So the economic downturn is putting many between a rock and a hard place. Here's a thought: opt for the rock. The rock, that is, in terms of diamonds and gems, that, unlike shares, doesn't become worthless overnight and makes you look more beautiful too.
Splashing out on a superb sparkler could prove one smart move, say jewellers at this year's Singapore JewelFest (SJF).
The annual luxury jewellery showcase, now into its sixth year, is on at the Jewel Pavilion at Ngee Ann City's Civic Plaza until Sunday.
Whether consumers will take a shine to the jewellers' nuggets of advice remains to be seen.
Organisers are aiming for a 10 per cent increase in total sales on the $12 million chalked up at last year's event but sales figures as of Wednesday, the event's sixth day, were unavailable at press time.
However, as Jean Nasr, Asia-Pacific vice-president of Swiss-based jeweller and JewelFest participant Mouawad, notes, gems are not called precious for nothing.
He says: 'People who have invested in stocks, bonds and blue chips are crying now. Yet anyone who has bought a top quality diamond 11/2 years ago has probably made a 20 to 30 per cent profit today because of the rarity of good quality stones.'
Another who thinks gems have rock-solid appeal is Vinod More, director of local jewellery house and festival participant, The Jewel Box.
While the appreciation value of a piece of jewellery depends on demand and supply, the original value of the item never wanes, he says.
'It's a huge hold of wealth. In war-torn countries, people put money into gold because you can't run with your houses but you can run with your suitcases of gold.'
Solid gold and dazzling diamonds are the highlights of the JewelFest's autumn/winter showcase, a special feature of the festival which started on Wednesday. On display are designs representing the spirit of these cool seasons.
Urban gets JewelFest participants to give tips on what to look for when investing precious bucks on bling.
GOING FOR GOLD
|Angela (left) wears a beige bandage dress by Herve Leger, $2,460, from Pois, 02-47 Paragon; Lilac Lush purple, rose and white gold necklace, $102,328, and matching earrings, $7,648, from Lee Hwa Jewellery. Kristin wears a grey bandage dress by Herve Leger, $2,781, from Pois; Coure Farfalla 18K blue gold with sapphires and diamonds, price unavailable, from Staurino; Roberge Andromede RS white and rose gold and diamond watch, $40,550, from Mouawad.
Even gold is not immune to the financial meltdown, but compared to stocks and bonds, it still holds much lustre.
Its prices have fallen by about 25 per cent from US$1,002.95 (S$1,510) per troy ounce in March - the highest so far this year - to US$750.33 per troy ounce as of Wednesday morning.
It still holds 'timeless' appeal though, says Chng Hwee Siang, director of local jewellery house Poh Heng Jewellery, the market leader in yellow gold designs here.
She says: 'Gold does not rust, tarnish or corrode and can last forever. As a rare metal, it is difficult and expensive to mine and retains its value well.'
Pure gold is very soft and is usually mixed with other metals like copper, zinc and silver to strengthen it. The value of gold jewellery depends mainly on the percentage or karatage of pure gold, with 24 karat (K) gold - of 99.9 per cent pure gold content - the highest and most valuable.
Jewellery of 18K (75 per cent pure gold content) is popular because its hardness allows for interesting designs to be shaped, but it usually has low resale value because of the lower gold content.
For investment, go for 22K (91.6 per cent pure gold content) gold jewellery. It has a high gold content and versatility for designs that softer 24K gold lacks.
|German celebrity jeweller Hellmuth has interpreted crocodile skin using gold accentuated with diamonds and precious stones to create the Croco Collection necklace, US$21,718 (S$32,400).
GO FOR DETAILS
If an 18K gold piece is the only karatage within your budget, Kean Ng, assistant business director of Lee Hwa Jewellery who is also chairman of this year's SJF, suggests going for highly intricate designs.
He explains: 'Special machines and techniques are often incorporated into crafting the gold masterpiece. This could result in a design that is more expensive than a solid, plain gold design of a higher karatage.'
