by Alain Torres
Traveling offers us a chance not only to explore new cultures, arts, food, people, and experiences but also the chance to bring home something special – something that we can share with family and friends that tells the story of our time on the road. When it comes to souvenirs, there’s nothing quite as special as a piece of jewelry specific to the locale from which you just returned! Gemstones are, of course, top of the list. They are one of the earth’s natural wonders. Rare, beautiful, and distinctly unique, some of the planet’s most exquisite treasures leave many of us in awe.
Traveling gives people the opportunity to shop for luxuries that otherwise might be difficult – or too expensive – to acquire at home. Why? Well, it’s sort of simple: Buying luxury items like gemstones and precious metals closer to the origination (usually where they are mined) translates to major cost savings. So, the next time you venture to French Polynesia for a relaxing beach vacation or adventure through Africa on safari, take note of some of deals you might be able to score while you’re there.
Here’s a look at some of the world’s most precious gemstones and where you can find them during your travels. Plus, a look at one up-and-comer that’s setting new records as we speak.
Tanzanite, Northern Tanzania, Africa
Cost: $1,200 per carat
Each year, millions head to Africa to take in the magnificent landscape, wonderous terrain, and plethora of wildlife. But Africa is also home to many of the world’s precious gem mines, the most well known of which is, of course, diamonds.
But if you have the means, do some exploring on your next African adventure and take home some Tanzanite. A gem that was first discovered in 1967, Tanzanite is as precious as it is rare. It comes from very few places; as you may have guessed, it’s only found in Northern Tanzania, specifically in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Tiffany and Co. arguably put Tanzanite on the map. The ubiquitous jeweler began using in its jewelry pieces because of its incredibly rare color: deep blue with hints of violet that’s considerably different from the blue you might expect in, say, sapphires.
Black Opal, Lightning Ridge, Australia
Cost: $9,500 per carat
Thinking of a trip to Australia? You’re not alone. The country has soared in popularity as a leisure travel destination over the last few decades. It’s not hard to see why when you consider all country has to offer: wildlife, indigenous culture, arts, adventure, you name it.
If you’re considering picking up a souvenir while you’re there – albeit a pricey one – consider black opal. While a piece of black opal recently sold for more than $3 million at auction, you don’t have to take out a loan to claim some of your own It’s only found in the Lightning Ridge area in New South Wales, and it’s widely considered one of Australia’s national treasures.
Musgravite, Musgrave Ranges, South Australia
Cost: $35,000 per carat
As long as you’re on holiday in Australia, you might as well see what other precious gems the country has to offer! Once again we find ourselves in the down under.
According to the GIA, this magnesium-rich beryllium oxide crystallizes in the trigonal system, in contrast to the hexagonal system of taaffeite, and is highly sought after by rare stone collectors. What does that mean to the average person? Probably nothing. But here’s a quick translation: $$$. Back in 2005, miners were only able to dig up eight gem-quality pieces of this gemstone. It’ll set you back a ton of money.
However, you can pick it up at a slight discount while you happen to be visiting. Again, the closer you are to the source, the more you can expect the price to level out.
Alexandrite, Ural Mountains, Russia (and Sri Lanka, East Africa, Brazil)
Cost: $70,000 per carat
Russia’s Ural Mountains are absolutely stunning, but let’s be honest: Even professional travelers often don’t find themselves heading in this particular direction. Rugged with difficult terrain, ominous weather, and dangerous wildlife, it’s not exactly a top destination for most.
So if you really want something rare for a souvenir, it might be best to pick up Alexandrite on your travels to Brazil, Africa, or Sri Lanka. This stone is a chameleon. That’s right – it’s known for changing colors. Unfortunately finding one larger than a carat is incredibly rare, but that’s ok – we’re assuming the vast majority of us don’t have $70,000 to drop anyway.
You can still purchase small rings, earrings, and even pendants for a pretty reasonable price if you’re traveling through these areas (under $1,000 in most cases).
Pink and Blue Diamonds, India and South Africa
$1.19 million per carat
We once again find ourselves back on the African continent, but a backpacking trip through India can also yield some really interesting (and less expensive) diamond finds.
Colorless diamonds may be a prize, but pink and blue diamonds generally put them to shame. Pink diamonds are arguably the rarest, and annual production represent less than 0.1% of all diamonds mined. They regularly break the $1 million mark for price per carat at auction, and in 2017, a stunning pink diamond weighing 59.60-carats was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong for a record-breaking $71.2 million.
While your travels may take you through South Africa and maybe even further East to India, we’re going to be honest here: While pink and blue diamonds are beautiful, you’ll be a lot better off trying to find another keepsake from your travels
Jadeite, North America, Western Canada, China
Cost: $3 million per carat
If you’re a traveler or backpacker worth your salt, chances are you’ll find yourself hitting scenic spots across North America (Grand Canyon, anyone). It’s also likely China is on your list of countries to visit. We wouldn’t blame you – the food, the culture, the nightlife, and the scenery are phenomenal.
Whether you’re stateside or husting through the streets of Hong Kong, jade is something you’re likely to come across during your adventures – especially at Chinese specialty shops and U.S. jewelry stores.
Imperial jade is exquisite; it’s the purest form of jade, and its green color is simply stunning. In Chinese culture, owning imperial jade is a sign of uber wealth, luxury, and prestige – yes, even more prestigious than a diamond. Thinking of getting your hands on some of your own? Forbes covered the sale of a jade piece that went for more than $20 million.
If you’re tempted to buy jade during your travels, be sure and do your research. Because of the gem’s high value (and demand for it), street vendors and small-time shops have been known to sell knock-offs, especially in urban areas of China.
Up-and-Comer: Pearls, French Polynesia
If an exotic, super exclusive beach vacation or honeymoon is on your list of to-dos, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by passing up French Polynesia. You’ve seen the postcards: picturesque overwater bungalows seemingly floating atop crystal blue lagoons, surrounded by lush, jagged mountains that look like they came straight out of the movie Jurassic Park.
French Polynesia is a place like no other, and one of the top sellers throughout all the islands is, yep, you guess it, pearls.
Tahitian South Sea pearls – from necklaces to bracelets to earrings and more – are some of the most sought-after pearl types in the world. They are known for their black color with shades of green and blue swirled in. Best of all, this is one of the few gemstones that doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, so while you are enjoying the beautiful beaches of Bora Bora, Tahiti, or Moorea, feel free to pick some up. If you’re back stateside, you can still find Tahitian pearl necklaces and other types of pearls at a discount if you buy from online wholesalers who import directly from the South Pacific.
Here’s some perspective: Just this month, the world’s largest freshwater pearl sold at auction for nearly $400K. For. One. Pearl. In December of last year, a single pearl fetched $1.45 million. Christie’s also regularly auctions of pearl jewelry for millions.