Treated vs. Untreated Gemstones – Why Should You Opt for Natural Untreated Gems


Assorted Green GemsMore than 80% of the gemstones currently being traded in the market are either enhanced or treated in one form or another.  To understand the difference between untreated and treated gemstones, we will first need to understand the implications between the two.

Untreated gemstones are those that are not altered or enhanced in any way. They remain in the same form as when they were extracted from the earth. These gemstones remain in their original form and only get polished and cut to be used as jewelry accessories.  

Types of Treatment

Listed below are just some examples of the various treatments a gemstone is made to undergo.

Heating

The stone is exposed to high temperatures to enhance its clarity and alter the color. The most common gemstones that undergo this treatment are Zircon, Topaz, Sapphire, Ruby, Tanzanite, Aquamarine, and some others. Heating is a practice that is widely accepted in the gem market.

Oiling

Rubies and emerald are one of the most commonly oiled gemstones. Other gemstones that undergo oiling are Demantoid Garnet and Alexandrite. Oiling makes the surface more smooth and reduces any visible incisions.

Irradiation

Stones are exposed to varying degrees of controlled radiation to alter their color. Diamond, topaz, pearl, and quartz are common examples of gemstones that undergo radiation.

Dyeing

The fractures of a precious stone are exposed to colored dyes. To check whether a stone is dyed or not, you can perform a simple test at home using acetone. Pearl, Lapis Lazuli, Jade, and Quartz are some examples of commonly dyed gemstones.

Bleaching

A stone is bleached when it’s exposed to a certain chemical to change i.e. reduce or slightly alter the color of a precious gem. Tiger’s Eyes, Pearl, and Jade are some examples of stones that are bleached to reduce their color.

Large MineralWhy Gemstones are Treated

  • Treated gemstones are cheaper. This is one of the biggest advantages of a treated gemstone. Most people want to buy or wear an emerald but since an emerald costs $50K per carat (untreated), most people cannot afford it. The solution is a treated emerald that starts at $10 per carat and can go up to $10K per carat.
  • Treated gemstones are more available than natural gemstones. Untreated gemstones, especially of a larger size, are a very rare find. For example, an untreated diamond that is above 5 carats would cost millions of dollars and extremely hard to find as no one would be willing to sell that on the open market. Treated diamonds are available everywhere in most sizes.
  • Rapid changes in fashion and general trends. A new outfit calls for a new piece of jewelry to go with it.

Advantages of an Untreated Gemstone

  • Treated gemstones are less durable. The heat treatment, which is a widely accepted and practiced process, leaves the surface of the stone more brittle. After a certain amount of time, the straightened edges of the stone become chipped and fall in value.
  • Irradiated gemstones might be harmful to some. Irradiated stones are exposed to radioactive materials such as beryllium which is harmful to health.
  • Treated gemstones do not have a rigid price. New ways of treatment are being introduced to the market every day. As new methods come out, gemstones treated using old methods fall in value quite drastically. One of the best examples is the case of the Yellow Sapphire, whose price crashed in the 90s when newly treated gemstones were introduced which had superior qualities.
  • Treated gemstones are unnatural. Mother Nature has a fixed supply of gemstones in her crust. This limited supply is what contributes to the high prices that natural gems can fetch. The market is flooded with treated gems; hence, they are valued as such.

The Global Market

Now that most of the world has been mapped and explored precious minerals, gem dealers and gemologists alike have a grasp on what stones to classify as rare.

Although new mines are discovered, the overall supply remains unaffected. This was not always the case as diamonds were extremely rare a few centuries ago, and could only be afforded by royalty and the very wealthy individuals.

When the large deposits in Africa were discovered to be overflowing with diamonds, the major companies dealing in these stones knew it spelled doom. They realized that if these stones were sold in unrestrained quantities in the open market, the price would plunge. At the time, diamonds were still not common in the open market and a cartel was formed to restrict the flow of diamonds. The flow is still controlled by the same cartel to this day.

In contrast to diamonds, other precious stones in their natural state are extremely uncommon. The natural stones keep getting more expensive with the passage of time as more people realize their true worth.

Final Thoughts

Whether they shine, luster or sparkle, gemstones have been held in high regards ever since they were first discovered. When the first gemstones were discovered there were no treatments available and hence natural stones had no substitute.  

Natural stones have a value that goes far beyond what the eye can see. If, however, appearance is your only concern, then you might opt for a cheaper treated stone. Keep in mind that synthetic jewelry and treated stones will never have the same allure and uniqueness that is found in real gemstones.

Most Expensive Diamonds Ever Sold at an Auction

”A  Photo by Grafvisionyayimages.com

“A diamond is forever”— this is the marketing tagline introduced by the famous gem company De Beers some six decades ago to promote the sales of its diamonds. However, it’s safe to say that this is not just a regular promotional overstatement. The never-ending fad and infatuation associated with diamonds bear out the hyperbole of this statement.  

To shed some more light on the human’s fixation with this colorless brilliant gemstone, we are going to discuss the most expensive diamonds that have ever been sold in auctions around the world.

1) Magnificent Oval Diamond

This absolutely colorless diamond is more expensive than any variant of the same cut and carat with slight color undertones. Gemological Institute of America (GIA) classifies the color of diamonds on a scale which starts from the D and ends at Z. D grading signifies a pure colorless diamond.

The Magnificent Oval Diamond sold in an auction held in Hong Kong in October 2013 was a D-graded specimen with an enormous weight of over 118 carats. It is important to mention that the original uncut Magnificent Oval was around 300 carats and there are very few above-100-carat colorless diamonds in the market.  Magnificent Oval succeeded in fetching a great price because it was the first such stone from Asia. It was sold at $31 million.

2) Sweet Josephine

On November 11, 2015, in an auction center in Geneva, Switzerland, a father brought a fancy colored diamond for his daughter for just $28.69 million dollars. The father was Joseph Lau, one of the richest men of Hong Kong with the track record of buying expensive fancy diamonds for his children. Lau made the highest bid for this diamond so he could gift it to his seven-year-old daughter Josephine.

This diamond’s weight is slightly more than 16-carat. The diamond has a strong undertone of vivid pink, giving its luminosity a unique characteristic. After winning the bid, Lou named the diamond ‘Sweet Josephine’.  Needless to say, seven-year-old Josephine was probably more thrilled to have a Bobby Doll than and $28.69 million dollar diamond, but if she gives it to Bobby, that would be the most expensive doll in the world. Either way, it is a win-win for them!

Luxury Diamond Jewel Gemstone Round Brilliant Cut
Perfectly cut diamonds like this one are of great value

3) The Zoe Diamond

Bunny Mellon was a famous American horticulturist, gardener, philanthropist, and art collector. In the auction of some of her belongings after her death in 2014, a 9.75-carat diamond was sold at the double price of its initial estimates. The vivid blue diamond was purchased by a private collector for a whopping $32.6 million who named it ‘The Zoe Diamond’.

4) The Orange

In yet another auction held in Geneva, a diamond with heavy orange tones set the record for having the highest per carat price tag for any colored stone. This fancy vivid orange diamond weighed 14.2 carats and fetched the price of $32 million.

This colored diamond also succeeded in getting that huge bid due to its provenance. The stone originally belonged to the early 20th century Bolivians industrialist Simon Iturri Patino. He was one of the wealthiest men of the time and also known as ‘the Andean Rockefeller’.

5) The Princie Diamond

The Princie Diamond is one of the largest known intense pink diamonds in the entire world. It’s named ‘Princie’ because of its princely origin. This 34.65-carat heavy diamond originally belonged to Hyderabad, the princely state of pre-Partition India. It is believed that this precious gemstone was mined from an ancient mine in India.

The Princie Diamond was sold at $39.3 million in 2013 in New York, making it one of the most expensive pink diamonds. It is interesting to note that the Princie Diamond couldn’t fetch the estimated bid of $45 million.

6) Blue Moon of Josephine

This is another colored diamond that was auctioned on November 11, 2015, and also bought by Joseph Lau for his daughter. This stone was a magnificent piece of the fancy vivid blue exhibition with a weight of 12.03 carat. Lau made the bid of $48.6 million for the stone to outdo all the collectors in the auction.

Like Sweet Josephine, this diamond was also named by Lau after his daughter. As per some reports, Blue Moon of Josephine was actually a 29.62 carat uncut stone that was faceted in the long and exhaustive process spanning six months. Maybe Josephine should get a second Barbie doll?

7) Winston Pink Legacy

This pink beauty was sold at auction in Geneva in November last year. This 18.89 diamond with an intense pink color exhibition got the successful bid of $50 million. This diamond succeeded in getting that incredible bid because it had become an obsession of Nayla Hayek, the newly appointed CEO of Harry Winston.

Harry Winston Inc. is an elite jewel company based out of Switzerland that only deals in luxury gemstones and Hayek plans on acquiring all the famous and large gemstone from around the world.  Winston Legacy Diamond was originally owned by the family that was once at the helm of De Beers Group of Companies.

8) Oppenheimer Blue

This fancy vivid blue diamond weighing 14.62-carat was also once the property of Oppenheimer, the family that managed De Beers.  So, the diamond was aptly named after its owner Sir Philip Oppenheimer. Besides having an alluring origin, this diamond is also rare due to its unique emerald-like cut and chromatic exhibition. Oppenheimer Blue was sold at $56.8 million during an auction in Geneva in May 2016.

9) CTF Pink Star

This is the most expensive diamond ever sold in any auction in modern times. Weighing at tremendous 132.5-carat, this vivid pink blue diamond was the largest flawless color diamond specimen graded by GIA.  The stone was originally called Steinmetz Pink. Steinmetz was the firm that acquires the rough cut of this pink diamond from South Africa and faceted into its current shape.

In April 2017, the stone was bought by the famous Hong Kong conglomerate Choi Tai Fook that deals in real estate, hotels, and departmental stores as well as jewelry. After making a successful bid, the stone was named after the acronym of the company.

These whopping auction bids clearly indicate that the human fascination with diamonds hasn’t waned a bit and nor is it going to come down any time soon.

Opal Demand is Soaring as Australian Mines Struggle to Keep up with Demand

Opal Mines in AustraliaEven in the opal-rich fields of South Australia, one needs luck, months and even years of patience to come across this rare gem. Potential miners spend hours in the sun waiting for a fortune that can be made on the sale of opal. The market for larger pieces of opal can go north of $1 million because of high demand from jewelers and fashion brands.

South Australia is the producer of over 80% of the opals currently circulating in the market. But even then, finding opal stones is extremely rare. The town associated with opal mining is Copper Bend where many of these gems are found in the surrounding areas. Currently, the population of the town stands at 3,500. However, at the height of the mining, thousands of miners lived in the town where summer temperatures can go up to 116° F (47° C). There are still massive profits to be made, thanks to the high demand from fashion brands and countries like China and India.

A Rise in Demand

The depletion of opal mines is making it harder for South Australian miners to keep up with high demand from Chinese and Indian buyers who keep on placing large orders for export.

The locals have been frustrated as the price of the precious gem has gone through the roof and Chinese and Indian buyers are flooding the market for requests. There is not enough opal to export as no new mines are being discovered.

The local mining population has started its own exploration but only managed to find satellite mines so far. These small mines are only capable of producing opals worth $2 to $3 million whereas the locals estimate they need about $200 to $300 million worth to fulfill demand and bring back the old mining towns to their former glory.

A Darling of the Fashion World

Opals are making their way back to the fashion limelight as they are being used by both old timers and upcoming designers to distinguish their work from the competition.

