As a follow-up to our recent article on buying rough sapphire, we have written the following article to assist people thinking of buying cut sapphire online.
Buying gems online can be complicated and confusing – there is a huge range of gems ranging in price from 99 cent "specials" to very expensive "investments". How do you choose between the vast array of items available ? Here are some tips to help you buy wisely. The price and value of natural sapphire varies greatly with a number of factors affecting the final price. Some of these are discussed below:
Quality of the rough sapphire
As natural sapphire is cut from rough gems, the price of the finished gem obviously depends on the quality of the rough used. Gems cut from inferior rough will inevitably yield an inferior gems. When buying rough, price depends on colour, inclusions, shape (recovery yield) , origin, etc and will vary quite significantly. A quick look at our catalogue of rough sapphire will give you an indication of this.
Cutting costs usually depend on size of the finished gem and where it has been cut. While cutting may be significantly cheaper in some overseas countries, often the quality of the cutting is inferior. At Aussie Sapphire, we only choose the best of our rough for cutting and we use only the best quality cutters to work on our stone. There are cheaper options around but why buy an unattractive gem. Our prices are competitive and the quality guaranteed.
Colour of the finished gemstone
Sapphire can come in almost every colour of the rainbow. If we discuss blue sapphire, colours may range from the palest of pastel blue, through the medium tones to an almost black colour. While personal preference should be most important, the more valuable sapphires tend to be in the medium range. Over dark stones (often described as midnight blue) should be discounted and extremely pale blue sapphires are usually valued lower.
Clarity of the finished gemstone
Clarity may be described in many different ways but stones with higher value will be completely transparent and without visible inclusions or flaws. We describe clarity using the GIA system where VVS is loupe clean (very slight inclusions which may be visible under 10X magnification) and VS is eye clean (slight inclusions which may be visible to the eye).
Please note that for sapphire (a Type II gemstone under the GIA system), VVS is the best grade available – a clarity grade of SI (slightly included) should be considered low grade and I (imperfect) is very low grade. Gems that are described as translucent or opaque should be heavily discounted and will not be as attractive.
Normally in trade sales, anything with inclusions that are visible to the eye (VS2 or less) are discounted 50% ore more depending on location and nature of the flaw. Once a stone reaches the SI category, expect discounts of 80% or more off the value of the top grade (VVS)
Cut of the finished gemstone
Quality of the cutting is an extremely important factor influencing the overall beauty of the gemstone. Inferior cutting can be indicated by gems with poor symmetry (an unbalanced look), poor finish and lustre. Quality cutting is indicated by good symmetry, balanced proportions, attention to polish and finish (particularly around the girdle), and general attractiveness of the stone (brilliance, lack of windowing, etc).
Size is also important – as rough sapphire becomes more rare as size increases, the price per carat for sapphire rises in a step-wise fashion as the cut gems become larger. Expect to pay more for gems over 1 carat in size and much more per carat for very large gems. Anything over 1.5 carats would be considered large in sapphire.
Sapphire is available in most shapes. Calibrated sizes are available where gems are cut to standard sizes and shapes to fit commercially available jewellery settings. Custom cut gems are specially cut from select pieces of rough and are suited to custom made jewellery pieces.
This is an extremely important issue and one beyond the scope of this article – we plan to discuss this issue in a future article but will summarise the pertinant points now. Almost all sapphires available commercially have undergone basic heat treatment – this is a permanent treatment which slightly improves clarity/colour and has been done for centuries. These gems should be valued at basic market price according to the other quality factors.
Fully natural (unheated) sapphire is priced at a premium and should be provided with written documentation from the seller – it is extremely rare to find unheated sapphire and these gems should increase their value over time due to their rarity.
Unfortunately, many sapphires on the market currently have been enhanced with chemical treatments (and in rare cases, irradiation). Terms to look out for are bulk diffusion, lattice diffusion, beryllium treatment and diffusion – the colour in these gems is not natural. These gems should be significantly discounted and will not hold their value over time (and in fact may devalue) as the colour is induced artificially by the use of chemical additives. Diffused sapphires (star sapphire or blue sapphire) are particularly susceptible to damage as the treatment is surface only. Be very suspicious of brightly coloured yellow, orange or "pad" coloured sapphire is it is almost certain these colours are beryllium treated sapphire unless otherwise stated (and able to be proved by laboratory testing).
