Live and in colour: the rise of coloured gems

Why rare precious stones are heralding a new wave in ultra-personalised jewellery

Are diamonds really for ever? It might seem not, as gone are the days of perfectly clear crystals adorning the fingers of every socialite and partygoer. There’s a bright new trend bursting through the industry, with colourful gemstones becoming increasingly popular in fine jewellery.

From aquamarine to emeralds, morganite to pearls, these striking gems are skyrocketing in demand at even the most prestigious of jewellery houses. With a plethora of gemstones in hundreds of colours, varieties and cuts, a few in particular seem to be rising above the rest in this rarefied industry.

Chris Blacklock, the sixth generation MD of Blacklock, a British jewellery firm founded in 1832, says: “For us, the traditional coloured gemstones of sapphire, emerald and ruby have never been out of fashion – if anything they have been going from strength to strength.”

Alison Cooper, founder and CEO of Alicia J Diamonds, agrees, stating that the “classic” three have always been in high demand, commanding lively prices at auction.

“Emeralds remain a firm favourite,” she says. “This precious gemstone has a value associated with rarity, durability and beauty.

A fine emerald can be priced higher per carat than a diamond, so is often seen as the ultimate coloured gemstone. Its rich green hue is associated with the lushest landscapes and it has been desirable for centuries.

“We also find that blues are particularly popular, such as sapphires. In colour psychology, blue is associated with depth, stability, knowledge, power, gravity, and calm. It also symbolises confidence, trust and faith. Blue gemstones are loved globally by gemmologists and jewellery collectors alike.”

As well as these timeless traditional gems, other coloured precious stones have also reached high demand – and high prices.

“In the recent past we have seen greater interest in stones such as tourmaline as they are available in pretty much any colour, have great clarity and are quite hard-wearing stones,” says Blacklock. “Additionally, pearls have also grown in popularity as people have become more comfortable with them not just being ‘for Granny’. You get wonderful South Seas pearls of various colours and hues being used by lots of the jewellery houses. Over the last few years, there has definitely been a renaissance; we now create three to five bespoke pieces a year featuring them in some form.”

There are many reasons why these colourful gems are becoming increasingly popular in fine jewellery. Cooper believes consumers are more interested in wearing original jewellery that has particular resonance.

“Birthstones and stones with a personal significance to the wearer have seen a surge in sales, particularly emeralds, rubies, sapphires and coloured diamonds, which are having a big impact just now,” says Cooper. “Since the pandemic, more consumers are also looking to tap into the powers and spiritual meaning of particular gemstones for healing, good fortune, and different energies.”

Celebrity endorsement can also be responsible for these shifts in trends, with glamorous personalities having a huge influence on the comeback of colourful gemstones. From seeing some wonderful gemstone jewellery on the red carpet to bold star-shaped engagement rings, many celebrities have opted for a colourful gem rather than a diamond. Princess Eugenie’s engagement ring, for example, features the rare padparadscha sapphire, with its beautiful dusky pink-orange hues.

“We’re not going to see the end of diamonds – they will always be a constant despite more interest right now in coloured gemstones,” says Blacklock. “However, often the two can combine beautifully in one piece, complementing each other to form an exquisite creation.”

“Many of the coloured gemstones in nature are rarer than diamonds,” Cooper explains, “and so they appeal to a new, discerning generation of millennials who put rarity and uniqueness above all else.

“Another factor to consider is that modern luxury is no longer just about the labels you wear. Now it’s also about the significance behind a piece of clothing or jewellery. People want something that they can wear forever. Runway collections show a fresh dramatic fashion direction, and luxury brands are focusing on power-styling with renewed vigour. Coloured gemstones are being used by the big fashion houses to create jewellery to match accessories and clothing.”

As our awareness about being more ethical in our everyday lives increases, the way we source our jewellery is no exception. With the diamond industry finding ways to remove itself from a somewhat tarnished history of conflict and blood, coloured gemstones may provide a more sustainable alternative that is well worth investing in.

Mariaveronica Favoroso, CEO and co-founder at business-to-business gemstone marketplace Gemolith, says: “Investing in responsibly sourced and traceable coloured gemstones will become more and more important and appealing as consumers are now very conscious and aware of the importance of sustainability in luxury. Fashion houses and designers are demanding to know the origin and provenance of gemstones and need to be able to trace their journey to make sure gemstones are sourced within ESG standards.”

Blacklock echoes this, saying: “It’s clear that customers want to know where their stones have come from and how they have been mined – whether they are diamonds or coloured stones. We are constantly looking to ensure our stones are ethically sourced and have a clear line of traceability – we only do business with stone dealers who have the same attitude as ourselves. Five years ago, it was a differentiator to source sustainable stones whereas today it is considered table stakes.”

It’s clear that, whatever stones are in fashion, consumer demand will ensure that ethical and ecological concerns are at the top of the industry’s agenda, making it a key factor for investment.

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