By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
Arizona gem show experiences were profitable, according to exhibitors interviewed by AGTA. Sales among members were on par with 2023, and though most noted a perceived drop in foot traffic at AGTA GemFair Tucson, official figures proved otherwise; registration at GemFair was up 3%. The consensus was that those who attended were there to buy; tire kickers stayed home.
“Overall sales exceeded expectations, with higher-end loose gemstones in great demand,” said John W. Ford Sr., CEO, at the end of the show.
New Shoppers, Strong Sales
New customers were a boon to many. Matthew Hopkins of Hopkins Opal met new clients from near and far, including some from international destinations like Brazil and Paris. Other stateside shoppers, like select independent retailers, were no-shows. But overall, and despite a complicated international landscape comprising two wars and an upcoming U.S. election, he’s pleased with the direction of business.
“The U.S. market is strong—much stronger than overseas markets,” he says. “The high end is doing well.”
Other dealers were pleased with new business and sales. Richard and Helen Shull of Out of Our Mines noted a “bigger pile of invoices” than normal, citing their strength in American Turquoise. Gina Latendresse of American Pearl Company, a purveyor of largely natural Mississippi Pearls, said she was missing the Japanese buyers but that the show overall was good—“especially considering the state of the world,” she said. “We sold a lot of loose, and we didn’t have as many jewelry buyers,” she explains.
Cultured Pearl seller Daniel Moshi of the eponymous firm maintains that his regular buyers bought more, perhaps in part because the inventories of many Pearl sellers have been diminished by recent demand. Plus, he hasn’t raised prices on his old stock like many dealers because replacement costs have shot up in the past year. “We’ve had a good start to the year,” he says.
Bruce Bridges of Bridges Tsavorite brought trepidation to the show along with his East African gems but ended up happy with sales. “On the first day of the show we sold one of our larger stones,” he reveals. His biggest concern, like many dealers, is pricing.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around the rapid escalation in prices we’re seeing,” he says. “It’s not gradual over a decade or two, and Spinel prices, in particular, have skyrocketed. Some material is up 30%-plus in a year and that’s hard to absorb.”
One of the most pleased vendors? Color Source Gems, which had its best show ever.
“There were no concerns about elections or wars, and there was no pushback on prices,” says Rachel Chalchinsky, principal. “I also like the fact that AGTA reregistered buyers and required photo ID to limit who was allowed to attend and who was not. John Ford is like the new Wyatt Earp.”
Best-sellers ranged widely. From predictable blue and teal Sapphires to American-mined Turquoise, Rubies, and Paraíba Tourmaline to rarities like Hiddenite and Scheelite from John J. Bradshaw.
Hopkins’ biggest sale was a “major” Boulder Opal, though he also sold groups of stones with a narrative. “Shoppers were looking for not just a collection but a story,” he adds.
Geoffrey Watt of Mayer & Watt sold a 15.5 ct. Chrysoberyl, and Sheahan Stephens sold an 8 ct. Sri Lankan purple cushion-shape Sapphire. Gerardu Gems sold a 15.33 ct. unheated Sri Lankan blue Sapphire for more than $60,000 keystone and is in the process of acquiring another big unheated Sapphire—a 102.93 ct. gem with a report from GRS.
Meanwhile, Intercolor USA’s Afshin Hackman shopped some 10 ct.-plus size Rubies, one of which won a 2023 AGTA Spectrum & Cutting Edge Award. When it sells, it won’t be the first to move because of an award-winning status.
“Last year we sold one because it won a Cutting Edge Award, and the buyer even wanted the award itself!” he says. “Anytime we enter Spectrum & Cutting Edge, we sell the stone because of the award.”
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