Often things that are good begin with change. In Tucson, several years ago, a revolution of sorts unexpectedly united a diverse group of people. Many gemstone dealers were unhappy with the terms of participation in the local show. They needed a show of their own. In early reflection on the things they were considering, these gemstone dealers quickly realized that they needed more than a show. They also needed to be able to help steer their own destiny, and, to do that, they needed an association to nurture the interests of member-dealers. They understood that they needed credibility but also bore a responsibility to protect the interests of buyers -- not to do just the right thing for dealers, but also for the entire industry. Events in Tucson years ago gave birth to the concept for the American Gem Trade Association.The ideas that unfolded there transcended both the place and time in a way that can only be described as visionary. At first only looking for nothing more than a new venue to show their goods, the AGTA has blossomed to become a leading industry force in the ethical promotion of natural colored gemstones and cultured pearls.
The Association’s first three presidents (Leon Ritzler, Roland Naftule and Ray Zajicek) were also the founding members who rallied like-minded gemstone dealers in smoky Tucson hotel rooms in 1981 to discuss the creation of a new trade show and organization.
According to Naftule, the creation of a gemstone wholesalers’ association had been discussed among various groups during the past year until they all came together one night in Tucson around a hotel pool under a drizzling rain. "In just a few days, we recruited 150 members," says Naftule, who recalls his surprise. Then, Zajicek used his own personal check as a deposit for the exhibition space at the DoubleTree Hotel. The show would happen the following February and, thus, the AGTA and GemFair Tucson were born. While a new trade show was the impetus for the AGTA, the need for a professional organization to represent the interests of what was then a highly fragmented group of gem dealers was very real. "The timing was right to start this Association," recounts Ritzler, who actually incorporated the AGTA before it had any members. "I was hoping something would happen in Tucson that year. We were left out of most of what was going on in terms of other associations and trade shows. We needed representation in the industry."
The AGTA has become the voice for the colored gemstone industry. Two of the most significant contributions to the trade have been the creation of the AGTA Code of Ethics and Principles of Fair Business Practices and the Gemstone Information Manual (G.I.M.). The Code of Ethics (one of the first introduced in our industry) is required reading for all prospective AGTA Members. Once a Member has joined, the Code of Ethics holds the Member to high standard of professional business practices and a higher standard of enhancement disclosure than that required by the Federal Trade Commission. Click here for more details on the AGTA Complaint Resolution Service. Published for the first time in 1985, the G.I.M., now in its eighth edition, has provided a valuable intra-industry method of communicating gemstone enhancement and treatment information. Past presidents Naftule and Zajicek, as well as several Board Members and a variety of trade groups were very instrumental in the manual’s creation. "It was conceived as an informational tool, one that helped transform enhancement disclosure from a dirty word to something commonplace," explains Zajicek. "We were able to bring a better understanding to the jewelry industry of all the processes used to bring colored gemstones to the marketplace." AGTA was also instrumental in addressing the issue of irradiation in gemstone treatments working with government agencies in an effort to enforce compliance. The AGTA Board, together with other trade groups, also fought against the luxury tax, lobbied Washington to standardize memorandums and worked with the FTC over the years regarding gemstone language in its Jewelry Industry Guidelines.
Throughout its history, AGTA has worked in conjunction with other organizations to produce educational brochures and point-of-sale and training material related to natural colored gemstones and cultured pearls. Additionally, it has developed a comprehensive seminar program at its annual GemFair Tucson, as well as conducted forums and classes at other trade shows and industry events. "Everything we do to promote gemstones has applications with other organizations," explains Chief Executive Officer Douglas Hucker. "Over the years, the AGTA has expanded its horizons to become much more involved in other groups, especially with retailers." “In fact, expanding its membership in the late 1980s to take on manufacturers, designers, retailers and the like also helped the growth of the organization and enhanced its influence in the trade,” says past president Kenneth Moghadam.
Members of the AGTA voted in January 2001 on a Constitutional amendment. The amendment, which passed by a wide margin, establishes a new "Student" category of membership with the intent to bridge the gap between students studying educational courses with GIA, or similar industry organizations, who lack the two-year minimum experience requirement to apply for membership. Those new to the trade can now help support the ethical and professional promotion of the natural colored gemstone and cultured pearl industry as a Student Member of the Association for up to three years while working toward the requisite experience to apply for other categories of membership.
It was a dream come true that AGTA was able to pull off a successful trade show in its first year. Few people expected the AGTA to have a show that soon, but the feat was accomplished in less than a year. The AGTA sold all the available booths, organized a silent auction and even had a dinner dance. In less than a decade, the show out-grew its space at the DoubleTree and was in dire need of a new home. With news of the construction of a convention center on the horizon, AGTA jumped into years of intense negotiations with the city of Tucson and the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society until it received a long-term contract in 1991. "Things would have been very different for the AGTA if it did not secure space at the convention center," recalls past president Owen Bordelon, who served on the Board and was very instrumental in negotiations at the time. "If we had to stay at the DoubleTree, it would have severely restricted our growth potential for a venue that is so important to us economically and prestige-wise." The growth and success of GemFair Tucson sparked additional show opportunities for the AGTA including GemFair Las Vegas and the JA Summer Show.
The growth and success of GemFair Tucson helped the AGTA to deliver important services to its Members but also better manage the task of marketing colored gemstones. Primarily, AGTA has focused its promotional efforts in the trade with an eye on the retailer. The initiation of the AGTA Spectrum Awards™ and Cutting Edge Awards competitions, in 1984 and 1991 respectively, shone a spotlight on gemstone jewelry designers and lapidaries that helped to promote the Association, its Members and the products they sell.
Over the years, the AGTA has continued to grow in ways originally envisioned by its founders – and in new ones as well. Since 2000, the Association has directed increasing amounts of energy toward consumers. The AGTA consumer ad campaign featured the theme “Add More Color to Your Life.” This effort aims at building desire for colored gemstones by linking timeless beauty and deep emotions with the current appeal of fashion and pop culture. To complement its consumer outreach, the Association has developed a strong program of education and marketing support for professionals. In addition, the AGTA has also launched the consumer website www.addmorecolortoyourlife.com.
Today, the American Gem Trade Association and its Members are active in all areas, from mines and research labs to wholesale offices, design studios and retail showrooms. As a result, the AGTA is recognized as the true voice of the natural colored gemstone and cultured pearl industries. That voice is also heard and respected around the world.
Since it's inception in 1981, AGTA's Membership has grown to over 1,000 Members in the United States and Canada. AGTA Members agree to the disclosure of gemstone enhancements on all commercial documents and to abide by the Association's Code of Ethics and Principles of Fair Business Practices. Annual affirmation of the Code of Ethics, and enforcement by the AGTA, holds an AGTA Member to a stricter disclosure policy than required by the Federal Trade Commission.
The AGTA's objectives are