Though opals were first discovered in the 1800s in Australia, it was not until the 1990s that their market price started gaining more momentum, helped mostly by a surge in European demand at the time.

Opal carries with a sense of individuality and creativity, two characteristics that are highly sought after in the fashion world. Compared to colored diamonds, rubies, and blue sapphires that have sky-high prices and are out of reach for many people, opals come as an equally dazzling alternative. Furthermore, all the opals in Australia are mined ethically. As ethical sourcing is becoming a huge concern for the next generation of jewelry buyers, Australian opals are being considered more desirable.

What Needs to be Done

Most miners from South Australia believe that the surface of opal mining has not even been scratched yet. There needs to be a more robust government policy to ramp-up investment in opal mining and exploration which miners feel a lack of government support.

However, the government has its own reasons for not giving enough support to middle and small-scale miners. A report identifies the following reasons for not providing more to support to the opal mining industry.

    • Tax evasion on a large scale by small miners which forces the government to ignore their needs as they believe taxpayer money could be spent better.
    • The lack of unity amongst the mining community on how the industry should be supported is also an issue, preventing the miners from lobbying collectively.
    • Australia is rich in minerals and stones such as gold, iron, and ore. It receives royalties from these industries, unlike opal mining which requires no royalty payments to the government.
  • The government believes that the potential of opal is not worth the time and money as other resources like nickel and gold yield better returns.

A lack of unity by the miners and a lack of interest by the Australian government are creating a situation where the supply of opal might dwindle from Australia. Of course, this is good news for sellers, hoarders, and other countries that have opal mines as the loss of a major supplier would drive up prices. But the problem for small-scale Australian miners and opal cutter would just exacerbate as they are being neglected.

Immediate steps are necessary to be undertaken by the government if the opal mining industry in Australia is to be saved from doom. Investment and explorations of new mines and new mining equipment are needed as well as subsidies.

From the part of the miners, a more united front for stronger lobbying efforts are required if they want the government to focus on a dying industry.

Importance of Gemstones

A Colorful GemstoneGemstones carry different meanings for different people. For folks from an older generation, gemstones hold sentimental value while for the average Joe, it’s more like a safety net during hard times. A gemstone is considered something that is durable, precious, and rare. It is a tiny piece of earth that excited the senses of men and women alike throughout history and continues to do so.

Not only do they enjoy an association with love and loyalty, but they also have complex, sometimes bloodied histories. Gems have acted as a savior during financially troubled times, standing as a guarantee in difficult situations. The movie buffs among us would even recall that gemstones have even been the MacGuffin in great classical movies, setting the plot in motion!

Minerals have great value by themselves and can increase the worth of any other item they are paired with, uplifting it into a class of luxury. It is of no surprise that items classified as super luxurious like watches, phones, and cuff links incorporate gemstones to attract the super wealthy. It is the gemstone as a centerpiece of these everyday items that make them a class apart.

Associating a strong brand with a particular item can undoubtedly elevate it to higher levels. However, adding a couple of Burmese rubies or top quality emeralds from Africa can take the value even higher.

The industrial applications of gemstones would fill several textbooks. Diamonds are commonly associated with the feeling of being in love but it is also the hardest natural substance found on earth. A diamond set in a ring will never be tarnished even after going through rough conditions. On the other hand, a gold item will deteriorate in a shorter span of time. The scratch-resistant property of diamonds makes them suitable as a cutting tool for all other substances. Garnet is another gem that is used to make sandpaper.

Another important factor of minerals lies in their classification as birthstones.

    • Those born in January have one of the most colorful birthstones that depict a vibrant personality i.e. garnet.
    • Those born in February are lucky enough to have amethyst as their birthstone which represents courage and a calm disposition.
    • Bloodstone is the official gem for March and symbolizes intense healing powers.
    • People born in April have the most sought-after gemstone – the diamond.
    • Faithfulness and loyalty are attached to the birthstone of May—emerald.
    • Being the birthstone for June, Pearl symbolizes love and happiness.
    • Known as the king of gems, ruby is the birthstone for the month of July.
    • The intense green peridot is the official birthstone for August.
    • One of the rarest gemstones in the world, sapphire is the official birthstone for September.
    • Opal is the official birthstone for the month of October. It takes its name from the Greek word for change as it changes color in different lights.
    • Topaz which is the official birthstone of November is used to promote a harmonious lifestyle.
    • Tanzanite is set as the official birthstone for the month of December.

Love and reverence for gemstones can be witnessed in any part of the globe. 12 gemstones adorn the breastplate of the High Priest of the Israelites. Jade enjoys great popularity in the East. There is a strong fascination with top-quality emeralds among people in the Middle East.

In ancient Vedic culture, wellness and peace of the mind were associated with the balance of energy within the body. This is attributed to how the planets are positioned at the time of the birth of an individual. Planetary gemology, in this regard, is a very strong branch of study that sheds further light on the importance of gemstones beyond the limits of earth’s stratosphere.

There are nine basic planetary gems that are used to harness the energy of the planets. They are:

    • Ruby for the sun
    • Natural pear for the moon
    • Yellow sapphire for Jupiter
    • Blue sapphire for Saturn
    • Emerald for Mercury
    • Diamonds for Venus
    • Red coral for Mars

When worn at the right time, in a balanced form, these gems are known to provide their wearers with energy that is taken from the planets. Different heavenly bodies in our solar system exhibit certain energies:

    • Sun. Self-confidence and a sense of power.
    • Moon. Calmness and peacefulness.
    • Jupiter. Innate wisdom and the ability to find the right path.
    • Mars. Courage, strength, and stamina
    • Mercury. Presence of mind, power of speech, and ability to persuade.
    • Venus. Beauty and luxury.
    • Saturn. Discipline and hard work.

