Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Sunny Times in Tucson

Business was brisk at this year’s gem shows.

By Sheryl Jones
Classic Colors Inc.
Every year for the first couple of weeks in February, Tucson, Arizona, becomes a mecca for gemstone enthusiasts. The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) GemFair is just one of more than 40 shows blanketing the city. They feature everything from traditional gemstones, such as sapphires, diamonds and rubies, to rare or recently discovered stones, as well as fossils, life-size geodes and dinosaur bones.
   The event is something of a spring break for the jewelry industry, with the extensive on-site selections and numerous suppliers providing gemstone dealers and designers with a rare chance to do side-by-side price and quality comparisons of material and to source stones for specific customers, design requirements and color profiles. Suppliers use the high-profile event to introduce new or unique gems and designs to the industry and to generate buzz for their offerings.

High-Volume Traffic and Sales
   Douglas K. Hucker, chief executive officer (CEO) of AGTA, said there were more customers in attendance and more business being done in 2015 than he has ever seen before. “Our parking lots were full at 11 a.m. with buyers ready to shop. It was so busy that the escalators leading to the GemHall floor were temporarily shut down because there were so many people lined up outside waiting to get in.” He added that normally, the six-day show starts out strong then gradually decreases by the third day — but not this year. “We had a surge on the third day,” he said, “and crowds continued to grow.”
   Amit Birani, owner of Original Gems in New York City, said that this year his retail customers from the U.S. and China were in a buying mood and focused mostly on unheated sapphire and ruby material that is getting harder for him to find. Richard Greenwood, president of A.F. Greenwood in New York City, said, “The first day was excellent. Retailers and designers from the U.S. and China bought high-quality tourmalines in all colors, as well as spinel and aquamarines.” Greenwood agreed that finding good-quality material to satisfy demand is getting harder and the price for high-quality unheated material has skyrocketed.
   Oswaldo Tavares de Oliveira, owner of Tavares Gems, Teofilo Otoni, Brazil, thinks this year’s Tucson shows were better because of the improvement in the U.S. economy. “U.S. buyers saved money for the past two years and now they need to produce and restock,” he said. As a manufacturer of large quantities of calibrated stones in quartz, beryl and tourmaline, de Oliveira sold over 25,000 carats of rutilated quartz at the show, as well as large quantities of yellow beryl and cat’s eye to high-volume manufacturers.

Searching for the Unique
   Kimberly Collins of Kimberly Collins Colored Gems, based in Reno, Nevada, is a gemstone wholesaler and designer who has exhibited at GemFair since 1996. She noted demand from her customers for stones in the neutral and blush colors that are trending in fashion this year. Morganite, along with zircon material in fancy color shades of champagne and blush, sold very well for her.
   “People come to Tucson to see unique things,” said Reema Keswani, founder and designer of Golconda Jewelry in New York City. She is a gemstone wholesaler with a fine handmade jewelry collection who says her customers want something special and interesting that will appeal to their international clientele. “My American customers are interested in seeing stones like jade that would interest the Asian market,” she said.
   Gary Wilson, owner of Gary B. Wilson Lapidary Design Group in Tucson, Arizona, specializes in unique stones and fossils. This show is always very good for him because, he said, “buyers know I have unique things. They stop by every year to see what is different and new.”
   Robert Bentley, of Robert Bentley Company in New York City, who specializes in unusual gemstones, said color and quality coupled with uniqueness were the driving factors in what his customers were purchasing. His clients range from small designers and wholesalers to big brand-name designer/manufacturers. According to Bentley, “the larger brands are looking for one-of-a-kind stones to add something unique to their brand.”
   Aureliano Palmeri, co-owner of Pulowi from Bogota, Colombia, was exhibiting for the first time in Tucson, at the GJX show across the street from GemFair. He is a designer and gemologist who sells loose gemstones and finished jewelry. Potential buyers who stopped by his booth were most interested in his one-of-a-kind stone rings and polished horn pieces and his best sellers were his silver and finger-weave bracelets.
   Dr. Laurent Sikirdji, a geologist and owner of Gemfrance, based in Saint Ismier, France, said show customers were different this year, explaining that in past years, buyers came with a list of suppliers to see and went directly to them. However, this year, new people were stopping at his booth. They were interested and engaged in learning about the more rare and high-quality gemstones he specializes in, which include andesine, a red stone from the feldspar gemstone family, and unheated material like spinel.
   “Show veterans know that they have to take a risk sometimes in buying goods now that they know they will have a hard time sourcing after the show,” said Hucker. But that gamble pays off if the retailer or wholesaler uses his show purchases to establish himself as the only one in his geographic area with a unique stone or a large selection of gemstones in the popular colors for the season or an inventory of high-quality material that is hard for customers to find anywhere else.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2015. To subscribe click here.

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