Friday, May 22, 2015

My Upcoming Las Vegas Show

Given how successful – and fun – the Tucson show was for me, I have decided to tackle the next largest U.S. gem show, the upcoming JCK and AGTA show in Las Vegas.  I’ll be there 5/27-6/2 while my dad is holding down the fort here in NJ (he’s visiting for a couple of months, and in between baking apple cakes and cheesecakes, he is enjoying learning about the jewelry and gemstone business).

The JCK show in Vegas is wholesale only and there’s a bit of a registration process, but in the end it wasn’t hard to get in since my business has grown quite a bit.  The show takes place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and is known for its opulent jewelry – I’ll try to take some photos but many sellers are very protective of their stuff.  Some jewelers consider this show to be the main jewelry event of the year.  The AGTA (American Gem Traders Association) piggybacks with its own show in the same place. 

The JCK show has hundreds of participants, and I already checked for some of my favorite dealers that are not in NY, many of which will be there. 

Here’s the show website:

And here’s the link for the AGTA Gem Fair, which starts a day earlier: 

Vegas Strip

Gem dealers take a long time to prepapre for these types of shows.  Dealers who don’t have show rooms or websites collect their best gems for months and display them only at these shows.  They hope to make revenue in the hundreds of thousands, since they may only do a dozen shows a year, which are intended to generate their main income.  Markups are low in this industry, but turnover and volume has to be high to justify this.  The gem trade is a very competitive business with many well kept secrets.  Who buys where and who trades with whom is something few gem dealers share.
My main goal at the show is to score some new sapphire material from Dudley B.  He is the one from whom I get all the well cut Ceylon material (no heat).  He also had some cobalt spinels, I got the demantoids from him, and a few of the Luc Yen pieces.  I am happy to take suggestions for what else I should look for.  My Mahenge and Mint Garnet source is in NY, so I won’t be going to Vegas for anything specific in that regard.

If you want me to buy something at the show, there are some things you should know.
1. For me, gem purchases have no returns (this explains why I offer you such a short return period). I can sometimes memo material but not all suppliers allow this (I can’t memo at a show).  Memo deals require a well developed relationship between buyer and seller. Terms are strict and usually short unless you are specifically borrowing to sell on someone’s behalf.

2. Desirable material moves quickly and I don’t like to aggravate the sellers I work with, so I don’t haggle or argue.  I take what I need and check out, or I browse for a day or two, then buy.  I take some photos but only for serious buyers because I run around a lot in a short period of time.  I get great prices because I am a low maintenance shopper, so I have no reason to push for further discounts.  In turn, almost none of my buyers argue with me over prices, for which I am eternally grateful.

3. Gem shopping is time consuming.  It is fun, lots of fun, but can be overwhelming too.  If you want to help me find you the right thing, tell me exactly what you want, what your budget is (a range is ok).  Cut, color, size, acceptable treatment, sample photos.  The earlier the better so I can make a list, and/or tell you if you are looking for unicorns – I am a good unicorn search predictor at this point. 

4. Most importantly, as you probably already know, the gem trade involves a great deal of trust.  My suppliers trust me to pay, pay on time, trust me not to haggle (because they usually make me their lowest offer anyway and haggling at that point is offensive), and they trust me to know my stuff or ask when I don’t.  Many of the best deals are made without any paperwork (or with paperwork coming later on).  The sellers themselves usually trade before the show and pay after the show with the money they made.  I’m not in that category because I don’t exhibit at these shows, I am considered a small buyer but a safe one.  I do have a reputation in the industry, and one I am proud of.  So I make sure not to disappoint.

By the same token, when I sell to you, I need to you be honest, direct, when I buy for you at a show you need to be quick, and when you can’t afford it, let it go.   You can’t have gems for lunch anyway and it is often hard to recover ones expense if one is in financial trouble (the longer you can wait to sell a gem the more likely it is that you can make money).  I rarely buy for myself and I pull myself together not to push you.  In fact, I am often concerned that a trigger happy buyer gets himself or herself into financial trouble, which can backfire for them and for me.  Since there are no returns for me, a return of a large purchase made on your behalf can be a setback for me and prevent me from purchasing again.  I will bend over backwards to get you the best for your money, but understand that I have to live off this trade.  :)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Tourmaline: Heated or Unheated?

It has been a while since I blogged about a particular type of gemstone, but having heard some new and interesting things about tourmaline, I thought I’d share.

As many of you have noted, a lot of gemstone prices have risen sharply in the last couple of years.  But tourmaline?  Isn’t that a common gem?  Yes, it is, but world demand for this gem has gone up, especially the bright pink variety called “rubellite,” which is very popular in China.  But green tourmaline is also popular, and prices have risen correspondingly.  For green tourmaline, I would say roughly speaking, prices have doubled in the past couple of years, and for rubellite, prices have tripled.  The indicolite variety, especially brighter colors, has nearly vanished from the market.  And brighter, less sooty green and blue-green gems, demand a premium.  Anything that is bright green – even a tiny bit neon – is super expensive. 

What about tourmaline treatments?  As most of you know, most of the rubellite variety is heated to intensify color by brightening the gem.  But the green variety is heated also.  Heat treatment cannot be done at home, it requires special equipment (a ceramic oven) and it takes a few days.  The heat is kept low, about 500-700F, and it has to be steadily increased over hours or days, with a longer cool down period at the end.  For this reason, labs have a hard time telling if a tourmaline is heated or not. High heat treatment in gems leaves traces in the crystal structure, low heat does not.  Most labs, including GIA, will not certify tourmaline as unheated, so unless you know where your gem is coming from or you own the rough, you should assume that the gem is heat treated.  Guesses can be made but that is all they are (the same is true of aquamarine, the more greenish variety is less often heated than the more intense blue but labs are unlikely to provide a certificate for an unheated aqua).  One way you can guess, by the way, is by looking at how clean the gem is.  Gem dealers who routinely heat tourmalines told me that if the gem is not squeaky clean, it can break or at least fracture during the heating process, and then it becomes worthless.  So gems with inclusions are much less likely to have been heated.

Results of heating a tourmaline vary.  I found a neat entry on PriceScope where you can see photos of the change of a pink tourmalines:

For greens, I can provide some photos below.  Below is a batch of green tourmaline from an undisclosed mine “somewhere in Africa.”  Next to it photos of some gems from the same batch after heating.  As you can tell from the photos, the gems got brighter but their color also changed.  The hues of blue are all but gone and the gems take on a grassier and warmer color.  They are also brighter.

Left: Unheated Tourmaline; Right: Heated Tourmaline

 Here's how the rough looked before cutting: