By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
Between strong demand for high-quality gemstones and robust attendance, particularly on opening day, most exhibitors at the 2023 AGTA GemFairTM Tucson expressed satisfaction with their Tucson show experiences.
According to AGTA CEO John W. Ford Sr., opening day of the six-day-long trade show, which took place Jan. 31–Feb. 5, saw a large turnout—to the tune of about 3,100. While preregistration numbers were on pace with years past, the line to enter on opening day was upwards of 300 people deep. And not only was the volume significant, but the diversity of buyers was apparent—“From young designers to established brick-and-mortar stores,” observes Ford. “About 95% of our exhibitors are reporting strong sales.”
Improvements to the show helped boost that business. Among them are new meeting rooms for seminars, which kept buyers closer to the GemHall floor and Grand Ballroom. A refreshed presentation of Spectrum & Cutting Edge winners, including head shots, in the Grand Ballroom, organized by Shelly Sergent (this year’s winner of the Leon Ritzler Award), also helped drive more interest and sales to finished jewelry. (Sergent also organized the seminar program for AGTA.)
Finally, the quality of buyers that visited the fair this year was likely the single biggest impetus for dealer contentment.
“There were no tire kickers this year,” explains Kimberly Collins, AGTA board president and owner of Kimberly Collins Colored Gems. “There were also a lot of first-time attendees.”
“We were swamped for the first three days,” says Ann Barker of Barker & Co. “And we beat last year’s sales by the third day.”
High-End Demand Strong
Across every category of gemstone, this year’s buyers are seeking out top-end goods, regardless of prices—which have been super high.
Opal dealer Joel Price of the eponymous firm reveals that his shoppers are asking for super fine qualities of stones in the $3,000 to $15,000 triple keystone range thanks to increased interest and education.
Gemstone seller Shivam Poddar of Shivam Imports, too, sees spiked demand for higher-quality goods such as rainbow Moonstone. The reason? Designers looking to make one-of-a-kind pieces. And even though Poddar’s costs have been higher—as much as 20% because of limited rough production from certain countries and a decline in the number of lapidaries available to cut goods—sales are still happening. “Shoppers are still willing to spend a little more to get something truly unique,” he says.
No-heat stones continue to be a hot ticket item. Ronen Ijadi’s inventory is about half heated, half unheated goods, and costs of unheated material are up about 30%. “Demand is still there but sourcing is difficult,” says the principle behind Ijadi Gem. His father even went to Sri Lanka ahead of Tucson to stock up, but finding unheated 10-carat stones and smaller sizes was challenging. “It’s a lot easier to make pairs and layouts with heated goods,” he observes.
Ron Rahmanan of Sara Gem sold a lot of blue Sapphires at the show and also saw demand for Mozambique Rubies. Most of his clients are looking for unheated material but in some cases are forced to accept treated gems. “There’s little availability and high demand for no-heat Rubies and Sapphires,” he says. “I’m willing to pay any price when I see nice stones but it’s challenging now to source. The type of material I bought pre-Covid is up 50% to 70%.”
Pearl dealers, too, are feeling the pinch of sourcing difficulties at higher prices—not that clients are complaining. Aziz Basalely of Eliko Pearl says there’s virtually no price resistance to his top-quality cultured Tahitian keshi and Akoya Pearls. “Sales are less about price and more about quality,” he says.
Eric Yen of Yen’s Jewelry & Accessories agrees. Even before he got to GemFair, he had sold out of a number of Pearl strands. “Some clients couldn’t make it to the show but bought goods sight unseen,” he explains.
Pinks, Blues & Green Gems Sold
In terms of salable colors, it’s not too surprising that pinks, blues, and greens sold well.
Blue is the world’s favorite color, so it continues to drive most Sapphire sales (including many Montana-sourced blue and teal). Turquoise, too, is another beloved blue gem, and Poddar notes that sales of his Sleeping Beauty material were strong. Opals are another blue collector fave, as is blue Zircon, which sold well for Barker & Co. Demand for Sam Sylvio’s wide and deep Paraíba Tourmaline inventory was better than expected, according to the owner of Samuel Sylvio Design. “Last year was my best year ever,” he says. For the woman who has everything—and is afraid to wear a 10-carat Diamond—Paraíba is a great option, Sylvio notes. “Not everyone realizes what it is,” he adds.
Pantone’s Color of 2023, Viva Magenta, is driving sales of a wide range of pink hues. From fancy color heated and unheated pink Sapphires to hot magenta Spinel to peachy-pink Padparadscha Sapphires, every shade was in demand. Collins had one buyer snap up seven matched pairs of pink Tourmalines and Garnets for earrings.
In green, tsavorite Garnets and Emeralds moved. Seafoam Tourmaline was popular for Stephen Avery, renowned for his gem sets, and Barbara Heinrich of the same-name firm enjoyed sales of beaded Emerald designs.
And while Matthew Hopkins’ blue-green Australian Opals are inherently popular because of their hue, the owner of Hopkins Opal can attest to another emotional driver for sales: shape. A perfectly formed jumping rabbit caught the attention of a buyer from Taiwan (it’s the year of the rabbit in the Chinese zodiac calendar), who snapped it up on sight. “It was a little bit of kismet,” he says. Hopkins had carved away the clay sand from the Opal and the silhouette took shape naturally. “I love it when a meaningful connection happens for customers.”
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