Jewelry Industry News Wire

Smaller Footprints, Steady Sales: 2021 Couture and AGTA Las Vegas Shows Take Place After Long Covid-19 Break

Las Vegas. Aug. 28, 2021. It’s the first time the industry has gathered in Las Vegas for significant jewelry shows since June 2019, and a reduced crowd of grateful, appreciative, and jewelry-hungry exhibitors and buyers were there for it. Couture took place Aug. 24–26 in a newly expanded section of the Wynn. It used one ballroom of vendors (down from its usual two) plus its signature Design Atelier hallway of emerging talent and several private ballrooms for brands. AGTA Las Vegas, also in the Wynn, offered just 50 dealers to shop during the same period.

The mood was cautiously joyful—Covid-19 cases nationwide are climbing again. But those who ventured to the desert were genuinely happy to see each other after such a long time apart. The Covid-19 break offered opportunities for self-reflection, ample family time, a respite from a typical jewelry calendar year’s grueling regimen of trade shows, and the chance to reflect on what matters most. Happily, as the industry starts to dip its toes back into the waters of major trade show seasons, enough trade goers carefully reunited—everyone took mask-wearing seriously—to remind us why jewelry shows are important: touching, feeling, and trying on jewelry is a tactile experience, and we must meet in person to do so. How better to convey the beauty of a piece than to have the artist look you in the eye, just feet away, and passionately tell you his or her creative process while showing you all the intricate details of the latest designs? For sure, Zoom and Instagram Lives were a lifesaver for many during the past 18 months, but nothing can replace the magic that happens live between maker and collector when jewelry changes hands.

And jewels did change hands, during the pandemic and the shows. By now, we know that the lack of travel drove plenty of jewelry sales. Shuttered businesses drove many online, and homebound luxury consumers embraced bling on digital mediums, a point reinforced by recent data from the Mastercard SpendingPulse survey, which shows that jewelry sales in July alone were up 83% year over year. From personal charms and medallions with meaning, including zodiac signs, to $100,000 emerald rings (a sale Vendorafa made in the U.S. market in August 2020), high-end jewelry moved. “We got calls from stores in St. Barts saying they needed diamonds because people were not travelling and wanted to have something,” recollects Massimo Zerbini of the Italian brand.

It’s a phenomenon with which Andrea Riso of Talisman Collection in El Dorado Hills, Calif., is acquainted. “I’ve never been so busy in my life,” she explained at Couture on day two. “I thought for sure no one would ever buy jewelry again, but people sought me out.”

Rosanne Karmes of Sydney Evans says the momentum hasn’t stopped. “We’ve been packed every day of the show, we’ve had good sales.”

Lisa Nik of the eponymous jewelry line is also pleased. “After the initial panic of the pandemic, people wanted to talk about high-end jewelry,” she explains. “In 2020, I did the same business without the travel, and this year we’re way up in sales. Jewelers need merchandise.”

At AGTA, CEO Doug Hucker pointed out his traffic numbers on a spreadsheet, pleased that 1,000 buyers had come through show doors on day one. “Traffic was down but buyers were serious,” he says.

Among AGTA exhibitors, sentiment was mixed. Kimberly Collins had phenomenal sales on day one, but other exhibitors were less enthused. Of the disappointed, many said it was to be expected because it was the first show in the post Covid-19 era. Among items that moved: aquamarine, tourmaline, mixed-color sapphires, rubellite, and bigger stones.

“We’ve been selling more unusual gems,” says Dave Bindra of B & B Fine Gems, who had a nearly 60 carat green heart-shape African paraiba tourmaline at his booth. “We’re optimistic for fourth quarter.”


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Jewelry Industry News Wire

Could Zircon Be the Next Spinel? Gem Experts Weigh In

New York City. March 22, 2021. Two weeks ago, a jeweler called Geoffrey Watt asking for blue zircon, a gemstone the dealer in mined stones, stocks. Not long after, the jeweler called back about his selection, adding a puzzling remark: “All blue zircon is pretty much not real, right?” The dealer at Mayer & Watt gave him a quick-and-dirty tutorial on zircon, the earth’s oldest gemstone.

Roger Dery Gemstones

“This is why zircon has a hard climb in the gem world,” sighs Watt. “People hear ‘sapphire’ and they know it’s real, but people hear ‘zircon’ and their mind travels to an unknown world.”

