AGTA GemFair™ Tucson Daily Report
Selling The Big Three
Tucson, Arizona, Feb. 7, 2010-In tough times the classics usually prevail, but bread and butter gems like ruby, sapphire, and emerald have taken a bit of a hit in the weak economy, although fine goods continue to sell well.
Niveet Nagpal of the Los Angeles-based Omi Gems says that sales for typical bestsellers like 5-carat sapphires are down. "People are looking for something different, more unique, and larger," says Nagpal during the American Gem Trade Association GemFair™. He cites strong sales for finer goods, but laments that they're difficult to find. "There's a greater shortage and higher prices than we’ve experienced in a while."
Yet Jack Abraham, a N.Y.-based loose gem wholesaler and jewelry manufacturer, is extremely optimistic about the business, noting that 2009 was a solid year. He attributes his success to the fact that he specializes in the precious trio since he began in the trade 31 years ago.
"People come to me for ruby, emerald and sapphire because they know that is my niche," he explains, noting that every item he sells comes with a certificate from a reputable gem lab. He grieves that the worst thing for the business has been glass-filled rubies. "We might as well call it red glass with pink corundum," he quips, citing that’s it's more difficult to score untreated ruby than untreated sapphire. He adds that prices for sapphires from Kashmir have been erratic, but Ceylon and Madagascar goods are yielding healthy price increases.
Among the many topics discussed at the closed-door Gemstone Industry & Laboratory Conference (GILC) at the Tucson Convention Center Feb. 5 was treated ruby. Sushil Goyal, GILC Chairman and owner of the N.Y.-based Liberty Gems, reports that a committee was formed to develop nomenclature for glass-filled ruby. "We're looking for an acceptable commercial name with proper disclosure language for this product," describes Goyal, citing words like composite and hybrid as possible terms. The group is in favor of a separate category for this material, which costs about 1/10th the price of natural goods.
When properly disclosed, Goyal says there is a place for this material in the market. He says there are many misconceptions about glass-filled ruby, denouncing that what is on the market is more glass than corundum. "The lowest cases we've found were 70 percent corundum/30 percent glass," he explains. The committee plans to offer recommendations to GILC before the next CIBJO Congress in Munich, Germany Feb. 19-22.
It also was suggested that separate disclosure codes be created for oil and resin filled emerald, says Goyal, who notes that resin is a permanent treatment and should be treated differently than oil, which can be removed. A GILC committee was formed to address this issue and others related to emerald. Abraham notes that he only deals in oiled emeralds, mainly from Colombia and some from Zambia, allowing him to remove everything and put in the traditional oil he prefers to use.
Overall, business has been strongest for blue and fancy-colored sapphires at the show, with mixed responses regarding ruby and emerald sales.
Cutting It Up At The GemFair
Clay Zava of Zava Master Cuts in Carrboro, North Carolina says that if the past year of this challenging economy has taught him anything, it is to be even more who he is. "I'm a classical cutter, so when you look at my gemstones you don’t say that's a Zava. But what should speak to you is quality," he describes. "The gemstones transcend the cut, and I use the cut as a tool."
He says buyers want beautiful things and will pay for better quality, noting that his business has been on an upswing since December. "Probably the one category that has fallen off for me has been smaller gemstones," he says, noting that the most popular gems are tourmalines, garnets and zircons. He also does well with screaming sphene and peachy topaz.
Cutter Larry Woods for Jewels from the Woods in Blanco, Texas says his retailers thank him for helping them "enjoy the jewelry business again." By recreating standard shapes that are easy to set, Woods says it has opened up new avenues for jewelers to make a profit. He says a little bit of everything is selling for him from spessartite and aquamarine to rhodolite and sunstone. Mostly moderately priced goods.
Many of the cutters at the AGTA GemFair™ were pleased with business. Stephen Avery says the buying trend is coming back. The Lakewood, Colorado-based cutter says buyers are restocking again with nice, high-end goods. "There has been a different energy here," Avery explains. "We may not have seen the quantity of buyers we would’ve liked, but we were pleasantly surprised with the quality. We surpassed our sales last year by the second day of the show."
Like Zava and others, Avery says he has focused on doing the things he loves, like his color sets that combine such gems as tanzanite and rubellite. "I expanded my repertoire in sets and it really paid off. They were among my bestsellers."