Next month will mark the second time that John Ferry (pictured), founder and CEO of Prosperity Earth, a demantoid mining company based in Madagascar, will show his bright green gems at JCK Las Vegas, but it’s the first time he’ll be doing so “properly.”
In 2019, Ferry signed up to exhibit at JCK about a month before the show started and was placed in a booth near the tools and equipment neighborhood, nowhere near the Gems Pavilion.
“We got what appeared to be a bad location, but it ended up being a good location because it was in a high-profile area,” Ferry told JCK on a recent phone call from his home in Greenwich, Conn. “Everyone who passed us asked, ‘Are you guys colored diamonds?’ And that allowed us to have some good conversations. That show was great for us, but it’s nothing like the preparedness we are bringing this year.”
Founded in 2015, Prosperity Earth has spent the past year and a half gearing up its vertically integrated mining and cutting operation. (Listen to episode 38 of JCK’s The Jewelry District podcast to hear Ferry tell the story of how he traded in a career on Wall Street to start a vanilla and chocolate growing business on Madagascar that eventually led him to garnet mining!)
While he admits that sales and marketing have been the least robust part of the company’s efforts—“because we had our heads down in the mining and cutting for so many years,” Ferry says—the company is preparing a brochure to bring to JCK that will outline how its Madagascan operation, which numbers some 50 people, is sustainable and ethical.
“We would rather qualify and quantify what we do with metrics rather than just say, ‘We ethically source,’ ” Ferry says. “We think there’s a great story to tell. That’s the whole idea of this mine-centric approach. We stand by our work, and we want to show that.”
Below, Ferry explains what kind of gems showgoers can expect to see at the Prosperity Earth booth (#700 at the Sands Expo), how his team in Madagascar has fared during the pandemic, and how the company has managed to transcend the supply chain challenges of 2020–21. The interview has been edited and condensed.
What’s your plan as an exhibitor?
We’re trying to bring a very mining-centric focus to the show, highlighting our backstory as it relates to being the miner and the gem cutter. So you’ll see not only loose colored gems, but also mining specimens, photos of our mining operation, and examples of our finished jewelry—to show what demantoid looks like set in rose gold or white gold, to get the creative juices flowing.
All the designers who are our target market have their own style and vision, but because it’s such a unique stone, with its optical dispersion and fire and brilliance, it’s one of those gems that’s yet to have its day. A garnet like demantoid, which is so unusual, has to set in the designer’s psyche. How do you pair it with other gemstones? Do you use a large center stone and pair it with diamond micro pavé? Or do you have an opal with small melee demantoid?
These are questions yet to be answered. We’re hoping to bring a very authentic mining-centric approach to Vegas, and the authenticity is you’re speaking to the company that’s doing the mining work and also the gem cutting.
What kind of stones will you bring to Vegas?
We’ll certainly bring large individual stones, but also large and calibrated sizes down to 2 mm. We’re also open to designers looking for custom cuts. I know baguettes and even heart shapes have worked their way into the lineup, and we’d love to have those conversations with designers.
At the top range, we’ll have 3-to-5-carat gems, mostly cushions and a few rounds. We only sell polished. We’ll have rough on hand to show people what it is and show the connectivity to the mine, as well as some cabochons (although cabochons we haven’t really gotten into yet).
How has your team held up during COVID? Is Madagascar open to visitors yet?
Madagascar is still closed. A lot of the developing countries are going through their third wave, and sub-Saharan Africa is not doing well. But thanks to the Covax initiative, things are improving. It looks like I’ll be able to get my visa for Madagascar this week. But in true form, they say there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to gain admittance to the country when I get there.
I think I’m going to bite the bullet and go in early August, before JCK. We’ve been exporting throughout the pandemic, and that’s worked well. I’m going more to check up on things. We have done phenomenally well as a team, mining and gem cutting through COVID. The team is in great standing.
Have the supply-chain issues plaguing other gemstone suppliers been an issue for Prosperity Earth?
There’s been a pretty big breakdown in the supply chain, and I think you’ll see this in the next couple months. Going into the holiday season, September–October, there will be a lot of large chains and brands, given the robustness of the jewelry market and consumer demand, where the retailers are not going to be able to keep pace with that demand. There will be a lot of stock-out issues. Through COVID, we’re probably the exception to the rule, as we’ve been able to keep mining. Whereas in most of Madagascar, the activity just stopped cold turkey.
How was Prosperity Earth able to transcend those challenges?
Do you want the honest answer? It may sound a little like fluff, but it’s because of family values. The day Trump banned flights coming into the U.S. was the day I was on a flight leaving the U.S. We had spent the last several years at our mine and at our lapidary preaching foundational values: integrity, leadership, hard work.
It’s not that I anticipated supply chain interruptions during COVID, it’s that we were already on the path doing the gem cutting, bringing them to market ourselves. We were already producing jewelry to show what can be done. We have a really tight-knit operation and a values-based approach to doing gem cutting and mining, and that’s allowed us to flourish. We don’t want to hide from these topics of gem cutting and sourcing—we want to showcase them.
Top: Prosperity Earth founder and CEO John Ferry (right) at his demantoid garnet mine in northern MadagascarFollow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine