Ruby & Sapphire book cover

Appendix B: Ruby & Sapphire Prices

Note: The following are excerpts from Richard Hughes' book, Ruby & Sapphire. If you like what you see, order a copy direct from the publisher.

The golden guess is the morning-star to the full round of truth.

Lord Alfred Tennyson [1809–1892], Columbus

WHAT'S THE PRICE? That is the question on everyone's lips. Unfortunately, the answer seems only to spring from the lips of the seller. [1]

Lack of a universally-accepted system of quality analysis and the numerous non-quality factors which can affect price make it extremely difficult to come up with logical price tables for ruby and sapphire. But difficult does not equal impossible. In an attempt to bring ruby and sapphire pricing in from the cold, the author, together with Donald A. Palmieri of Palmieri's GAA Market Monitor, [2] has compiled the following tables. Consider this a brave attempt at bringing order to chaos. And when you find inconsistencies and mistakes, just remember that old saying about how you can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs.

Market memos – May, 1995

Ruby

Burma (Mogok & Mong Hsu).  Mogok rubies continue to bring top prices in the wholesale trade and at auction. There is an ample supply of heat-treated commercial stones, but most of these originate from the Mong Hsu area, not Mogok. Approximately 70–75% of the better-quality Mogok rubies going through certification reveal either low temperature heat or no evidence of heat treatment at all. According to the markets monitored, there is no difference in value for these categories. Of the 25–30% heated to high temperatures, most will sell for up to a 40% discount below the price for the untreated and low temperature heated stones.

Thailand/Cambodia.  More than 99% of all Thai/Cambodian rubies have been subjected to high-temperature heat treatment. Fine goods are scarce and Far East demand continues to put upward pressure on prices. Many fine goods remain in the inventories of American dealers.

Blue sapphire

Kashmir.  As more heat-treated Kashmir sapphires are found in the market, the question of value differences between heated and unheated Kashmir stones becomes ever-more important. Fine Kashmir sapphires are distinctive in color, texture and inclusions and so can often be positively identified as to country of origin. Heat-treatment makes origin determination more difficult, with heated Sri Lankan stones being confused with Kashmir, and vice versa. Extreme caution is recommended when buying, selling or appraising. Market values listed are for untreated stones only. Some dealers will charge the same for a treated stone, and some discount a treated stone up to 30–40%. One thing is certain – a dealer will not pay as much for a treated Kashmir sapphire.

Burma (Mogok).  Supplies of Mogok sapphires are as tight as for Mogok rubies. There is little fine material around. Prices are relatively stable, and those who deal in better sapphires buy all they can. Mogok sapphires are being heat treated with increasing frequency. Like their ruby cousins, heat-treated Mogok sapphires are worth less than unheated stones.

Sri Lanka.  Today, most Sri Lankan sapphires have been heat treated to improve their color. From about 1975–1985, the market heat treated stocks of geuda sapphire which had built up over the centuries. These stocks are now depleted. In addition, heavy rainfall in the early 1990s also hurt production. While mining is today proceeding normally, little fine material is available. In historical terms, this is the normal state of affairs for sapphire mining in Sri Lanka. Thus, barring development of new treatments/new mines, we cannot expect to see the availability of Sri Lankan sapphire ever again reach the levels of the early 1980s.

Other blue sapphire sources.  This includes sapphires from many localities, including Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Nigeria, China, etc. Virtually all sapphires from these sources have been heat treated. Stones from these sources tend to be iron-rich, and of darker, inky-blue colors. Thus they are of lower value than the better stones from Kashmir, Burma and Sri Lanka. Many stones found in investment and barter scams come from these sources. But keep in mind that good and bad come from every mine. A small quantity of fine sapphires are found in Australia, and it would be far better to have a fine Australian sapphire than a poor piece from Kashmir or Burma.

