Patrick Voillot is a gemstone specialist and has traveled the world for 20 years in search of the most beautiful gems. He graduated in gemmology, he is a doctor in pharmacy and a curator of the mineralogy collection of the Paris V Faculty of Pharmacy.
Based on his experience, he gives us 10 tips for buying precious stones. He gave this advice during the conferences held at Mes Créateurs Joailliers trade fair last November.
1. Find out about availability
If you are going to a foreign country and you want to buy gems, the first reflex to have is to enquire beforehand about the different varieties of gems you might find in the country. For example, in Burma it will be rubies but also topazes, tourmalines or aquamarines. If you are offered stones that are not commonly found in this country, it might be a fraud…
A good way to check this information is to check out Patrick Voillot‘s website which details for each country the stones that you could find. Or check out a gemstone guide which will inform you about the stones and their inclusions.
2. Have an idea of prices
Secondly, it is important to have a notion of the price of these stones in your own country so as not to risk buying them at an even higher price! Indeed, it is tempting for some merchants to sell stones at a high price if they believe you are a naive tourist… Also, if you are offered for a few hundred euros a cashmere sapphire while this gem usually reaches several thousand euros, forget it, it’s a fake!
Again, you can refer to Patrick Voillot‘s website to get an idea of the prices. His prices are reasonable, take away a margin and it will give you an idea of the initial price. You will not however obtain the same prices as Patrick Voillot if you are new to this. He has been dealing jewellery for 20 years. Prices are usually negotiated locally based on carat weight.
3. Where to buy
It is also important to know where to buy in the country: be careful if a guide promises you the exclusivity of an address, you take the risk of buying fake gems with fake certificates of authenticity … If you travel closer to mines, you are more likely to find real stones. The ideal is to find reliable contacts who know the gems and with whom you can build a lasting relationship, or else you can also travel with experts like Patrick Voillot or the French Association of Gemmology which organises dedicated trips every year.
4. Have notions of gemmology
Having notions of gemmology undeniably helps: take the time to document yourself, learn to look with a magnifying glass to discern the real from the false. If you see air bubbles, for example, your stone is most likely glass. Without being an expert, you can differentiate a Verneuil (synthetic corundum invented by Auguste Verneuil) from a corundum (ruby or sapphire) by observing the growth lines, rather curved for a Verneuil, and rather angular when it is an authentic ruby or sapphire.
To get proper training in gemmology, there are several relatively short courses at the French National Institute of Gemmology, the School of Gems, the BJOP with the French Laboratory of Gemmology. To discover different gems, you may subscribe to a course at the Van Cleef and Arpels School.
5. Invest in some equipment
It is useful to have a few tools with you like a magnifying glass and possibly a refractometer to test the stones. This tool measures the index of refraction of stones, which will allow you to distinguish between an aquamarine and a topaz for example! And it is more reliable than the human eye, even for specialists.
6. Check the security conditions
Think of checking the security conditions of the place of purchase: you will be carrying cash in public places, which is not necessarily synonymous with insecurity. Again, enquire and be attentive. If it is a usual place of stone transaction, there is a good chance that it will be closely monitored.
7. Be attentive to light
Be aware of the lighting conditions of the purchase location: if you are close to the tropics for example, the sun may not be oriented like in your country of residence, the light will not have the same impact on the stone and you may be disappointed when you return. For example, never buy red stones in the morning or evening: the pink light has the effect of sublimating these stones.
8. Follow your instinct
If you have a doubt, do not buy! Sometimes you have to follow your feeling when you buy a stone. Do not regret, there must be some kind of symbiosis between the stone and you. The stone must touch you. Let it be neither too dark nor too light. The more pure it is, the less inclusions there are, the more valuable it will be.
As far as bargaining is concerned, customs differ from one country to another. In North Africa, do not hesitate to leave without concluding, the seller will probably insist to resume the negotiations. Do not wait for this type of behavior in Brazil for example where it is best to spend time building a bond with the trader. In Sri Lanka, it is not uncommon to have to pretend getting angry so that the seller offers a reasonable price! Generally when you are offered a price, do not hesitate to make a very low offer to start with, then review your price gradually taking your time. In short, be patient…
10. Treat yourself!
A stone really pleases you? Do not let it go: you will never find it again! This is the advice of a specialist!
With all these precious tips, if you are still hesitating and the idea of buying gems abroad does not appeal to you, another option is to visit the different mineral trade fairs that take place throughout France all year round but also in Paris and at Sainte Marie aux Mines in June 2017!