In 1995, Kimberly Collins (pictured) made a dramatic career pivot. She’d gotten her degree in restaurant and hotel management, and had spent time working at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, but she put all of that in the rearview mirror when she registered her gem business and, in 1996, traveled to Nairobi, where she lived with a family and learned the ins and outs of the tanzanite trade.
“I’m going on my 27th year in the gem business,” Collins, now based in Reno, Nev., tells JCK.
As one of the industry’s few female gem dealers, she was an anomaly then, and to some degree, still is. “People used to look at me—I was 25 or 26—and ask me, ‘Who do you get your gems from?’ ” Collins says. “And I’d say, ‘They’re mine. I buy them. I go overseas.’ ”
Over the years, as Collins expanded her interest beyond East African gems to include colored stones from Brazil, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, she established a reputation as a sapphire specialist.
“I’m a crazy lover of fancy sapphires, the full gamut of colors,” she says. “I do a ton of supplying for alternative bridal. Blue sapphires are of course a bread-and-butter item, but I love all the range: I sell Montana sapphires, sapphires from Sri Lanka and Madagascar and a few from Burma. And I love sapphires from the Umba River Valley in Africa.”
In February, Collins was elected president of the American Gem Trade Association’s (AGTA) board of directors, and in March, following Doug Hucker’s resignation as CEO of AGTA, she added the role of interim CEO to her already very full plate.
At the recent JCK Las Vegas show, where she exhibited in the AGTA section of the Gems pavilion, Collins felt the jewelry industry’s full-on embrace of color firsthand.
“I have a very colorful line, and it was kind of like a feeding frenzy,” she says. “People couldn’t get enough. I hope it lasts forever, but, if not, it sure has been fun.”
We recently caught up with Collins to talk supply, demand, and pricing in the gemstone market on the cusp of the 2022 fall season. Below, she offers her take on the trending topics.
On the Hot (and Cool) Stones
Rubies have gone through the roof. Teal sapphires—they’re a huge bridal gem, and they come from Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Montana. Those prices have nearly doubled over the last couple years because of demand.
Blue zircon is another one a lot of our members sell. Great price point gem, a birthstone. But getting the quality has been difficult. The main source for that is Cambodia. The Asian countries have all been impacted [by COVID].
On Price Resistance (or Lack Thereof)
Interestingly enough, I didn’t get price resistance on almost anything at JCK, and that comes from demand. The end consumer just wants it and the retailers know if they have it, they can sell it. Whereas if it’s a stone just for stock, they look at pricing differently. But if they’re replenishing because it’s selling, they don’t have as much aversion to price changes.
Inflation is real. If nothing else was changing and the price of blue zircon was going up, people would scratch their head and ask, Why? I didn’t feel people were even questioning why. Teal sapphires are everywhere—go on Instagram and you’ll see plenty. When you see things at that quantity, you know demand is driving the market.
On the J. Lo Effect
J. Lo just got engaged [with a green diamond ring], and the last time she got engaged with a light pink sapphire, she sent waves through our industry for 10 years. I see people looking at minty stones—mint garnet, mint tourmaline, even mint sapphire—these minty, icy shades, I call them.
On the Vibe for Color
We’re selling lots and lots of blue-greens—they have always been strong—but what’s different is that now it’s color across the board. All colors are really hot. As a colored gemstone dealer, that seems like self-promotion, but I’m not kidding. We went through a phase where it was all diamond jewelry and it was hard to convince stores to buy anything besides the Big Three.
Right now, anything goes. As long as it’s cut well, it’s sparkly, and it talks to the customer. Color is everywhere right now: in clothing, in home accessories. I thank the pandemic a little bit for that: People were online so much, and it opened the eyes of the retail buyer in wanting things that are different.
On “Parti” Time
There have been some amazing tourmaline pockets in Nigeria—these really crisp pinks and some beautiful rubellite production. They’re calling some of it “disco” or “parti” tourmaline because it’s got colors. It is a very clean, bright, lively material with colors of pink and green to yellowish green!
On Contemporary Birthstone Jewelry
I feel there’s a resurgence of interest in birthstone jewelry and jewelry and colors that really resonate with people—because color is so popular. Years ago, birthstone jewelry was very traditional. Now people are mixing it up.
Sentimentality is coming back in jewelry, which we lost for a while, from the early 2000s, because of the iPhone, the iPad. Now people are realizing, I spent so much money on this computer stuff that only lasts a few years, whereas look at this ring that my wife still wears—we can pass it down, there’s added value.
Photos courtesy of Kimberly Collins GemsFollow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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