New York–Next week will see the start of the Tucson gems shows for the trade.
The American Gem Trade Association’s GemFair and the Gem and Jewelry Exchange both open on Tuesday, Jan. 30, with JCK Tucson starting the following day, though there are numerous other shows for anyone interested, offering gems, minerals and fossils.
Ahead of the industry’s week out in the desert, National Jeweler spoke with exhibitors from a few of the trade-focused shows about what they’re anticipating.
Here’s what they had to say.
1. There’s plenty of positivity going into the shows.
Over the past few years, members of the gemstone sector have reported feeling better and better about demand for colored stones and their increasing popularity, especially when it comes to buying at the Tucson gem shows.
This year appears to be no different, with the exhibitors National Jeweler interviewed saying they felt good about this year’s shows.
Gem 2000’s Shomais Shirazi said she thinks there’s a lot of “positive energy” right now in terms of people being interested in jewelry and gems, and “If the trend continues, it should be a good Tucson.”
Simon Watt of Mayer and Watt reiterated this idea, noting he thought it “was a strong Christmas for many people, and I think that’ll likely carry over (to Tucson).”
Raja Shah of Color First said that they saw a lot of activity at the end of the year, starting two weeks prior to Thanksgiving and continuing through the holiday season.
He said over the past three or four years, they’ve noticed a smaller number of people attending the shows, but of those who do attend, they are visiting intentionally and purposefully, looking to buy.
Shah added that he believes many retailers also did well in stores or online during the holiday season and will need to restock.
Sailesh Lakhi of Sparkles and Colors USA/Lakhi Gem Group said he thinks people at the shows will “definitely” be buying, noting an increased demand in general in 2017 that he expects to continue in Tucson, led by a desire for colored stone engagement rings.
2. Buyers will be more interested in high-quality cuts.
“I have observed that, now more than ever, cutting is becoming a huge part of the gem buying process,” Jaimeen Shah of Prima Gems USA told National Jeweler, “mostly owing to some fabulous new cutters coming in on the circuit marketing their precision cuts just as much as their gemstones.”
With social media and online marketing bringing images and videos to the forefront, cutting has become more important, pushing aside the “mediocre” cutting that has flooded the colored stone market for some time.
“I see this trend of designer cuts and brand marketing based on cutters and their cutting styles becoming huge in the coming years,” Shah said.
Gem 2000’s Shirazi echoed the sentiment, saying that they also have noticed that buyers are more aware that stones can be well-cut and bright.
She added that customers now are looking for better cuts in any materials, not just for the finer stones.
Pink and purple stones, like this 1.97-carat purple garnet from Color First, are expected to do well in Tucson.
3. The high end will be hot.
The high end has, for a few years now, been leading much of the way in colored gemstone demand.
“The good stuff is selling for crazy money,” Shah of Color First said. “It’s almost like money is no object.”
Shirazi said that, “The world market in general, not just the U.S., now wants nicer material,” but noted that finding higher-quality stones, across all varieties, also has become much more difficult.
She said she’s seen the buying in lower-quality goods drop off, as even those buyers start to look for nicer loose stones.
Lakhi noted demand for high-quality material as well, but added that the lower end is moving too.
What’s soft, he said, is the middle tier, an issue that has been brought up before during the gem shows.
4. A few colors will be prominent.
It feels like it’s been a tale of two colors for the past couple of years in colored stones–blues and pinks–and, according to what many of these exhibitors said, 2018 isn’t looking to be all that different.
Lakhi thinks there will be a blue trend happening at the shows, led by the popularity of blue sapphires, which are always hot items.
Shirazi, too, said that a classic blue almost always does well for them.
But both also noted that the popularity of sapphires doesn’t just apply to the blue version of the corundum, having long ago broadened to include fancy colors.
Shirazi said she thinks the larger interest that Gem 2000 has seen in fancy colored sapphires has been spurred by the desire for unique, custom engagement rings that also feature a durable, quality stone.
She expects the pink, purple and peach sapphire varieties to do well for them this year in Tucson, and said the demand for those colors also has also helped increase the popularity of red and pink spinel.
The latter stones also have been doing well for Color First, though Shah said he thinks it’s not only due to color trends, but also a result of the gem becoming a birthstone.
Shah added that he thinks the recent announcement of the color of the year–Ultra Violet–also could have somewhat of an effect on purple and violet demand in Tucson, which could help bolster demand for stones like sapphires and garnets.
In fact, garnets stand a lot to gain from recent color trends, offering a variety of hues and working for not only the pink/purple trend but also the pastel trend with shades like “mint.”
Josh Saltzman of Nomad’s said they saw a surge in popularity last year for the fine color Malaya, rhodolite, mint grossular, tsavorite, demantoid and Mandarin garnets.
He said the small production of the fine pink and orangey-pink Malaya has driven up demand there. Meanwhile, more mint grossular garnet on the market has driven up the demand as more consumers have seen the material in jewelry, and they expect the trend to continue.
Blues also continue to be popular. Seen here is a Ceylon sapphire weighing 10.12 carats from Gem 2000.
5. Unique stones and the mixing of colors will reign.
Shirazi said a recent buying trend they’ve been seeing that they believe will continue is designers being innovative with color and really looking to combine them in unique and fun ways to make distinctive pieces.
“Seeing them mixing colors is really fun for us and really exciting because it makes a statement and the desirability of jewelry goes up.”
Tracy Lindwall of Nomad’s told National Jeweler that designers are creating unique color combinations through colored side stones, colored pave or two-tone earring pairs.
“You can tell a lot of stories with colored stone jewelry, and it’s nice to see designers really play with color to get their point of view across.”
6. There likely won’t be much change in pricing across the board.
Over the past few years, there has been a steeper increase in gemstone pricing, Shirazi said, though she doesn’t expect that to be the case this year; she told National Jeweler that she thinks pricing could level off a little around the shows.
Watt said the same thing, noting that he doesn’t think there are many factors putting the pressure on pricing right now. He said the only exception is sapphires, as he’s seen a recent increase in pricing of the stone, though he’s not sure why. Otherwise, he said he expects prices to be fairly stable.
Lakhi expects good quality stones to hold their prices, but noted he’s been seeing a decline in prices for medium and lower qualities.
7. Buyers will be asking all the right questions.
Shah of Prima Gems USA said what he’s observed in the past year is more “extremely intelligent and conscientious questions asked by the clients”–they want to know where their stones are coming from down to what mine, who’s cutting them and what path they take to reach their hands.
“I believe it’s coming from the marketing that the diamond guys are putting into their stores,” he said.
The trend in diamonds last year, he explained, was all about the story of how each diamond was mined, followed by visual progress of that particular diamond all the way to the final piece of jewelry the client purchased.
The conversation is well underway in the colored stone industry, which means that “now more than ever, dealers connected directly with the source are benefiting hugely if they are able to document their travels and bring back more than just gemstones.”