Aurora Sapphire and Diamond Necklace in the making. photos: DeGem

Diamonds are a popular choice among Malaysians when it comes to buying their first piece of jewellery, and a winner with engagement rings.

The first recorded presentation of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477, when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed marriage to Mary of Burgundy.

DeGem Fireworks Spinels and Diamonds NecklaceDeGem Fireworks Spinels and Diamonds Necklace

However, before that, ruby and sapphires engagement rings were the prime choices, and for good reason: precious gems are one-of-a-kind, no two are alike in appearance and value.

Even today, some members of the British monarchy still favour sapphires as engagement rings, one of the most famous being the 12 carat Ceylon Sapphire inherited by the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, originally Princess Diana’s engagement ring.

Pigeon Blood Ruby EarringsPigeon Blood Ruby Earrings

“As industry insiders, we have seen how fine quality precious gemstone prices continue to rise every decade, and insiders often race to outbid one another for top quality pieces to keep for long term investment pieces,” says DeGem group’s operations and business development director, Choong Jia Chen.

DeGem is the region’s most up-market and contemporary fine jeweller, that specialises in rare gemstone jewellery that appreciates in value overtime, including the famous “Big Three” – sapphire, ruby, and emerald.

Jia Chen explains that the reason why certain precious gems cost more and can increase more in value is because mining for these gems are not as wide scale as diamonds. For example, the fact that ruby’s mining supply is rarer and near depletion drives its prices up higher.

“We provide a quality curation of precious gems for beautiful heirloom jewellery, but we specialise in unheated and untreated gemstones,” Jia Chen adds.

Jia Chen has a decade of self-taught experience in buying the top crop of gems from mines and gem cutters daily.

What sets him apart from other jewellers is that he has grown to possess the art of examining different gemstone roughs to know how to cut them into attractive shapes to enhance their value.

Venetian Knot Masterpiece NecklaceVenetian Knot Masterpiece Necklace

“We are experts in rare gems such as spinel, Padparadscha Sapphire, fine jadeite, conch pearl, Melo pearl, Paraiba Tourmaline, Alexandrite, Tsavorite Garnet.”

Sourcing fine gemstones is a skill that takes many years to hone, as there are many different facets to the job.

It involves examining stones in different light conditions, knowing how to identify the difference between treated and untreated stones, and being familiar with reasonable buying and selling prices at an international level.

“Our forte is being able to source straight from mines, and we have the first pick of the creme de la creme of materials at best prices, before they reach the hands of other cutters and wholesalers,” explains Jia Chen, who leads DeGem’s in-house gemstone cutting facility.Infinity® Ruby Engagement RingInfinity® Ruby Engagement Ring

This is thanks to networking and connections that have been cultivated over three generations, that not all jewellers especially newcomers to the industry are able to have these kind of network and resources.

“It’s not about who has the most money to pay miners, but the strong relationship we are able to maintain with them due to our enduring commitment with them year-on-year, and the unspoken language of us understanding their produce’s rarity and value.”

Jia Chen breaks down the top tier of what are considered valuable heirloom gemstones.

Rubies and sapphires

Both these gemstones come from the same mineral family – corundum, which is made of densely packed oxygen and aluminium atoms, which typically results in a colourless sapphire.

For a ruby to form and obtain its deep red hue, it requires the presence of chromium.

“While the colour of a ruby can range from purplish red, pinkish red to brownish red, it is important to invest in a ruby that is red and lively,” explains Jia Chen. “The most valuable shade of red is called pigeon blood. This colour commands a large premium over other rubies.”Infinity® Sapphire Engagement RingInfinity® Sapphire Engagement Ring

Rubies are valued at higher prices than diamonds due to the scarcity of ruby mining, they are rare because they form under extreme conditions and supply for rubies in general are dwindling.

“For example, in the 1990s, a one carat sized unheated ruby from Myanmar was priced around US$1,000 (RM4,187) to US$3,000 (RM12,561) per carat, but today the exact same pieces of rubies are worth US$10,000 (RM41,870) to US$30,000 (RM125,610) per carat easily, becoming sought after as collector’s pieces,” explains Jia Chen.

“Sapphire of bigger sizes are generally more available compared to rubies. Hence the price of sapphires is lower. For example, one can easily find a 10ct sapphire, but it is not as easy to find a 10ct ruby.”Majestic Emerald RingMajestic Emerald Ring

For a blue sapphire to form in the corundum mineral, it needs traces of iron and titanium, and the two most valuable blue colours are called cornflower blue and royal blue.

“Over the years, blue sapphire prices have been increasing at fast pace. From the 1980s to 2015, world auction records for sapphires from Kashmir and Myanmar have increased by five times. The sapphire mines from these two locations have been depleted and production has fallen, causing prices to soar,” notes Jia Chen, who adds that today, top quality sapphires from Sri Lanka are valued at US$20,000 (RM83,740) per carat or more.

Sapphires come in a rainbow variety of fancy colours, such as green, yellow, pink, purple and orange.

There are also the little nuances of blue-green, orangey pink, or purplish pink sapphires, with an endless variety attributed to different impurities influencing the colours.

“What we sold almost every month last year was the Padparadscha Sapphire, the most valuable and rarest sapphire colour of all,” relates Jia Chen.

“Padparadscha is derived from the Sinhalese word for aquatic lotus blossom, which has an unusual mixture of colour between pink and orange. At DeGem, we only deal with unheated and untreated Padparadscha Sapphire, for the assurance that you are buying a genuinely valuable Padparadscha sapphire.”

Fancy colour sapphires in a bracelet.Fancy colour sapphires in a bracelet.

Emeralds and spinels

The intense green of an emerald is a hue that matches all skin tones, and these heirloom-worthy jewels work well with white, red, blue or pastel wedding dresses.

“The emerald is a variety of the mineral beryl and coloured green by trace amounts of chromium and vanadium,” explains Jia Chen.“Most emeralds naturally contain a lot of inclusions, and thus oiling treatment is common to fill in cracks in the gem to improve clarity and stability of the gem. The less oiling an emerald undergoes, the more valuable it is, provided its colour is also an attractive shade of green, with the most valuable shade of green being vivid green also called Muzo green,” he adds.

DeGem Padparadscha Sapphire RingDeGem Padparadscha Sapphire RingAn up and coming rising star for its beauty and rarity is the spinel. Historically, spinels have been misidentified as sapphires and rubies due to their similarity in colour, and to this day royal jewel collections actually feature spinels due to these oversights, such as the infamous Black Prince’s Ruby.

Spinels have served as an alternative to the pricier sapphire and ruby for a few decades but its popularity is seeing a revival in the international market for its own merit and beauty – its lustre is more brilliant and dazzling than sapphires and rubies. Sweet pink and violet spinels make stunning and head-turning jewellery that appear brighter even under candlelight. The most valuable and rarest shade is vivid red and cobalt blue.

“Gem-quality red and blue spinels are very rare. Spinel’s supply is limited and unreliable, making it hard for the gemstone trade to promote it, therefore the industry’s best kept secret,” says Jia Chen, adding that spinel prices have increased more than twofold within the past decade.

For more enquiries, the collection is available in all of DeGem’s boutiques in Bangsar, the Gardens, 1Utama, Pavilion, Ampang and online at www.degemdiamond.com.

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