TRADITIONAL OR NEW AGE?
You can't go wrong with yellow gold since coloured gold, which gets its fashionable hues from the mixing of two or more metals, tends to be more brittle.
According to Chng, coloured gold also usually contains a lower amount of pure gold and so has 'little or no' resale value. This the case even for the ever popular white gold.
Even though made up of a combination of pure gold and rarer, more expensive metals like rhodium and palladium, the alloy mix would increase the melting temperature of the white gold and make it harder to refine into pure gold, she says.
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
During these hard times, diamonds could well be anyone's best friend.
Stephen Choong, executive director of Malaysian jewellery house DeGem, says the price of large diamonds, particularly bigger 10-carat diamonds, has 'gone up easily by two to three times'.
|Kristin (left) wears a dress by Talbot Runhof, $3,102, from Pois; Flamenco diamond and white gold necklace, price unavailable, from Hearts On Fire; Rosa Noir white gold and black diamond necklace-brooch (worn as headpiece), $520,278, from Brilliant Rose; Natura white gold and diamond bangle, $11,782, from D'Meyson. Angela wears a Nicole Miller tank, $534, from Pois, 02-47 Paragon; Reptilian Royalty diamond and opal necklace and matching ring, prices unavailable, from Cupid Jewels; Adoration white gold and diamond ring, $7,676, from D'Meyson.
|Malaysian jewellery house Elegance Club's one-of-a-kind Fleur-de-lis tiara, $367,000, has 44.84 carat worth of diamonds.
Cut is not the gem's overall shape, but the number of facets it has, and the most important factor. With more facets, more light can be reflected off the rock and improve its brilliance. Round, brilliant-cut diamonds generally have 57 or 58 facets.
Unlike gold, carat refers to the weight of the diamond. As with gold, the more the carat, the higher the stone's value.
Top quality rocks of 10 carats and above are extremely hard to find and will appreciate over time, say Choong and Jean Nasr, Mouawad's Asia-Pacific vice-president.
Gary Joseph, general manager of Malaysian jeweller Habib, has this tip: Opt for 'nearly there' sizes such as a 0.9 carat instead of 1 carat. It's likely to pass off as the latter to the naked eye but costs less.
Buy a rock that is as flaw-free as possible. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the world's largest non-profit institute in gem research, grades a diamond's clarity by an 11-point scale - from I3 (inclusion 3) to VS (very slight inclusions) to F (flawless). Buy VS or better.
Plain-coloured diamonds are graded by a scale that begins with D and ends with Z, depending on the degree of yellowish tint. The most valuable: D, E and F.
Coloured diamonds are valued based on their rarity and intensity. Green and red diamonds are the most prized as they are extremely rare.
Round diamonds, termed round brilliant cut, are the most expensive because of their versatility. Also, when cut well they are deemed to deliver the best brilliance. Other than a round shape, the marquis - an elongated oval form with pointed tips - and pear are also coveted.
Ask for an international certificate authenticating a gem's quality. One by a reputable, independent gemological organisation like the GIA and Belgium's Hoge Raad voor Diamant ensures your diamond is rock solid and adds value.
In Singapore, organisations like the Nan Yang Gemological Institution (04-32 Shaw Centre, tel: 6333-6238) and the Far East Gemological Institute (03-10 Orchard Towers, tel: 6735-8569) can do the job.
Nan Yang charges $70 per carat while Far East, $150 and upwards per carat.
PEARLS OF WISDOM
|Angela wears a panel dress by Herve Leroux, price unavailable, from Pois, 02-47 Paragon; golden South Sea pearls with pink tourmaline and diamond earrings in 18K gold, $12,900, from Sunida; Baroque South Sea pearls with pink sapphire necklace, $60,000, from DeGem; white South Sea pearl with pink sapphire and amethyst ring, $20,000, from Hodel presented by DeGem
Where once pearls were harvested by divers venturing deep into the sea, these days they are cultured or farmed.