Mayer & Watt Gemstones

The name is one of the gem’s struggles in the marketplace, but the reality that it is abundant, brilliant (its dispersion rate is just below that of a diamond), reasonably priced, and available in larger sizes (than spinel) makes it an underdog gem poised for greater popularity. Consider the position of spinel 15 years ago and how it grew in significance because fine-quality rubies had grown pricy. Spinel is now a great alternative to fine ruby for color and price, making some dealers wonder if zircon could be the next up-and-comer to spinel, though there are a few important differences.

“I have been seeing more zircons in the Spectrum & Cutting Edge Awards, but I’ve also been seeing a whole lot of spinel in the past five years,” notes Douglas K. Hucker, CEO of the American Gem Trade Association, the group responsible for those awards.

Zircon Versus Spinel

Differences between the two mined gems start with sources. Both gems are found worldwide, with the most important deposits of zircon in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania, while spinel’s come from Myanmar (formerly Burma), Tanzania, and Vietnam.

The gems also differ in availability, cost, and durability. Zircon is more abundant than spinel, making it less expensive, and fine qualities and sizes of zircons are more readily available than for spinel. Spinel, however, is a more durable gem, 8.0 on the Mohs scale versus a 7.5 for zircon. Origin factors into pricing for spinel, with Mahenge spinel from Tanzania commanding higher prices, just as a Ceylon moniker does for sapphires.

Spinel also needs less treatment to be attractive, while some estimates put 85 percent of all blue zircon as heated to achieve neon colors—gems that rival pricy Paraiba tourmaline for a fraction of the cost. Natural colors of brown zircon, too, almost always make viewers think they’re looking at diamonds because of zircon’s high refractive index or natural sparkle.

But when it comes to the ruby-like colors of red, spinel reigns supreme, which is why demand for it has grown so much, causing prices to rise. Red zircons are rare; rose-colored zircons are more plentiful.

Simon Watt of Mayer and Watt has a red zircon in his private collection, but the only way you can see that it’s red is to shine a light through it. Red spinel just can’t be compared to red zircon. “The greatest similarities they have are that they’re two off-market stones getting a better seat at the table.”

A wide range of colors is evident in both, though spinel may have a slightly more rainbowlike variety. Purple is rare to see in zircon while green is the elusive color for spinel. Geoffrey Watt once found a natural-color green spinel while sorting through hundreds of 4 mm round stones. It was small, and never made its way to market. “It’s a true green and not for sale,” he says.

What Sells in the Market

Considering that the color blue is the world’s most popular hue, both zircon and spinel have comparable footing. Natural-color blue spinel is found in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Tanzania, among other locations, though its hues can often be grayish blue. Blue zircons are found in Cambodia and are largely heated to enhance color, thereby diminishing their durability but not their popularity. “Blue zircon is one of my top-five best-selling blue gems,” says Afshin Hackman of Intercolor.

And while it’s true that zircon’s blues can abrade over time, Hucker suggests selling them with the same caution stores do for pearls or tanzanite. “Just be more careful with it,” he says.

In terms of cost, two- to four-carat fine Cambodian blue zircons from Kimberly Collins are roughly $330 triple keystone a carat, compared to blue spinel at $2,400 to $3,600 triple keystone. But the neon cobalt blue color in spinel is rare and warrants tremendous prices.

Then there’s size. Jaimeen Shah of Prima Gems has 8 to 20 ct. zircon sizes available in a good quality, but that’s not the case for spinel. “If you get a 5 ct. spinel, that is a once-in-a-lifetime stone,” he says.

Romancing the sale of both is not without challenges. Neither is a mainstream stone in the same way as a diamond, ruby, emerald, or sapphire, and dealers confirm that the bulk of their zircon inventory sells at AGTA GemFair Tucson—few stores call throughout the year to ask for it. The rise of manmade cubic zirconia, too, dealt a blow to mined zircon—a fact that could be negated through more education. Watt tells his customers to put word “natural” in front of zircon so it’s not confused with Zirconia. For market recognition alone, spinel’s attributes likely eclipse those of zircon, but if buyers became more aware of it, the stone could be poised for greater status.

“The value of zircon is so underrated now,” says Shah. “Once someone sees the brilliance of zircon in person, you’ve already made half the sale.”

Raja Shah of Color First sells 10 different colors of zircon and compares many of their hues to natural-color diamonds, for which the gem serves as another alternative. A third of his inventory is zircon; he sees the prices slowly increasing and isn’t surprised. “Once you overcome that barrier that it’s not a manmade stone, it’s pretty smooth sailing.”

