How much of a difference does cut make in a gem’s value? The answer may surprise you. Imagine, if you will, two colored stones. Both exhibit good color. Both are relatively inclusion free. Both tip the scale at about the same weight. But one was cut better, and it’s simply more beautiful. Should you pay a premium price for it?
Conventional wisdom holds that the answer is yes. Obtaining a good cut usually means greater weight loss in cutting and higher pay for a more skilled cutter, expenses which can only be recovered through a higher price or a lower profit margin. In theory, the market should be willing to pay a premium for the beauty of a better cut.
But in practice, it doesn’t always work that way. One reason is that in pricing colored stones, other factors outweigh cutting. “Cut just doesn’t have the importance (in colored stones] that it has in diamonds,” says James Joliff of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers. “Color is what counts in colored stones. You look at the color component, find out the grade for the color, then subtract half a point or a point if the cut is bad. So you could get a grade of eight for color, subtract half a point for cut and half a point for clarity, and still have a seven.”
“The main value factors remain the color, and whether the stone is natural or enhanced and if enhanced, to what extent,” says Stuart Robertson, research director for Gemworld International, the publisher of The Guide gemstone pricing publication. “There is no single issue that seems to be the sole factor for value in [colored stones]. We see materials that can have big price swings that may be related solely to overproduction or underproduction. Colors also come in and out of fashion, and when they do, certain products that have been very popular or not popular swing in the other direction, so there are a lot of external forces that play into [stone pricing].”
The biggest advantage of a fine cut is not the increase in price, but greater salability. “It’s easy to [financially] justify recutting,” says gem dealer Michael Cohan of Gems of Naples in Handers, New Jersey. “The material sells faster. Even though there’s not as much profit [after paying for recutting], I’m thrilled when I can take a three carat Burma ruby that’s not really cut very well, recut it, and get a 2.5 carat stone that’s beautiful.”
“You do get to charge a little bit more for better cutting, but what you really get to do is sell them,” says gem dealer Tom Cushman of Allerton Cushman & Co. in Sun Valley, Idaho. “The people who do what I do are doing a better job [demanding good quality cutting] because there’s more competition, and they’ve found out that a nicely cut stone that is beautiful will sell much faster than a not so attractively cut stone.
“If I see a big enough stone where the color’s right and it’s clean, but the proportions are wrong it’s got a big belly or it’s too deep or something then I’ll recut it,” he adds. “You can usually buy those stones for cheap: The [seller] knows it’s ugly.” Not every stone is a candidate for recutting, however. “A stone will not be recut unless the increase in value is at least equal to the loss in weight,” observes gemologist and appraiser Charles Carmona of Guild Laboratories, author of The Complete Handbook for Gemstone Weight Estimation. “If you lose 15 to 20 percent in weight, then it’s not worth it to do it unless you expect the value to increase by 25 to 30 percent.”
Recutting occurs most frequently in ruby, emerald, and sapphire, where good quality rough is often difficult to find. But because weight retention remains a concern in these materials, few are cut to ideal proportions.
“I think if you have a better cut sapphire it’s going to sell a little better, but with an exceptionally cut sapphire that’s not necessarily the case,” says gem cutter Stephen Avery. “In emerald, ruby, and sapphire, the [cut] standards aren’t anywhere near as high [as in less expensive gem varieties].”
“For rarer and more expensive gem varieties, there exists a general acceptance that cut quality and weight retention must both be considered,” agrees Robertson. “Top gem products must have ‘good’ to ‘fine’ proportions to typically hit their peak price. Yet that cut quality will stop short of a really well cut stone. As yield diminishes, so does profit. The premium for an exceptionally well cut, untreated Burmese ruby may not bring the stone to the price point that the same ruby would have brought as a good or fine cut stone of appreciably heavier weight.”
Those compromises are typically not made with less expensive stones like amethyst or citrine. “QVC and the other home shopping networks sell lots of colored stones, and they insist on excellent cutting,” observes Cushman. “Not just good, but excellent, with every stone the same. That’s made a big difference in calibrated goods. The people who cut for QVC cut for other people, too.”
Good cutting is in high demand in this end of the market, but it doesn’t normally command a premium.
“Today, a less expensive gemstone pretty much has to be well cut just to sell,” says Robertson. “In certain materials, what we’re seeing is better made stones setting the benchmark for price. Material that does not meet that cut benchmark is selling at a discount. We’re approaching the point where better made stones are what’s going to be expected. [That’s already true in] smaller aquamarine, amethyst, and citrine, but it’s expanding into other gem varieties. We’re seeing more of a market where better made stones have set the price structure.”
Despite the increasing interest in good gem cuts at all levels of the market, no one expects perfectly proportioned cutting to become the norm anytime soon. “Cut is what affects beauty, so for people who learn about cut, it will become an issue,” says Renee Newman, G.G., author of the Gemstone Buying Guide. “But for people who aren’t trained and just go by a price guide, they’re not going to pay as much attention. When people go by a pricing guide, what they look for is color, clarity, and maybe the shape.”
But others say the market is already changing, at least among the growing number of gemologically educated retailers and their customers. “There are different levels of consumers,” notes Cohan. “You have mall consumers, who shop at corporate America stores, and I don’t think those individuals in general are looking for the better goods. They just need to stay within a certain price point. But the independent stores cater to a more knowledgeable clientele, and therefore they seek suppliers that have better goods.”
That prediction has already become a reality, say Carmona and Robertson. “There used to be a lot of very poorly cut stones showing up on the market, but people from producing countries are realizing it’s better to cut well,” says Carmona.
“Cut is becoming more important, and we’re seeing less native cut material,” says Robertson. “In colored stones, cut affects the way overall color is displayed as well as the brilliance and brightness of the stone. All stones are not the same, and consumers are beginning to understand that, so we’re seeing in creased demand for better cut material as a result.”