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Ellerston Sapphire
Thinking Big About Small

At first sight, and scoop, Ellerston sapphires seem to have little going for them. Tiny to begin with, few of the multitude of corundums found at the four kilometer deposit on a 75,000 acre private estate in New South Wales, Australia, cut to anything above melee size. That means this locality has significance only as a source of accent stones. Nevertheless, those mining this new treasure trove are thinking big about small.

The deposit has one giant value-adding factor going for it: Its sapphires don't need heating to look their best. Trips to the oven are a waste of time because stones are relatively silk-free. Besides, Mother Nature did her own baking deep in the earth millions of years ago. Hence these gems are best served au naturale—a branding feature, if ever there was one, in today's overheated corundum market.

Concentration in alluvial gravels was a second piece of good news. Gems found at or very near to ground level cost far less to mine than gems embedded in hard rock. In case you didn't know, Australia has a lot of environmentally-friendly resource exploitation laws. Ellerston realized it could comply with them and still thrive. What's more, it has a 14 million carat reserve, enough to sustain projected demand for 50 years.

The company got a third good tiding when it was found that the deposit featured a large array of colors (50-plus distinct shades and tones have been classified so far). The fact that a preponderance of stones were pink—sapphire's second-most popular hue—provided a bonus blessing.

After trial cutting in a Thailand factory that once specialized in diamonds, finished stones looked impressively bold and bright. All in all, Ellerston sapphire are a brand-worthy breed. Unlike equally plentiful Montana alluvial fancy color sapphire, which benefits from stays in the furnace, Ellerston's is corundum that could abstain from treatment.

Just one question remained: Were enough jewelry manufacturers looking for saucy Aussie all-natural sapphire suitable mainly for cluster and pavé intensive pieces? For Ellerston to make it as a brand-name colored stone, it would have to find innovative, high-profile designers to produce jewelry lines featuring the newcomer sapphire. Such synergy, the company decided, was the best road to success. It may also be the only road.

While brand building has become extensive in the diamond trade, it is very uncommon in the colored stone world, except amongst makers and marketers of synthetic stones. It is no accident that Ellerston's director, Gerry Manning, was very active with lab-growns until Ellerston came along.

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