JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky and news director Rob Bates sit down with Dave Bindra, vice president of B&B Fine Gems. They discuss how he got started in the colored gemstone business and how well he thinks the jewelry industry is addressing current challenges such as the need for more young talent, increased diversity, and better transparency. Gearing up for JCK Tucson 2023? Dave shares expert insights on what to expect at the show as well as which stones and colors are trending this year. (Hint: Think pink in many shades and expect to see stunning sapphires and spinels.)
Sponsored by De Beers: institute.debeers.com
02:08 An unexpected journey into a jewelry career
10:57 Encouraging youth and diversity in the industry
13:53 What’s ahead for colored gemstones
15:33 The traceability factor
17:13 What to see at JCK Tucson this year
21:10 Underappreciated gems and personal favorites (or garnets, spinels, and sneakers)
An Unexpected Career Path
Victoria introduces guest Dave Bindra, vice president of Los Angeles–based B&B Fine Gems and Instagram personality @gemfluencer, and invites him to share his backstory. Dave recounts his unexpected journey into the world of colored gemstones. Though his parents started B&B after emigrating to the United States and he grew up on the fringes of the jewelry business, he set his sights on law school after graduating from USC. When he realized his heart wasn’t in studying law, he decided to accompany his father to Bangkok on a buying trip and saw the inner workings of the business for the first time. “I fell in love with it,” recalls Bindra, who was moved by the role trust played in transactions. “A handshake was more important than any piece of paper in this business. It takes a lifetime to build these relationships.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Dave found himself—and B&B—evolving in unanticipated ways. After being locked out of his office for a month, he started sneaking into the building ninja-style to retrieve stones and posting them on Instagram from his backyard. Soon he was taking Zoom meetings and selling stones virtually to his retail and private jewelry partners. By nimbly growing its digital presence, B&B finished the year strong, streamlined operations, pared down inventory, and gained market share in its overseas sourcing networks. All this positioned them for a fruitful 2021 and 2022.
Though Instagram served B&B well during COVID, Dave now uses the platform for creative expression rather than e-commerce, showcasing whatever inspires him, from architecture to fashion to color schemes that echo certain stones. He also uses it to showcase his sneaker collection, matching vividly colored stones with colorful sneakers, and drawing on his years as a deejay during college to pair images with music.
Improving Inclusivity and Diversity
Rob observes that Dave is one of the jewelry world’s younger members and asks if he thinks there’s a problem attracting young talent to the industry. Dave says he was fortunate to have family ties that gave him an entrée, but the barrier to entering the jewelry business is real. Fortunately, the industry is taking steps to address the issue. Lack of diversity is another weakness the industry is working to correct, he adds. He believes female industry leaders and diversity initiatives by groups like the Black in Jewelry Coalition and the American Gem Society are paving the way to positive change.
Increasing the Focus on Colored Stones
Rob wonders whether the colored gemstone business could benefit from a powerhouse like De Beers to promote it. Dave says it’s a catch-22: The romance of colored stones lies in the fact that they are off the beaten path; mass commercialization could dull that mystique. However, he says colored stones are already becoming more mainstream, as evidenced by coverage in upscale publications such as Robb Report, Architectural Digest, and Vogue and jewelry advertised by heavy hitters like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Tiffany. Dave believes this heralds more organized promotion and education to come in the next five years.
Why Traceability Matters
Because the value of colored gemstones is more subjective than that of diamonds, gold, and other precious metals, they aren’t generally traded or sold for contraband or tied to illegal activity, Dave explains. This makes traceability less of a concern from a consumer protection standpoint than it is for diamonds and precious metals. Still, Dave sees value in tracing the journey of colored stones to market because it creates beautiful stories. He gives an example of a couple whose sapphire engagement ring came from Madagascar, making an exotic place on the other side of the world part of their love story.
Victoria wonders whether customers are demanding traceability or whether the industry is the driving force behind it. Dave thinks everyone is asking questions about transparency. The shift is being driven by younger consumers, who like to know where the things they buy come from and to make sure ethical practices are involved.
Victoria asks Dave his predictions for JCK Tucson. Inflation has hit the market, so people may feel a little sticker shock, he says. Still, he expects strong buyer turnout, given the scarcity of available hotel rooms. A tight supply chain is making replacing merchandise a challenge for Dave and his peers, especially for rare, exotic gemstones. An unprecedented amount of liquidity in the market in the past two years also makes it highly competitive.
Expect to see the strongest selection of sapphires from B&B in the company’s history at the show this year, along with stunning spinels, which are also in high demand. The most sought-after spinels are hot pink stones from Tanzania. The “it” colors are not Viva Magenta (Pantone’s color of the year), but orange-reddish pinks, peaches, and neon shades, which he predicts will stay strong for years to come. Another B&B option in today’s coveted color range is a selection of interesting tourmalines in shades from rose to peach.
Underappreciated Gems and Personal Favorites
Victoria asks Dave what he considers an undervalued gem. People dismiss garnets as dark red stones they would find in a grandmother’s pendant, but garnets are actually versatile, durable, and available in a dramatic range of colors. As examples, he mentions green tsavorite garnets, rose-peach malaya garnets, purple Umbalite garnets, and bright orange mandarin garnets. Thanks to designers like Lauren Harwell Godfrey, who use the stones in their work, public perception is starting to change.
Rob asks if Dave has a favorite gemstone. He’s partial to spinels, which he collects. Their value has appreciated tremendously since he started in the business in 2007. Back then, he saw boxes of multicolored stones for $20 or $30 a carat. Now they top $1,000 a carat. He notes that B&B was the first company to buy a major parcel of cut Mahenge spinels from Tanzania. At the time, they assumed more would be readily available, not realizing a freak deposit had produced the large quantity. Since then, no major production has emerged. As a result, stones that once traded for $700–$800 a carat command $15,000–$20,000 a carat today.
Rob inquires about the sneaker collection Dave showcases in his Instagram feed. Dave says the idea of matching shoes to stones happened accidentally. He was complaining to his best friend from high school that the light in his office was perfect, but his feet were always in his photos. The friend pointed out that Dave, a longtime sneakerhead, had footwear in every color. Why not pair it with colorful gemstones? The rest is Instagram history.
Dave and Victoria discuss the fact that the sneaker market has cooled off, due partly to brands such as Nike abandoning the limited runs of the past. Victoria says this underscores the value of scarcity, a theme that ties into JCK Tucson, where B&B and other companies will showcase rare gemstones.
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