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I can't believe how quickly the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show is coming around this year: I got back from Germany last Thursday night, where I spent a lot of quality time with my mom, and then I realized: I leave in THREE WEEKS! I changed my Tucson travel dates this year because several shows start before my big ones (i.e. AGTA and GJX shows.) The AGTA gives booths only to their own vendors, and the GJX has a long waiting list to get a spot, so gem dealers like my opal vendors and some of my spinel vendors attend some of these other shows instead.
Here then is the big question: is there really anything new this year? How’s this even possible? Well it actually is possible thanks to new finds, such as a spinel find in Vietnam last summer; with lucky buys from my vendors, and with lucky buys from yours truly, those will arrive from overseas in February.
Let’s start with, well, ME. As my friend Jochen from Jentsch Minerals was just in Madagascar, I bought some high quality grandidierite through him. This time the gems are a bit larger, but not so big that they will break the bank. On my WhatsApp the colors looked juicy and the gems sparkly, but my friend Gael is still learning to take adequate video (and admittedly he doesn’t have a state-of-the-art cell phone).
In other ways, too, my “Tucson buying” has already started, as several of my vendors have given me the opportunity to make pre-show selections. I have several boxes of Burma spinel melees on my desk already. You will see these roll out in the next three weeks. If these move well, I may stock up!
I have also negotiated to buy up an old production of Vietnamese lavender and lilac spinel pear shapes, small sizes, good for earrings, stacking rings, and I will come up with some other designs for them as well. I will be able to price those fairly reasonably. I was hoping for more lilacs and neon pinks in other sizes but right now that market is wiped clean. But, some larger purples and lavenders are an option for me. I’ve seen most of what will be presented via WhatsApp, it’s just a question of what I want to put aside...These pieces would be more expensive though, figure on several thousand for one piece since they also weigh a couple of carats, so it multiplies out in two ways (price and carat weight).
Related to this, I of course, keep getting asked about paraiba. Having scoured this market for years, this is what I know: there are about 6 decent paraiba vendors in all of Tucson. One or two are Brazilian with outrageous prices and they don’t allow you to memo gems. I don’t buy there. I wouldn’t be able to offer a return and the price would be high for that. There’s another vendor, not Brazilian, who has top (top top top) quality pieces but those are in the 30K and up range, so I haven’t ever bought those. But, they are amazing! Another vendor from the US used to have stuff but he’s fairly sold down and I’ve passed on the rest. The final two with anything but crumbly overpriced stuff are here in NY and I see their selection before it goes to Tucson. I have three pieces that I am holding back on for now, available only upon request, and for the moment at least, I have no plans to buy in Tucson directly. For me personally, and therefore for you, there’s no advantage in doing so. If you have requests, please let me know and I will source if I can. For the rest, as you know there will be a sale coming up, so you can buy the stock I still have.
Regarding the melee paraiba, there is a little bit left with my melee vendor, and I source it as needed. I would buy it up but it would tie up all my cash flow, so that’s not an option for me, but production of these ended years ago.
In other news, I am negotiating for a small production of benitoite before it hits Tucson (it sells out on the first day)! I was also shown some Vietnamese ruby and sapphire melees that I am interested in, but I haven’t made a decision yet...
I am going to stock up more on the high quality moonstone this time. The main cost there is from cutting, not lack of availability. If there are any requests, please let me know as I will be a very busy bee this year!
The other thing I will stock up on are ruby and sapphire melees in all colors and sizes. This is pretty much an all day thing, or a several day thing, as I have to match down suites. The vendor has pre sorted parcels, i.e. 5 shades of lavender rounds in the 2-2.5mm size. He will then sift out, say, 2.2mm from the shade I like best, but then I still have to match them. Sometimes I think there are as many lavender and purple shades of sapphire as there are stars (or maybe I’m seeing stars as time passes). Matching these is a job only for the obsessed. So it’s fine for me…
Let me list here what I can get, and if you want to help me, in a manner of speaking, let me know what you might like, i.e. size, shape, amount. Otherwise, I will just pick what I think is best.
Blue sapphire: shades of blue, vibrant to light to dark, 1-3mm rounds mainly but other shapes also.
Ruby and pink sapphire: same idea, from light pink to deep pink to ruby color, all pre-sorted.
