Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Color Satisfies

The AGTA GemFair, held as part of the JCK Las Vegas show, provided an eclectic assortment for buyers seeking the unusual.

By Nancy Pier Sindt

Rose quartz from Robert Bentley
Photo by Robert Weldon

Quality, rarity — and especially value — were the chief criteria for purchases of gemstones and pearls at this year’s GemFair. Buyers didn’t necessarily come with shopping lists, but what they were looking for was something unique to tempt their customers.

The 2012 GemFair ended its five-day run on June 4 at the Mandalay Bay, with most exhibitors pleased with the results of the event. The show opened on May 31, one day before JCK, and featured gemstones, pearls and finished jewelry from 220 American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) members. The organization makes a pledge to buyers that all its members adhere to its code of ethics and disclosure.


Showing a large selection of unheated rubies and other gemstones, Columbia Gem House, Vancouver, Washington, is strongly supportive of truth in treatments. Eric Phillips, a representative of the firm, said his company is “trying to help the world because most retailers don’t understand what they’re selling.” He has seen numerous examples of treated ruby being sold as natural. “We need to teach people so they aren’t committing fraud through ignorance,” he stated.

Laurie Watt, Mayer & Watt, Maysville, Kentucky, said this year’s show was quite strong, but more than half of her buyers were from outside the U.S., including Indians, Chinese and Europeans. Customers included upscale designers and retailers who were looking for high-quality gemstones with fine color and cut. Among the best sellers were earring layouts of three different colored gemstones, with pear shapes at top and bottom and a round cut in the middle. They were all matched for size and color so they were sold as sets. Watt made up a pair of earrings to show buyers how the finished product would look. “Some customers like the pieces to be merchandised for them, so we made up the earrings to show them,” she said.


Long-time loose gemstone exhibitor Omi Gems, Los Angeles, best known as a dealer in fine-quality gemstones, including blue and colored sapphires, rubies and emeralds, had a very successful AGTA show. Sally Walsh, Omi’s gemstone manager, said her clients, who include retailers, designers and manufacturers, were looking at GemFair for larger stones of fine color and quality. She didn’t encounter much price resistance because “most shoppers were pretty savvy about prices.” At the same time, at the neighboring JCK show, the company was introducing its first finished jewelry line, Omi Privé, one-of-a-kind colored gemstones in diamond-accented jewelry.

Robert Bentley, New York City, specializes in a wide range of gemstones, from rough slabs and crystals to faceted, round and carved beads. “Business is up,” Bentley said. “At this show, there was a note of enthusiasm and lots of new customers. People are selling their best things.” Especially well received were some smoothly carved strands of beads featuring soft matte finishes.

Bentley said artisan designers especially like his assortment of gemstones, which include some lesser-known minerals, such as multicolored beryls, labradorite and apatite. “Quality is selling,” he noted, “customers are very aware of quality.” He reported no major color trends, saying peoples’ choice of color is more dependent on skin tones and hair color than fashion trends. Generally, however, color choices differ according to region. For example, in New York and Los Angeles, people want black. In the south, pastels are the favorites.


Noting a continued upsurge in sales was moonstone specialist Manu Nichani, president of Blue Moon Enterprises, Carlsbad, California. He said that over the past eight years, all moonstones, but brilliant translucent blues in particular, have “taken the market by storm. It’s not just Americans, but Italians, Germans and Japanese who are using these stones.” Nichani also said he has noted a generational shift with moonstones. “The trend in sales is not so much ruby and sapphire; the younger audience prefers more unusual gemstones, such as moonstones.”

In addition to colored gemstones, pearls of all types were a strong category this year. A regular at the AGTA show, pearl specialist Betty Sue King, owner of King’s Ransom, Sausalito, California, said this year’s show was better organized than the 2011 show and it was easier to navigate the three floors and special exhibits. While she looks forward to seeing regular clients at this event, King said most of her AGTA show sales come from new clients.

For pearl dealer Sea Hunt, San Francisco, the story was slightly different. “This show was okay, but no one expected more,” said a company spokesman. At Sea Hunt, the emphasis is on natural colored pearls, particularly Tahitians, which were shown in many variations, often blending colors in a necklace or strand. Customers, which include lots of jewelry designers, “always want what’s new and this year it’s color,” said Jack Lynch, Sea Hunt president.


Retailers browsing the aisles at AGTA said they didn’t come with a specific shopping list, but instead were looking for a little bit of everything. That was the response from Dale “Steve” Linerode, owner of Pot of Gold, Boulder City, Nevada. “I’m looking for finished pieces, loose stones and cut stones to make something out of. I want to offer something a regular jeweler doesn’t have,” he said.

Linerode works in cooperation with his brother, John, who owns Dougherty Fine Jewelry about an hour away in Pioche, Nevada. He said sometimes at a show like this, he buys something he likes and puts it away. Later, he brainstorms with his staff and looks for ideas of what to make of the new stone. Also, he said, he sometimes looks for “somewhat oddball” items for clients, “something to make them say ‘Wow.’”

Margaret Garcia, Dougherty Fine Jewelry, said she’s been in the jewelry business since she was 14 and often gives her two jeweler sons ideas for designs. At shows such as AGTA, she visits regular sources and seeks out new vendors, always on the lookout for unusual stones to make one-of-a-kind items. She says she is rarely disappointed.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2012. To subscribe click here.

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