Cecile Raley Designs

What You Need to Know Before Buying Gems Overseas

What You Need to Know Before Buying Gems Overseas

A couple of weeks ago a new client asked me if “sellers from India have genuine natural gems at low cost”?  It was a strange question to pose to me I thought, since I am a gem seller and I am based in the US.  Was she trying to ask me about my competition?

Well, I tend to take questions at their face value and just try to answer them, and my answer to her is what forms the basis of this blog.

The short answer to the question as posed is yes.  Yes, sellers from India have natural gems for sale and yes, they are genuine gems.  Yes, they are at times low cost.  But this is not the whole story, as it is uninformative at best.  The better question to ask is if it is worth it for you to spend more money and to buy in the US.  My somewhat biased answer to that question is also yes, but I don’t mean that to be self-serving.  Why, then, would I say this?

  1. Consumer Protection Laws: the US, the EU and some other rich countries have enacted — and are able to enforce — an extensive set of consumer protection laws. These laws, first enacted in the 1960s, are exactly that.  They protect and favor the consumer, not the seller.  The assumption behind these laws is that the consumer is at an epistemic disadvantage.  She or he is not assumed to know as much about the product as the seller.  These laws obligate the seller to make full and truthful disclosure about the product, including risks (i.e. with toys and cleaning products) that the consumer may not anticipate.  If the seller is not truthful and can be proven wrong, the buyer can get refunded and the seller can get into big trouble.  Additionally, a buyer has protection with any PayPal, Etsy and Credit Card transaction, and this protection is again easier to enforce within the US (or EU).  
    India does not have the economic wealth to set up the necessary bureaucracy to enforce extensive consumer protection laws, and the US has no international jurisdiction to obligate sellers in other countries. While you can leave a bad review and a shop can be closed down if it's hosted by a marketplace like Etsy, nothing stops the company from reopening under a different name.  In the US, this can be more difficult.
  1. Laboratory Services: not all gem labs have the same standards, and some international labs in Bangkok, India and Sri Lanka even have the reputation of favoring the seller. This does not have to mean falsifying reports, it just means that information can be inflated, or it can be left undisclosed. Reliable labs are AGL and GIA in the US, Dunaigre in Switzerland, GRS in Switzerland and the US, among others.  Again, US, EU and also Swiss laws, are strict and enforceable, even if the standards are non-uniform.  Additionally, there are certain organizations such as the American Gem Trade Association, that can require additional standards. And last but not least, gem businesses in the US have to sign anti-terrorist agreements that prevent them from buying goods that support the terrorist trade, and they can be closed down and prosecuted for not abiding by these agreements.
  1. Related to that, some overseas sellers offer “certificates of authenticity” for their gems. I get asked if I provide these all the time.  I don’t because frankly, I don’t know what such a thing would be.  Buyers get a bill of sale, or a receipt (from Etsy, let’s say) and this provides them with the information about the gem: size, origin, treatment, dimensions, cost.  And they can request an independent laboratory certificate from GIA for instance.  What, in addition, does an in-house printed “certificate” do?  Nothing - anyone can print it from home.  It has neither additional value nor does it additionally protect the buyer. 

     

    Actual lab cert from GAL
  1. Quality Control (or selection of better quality gems): buying from a wholesaler, as opposed to a retailer, often implies that the buyer commits to a piece from a larger parcel, or an entire parcel, or a lower quality single gem (say for instance a gem with window or less desirable color, a sapphire with more zoning, a ruby that looks blackish). Many overseas sellers have to move more product than just a single stone here and there because they have often committed to a larger quantity of gems, and if they offer these cheaper than, for instance, US sellers, it makes no sense for them to curate and select the best specimens.  They may do so for more valuable material but they may correspondingly raise the price to more of a retail level because of the additional labor involved.  But in the latter case, they may not be underbidding the US market by that much in the end.
    What you can and often do save on is the customer service, however.  Labor is cheaper in many overseas countries and so it is easier to ask someone to match pieces for you, send extra photos and video. For us, by contrast, this is an expensive endeavor and hence we do not always provide that extra service.  Gems under $50 for instance, are not gems for which we want to spend the time to provide video.  But for a seller in Brazil, let’s say (just to pick a different country) where the minimum wage is $1.1 per hour, as opposed to $7.25 an hour in the US ($12 in NJ) and a $50 gem can be marketed with more manpower.