The cultures that promote and delve into the planetary study of gemstones warn about the dangers of over peaking on energy gained from the planets via the special stones. These cultures constantly lay emphasis on the importance of balancing different energies for peak performance. After all, an excess of an ingredient leaves the dish overpowered.

Gemstones have been held in high regard since ancient times. Mankind’s fascination with gemstones is etched deep into the pages of history and it is unlikely that we will be getting rid of this love and affection anytime soon.

The Curse of Diamonds

A luxury diamondPhoto by welcomiayayimages.com

Humans always have had a strong belief in the metaphysical powers of precious stones especially diamonds. People own and wear them to change their lives, their fates and their relationships for the better. There is an entire school of thought based on a principle that gemstones have strong healing properties for both mental and physical health. Mostly, only fortunate outcomes are attributed to gems.

Beauty can be a gift and a curse—and that we can say about diamonds. There are many of those precious gemstones that have a dark and spookier side. If we delve into past chronicles, we can find several diamonds that were believed to be cursed. The owners and wielders of these stones have met some ill-fated ends. In this article, we are going to discuss some of the most famous cursed diamonds from the archives of history.

Hope Diamond The Hope Diamond

“The Hope diamond”by Arenamontanus is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

In the list of cursed stones, no other diamond has gained more notoriety than the hope diamond. This 45-carat gem with blue undertone has been around for at least four centuries with an unknown first owner. There is a long index of tragedies and mishaps for which the Hope Diamond has been blamed.

From insanity to murders and suicide, the hope diamond has brought the excessive of calamities for its owners and their loved ones. The most famous ‘victims’ of the hope diamond were King Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette. The couple owned the Hope Diamond during the infamous French turmoil and subsequent revolution. Louis XVI was the owner of the Hope Diamond at the time of his beheading.

Evalyn McLean, an American Socialite from the early 20th century was the last private owner of this cursed diamond. McLean had to go through a series of tragedies during her ownership of the stone—her husband left for another woman, her son died in a car crash and her daughter committed suicide.

Famous American Jeweler Harry Winston bought the stone from a Mclean’ estate trustee after her death and eventually sold it to Smithsonian, a museum and a research institute in Washington DC. To this day, it is the property of the museum and anybody can see that cursed stone that has been blamed to cast its evil spell on its owners throughout history.

The Koh-I-Noor

“He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God or a woman can wear it with impunity.” These chilling words were said about the infamous 109-carat Koh-I-Noor diamond, originally mined some 5,000 years ago. The stone has a bloodied past marred with battles between entire monarchs.  

The stone was passed out among Persians, Indians, and Afghans as they would overpower each other in wars. The stone was eventually shifted to Britain and the Royal Family when the East India Company defeated the Sikh Emperor in India, the owner of the stone at that point in time.

The British were well-aware of the jinx and evil associated with the male ownership of Koh-I-Noor and how it had brought down the empires. Therefore, Queen Victoria wrote in her will that the stone must only be worn by a female royalty.

The Koh-I-Noor is now a part of the Crown Jewels. Iran, India, and Afghanistan still argue that they are the rightful owner of this cursed diamond.

The Black Orlov

It is the curse story of a black diamond that was once the eye of a statue of Hindu God Brahma.  It was stolen by an unknown miscreant somewhere in the 19th century. From then on, this black diamond has remained a cursed stone. It is believed that the priest of the temple put a vicious curse on the owner of the stone.

Before the Bolshevik Revolution, a Russian princess Nadia Vyegin Orlov was the owner of this black diamond. The princess committed suicide by jumping off the balcony while the stone was still part of her pendant. The stone then unknowingly found its way into the hands of an American diamond dealer J.W. Paris. Paris also took his life by jumping off a building, in an uncannily similar manner as Princess Orlov’s suicide.

The stone is now in the private ownership of a Pennsylvania-based ornament dealer Dennis Petimezas. He strongly contests that the curse of the Black Orlov has been broken. It is interesting to note the many owners have cut the stone into new shapes to ward off its curse. The original black diamond was over 190 carats and now it has been tapered to just 67 carats. However, the frequent ownership shift suggests that the curse hasn’t been broken yet.

The Regent Diamond

The Regent Diamond was another cursed stone with its origin in India. It was mined from the Goloconda Mine, located in Hyderabad, India. Shortly after its excavation, it was stolen by a slave who then boarded a ship to France to sell it and to start a new life.

He hid the stone in his leg wound to protect it from getting stolen or snatched. Whether due to stone’s curse or something else, the ship’s captain found out about it. The captain had the slave killed and went on to sell it for himself.

The stone eventually ended up in one of Napoleon’s swords. Many people believe that the possession of the Regent Diamond was the starting point of Napoleon’s decline. The Regent Diamond is now on display at the famous French museum the Lourve.

The Sancy Diamond

The Sancy diamond is a 55-carat crystal with yellow undertones. A French soldier acquired the stone from India and sold it to a British royalty who wore it as a good luck charm. The stone is believed to be cursed because of its frequent disappearance all through history.

One time, the diamond went missing and eventually found its way in the stomach of a messenger who died of unknown circumstances. This stone is now also part of the jewel collection in the Louvre alongside the Regent Diamond.  

From a scientific standpoint, it’s just a superstition to believe in the curse of diamonds. But there is no denying that the owners of these cursed diamonds had to go through some ill-fated instances. Coincidence?  

14 Interesting Facts About the Beautiful Opal

Opal in its uncut formWith its diverse, vibrant colors and captivating patterns, this precious stone is a perfect match for earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and watches. Opal is amorphous which means it does not have a pre-defined crystalline structure. This sets it apart from other gemstones and it is this property of opal that is the reason for the stone coming in many different colors and a range of shapes.

The article below talks about some interesting facts about opal. Some of these might surprise you.

1)   Opal Goes Way Back

Writers, artists, and craftsmen have held the opal in high regards since olden times. The exact discovery of the gemstone is not known as records vary. However, artifacts containing traces of the gemstone date as far as 4000 BC. The Romans referred to opal as opalus which means precious stone.

