RAPAPORT... During the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA) congress in Dubai recently, key players from the world’s leading gemological laboratories tackled the question of how their organizations could help the industry build consumer confidence.
Among the nine presenters, two themes emerged: The need for third party certification to support and grow the industry; and the need to give the end consumer easy to understand, yet fully transparent information via communication tools that jewelers can use at point of sale.
Sitting on the panel, moderated by Thomas Lind (president of Hermann Lind II, Idar-Oberstein, Germany,) was Abdalla Abdelqadir Al Muaini, Dubai Central Laboratory; Christopher Smith, American Gemological Laboratory; Rick Krementz, American Gem Trade Association Gem Testing Center; Henry Hanni, SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute; Vincent Pardieu, Gubelin Gemmological Lab, Lucerne Switzerland; Shane McClure, GIA Gem Trade Laboratory; Porsawat Wathanakul, Gem & Jewelry Institute of Thailand; and Claudio Milisenda, German Foundation for Gemstone Research.
“There are two main things consumers want to know—that what they are buying is what is represented; and that they are getting a fair price for it,” said McClure, director West Coast identification services at GIA's laboratory in Carlsbad, California. “If they are assured of those two things, then they are confident to buy.”
Panelists stressed the role their organizations play in sharing information and providing educational opportunities for manufacturers, designers, and jewelers.
“Building consumer confidence, particularly for the people on the retail frontlines, is critical,” said McClure. “You can have all the gem certifications in the world, but if the sales staff cannot explain what they mean and speak confidently about the products they are selling, than those certs are meaningless.”
There has been tremendous change in the market, noted Krementz who is president of the American Gem Trade Association on behalf of its testing center in New York. “Less than 50 percent of colored stones sales came from independent jewelers. The bulk of gems were sold via television shopping networks and the Internet.
"This situation is forcing traditional jewelers to re-examine how they sell gemstones,” Krementz said. The AGTA-GTC is exploring how to provide less expensive reports for the industry, so jewelers can cert gems of less than $5,000, instead of reserving that service for only the top echelon of stones.
The ICA has partnered with the American Gemological Laboratories and Gem Certification and Assurance Lab (GCAL) to provide that service. This new initiative provides ICA members with guaranteed third party identification and grading services designed to increase consumer confidence for prices as low as $25 per gem.
One New York gem importer, Jack Abraham, addressed the panel by telling of conflicting reports from three different labs regarding the origin of a single ruby.
To the issue, Pardieu said, “You cannot expect the moon from the labs.” Pardieu, who noted that the ruby in question was from a new deposit, added that, “The laboratories need time to research new finds and actually visit the locales to see the material firsthand. The same can be said about treatments and synthetics.”
Smith from AGL said, "There are some high profile cases, but if you look at the volume of origin reports issued by all the labs, the percentage of conflicting reports is relatively small geographic. Geographic origin determination is not an exact science.”
Origin determination has been a request of the trade for many years, said Hänni, SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute, Basel, noting that overwhelming demand from the industry pushed labs in that direction. Krementz said the major labs are discussing the possibility of forming an appeals panel to arrive at a consensus in the event there are substantially different results from several labs on a given stone.
However, Hänni was not convinced such a panel would work, suggesting that opinions sometimes conflict. “When you propose arbitrary it’s difficult as there is no master gemological entity sitting above us,” he said.