Loose gemstones – not just for jewelers

A square 5.01-carat emerald-cut diamond of D color and VS1 clarity, accompanied by a GIA graded certificate, achieved $200,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Bid Global International Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Gemstones have long been treasured for their brilliant, alluring beauty. Over many centuries, they have served as love charms and amulets as well as adornments for sacred ornaments and royal crowns. Although they are available in a wide range of ready-made settings, many collectors prefer acquiring them as single, loose stones and commissioning a jeweler to transform them into wearable works of art. Others prefer to appreciate the stones as they are. 

A GIA-certified natural loose ruby earned $10,620 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2014. Image courtesy of VDG Jewelry Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Loose gemstones that have been cut and polished into round or oval cabochons can serve as the basis for one-of-a-kind rings, cufflinks, earrings, bracelets or brooches. Flashier faceted gems have been cut into shapes that further enhance their sparkle, brilliance, clarity, color and aesthetic appeal. 

A light blue Sri Lankan sapphire weighing 12.11 carats sold for $9,750 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Natural untreated sapphires, which can come from as far away as Afghanistan or as near as the state of Montana, typically feature blue to violet hues, but those are merely the best-known colors for the stone. Thanks to a variety of trace elements, sapphires can be green, orange, yellow, purple or pink. If they have needle-like inclusions, they can display radiant star-like effects. Delicate Padparadscha sapphires, sourced initially in Sri Lanka and named for a local pinkish-orange lotus blossom, are the rarest of all. Whatever their color, sapphires are just as stunning as unset individual stones as they are when showcased in jewelry designs.

A pale pink 5.83-carat Padparadscha Sri Lankan sapphire attained €6,000 (about $6,292) plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018. Image courtesy of Kissing Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Loose rubies can be had in a range of cuts, but they might be most popular when shaped like a heart. Unsurprisingly, red heart-shape rubies give rise to extra-romantic pieces of jewelry and area a Valentine’s Day favorite. But the heart shape is not reserved exclusively for rubies. The Heart of Muzo, a heart-shape 12.07-carat emerald found in Muzo, Colombia – site of the most esteemed emerald mine in the world – might arouse greater passion in certain collectors.

The Heart of Muzo, a 12.07-carat heart-shape Colombian emerald, realized $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2017. Image courtesy of Guernsey’s and LiveAuctioneers

The emerald cut is a popular choice for gemstones of all types. It features straight alternating dark and light step cuts through large tables, which proves flattering to a broad variety of gemstones. In May 2022, Bid Global International Auctioneers of Scottsdale, Arizona, sold a square emerald-cut diamond featuring very fine color, clarity and dramatic reflective effects. Accompanied by a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) graded certificate, it earned $200,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

A 49.58-carat tourmaline found in Paraiba, Brazil, sold for $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Jewelry designers, natural history buffs and fashionistas are hardly the only audiences for loose gemstones. They also interest investors who are wary of fluctuating real estate or currency values and want to park their money in something small and easy to transport. 

A GIA-certified Mexican fire opal weighing 14.29 carats was sold for $1,600 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

For those inclined toward loose-gem investment, the choices are abundant and tempting. In August 2018, Heritage Auctions achieved $6,750 plus the buyer’s premium for an absolutely massive Rwandan 259.42-carat amethyst that represented a type discovered only three years prior to its sale. 

A massive 259.42-carat pear-cut Rwandan amethyst exhibiting a deep purple color and intermingled flashes of violet-red was purchased for $6,750 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The Super Auction Gallery, a gemstone mecca in Lahore, Pakistan, auctioned a natural deep-blue cushion cut 60.78-carat tanzanite, one of the scarcest gems on earth, for $115,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. 

A natural cushion-cut tanzanite weighing 60.78 carats realized $115,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Image courtesy of Super Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Of course, prices for loose gemstones vary according to supply and demand. Those that are rare at purchase tend to remain so, and will remain so if the mine from which they came has since closed. Also, as a general rule, loose gemstones experience at least some increase in value with the passage of time. 

An amethyst from Afghanistan that weighed in at 719 carats was bid to $7,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

While the market for investment-grade loose gemstones is active and robust, it’s easy to assemble a rainbow of examples in a range of sizes and cuts without breaking the bank. Savvy collectors can purchase individual citrines, amethysts, garnets and other relatively common gemstones for under $100. Those who are patient, keen-eyed and lucky can acquire vibrantly colored and pleasingly cut versions of those stones at weights of 20 carats or more for double-digit bids at auction. 

Whether they are prized as investments, transformed into pieces of jewelry, or piled into a bowl on an office desk like an exotic, glittering form of eye-candy, the appeal of loose gemstones is undeniable and is only likely to grow as more people learn that these unset beauties are within the reach of almost anyone, no matter how modest their budget may be.