GIA Symposium Brings Issues Home

The Gemological Institute of America celebrated its 80th anniversary in style with its Fifth International Gemological Symposium May 29–30 at the GIA campus in Carlsbad, Calif.

The event, which had never been held at GIA’s home base, seemed significantly scaled down from past symposiums; still, it was well received, drawing some 700 attendees from 35-plus countries and covering everything from gemological discoveries to business issues such as sustainability and social networking. “It surpassed all expectations,” GIA president Donna Baker told JCK. “We are absolutely thrilled with how it turned out. It was a lot of fun bringing people to the GIA campus; it felt like we were bringing people into our home.” Among the highlights:

• Keynote speaker Steve Forbes said that rather than the “new normal,” we are living through “the new abnormal”: “We are experiencing a throwback to the turmoil of the 1970s and, to a lesser extent, the 1930s,” he said, adding that the economy is currently going through “the slowest recovery from a severe downturn in history.” The magazine publisher and former presidential candidate said he thinks the dollar will eventually be linked to gold, though it won’t be the “traditional gold standard.”

Rick Harrison, star of the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, recounted his path to stardom. Harrison said after his shop was featured on a PBS documentary, “it was really good for business, and I decided I needed to be on TV more.” Eventually, he set his sights on a reality show. But the process took years: “If you think the jewelry business is bad, wait till you get into the entertainment business.”

Finally, he landed a deal with HBO, but locked horns with execs over an approach, and ended up waiting out his contract for two years. Once he won a slot on the History Channel, his show became its top-rated series. Today, Pawn Stars helps attract 4,000 people a day to his store. He likened it to a prime-time game show: “The first round is: Is it real? The second round is: What is it worth?”

Ken Royal, senior client service manager for pollster Gallup, shocked his audience by revealing that jewelers ranked near the bottom when Americans were asked “What professions do you trust?” Only 20 percent of those surveyed said jewelers. That’s about the same number that said they trusted lawyers and members of Congress. (Lobbyists and used-car dealers ranked last.) Royal said when asked about the most important factor in buying jewelry, 40 percent cited quality, 30 percent said the level of trust in the salesperson, and 14 percent favored the beauty of the item. Only 9 percent were most interested in price.

NYU professor Scott Galloway

• The industry didn’t fare well in Digital IQ scores formulated by New York University business professor Scott Galloway and his think tank, L2. “The fashion industry is pulling away from the ­jewelry and watch industry,” he warned, explaining that ­jewelry has fallen behind in the digital realm because the industry is run by “old white men.” He continued: “That isn’t the Internet ­generation. That is the generation that is hoping the Internet goes away.” Among the top ­jewelry brands on the Web in his opinion: Tiffany. “Their site does a pretty good job threading the needle: They bring the brand to life, but you are there to buy.” Galloway advised ­jewelers who want to get more digitally savvy to “find brands you respect and mimic them as much as possible. You need to have a culture that encourages risk-taking.”

• At a discussion on sustainability, panelists declared that growing public interest in environmental and human rights issues will force the industry to raise its standards.

“There is a wave of consumer awareness coming, and you will want to ride that wave,” said Martin Rapaport, chairman of Rapaport Corp. “This is an opportunity to differentiate your products. ­Jewelers should step to the plate and say: ‘I am your defense.’” Added Susan Jacques, president of Omaha, Neb.–based retailer Borsheim’s: “If we as an industry don’t do the right thing, they will choose other luxury items.”