Gems of the Southern Caribbean
by John Rhoads  
D&J Rare Gems, Ltd.

Last December (2000), my wife, Donna and I traveled to the southern Caribbean and spent much of our time visiting the many jewelry stores that cater to the tourist trade. We even had the opportunity to assist a few of the passengers on the cruise with us with their purchases of jewelry.

For all of you who have been under the impression that tanzanite is scarce, you only need to visit this area to be convinced otherwise. In shop after shop, we saw cases and cases of jewelry set with tanzanites. We priced a number of these items of jewelry and ascertained the carat weight of the tanzanites featured. Our impression was that bargains were to be had. However, one must act with some degree of caution, as we have experienced situations where the jewelry purchased from some shops contained simulated tanzanites. Be careful and only patronize businesses that are recommended by the cruise line. Cater to business that offers guarantees and that have offices in the United States, where complaints can be filed without going through the trouble of returning the item to the exact location in the Caribbean where you originally purchased the item.

We do have two complaints about the sale of tanzanites in the Caribbean. The first has to do with the faceting quality of the gems. We saw few gems that we considered well cut. Now, I know that many of us, myself included, are more discriminating than most lay people when it comes to noticing the cut of a gem. However, most of the gems that we saw were not even symmetrical, nor did the facets meet in any proper alignment. It was a crime what those cutters did to some of these gems, many of which were fine quality gem material and showed top color. These were all spoiled by poor cutting. No attention was paid to optics. These stones were only cut for carat retention.

Our second complaint centered around a sign that we saw in several locations that offered “lifetime guarantees on tanzanite”. Our question was, what exactly are they guaranteeing? Most of us know that tanzanites are fragile, brittle gems that chip easily and must be worn with care. Were these guarantees on stone identity, durability, or what? The intent of the guaranty was unclear.
We had one tanzanite that was brought to us this past summer for recutting. The customer specifically requested an invoice that she could send to the business where she purchased the stone and have the cost of recutting refunded to her under such a guaranty. I would be very surprised if she actually received the refund. I suspect that this is just another ploy in getting uninformed customers to part with their money.

Most of the jewelry stores that we visited had the usual assortment of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and, of course, tanzanites. We did visit several stores in St. Maarten that sold other types of gems. One display that caught our attention there had some very well-cut tourmalines and garnets. These stones were quite impressive, although the prices listed were on the high side.
We also saw more and more fancy colored diamonds for sale that were set in fine jewelry. A particularly large, fine canary yellow diamond was displayed prominently in a shop window in St. Maarten.

Overall, we visited St. Maarten, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Barbados, and Aruba. We found that, by far, St. Maarten had the best selection and most reasonable prices for jewelry set with fine gemstones. Barbados and Aruba, on the other hand, had the best beaches. Barbados offered the best scuba diving. St. Kitts was, by far, the friendliest, and St. Lucia was the picture of a tropical paradise.

All of these locations had their own unique charm. However, where our experiences were positive, you may think otherwise. By the way, have any of you seen my lost suitcase in any airport in the United Sates with the label “John Rhoads” on it? That is another story I could tell!