Fancy sapphires

The term fancy sapphire is used to describe corundums other than red or blue. When it comes to fancy sapphires, Sri Lanka is king of the hill. Within this small island are found sapphires of virtually every color, including some for which the island is the definitive source (such as the lovely pink-orange padparadscha). Tanzania's Umba Valley is also noted for fancy sapphires, as are Montana's non-Yogo mines. But again, Sri Lanka is King, with a capital K. The sizes and colors found on that island are enough to make any Montana or Tanzanian miner cry uncle.

Yellow & orange sapphire.  Yellow sapphires from Sri Lanka are generally of a light to medium hue, without any brownish overtones. Like Sri Lankan blues, deeper hues are reached only in larger sizes, or via heat treatment. Heat treatment produces deeper yellows, golds and oranges that are virtually unknown, or rare in nature. The very rare pinkish orange padparadscha sapphire is found mainly in Sri Lanka and at Vietnam's Quy Chau mines. While similar gems are sometimes found at Tanzania's Umba mines, most from this locality tend towards the brownish orange. Padparadschas from Sri Lanka sometimes fetch prices that rival even ruby.

Thailand and Australia both produce fine yellow sapphires, with the stones from Chanthaburi in Thailand grading into the highly desirable Mekong Whisky golden yellow to orange colors. These bring high prices locally in Thailand and are quite beautiful. Australian yellow sapphires tend to be overly greenish, although fine golden yellows are found in the Anakie, Queensland mines. Sri Lanka, Thailand and Australia are the only sources which produce deep yellow sapphires in any quantity, although Montana and the Mogok area produces the occasional stone.

Green sapphire.  The finest green sapphires come from Sri Lanka, but are extremely rare. These stones tend to be of a lighter and more lively green than the Fe-rich stones from Thailand and Australia. The latter two countries do produce good green sapphires, but most tend towards an impure blue-green or yellow-green which is not very attractive. Green sapphires of good color and clarity over 10 ct in size are relatively scarce.

Violet and purple sapphire.  Violet and purple sapphires are found mostly in places which produce both ruby and blue sapphire. The finest stones come from Mogok, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Purple stones bordering on ruby color are most valuable and may reach prices approaching those of ruby. Star stones are possible, but relatively rare.

Color-changing sapphire.  Among the most unusual sapphires are those which display a change of color. These are judged by the quality of color change, the best ranging from the green side of blue in daylight to a reddish purple in incandescent light. A number of sources produce such stones, but fine examples are rare. The best are colored by vanadium (just like the Verneuil synthetic corundums) and come from Mogok and Umba, Tanzania. These are extremely rare. More common are Sri Lankan gems which contain a mixture of chromium (red) and iron-titanium (blue). Such stones appear bluish violet in daylight and purple under incandescent light. In the author's opinion, these are marginal as color-change sapphires. Most tanzanite shows a similar color shift.

Star stones & cabochons

Prices of star stones and cabochons are generally slightly lower than their faceted brethren of the same quality, but may approach those of faceted stones in the highest qualities. Good quality stars and cabochons must display fine transparency and color (see 'Judging stars & cabochons', p. 222).

Treatments

Virtually all rubies and sapphires sold today have been subjected to high-temperature heat treatment for color and/or clarity enhancement (the exception is stones mined prior to 1975 and not subsequently treated). Today, it is the rare stone which has not been heat treated. Telltale signs of this treatment can often be found by experienced gemologists (see page 116). Market values for Thai/Cambodian rubies and most sapphires are based on the assumption that all have been heat treated. Conversely, market values for Mogok rubies and blue sapphires and Kashmir blue sapphires are based on positive gemological proof of country of origin and no detectable trace of any treatment (beyond ordinary cutting and polishing). Flux-healed rubies are showing up more frequently than in the past, particularly from Möng Hsu (Burma). For blue stones, be aware of surface-diffusion treatments. While experienced gemologists can easily identify this material (via magnification and immersion), it can fool the unwary. Also be aware of synthetic corundums treated by the surface-diffusion process (synthetic colorless sapphire is far cheaper than naturally-mined material).

