A Slice of Color
Gemstone slices add a unique element to jewelry at wallet-friendly prices.
By Sheryl Jones
With their big look and affordable prices, emerald, sapphire and ruby slices continue to increase in popularity. "Slices enable someone to have a large gemstone that is still precious at a fraction of the cost of gem-quality stones of the same material," says Robert Van Wagoner, owner of Beija-flor Gems in Haiku, Hawaii, a gemstone manufacturer wholesaling stones and finished jewelry.
Designers and manufacturers like working with slices because they can create big, bold designs with organic forms and a lot of color using material that keeps production costs low. These factors make it great 'fashion jewelry'. The question becomes: Do these slices have real value?
Emerald, ruby and sapphire gemstone slices are made from what is considered commercial-grade material or low-quality rough. To begin, explains Kavita Mookim, co-owner of SPB Gems in New York City, the rough is tumbled to smooth out the edges. Van Wagoner adds, "This gemstone rough is usually a hexagonal crystal, which is sliced on a trim saw, like slicing bread, then the faces or sides are polished. Sometimes the edge is trimmed and polished or the original rough, also known as the 'rind', is left on the edge of the stone." Sometimes, one side will be rose cut to camouflage inclusions and the bottom left flat.
Since the rough used in slices is not gem-quality material, it is generally not treated to enhance its quality like higher-grade ruby, sapphire and emerald material. Also, very little rough is cut away and the organic shapes are not calibrated, so the end product is really minimally produced.
THE VALUE DEBATE
The fact that this material is not gem quality has provided fuel to the debate over the value of slices. However, according to Emanuel Sharp, partner of Sharp Jewels in New York City, while "the material used to make slices may be worth less as a component when breaking down the individual cost variables of the materials in a piece, as completed jewelry, it has a different value." Castro from Castro NYC, a jewelry designer who specializes in one-of-a-kind pieces with rare stones, adds, "The creative process can change something that has little value in terms of components and transform it into something of great value."
The questioning of the worth of gemstone slices is just the latest installment in an ongoing discussion about stones that were once considered of little importance in the industry, but became very popular and fashion forward. As Bruce Haberman, jewelry appraiser and owner of Gemologic appraisal laboratory in New York City, notes, "Black diamonds were always classified as bort or industrial-grade material. Along with brown diamonds, they were considered to have little value until designers started making jewelry with them and then they became popular."
In the same way, Sharp sees slices as a new trend in contemporary jewelry. When used in a piece of jewelry, the design can add great importance to material that used alone has little intrinsic value. Slices give life to a lot of material that would have otherwise been thought to have too many inclusions to market. "Clarity depends upon the crystallization process," says Van Wagoner. "Gem-quality material is much more rare, leaving a lot of stones available for slices that did not make the full crystallization that a faceted gemstone requires."
"Slices are also about color," says Sharp. "Most of the time, these are colored stones that were too faint or low end to cut and polish into a traditional shape. As a slice, they have more color definition."
Slices can also intensify the color in semiprecious material. "Some color combinations are incredible and can only be seen in a slice. This type of cut gives us an opportunity to see nature's full geometry and color," says Van Wagoner. As examples, Jeffrey Bilgore, award-winning designer and international gem merchant based in New York City, cites "watermelon and rare paraiba tourmaline slices, which can be beautiful, translucent kaleidoscopes of color." Likewise, emerald trapiches or six-ray stars are best cut as slices to see the beauty of this rare stone. Moreover, the way in which material is cut into wafer-thin slices makes the stone more translucent or, as Castro says, "like stained glass windows letting in light that illuminates the color." Some customers value slices because they are closer to the look and feel of natural rough.
Buyers need to understand that there is a difference between the material emerald, ruby and sapphire slices are made from and the rough from which faceted or cabochon stones are made. Sharp says that it is a relevant part of the sale to discuss this difference, making note that "compared to a stone of the same size with classic polish and finish, the slice is a fraction of the cost." He goes on to say, "My clients who are fine jewelry collectors know that the way these items are presented and priced they are strictly a trend and about current fashion." Mookim also says people know this type of gemstone jewelry is not as valuable because of the price. "These two types of goods appeal to different customers. The person willing to spend several thousand dollars on a stone is looking for different factors in terms of quality and is not the same buyer as the one who wants a big look in a precious stone but doesn't want to spend as much."
The difference in price is reflected in the appraisal or resale value. Haberman says he grades slices as commercial goods and the value is commensurate with industry prices based on the market and other industry price guides. The difference in price between commercial-grade goods and those that are gem quality can range widely from $10 per carat to $1,000 per carat.
In the final analysis, value is subject to change. A gemstone having very little market value on its own can be transformed through the creative and cutting process into something of importance to a particular audience. Marketing these goods also gives more consumers access to gemstones and jewelry.
"It is always good for the industry and customers when demand is created for material that was previously considered of little worth," concludes Haberman. "Finding new and inventive ways to present material creates trends that keep the industry fresh and new and benefits us all."
Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2015. To subscribe click here.