2)   All Good Things Take Time and Patience  

According to most prominent researchers on gemstones, silica (which forms a base component of opal) overran parts of Australia approximately 20 to 30 million years ago. With the passage of time, through millions of years, silica solidified between rocks and canyons to form opal. According to some research, it takes about five million years to solidify a single centimeter of opal.

3)   A Gemstone Formed by Rain

The exact process involved in the birth of opal is still not clear. However, most experts believe that heavy rains washed the silica into canyons and cracks, initiating its creation. As the water was evaporated, only the silica was left behind in gel form, eventually hardening over millions of years. This theory is arguably the most valid one. Giving credence to this is the fact that opal contains significant traces of water ranging between 5 to 20%.

4)   Australia is the Main Source of Mining

Australia holds a market monopoly in the supply of opal to the world. Australian mines provide over 95% of the world’s supply of opal. Other countries known for notable quantities are Brazil, Mexico, and Ethiopia.

5)   A Play on Color: Precious Opals and Commons Ones

As with most other gems, opal comes in two main categories – precious and common. Precious opals come in popping colors such as a fiery red or they mimic a slew of colors that are pleasing to the eyes. This is referred to as a play of color and is used to classify unique opals that have various colors blended together to form a beautiful precious rock. Some opals, like blue ones have veins running through them, which makes this gem unique among its own family, as no one opal is the same.

6)   How Do Opals Get Their Various Colors?

Expensive opals have two color themes; one is the background color that is formed due to impurities contained within silica. The other colors come to be due to the way silica hardens into a crystalline form. Silica consists of minuscule spheres that merge with one another. During their fusion, small gaps are formed between these spheres where light is diffracted. This phenomena caused by light diffraction is responsible for the shapes and color play of opal.

7)   Intensity and Diversity Drives the Price

Intense-colored opals along with those that have the most vibrant diversity of colors are priced the highest.

8)   A Gemstone That is Soft

The Mohs Scale ranks gemstones and precious rocks according to hardness density. Opal ranges between 5.5 and 6.5 on this scale. This implies that they require more caution as compared to other gemstones and birthstones as they are more brittle.

9)   Superstitions and Bad Luck

A superstition among people regarding the purchase of opal is that it brings bad luck to people. It’s also believed that the only people shielded from such effects were those whose birthstone is opal. Countless tales of opals being damaged or destroyed have fueled this superstition. A major reason behind the superstition existing is due to the stone’s fragile nature.

10) Opal as an Official Birthstone

The National Association of Jewelers agreed in 1912 to enshrine opal’s position as the official birthstone of October. Opal has been said to be used as an official birthstone for October since the 15th Century.

11) Extraterrestrial Stone

Opal is the second gemstone to be found in outer space. It was discovered on Mars in July 2015 by a NASA orbiter.

12) Types of Opals

As mentioned earlier, opal comes in various colors and shapes. Each color has its own special traits and unique combinations. Opals are mostly found in purple, blue, red, orange or yellow. Black opals are treated as the most exclusive gemstone, though they too come in different shades of black.

13) Treatment of Opal

Most gemstones are treated to bring out their inner beauty and luster. Opals are mostly left in their natural state except a few that require darkening.

14) A Stone with All the Colors of a Rainbow

Silicon that had seeped through the cracks in boulders and formed into opal over time usually depicts all the colors of a rainbow within one stone. This is one of the most unique properties of opal and a wonder of nature.

The Role of Minerals in Promoting Low-Carbon Technologies

Modern life on planet Earth thrives on the use of energy. The industrial advancements made in the past century have bestowed many favors upon us. However, these perks have come at great expense that is inhibiting the purity of our ecosystem; specifically, the use of two main energy sources – fossil fuels and coal results in the formation of carbon-laden byproducts, which are detrimental to our environment. In addition, coal combustion is one of the major sources of anthropogenic arsenic emission into the biosphere, of which India, China, and the United States are currently major contributors.

Due to the unrestrained production and emission of these byproducts in the past few decades, the Earth’s climate is getting warmer and unpredictable. Several environmental studies have issued warnings that the ongoing climate deterioration has put the existence of many geographical regions in jeopardy.

Many countries have understood the perils of conventional energy resources and are now willing to cut down their use. For instance, France has pledged to go gasoline-free on roads by the end of 2040. Similarly, many other countries have also set targets to reduce their reliance on carbon-intensive technologies.

Low-Carbon Technologies

Solar energy, wind energy, and batteries are at the core of the low-carbon paradigm. Sun and wind are considered the two most abundant sources of renewable energy. In addition, only they have the potential to take the place of conventional energy options. Batteries, on the other hand, play a vital part towards cleaner energy for our environment, but a car using electricity as a fuel has to have a robust and long-lasting battery as the fuel reservoir and transmission. Similarly, solar panels and wind turbines can’t become part of the main power grid without suitable battery installments.    

Interestingly, all the aforementioned components of the low-carbon future extensively depend on different minerals. Let’s have a look at how minerals play a major role in low-carbon energy solutions.

Use of Minerals and Metals in Wind Turbines

Offshore Wind Turbines

Wind power is at the center of the eco-friendly energy landscape. It has the ability to replace conventional energy sources in coastal areas and other regions with good average gust speed. It has been estimated that, in the next 5-6 years, a 1000-feet tall wind turbine will be able to produce enough energy to provide electricity to a small town.

The wind turbines designed on the latest technology require extensive use of minerals for its production. For instance, the power setup of a three-megawatt wind turbine needs.

  •        335 tons of steel
  •        4.7 tons of copper
  •        3 tons of aluminum
  •        2 tons of rare earth minerals

1,200 tons of concrete is also required to put up a 3-MW wind turbine. (Note: concrete also consists of different minerals).