Lavender sapphire: light to medium, not super dark, but nothing in 1mm. 1.8 is the smallest I’ve seen.
I can also get teal, tealish-green sapphire, and I can get other shapes: 4x3 ovals, marquis, small pears.
Anything aside from lavender is heated or a mix between heat and no heat. Lavender is usually from Madagascar and is not heated, just because at the moment, that’s the main supply line for this shade.
I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but for now this is all I can think of.
One final note. Photos: I will of course keep you posted on Instagram and Facebook, and I will put out as many listings as I can manage. What I will not do, however, is publicly post photos of gems that I haven’t bought yet or of selections at booths. I don’t usually do that anyway, but as this has become a widespread practice, here’s my two cents. Vendors don’t like it, especially for finer goods. Once a gem is “out there and been seen”, possibly with exact specs, those gems are kind of “spoiled”. And if several people show the same gems, it gives a false sense of availability.
There are also small sellers that pre-sell goods based on vendor photos at a low markup. But they can’t offer a good return policy and they run the risk of selling you something that is no longer available once you pay.
On Instagram, I’ve also even seen photos from wholesale websites (taken without permission,) sometimes shown by several different vendors, but when you ask, the gem isn’t available. I’ve witnessed a small retail jeweler doing so on his website, and I’ve even had my own photos taken and reused both on Etsy and on Instagram. I’ve even seen sellers photograph gems in vendors' boxes with the price on the front, thereby signaling that they were selling without a markup, when in reality, wholesale vendors provide (sometimes steep) discounts on that product.
As much as I love the internet as a selling platform, I find that it provides a lot of confusing information, and I don’t want to add to the confusion. Whatever I have for sale is either (a) mine, or (b) given to me on legitimate memo and just for me to sell for the duration, and (c) to the best of my ability, has not been in the hands of other vendors. Caveat on that: sometimes I decide to show a gem that I co-own, or that I know is on a friend’s website, or that I was told has been shown around. That’s ok, as long as I can make that decision. But increasingly, I have decided to forego some selling opportunities because the gem has “been around the block already,” possibly at a multitude of prices. So if vendors show me their rare goods, I usually ask them directly. That way I can give full disclosure to my own clients so that they can make the best decision for themselves.
Still jet lagged from my recent trip to Venice, I am already packing my bags again! The Las Vegas AGTA show starts Thursday the 29th and guess who will be the first at the door? 😊 We are all curious to see how this year’s show will do as there’s been some reorganization. The AGTA has moved back to its earlier location, the Las Vegas Convention center, and the JCK will be at the Sands Expo and Venetian, with a new special section dedicated to colored gems and diamonds. As a result of this split between locations, some vendors have chosen to just exhibit at the JCK instead, others exhibit at both. So, we will be shuttling back and forth, checking out what’s new at both shows.
Those of you who keep a keen eye on our shop even when things are quiet (like when yours truly is overdosing on gelato while sitting in a gondola), you will have noticed the recent quick turnover of several Mahenge spinels from old stock. We’ve seen a recent and well-deserved flare up in demand for this gorgeous gem and have done some early sourcing just this week. We will feature our treasures on our site in the few days – as quickly as we can do photos and listings.
Jaimeen from Prima gems let me rummage around the older boxes amidst their Vegas packing frenzy and I’ve unearthed a few real “gems” – no pun intended. Two of the pieces I grabbed, a round and a cushion, were actually handpicked to be featured in their JCK booth with mainly has jewelry (whereas the AGTA has mainly gems and some beads) – they were in a different tray and I asked if I could have them. I also lucked out with three small tsavorites, also old stock, from Jaimeen’s private stash. “You work with those,” he said. Too nice to go to the larger wholesalers – or some such. Many of the larger companies that Prima supplies to may not (this is my view) distinguish between the nice and the superb when they manufacture jewelry. So, if my timing is right, I can get some of the true standouts from larger parcels before they move on to the manufacturers.
My Paraiba vendor also called me just before I went off to Europe because a new batch of blue glowies had arrived from Brazil and he wanted me to have first dibs. The parcel hadn’t even been processed yet; he was still doing the basic sorting into price categories. You see, these vendors have to negotiate on larger and unsorted parcels, they make a price, buy, then do the more refined grading. Sometimes these negotiations are just over the best pieces in the parcel where those need to cover costs and most of the profits, the rest is extra. So, for instance, a parcel may contain 3 paraibas in the 3-4 carat range that might be valued at $250,000. Those can be the focus of the negotiations, and the small pieces are graded more precisely later – and it’s those smaller parcels CRD tucks into. We’ve been putting these gems out slowly over the last month but also held back some, so watch for new listings of Paraiba.
