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Being a center for gemstones in East Africa, Nairobi has numerous jewelry and gem stores selling various gemstones, but selling tanzanite in particular. This article explores the many dangers of buying tanzanite in Nairobi and offers advice on what to look for.
Fraudulent practices prevail in the Nairobi market
A Nation Newspaper article recently highlighted the unregulated nature of the gemstone and jewelry industry in Nairobi and East Africa in general. Fraudulent practices are widespread and many players sell inferior products to unwitting buyers that belong to the best qualities. Without the Trade Descriptions Law in Kenya, buying tanzanite, tsavorite and gemstone jewelry is a case of emptor warning. To avoid becoming a victim, keep the following points in mind:
What to look for:
Sales versus reality talk: First, it is important to have an idea of what to expect from reputable gemstone sellers. There are so many “merchants” in Nairobi whose sole purpose is to sell gemstones at outrageous prices while pretending to be experts or even “mine owners”. Most of these claims are totally unfounded and totally false. Mining in East Africa is done very informally by artisanal miners in some very remote areas. The distribution channel generally follows the usual trend of miners selling to established cutters and traders who export to foreign markets or sell to local jewelers. Jewelers buy from a variety of sources, including these dealers, the most common of which are brokers. If a jewelry store claims to own the mine and therefore the offer, don’t be fooled by this, it is sheer exaggeration and complete misrepresentation. A trusted seller will be very knowledgeable about the gemology of the gemstones they sell and will be able to answer your questions in a consistent and thorough manner. They must have some gemological qualifications to establish themselves as experts in the field rather than purely traders.
Gemology is an intricate field and there are a host of synthetics, imitations, and fake gemstones that you can risk buying from a non-gemologist seller. The days of being able to sell stones with little knowledge of them and hoping you won’t get caught with a synthetic or imitation are long gone. Tanzanite, for example, can be coated to enhance its color. It has a synthetic counterpart called Tanzanique that looks exactly the same. How can you be sure you are buying a genuine gemstone when the seller has no gemology knowledge or testing facilities?
The precious stones themselves: My other Ezine article, “Tanzanite Buying Tips”, goes much deeper into what to look for in tanzanite in tsavorite to differentiate between fine stones and inferior qualities, so I won’t go into too much detail here as it is beyond the scope. of this article. However, in general, a layman can differentiate between fine stones and low-quality stones simply by using common sense: the more vivid and deeply saturated the color, the finer the stone. The more flawless the clarity, the finer the stone is and is often overlooked – the finer the cut, the brighter the stone and the finer the quality. Most of the stores I surveyed were selling medium to low quality products as top quality. This is totally unscrupulous. I would suggest reading my Tanzanite Ezine Buying Tips article for a good overview of what to look for. Also look at the bottom of this article for a link to my site where we list several very useful educational tools that show you what to look for in a fine tanzanite. It is very easy to pay beyond the odds for a mediocre tanzanite in Nairobi while being led to believe that you are buying the best quality.
AAA, AA, 4A, 5A: If you have been shopping at one of the Nairobi jewelry stores, you will have come across these terms. I was dumbfounded by the number of stores that provided misinformation using these “grades”. The first thing to understand is that none of these terms are actual gemological grades. AA and AAA were terms used by miners in the early days of mining to denote the top 2 grades of tanzanite: triple A is an extremely saturated color and is less than 1% of all tanzanite, double A is a shade more clear. I was very angry to find that many stores in Nairobi were misrepresenting very mediocre material like triple A, but I was even more infuriated to hear about sales like “but we also have 4A and 5A, very special and only from our mines, nowhere else”, moment where they produce double-A stones at ridiculous prices. 4A and 5A are just an exaggeration – they have never been used by the industry and are simply terms coined by traders to promote their actions.
You should look for sellers who issue suitable gemological certificates with a suitable scientific grade, such as the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) classification system. It is all very well to bypass terms like AAA, but these are simply subjective terms and should be supported by an appropriate rating using a recognized rating system.
The store itself: Don’t Be Fooled By Location – Many of the stores I surveyed are located in upscale shopping centers where they use their prime retail location to sell large volumes of mediocre products to unsuspecting shoppers. This, in itself, is fine, but when they represent the products as the best qualities when they are not, and charge an outrageous price, then it simply becomes a form of fraud. I am hugely opposed to this and, by extension, to the reputation it brings to our industry. When you enter the store, look for an environment that looks professional – is the store an extension of a curio shop with a merchant selling a wide variety of gemstone curio? Do the staff know about gemstones? Are there gemologists to answer your questions? Obviously, you want to find a store that offers these things, and don’t be persuaded to spend thousands of dollars on an impulse; do some research first.
Prices: The most outrageous factor I drew from my survey was prices, especially for tanzanite. Some stores sold medium-grade stones (which they represented as “4A” or “5A”) for more than $ 1000 a carat. This is outrageous for the local market (in the US market this would be more normal). At the time of writing, even the finest investment grade pieces (and I found that zero stores actually sold this grade even though their sales jokes promised the dirt) shouldn’t cost more than $ 780 per carat. This is for excellent cut, flawless clarity, and the finest color found in the top 1% of tanzanites. Don’t be fooled by spending crazy money. Do some research first.
All in all, the survey revealed a very high level of fraud and fraudulent practices among sellers of tanzanite and gemstones in the Nairobi area. Without an established government body to regulate it, it really is a case of caveat emptor (buyer beware) when you are buying tanzanite. Do your research, go to various stores and make comparisons and look for professional and knowledgeable gemologists who can answer your questions fully before you buy.