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Tashmarine: Answered Prayer

Somebody up there likes Michael Valitutti, the host of Shop NBC’s "Gems En Vogue." For months, he’s been complaining on air of his difficulty finding a green gem that is affordable, lovely, untreated, and suitable for use as a center, not just an accent, stone. Affordable isn't, at NBC, a euphemism for cheap. Valitutti’s pieces run anywhere from $299 to $999. So he’s got more price maneuverability than his counterparts elsewhere in TV land.

Nevertheless, the GIA graduate gemologist and jewelry designer has been offering pieces whose greens play supporting rather than starring roles. Valitutti has showed his audience rings with bright kiwi, pistachio, and seafoam color accents provided by peridot, tsavorite, and tourmaline. But none of these gems got top billing. That’s because peridot and tsavorite are unavailable in larger sizes and tourmaline is far too expensive. So small is all there is. Or was.

This month, to celebrate the first anniversary of NBC’s acquisition of the home channel formerly known as Value Vision, Valitutti will premiere a hefty-sized green stunner he considers an answer to his prayers: Tashmarine.

Little is known about this newcomer except that it is a diopside found somewhere north of Afghanistan and west of China.

Sight unseen

Tashmarine shouldn’t be confused with chrome diopside, a Russian family member whose best shades of kelly green come only in small sizes up to 2 carats. Above 2 carats, the stone is available mostly in a shade most kindly described as a deep forest green. This new central Asian variety strikes a better balance between yellow and blue. Moreover, Tashmarine doesn’t get overdark in larger sizes. To the contrary, it keeps its open foliage-green color without veering toward the murky green of its chrome-colored Russian relative. Tashmarine is likely to cause quite a stir among the many jewelry designers and manufacturers as hungry for a new green stone as Valitutti.

Don’t expect to see it everywhere. Just direct your feet to the one booth where it will be shown, Columbia Gem House, a Vancouver, Washington-based firm that specializes in making markets for new gemstones. Like Valitutti, Columbia Gem’s Eric Braunwart is on the perpetual prowl for new gemstones. A few years ago, Tashmarine forced Braunwart to take his biggest gamble ever.

In late March, a stranger walked into Columbia’s Canton cutting factory and offered a green gem whose exact identity or origin he didn’t know. Reached by phone in America, Braunwart was given less than 72 hours to decide to buy many kilos of the unknown. "In China, your window of opportunity is usually small," he says. "In this case, time was so limited I couldn’t fly over and see the stone or submit it for gemological testing. All I could do was trust my shop foreman when he told me to take a chance on it rather than let it be sold elsewhere."

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