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The Six Best Gems You Never Heard Of
Unknown gems like andesine, danburite, fluorite, kornerupine, prehnite, and sphene are adding unique charm to one-of-a-kind jewelry.

This is no time for fear of the unknown, a malady that keeps jewelers from indulging their impulses when strange beauty beckons to them at gem extravaganzas like Tucson. "You walk into most jewelers and they all seem like company stores for De Beers," says Philadelphia marketing consultant Ted Epstein. "All you see are diamonds, gold, some traditional gems, and maybe one or two unusual stones like tanzanite or tourmaline. Maybe."

Such "run-of-the-mill stores," Epstein says, "make it hard to strike up conversations and get some bonding going. You want to make it next to impossible for the customer to keep silent. The best way to do that is for them to see something so unique and fascinating that they overcome all reticence, shyness, and threshold resistance to satisfy their curiosity about it."

Epstein calls such compelling items "barrier busters." He explains, "A jewelry store is the one place where you expect to see natural wonders and magnificence. Place the right gem or design in the window or a counter and the consumer will suspend all inhibitions about talking or being talked to."

You don't have to spend a fortune making your store a celebration of natural wonder and wonders. "There are plenty of gems that look like a million dollars but only cost hundreds of dollars," Epstein says. "Just because no one else carries them doesn't mean you should ignore them too. Just the opposite. A jewelry store should be a theme park for natural wonders. It should connect people with the natural world and its magnificence just like a trip to Yosemite."

Lapidary designer Jason Baskin works at such a store. It's called The Gem Vault and it's located in Flemington, New Jersey. An astonishing 90 percent of the store's revenues are derived from sales of colored stone jewelry—70 percent of which is designed by Baskin and three other staff designers (two of whom, Kelly McCaughey and Sharon Curtiss, just won New Jersey Jewelers Association awards for their work). Baskin is on a perpetually famished lookout for exotic new gems to wow his customers. He thinks it's absurd when jewelers balk at buying unknown gems because no one has ever heard of or asked for them.

"True, no one comes into your store and asks for andesine," Baskin says. "But once they see its screaming orange-red, they'll ask, ‘What is that?' That's where you, the jeweler, come in and answer the question. A good jeweler loads his store with gems that stun the eye and arouse curiosity. I can't tell you how many times customers who ask about something that catches their eye wind up buying it."

A visit to The Gem Vault is like a trip in a time machine that takes you a decade or so forward into the future of the American gemstone market. On one level, the store is a gemstone hall of fame for all recent inductees into, as well as all new candidates for, the mainstream. So there are a lot of regulars like tanzanite and tsavorite, and newcomers like Mali and spessartite garnet. Now Gem Vault owner William Brewer is betting on several new stunners: andesine, fluorite, kornerupine, prehnite, and sphene. He's even got his eye on danburite.

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Trilliant sphene
Trilliant sphene, 7.89 carats, wholesale $200 per carat. All loose gemstones courtesy of Blauwet Gems, Louisville, Colorado, (303) 665-0672.
© Photos by Jeff Scovil

Round danburite
Round danburite, 36.35 carats, wholesale $18 per carat. All loose gemstones courtesy of Blauwet Gems, Louisville, Colorado, (303) 665-0672.
© Photos by Jeff Scovil

Faceted prehnite
Faceted prehnite, 4.90 carats total weight, wholesale $13 per carat.
Danburite and black diamonds pendant by Spark Creations
One-of-a-kind pendant with 2.78 carat danburite and black diamonds by Spark Creations, (212) 575-5838. Chains by Kirk Kara, (800) 874-0181. Photo by Chris Trayer.
Andesine ring by Kelly McCaughey
Andesine ring in 14k white gold with half-carat of diamonds designed by Kelly McCaughey for The Gem Vault, Flemington, New Jersey.
Pendant with 11.52 carat fluorite by Jason Baskin
Pendant with 11.52 carat fluorite by Jason Baskin for The Gem Vault, Flemington, New Jersey.
Set of kornerupine
Set of kornerupine, 1.63 carats total weight, wholesale $125-$150 per carat.