From Prism Volume III: From the Vault, Pure Paraíba

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

By 1989, Steve Stieglitz had been wholesaling gemstones for more than 20 years—long enough to recognize something special. So when a friend from Brazil with connections to H.Stern brought in parcels of a new blue-green Tourmaline, the founder of NYC Gems Inc. was intrigued. The material had just hit the U.S. market the year before, and nobody had ever paid this much for Tourmaline—recollections are that it started as low as $80 a carat before the industry realized its specialness. Fortunately for Stieglitz, he was a collector and took a gamble on the pricey copper-bearing material from the Mina da Batalha mine in the northeastern state of Paraíba.

Of course, there was no Mozambique or Nigerian Tourmaline; there was only Brazilian Paraíba Tourmaline. And these stones weren’t heated, which gave them their wild colors. “The trace elements made them so vivid,” he says.

From Prism Volume III: From the Vault, Pure Paraíba from Steve Stieglitz

He scooped up several dozen carats of different colors, including some with neon blues. “I just thought they were cool,” he says.

Given he knew his buyer, he had no reason to send them out for lab analysis, so he put them in a safe and sat on them. Everyone knows what happened next; awareness of them exploded virtually overnight. Dealers started heating them, giving way to their iconic electric Windex blue hue. Once Japanese buyers got a taste, “the price structure just went through the atmosphere,” says Stieglitz.

Eventually, material made its way to other markets and Stieglitz started buying other goods, but he still had his stash. Until recently—he sold it to a Japanese buyer.

Why sell now?

“I’m 80—what am I going to do with this anymore?” he says. “I don’t do trade shows, I have the story, and when the market is high for something it’s time to sell.”

He secured reports on the stones from GIA, and not surprisingly, there were no questions about what he had. “They were textbook Paraíba,” he deadpans.

His reward for the hoard? “I made a stupid good profit,” he says.

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This article first ran in Prism Volume II 2023. See the flipbook by clicking here.