Gem Pricing: Mixed Messages

On the eve of the Tucson gem shows, the market is more mercurial than ever

Attention in the colored stone market has turned toward Tucson. Dealers have mixed predictions about the show. Many dealers report that the holiday was, at press time, softer than anticipated for the gem and jewelry industry. The sales activity at Tucson tends to be strong if Christmas sales were good, because retailers are far more open to buying for stock if they had a good season. On the flip side, caution prevails if the holiday was slow.

As far as trends go, solitaire diamond earrings have been stronger than anticipated. The popular sizes included 1 ct. and 1.50 cts. t.w. Earrings featuring black diamonds reportedly sold well, as did classic anniversary bands.

In colored stones, blue sapphire, aquamarine, and tanzanite are always good sellers for retailers. Emerald sales have also been good in both the high-end and commercial grades. The supply of fine-quality material is lower than a year ago.

Tucson buyers will find some surprises in the price of fine-quality natural blue sapphire. In larger sizes, these stones are bringing high prices. Production has been declining in recent years, and now fine Burmese material is commanding a strong premium in the market. Current conditions give no signs that this trend will ease anytime soon.

In the ruby market, fine-quality east African ruby is still having difficulty overcoming the strength of the Burmese brand. This is one of the longest and certainly strongest origin-to-product associations in the market. In the natural (untreated) fine-quality Burma ruby category, prices are very high and ­product is extremely scarce. Yet dealers have been slow to offer fine-quality Mozambique ruby to clients. It is interesting that Mozambique rubies are also realizing what, at a quick glance, seem to be strong prices, yet they are priced considerably lower than similar-grade Burma material. Given the lack of larger fine-quality ruby in the market, the east African material appears to be a good buy at current prices.

The beauty and lower price points of Chinese freshwater pearls make them a product that retailers can continue to count on. We expect consumers to remain price-sensitive through 2012.