Story and Photos by Mark Oros
Being a well-informed customer when buying natural gemstone rough for faceting will save you time, money, and aggravation. Before I started faceting gemstones, I worked primarily with opaque gemstone material, creating cabochons and carvings. I had very little understanding of the criteria for purchasing good faceting rough and found limited educational resources.
It did not help that my initial sources and experiences for facet-grade rough were less than stellar. It was very frustrating to get an order for a faceted gemstone from a client, place an order for a facet-grade rough gemstone with a broker, and then receive a very included gemstone unsuitable for faceting. This situation put me in a difficult position between the client wanting their faceted gemstone promptly and arguing with the rough gemstone dealer that their piece of rough was unsuitable for faceting. It was then that I decided to educate myself on the aspects and terminology of quality facet-grade rough gemstones.
Like every industry, the gemstone industry had a lexicon all its own and levels of expertise, which meant I had to start at the novice level and teach myself. I began by reading several gemstone books and earlier published faceting books, and I also took several gemstone classes, which were offered online by the Gemological Institute of America. What I learned could be distilled down to the four main categories that have the most significant bearing on the quality of gemstones, both rough and finished.
These are the four C classifications:
Clarity - the level of transparency for a gemstone
Carat - the weight/size of the rough and finished gemstone
Color - the available and desirable color of gemstone types
Cut - the design in which the gemstone is faceted
Each of the four C’s could be a detailed and lengthy article by itself. When purchasing gemstones, keep in mind that you will eventually facet the rough gemstone, and you should think about the four Cs (clarity, carat, color, and cut) when purchasing. Ask yourself: Does the rough gemstone have the clarity needed to yield a gemstone of usable size? What is the maximum size that the rough gemstone will yield? Is the color desirable, and does it have even saturation where needed? Will the rough gemstone yield one or multiple gemstones? How do all these variables play together in the particular piece of rough gemstone that you are considering?
One thing to keep in mind is that it is difficult to maximize all four attributes, clarity, carat, color, and cut, for every gemstone. There will need to be priorities set, and there will be trade-offs to meet these priorities. Such an example is color zoning, which is where a rough gemstone has better color saturation on a portion of the gemstone, thus preventing you from using the whole gemstone to maximize the carat weight/size. In this case, you need to decide whether color or carat weight/size is the priority for the gemstone. The correct decisions in choosing the rough gemstone, its orientation, and design will be critical in maximizing the value of your finished gemstone. It helps if you can visualize what you have with a rough gemstone and see the finished gemstone inside. If you do not see the finished gemstone hiding in the rough, it is better to pass on the piece.
Importance of Broker Relationships
During my early years of faceting, I ran into a series of rough gemstone brokers of varying integrities. It is not unusual and very unfortunate that some of these brokers take advantage of uneducated buyers. Different techniques to defraud the buyer include color manipulation of the photograph, hiding included portions of the gemstone, using backlights to enhance the color, and showing the best gemstones from a parcel where the majority are flawed and uncuttable. Also, mislabeling the gemstone and outright sending a different gemstone than the one you had agreed to purchase, are frequent fraudulent tactics. These are only a few of the tricks used by some less honest rough gemstone brokers. Do not be discouraged; there are plenty of reliable and trustworthy rough gemstone brokers in the industry.
A professional rough gemstone broker knows that their business relies on repeat customers and transactions that give the buyer confidence and assurance. When looking for a rough gemstone broker, finding one with the following qualities is important.
1. Provides you with references of satisfied clients.
2. Able to show they are in the gemstone business by having a website or online presence.
3. Offer a return policy that benefits the buyer.
4. Shipping and handling fees are reasonable.
5. Use a protected money exchange service like PayPal.
6. Understand the craft of gemstone faceting and can help educate you in your rough gemstone selection.
7. There are no import/export prohibitions on their location or gemstones.
8. Will recommend another gemstone broker if they do not have what you want in stock.
After two years of both good and bad gemstone purchases, it became obvious to me that a fair price and trustworthy rough gemstone broker was harder to find than I initially thought.
When I found a good source for rough gemstones, I developed a strong business relationship with the broker. Periodically, I would stray from my trusted sellers, and often I would end up regretting this deviation in my purchasing. On occasions, I would find new and trusted gemstone brokers, but I was most disappointed. It is not that all the less-than-good brokers are dishonest, but most problems occur because they are less educated on grading facet-level gemstone rough than the customers. For this reason and others, I stay with seasoned and established gemstone brokers.
