This article aims to respond to interest in Montana sapphire pricing and discuss some factors influencing the pricing of the incredible variety of “alluvial” sapphires mined in Montana. Hopefully, people will find the discussion helpful and answer some of their questions.
People need to become more familiar with Montana sapphire pricing than diamond pricing. Most everyone has heard of the diamond 4Cs. Fortunately for the consumer, diamond pricing, unlike colored stone pricing, is comparatively simple because diamonds have become more like a commodity. Commoditization makes price comparison possible. Well-recognized, arms-length authorities describe every diamond of significance based on a universally accepted, standardized grading system.
No universally accepted grading system like this exists for any other gemstone, including Montana sapphires. Sapphires mined in Montana are anything but a commodity. There is a consensus within the gemstone trade that finding two Montana sapphires of the same size with perfectly matching colors is always tricky and sometimes nearly impossible. Every stone is different.
Price Discovery Challenges
This is a good attribute concerning Montana sapphire because the quest for uniqueness drives much of the interest in sapphires from Montana. However, uniqueness is incompatible with commoditization, making price discovery more difficult. Shopping for sapphires that have been mined in Montana, not unlike those mined elsewhere, has more in common with choosing a painting than a diamond or a pair of tennis shoes.
Despite the above remarks, many things can be said to shed light on the crucial task of Montana sapphire price discovery. One of the first and most beneficial things to remember is that the essential variables that influence the price of diamonds also affect the price of sapphires. The 4 Cs (weight, color clarity, and cut) that constitute the basis of diamond grading are also the main variables that affect sapphire pricing.
The Size-to-Price Rule
The first of the 4cs, weight, obviously affects the price of Montana sapphires. The heavier the stone, all other things being equal, the higher the price. A one-carat stone is at least 150% more than a one-half-carat stone. A two-carat stone is at least 150% more than a one-carat stone. The multipliers for Montana sapphires pricing in three or more carats may be greater than 150% because so few stones are recovered in those sizes. Many regard three-carat and larger sizes as collector stones because of their rarity. This is especially true if they are very fine quality. Montana sapphires are different from sapphires mined in most other countries, where large sizes are more commonplace.
However, there are exceptions to the general size/price rule because all larger stones are not always priced higher than small ones. Finer quality small stones are often priced higher than poor quality large stones. How much higher will depend on the quality differences in any given case.
Colors Affects on Montana Sapphire Pricing
Color is the second of the 4Cs affecting Montana sapphire pricing. Color is more important in the pricing of sapphires than in the pricing of diamonds because diamond color grading consists primarily of recognizing slight differences in whiteness. Sapphires, on the other hand, and especially sapphires from Montana, come in a great variety of colors and a large spectrum of tones associated with each of those colors. It is also true that the value of color is, to a large extent, subjective. Unlike diamonds, the beauty of color in sapphire is in the eye of the beholder, much like paintings and other works of art. Sapphire color is priced based on overall demand, but overall demand may not be relevant to what a particular customer desires.
Clarity Affects on Montana Sapphire Pricing
Clarity is the third of the 4Cs that affect price. Stones with more inclusions are priced lower than stones with fewer inclusions. However, as with weight, the relationship is not absolute. Large sapphires with more inclusions may cost less than smaller sapphires with few or no inclusions. Unlike diamonds, slight differences in minor inclusions do not affect sapphire prices. Inclusions in sapphires generally do not influence prices unless the inclusions are visible or reduce brilliance. If inclusions are so numerous as to cause a stone to appear dull and lifeless, one can expect prices to be reduced by at least 50% or more compared to a similar stone with either no or minimal reduction in brilliance.
Cutting Affects on Montana Sapphire Pricing
Cutting quality is the most subtle of the 4Cs concerning its effect on prices. It affects pricing because quality cutting usually reduces yield from the rough, which means a more significant weight loss in the polished stone. Because of increased weight loss, quality cut stones are priced at a premium to poorly cut stones. The amount of premium varies but is often twenty to twenty-five percent. Sellers tend to sell a heavier, poorly cut stone over a lighter, well-cut stone. The choice is made before the rough crystal is cut.
There is a bias in the marketplace that favors the cutting of heavier, poorly cut stones. This is because consumers do not generally have the opportunity to compare well-cut with poorly-cut stones. Consequently, they select heavier, cheaper, poorly cut stones. This is unfortunate because the better, well-cut stones are brighter and more attractive. Consumers for whom the quality of cutting is essential should request to see some stones that are cut domestically because, with a request, the consumer is likely to see a domestically cut stone because most sapphires, including many Montana sapphires, are cut overseas.
There are several schemata for grading the color and clarity of sapphires, including sapphires from Montana. All systems have universal recognition and different meanings for all the sellers that employ them. For example, a common way of describing color is AAA, AA, A. Clarity grading often utilizes words associated with diamond grading, like VVs, Vs, Si, and I. The value of these descriptions for the consumer is mainly limited to recognizing that the color of a AAA sapphire is more expensive than a sapphire that has been given an AA color grade. The same is true for clarity grading. The customer can suppose that a sapphire graded as VVs has fewer inclusions than a sapphire graded as Vs.
Diamond grading terminology for sapphire clarity is widely used and can utilize terms the public is familiar with. However, customers need to realize that sapphires graded as Vs have no similarity to diamonds that are graded Vs. Vs inclusions in diamonds are challenging to see with a microscope—whereas a microscopic look of Vs inclusions in sapphires is apparent.
Some people who began reading this article hoping to see an x/y axis type spreadsheet of Montana sapphire pricing, like they may have already seen for diamonds, feel disappointed. However, having carefully read the preceding, they will realize that constructing something similar to a diamond price chart is impossible. Any effort to do so would be bogus and misleading. The focus has been to describe the most essential variables affecting Montana sapphire’s pricing. The information provided here will make for a better-informed, more confident buyer of sapphires mined in Montana.