Wabi Sabi Gemstones and the Magic of “Imperfection”
Wabi sabi is the Japanese term for finding perfection in imperfection. It means finding the beauty in the twisted tree, the out-of-round shape of a bowl. An appreciation for wabi sabi has begun to filter into the world of gemstones as well.
ABOVE: A trapiche sapphire shows the hexagonal crystal structure of the mineral. Photo by Jeff Scovil, courtesy Primagem, AGTA Gem Fair.
Historically in the jewelry industry, it’s been thought that gems had to be transparent, inclusion-free, and good to excellent color, not to mention of the best modern cuts. In the last decade, imaginative jewelry designers have begun to showcase the individuality and beauty of pale pastel and translucent varieties of gems. Gems such as aquamarine, old-fashioned rose cuts, and materials such as rough diamonds, whose rugged beauty was once crushed for use in industrial diamond tools of all kinds. Even obvious inclusions—“flaws” such as crystals and needles–that were once the bane of jewelers, are finding an appreciative audience. Trapiches*, once desired only by collectors, now fascinate buyers.
Thank Studio Jewelers for Wabi Sabi Gemstones
The first chink in the wall of gemstone perfection was probably made by studio jewelers. Creating edgy pieces for a small, art-savvy audience, they opened the door to carved stones, unusual cuts, drusies, and raw diamonds. To clients more interested in design than intrinsic value, they introduced the variety of agates and jasper. These materials were once left to the domain of rockhounds and hobby lapidarists. Now, the demand for the exotic is spilling over into the work of innovative mainstream designers who see potential in these materials.
The demand for these unique gems parallels the growing demand for craft and the handmade, driven by clients hungry for something unique. Jewelry designers want to offer customers something no one else can, something aesthetically pleasing and rare—all at the same time. A gemstone with a unique, visible, and distinctive combination of inclusions can set itself apart from the sapphires, rubies, and emeralds found in abundance at any jewelry show (many of which have been treated to homogeneity).
Wabi Sabi Gemstones: Meaningful for Millennials
This search for the unique is especially true of young millennials, for whom intrinsic value is less important than personal significance. They want something with a message or meaning that is significant to them. One of the more unusual stones buyers are drawn to are enhydros, gemstones (commonly quartz) that contain fluid inclusions, often with an enclosed gas bubble.
Wabi Sabi Gemstones in Fashion Jewelry
Naturally, many of these wabi sabi stones are set in fashion jewelry. However, rough, raw, and included diamonds even appeal to engagement customers who want something that feels unique.
The strongest market for these stones is in the US. Buyers are usually women (20s to mid-40s) with disposable income, a willingness to take risks, and a fashion-forward attitude. They are drawn to the untreated natural beauty of the stones. Men still tend to be traditionalists, looking for the highest value in a stone. Women, however, tend to be more adventurous, looking for design and flair—especially when treating themselves.
Wabi Sabi Gemstones: Limited Quantities
These wabi sabi gemstones will never be available for mass production. They are unique, may take special skills in setting, and a limited number of customers to appreciate them. However, those who do tend to come back for more.
* Trapiches (Spanish for the mills used to crush sugar cane, olives, or ore) occur in gems that crystallize in the hexagonal system–emerald, sapphire, ruby, and tourmaline. Gem material grows from each face of the hexagonal crystal at the heart of the trapiche. Radiating in a six-rayed pattern, from the edges between crystal faces, are lines of usually black inclusions.
Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing about gemstones and jewelry for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of birthstone romance novels under the name Liz Hartley.