Once Upon A Paraiba

Once Upon A Paraiba

Everyone has a story about the first time they saw paraiba.  Here’s mine.

It was the early 90s. I was at the Tucson Gem Show—still my perennial favorite—working at our booth at GJX (the Gem & Jewelry Exchange), one of two locations where my then-employer, Krementz & Co., exhibited each year. I had begun working in the art department of the Newark-based jewelry manufacturer immediately following college graduation, photographing catalogues and doing graphic design for its 7 jewelry divisions. It was an extra-special bonus to have been able to go to the industry trade shows.

Our GJX booth sold closeouts, accumulated miscellany from over 100 years in the jewelry biz (literally!), while our other location across the street at AGTA (the American Gem Trade Association), displayed fabulous one-of-a-kind gemstone jewelry. Richard Krementz, the owner, was a maverick in the industry. Savvy, quirky, brilliant, he had a discerning eye and a profound love for gems.

One morning, while Richard visited our GJX booth, two Brazilian gentleman approached him, quietly taking him aside in the aisle. Then, very abruptly, the three disappeared. This alone was not unusual: it was the tempo of Tucson. It still is. Dealers often keep their most special treasures--the creme de la creme, new acquisitions, exceptional rarities--in their pockets, folded in plain vanilla gem papers, an ironic contrast to their precious contents. Whispered conversations are as abundant as the multitude of gems on display. This was all very cloak and dagger to a newbie like me. And I was fascinated.

Making a coffee run before the show opened, I spied Richard and the gentleman chatting at a table. Hours later, around lunchtime, they were sill there, yet their conversation was much more animated. Around three o'clock, things had become decidedly intense. Richard computed in his heavy-handed style on the keypad of his omnipresent HP scientific pocket calculator. Something REALLY big was happening. Finally, just after our 6pm closing, Richard returned, muttering about spending “$280 per carat” and that he “never paid so much for a tourmaline” in a deal that had taken an entire day.

Then, magic happened. Two glittering gems tumbled from his bear-paw hand onto a jewelry tray as we stared in silent astonishment. They seemed…well…impossible. One was neon green, the other peacock blue, and they absolutely, positively glowed, luminous from what seemed to be an internal light source. But how? Our bright booth lights were off! It was that precise moment when I first experienced the marvel of paraiba. Even Richard, the seasoned aficionado, was captivated by this stunning newcomer to the world of gems.

Years later, as paraiba’s price spiraled upwards into tens of thousands of dollars per carat, Richard would often say that had he known then what they would become, he would have gladly paid $280 per carat for every last one of them.

My tenure with Krementz brought many adventures and acquaintances, and one of those was Suna Bros., where I have called home since Krementz closed. I am fortunate to have been able to continue working with extraordinary gems. Paraiba still leaves me breathless. Suna has acquired amazing paraibas, and I distinctly remember each and every one, like a favorite painting or extraordinary novel that leaves an everlasting impression.

Now, the stakes are even higher. Paraiba’s value has skyrocketed beyond the stratosphere. It is so scarce and in such high demand that even heavily included material is highly sought. Enter, cabochons. Not only do they offer much more affordable alternatives for collectors, but cabochon paraibas actually embrace their inclusions. These natural fingerprints add dimension and verve to each gem, enhancing its beauty. I think of them as tiny snow globes, enchanting, atmospheric, and utterly surreal.

So, the next time you’re in a jewelry store, inquire about this magnificent gem. And if they have one, ask to see it out of the showcase, away from all the fancy bright lights that make the jewelry sparkle. Because there, in a dimly lit corner of the store, you will see incendiary paraiba work its real magic. And you too will be breathless.

Danielle Barber