Speaking of Paraiba, I also plan to stock up on some more melees. The vendor prices have gone up for those – and they were never cheap to begin with – but they said they’d hold the price for me for a little longer, unless someone comes in and makes an offer for all of it. In any case, while that stock has been selling down slowly, they have told me and I am sure it is true: there’s no additional melee being cut, so what’s left is what there is. I am going to avoid buying 1mm sizes because those ARE already higher in price, even for me, but I can get 1.3, 1.5 or 1.6 and 1.8mm pieces as long as my purchase makes a full carat. Everyone else must buy a full carat of any size they want – this is a seller’s market after all. But I often get treated more nicely, as it were, because my purchases are relatively small but consistent. Plus, I’d never ask to memo melee and they know that, nor do I pay late. The rule for a small buyer like me is to always pay small purchases immediately and do so on a consistent enough basis that the vendors can count on this income.
What else will I buy? Well not sure. I think ruby melee and emerald melee, as well as more smaller sizes is on my list. Also, I will look to get more spinel melee in different colors (some of you have already noticed that I got a pre-Vegas shipment of the platinum color and I have another light grey to be listed). I’m not sure about the calibrated Jedi’s, the largest size I can get is 2.5 and I have that, but I will be there on the first day and the vendor will probably hold some back for me if I let them know early.
Is there anything else you are interested in? Just shoot us a note, pre orders are best but we will try to respond anytime!
And let me end with a few items that are not likely to stay in the shop after our sale because they are going back to the respective owners at the end of the show. If you are eyeing any of these, please contact us, and we will re-memo them. We always value your input as to what items are currently your faves and what you’d like to see more (or less) of, even when you aren’t necessarily buying.Continue reading
I can’t believe it’s right around the corner: the biggest and most fun gem trading event of the year, the Tucson gem shows. Both the AGTA and GJX shows open on Tuesday, February 5th and run for six consecutive days, during which we will have our 20% off gems sale. This year, the sale will be preceded by a 30% off sale of items we’d like to move out to make room. We are happy to take suggestions for what to include in our sale. Those of you who watch our inventory carefully will know which items have been with us longer. Offers on a package of several items are welcome too, just keep in mind that 30% is more than our profit margin, so there are limits to what we can offer, especially on newer items.
Also, at the end of this blog, you will find a list of consignment gems we are considering returning at the end of the Tucson show, so now’s the time to make your purchases on those. Or, if your wallet isn’t big enough, let us know if you’d really like us to keep the gem a little while longer. You’ll notice we borrowed a lot of sapphires and demantoids, as well as a few spinels.
To those of you who have filled out the Tucson survey: thank you thank you thank you. It is very helpful for us to know what’s on your mind and how we should allot our funds. If you haven’t yet filled it out, please do, it’s invaluable to us and to our survival as a small company. I wish so much that we could buy everything, but in the end we are all in the same boat. We have to choose!
Link for Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DSTPPZ7
Here’s what we’ve learned from you so far:
But we have hadonly about 40 responses so far, and the more we can get, the more we can report back to you on whether these results are representative.
Given your responses, we will keep our eyes peeled for the bluest tourmalines on the market (hopefully within a reasonable price range), and lavenders/purples will be our first priority.
In fact, the VERY first thing we plan to do is find my lavender sapphire source from Thailand. He’s the one with the melee you have been buying, pinks, blues and lavenders in the smaller sizes, as well as ruby melee and small rounds. Did you notice I listed a few more from last year by the way? They were bought in February 2018 but the bag had fallen behind my cabinet and was buried under my favorite winter slippers from last year!
I’m also hoping to score a few more Paraiba cabochons in the 2-3mm range from someone at the GJX show. And benitoites. While the latter haven’t gotten much love from my first 40 survey takers, they have been among my most searched items in the Etsy shop, together with Paraiba.
