Cavalcade of Color

Jim Fiebig, owner of, believes most retailers are more comfortable selling diamonds because they’re easier to sell. “It’s been so easy for retailers to sell diamonds, simply because people come in and ask for them,” says Fiebig, the U.S. representative for Zultanite, the change-of-color diaspore, and a former retailer. “At that point, the work is done for you.”

Richard Greenwood, A.F. Greenwood Co., New York, agrees. “In truth, most people who come into the store to buy a diamond are already sold on getting a diamond,” he says. “You just have to help them choose which one.”

Jeff Bilgore, of Jeffrey Bilgore, New York, an award-winning gemstone supplier and designer, contrasts selling color to selling an expensive watch, like a Patek Philippe: “You can’t simply pick up the phone and order another 15.00 ct. matching pink spinel,” he says. “But if they want another Patek, they get a style number and order it.”

Bilgore notes that a retailer would probably make 30 to 35 percent on the watch. “But if they were to buy a $4,000 sapphire, they wouldn’t tag it for much less than keystone or 2.5,” he says.

Bilgore also likes to compare colored gemstones and diamonds. Using the Rapaport Price List, he calculates that a 5.00 ct. G/H, VS1/VS2 stone, even with a discount, would sell for well over $100,000. “So your customer can buy a 5.00 ct. diamond or a 15.00 ct. sapphire—a colored gemstone that’s three times the size of the diamond—for the same price,” Bilgore says. “By the way, a 15.00 ct. unheated sapphire is 10 times more rare than a 5.00 ct. diamond,” he adds.

He also compares the hypothetical 5.00 ct. diamond with a sapphire of the same weight: “Buy a 5.00 ct. sapphire for 20 to 30 percent of the cost of that 5.00 ct. diamond. Sell that and the store can make 50 percent of the same profit on the sale.”

Of course, these potential advantages apply only if retailers can sell 5.00 ct.—or 15.00 ct.—sapphires. Greenwood believes they can. “If you have color, you can offer your customer a complete range of price points, a complete range of color palates, and unique designs,” he says. “Think of the variety you can offer your clients and the margins you can make for yourself.”

Ron Schulman, of retail jeweler B Alsohns, Palm Desert, Calif., is also a believer. “Diamonds are diamonds,” Schulman says. “With color, you have a lot more options because it’s not run-of-the-mill. I think most stores don’t pay attention to color because they aren’t that comfortable with it. They don’t get excited about it. They don’t motivate their employees, who in turn can motivate their customers.”

Fiebig says jewelers should focus on gemstones in the middle of the price spectrum, between the very high end—emerald, ruby, and sapphire—and the low end. “This is where big sales are made, and this is where the television shopping networks have kicked the retailers’ butts,” he says. “The American jeweler is just not serving that need.”

Schulman’s store is certainly an exception to that trend. “We take the chance with different pieces, with one-of-a-kind pieces, like Spark Creations with the big tourmaline necklaces, with sugelite, or a big spessartite with pink tourmaline,” he says. “We have a rubellite necklace right now that’s spectacular.”

Schulman notes that his is a more casual, but elegant and sophisticated, market. “That’s the forte of the store, always having more unique pieces. People get excited about having something that’s different from what everyone else has.”

Training and Other Considerations

Fiebig says customers who wouldn’t blink at the price of a thousand-dollar diamond might raise eyebrows at the price of a thousand-dollar spinel, because they’re probably not familiar with it. Explaining gemstones, including their prices, requires knowledge. Following are some important keys to selling color.

Educate yourself. “What I tell jewelers is, You’ve got to get yourself a really easy, consistent way to get your staff up to speed with color,” says Douglas Hucker, chief executive officer of the American Gem Trade Association. He recommends visiting AGTA’s Add More Color to Your Life Web site ( “There’s good basic gem-oriented information there. And there’s a host of point-of-sale materials. This really is not that tough.”

Schulman says the sales staff at B Alsohns has learned to be comfortable selling color. “We’ve educated ourselves on it. We get people excited about colored gemstones. We have all of the magazines. We get designers in. We bring in new pieces to learn about the stones.”

Become the local expert. Educating yourself has other benefits. For example, you can speak to local women’s groups about colored gemstones or become a source for local journalists. That way, if your local newspaper is reporting on the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008 and wants a local angle, they’ll call you. “You benefit from your own reputation,” says Fiebig.

Have enough color in stock. “We’ve gotten used to selling a lot of color,” says Schulman. “We had a very big show with Barbara Westwood last year, and we’re a small store. We probably sold 30 to 35 pieces. Right now we probably have 15 of her pieces in stock, which is a lot for one designer.”

Be prepared to talk. The lore associated with a gem can be enticing. “With color, you have to romance it, explain a little bit about it—history, uniqueness, rarity, and the vibrancy of the color,” says Schulman. “You have to educate the customer. But once you educate them, then they’ll want to come back. They’ll want to get something else.”

Fiebig ticks off some facts about spinel that a salesperson could present to a customer: “Spinel is a completely natural colored gemstone. Very very rare, much more rare than diamond. It comes out of the same mines, quite often, as ruby and is often mistaken for ruby. The most famous ‘ruby’ in the world, the Black Prince’s Ruby, is actually a red spinel.”

Fiebig also offers this fascinating fact about tsavorite garnet: “It’s named for Tsavo Park in Kenya where they find it and where they shot Out of Africa, where Robert Redford blew off Meryl Streep.” Never underestimate the power of celebrity name dropping.

Don’t be afraid to compete against diamonds. Directly behind Schulman’s store is a Tiffany & Co. store. “And they’re selling their diamonds,” he says, but he’s unfazed. “There’s a better chance to make a profit on color than there is on diamond,” says Schulman. “Everybody knows diamond prices, because of Rapaport and the Internet. It’s not like watches and diamonds. Pearls and colored stones are blind items.” In other words, you can’t be shopped.

“We like the glitz and glamour of the unique pieces,” says Schulman. “People get dressed up, go to a nice dinner party. They don’t want to have 30 carats of diamonds. They want to have six bangles, colors that stack. They want a gorgeous strand of pearls.”

Make the fashion connection. “Our industry is a fashion industry more so now than it has ever been,” says Ramona Gautreaux, marketing manager of diamond and gemstones for Stuller, Lafayette, La. “It used to be that jewelry was something that you purchased for life—birthstone, getting married. But now, it’s all about fashion. And certainly, if there’s anything that predominates the industry, it is color.”

Gautreaux says the colors to look for this season are lavenders and lilacs, from pastels to more-vibrant hues. Yellows, oranges, and cinnamons are still popular, as are bold colors. These have already shown up on the runways and moved into consumer clothing and accessories, including jewelry.

Hucker agrees that jewelers need to understand color in terms of seasonal fashion. “Colors from the fall haven’t changed significantly, but you will need to know how those colors will be used more in a fashion sense,” he explains. “The best way to do that is to look at the accessories—belts, shoes, purses—and focus on the affordable. Buy more for a faster turn, with better margins.”

Remember that the fashion industry works about 18 months out. “You need to plan ahead, order inventory, train your sales staff, get them comfortable handling and talking about color, and get them reading magazines,” Hucker says.

“On the top end, read W magazine,” he advises. “In the mid- to bottom-end range, read Lucky. Actually, any fashion magazine that offers an accessories edition. Colored stone jewelry is being sold as an accessory.” Look for classic colors and casual colors, and also consider fabrics and textures.

The women shopping in your store will be aware of color and fashion. If your staff learns about color trends, they will not only understand what’s fashionable but also know the language to convey their knowledge.