Buying/Selling/Appraising

The buying, selling and appraising of rubies and sapphires must be undertaken with the utmost care and caution. Know what you are buying and from who you are buying. Ask about treatments, heat, fracture-filling and otherwise. It may not be important to you until your client finds out from another jeweler or appraiser that the ruby he/she purchased from you has glass-filled cavities. According to the law, ignorance is no excuse. When selling, fully disclose everything, including things you take for granted that a judge or consumer affairs reporter would interpret as misrepresentation (even if by omission). When appraising, never identify a stone unless positive evidence is found. If doubt exists, get a second opinion locally or obtain your client's permission to send it to a competent lab for further analysis. This goes for natural vs. synthetic, treated vs. untreated and/or country of origin. The appraisal fee is never high enough to risk one's integrity and reputation on a brief moment of misjudgment. In summary, report everything you would want to know if you were purchasing the gem.

Category notes

Categories represent broad, integrated quality grades, based on a combination of color, clarity and cutting quality.

Exceptional
These stones are seen only in the finest jewelry, and are rarely encountered. High-end prices for category A represent the highest prices paid at auction. Stones fetching the highest prices are generally those certified as being untreated and of preferred origin (Burma for ruby; Kashmir and Burma for sapphire). All stones in this category will feature exceptional color, with good clarity and cutting.
Very good
These gems are found in high-quality jewelry, but are also rarely seen. Such stones feature fine color, with good clarity and cutting.
Good
This category includes stones found in most jewelry. They represent the vast majority of stones traded. Such stones may feature good color, with slight clarity or cutting problems, or be clean and well cut, but have slight color problems (generally lower saturation or overly dark color).
Fair
The upper end of this category represents stones traded in inexpensive jewelry. Such stones often have serious clarity problems, or feature color that is overly dark or light.
Poor
High-end prices for this category represent the lowest quality of stones found in the cheapest jewelry. Low-end prices for this category represent material of little or no gem use. Typically, stones in this category are far too heavily included, or possess the lowest in color saturations.

Price notes

  • Prices quoted should be considered average world prices. [3] They represent average cost to retailers from dealers for net cash single-stone or small lot purchases. Net cash means payment by bank wire immediately after receipt, or a check within 15 days of receipt. In general, large lot purchases are less expensive, while memo and term transactions are more expensive. Matched pairs or suites of any size or shape will almost always cost more than single stones of the same quality.
  • All prices are for uncalibrated stones, unless otherwise noted.
  • The prices provide only a crude estimate; accurate estimates of the price of individual stones can only be made by an experienced dealer via personal examination (no pictures or lab reports!).
  • Quality is determined by a combination of color, clarity and cut, relative to probable origin and size. Most stones used in jewelry will fall into the Fair to Good range.
  • In certain local markets, where there is high demand and appreciation for a particular local stone, the price may dramatically exceed that found in the above tables. For example, a fine Yogo sapphire of 2 ct or more may fetch $3000–5000/ct when sold in Montana. If the same stone were taken to Bangkok, it would be difficult to get $1000/ct. Similarly, a fine Mekong Whisky golden sapphire of 5–10 ct from Chanthaburi could fetch as much as $1000/ct or more in the local Thai market, but would receive only a fraction of that price elsewhere.
  • Due to the extreme rarity of exceptional rubies and sapphires of 10 ct or more, it is far more difficult to give accurate pricing information. Basically, the price is whatever the market will bear, and non-quality factors (such as those discussed on page 217) begin to influence the price to a far greater degree than stones available in quantity.

