Jewelry Industry News Wire

No AGTA GemFair Tucson? No Problem for Some AGTA Dealers Who Held Virtual Events

New York City. March 15, 2021. For the first time in 42 years, stone dealer John J. Bradshaw had to spend winter entirely at home in New Hampshire because there was no American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) GemFair Tucson fair to attend. Despite that fact, however, the specialist in rare stones (like benitoite and sphene), who runs an eponymous firm, still almost matched the monies he made at last year’s show. His savior? Internet sales.

Roger Dery Gemstones

“I was thinking if we could do 30 percent of what we did last year, that would be great,” he says about 2020 GemFair Tucson sales, which were his best in 40 years. “We did 90 percent of what we did last year, with top clients spending even more on Zoom than they did in person.”

Like all stone dealers this year who were without Tucson gem shows, Bradshaw was forced to find other means of making sales. (Besides the canceled AGTA event, there are roughly 40 other venues to shop during the same early February time period, many of which also didn’t occur.) Like many others—dealers, retailers, designers, and more—he turned to digital efforts to fill the void. From Instagram Live to Zoom, sales occurred in myriad ways, with many AGTA dealers getting creative in order to keep business happening. The upside of this dilemma? Innovative techniques that will amplify all sales efforts moving forward.

Mayer & Watt Gemstones

“This challenge made us work harder to develop other sales channels like ecommerce, and I don’t think that’s changing,” notes Raja Shah of Color First.

A Successful Event

Not surprisingly, Instagram Live played a role in sales for many dealers. Eric Braunwart of Columbia Gem House used both his @columbiagemhouse and @columbiagemhousetradeshow accounts with success. He held 13 events on Instagram over seven days, averaging about two Lives each day at 45 minutes apiece. The @columbiagemhouse account is open to anyone, and that’s where he held informational talks—no sales, as those occurred on the other handle. He covered sapphires in all colors, tourmaline, and green beryl, among other gems. “We also sold quite a bit of Sea of Cortez pearls, and we oversold moonstone by 10 times,” says Braunwart.

Complicating demand was his own Covid-19 status: positive on the third day of his digital sales series. Still, business continued. Four email accounts were set up to facilitate appointments, orders, and sales, with the bulk of purchases resulting from private Zoom calls. “Appointments are where a lot of our sales came from,” say Braunwart, who set up a broadcast room with dozens of trays of inventory, just like at a live Tucson show. To further help set the mood, a cactus poster was visible behind him on screen. He contacted clients through email, Instagram posts, his weekly e-newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat. Clients could email to set up an appointment, and images of trays of stones could also be viewed at a Dropbox link. “People could scroll through it like a catalog,” he observes. The overall result? Pretty good. Braunwart isn’t yet done totaling up sales but is optimistic. “I think we’ll still be pretty close to Tucson’s number last year, and that was our best show in 20 years.”

Zooming for Sales

Many dealers relied on Zoom to show stones and close sales. Niveet Nagpal of Omi Prive held 12 calls on the platform to move Paraiba tourmaline and spinel, among other gems. He, too, set up trays of goods just as if he were at GemFair, and price points of sales were higher than he expected. “Clients who previously spent maybe $2,000 on a stone were spending $3,000 or $4,000,” he says.

Bradshaw, who typically brings upwards of 125 different types of gems to Tucson, had 11 Zooms over eight days, and seven of them were private with his biggest customers. Four group Zooms, meanwhile, allowed a multitude of shoppers to compete for stones; winners had only to type in “sold” first into chat to stake a claim. “It was a bit like herding cats but went really well,” he explains. “It took a couple of hours to download the chat and see who had made claims first.”

And though Jaimeen Shah of Prima Gems didn’t hold a Tucson event specifically, he did conduct a lot of virtual business meetings. “I’ve never had more 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. meetings in my life,” he maintains. The hours may be odd, but the impact of connecting a buyer, a sales agent, and a cutter on the same call is priceless. “It was amazing,” he says of his highly organized meetings. “At a show, a customer asks us about a variation, and then we have to ask the factory and get back to them, but all of those pivots were accomplished in one call,” he says.

For sure, Shah is hooked on Zoom; he’s held about 100 calls in the last six months. Not surprisingly, he had a paid account to hold calls longer than 45 minutes (allotted with free accounts) but eventually abandoned it for the free one—not because he’s cheap, but because it was better for business. “The meeting should end in 45 minutes,” he says. “Anything longer and you start digressing from the focus.”

Tips to Host Virtual Events

To organize your own successful digital events, AGTA dealers interviewed for this article offer these tips.

