From Prism Volume I 2024: Member News, Columbia Gem House & the AGTA Code of Ethics

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

Vancouver, Wash.–based Columbia Gem House recently announced the results of its annual fundraiser, this year benefiting the Centro de Rescate, Rehabilitacion e Investigacion de Fauna Silvestre, A.C. (CRRIFS). CRRIFS is a nonprofit that works closely with Columbia Gem House’s partners at the Cortez Pearl Farm in Mexico to aid the health of the Bacochibampo Bay where the farm and its many Pearl oysters are located.

Dubbed the Jewelry for Wildlife Fundraiser, some $12,025 was raised for CRRIFS and will fund the construction of a saltwater tank for sea turtle rehabilitation that takes place in the area around the Pearl farm.

Columbia Gem House donated loose gems, including mabé Pearls from the Sea of Cortez, to designers selected from dozens of applications made in conjunction with the 2023 MJSA Responsibly Sourced Design Challenge. Nine designers were selected to receive donated materials to make finished pieces which were raffled off, with 100% of ticket sales benefiting CRRIFS. A total of 481 tickets were sold.

“The enthusiasm from participants around the world has allowed us to make a significant contribution to CRRIFS, supporting their vital efforts in conservation, research, and rehabilitation, all of which support the health of the ecosystem that Cortez Pearl oysters rely on,” explains Natasha Braunwart, Brand and Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Columbia Gem House.

Prism Volume I 2024 Member News Columbia Gem House
Understanding AGTA

This recurring section analyzes the purpose behind key building blocks on which the AGTA was built.

Breaking Down the Code of Ethics, Part I of III

AGTA formed as a not-for-profit trade group in 1981 based on a need for reputable natural gemstone and cultured Pearl sellers to have a unified voice to uphold ethical practices.

AGTA serves U.S.- and Canada-based gem dealers, jewelry designers, and retailers through a framework comprising committees and the AGTA Code of Ethics and Principles of Fair Business Practice. The nine-page document outlines ways members should represent their products to protect the trade’s reputation and jewelry-loving consumers.

While parts of the jewelry business are still conducted with handshake agreements, the Code of Ethics serves as a consistent reference guide and set of rules for members to observe so that no trade peers or clients purchase gems whose values are misrepresented.

“The Code of Ethics provides a pathway for how to operate ethically within the jewelry industry,” explains founding AGTA member Ray Zajicek of Equatorian Imports, who helped write the Code in the early 1980s.

To wit, this is why the Preamble states:

Each AGTA member will at all times act in the best interests of its clients by representing and promoting the member’s products professionally, honestly and positively, disclosing to its clients all necessary and relevant information pertaining to such products and the member’s business transactions, and striving to practice and observe the highest possible ethical standards and principles of the colored gemstone industry. Each AGTA member will respect and defend AGTA’s role in the jewelry industry. A high degree of cooperation among AGTA members is the foundation of unity and success in the colored gemstone industry.

Prism Volume I 2024 Member News AGTA Code of Ethics and Principles of Fair Business Practice
Section 1 General Guidelines

This first section of the Code establishes basic criteria for members. For example, AGTA members have a duty to protect clients and the industry against “fraud, misrepresentation and unethical practices” and to “avoid exaggerating, concealing or omitting to disclose any necessary or relevant information pertaining to the member’s products and business transactions.”

Further, AGTA members must comply with all local, state, and federal laws, adhere to rulings established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and definitions set forth by the National Institute of Standards and Technology “insofar as they apply to the colored gemstone and jewelry industry.”

Members engaging in international business must comply with all foreign laws and maintain the highest possible standards in doing so. In this regard, AGTA acknowledges that it is “not always possible to establish and verify every step from mining a gemstone to its cutting and then to the many steps of the marketplace,” but members must be able to document its business partners and transactions that claim “Fair Trade Protocols.”

AGTA members must not “defame, criticize, or undermine” the reputations, merchandise, or services of other members to sell their own goods, and similarly, members may not misrepresent their merchandise or origins or publicly apply terms like “investment” to gems except in confidential conversations between professionals. Members who do sell directly to the public, selling gemstones “for financial investment … must make it abundantly clear that any investment … has not been guaranteed or promised any profit or return.”

Members must also not use the term “semiprecious” in describing gemstones, shall not deliver a gemstone in a sealed container “under a warranty that becomes void if the seal is broken,” may only use the terms gem or gemstone in relation to materials of a natural origin, and may only use FTC-approved terms like synthetic, lab grown, or man made in relation to materials that are not natural gemstones.

Additionally, members shall not produce certificates or appraisals for gemstones in which they have a vested interest.

In Volume II, Fiscal and Advertising Guidelines and Memoranda and Consignments in the Code will be dissected.

Have questions or comments? Email [email protected].

Research support provided by Ray Zajicek of Equatorian Imports.

This is proprietary content for AGTA and may not be reproduced. 

This article first ran in Prism Volume I 2024. See the flipbook by clicking here.