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Blue Topaz: Now Street Legal
Jewelry Scene

The blue topaz market is moving out of the gray area of the law it’s been in since last June, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission officially reminded retailers that it requires all gems, like topaz, that are irradiated in a nuclear reactor to be imported or initially distributed only by NRC licensed companies under regulations imposed in 1988.

There are now three companies who are licensed for distribution of these irradiated gems: HBM Virginia, Ideal Source, and International Isotopes. HBM is the U.S. subsidiary of BCS Stones, which treats blue topaz in Germany. Ideal Source is the U.S. subsidiary of Ostro Gems in Zurich, which treats topaz in Europe. International Isotopes, through Quali-Tech, handles testing for Creative Gems & Jewelry Public Co. Ltd. and T.N. Gems Co. Ltd., two companies in Thailand who treat topaz in Missouri.

Because these companies are affiliated with major blue topaz producers, supplies of neutron irradiated topaz released under license have flowed surprisingly quickly into the market. “We now have a million carats available,” says Anna Ostro of Ideal Source, New York. “Prices are up but it’s not a big jump.”

“We’re now testing about 200,000 carats a day and that’s going to be increased,” says Don Alger of Quali-Tech. “Retailers might find a particular size or shape that isn’t available yet but dealers have inventory that they have had for awhile that will meet the U.S. standard if it needs to be tested.”

Although that sounds like a lot of blue topaz, estimates for the size of the U.S. topaz market range from 24 million to 60 million carats. Depending on size, shape, and purchase volume, prices have gone up between 20 and 50 percent.

R.S. Imports, which has topaz treated in Missouri and tested by Quali-Tech, is also now selling supplies of blue topaz released under license. “Prices are definitely going up,” says Rafi Setareh. “It’s not only the cost of testing what we treat but also the cost of financing goods that need to be held for two to three years before release instead of six months.”

Although most of the volume of topaz being released by producers, Quali-Tech is also offering testing to other companies, many who are using the service to test and release existing inventory. Batch testing is relatively affordable. “We know that there are people who need the service and we’re offering it because there are limited places they can go,” says Alger. “We haven’t finalized prices yet but I would guess it would be between $0.10 and $0.20 per carat if we do bulk. There will have to be a minimum charge of at least $400 or $500. We can’t test one stone. We normally will test lots of 30,000 to 40,000 carats.”

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Blue topaz
photo by Noel Mendez.