RAPAPORT... The second day of the annual Gemological Institute of America (GIA) Symposium began Monday morning with a series on gemstones. The first part of the event discussed color stones and pearl identification, followed by a forum on the industry’s challenges in the years to come entitled “The Future of Gemstones.”
The forum featured speakers Stephen Lux, president of Gemesis Diamond Company; Martin Rapaport, chairman of the Rapaport Group; Stuart Robertson, a research director from Gemworld International; and Robert Wan, cheif executive of Perles de Tahiti and Robert Wan Tahiti.
Forum moderator Peggy Jo Donahue, who is director of public affairs for MJSA, set the tone of the discussions by highlighting the changes in the industry as “complex treatments and high quality synthetics continue to inundate the markets worldwide.”
Roberston warned that gem treatments have come at a cost to the industry, because “they distort our value of rarity.” He did concede, however, that “treatments are necessary – they are part of our industry, but it’s important to keep in mind how to disclose and differentiate them.”
Rapaport defended synthetic jewelry as a harmless and valuable addition to the market. “Inexpensive jewelry is a democratization of jewelry demand – it has turned many onto our products.” Synthetics help the diamond trade, he argued, because they help push demand for natural jewelry items. “Synthetics are a stepping stone to the real thing – synthetics create demand.”
The reason behind this, he said, is because consumers are immensely intrigued by the idea and romantics of natural diamonds. “Diamonds are more than they actually are,” he said, before asking audience members “are you selling the product or the idea behind the product?”
Rapaport added that synthetics will never be a problem as long as the industry follows the three D’s: Detection, disclosure, and documentation. “Just remember to tell the truth – that’s not so hard.”
Lux enticed audience members as he expounded on Gemesis's work of creating synthetic diamonds, stones that he noted were, “still simply diamonds, just diamonds just a different origin.”
Lux made the case for holding man-made diamonds in the same confidence as natural diamonds, arguing that synthetic items will never harm the market unless the market is scared of them. “Thousand or even tens of thousands of these won’t upset the industry, but fear of them will.” Lux also reported that his company has started to produce diamonds that are greater than 1-carat, although production of larger items may take a while to come.
Morning sessions treated attendees to additional color stone and pearl identification information as well as a discussion on auction and estate jewelry entitled: “Everything Old Is New Again: The Appeal of Auctions, Estate, and Vintage Markets.” The "Old is New" discussion included Gary H. Schuler, the senior vice president and director from Sotheby’s New York jewelry department; Stephen H. Silver, chairman of S. H. Silver Company; and Rick Harrison, host of The History Channel’s series “Pawn Stars,” and co-owner of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas.
Schuler opened the program by tracing the popularity of antique and estate sales to the 1987 sale of Duchess of Windsor Jewels for $50 million. “During that sale we had tremendous interest; crowds waited around the block outside our offices in New York . That sale is what brought notoriety to jewelry auctions.”
Schuler also asserted that while the market for auction jewelry fluctuates with the overall health of the global economy, auction houses will always be steady because of brand recognition. “Over 60 percent of items we sell have gone for over high estimates,” he said.
Also helping the growth of estate sales today was "a global reach," the increase in diamond and jewelry prices and items that had an intriguing context. “It’s all about romancing the stone, it’s always about the story – people love the story.”
Silver contended that, despite the growth of auction sales, estate and antique jewelry is only a tiny portion of the industry’s focus. “Estate and antique jewelry still only represents only two percent of [the jewelry industry’s] sale’s mix,” he said.
Harrison concluded the session by discussing the pawn shop industry in Las Vegas, a tightly controlled market that is regulated by high permit fees and monopolies. He was able to keep his pawn shop by selling to markets that the bigger, corporate owned pawn shops overlooked. “I could not compete against them, so I just competed differently.”
Harrison, whose show is the number one rated cable show in the U.S., advised sellers to know the history of their items, and to always captivate consumers when selling. “What I sell are minerals and elements, but if you can sit around and tell someone about the Wizard of Oz and their emerald glasses, they are going to be interested.
The final sessions before the concluding “Shipwrecked!” debate included a lecture series on new gem technology and instrumentation, and a business ethics lecture by Dr. Brian Nattrass, managing partner of Sustainability Partner, entitled “Playing a Bigger Game: Better Business for a Better World.”
Bev Hori, vice president of education and chief learning officer for GIA, set the stage for welcoming Nattrass by stating that “being a responsible business person didn’t just mean doing the right thing within the four walls of your office, but doing the right thing for all the people you business touches.”
Nattrass opened with a call to action for retailers and manufacturers alike. “We are at a crossroads, and we are the generation that has to face this,” he said, noting that the world’s shrinking resources and expanding population are creating a precarious global situation.
No industry, Nattrass argued, is immune to the effects of an ever changing world.
“Every industry is the same, they are sourcing their products in ways that need review,” he said, adding that changing one’s carbon imprint helps cut costs and puts them in line with evolving consumer expectations and concerns. “The idea is that when I go buy a product from you I am helping the world.”
Nattrass advised audience members to look into the way their retail stores were being constructed and designed to promote greener industry. He also stressed the importance of in-store customer messaging, so customers can see a company’s efforts to change the world for the better.