By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
Attendees to the AGTA GemFair Denver section of the Hard Rock Summit, held Sept. 15–18, 2023, at the Colorado Convention Center, had plenty of juicy gemstones to shop alongside a variety of educational panels from which to learn.
Wolter Mehring, cofounder of the Hard Rock Summit, revealed at the show’s close that visitors to the entire Summit, including mineral specimen vendors with direct-to-consumer sales in the same ballroom as AGTA wholesale-only dealers, were double last year. Of the 6,000 guests, some 1,100 were from the trade.
“Last year these areas were separate,” he says. “Hard Rock is unique in that you seldom see minerals and gems of that high quality together like this in one hall in either in Tucson or Europe.”
Mehring also remains confident that the fair is well timed for mineral specimen and fine gem and jewelry buyers ahead of the holidays. “It’s a good time of year for a show that ties into the traditional Denver gem and mineral fairs,” he adds.
Next year’s event is slated to occur Sept. 12–15, 2024, closer to Boulder, Colo., at the Westin Westminster, which is 15 minutes from downtown.
John W. Ford Sr., AGTA CEO, says dealer-members had some positive transactions over the course of the show. “The first two days saw the return of many loyal AGTA customers, and many members had decent shows and met with new clients,” he says.
New Clients & Connections
Despite seemingly lighter traffic, those present made the show worthwhile for many exhibitors. Stephen Avery of Stephen M. Avery caught up with one client from Wisconsin whom he hadn’t seen in years, and another from Arizona visited the fair for the first time. He also made a new client—“Someone young and enthusiastic,” he says. “It’s really encouraging to see younger customers.”
“It was down from last year, but we’ve sold enough to be happy,” he says. “Plus, we’re getting customers from the crystals [Pala also had a mineral booth outside of the AGTA section] so getting that exposure from both sides of the business is great.”
Gems That Sold
Dealers brought a wide variety of inventory to appeal to both high-end shoppers and entry-level clients.
Spinel and Montana Sapphire remained in demand, according to exhibitors like Noelle Habib, Gerardu Gems, and 3090 Gems. Bicolor gems remain a staple for dealers, too—think Tourmaline from Evan Caplan, Zoisite from 3090 Gems, and Sapphires from both Misfit Diamonds and Gerardu Gems.
Geometric and fancy cuts, such as Sapphires and Diamonds from Misfit Diamonds, Sapphires and Zircon from Noelle Habib, and half-moon-cut Sapphires from Columbia Gem House, were also moving. “We sold most of them on the first day of the show,” says Eric Braunwart, founder.
The colors green and pink remain standouts thanks to J. Lo’s green Diamond engagement ring sparking interest in minty hues and the “Barbie” movie speaking to collectors’ love of pink.
“Green is having a huge moment,” says Irina Ferry of Prosperity Earth Mining, a producer of demantoid Garnet from Madagascar. Lucky for them, given their gem is green and tends to be a fave among designers.
“From a gem geek’s perspective, it has all the rarity behind it, brilliance, and is attainable in so much quantity,” she explains.
“Consumers have so much more awareness of color so there’s no wrong one to choose,” remarked Kimberly Collins of the eponymous gem firm and AGTA’s board President.
Bradshaw agreed, adding that the stories behind the gemstones offer a lot of opportunities for retailers to draw in clients and expand business. And when he points out rare gems like Benitoite and Sphene, questions can be as abundant as the sales.
Still more variety sold from other dealers. Pala’s biggest seller was spessartite Garnet, while Columbia Gem House’s new Colorado Aquamarine and neon green “Woz”-cut Beryl were also popular. “Woz” is named after well-known American gem cutter John Wozencraft.
In terms of more-special gems, Paul L. Dragone of Boston Gems sold 5.5 ct. top-quality blue sheen Moonstone cab—Moonstones are the bulk of his business—though he also sold some Ruby and pink Sapphire. His surprise sale of the show? A 1.5 ct. emerald-cut Burmese-origin Ruby to an up-and-coming designer—“Someone who is still in the process of taking GIA courses,” he says. “We usually don’t see those kinds of sales to students.”
Meanwhile, one of Caplan’s biggest sales of the show was a 2.5 ct. no-heat Brazilian Paraíba Tourmaline. Asked about projected sales for fall, he expressed optimism. Why? “The people who have money have money,” he says.
Update from Jenna White
One of the most exciting presentations given during the show was from Jenna White, AGTA Industry Terms Committee Member, research scientist, and Ph.D. student in Earth Resources Science & Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.
For months now, White and her advisor Dr. Nicole Smith, associate professor of mining engineering and a cultural anthropologist, have been conducting field research in Kenya and Madagascar. The goal of their work is to identify and cement best practices in transparency and traceability throughout the gemstone supply chain.
“We want to add transparency to an otherwise opaque process,” she says.
While the entirety of White and Smith’s research will not be disclosed until 2024, White was able to share some initial findings from her time on the ground interviewing actors in the supply chain. One of her goals in sharing observations was not to “name or shame” players but to “lift up everyone through learning.”
For example, many interviewed in Africa said that mining was a good livelihood. And though certain individuals have mining permits, that is no ironclad guarantee for pipeline transparency. “Paper is not a complete guarantee that you know where a gem is from,” she says. “Locals might have heard that an outsider was coming in advance and got more gemstones from another mine.”
Plus, when Americans think of mining, they think of hard-rock mining in a tunnel, but in Africa, people who say they are a miner could mean another player in the supply chain, not an actual digger. Also critical for outsiders to understand: Africans don’t want your pity, Americans can’t compare Western values to theirs, individual ethics and values might conflict with local laws, and the language we’re using may be misinterpreted.
“To understand the story, you need to know their network—which may or may not be confined to a single country or region,” continues White. “Many can forget the legal side of doing business in Africa, too, and that has to come first or else the government doesn’t get taxes.”
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