Oh, Heavenly Rubies!

Among the red gems the [ruby] holds first place and is most esteemed,” wrote Pliny the Elder almost 2,000 years ago. The International Colored Gemstone Association agrees. During 1996, it chose ruby as the first colored gem ever promoted in a systematic and organized fashion. Now the high-profile campaign is culminating with a bang as sexy ads in national consumer publications and in-store promotions round out the year’s work

As you face the countdown to Christmas and the mad scramble toward the end of the year, be aware the “ruby stage” has been set for you and thousands of other jewelry store owners around the United States.It’s all compliments of the International Colored Gemstone Association and its year-long promotional campaign for ruby, the so-called “King of Gems.”

Realizing the last three months of the year are prime time for jewelry sales, ICA is spending half a million dollars in the year-end ruby push. It hired Brown Productions in Dallas, Tex., to produce four-page consumer ads in Departures and Town & Country magazines, in-store promotions at six high-end jewelry stores (see box) and other promotional material.

This could mean a lucrative selling season for colored gemstones, rubies in particular. The focus on ruby is unprecedented. At no other time in history has an international organization undertaken such a coordinated effort to promote any colored gemstone. And ruby is just the first in a series of colored gemstones that ICAhopes to promote in coming years. Sapphire, tourmaline, emerald and others will follow if the ruby experiment is deemed successful.

“Platinum and gold are supported and promoted, and so are diamonds,” says ICA President Paolo Valentini. “We want the trade to realize that we are serious about colored gems and that color is desirable and necessary to promote in the jewelry industry.” While ICA members have supported the idea of a promotion for a long time, there was a long and lively debate as to which gemstone ICAshould promote first. In the end, members chose ruby for several reasons.

The time is now: World ruby production is at one of the highest levels in decades, due in part to discoveries of important deposits in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Eastern Africa and Vietnam. Therefore, supplies are plentiful enough to support such a promotion, and prices have dropped enough to put rubies within reach of many more consumers.

“The availability of the Mong Hsu rubies [mostly smaller material from a location in Myanmar] has certainly been a great factor,” says David Cohen of Rafco International Gem Corp., NewYork, N.Y., vice president of ICA. “A fine ruby might have cost some $5,000 a carat a few years ago and now can be had for about $2,000. Rubies have become affordable again.

“The product is great because it is beautiful and still a relatively rare stone. It should get more of the respect it deserves.”

It’s true that even though ruby deposits have proliferated, the stones are still rare enough to wield significant cachet — consumers just need to be told, says ICA. “People don’t realize how much more rare a ruby is than other gemstones,” says Cheryl Kremkow, director of ICA’s Gem Bureau. “It is more difficult to find a fine 20-ct. ruby than a 100-ct. D-flawless diamond.”

While this window of availability with rubies was crucial in developing the promotion, it’s also worth noting that ICA’s project could not have moved forward without the financial backing of some of the jewelry industry’s heavy hitters. Roughly two-thirds of the reported half-million dollar project comes from the Thai Department of Export Promotion and Thai ICA ruby suppliers (Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of faceted ruby). Though all ICA members have contributed to the project — a unique factor that underscores ICA’s long-term vision in promoting colored gems — the organization’s ruby supplier members contributed the lion’s share.

Unique features: Phase I of the promotion started earlier in the year with the assembly of a $10 million ruby collection. ICA members from around the world and from high-end jewelers such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, FRED Joallier, Hammerman and others loaned gems for use in the collection.

The collection debuted at the Couture Collection in Pasadena, Cal., and at the JCK International Jewelry Show in Las Vegas in May and June. ICA took great care while arranging the collection that no manufacturers’ or dealers’ names were mentioned. This way, no ICA member stood to benefit individually by what was a clearly a group effort. “It was the first time in history that six different industry levels, starting from the miner and ending with the retailer, were involved in a project of this kind,” says Jack Abraham of Precious Gem Resources in NewYork, N.Y., an ICA committee member who played a large role in coordinating the collection. “All was done without compromising the integrity of the distribution channel.”

Phase II included the creation of a trade advertisement that ran earlier in the year and a four-page consumer ad running in the October throughDecember issues of Departures magazine (300,000 circulation) and Town & Country (425,000).The consumer ads feature ruby jewelry with natural motifs such as tropical fish, lizards — and a beautiful woman. They are presented on a stark white background and printed on heavy paper to emphasize the color, importance and sheer beauty of the jewelry. The intent, says ICA, is to position ruby as a symbol of romance and passion and to make the jewels true objects of desire.

Jewelry designers, manufacturers and retailers are given prominence in the ads. While manufacturers and designers such as Oscar Heyman, Charles Krypell, Ambar and others are discreetly mentioned by name, their jewelry is in the spotlight. The ads also list retailers hosting ICA ruby promotions so consumers know who to contact. included is a toll-free telephone number for consumers to call to find a jeweler in their area who carries ruby jewelry.

ICA’s GemSite — the organization’s Internet site, which logs 1,500 consumer visits per day — features an editorial on ruby and offers ruby prizes in its monthly gem quiz. With this positioning, ICA officials felt comfortable to proceed with the final phase of the ruby program.

In the spotlight: In Phase III, ICA has helped to organize a traveling collection of loose rubies and jewels to augment existing ruby inventory at six higher-end retail stores: Schwarzschild Jewelers in Richmond, Va.; Lee Michaels Jewelers, New Orleans, La.; Neiman Marcus, Dallas, Tex.; Fortunoff’s, New York City; Ben Bridge Jeweler, Seattle, Wash.; and Hyde Park, Aspen, Colo. Promotional support material for the stores — including ad slicks, counter cards, invitations, media kits and displays — are all designed to continue ICA’s ruby theme. The events, which also reinforce the consumer ruby ads, have a ballet theme and are linked to the local ballet company in each market.

It’s now “pins and needles” time, with all eyes on the retailers participating in the program. Soon, ICA hopes to gauge acceptance and enthusiasm about rubies from Christmas buyers. “We are so excited because the jewelers have been so supportive; we could not have done it without them,” says Kremkow.

Harton Wolf of Schwarzschild Jewelers, the first jeweler to sponsor the ruby event, explains the strategy. “We’re treating this not so much as a selling event, but more as an important happening. Our expectation is a much better awareness for Schwarzschild’s about fine colored gems,” he says. “Our tie-in is with the Richmond Ballet. We are so thrilled because the ballet this season is doing Romeo & Juliet, which goes so beautifully with our theme of passion.”

The New York office of Swarogem, a division of Swarovski in Wattens, Austria, has arranged a limited-edition “Ruby Ballet Slippers” pin — replete with rubies, of course — to be auctioned off as a charity donation at each of the store events. “We will have the staff prepped and ready, and we will have Romeo and Juliet ballet music from Prokofiev,” says Wolf. “Then at 6:30 p.m., our president, Wilford Schein, will auction off the pin.” For ICA’s promotion, and for ruby in particular, the moment in the spotlight has finally arrived. Let the music begin.

In-Store Promotions: a Who’s Who

Schwarzschild Jewelers, Richmond, Va. Oct. 25-26.
Lee Michaels Jewelers, New Orleans, La. Nov. 6-8.
Neiman Marcus, Dallas, Tex. Nov. 14-17.
Fortunoff’s, New York, N.Y. Nov. 27-Dec. 1.
Ben Bridge Jeweler, Seattle, Wash. Dec. 5-8.
Hyde Park, Aspen, Colo. Dec. 27-31.