(left to right): Blue spinel and blue zircon from Kimberly Collins Gemstones

(left to right): Blue spinel and blue zircon from Kimberly Collins Gemstones

Brown zircon from Prima Gems

Rose-color zircon from Color First

Rose-color zircon from Color First

Spinel from Burma from Pala Gems

Spinel from Burma from Pala Gems

Diana ring in 18k yellow gold with a 5.78 ct. Mahenge spinel and 5.35 cts. t.w. diamonds, $187,000; Erica Courtney, email jilienne@ericacourtney.com for purchase

Diana ring in 18k yellow gold with a 5.78 ct. Mahenge spinel and 5.35 cts. t.w. diamonds, $187,000;
Erica Courtney, email jilienne@ericacourtney.com for purchase


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Jewelry Industry News Wire

Retailers Host Virtual Roundtables to Keep Gemstone Jewelry Sales Alive

New York City. March 18, 2021. Jason Baskin couldn’t be happier about The Gem Vault’s first virtual roundtable event, which took place on Facebook Live at the end of February.

Roger Dery Gemstones

“I’ve watched friends do live mineral and gem shows with normally up to 20 people online at a time, but we had 50 on at all times!” says the jewelry designer and gemstone cutter at the Flemington, N.J.–based store.

Mayer & Watt Gemstones

Many merchants are looking for creative ways to keep ringing up sales during coronavirus times, and virtual roundtables could be an option. In-person roundtables are a tried-and-true way for retailers, especially those with robust in-house design departments, to lure in colored stone collectors to shop special gems from cutters and dealers and then have custom pieces made by the store. In light of the global pandemic, live events have understandably not been happening, leaving industry scrambling to figure out new methods. This is why virtual versions of roundtables have arisen as potentially viable and profitable alternatives.

In fact, once people simply become aware of this way of shopping, some get hooked. “I sold a couple of rings to a girl in North Carolina who never came into my store at all,” says Laurie Kottke of Laurie Kottke Fine Jewelry in Minneapolis, Minn., about one virtual event she held with Roger Dery Gemstones. (She’s held two to date with Dery.)

How Virtual Roundtables Work

Platforms to produce virtual events include Zoom and Instagram and Facebook Live, among others. And just like in live roundtables, gems are numbered, but that’s where the similarities end. Since participants aren’t in person and can’t examine live gems and pass them from one seatmate to the next, specific studio setups are required to showcase gems on screens.

First, both the store and the stone dealer agree ahead of time as to who actually has the gems in their possession; according to interviewees, it’s a 50/50 mix. All stones are shown loose on a rotating turntable similar to a lazy Susan, with myriad empty trays set up for shoppers’ dibbed rocks to accumulate. Lighting of stones and tripods are key, as is an array of smart phone cameras for an event on Zoom—one should be focused on the dealer, one on a store host or hostess, and at least one on the loose gems. Also helpful: a slideshow presentation of photos and information about each gem, so viewers can see those details while someone is talking about the stone’s attributes and someone else is rotating the gem to catch the light. Alternatively, a camera could be pointing at a gem in a lightbox.

“It takes at least three people to do this right,” observes Lois Wacholtz, owner of Christopher & Co. in Champaign, Ill. Wacholtz and now-deceased stone dealer Barney Goff pioneered the roundtable idea in 1987; she has done four virtual events to date and has four more scheduled to take place this year. Her highest-grossing one, held over three consecutive nights with dealer Penny Nisenbaum, rang up $27,000 in gross sales.

The number of stones and guests also differ widely for virtual roundtables. For many jewelers, live event attendees typically number about 12, while there can be as many as 130 stones. Numbers of virtual guests can be much greater—consider The Gem Vault’s 50 guests—while numbers of stones are often less, anywhere from 30 to 80.

Stacey Friant of Ken Walker Jewelers in Gig Harbor, Washington, held a virtual roundtable in July 2020 with Artinian Gems, where 25 attended. Dealer David Artinian showed 30 gems total, and Friant sold 12 stones that night, ultimately making a custom piece for each. “It wasn’t as good as an in-store event, but I was happy with how it turned out,” she reveals. Her biggest sale of the night? A $4,000 cushion-shape royal blue sapphire.

Price points are another consideration, with many for virtual events lower than in-person ones. Friant’s gem selections started at just $100. Dery, too, oftentimes offers moderately priced stones at virtual events because of the obvious barriers in communicating the specialness of pricier gems online. “We’re not showing a $40,000 stone to start,” he says of his inventory, much of which is from East Africa, a place where he travels extensively and reinvests profits back into local mining and education initiatives.

