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Tanzanian Rhodolite
Gem Profile


Dudley Blauwet of Louisville, Colorado, is a gem dealer, a world traveler, and a triathlon athlete—in equal parts. He has raced for Team USA in the last two long-course duathon world championships, representing his country in the 50-54 age divisions. As part of his rigorous training, he scouts the rugged mountain valleys of Pakistan and dense forests of Sri Lanka for gems we know and love as well as oddball gems of interest mainly to collectors.

In February 2006, Blauwet was shown rough samples from a new find of rhodolite garnet in Tanzania's Umba Valley. He sent the material to Asia for cutting and started to market it in July, after a return from an Asian buying trip. That same month he was able to purchase a second lot, which provided him with goods to sell at this past February's Tucson show. He has since obtained a third lot of this rhodolite.

In short, Blauwet has bought every kilo that he could find. No wonder he was one of just two dealers known to have been selling this material at Tucson 2007. Umba's new rhodolite has color which departs from previous deeper-toned norms for this gem to fit in perfectly with the current vogue for pastel colors. The stones boast a delicate but bright purple that makes them ideal complements to fashionable mint-blue and seafoam-green stones. Since cut stones so far have rarely exceeded 3 carats, Blauwet is cutting them in calibrated matched pairs to heighten the impact of their sparkle. Encouragingly, the few large stones that have been cut retained the light, lively color and appearance that make smaller stones so distinctive.

One of the first jewelry stores to carry the new rhodolite is The Gem Vault in Flemington, New Jersey. "We had noticed a big shift from the deep tanzanite blues and tourmaline greens to lighter aqua blues and beryl greens—and were on the lookout for gems with complementary colors and tones throughout the rest of the spectrum," says Jason Baskin, one of the store's four designers. "Isn't it funny how gems with just the colors you need have a way of coming along exactly when you need them."

Although The Gem Vault is always enthusiastic for new gems, it kept its first order of the East African garnet modest, just in case customers were not as impressed with it as the store's owner and four designers were. Conservatism proved unnecessary. Supplies of the new gem were gone in a few weeks. "It's not just the color that captivated our customers," he notes. "It was the brilliance. I almost had to wonder if this gem is a rhodolite."

He's not alone in asking such questions. Every dealer to whom I described the new Tanzanian rhodolite responded in the same puzzled manner: "Are you sure its rhodolite?" Blauwet is sure. But garnets are tricky.

A CLAN, NOT A FAMILY

As you know, garnet is a large gem group with breeds and cross-breeds. Back in the early 1980s, Gems & Gemology ran an historic three-part series on the trials and tribulations of developing a garnet classification system. Besides being a landmark of modern gemological research, it signaled a garnet renaissance.

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