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Gems As Investment
( Article orginally published August 1943 )
IN THESE times when there is so much talk of inflation, many persons are investing some of their surplus earnings in precious stones. Gems are one of the oldest and best of assets, being easily carried or hidden, if necessary, and having the virtue of being universally valued.
As prices on most gems have been gradually inching upwards, some people are buying gems as investments, hoping thereby not only to make their wealth secure but to increase it. Diamonds are of course the center of attention, but what applies to diamonds applies in a certain degree to the other precious and semiprecious gems.
The prices on diamonds are now too high to be recommended as investments. The time to have invested in diamonds was before the war. Persons buying diamonds today are putting their money into something that no matter what happens, they will get the greater part of their value out on liquidating them. Their capital is fairly safe but the chances are against its being increased.
There is no shortage of medium sized diamonds and any increase in their price is unwarranted. By medium-sized stones is meant those weighing between one half of a carat and two carats. The smaller stones so often used on groups or in encrusting are much higher in price now than before the war; these having been cut almost entirely in countries now occupied by Germany.
In contrast to this, many of the other gems are much rarer than diamond, and others increase in rarity all the time. Sphene, for example, is one of the very few stones as brilliant or more so than the diamond. Too soft for ring wear, it is very handsome as a scarf pin, brooch, or cabinet specimen.
Thirty or forty years ago sphenes could be purchased for as little as $2 per carat. Today these stones bring from $25 per carat up, and the supply is very limited.
Amethysts are plentiful, but the deep rich purple stones from Siberia are becoming hard to get in desirable sizes. Even the best stones from Uruguay and Brazil do not approach the beauty of the Siberian gems.
Benitoites, the corn-flower blue stone from California, and kunzite, the lilac variety of spudomene have never been common or even well known. These and many others are destined to become more valuable as time goes by.
Most persons however, who collect gems do so primarily for their beauty, though the investment value is often taken into consideration. There can be few greater satisfactions than the possession of a fine gem. It need not be expensive, nor large nor flawless, as long as it is attractive and whole. Hours can be spent in the company of gems without tiring of them, for at each glance a new color will present itself, or the changing light will bring new beauties one never noticed before.
To a person about to start a gem collection the following might well be considered: Though there is no limit to the possible extent of your collection, there must be a starting point. Many collectors begin by trying to get at least one good specimen of each of the transparent quartz gems, amethyst, rose-quartz, citrine, rockcrystal, and siderite, the rare blue variety.
There are other "Families' of gems which would take time to complete; beryl in all its colors (one of which is emerald); the tourmaline gems, in as many as possible of its almost limitless colors; the feldspar gems, labradorite, moonstone, sunstone, and Amazonstone.
Some collectors limit themselves to faceted gems and others to the cabochon type. The latter shape of gem is usually much less expensive. Since there are so many hundreds of different shapes into which gems are cut, a collection of gems all the same shape would be needlessly dull. Any collection is pleasant chiefly on account of its variety, and many different cuts, as long as they are not freakish, will increase your pleasure in your acquisitions.
While it is not wise to pass up any bargains that might present themselves, it is still best to have some idea as to what you plan to collect and stick to it as much as possible. A few good books on gems will be a lot of help.
As in any type of collecting, there are a few pointers which can add greatly to your pleasure. To carry gems on the person, the only safe way is to keep them in stone papers with a little cotton. If more than one gem is placed in a paper, wrap each of them in tissue paper. All gems will abrade each other, even those of equal hardness, so handle them carefully. Be especially careful with opals and zircons. Opals are just plain fragile, which beyond doubt gives rise to the superstition concerning them.
Zircons are very hard but they are also brittle. It is an error to put a fine zircon in a ring unless the wearer is extremely careful not to knock it against anything. The best thing to do is to have it set so that the metal of the ring affords some protection. Since the start of the present vogue for zircons, the lapidists of the country have been kept busy re-polishing them. This in part is the fault of the jewelry salesmen who do not want to risk losing a sale by pointing out the above. Zircons are fiery, lovely in color, and hard, but they must be given reasonable care.
When mailing gems always insure them for their full value and mark the package fragile. Observe the postal rules which require gems and jewelry to be protected with corrugated cardboard.
Always handle your loose stones with tongs or tweezers. To pick up a faceted gem, turn it bottomside up, and grasp it at the girdle. The use of tweezers is the only safe way to handle small gems, and on all stones it prevents endless wiping-off of fingerprints.
To display your collection, keep the stones in a velvet or cotton-lined box, separated from each other by indentations or partitions. The top of the box should be padded and so arranged that when closed the loose stones are firmly held and cannot roll about. Glass top boxes are rather awkward as they are hard to keep clean and it is difficult to remove or replace the stones.
In purchasing, don't let a flaw in a stone prejudice you. It will not detract from its beauty, if inconspicuous; it is almost unmistakable proof that the stone is of natural origin, and it adds a certain personality to the gem. Moreover, the character of a flaw can help in identifying a strange gem. Unflawed stones are, of course, considered more choice and bring higher prices. To limit a collection to unflawed stones is a severe restriction.
To acquire, piece by piece, a collection of gems selected carefully for variety, perfection, and beauty is a constant source of pleasure, and a safe and sure way of building up value.