It is my recommendation that once you find a good gemstone broker, that you stay with them and support their business as they support yours. As with any business relationship, building mutual trust and honest communications go a long way in getting what you need. Opportunities will come and go, but remember, if it is too good to be true, it probably is a scam.
Several times a week, I am contacted by rough gemstone brokers trying to sell me gemstones. The majority of these brokers have no reference to gemstones on their social media or websites. They profess to carry the most amazing gemstones at absurdly low prices. The first thing I ask myself is, “Why am I so lucky that this person would randomly select me to offer a deal of a lifetime?” It is evident from the onset that these folks are out to take advantage of the uneducated and inexperienced. In order not to be distracted by these dealers, I set up boundaries for purchasing rough gemstones. I do not buy from an unknown international source. I only use PayPal when purchasing. I do not exchange any financial or personal information unless I am making a purchase. The broker must meet the eight criteria that I stated above. I do not like to take chances with my money, but on the other hand, I like to think I can trust most people. I keep my boundaries and, occasionally, will take a chance with an inexperienced rough gemstone broker.
Reasons For Buying Rough
When buying facet-grade gemstone rough, make sure that you have a purpose for the rough. I have often seen new faceters buy many more rough gemstones than they need or before they have the experience to know what they are buying. This practice leads to having money tied up in gemstones that may not be faceted for a long time. The primary reasons for buying facet grade gemstone rough are:
1. You have a client order to facet the gemstone you are purchasing
2. You have low inventory on a particular gemstone type, and the quality and the price is excellent
3. The gemstone has outstanding or rare qualities
4. You fell in love with the rough piece
Investment can also be a reason to purchase stones; however, speculation on rough
gemstones as an investment is best done by professionals or seasoned buyers. I realize this buying advice is easier said than done, and I have to confess, I am guilty of not taking my advice when a spectacular gemstone romances me.
Once you start accumulating rough facet-grade gemstones, it is best to keep them organized and safe. I recommend putting each gemstone in an individual clear bag and labeling it with a number you can reference in your inventory notes. In your records, keep all the information that you can, from purchase date and broker to origin and initial ideas for faceting design. The more information you record, the better prepared you will be when you are ready to facet the gemstone. I also recommend having your gemstone rough declared and insured by a reputable insurance company and taking the insurance company’s recommendations to store the rough gemstones securely. Also, don’t share your rough inventory online unless you are selling it and take precautions when going on vacation to secure the gemstones. Wait to post your vacation photos until you return, instead of advertising that your gemstones are home and alone.
Here are a few additional things to consider:
1. Spend some time looking at the rough gemstone before faceting it by selecting the correct orientation for weight, color, and design. Sometimes it takes me days or weeks to make the right orientation and design selection for a gemstone.
2. Do not alter the stone if you are considering returning it. Most rough gemstone brokers have policies prohibiting the return of modified gemstones.
3. Decide whether it is worth sawing off a portion of the gemstone rough for an additional gemstone.
4. When sawing valuable rough gemstones, make sure you have a thin saw blade so as not to waste the gemstone during the sawing process.
5. When buying and orienting gemstones, understand the gemstone properties such as cleavage, color change, and pleochroism.
6. Wait for the right time to facet the gemstone. Don’t get excited and facet one design when you may get a request for the gemstone to be faceted differently. I am guilty of this on various occasions.
7. Do not facet gemstone specimens. If you have a specimen-grade gemstone, find and sell it to a collector and find another piece of rough gemstone. Always respect nature in its perfection and offer these rare pieces to collectors that will treat them properly.
Six years ago, my most trusted rough gemstone broker decided to sell their natural gemstone inventory. This opportunity seemed to solve the issues I was having in finding a constant source of ready gemstones. I took out a second mortgage on my house and bought Creative Gems’ natural gemstone rough inventory. This investment put me in the position of having sufficient gemstone rough for my faceting needs and allow me to sell the excess rough to my faceting colleagues. This decision became an opportunity to establish a level of rough gemstone brokering that I had always sought.
As a gemstone faceter and rough gemstone broker, I understand both sides of the purchase issues. It is best to be honest and fair, both with your broker and the client that will ultimately purchase your faceted gemstones. A good deal is when everybody is happy and makes the necessary profit to continue doing what they are passionate about, whether it is selling rough gemstones, faceted gemstones, collecting finished gemstones, or wearing gemstone jewelry.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR: Mark Oros is the owner, faceter, teacher, and gemstone broker at Hashnu Stones & Gems LLC. For more information about Oros rough and finished gemstones, as well as faceting lesson information and equipment, visit hashnustones.com, Instagram.com/hashnustones, and facebook.com/hashnustones.