Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Garnets provide lucrative opportunity

Gem cutter, Meg Berry finds investing in rocks tops stocks

Some people invest in stocks, some invest in rocks. Meg Berry of Rainbow chose the latter and is very bullish these days.

Berry, a world-renowned gem cutter and carver, and two of her associates, Jason Doubrava and Todd Wacks, own the lion’s share of some very unique and beautiful gems: color-change pink pyrope garnet from Tanzania. Under fluorescent-equivalent lighting, the larger gems have the color of fine purple amethyst, while under incandescent light the color is hot pink.

"All the rough over three grams belongs to three people – me, Jason and Todd," said Berry. "And we have sold a little bit of rough, but mostly we’re all three cutters. And the whole goal was to cut it here, not to just get rich."

Thanks to its unique qualities and dazzling beauty, the garnet is providing Berry and Co. with a lucrative return on investment, an investment made on stones that had previously been shunned.

"The stones were originally mined in 1987 or 1988 and were from Morogoro, Tanzania," said Berry. "The dealer who bought them from the miner brought them to America and nobody was interested. They were a little bit sleepy and weren’t the color garnet people expected to see. They were not desirable and they didn’t sell so he took them back to Africa, Tanzania, and put them in a safe in 1989.

"Then, in early 2014, the smaller ones, everything under three grams, started trickling in," continued Barry. "A local dealer, John Garsow, who lives in Murrieta and is one of the top dealers of gems in the country, stopped by and brought me some rough to look at. I saw that rough and I went crazy. I said, ‘you’re not leaving here with that rough.’ I fell in love with the material and I only saw the pink. It was just hot, hot pink and they were calling it 'neon pink garnet.'"

Berry put together a group that purchased more than $4,000 of the rough and received a bonus from Garsow for organizing the sale.

"It was a $500 piece of rough, kind of like a 10 percent commission," said Berry. "So I cut that stone – it was 18 carats – and I just went crazy. I showed it to my friend, Jason, who is a student of mine and a cutter. He’s fascinated with color change, which is called selective absorption, when a color changes color depending on the light source. He says to me, 'these are color change.' He put two different lights sources on them and it went from pink to purple. We both went, 'Wow.' Color change garnets are not only extremely rare, they’re fairly valuable too."

Berry cut the stone, entered it in the San Diego County Fair’s gems, minerals and jewelry competition and won a blue ribbon. "It was beautiful and it was six carats and it was pretty darn big for a garnet," said Berry.

Berry obviously wanted more of this material and her wishes came true a little more than two months later.

"My other student, Todd, was at my house and he saw a Facebook post and said, 'Hey, that garnet you got, the whole parcel is available, 1.8 kilos,'" said Berry. "Steve Ulatowski (owner of New Era Gems, Grass Valley) is the biggest gem rough dealer in the country and he had gotten hold of the whole parcel of these bigger pieces, from four grams and up. So I got on the phone to Steve and told him I wanted the entire parcel."

When informed of the six-figure asking price for the parcel, Berry didn’t blink.

"I was in a financial situation where I could make a commitment to writing a six-figure check," said Berry. "It was a unique situation for me. I had received a medical settlement. I had one of those recalled hips and had to have it replaced. I went through a lot of grief. I’ve have had three hip replacements in four years."

Ulatowski asked Berry if she was really sure about making such an investment.

"Steve said, 'Meg, you cut one stone at a time,'" said Berry. "I said, 'I don’t care, I want it all.' And I bought it all. I bought it and split it with Jason and Todd."

Berry and her partners spent the next 18 months promoting the material, which included sending samples to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where they were subject to very sophisticated testing by Dr. George Rossman, the head of the geology department.

"Dr. Rossman came up with, 'yes, this is a new variety of garnet, completely unique from any other, and a higher percentage of iridium gives it that color change,'" said Berry.

Once certified as being new and color change, the materials attracted the interest of the Gemological Institute of America, which featured Berry’s gems (a glorious "Super Spiral cut" specimen weighing 15.25 carats and a 42.42 carat rough nodule) on the cover of its 2015 winter edition of Gems & Gemology magazine.

The international publicity the stones are garnering makes them a very hot commodity, which is very satisfying to Berry both professionally and financially.

"It’s been two years in the making," said Berry. "I would call it a personal, professional highlight. I’m at the point where I’m doing the carving and the faceting, and no one else is able to make the stones that look like mine because it’s a skill I’ve only worked on. I do fancy things, and they’re the best pieces I’ve made.

"There is a bit of a back order," continued Berry. "I’ve only really started selling them in the last six months and it’s going really well. I could have put the (settlement) money in the bank and earned one-half of one percent, or I could put it in garnets and earn, oh, 1,800 percent on a stone I sold to a collector. That’s a little bit of a markup. But, it’s also a risk that the rough will cut and will sell. I’ve got a box of rough and it’s like owning a little piece of real estate in my eyes. It’s been a very good investment."

Berry will be signing copies of the Gems & Gemology magazine featuring her stones on Saturday, April 30, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fallbrook Gem & Mineral Society Museum (123 W. Alvarado), where she often volunteers and teaches lapidary classes.

Although Berry only does business on a wholesale level, she will have a "few stones" available for purchase at the magazine signing. Those interested in viewing Berry’s complete collection or making purchases should visit The Collector Fine Jewelry (912 S. Live Oak Park Rd.) in Fallbrook.

 

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