Loose Gemstones Becoming Big Business, Again

A recent break-in at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company in London has brought about national attention to the diamond and loose gem trade. Thieves looted more than 300 safe deposit boxes alleged to have contained diamonds and loose gemstones that are regularly traded in the city’s diamond quarter. While the value of the theft has not yet been determined, many have asked why loose diamond and gemstones are still kept in such a manner.

Although it may seem like something out of a Pink Panther movie, loose gemstones have been used for centuries as a form of currency and trading. The end product can turn out to be a beautiful piece of jewelry or an item to add to a collection. Thanks to shaky economies and weak currencies, gemstones have now come back to the trading table in full swing.

“We normally see an increase in demand when the price of gold rises,” says Dave Gordon, a gem broker from Fontana, California. “People tend to increase their holdings when the economy is weak and gold is in demand,” he added. “Some people simply do not trust the price of gold and instead turn to gemstones.” While people have turned to gemstones for an investment, many are simply buying them to turn them into finished pieces of jewelry.

Making your own jewelry, or even watching a jeweler hand craft your jewelry, has become somewhat of a trend throughout the United States. While anyone can go down to a local jeweler and buy a ready-made necklace, ring, bracelet, etc., it is worth more personally to have something made especially for you. This trend has spilled over to the home shopping networks which have gone from selling already made pieces of jewelry to selling the bulk of their jewelry in the form of loose stones.

While not technically a gemstone, loose pearls are also becoming a hot commodity throughout the United States and many companies are taking advantage of the phenomenon. One such company, The Pearl Source, has been selling loose pearls since 1991. The company was one of the United States’ first importers and wholesalers of loose pearls, operating in the Jewelry District of Los Angeles. It went from importing a single type of pearl to now importing more than 10,000 per month, mostly consisting of Tahitian, Golden, and Australian South Sea pearls. The company has spent 20+ years branding the concept of purchasing loose pearls online, and even sends its customers to 3rd party websites to check reviews of its products, something that has translated into more sales.

“People like the idea of being able to purchase pearls online, but trust is a key reason why many are leery,” said Sammy Rbibo, president of The Pearl Source. “It took years to build up an online brand that people trusted,” he added. The Pearl Source is one of the largest suppliers of loose pearls in the world, allowing it to grab a large portion of the U.S. market. The company sends it customers to websites such as Trustpilot where they can view what other people are saying about the company. “Not only has this helped us show potential customers that we are reputable, but has allowed us to maintain our customer base who come to us regularly to add more pearls to their collection.”

Even raw minerals are now getting in on the game. Prior to becoming gemstones, many minerals are being offered for sale in gem shows throughout the United States. “We like to offer them right from the [mineral] pocket,” said Teddie Webster from San Bernardino, a weekend miner who sells his finds at tradeshows throughout Southern California. “There is something personable about purchasing a gem that you can later turn into a piece of jewelry,” added Webster. And that is exactly what people are doing. Many minerals are being purchased in their raw form and later taken to jewelers who will polish and cut them for desired pieces of jewelry. “You wind up not paying a retailer and instead pay the middle-man. So in reality, you are cutting out the person who has the highest markup in the stone.”

Increase in demand has also brought out thieves who want to capitalize on the market. “All my hard work for 10 years gone in a few hours,” Joe Hattar told The Orange County Register. Hattar is the owner of Diamonds by Monet in Temecula, California, the site of a recent break-in where thieves walked away with as much as $4 million in loose gemstones. He is not the only one victimized, as thieves have been hitting jewelry stores all over the United States.

Regardless if you want to purchase your jewelry already made or venture into the world of gem shows and raw minerals, keeping your mind open to purchasing loose stones is a must. While high end jewelry stores are everywhere, many companies have turned loose gemstones, pearls, and raw minerals into a big business, allowing consumers to cut out the retail markup and create personalized jewelry that has more value than just monetary. And, as long as Inspector Clouseau is on the case, gemstones are likely to continue as a big business throughout the world.

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