Doris Baer, director of Hong Kong-based jewellery company baerjewels - which specialises in designs using small Keshi pearls - points out the appeal of natural pearls: They are valuable because each is a 'one-off product of nature'.
Given how pollution today has affected the survival rate of oysters, she adds that 'you don't know how long it will take to produce one pearl'.
'Since I started using Keshi pearls 15 years ago, I've seen their prices go up by as much as three times.'
DOSE OF CULTURE
According to Baer and Vanessa Zhou, director of local jewellery house and pearl specialist Sunida, almost all pearls used by jewellers today are cultured.
Cultured pearls come in five varieties: freshwater, South Sea, Tahitian, Keshi and Akoya.
Freshwater pearls, the least valuable of the lot, are cultivated in ponds, rivers and lakes and tend to be small. A width of 10mm is considered large, Zhou says.
South Sea pearls average 12 to 13mm in width. Their size, and the fact that they are hard to cultivate, make them the most valuable.
Consider buying Tahitian and Keshi pearls too, Baer says.
|The Mid Autumn Night ring, $2,900, with a large pearl in the centre, is from Malaysian jeweller Madame Butterfly and shows a jade butterfly flying to the moon.
The former can be as dark as black in colour and are considered to be rarer than all but the South Sea variant.
ROUND AND RARE
In general, the rounder the pearl, the rarer and the higher its value.
Some come in what is called a baroque shape, which occurs most often in Keshi pearls. They are prized because each has a unique shape ideal for designer pieces.
BLACK AND WHITE
Pearls come in shades ranging from gold to grey but if you want real bang for your buck, go for traditional pure white that comes with a glint of silver, Zhou says.
If not, go for black which can be found in Tahitian pearls.
Baer warns of pearls that have been dyed or stained to obtain these desirable colours. You can tell if they have been dyed because there will be a drill mark and a different colour inside.
SHINY AND SMOOTH
The perfect pearl should have good lustre and its surface should have as few blemishes as possible.
RETURN OF THE JADEITE
Grandma sure knew a thing or two, as jade now makes a good investment.
|Kristin wears a stretch taffeta mini dress by Talbot Runhof, $3,209, from Pois, 02-47 Paragon; Ethereal Dream icy and green jade and diamond earrings, price unavailable, from Bedazzled With Tesoro; Orient Bliss diamond necklace, $197,808, by Ted Wu for Goldheart.
|Singaporean jeweller Bedazzled With Tesoro created Black Beauty, $8,000, a black jade bangle set in 18k white gold and embellished with diamonds and three different types of jadeite.
Fiona Aw, manager of local jade jewellery specialist Bedazzled With Tesoro, says the current demand for good quality jade exceeds supply, driving up prices.
For example, the Mdivani Jadeite Necklace, considered one of the largest jade necklaces in the world, was valued at US$50,000 in 1931 and sold for US$2.2 million by Christie's in 1988.
'It was featured again in a 1992 Christie's auction and went for US$4.2 million. The price of good quality jade just keeps getting steeper.'
Like pearls, jade is also prized because no two pieces are alike.
ONE NAME, TWO STONES
Jade actually refers to two different stones, nephrite and jadeite.
Jadeite comes mainly from Myanmar and is ideal for engravings. Available in a wide variety of colours ranging from the traditional green to purple and red, it is rarer than nephrite and thus more valuable.
Nephrite, which is found in places like China and Canada, is more resistant to breaking. It mostly comes in shades of green, although it can also be yellow, brown, black or white.
Jade should be as smooth, blemish-free and translucent as possible.
Jade is graded A, B and C according to what artifical enhancements it has undergone to fix its flaws. A natural piece that has not undergone any treatment is
A grade and has the highest value.
B-grade jade has been chemically bleached and injected with polymer resin to improve its colour and transparency. The process makes the jade more brittle but Aw suggests it is a good option for fashionistas who do not want to pay a premium price.
