(IDEX Online News) – The first-ever Mines to Market conference for colored gemstones wrapped up last week in India’s gem-cutting city of Jaipur.
Rajiv Jain and Sanjay Kothari, chairman and vice chairman of the GJEPC, which organized the event, said the conference was only a first step in an initiative to “revive and grow the colored gemstone industry.”
According to them, the conference has clearly indicated that some collective action by the global industry is possible. Response to the conference has been so positive that the GJEPC is determined to make it a bi-annual event, with the next one taking place in 2013. With a view to engaging the global industry and bringing it together on one platform to tackle issues, the GJEPC is open to collaborating with the Thai or Chinese colored gemstone industries and hosting the next conference either in Bangkok or in a Chinese city.
Jain, a colored gemstone dealer himself, said the conference had already achieved a great deal in that it opened up the Jaipur gem dealers, who participated in considerable numbers, to issues and problems globally that they were otherwise not aware of. “Many have been dealing in gems for years, but have been so focused on the commercial aspect that for instance, even the actual extent of the problem thrown up by undisclosed treatments has not been fully appreciated. This conference has been an eye-opener.”
Speakers like the GIA’s Andrew Lucas outlined issues such as the threat to health posed by lead glass-filled rubies, the cancer hazard to factory workers involved in the beryllium diffusion process, and the fact that even though many heavily treated gemstones were sold at extremely low cost, the fact that the treatments were undisclosed could turn consumers off gemstones altogether. The volume of gemstones with undisclosed treatments was so high that many jewelry designers had switched to using synthetics and glass products like Swarovski’s.
The final day also featured a focus on the market end of the pipeline. Alberto Milani of Buccellati, a speaker on the first day, made another presentation on what value proposition the colored gemstone industry needed to convey to the consumer. “No games, no tricks, no lies,” he said, adding, “If you lose your customer’s trust, you lose everything.”
Hamilton South, founding partner of the HL Group, a strategic marketing and communications firm, observed that the gemstone industry should move from just selling products to telling a story about gemstones. According to him, globally, some 350 million people were in the economic bracket that made them potential gem and jewelry consumers. Branding was the route to greater value addition, he said, noting that typically at auctions, branded gems and jewelry fetched 106 percent over Sotheby’s asking prices, while the non-branded variety secured prices that were 76 percent over the asking prices.
Steve Bennett of Gems TV outlined how television had turned out to be the ideal medium to sell colored gemstones. “The more you tell, the more you sell,” he observed. He cautioned, however, that the industry needed more standards and that currently, consumers were getting a very confused message.
Candy Price, creative director of Vogue.com, observed that while she did not think paper was dead, the colored gemstone industry would do well to embrace the new digital media like social networking sites, which could act as rapid force multipliers.
Chuck Lein, the recently retired COO of Stuller Inc., outlined some interesting facts about the U.S. market. Of interest to Indian manufacturers wanting to penetrate the U.S. market was his observation that while specialty jewelers accounted for 41 percent of U.S. sales, non-traditional avenues accounted for 55 percent of jewelry sales. These included some 40,000 individual entities who had no employees — essentially one-person sales enterprises! Together, they accounted for an astonishing $1.6 billion in annual sales.
And while average retail transactions for all categories of jewelry sold in the U.S. was $146 per item, the bad news for the industry was that colored gemstone jewelry accounted for just 8 percent of all sales. However, this also meant that the potential for growth was enormous.