Plan early. Braunwart started planning four weeks ahead of time, and he wishes he’d started six weeks ahead. If he had, perhaps he would have hit his goal—selling every stone in inventory. “We didn’t sell every single one, but boy we were close!”

Be enthusiastic. Part of the fun of Tucson shows is connecting with friends over a shared passion. Nagpal suggests bringing that enthusiasm to each digital encounter. “We’re communicating about all our beautiful stones in different ways to create an overall excitement,” he says.

Analyze your strategy. Bradshaw thought that holding multiple events at different times for the same material would make sense for clients based all over the world, but he found that one time slot worked just fine. “My Japanese buyers stayed up late to see material first—they didn’t want to wait for a time convenient to them, they wanted first crack at the stones,” he says of events held during Eastern Daylight Time business hours.

Have good lighting. Ring lights and natural daylight are key to illuminating inventory. Tripods to hold phones or iPads help, too, should you need to steady your video source—if you are not using your laptop or desktop.

Focus on quality of buyer, not quantity. Connect with your best shoppers for private appointments. “So much information is being thrown at people right now since this is the only way to shop,” observes Shah. “You have to be focused and different.”

Helen Shull of Out of Our Mines took to the Internet, too, to reach clients in lieu of a live trade show. She showed a lot of new inventory, including calibrated sets and vintage coral, on her business’s Instagram account @outofourmines. Photographing inventory early helped, but moving forward, she would send out more emails ahead of time. “Trying to wing it is tough,” she says. Still, she’s grateful online marketing was an option at all. “[Virtual sales] aren’t a substitute for a live trade show, but thank goodness we can do them,” she says.

Montana sapphire from Prima Gems

Montana sapphire from Prima Gems

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Jewelry Industry News Wire

Gemologue’s Liza Urla Offers 5 Tips to Photograph Pearls Like a Pro

London. March 15, 2021. As the jewelry industry tried to master a digital retail landscape during pandemic lockdowns, gemologist and Gemologue blogger Liza Urla came up with an idea to help: Gem Photo School by Gem Kreatives. (Gem Kreatives is Urla’s branding development agency.)

As a seasoned creative in jewelry—renowned for her Pearl Face look at trade shows and beautiful professional photography on her Instagram feed—Urla teamed up with friend and professional jewelry photographer Julia Flit to teach others how to best shoot jewelry and pearls (her fave!).

“Now more than ever, pearl jewelry photography needs to be unique, eye-catching, and above all, creative,” Urla explains. “We want to teach every jewelry professional and designer the technical skills and expertise to produce high-quality jewelry content for their social media.”

Courses within Gem Photo School are online and can be taken at your own pace. Below, Urla offers a peek at some of the education on offer. Bonus: These tips, a sampling from her Jewellery Photography for Social Media Course, can all be utilized with a smart phone. Check out all of the courses available from GEM Photo School by GEM Kreatives online.

1. Minimize light sources to prevent multiple reflections.

2. When shooting in a casual environment, set up next to a window and turn off ambient light.

3. When shooting in a studio environment, control light with a light box or black-and-white cardboard or plastic sheets. Remember that too much contrast makes pearls look metallic, while no contrast at all makes them look dull.

4. Use a white background for e-commerce photography (simple product shots on white) and experiment with the colors for still life photography. Keep in mind that black backgrounds aren’t necessarily the best choice.

5. Edit your photos. If you want to show the actual colors of your pearls, use the eyedropper tool to correct the white balance and avoid an excessive use of contrast and brightness tools.

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Jewelry Industry News Wire

Atlanta Jewelry Show Offers Sales, Hope, Safety

Atlanta. March 11, 2021. How was the Atlanta Jewelry Show, held March 5–7 at the Cobb Galleria? According to stone dealer and jeweler Kimberly Collins of the eponymous firm, “Phenomenal!”

A store owner from Mississippi thrust eight mountings into Collins’ hands during the fair and instructed her to “Fill them up.” The new account, an independent store that primarily sells diamonds, bought eight stones total. The move was a highlight for Collins, a dealer who is renowned within the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) for her top-quality colored stones and finished jewelry. Since a Tucson fair didn’t happen this year, Collins secured a booth during the March edition of the Atlanta show. She also exhibited in October 2020 at an edition that would normally occur in late August.

“Energy levels were fantastic, and sales were gangbusters,” she says of the recent show. “People kept their masks on, there were hand-sanitizing stations everywhere, and people were excited and happy to be out.”

A New Normal for Shows?