The above figures clearly indicate that we will need different minerals and metals in great quantity for making wind turbines. Without the easy availability of raw materials, the prospect of setting up a wind turbine will remain an expensive affair. This downside will discourage both public and private entities to fulfill their power needs through wind energy.

Use of Minerals and Metals in Solar Cells

According to a study from 2017, solar energy makes up more than half (54.5%) of the global renewable capacity. It has also been estimated that the share of solar energy will be increased by 3% in the next three years. Photovoltaic cells, which convert light energy into electricity, are at the core of solar energy generation.

Metals and minerals are important raw materials needed in the making of PV cells. A standard PV cell is 70% glass. This means a large amount of silicon will be required for extensive solar cell networks. Aluminum, tin, copper, and lead are also part of solar cell construction. It is interesting to note that a fractional amount of silver is required in PV cells. However, its consumption in solar cell production still accounts for 7% of the overall silver demand.

For wide-scale and economical manufacturing of PV cells, governments and private companies have to expedite the mining of different minerals especially silver, aluminum, and tin.

Use of Minerals and Metals in Batteries

Batteries are the backbone of renewable energy transmission. Whether it’s solar or wind, any alternative energy model can’t sustain without efficient batteries in place. Lithium-ion cells are considered ideal batteries in setting up an efficient renewable energy system. Besides lithium, nickel, and cobalt are also needed to make these batteries.    

The Growing Demand for Minerals

By keeping in mind the ongoing and future renewable energy projects, researchers have projected the increase in demand of several minerals by 2050. Since every renewable energy project needs lithium-ion batteries, the demand for lithium will most likely see an exponential rise. Researchers have concluded that the lithium demand will be shot up by 965% in comparison to its current production.

Regarding copper, some experts predict that we are going to need the same amount in the next 25 years that we have used in the last 5,000 years. Nickel, Vanadium, Indium, cobalt, and graphite are also some of the minerals that will experience a significant rise in their demand for a low-carbon environment.

The Paradox of Mining and Low-Carbon Energy Generation

It is really evident that extensive mining is required for fulfilling the mineral and metal demand of the renewable energy sector. As things stand, mining makes up 11% of global energy consumption. While striving for clean energy, it is equally important to make current mining methods more efficient so that they can’t negate the efforts made for reducing greenhouse emissions.   

An Opportunity for Developing Countries

Many large deposits of minerals and metals required to devise clean-energy are present in developing countries. These countries now have an opportunity to boost their economies while playing a critical role in cutting down the global dependence on carbon-laden fuel and energy sources. However, it is extremely important that they employ smart mining methods to excavate the required minerals. Without better mining practices, the entire exercise of ‘minerals for clean energy’ can end up without bearing any substantial results.

Can We Still Call Coal ‘the Black Diamond’?

”Unexcavated  Photo by pkprojectyayimages.com

Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock abundantly present within the Earth’s crust. Just two centuries ago, it didn’t have any commercial significance. Private companies and governments were still enamored by the brilliance of gem-grade minerals and wouldn’t work out excavation programs to mine coal.

However, the discovery of electricity and the subsequent wave of industrial growth changed coal’s fate. A sedimentary specimen once considered of no value earned the title of the ‘black diamond’, and rightly so. No one can deny the role of coal in developing and shaping the global economy in the last century and changing the lives of millions of people for better.

But, the tables have turned now. The substance that fuelled the industrial revolution is now considered by many as an antagonist in the rapidly deteriorating climate conditions. As it stands, more than 80% of the coal mined around the world is used to generate 37% of global electricity. Coal is primarily made of carbon along with nitrogen, hydrogen, and sulfur. During combustion, this carbon reacts with oxygen and produces greenhouse gases that are the main culprit of global warming. This is an alternative, called clean coal, but this process has a way to go before it reaches the mainstream of American industry, due to the financial burden it provides.

Environmentalists and many nation states are denouncing the use of coal. On the other hand, it is a relatively inexpensive means of energy and is why so many developing countries are claiming their right to use it.

In this two-part article series, we are going to discuss different aspects of coal production and its role in energy generation in different regions of the world. We will also try to discern the future of this sedimentary rock.

Paris Agreement: The Pact for Ultimate Extinction of the Coal Industry

The Paris Agreement is a treaty on climate change within the UN conventions and has 195 nation states as its signatories. The agenda of the agreement is to devise global and nationwide policies to decrease the greenhouse gas emission. The major goal of cutting down greenhouse emission is to keep the global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

It is a no-brainer that the cumulative greenhouse emissions can’t be reduced without dropping and decreasing the use of coal as the energy source. That’s where a conflict develops that we are going to discuss later.  

According to the Paris agreement, the developing countries are going to get coal completely out of their power generation equation by 2050. Meanwhile, developed countries will do the same by 2030. However, this is what will happen in an ideal scenario. By taking into account the current status of the global coal industry, it looks like the majority of signatories might not be able to cut down their coal use and greenhouse footprint within the given timeframe.

China: The Biggest Player in the Coal Sector at the Moment

China has earned the status of a global power player through its relentless economic growth. Emerging Asian economies including India and China are the main reasons behind the increased coal demand in the last two decades. Today, coal is powering a major part of the industrial growth in China. The country accounts for half of all the global coal consumption.    

China is using coal so aggressively that its demand has peaked earlier than expected. Coal consumption experienced a steady decline between 2013 and 2016. However, the rebound in 2017 has raised the concerns that instead of declining coal consumption will remain in a plateau phase.

Amid the falling prices of renewable energy alternatives and increasing dependence on shale gas among many thriving economies, China is not willing to take any risks. The country sticks to conventional energy generated from coal instead of experimenting with alternatives to rule out any compromise on its steady economic growth.  

