying than having a jewel specially created for it that can only enhance its beauty and value, as often happens when new owners acquire them.
There are downsides to speculating in coloured stones. They do not yield a dividend and are not always easy to dispose of. They should be bought at auction or wholesale for the best possible deals and always accompanied by certificates from reputable laboratories- for example, the Gemmological Institute of America. However, if one has money and time to spare for a return on an investment, it seems that with ‘superstones’ the only way is up.