For sure, many in the industry are tiring of lockdowns and not having any trade shows to shop or sell at. As one of the few U.S. trade shows that continues to host events despite the pandemic, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at this organizer’s efforts. These include temperature checks at entrances, enforced mask mandates (exhibitors witnessed security staff approaching anyone who pulled down their masks), ample hand-sanitizing stations, socially distanced spaces for exhibitors and educational seminars, and limits on the number of participants—including exhibitors. “We had vendors we couldn’t place,” observes Libby Brown, executive director of the show. “We had wait lists for booth space and for seminars. We had to expand both the show floor (four times!) and the ballroom size for education.”

Those in attendance felt safe. Stacey Sears of Holland Jewelers in Apex, N.C., didn’t mind waiting his turn to shop (there were lines at many booths); he was grateful to attend his first trade show in a year. “They took your temperature every day,” he says. Mike Romanella of Commercial Mineral Co. (CMC) agrees. “There’s no question we felt safe. If every show does things the way Atlanta did, we’ll all be just fine.”

While it’s good to acknowledge a show and experience that is positive during this global pandemic, it’s important to remember the coronavirus—and its new strains—still lingers. To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report there have been nearly 29 million cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and, at press time, 526,213 American deaths. Nearly 96 million doses of vaccines have been administered. Medical professionals maintain that the sooner the nation reaches herd immunity—when a large part of a population achieves immunity to a disease—the sooner the country can safely resume normal activities.

Preliminary figures show 900 retailers registered for the March show, while an estimated 800 attended. There were 200 exhibitors, with about 35 coming from the Retail Jewelers Organization (RJO), which took part in this March edition at Atlanta’s invitation. The October edition saw 115 exhibitors and roughly 800 registered stores, with 600 in attendance. According to Brown, few were present last weekend to just kick tires. “People were really interested in taking product back with them. With no one traveling and holidays still happening … this is helping industry. Many are telling me they’ve had their best year in decades.”

What People Bought

Specifically, fancy-color sapphires, bridal or commitment ring lines, Montana sapphires, and more. At the booth of AGTA member firm Tim Roark, one longtime customer spent his Saturday with Malinda Daniel and Jessica Dillard of the brand, snapping up about 20 stones. “He shops hard,” confirms Daniel, adding that she saw a number of customers she would ordinarily see at the AGTA GemFair Tucson. The result of this pent-up demand? Pretty good. “We had our best Atlanta show ever since we started doing the show 30 years ago,” says Daniel.

It was Romanella’s first time exhibiting at the show, but it won’t be his last; he took part in it as an RJO member exhibitor and likes this time of year for a fair. He sold some colored stones and finished jewelry, but mainly moved estate goods, including an oversize Tiffany & Co. gold cuff bracelet. “Many of our buyers were from Florida,” he observes.

Sears, meanwhile, picked up a new bridal line, a wedding band line for men, and gemstone jewelry for his single-store operation. Sales have been steady for the merchant. “Many customers come in and say they were planning to take a trip, but since they can’t, they’ll get a nice piece of jewelry instead,” he reveals.

For sure, a lack of travel is boosting sales. Daniel’s customers tell her they had good Christmas seasons and need to restock. “The year ended strong for many,” she says about her retail clients. “Without travel, people wanted to create special experiences that included jewelry. Hopefully, as life starts to return to normal, they’ll have room for both.”

Tim Roark sapphires

Matched sapphires weighing 2.76 cts. t.w. that sold during the Atlanta jewelry show; from Tim Roark

Photo by Orasa Weldon

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Jewelry Industry News Wire

Platinum Guild International Debuts Platinum Business Development Grant Program

New York City. March 11, 2021. Platinum Guild International (PGI) USA has unveiled a Platinum Business Development Grant program that will award up to $500,000 in a three-year program to one or more selected manufacturers, designers, or retailers who submit a qualifying proposal. The move aims to drive an ongoing demand for platinum in jewelry.

Eligibility requirements include a U.S.-based or U.S.-focused business, knowledge of designing and manufacturing in platinum, and making a long-term commitment to designing, manufacturing, and/or selling platinum products.

PGI USA knows consumers place an increased value on symbolic items, such as engagement rings and wedding bands, based on market research conducted last year.

“Prior to the pandemic, the platinum jewelry sector of the industry had grown consistently for the past seven years, increasing more than 60 percent since 2013,” says Kevin Reilly, PGI USA’s vice president. “To continue this trajectory, we believe this newly established program will allow for continued growth, taking platinum jewelry sales to never before seen levels.”

For more information and to apply for the Platinum Business Development Grant, click here. The deadline for applicants is April 30, 2021.