His first virtual roundtable took place in March 2020 and resulted in the sale of seven gems. Dery often works with retailers with whom he’s traveled to East Africa, so their clients are interested in stories of his work on the ground.

“He’s not just selling stones to my clients—they are really buying into gems with a purpose,” explains Kottke, who held her first virtual roundtable with Dery in the summer of 2020 and who traveled to Kenya with him in 2019. At her roundtable, she had two couples and three individuals present, making at least one stone sale to each party.

Learning Curves & Success Stories

For sure, participants all must learn to be comfortable on the digital platform of their choosing and in securing the right mix of clients. Plus, hospitality was still a consideration. Friant hand-delivered the store’s signature baked cookies—white chocolate chip macadamia nut and cranberry oatmeal from Otis Spunkmeyer—to each person’s home. Wacholtz, too, sent snacks to locals, while Kottke shipped bottles of wine (where possible, depending on state laws) and cheese and crackers that arrived an hour before the event started. “People were just excited to get a gift at their door!” she maintains.

Kristine Wylie of Jewelsmith in Durham, N.C., held one event with John J. Bradshaw in mid-October. She invited 75 guests, and 30 attended, and her staff chose 40 gems from photos for Bradshaw to highlight. The store sold 12 that night and have made a third of those custom pieces thus far, gleaning tips to improve future events. Among them? More prep time and spacing out in-store staffers, who were each logged in separately. “When you’re too close you get a terrible echo,” she recollects.

To better romance each sale, they would also need to see stones in person before the roundtable, not just work from a list and images—information that would have been helpful to share in a slideshow presentation. “If it was difficult for us to remember the stones, then it was definitely tough for our clients.” The dibbing process, too, got a little complicated, with some clients texting store employees instead of doing so on the chat. Still, the overall experience was good. “This really opens us up to long-distance sales since we have a lot of clients who aren’t local,” adds Wylie.

Meanwhile, The Gem Vault’s Baskin is eager to roll out more virtual roundtables (his next one will be in early April), given the success of his first. The store made a few sales that night and even more in the days that followed, keeping the gems in store for a period after the live event. “People were coming in with lists to see specific stones or were calling about ones they didn’t pull the trigger on that night,” he says. Out of the 65 stones shown, upwards of 17 sold; five custom jobs have deposits, and four more are in the works, including a $20,000 emerald bracelet.

Virtual Event Takeaways

  • Roll with the mistakes—laugh.
  • Plan for a two-hour event.
  • Employ old-fashioned clienteling to source the right guests and stones.
  • Get a manicure. (Ungroomed fingernails can distract from the gems.)
  • Role play on your platform before the event.
Dioptase drusy from Kazahkstan, $640; email penrocks@sonic.net for purchase

Dioptase drusy from Kazahkstan, $640; email Penny Nisenbaum at penrocks@sonic.net for purchase

Purple sapphire from Roger Dery Gems

Purple sapphire from Roger Dery Gems


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Jewelry Industry News Wire

A New Show and a Rescheduled One Announced by AGTA for 2021

Dallas. March 18, 2021. The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) has announced that it will produce two shows for 2021. These include the AGTA GemFair Las Vegas show, which will take place Aug. 24–26, 2021, at the Encore at Wynn Resort, and the new AGTA GemFair Denver, slated for Sept. 18–21, 2021, in conjunction with the Hard Rock Summit (HRS).

Roger Dery Gemstones

AGTA GemFair Las Vegas was originally slated for June 2021 but was shelved until new dates and a new location could be confirmed. AGTA CEO Douglas K. Hucker expressed excitement over the location. “The great thing is we are in the same resort complex as the COUTURE Show and the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry and Watch Show (LVAJWS).”

Mayer & Watt Gemstones

Though each show will maintain separate registrations, AGTA will honor COUTURE and LVAJWS badges. “We will work closely with Encore Resort and local health officials to make sure all safety protocols are in place for the show,” said Ruben Bindra, AGTA board president. Access registration for GemFair Las Vegas here

Meanwhile, the AGTA GemFair Denver show will be an integral part of Sparkle & Joy, a section of the HRS dedicated to fine gemstones, fine jewelry, and extraordinary gemstone objects. “GemFair Denver is in a beautiful location, and the timing is perfect for stocking up for the holiday season,” says Hucker. Registration for GemFair Denver will be accessible on the AGTA website soon.

The dates for the 2022 AGTA GemFair™ Tucson are February 1–6, 2022. For more information, email shows@agta.org.