Aussie Sapphire does not support the use of these chemical treatments as we believe it is misleading to the consumer. We provide written documentation on treatment status (basic heat only or fully natural) for all gems from our mine.
Valuations or RRP comparisons
Many sellers offer their gems with a valuation or recommended retail price for comparison. This is really quite pointless as the prices in many cases are irrelevant to different markets and is really just trying to fool you into thinking that the gem is worth much more than you will be paying. Retail prices vary widely depending on supply source, intended market and markup rates. It is quite possible to find a true bargain among the many items offered on Ebay – we recommend however that you look carefully and have a realistic view of the wholesale value of gems you are intending to buy.
At Aussie Sapphire, our store prices for cut sapphire closely match our wholesale prices. Since you are buying from the source (direct from the mine), there are no extra steps in the supply chain to add extra markups to the price. This can make our cut gems quite cheap in comparison to a retailer who has had to buy through a chain of wholesalers. Occasionally, we run 99 cent start auctions as promotion for our gems but you can easily see what we think the value of these gems are by browsing our store items. On the other hand, if you are looking at very cheap gems from sellers who provide little description or information on their items – perhaps the deal is too good to be true.
Photography: Please note that gemstone photography is an extremely specialised and difficult task. Some sellers do it very well and can make a poor stone look very good. Some sellers are less skilled and may have very good stones which are not displayed to their best advantage in their photographs. Here at Aussie Sapphire, we do all website and photography work ourselves to keep our costs down and pass savings on to our customers. Our main aim with photography is to display the stones honestly and describe them accurately – in most cases, they will look better in real life than in the photo. Please contact us directly if you have any questions about our photography and lighting methods or specific questions about any of our listed items.
Return Policy: When buying online, it is extremely important to look for a return policy. Most reputable sellers will offer a refund on the purchase price if the buyer is not satisfied with their purchase – we recommend you do not buy from anyone who does not offer this basic buyer protection. Things to look out for are expensive restocking fees – these may make it too expensive to return a disappointing purchase. Aussie Sapphire does not charge restocking fees.
Postage Charges: Some sellers who sell extremely cheap gemstones may attempt to retrieve some of their profit via expensive postage charges. Before buying, carefully check the postage charge to work out the total cost of your purchase – less than generous combined postage discounts may cause your "cheap" gemstones to work out surprisingly expensive.
Aussie Sapphire does not profit from postage – we charge one flat rate and offer combined postage at no extra charge for any gems which fit in one envelope. We do not charge extra for additional items that are posted together. Postage overseas is no problem – registered airmail is cost effective and convenient. Insurance is available and highly recommended for more expensive purchases (just contact us for a quote on additional insurance).
Traps for the Unwary: The reputation of various sapphire producing locations greatly influences the price. For example, a sapphire from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) will usually cost more than a sapphire of equivalent quality from a less desirable location. This leads to the temptation for some less honest sellers to describe the origin of some gems in a misleading way. We recommend buyers should buy sapphire based on beauty and not on some perceived idea that a certain location is automatically superior in quality. Sri Lanka produces gems of the highest quality but we know for a fact that many equally superior gems are being misleadingly described as being from that location. If you are unsure, ask questions of the seller and be wary if they are not able to answer them in detail.
Similarly, be wary of synthetic gems being passed off as natural. Synthetics are becoming very sophisticated these days and it has been reported that synthetics are being introduced into the supply chain at various points in many countries (see our previous article on ethical gemstone purchasing). If you are browsing the Natural Gemstone categories of Ebay, do not assume that synthetic, lab or created gems are not present in the list – sometimes these are listed in the Natural categories so check the listing details carefully.
We hope that these notes have been helpful to you – if you have any further questions just contact us any time. Cheers from Aussie Sapphire