    Now, does this mean you should not buy internationally?   No it doesn’t.  I do as well, although I have reliable sources with whom I do a lot of business and they know my taste.  I also do not pre-pay for these goods as that is not standard in the wholesale market.  As all sales are final, I pay after inspection, not before, and I have the right of refusal if the goods are not what I expected.  As you can imagine, this requires a degree of trust, however, and can only be sustained with an ongoing relationship that involves quantity purchases.

    Secondly, if you are an informed consumer, you will be able to judge photos better, ask the right questions (i.e. is there window?), request extra photos, or a certificate from a reliable lab that you have researched.  And that’s the point at which tables can be turned – if you are a very educated buyer and you are willing to spend more money on repeat business, I think you can benefit from buying internationally.  However, for a less educated buyer who just wants a few smaller gems, I do not recommend this as the most logical option.
A recently acquired mixed color/quality parcel of tanzanite

 

Jochen and I, sorting out a parcel, on location in Antisirabe

 

Here are some newly listed (and carefully sorted and curated) gems in the shop:

 

Spinel Pears from Nigeria

 

Ombre Benitoite

 

Paraiba
Brazilian Paraiba Tourmaline
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Travel or Not? Possible Plans and Some Corona Induced Industry Challenges

Travel or Not?  Possible Plans and Some Corona Induced Industry Challenges

 

Ring Featuring Colombian Emerald from Chivor
Ring Featuring Colombian Emerald from Chivor

So this was supposed to be a blog about my upcoming trip to Colombia.  And it largely is, but there are now some obvious qualifiers.  The flight is booked, paid for, Colombia is not on any list for travel caution, but things seem to change every day. 

Pendant Featuring Colombian Emerald from Chivor
Pendant Featuring Colombian Emerald from Chivor

If I do go, I will leave on April 2nd and will be back on the 13th.  There will be a buying weekend in Bogota, then a trip to Muzo and this time hopefully Consquez, after that Chivor.  My focus will be on getting Chivor material because it was so lovely.  Feel free to let me know if you have any requests -- and if the trip plans change, you will find out asap. 

Emerald Baguette from Chivor
Piazza at Vila de Leyva
Piazza at Vila de Leyva, in Colombia

My other big trip is planned for November. For now it’s just a plan, though it has pretty exact dates.  Nothing’s booked and I will hold off for a few weeks, see what develops.

The plan is that I will fly into Hanoi, Vietnam and visit the Lục Yên district, spending a couple of days visiting the mines there.  A very small gem market is located there, which may or may not have anything for me, but I want to check it out.  Lục Yên is also supposed to be quite beautiful.  I hope to be in a small group, with Jochen, his friend Klaus, and another couple of people.   

Yên Bái Province Where Lục Yên is Located
Yên Bái Province, Where Lục Yên is Located

From Hanoi, I would fly to Bangkok for some gem shopping.  Many of my suppliers have offices there, and since some of those I only see in Tucson, it would be fun to have the opportunity to purchase there with the chance to select from a potentially even larger quantity of goods.  I’d also like to do a trip to the northern part of Thailand.  

Gem Market in Thailand
Gem Market in Thailand

 Again, we shall see.  As you can imagine, the gem industry, which relies on a lot of international exchange, has been quite disrupted by the virus.  Here are some of the direct impacts:

  1. The Hong Kong show, the second largest of the year, has been pushed down to May, and it’s unclear if it will even happen.  Many vendors who also do Vegas the first week of June have already decided to skip Hong Kong because it’s so close to the timing of the Vegas gem show and Vegas is more secure... at least for now.
  2. The Basel show has been cancelled.  Switzerland has decided to cancel all shows larger than 1000 people.  Any outbreak as a result of a show would obviously be a huge disruption of the infrastructure. 
  3. There’s some talk that the AGTA or the JCK in Vegas may even get cancelled.  Presumably there are already some people refusing to travel.  
  4. Gems by Nomads has an office in Milan, and there are shipping disruptions there.  Many of the other gem companies have offices in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and elsewhere so it’s making shipping and meeting difficult. 
  5. There’s dramatic slowdown of direct interaction between people in the far east, and friends of mine in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore are all saying the same: very little foot traffic, fewer people meeting, and fewer sales.

My living near New York could prove lucky or unlucky.  I have access to almost anything I need gem wise, but we are also in a very crowded area.  

Anyway, sorry for the somewhat somber blog but I thought I’d update you on how things are.  Stay well!

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