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Andesine Feldspar
Gem Profile


(Editor’s note: Andesine feldspar is currently the subject of several lawsuits. For more updated information on this gem, check our Gem Profile on Oregon sunstone. The following is the original text from our March 2006 Gem Profile, which was written when the attractive and mysterious material was first appearing on the market.)

 

ANDESINE: Red-Hot Feldspar

You've got to hand it to Jewelry Television, the 24/7 gemstone shopping network based in Knoxville, Tennessee, that has positioned itself as a gemological Discovery Channel. The station knows good things when it sees them. And when, as is often the case, it's the first to lay eyes on an affordable new gem, it lays enough cash on the table to make sure no one else will see it until it has built a thriving market. With a viewer base of 65 million people, the network often needs months to satisfy large audience appetites.

Nevertheless, Jewelry Television doesn't blindly lunge into new stones. Because it takes so many risks, it must temper need with caution, giving each newcomer several screen tests to see if it will merit voracious stocking. Of all the gems the network has premiered, none has risen to quicker popularity than andesine, a red plagioclase feldspar whose origins remain a closely guarded—or deliberately muddled—secret. At first rumored but never confirmed to be from the Congo, the current source is most likely western China, possibly neighboring Mongolia or Tibet.

From a marketing standpoint, andesine has all the traits of a Chinese-origin or Chinese-controlled gem. That usually translates into a sell-now, sell-all-you-can philosophy. Since Tucson 2004, supplies of red (as well as green) feldspar have been near ceaseless, something which has worked to Jewelry Television's advantage ever since it first took a chance on the gem when introduced to it at the show.

Chinese dealers priced their andesine to move from the start. But once this feldspar proved a winner, Jewelry Television bought it in price-pummeling bulk. Last month at Tucson 2006, the network purchased tens of thousands of carats just from two suppliers—and put in open-ended orders for future production when and if it materializes. "Demand is staying way ahead of supply on this one," says buyer Jay Boyle.

No wonder the station charges $80 to $200 per carat—depending on color, clarity, and size—for the four hues of andesine it offers: red, orange-red, orange, and honey-red. While some exceptional stones fetch more, even their several hundred dollar-per-carat prices reflect the network's immense checkbook leverage. What makes andesine so telegenic? At its best, this gem boasts a rich red that invites show hosts to compare it to ruby. Is this an exaggeration? "With a below-average return rate for andesine, shoppers are obviously happy with what they receive," says gem buyer Shawn O'Sullivan.

Incredibly, more than 90 percent of the andesine Jewelry Television sells is loose, which suggests that most buyers are collectors—or, perhaps, still pondering ultimate use. Since network customers tend to be versed in the gems they buy, they probably know andesine has a hardness of 6 to 6-1/2, which should deter mounting in rings. But so does tanzanite and that's been finger fare for nearly two decades.

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