Table B.1: Ruby (including pink) prices – cut stones

Origin
Size (ct)

Quality & price per carat (in US$; K=1000)

Poor Fair Good Very Good Exceptional
Burma, Mogok
(certified, untreated)
< 0.49
0.5–0.99
1.0–1.99
2.0–4.99
5.0 +
1–25
1–60
1–400
1–900
1–1.2K
25–50
60–350
400–800
900–1.5K
1.5K–6.1K
50–300
350–700
800–3.5K
4K–5.3K
6.1K–13.2K
300–600
700–3K
3.5K–4.6K
5.3K–11.5K
13.2K–144K
-
3K–4K
4.6K–10K
11.5K–125K
144K–225K
All other sources*
Afghanistan, Jagdalek
Burma, Mogok, Mong Hsu
Kenya
Sri Lanka
Tanzania
Thailand / Cambodia
Vietnam
(all generally heat treated)
< 0.49
0.5–0.99
1.0–1.99
2.0–4.99
5.0 +
1–25
1–60
1–400
1–700
1–1K
25–50
60–350
400–650
7.5K–3K
1K–5.3K
50–300
350–575
650–2.6K
3K–4.6K
5.3K–8K
300–500
575–2.3K
2600–4K
4.6K–7K
8K–23K
-
2300–3.5K
4K–6K
7K–20K
23K–100K

* Note: Due to their lack of fluorescence and light-scattering silk inclusions, Thai/Cambodian rubies will rarely fall into the exceptional category.

Table B.2: Blue sapphire prices – cut stones

Origin
Size (ct)

Quality & price per carat (in US$; K=1000)

Poor Fair Good Very Good Exceptional
Kashmir, India
Mogok, Burma
(certified, untreated)
1.0–1.99
2.0–3.0
3.0–4.99
5.0 +
1–300
1–500
1–700
1–1K
300–2K
500–3.9K
700–6K
1K–11.5K
2K–3.4K
3.9K–5.2K
6K–10K
11.5K–14.6K
3.4K–4.5K
5.2K–8.7K
10K–12.7K
14.6K–15.5K
4.5K–7.55K
8.7K–11K
12.7K–13.5K
15.5K–45K
All other sources
Australia
China
Montana, USA
Nigeria
Sri Lanka
Tanzania
Thailand / Cambodia
Vietnam
(all generally heat treated)
< 0.49
0.5–0.99
1.0–1.99
2.0–4.99
5.0 +
1–35
1–200
1–250
1–500
1–975
35–175
200–225
250–450
500–850
975–1.1K
175–200
225–350
400–575
650–800
1.1K–2K
200–300
350–500
575–700
800–1.7K
2K–3.5K
-
700–1.5K
1.7K–3K
3.5K–10K

Table B.3: Fancy sapphire prices – cut stones

Origin
Size (ct)

Quality & price per carat (in US$)

Poor Fair Good Very Good Exceptional
Orange sapphire -

Generally similar to higher end yellow sapphires.
Certified Sri Lankan padparadschas can reach
prices close to those of ruby.

Yellow sapphire >2.0
2.0–4.99
5.0 +
1–40
1–50
1–75
25–60
50–125
75–125
75–125
125–200
150–225
100–200
200–300
300–450
125–250
275–375
400–1200
Purple/violet sapphire 1.0–1.99
2.0–4.99
1–50
1–100
50–200
100–400
140–175
400–500
175–250
500–600
200–500
600–1000
Green sapphire <1.0
1.0–2.99
3.0 +
1–10
1–15
10–13
15–18
13–15
18–20
15–20
25–40
-
– up to 200
Colorless sapphire 3.5v4.5 mm
7–14 each
Black star sapphire >1.0
>1.0–4.99
5.0 +

3–10
10–50
30–100 (golden stars may reach 200)


Notes

  1. See 'Pricing factors', p. 217, for a full discussion of the issues involved in pricing. [ return to text ]
  2. Palmieri's GAA Market Monitor is a monthly report on gemstone prices in the US. For subscription information, contact the Gemological Appraisal Association, Inc., 658 Washington Rd., Pittsburgh, PA 15228, USA; Tel.: 412-344-5500; Fax: 412-344-4910. [ return to text ]
  3. It may be a cruel reality for some, but prices do not vary too much from country to country, unless heavy government duties apply. [ return to text ]

 

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