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Buying and Cutting Moroccan Amethyst

| 7 min read

In early 2015, Gemporia was proud to bring its family of collectors the much talked about Amethyst from Morocco. This rare gemstone was an instant hit with our connoisseurs and became one of the fastest gemstones to sell out in over 11 years of bringing rare precious stones. There was only one thing for it, we would have to try and buy the mine…

This enterprise would present a number of unique challenges for us here at Gemporia. The first is that when we are buying the run of a mine we cannot buy in the way we normally do. Normally we are in a privileged position in that we can choose to buy only the best stones of the parcel; in the trade what is referred to as the ‘eyes’. This means we are guaranteed the quality we want, and is exactly what we were able to do in early 2015 when we brought the highest grade to collectors during the launch show. However, if we buy the whole run of the mine we have to take the just that – the whole production. This means we will have a mix of the good (the eyes) and the bad. We would need to develop a strategy of how we can use these stones, without compromising our quality offering.

Though we have purchased mines previously, this problem had never been encountered so severely. Though Serenite has different grades, the difference range is not so dramatic. The finest grades are noticeably better, but even the poorest grade of Serenite possesses the beautiful Diamond-like quality that sets this gemstone apart. With American Fire Opal the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Though the market has traditionally valued the transparent strawberry hues more highly, collectors have been appreciative of the all offerings from this finest discovery. The Moroccan Amethyst deposit, like Amethyst deposits in Brazil, Zambia, and even Siberia, is a mixed bag, due to the inherent nature of Amethyst.

Secondly our cutting house, Jaipurium, had no experience with cutting Amethyst. They had produced beautiful cuts in gemstones as varied as Serenite, Fire Opal, Aquaprase and Turquoise from Arizona. However, Amethyst presents its own challenges for our lapidarists, particularly Moroccan Amethyst. The first of these is crystal twinning that frequently affects gemstone rough from this location. This is when, due to a dramatic change of conditions during crystal growth (in this case heat), the Amethyst crystal changes direction of growth. Two crystals grow simultaneously making it difficult to recover the crystal in its entirety intact from the rough. It also makes it very difficult to determine the orientation of the crystal’s axis and therefore the optimum way of cutting the stone.

The second issue is this material is infamous for the severity of its color zoning. Bands of deep purple Amethyst quickly give way to ice white Quartz before again descending into deep Amethyst. For those able to appreciate this natural beauty, these ‘Hour Glass’ formations, so called because the Amethyst bands frequently form an hour glass shape, are a rare natural treat. Unfortunately, the market is yet to appreciate these formations in a large enough constituency to make cutting these pieces as a feature commercially viable. In any case, the difficulty of cutting facetted stones that can exhibit this formation is the preserve of master cutters such as Glenn Lehrer and therefore they feature only in couture collections.

For this reason, and the wider make-up of the crystals, Moroccan Amethyst has a famously low yield, not just when compared with easier material such as Amethyst from Brazil, but compared to yield returns in the wider gemstone industry. Even after the crystal has been separated from rough (which many yield approximations do not take into account), less than 20% will be of sufficient quality to make facetted gemstones. This 20% refers to the weight of the crystals that are facetted gemstone quality, not the final yield. Of this 20% the yield ranged anywhere from just 8% up to a maximum of 14% depending on the grade being cut.

In the face of all these difficulties it seemed unlikely a deal could be reached, but here at Gemporia we were determined. As early as June 2015 we were busy negotiating what would become one of the biggest deals in Gemporia history.

At first we agreed to dip our toe in the water. We purchased a parcel of rough we anticipated would yield approximately 5000 carats. It was a huge gamble. Such ‘sample’ purchases (so called as they are there for cutting houses to sample the yield % and quality) are usually for 100 carats or so. With a projected yield of over 5000 carats of cut stones, this was in effect a parcel in its own right, and represents one of the largest sample purchases in our history.

We could not have another cutting house cut this material, since if others got wind that the Moroccan miners we selling rough every cutting house in India would descend on Morocco. The result would be a hike in price during a furious bidding war, pricing us out of the market as the big jewelry houses flexed their incredible marketing budgets to secure a monopoly on this source. Therefore we trusted our cutters who set about experimenting with the material and a nervous five month wait ensued.

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Had we wasted over 5000 carats of extraordinary material? If so, we would have failed in our obligation to responsibly transfer Mother Nature’s treasures, and the wider jewelry world would be poorer for it.

Thankfully, our decision to trust our team with a new stone was vindicated late in November 2015 as we received the first few cut pieces back from the lapidarists. The results were outstanding. They had captured the unique beauty on Moroccan Amethyst perfectly, and had been able to bring this gemstone into cuts and sizes never before offered. It was immediately obvious – 5000 carats were not going to be enough!

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We still had the issue of the poor and average grades compromising the quality that had the benchmark. To solve this we will use the low and middle grade stones to negotiate with other gemstone dealers. We have had success using this strategy with Serenite and American Fire Opal to secure many exotic parcels including Paraiba Tourmaline and a second parcel of Songea Ruby. With such a sought-after location, the possibilities are exciting.

We immediately contacted the mine owner Salah and negotiations began. It became apparent very early on that owning the mine itself was not an option so we pursued the next best thing. If we could guarantee to buy the entire mine’s output, then we would effectively own control of the gemstone as effectively as we would if we owned the mine. Negotiations were quick as we were a willing buyer of the world’s finest quality Amethyst, and Salah knew our skilled lapidarists were elevating his gemstone to a new level, and bringing it to collectors around the world.

By the 1st December 2015, we were able to confirm the purchase of the entire mine’s production for a year and soon began negotiating the next few years of production! This was a landmark acquisition, securing for Gemporia the supply of a world-defining quality gemstone for the foreseeable future.

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