GemNotes

Al Frankl’s Crusade For Colored Gemstones

Al Frankl is adamant: good gem cutting is instantly recognizable and highly salable, especially for the independent jeweler.

Whenever possible, the master gemcutter and retailer from

Allentown, Pa., is out and about preaching his credo. “The way most independent jewelry stores are configured today [in terms of colored gemstone inventory], they are headed for disaster,” he says. “They must change.”

He says department stores, discount houses and shopping networks can’t provide a “unique” product because they deal in mass selling. For this reason, he says, independent jewelers can distinguish themselves from the mass market with well-cut, unique colored gems. “Today’s discerning buyers want beautiful jewelry and one-of-a-kind gemstones,” he says. “They crave jewelry that says something about the individual wearing it.”

But jewelers shouldn’t wait until a customer asks for a yellow garnet or blue-green apatite before stocking a range of colored gems. “Never underestimate your buying public,” he says. “TV shopping did do us all a great service by educating the public about the great variety of colored gemstones.”

Now it’s up to retailers to excite customers with new, well-cut colored gems, he says. Here are some of his tips.

Watch the TV shopping networks. You won’t match their volume, but you’ll see what colored gems are becoming popular. Take advantage by acquiring and marketing higher-end, better-cut samples of the same gems.

Open your mind about color. Conventional thinking that there is a “best” color for a gemstone is limiting. Instead, for example, train yourself to think of the entire color range of amethyst, from pale rose de France to intense purple. There is no such thing as “top color” because, if properly cut, the pale hues (assuming the material is relatively inclusion-free) will sell just as readily. Everything depends on the salesperson’s ability and on the customer’s preference.

Proper cutting. Even if a customer knows nothing about cut, he or she will recognize the return of light and color, proportion, balance and finish at a glance. When you buy gemstones, make sure the facet joints are crisp and straight and meet at sharp points or edges. Examine the polish and the symmetry. Check to see if the gem has a polished girdle, an optional detail that adds beauty and refraction.

Go beyond emerald, ruby and sapphire. Almost all gemstones have a range of colors and intensities: light to dark citrine, peridot in all intensities, tourmaline and garnets in many colors. Myriad other colored gems you hardly ever think of may be just what strikes your customer’s fancy. Check out asteriated gemstones such as star spinel or dichroic gems such as andalusite. Color-change or collector gems are often quite affordable.

Work together. Cutters, designers and jewelers benefit when they work together. Cutters need to know the limitations of jewelry design and execution. Jewelers need to know how to best represent a gemstone.

Synthetics. Frankl doesn’t believe synthetic stones belong in an independent jewelry store. Because they can be mass-produced, he says they belong in department stores and on home shopping programs. For customers on a budget, independent jewelers instead can offer inexpensive but still well-cut natural gems.

Nordstrom Deal ‘Just the Beginning’

Anew strategic alliance could lead to Lazare Kaplan International diamond boutiques in Nordstrom department stores.

“We traditionally work through better retail jewelers,” says LKI Vice Chairman Leon Tempelsman. “But we’re also looking more and more at upper-end department stores that can sell our products without compromising our quality.”

The New York City-based diamond manufacturer has a strategic plan to parlay its branded Ideal Cuts, large inventory and sophisticated distribution system into a department store center. “We have the entire package department stores require – image, product, service, inventory and distribution,” says Chairman Maurice Tempelsman. “So for all practical intents and purposes, we could become the diamond departments for these retail institutions. This is where we are heading.”

LKI signed a deal with Nordstrom this summer and is advertising collections in three magazines. A bridal collection is advertised in Martha Stewart Living Weddings, a twice-yearly supplement to Martha Stewart Living magazine; a fashion collection is promoted in Vogue; and what LKI calls a “classic but unique” collection is advertised in Holiday.

The collections are featured in about 25 Nordstrom stores around the U.S., says Bob Speisman, LKI’s vice president of sales. Nordstrom had carried LKI Ideal Cuts and jewelry before, but only in a few stores.

The company also has struck a deal with Seiko in Japan, where the watch manufacturer owns or operates several retail stores. LKI introduced a special diamond bridal line in the spring and plans to expand this into a full line of designer jewelry by this fall, says Maurice Tempelsman. “The Japanese economy is improving,” he says. “In addition, the shortening of distribution levels in Japan makes us very price-competitive.”

Angola Diamonds In The Crossfire De Beers Moves Closer To Angolan Regime

More than any other African nation, Angola has the most potential to become a world-class diamond producer. Accordingly, De Beers is pushing for closer cooperation with the country’s existing government.

Angola’s national diamond company, Endiama, and De Beers recently signed an agreement to develop a 12-story building in the Angolan capital of Luanda. The facility will be on land leased from Endiama next to the company’s offices in Luanda’s central business district. The building will be owned by De Beers, though Endiama will own three floors itself.

The building will incorporate the latest technology required for the efficient and secure sorting and valuing of Angolan diamonds.

The building also will house facilities to train Angolans in the key skills of sorting and valuing rough diamonds. De Beers has built similar facilities in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

The building will cost about $30 million to develop and equip using local building contractors.

“Endiama definitely needs its own facilities to carry out the sorting and valuing of diamonds produced in Angola,” says Jose Dias, chairman of Endiama. “The construction of this building allied to the training of Endiama personnel is a decisive step toward the achievement of this objective.”

De Beers is pleased with the arrangement. “I am delighted that we have been able to agree on this important investment in Angola,” says George Burne, the De Beers director responsible for Angola. “We also look forward to the commencement of training for Angolans in the essential diamond skills necessary to staff the building. We believe this further underlines De Beers’ commitment to investing in Angola.”

Endiama and De Beers previously signed agreements covering the prospecting for new diamond deposits in three areas of Angola, the marketing of the diamonds produced from the Cuango river drainage basin and the establishment of an office in Angola to buy diamonds available outside the formal production circuit.

Angola Parties Continue War Over Diamonds

The latest Angolan peace process, only several months old, seems in danger of unraveling, and once again diamonds are a central issue.

The creation of a government of national unity on April 1 led to optimism that the 19-year civil war would soon be over, but the situation has deteriorated. In recent weeks, there has been serious fighting between the Angolan army and UNITA rebels in the northeast province of Lunda Norte and skirmishes in the central provinces of Benguela, Huila and Bie.

Western sources attribute the renewed conflict to the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), which disturbed the uneasy peace Angola has been living with since 1994. Mobutu was a long-time ally of UNITA, allowing the movement to use his country as a supply route, in return for a cut of UNITA’s lucrative diamond trade.

“Once Mobutu fell, hard-liners in the Angolan army felt it was time to deal with UNITA once and for all,” a senior United Nations official told the London-based Financial Times. The official pointed out the Angolan army began its advance into UNITA’s diamond-mining areas in Lunda Norte province the day after new ruler Laurent Kabila marched into the Congolese capital of Kinshasa.

The United Nations and western diplomats are pressing hard for a meeting between UNITA’s leader, Jonas Savimbi, and the Angola’s president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos. “They may be able to strike a deal on dividing Angola’s diamond revenue, and that would take much of the heat out of the situation,” said the UN official.

But there is no real indication either side is prepared to be flexible about diamonds. A proposal giving a UNITA front company, SGM, limited but guaranteed revenue from diamonds has been on the table for months.

All say that agreement on the distribution of Angola’s diamond reserves is the key to peace. UNITA overran most of the diamond-mining areas in 1992 and 1993, but the government is determined to bring them back under state control.