Europe is on the Verge of Coal Phase Out

While China is still capitalizing on coal use, many European economies are on the course of its phase-out. For instance, France has emerged as the most responsible and ambitious country in the context of cutting down the use of coal. The country has already shifted its primary energy dependence from coal to other sources and pledged to go completely coal-free in the next two years.

The UK, the first country to set up a coal-fired power plant, might set an example of becoming one of the first few countries to become coal-free. The UK used coal-free energy for nearly 1000 hours (approximately 42 days) last year.

This growing independence from coal power suggests that the UK will easily reach the phase-out stage in the set timeframe by 2025. Many other countries in the region are also following in Britain’s footsteps. For instance, 10 EU members have promised to achieve the coal phase out before 2030.  

Why Moving Away from Coal Looks so Easy in Europe?

There are multiple reasons why the energy transition from coal to other sources in Europe seems really attainable.

Collapsing Cost of Renewable Energy

In the UK and many other European countries, the cost of renewable energy has dropped to a level where it has become cheaper than the conventional energy generation (by coal or gas). The trend of dropping prices continues as more players are foraying into the sector.

Mounting Cost of Maintenance

There are many coal-fired power plants in the UK and Australia that have completed their operating life. They are due for replacement in the next decade or so. Setting up a coal power project from scratch entails a huge investment with really sluggish ROI. The same monetary sources can be harnessed in transitional fuel and renewable sources to fulfill functional demands and as well to meet the greenhouse cut down targets.  

It is also important to note that nearly half of all the European coal-fired power plants are loss-making and experts believe that this number will be doubled in the next decade. With such a bleak scenario, it looks very imminent that Europe will grow out of coal use rather soon.  [To be continued in Part 2]

Factors Behind Undervalued Silver

Close up of Silver CoinsSilver is perhaps the most overlooked precious metal, as most people tend to focus more on gold and platinum. However, it has most of the same properties as gold, and even offers important technological and electronic applications.  

The first reported mining of silver took place in 3,000 BC in the regions where Turkey and Greece are located. Silver was first used as a currency in the form of coins in Greece around 400 BC, but it was the Spanish conquests of South America that saw a drastic shift in silver production, which lead to three countries, Mexico, Peru and Bolivia producing over 85%of the world’s supply.  

Demand for Silver

Silver is one of the most versatile metals in the world and is used in many applications. It is the second-most tensile and malleable metal after gold. A single ounce of silver can be molded into 8,000 feet of wire.

Industrial and technological usage account for over half of the demand for silver annually which is due to its versatile nature. Here are some applications which depend on silver:  

Industrial Applications

Silver is one of the best conductors of heat and electricity which makes it viable for use in many electrical applications. It is the primary element used in the production of solar panels. The metal is also heavily used in the automobile sector.

Jewelry

Few metals are better suited for jewelry than silver, which is what drives up demand in this sector. Shiny and resilient, the metal is quite easily molded into shapes, requires less upkeep and can last a long time.

Coins

Silver was once the most widely used form of currency in the shape of coins. It was used globally as an accepted medium of exchange until it was phased out gradually in the 19th Century.

Silverware

Silver has been the standard bearer for decor and cutlery since the 14th Century. Silverware lasts for generations and does not corrode.

Is Silver Undervalued

While gold netted a decent return of 13% in 2017, silver gave out a consistently negative return. Over the course of the last seven years, the price of silver has dropped significantly from $35 an ounce in 2011 to $14 an ounce in 2018.

Even if silver is not in the same category of precious metals such as gold, the demand and supply forces dictate that the price should be much higher, especially because of its high demand in industrial usage and a weak dollar. This meant that all commodities gave a decent return except silver.

Here are some possible reasons as to why the value of silver should be higher than the current market price.

Strong Demand

Silver has many different applications and some analysts suggest that price is artificially low. Each year, new innovations are discovered regarding the usage of silver because of its unique chemical properties. Applications from biotech to electronics all use silver and there is a concern that there is not enough silver left to fulfill all the demand.

Supply Deficiency

The production of silver has struggled to meet with the surging demand. In 2017 alone, the supply of silver fell short by 32.5 million ounces, while the year before, the shortage was recorded to be 17.14 million ounces.

Despite this shortfall in supply, the price further decreased for the given years which goes against the basic economic principle of demand and supply: prices rise when demand increases and supply reduces. This led market analysts to speculate that silver was undervalued, as prices remained low even as demand outpaced supply.

The Gold-Silver Ratio

The gold-silver ratio is a measurement of how many ounces of silver does it take to purchase an ounce of gold. Historically the average of this ratio has always been 12:1. This means it takes 12 ounces of silver to buy 1 ounce of gold. The current ratio is 83:1 implying that the market price of silver is massively undervalued.

Reasons to Buy Silver

Silver appears to be a great buy for investors at the moment because of it being relatively underpriced as compared to other metals; however, there isn’t a lot of capital tied up in silver compared to gold. Furthermore silver can meet small financial needs in case of an emergency as it can be easily broken down into smaller denominations. Also silver coins and bars can be sold almost anywhere in the world.

As world inventories of silver have fallen thanks to a surging demand and a falling supply, a fact has been established from data observation over the past fifty years. Since silver is a small market, small money movements have a great impact on price which implies high volatility. A great volatility means that silver can fall more than gold in bearish markets but the opposite stands true for bull markets.

With observation and a little knowledge, you can clock in at the right time to buy silver when it is at an all-time low currently and reap in the profits when prices take off. As of the writing of this article, the price of silver is $15.31.

One of the biggest banks on Wall Street, JPMorgan identified this opportunity in 2011 by buying silver in great numbers. Reports of the bank having accumulated more than 600 million ounces of physical silver at their warehouse, implies a changing trend. Silver prices appear to be at an all-time low and a bank on Wall Street accumulating a huge stash of the metal is not for nothing.  

