What I Learned at the 2018 American Gem Society Conclave

Nashville, Tenn., for those of you who haven’t been, is every bit as fun as you’d expect. The city places the same emphasis on tasty Southern food, great music, and unbridled debauchery as New Orleans, but in a slightly less sultry atmosphere. In other words, it’s a fabulous place for a conference, as I learned last week, when I attended the 2018 American Gem Society Conclave.

The annual gathering of guild jewelers—equal parts business and pleasure—is one of my favorite events of the year. The keynote speeches are inspiring, the sessions full of helpful advice and interesting insights, and the networking is next-level.

This year’s agenda was heavy on three topics, in particular: estate jewelry, clearly the hottest retail category of the year; synthetic diamonds, the subject of no fewer than 10 sessions on the three-day schedule; and, of course, sales, aka how to win clients and influence people.

Below, I’ve distilled 10 fun takeaways from Conclave.

1. Platinum is known as a “dead metal” because, unlike gold, it doesn’t spring back. When metalsmiths first learned how to work with it in the late 1890s, they realized that setting diamonds in platinum resulted in fewer breakages and that it was a superior metal for setting stones. (Suzanne Martinez and Starla Turner, Lang Antiques, Antique Jewelry University, “Key Elements of Diamond Ring Styles From 1900–1950”)

2. What separates a piece of estate jewelry from a rare and collectible piece of period jewelry? Design, materials, execution, and care. “The designer had to be top of their craft. The design had to be sourced with great materials. Those things had to meet up with a quality shop or a master jeweler. And the owner had to care for it properly.” (Mike McTeigue, McTeigue NY, “Estate Jewelry Forum”)

3. If you hope to preserve a piece’s collectability, do not polish it. “We just saw a magnificent piece of late-Victorian jewelry where the silver is bright and new and it’s not collectible anymore,” McTeigue said. “Same with a charming old stone: Don’t cut it.”

4. Identifying synthetic diamonds is, at its most basic, an effort to distinguish diamonds that formed over a long period of time in the earth from those that formed over short periods very recently in a lab or factory. “If we can learn to recognize the effects of long growth vs. recent growth, that’s the basis.” (James Shigley, GIA, “Identifying Synthetic Diamonds and Treated Diamonds”)

5. Buyers in the market for a synthetic diamond detection machine must do their due diligence. “If you’re thinking about putting your gemological reputation in a black box, ask the vendor a lot of questions,” Shigley advised. “How does it work? How often does it give you a false result? What maintenance is required? Ask a lot of questions.”

6. Do prospective jewelry clients want more information? No. They want insight. “Information beyond the obvious.” Selling today is not what you sell, it is how you sell. Today’s informed buyer wants informed insight: “Tell me something I don’t know. Tell me something I really need to understand.” If you can do that, it doesn’t matter if you’re charging more. (Victor Antonio, sales trainer and consultant, “Value Centric Selling: Compete on Value, Not Price”)

7. The narrative about millennials killing the diamond industry is starting to change. In fact, millennials are much more likely to buy diamond jewelry than older people. Last year, 19 percent of millennials bought diamond jewelry (vs. 12 percent of baby boomers and Gen Xers). They spent $16 billion on diamond jewelry, of which 50 percent was marriage and engagement jewelry. Another third was bought as a self-purchase. (Sarah Gorvitz, senior vice president of strategic communications and insights, Diamond Producers Association, “Focus Group Confidential: Surprising Things We Learned From Millennials”)

8. The DPA always asks women in focus groups to tell them how they’d sell diamonds to one another. “Invariably, they talk about how diamonds increase in value over time, not just monetarily, but in emotional significance,” Gorvitz says. “Rarity. Authenticity comes up in almost every group. And assigning value to how he chose it ‘for me.’ ”

9. To cultivate colored stone collectors who may not be able to play in the big (Burma ruby) leagues, advise them to start with garnets, which remain affordable. Malaya garnets, tsavorites, spessartites are still undervalued. (Dave Bindra, B & B Fine Gems, “Exotic Colored Gemstones: Creating the Collector”)

10. The ballpark price for a 14 ct. Paraiba tourmaline from Brazil? “Priceless because it’s not for sale,” Bindra says, referring to a no-heat gem he and his father “chased for years” and now resides in the Bindra family’s personal collection. But comparable stones would likely fetch at least $100,000 per ct., and maybe as much as $175,000 per ct.


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