AGTA GemFair™ Tucson Daily Report
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mood Changer: Upbeat Opening Day at AGTA GemFair

Tucson, AZ Feb. 3, 2010-Opening day at the American Gem Trade Association GemFair signals a change in tone toward the economy and expectations for future business.  The opening of the show saw a good crowd assembled to get the first look at the newest gemstones, pearls and jewelry.

All indications point to an upswing in traffic this year as hotel blocks and shuttle bus ridership is up, reports Douglas Hucker, AGTA executive director. But it's not the body count that matters as much as the intent to buy, and Lori Watt for the gem house Mayer & Watt in Maysville, Kentucky says that the jewelers she has seen this first day are serious buyers. "Everyone has had a tough year," she says of 2009, "but the mood now is much more positive and that’s very encouraging."

There are different buyer profiles walking the show, Hucker notes. "There are the die hard regulars who wouldn't miss coming to Tucson. But, the jewelers who've had to skip a couple of years because of the bad economy are back to buy."

Hucker also has encountered more newbies on the scene. "Economic times have dictated a change in jewelers who may not have considered color to take a second look as they search for products in a range of price points that offer a good turn on margins."

Manufacturing jeweler Ronald Arends, owner of Aires Jewelers in Morris Plains, New Jersey has been coming to Tucson for 18 years. The only year he missed in his annual pilgrimage was 2009 because business had declined in a way he had not seen in all of his 47 years in the jewelry industry. "We had an excess of inventory we had to use before coming back," he says.

Arends, who describes the AGTA GemFair as a must for him because he deals only in fine quality material, sees positive signs that things are turning around. "Customers are buying nice pieces again." Yet, he remains calculated in his spending, although he admits to a soft spot for tourmalines. In fact, he says he found nice tourmaline in bright bubble gum pink colors from Akiva Gil Co.

"Tourmalines provide such a nice impact at great price points," Arends explains, noting that while diamonds are a loss leader, color provides better margins. Arends believes his in-house manufacturing ability gives his business a leg up in a fluctuating economy, and color offers great diversity.

Designing jeweler Margie Rogerson of the San Francisco-based Goldberry-who specializes in untreated emeralds, rubies and sapphires set in platinum-has been coming to Tucson for over 10 years. With strong holiday sales under her belt, Rogerson is optimistic that the jewelry business in 2010 will increase. "Usually bigger purchases like rubies, emeralds and sapphires are planned in advance. But this year, the push came during the last six weeks of 2009," she says, noting particular interest in blue and fancy sapphires.

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Not only does the AGTA GemFair draw retail jewelers from across the country, but also around the world. Designing jeweler Marc Hollmuller of Hollumller in Luzern, Switzerland has been a regular at AGTA's GemFair for more than a dozen years. He believes that his special niche in color has kept his business strong for the past two years as others have struggled through challenging economic times.
Sapphire – Glen Preus

"Coming to AGTA is a must for us because we find the best suppliers here," he says, noting that he only deals in fine gem material. “We shop the show with an eye for the amazing. When I see something that I love, I buy it,” he explains, noting that he tries to stay in budget. Of course the exchange rate is a benefit to foreign buyers like Hollmuller, yet if that would change, he says he would still continue to come to the show because of the relationships he has built with suppliers here.

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Many exhibitors report positive results for opening day sales, like Richard Barker of Barker & Co. in Scottsdale, Arizona, who attracted attention with a new find of rubellite from Nigeria. "We got our first production about eight months ago and a couple more parcels since then," he explains, describing the material as having great clarity and uniformity of color, which ranges from pink to fuchsia to red.


Rubellite – Barker & Co.
Photo courtesy of GIA, Robert Weldon

During the coming days of the show, AGTA daily reports will analyze product categories in more depth, including color gemstones, cultured pearls, gem-set jewelry trends, and new finds in tools and technology-offering a glimpse of the innovative and exciting discoveries the AGTA GemFair has to offer.