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Royal Saharan Jasper

Fourth, it has intricate, dense, arresting patterns, often with well-formed dendrites that look like shrubs along desert ridges and on hills. Colors tend to be what Gibbs calls "caramel brown to straw yellow with common traces of pink, coral, and salmon" and usually occur in ribbon and rivulet-like swirls. Gibbs and Genovese both like to cut stones from nodules with outer brown borders that suggest cave openings from which one exits to a vivid landscape.

There is one more reason that lapidaries celebrate Royal Sahara jasper. It is the first great variety of this gem that comes from outside the U.S. And it comes just in a nick of time, says Gibbs, because famed jasper localities in Oregon such as Biggs and Deschuttes are pretty much picked clean. "Until now, Oregon and, to a lesser extent, Wyoming, were the principal producers of picture jasper," says Gibbs. "Now northern Africa is the main source."

Jewelers who stock Royal Sahara jasper, both loose and set, report gratifying sales because customers are so taken aback by the literalness of the scenes they see in the stones. "What better reminder of the Southwest is there?" asks cutter-designer-metalsmith Vincent Gulino, based in Tubac, Arizona, one of the first jewelers to stock this quartz in depth.

But you donít need to be an eco-tourist to fall in love with this stuff. John Bajoras, who operates four stores in seaside Massachusetts towns, plus a new mall store north of Boston, finds Royal Sahara jasper what he calls a "double take gem" because "customers canít take their eyes off it once they first see it."

Gulino seconds this appraisal. "My business plan boils down to one thing: stop customers in their tracks with stunning, unique gems they see nowhere else that take their minds off their cares and woes," he explains. "Royal Sahara jasper is one of my newest ways to distract people from their problems. You want to start a conversation with someone? Let them see scenic jasper and call across the store to you to come over and tell them about it."