The star piece at this year's Singapore Jewelfest, the jewellery exhibition held at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza from Oct 11-20, may be a US$55 million (S$69 million) necklace featuring a 400-carat internally flawless diamond, but for everyone else not on the Forbes List, there are covetable-yet-affordable designs that break the rules of conventional jewellery value.
This year, forget about the all-important tenets of jewellery shopping at the event: Carat weight, colour, cut and clarity. The most unique creations are formed from less glamorous-sounding gems such as agate, brown diamonds, spinels and sphenes, many of which are ridden with inclusions.
"As a designer who values uniqueness, I am always on the look-out for gems that are either not commonly used or are unconventional in shape or colour," says Thai jewellery designer Nuttapon Yongkiettakul of Kavant Jewelry, who has a penchant for sliced diamonds, agate and tourmaline.
"I came across them during my buying trip in Tucson, Arizona - at the largest gems and mineral show in the world. It was really an experience meeting the miners themselves and talking to them about their products and experiences."
While diamonds are still highly valued due to increasing demand and also because they are expected to skyrocket to a production value of US$19.6 billion in 2018, according to the Global Diamond Industry Report 2013 by Bain & Company, lesser-prized gems often attract buyers due to their exotic provenance.
Michael Koh, managing director and founder of home-grown brand Caratell, has been using spinels in his designs since discovering a supply of the gemstone in Myanmar seven years ago.
"In fact, spinel has a long history just like other conventional gems, and many kings and queens wore spinel-adorned pieces throughout history, such as the 170-carat red spinel that is set in the Imperial State Crown of England," says Mr Koh.
It is relatively affordable and yet boasts a brilliance comparable to more commonly used stones such as rubies or sapphires. Moreover, with the lack of transparency about treating coloured stones to enhance their colour or clarity, spinel has become a popular alternative because it is generally free of treatment.
For another home-grown jeweller, Simone Ng, who is working with a range of moss agate for a 2014 collection inspired by the Queen of Sheba, designing jewellery with unusual stones could be a laborious process. "First of all, gems of this nature are only found in one part of the world," explains the founder of Simone Jewelry.
"To find one with an interesting pattern is very rare. Once we discover one, we have the challenge of identifying the best way to cut the stone to retain its natural pattern. It is even harder when we are trying to find a matching pair as the pattern formation and colours are very difficult to match."
Moreover, such unorthodox rocks are appreciated by a niche consumer, seeking individualistic pieces rather than easy-to-appreciate baubles. "The average consumer tends to stick with what they have heard of and they will just buy lower-quality, recognisable gems," says Alexander Ross, creative director and brand manager for Miiori New York. "Gem connoisseurs and more experienced collectors have always been willing to purchase less traditional gems. It is the experienced jewellery buyer who will purchase something that represents good value and is little known in the commercial gem market."
To attract this discerning group of shoppers, designers tend to play up the distinctive features of such jewels through equally unconventional designs. "I believe that we are in the age of individualism," says Mr Yongkiettakul, who is known for his stand-out, organic-looking pieces. "People like to be different. In fact, a misconception that some consumers may have could be that the inclusions are constructed rather than natural, since some of the pieces may have inclusions that look deliberate, rather like an abstract painting."
Jewellery lovers may also shy from unusual stones due to a lack of understanding of its origins and value.
"In today's market, most people have the impression that agate is not a valuable stone and is cheap," says Ms Ng. "This is untrue and only driven by demand and supply. From the Roman to the Egyptian kingdom, they have been highly prized and used for many purposes, which ranged from jewellery to amulets and ornaments."
Mr Ross, for example, has recently been making one-of-a-kind pieces using sphene (or titanite), a green or lemon-yellow stone, after new, gem-quality deposits were discovered in Madagascar. Due to its little-known status, it is unclear how much of the green or brown diamond-lookalike would be made available on the market before the current supply runs out.
He admits: "Gems of this nature should be purchased for emotional reasons rather than investment. If investment is the main concern than other gem materials would make a better choice."
Instead, the long-term value of such jewellery could instead be attributed to its workmanship and design, rather than just its materials.
"I will tell customers that they are buying a piece of art," explains Ms Ng. "As we always match the stone with a one-of-a-kind design, the raw gem will never look the same once it is set. It's like how glass on its own may not be worth much, but once crafted into a crystal art work like those by Daum, it can be extremely costly."
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