Commodities are all priced in dollars and depreciation in USD means that the prices of all commodities are rising, except silver. With a massive hoard of silver in their warehouse, JPMorgan is likely to have predicted a spike in the price of silver much quicker than the rest of us.

Precious Gemstones of Africa

Sample of a spectacular watermelon tourmaline Photo by stellaryayimages.com

Besides its cultural diversity, breathtaking landscapes and thriving wildlife, Africa is also thriving in an abundance of valuable minerals and stones.  Some of the world’s largest gold and diamond mines are located here. In fact, many African economies rely heavily on large deposits of precious minerals.

There is a widespread misconception that Africa is only home to diamonds, copper and gold reserves. However, in reality, the continent possesses a diverse range of precious gemstones inside its vast geological planes.

In this article, we will discuss some gemstones and minerals found in Africa that are not diamonds or gold.

African Ruby: The Answer to Burma Rubies

Ruby is the most precious and sought-after gemstone from the corundum family alongside sapphires. This red stone has a rich history and has always been popular in ornamental items across different cultures and civilizations.  Even though it is excavated everywhere in the world, rubies from Africa have become quite popular lately.

Rubies on Jewerly
Rubies as Seen in Jewelry Store in Belize, Central America

Burma rubies that are excavated in Myanmar are considered the best among all the ruby varieties. However, Burma Rubies were not legally available in the US gem market for quite some time due to trade restrictions.  To compensate for the demand for clear ruby specimens, the supply from Mozambique came in really handy. Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar are also some of the noteworthy African Ruby exporters to many countries in the world.

Rhodolite Garnets: A Unique Mineral Combination

Garnet belongs to the silicate mineral group and has many varied uses. The uninspiring and impure garnet specimens are used as abrasives in the industries, thanks to its high grading on the Mohs Hardness Scale. On the other hand, the fine and pure garnet specimens that usually have reddish appearance are faceted as jewelry stones.

Tanzania produces the world’s finest and rare garnet specimens. Technically, they are called Rhodolite Garnet because they are the combination of two minerals Almandine and Pyrope. This unique blend gives the specimen an extraordinary crimson luster along with raspberry and violet undertones. Right now, such Garnet composition is rarely mined from any other part of the world. This makes Tanzania the sole exporter of Rhodolite garnets.   

Garnets

Paraiba Tourmaline: From Brazil to Africa

Tourmaline is another silicate mineral with Boron traces. It comes in a range of different colors. However, one of its variant that was only discovered in 1980 has become all the rage among gem lovers. Going by the name Paraiba Tourmaline, this variant was first discovered in the Brazilian hills.  

Due to its extraordinary aquatic blue luminescence, it quickly gained traction as the precious gem option for engagement rings. Before its discovery in Mozambique and Nigeria in the last decade, Paraiba Tourmaline was so rare that one single specimen was mined for every 10,000 diamonds.

At present, Mozambique is the largest exporter of this exceptional variant of Tourmaline. It is important to mention here that Paraiba Tourmaline is still a rare gemstone even after its discovery in several African countries. In order to make sure that each and every Paraiba Tourmaline is excavated, miners use manual methods to unearth them.  A carat of a fine faceted piece of Paraiba Tourmaline is priced around $16,000.

Tsavorite: A Lucid Emerald Substitute

Due to its chemical composition, tsavorite is regarded as one of the peculiar gemstones. It’s actually a garnet but with heavy bonding of aluminum and calcium molecules. Garnet usually exhibits a red hue while some rare specimens are available in other colors as well. Tsavorite naturally offers extremely fine clarity. That characteristic is also substantiated by its higher reflective index.  

Tsavorite has a strong green color exhibition, which makes it an exceptional choice for jewelry items and as a substitute for emeralds. Eastern African countries like Kenya and Tanzania are gifted with sizable deposits of this unique garnet. Some of the tsavorite specimens excavated in Kenya can go up to $6,000 per carat.

Topaz: The Hardest Silicate Gemstone

Topaz is another silicate mineral but with the addition of aluminum and fluorine impurities in it. It is the hardest stone among all the silicates. Clear and lustrous topaz stones are considered ideal for jewelry items because of their extended durability and resistance against scratches.

The majority of topaz specimens are found in vitreous blue and gray colors. However, brown, yellow, red and pink rare topaz specimens are also available in the gem market.  Nigeria is the home of some fine yellow topaz specimens that are usually priced around $600.

Tanzanite: An Exclusive Gift from Tanzania

Named after the origin of its discovery, Tanzania, this gemstone is a relatively newer mineral specimen. The stone is exclusively excavated in the mines in Northern Tanzania. Apart from its strong presence, tanzanite also stands apart among other gemstones because of its trichroism exhibition.

A single tanzanite specimen can put up a colorful display when observed from different planes. Blue, burgundy and violet hues are often displayed by tanzanite when they are observed under different lights. High-quality tanzanite is still only found in Tanzania and can cost up to $700 per carat. Well-Faceted tanzanite is used as a primary stone in necklaces.

Zircon: A Reasonable Diamond Substitute

Zircon is one of the nesosilicates that is formed when underground silicate deposits dissolve with some rare elements. The gem-grade zircons are available with different chromatic attributes. The fine colorless zircon pieces are used as cheap diamond alternatives. In addition, brown, green, blue and yellowish golden variants are also faceted as gemstones. Like a diamond, Zircon also has a protracted crystallization age. On average, a natural zircon specimen is around four billion years old.

Some high-quality colorless zircons are mined at the Limpopo Belt, South Africa. So, South Africa is not just responsible for the large supply of diamonds worldwide, it is also supplying high-quality diamond substitutes in the form of zircons. Apart from white or colorless zircons, its well-saturated variant is also popular among gem aficionados. It is indeed eight times more expensive than transparent diamond substitutes.

It won’t be wrong to say that, besides diamonds, Africa is giving the world some of the rarest, spectacular and peculiar gemstones of the world.

Howard Fensterman Minerals