Ok folks, that’s it for now. More updates coming next week. Stay tuned to our social media channels!
https://www.etsy.com/listing/650036399/hot-pink-sapphire-unheated-sapphire-pink Continue reading
Upcoming Vegas Show: The Culture of the Gem Trade
This summer marks the 9th year of Cecile Raley Designs, and in August, I will have been on Etsy for 8 years. As many of you know, I started out with beaded necklaces, only slowly moving to more fine jewelry, but from the start, I was attracted to working with real gemstones, no glass, resin, or other materials. I almost never buy opaque stones like agates, jaspers, or turquoise. I like faceted, glossy, vibrant, eye catching beauty that you can spot from afar in a gem tray – or on someone’s neck for that matter.
Last years AGTA show in Las Vegas
I went to my first real trade show in 2009: Jeweler’s of America in New York. I love going to trade shows. Not just because I love gem shopping, I also enjoy the interactions – the gem talk – and I love studying people and behavior. The gem trade, to me, has its own unique sociology. Its culture is ancient and many families have been in the trade for generations. They size up buyers in a matter of seconds, and they trade information among one other. While they are competitors, there’s also an understanding that the trade can only survive as a whole. Competition is healthy, but the individual niches people carve out are also respected. Before, during and after the show, the traders hand out among one another and exchange the stories of the day.
In its entirety, the American gem trade is dominated by no more than a couple of hundred sellers, and most know each other. They buy and borrow from one another. So as a buyer, going behind one seller’s back isn’t a recommended strategy. Bad buying behavior, e.g. stretching out payment plans (if offered), putting too many goods aside for the day and not buying them, asking for the lowest and best price rather than waiting for an offer, trying to return goods, all those strategies get around.
Gem dealers come from all over the world, and while sellers from the same countries often have closer bonds, respect for all cultures and backgrounds is crucial to the trade. Most gems no longer come from the US or Europe, cutting is done either on location or on a large scale in Thailand and India. Mining takes place in Africa, Asia and South America. Many gem dealers travel and buy on location. They understand the customs of their buying locations, they know the languages. Dudley Blauwet speaks Hindi and several other Asian languages, my friend Jochen Hintze speaks French, English, German, Swahili, and can at least say polite things in Malgasi. Vinod Kotahwala, who buys emeralds in Colombia, is fluent in Spanish. Almost everyone knows at least a little bit of the local language of their travel locations. It is polite and it furthers business. Skin color is not a barrier, I would go so far as to say it is of no consequence to the trade. What may be more important at times is exact origin of an individual, because that informs you about the local culture. Business practices in Hong Kong are not the same as in Tanzania.
Aside from the main dealers who have booths at the big shows like AGTA, GJX, JA and JCK, there is also a vast network of smaller traders who sell out of their pockets. While you are negotiating with a gem dealer at a booth, you may spot a person with a briefcase nearby who is politely waiting their turn. That might be a seller who is walking the show floor. Some of these sellers do cold pitches, others are well known to the exhibitor. Remember that all gem sellers are also gem buyers, and the most successful gem sellers are excellent at buying. It is fun to watch those interactions sometimes, insofar as they take place in a language I can understand. Most of these sellers can be reached by phone if you know them, or know someone who does, and you can meet up in the lunchroom or outside, or after and before the show. Some have low end goods, but others are well known for extremely expensive stuff. I’m not sure that show rules allow this kind of selling – I suspect they do not – but the goods often end up back on the dealer’s table and so it really furthers business and benefits the show hosts. Many of these smaller dealers are international; they travel to the US just for the shows. Others are from the US but they are smaller and not members of the AGTA, so they will be in Vegas during the show and you can make private appointments.
There’s so much more to be said here, but blogs are supposed to be short, so let me close with one final observation: while much of the trade is about sharing information, it is also extremely secretive. Gem dealers do not give away their suppliers or the purchase prices, not even to each other. You are not supposed to ask or try to follow the trail back. Also, price negotiations are totally private. I have almost never been asked by anyone what I got from whom or for how much. And when other sellers are at the booth I politely step out of ear shot to signal that I am not going to violate the rule. I also won’t approach that seller and try to make deals unless explicitly encouraged by the exhibitor (i.e. that person is a friend of mine or the seller has goods that they have no interest in but I do).