C-grade jade has been dyed, usually at the expense of translucence, while B+C jade has been bleached, injected with polymer resin and dyed - a no-go for serious buyers, says Aw.
GREEN WITH ENVY
Jadeite is most prized in traditional emerald green, and is often referred to as imperial jade as it was the colour most favoured by Chinese royalty.
Also prized is jade that is red, as well as multi-coloured pieces. Generally, the more intense the colour, the higher the value.
Diamonds may be the queen of gems, but rubies, sapphires and emeralds are proving right royal investments too.
Top-class stones are rare and desired because of their vivid hues, allowing them to command top dollar, say jewellery experts.
Jean Nasr, the Asia-Pacific vice- president of jewellery house Mouawad: 'A top quality 10-carat ruby could fetch more than a top quality 10-carat diamond simply because it's so hard to find.'
Like diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires are judged on the four Cs - cut, colour, carat and clarity - but in their case, the emphasis is on colour, colour, colour.
|Angela wears a toga dress by No Dress Code, $1,497, from Pois, 02-47 Paragon; Vinea Columbian emerald and diamond necklace, price unavailable, from The Jewel Box
While experts say prices of coloured gems depend mostly on what is in vogue, generally the more intense the colour, the more valuable the stone.
A top-quality emerald should ideally be of a green that is rich and bright, not light or dark, and have minimal tinges that the blue and yellow emeralds typically come with, says Vinod More, director of local jeweller The Jewel Box.
Oiling emeralds with cedar oil to reduce the appearance of blemishes is an industry practice and does not affect their value. However, any other sort of oiling treatments, such as with the use of synthetic oils, can decrease the value of an emerald by as much as half.
Sapphires come in yellow or green, depending on trace elements in the stone. However, blue is the most prized, with intense cornflower blue considered the ultimate blueblood.
Malaysian jeweller Habib's general manager Gary Joseph says the ever-popular oval cut is generally thought to give a sapphire the ultimate brilliance.
Their rosy hues range from pink to blood red. The finest are 'pigeon blood' rubies from Myanmar, which are said to be the colour of a freshly killed pigeon's blood and appear red with a slightly bluish hue.
Nasr points out that almost all rubies are heat-treated in some form to improve their colour, texture or translucence, making an all natural one all the more prized.
Always ask for a certificate from a reputable gemological institute to have proof of what treatment your stone underwent.
You don't want one that is overtreated. For example, be wary of rubies that have lead glass filling, a process done to improve the transparency of rubies.
|Kristin wears a taffeta empire waist dress by Elie Saab, price unavailable, from Pois, 02-47 Paragon; Cielo Mare diamond-encrusted white gold and topaz choker, $22,639, from Voi Jewellery; Blue enamel dial watch with diamonds, $28,000, from Faberge
Often considered semi-precious because they lack the lustre of the more expensive gems like diamonds and sapphires, stones like topaz, rubelite, tourmaline and onyx now have their turn in the spotlight as both jewellers and consumers go crazy for colour.
Their rising prices say it all.
Says Vinod More, director of local jeweller The Jewel Box: 'The price of tourmaline, for example, has gone up by as much as threefold in the past five years. It's all about demand and supply, with people growing more adventurous and wanting variety that only coloured gems can offer.'
However, precious stones - diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies - still make better investment value.
Gary Joseph, manager of Malaysian jewellery house Habib, recommends that you go for designs that combine semi-precious and precious stones for better value.
THE BRIGHT STUFF
The colour of the stone should be as vivid as possible. Topaz, for example, should come in a deep blue while onyx, a type of quartz, should be solid black or white.
Julia Tan, general manager of marketing at local jeweller Voi Jewellery, which created the design featured here, suggests looking at the stones in natural daylight for the most accurate assessment.
LESS IS MORE
Like precious gems, the value of a semi-precious stone is affected by the amount of inclusions or blemishes on it.
SMOOTH AS SILK
All coloured gems should ideally have a smooth polish with as few nicks or bumps as possible.
This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times on Oct 31, 2008.