In the end, it all comes down to mutual respect. Passing up what initially looks like a good opportunity out of respect for the people you do business with only increases your chances for good buys at good prices in the long run. I work hard to maintain my integrity in the business. Good ethics is good business too. It was hard to convince business students of this fact when I was teaching ethics, but now that I’m seeing it in the real world, I have no doubt it is true.Continue reading
Yippie – it’s gem shopping time again. In just over 2 weeks, Cecile Raley Designs departs for the JCK and AGTA shows in Las Vegas! I’m going to start the shopping by doing absolutely nothing in Mandalay bay for a couple of nights. Normally it’s pricey so I stay in the tomb (the Luxor is a pyramid and pyramids are tombs I’m afraid). But before the show starts you can still get more of a bargain price at Mandalay Bay so I’m taking advantage before going back to the tomb. Last year my assistant “complained” that we never got to use the pool. So I’m rectifying that, despite the fact that she’s not actually coming with me, lol. Karen and Debbie will be holding down the fort in Jersey City, but all items purchased in Vegas will be shipped after I get back. I had some lost packages in Tucson last spring after dropping them at the hotel for the USPS pickup, and I’m not going to risk that again.
The AGTA show officially starts Sunday (JCK starts Monday), and my gem sale will start then as well. The plan is 15% off all gems for 10 days.
I’ve placed several phone calls and emails to my supplier. As you have probably noticed, I am completely sold out of the 2-3mm demantoids, I’m down to 6 pieces of Burmese spinel, totally out of hauyne, low on 1.6mm Paraiba melee, out of smaller and larger kornerupines, and out of my nicest unheated sapphire pairs.
"Camellia" ring with 1.6mm Paraiba
The great news is that I can restock on all those in Vegas. Getting convos from you with your interests would be great. Hauyne is still pretty sold out, so I won’t be getting a ton of those, but I CAN get old stock demantoids (2mm and over 3mm), more of the old stock Burma spinel (the stock is from 15 years ago, which explains the rarity) and Kornerupine rounds, among other things. There may be a little bit more Kenyan Tsavorite as well. And sapphire rounds and pairs, mainly Ceylon, not heated – these are freshly restocked from my supplier’s most recent trip to Sri Lanka. All these items are on my list for the first day if I can manage. So you should see them trickle out in the shop Sunday evening and Monday morning. If there are any pre orders I can set them aside. You can email us your pre-orders or send them via convo. Please include your cell phone number in case we want to send you photos while we are at the show.
The hauyne seller from Germany has promised to bring me whatever he has left, so hopefully there’s a tad more inventory for me to buy. He also sells great opals, so if there is any interest in Australian opals (black, boulder), let me know. Most opals are not calibrated, which makes custom work involving them a bit more expensive, keep that in mind.
Australian Black Opal
I am planning on getting more Colombian emeralds as well. For now I have just what is listed on Etsy. I saw some amazing large ovals a couple of weeks ago and asked the seller of those to bring that parcel. Please let me know if there are any more “needs” in smaller rounds, emerald cuts or squares. But be aware that they are $800-1000 per carat, so I don’t just keep these lying around. I prefer to buy based on request.
As some of you know, I have recently connected with a colored diamond dealer who specializes in untreated materials, from melee up to larger pieces. He will be exhibiting at the JCK show. This seller also has diamond rough in yellow, blue, and pink, which I sometimes use. As well as matched pairs yellow. Again I would buy these only based on request. Prices for those are starting at $1500 a pair.
I was also promised a couple of special treats: some pink spinels from Mozambique (lighter pink), and Afghani emeralds in melee sizes.
Red beryl will be available as well, but all of it stabilized.
On a separate but related note, I have more Lily sizes coming up – that’s my most popular seller right now. The smallest takes 3.5, 3mm and 1.5mm stones with some wiggle room (.1-.2mm up or down). The largest takes 5mm, 4mm and 2mm stones, but I have an engraved version that allows me to fudge the 4mm – I can use 3 and 3.5mm in the inner petals, and I can use pears or ovals also, in the 4x3mm sizes. The medium version is coming out shortly, that one takes a 4-4.5mm center, 3-3.5mm and 2mm sidestones respectively. All will come in pendant and ring form and the medium and large will have engraved versions that allow for smaller sidestones and for leaving the outer petals “blank”. When you put ovals or pears into petals, they need to be narrower. So if there’s room for a 4mm stone, you can do a 4x3 oval or pear. And so on.
Small "lily" pendant engraved
Large "lily" ring
Large "lily" ring engraved