The title above sums up the mantra this columnist has been repeating while trying to plan for what was once thought impossible: a worldwide pandemic, resulting in mandated quarantine measures for an undetermined stretch of time.
This year’s Tucson gem shows feel so far away. Back in February, the joyous mood, the bursting energy, and the ‘buying fever’ helped us hold our heads high and believe this mysterious sickness was too far away to touch any of us. Before we knew it, however, it crept on us and put the entire world on hold, arguably for the first time in modern history.
One thing is certain: the world of coloured gemstones has changed. Years down the line, COVID-19 might very well act as a dividing line: the market pre- and post-pandemic.
But how, exactly, has it changed? How will COVID-19 impact the coloured gemstone industry? And, most pressing, will it ever revert back to its pre-pandemic state?
Assessing the possible outcomes
As with most areas of the jewellery industry, the coloured stone trade could go in many possible directions at this time.
To begin, let’s look at the market at the time of writing this article (mid-August):
- Globally, mines are either closed down, not operating to full capacity, or have re-opened, but are not permitted to sell rough to foreign trade partners. Both the importation and exportation of goods are more difficult for certain countries, as many have closed their borders or have a forced quarantine for all parcels. Wholesalers, as they see the exportation of gemstones slow or come to a complete stop, have been forced to rely on already acquired/existing stock, which creates longer wait times for special orders. It also means getting smaller quantities will be more difficult.
These factors will have a significant impact on gemstone prices for the rest of the year (we’re already seeing this) and perhaps into 2021. Indeed, much like silver and gold, the price of gemstones has increased.
Further, because acquiring gems will become more difficult (especially due to the rumoured cancellation of some of next year’s gem shows, including Tucson 2021), these prices will likely continue to rise as stocks deplete. Call it ‘the butterfly effect’—this is happening in many sectors of the trade.
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After all, countries like Madagascar, Myanmar, and Sri-Lanka—all of which are known for their gemstone riches—have suspended all flights and closed down borders. (For more, click here and here.) Amongst others, these nations supply sapphire, ruby, aquamarine, chrysoberyl, spinel, and garnets to the trade.
Meanwhile, countries like Tanzania, Zambia, and Columbia did not close their borders, but have chosen to restrict access and exports. These nations are known for producing many impressive gemstones, including emeralds, Tanzanites, and garnets.
Adapt like a tourmaline
Humans have some great qualities—one of which is our ability to roll with the punches.
Indeed, we’re good at adapting to most any situation, be it good or bad, hot or cold. We can eat almost anything and stay in relatively good health. We can heal from wounds. We can find and transform rough gems into beautifully cut, precious gemstones and use these to create timeless, elegant jewellery.
When the pandemic hit, we had to adapt. To be permitted to re-open our businesses—our life’s work—we had no choice but to go with the flow and become part of the solution.
Plenty of industry professionals (jewellers and wholesalers alike) opted to ‘go virtual.’ The online world is a simple environment, but also harsh, and not one that everyone adopted into their initial marketing plans. But, amidst COVID-19, the web has served as the perfect platform to thrive, and will continue to be as such after the pandemic, ultimately, comes to an end.
We have to be able to reinvent our way of thinking. The same goes for the world of coloured gemstones: as traditional inventories dwindle, this is the perfect opportunity to offer something different; perhaps something local or simply outside-the-box. The ability to offer gemstones that differentiate you from competitors—whether online or at a brick-and-mortar store—is invaluable. There will always be a need for gemstones; we just have to be that need.
We are all in the same troubled sea, but our ability to adjust and our open-mindedness will determine whether we face the storm in a yacht or in an old raft. (In the end, regardless of your location, we’re all, more or less, in the same boat. This is why now, more than ever, buying local or recycled goods will help your economy and, indirectly, you.)
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The coloured gemstone business is in a delicate place at the moment.
On one side, the world of luxury jewellery is going quite well: people are eager to spend the money they’ve saved during quarantine and, while discretionary spending is historically divided across several different categories, global travel restrictions have closed the door on flights and cruises. Thus, high-end jewellery remains as one of the few luxury areas where people are spending. Coloured gemstones have gained popularity and demand has been high.
Of course, on the other side, the middle class has faced tough times. Specifically, independent, family-run businesses have been among the industry’s hardest hit throughout the pandemic. Some were fortunate to have a well-established online presence or loyal clientele, while others (particularly those located in shopping centres), weren’t so lucky.
In times like these, it is important to revisit what we stand for and what we want people to see when shopping for the perfect present. The pandemic presented to us the opportunity to look for better options in gemstones and metals, as well as packaging and the way we do business. It’s a great opportunity to make better choices for the environment and for your customers, as well as good marketing. Indeed, managing and achieving a better working environment starts by working together to create something better.
Reflect like a diamond
Adapting also means finding the good in every situation—which means it’s time for locals to shine!
I recently spoke to Vincent Octeau, the owner and proprietor of Octeau Joaillier et Horloger, an independent jewellery store Sainte-Julie, Qué. Québec being the province hit hardest by COVID-19, Octeau is among the lucky ones for which the crisis brought in eager clients, looking to spend on jewellery as gifts instead of travelling.
Octeau, who obtained his diploma at the École des Métiers du Sud-Ouest de Montréal, began his career alongside a master jeweller for a year before taking the reins at his store more than 13 years ago. Today, he specializes in custom pieces and small collections, but also offers repairs and evaluations.
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When asked what happened when COVID-19 knocked on his door, Octeau said he had to close the shop completely from March 13 to May 26, as per provincial guidelines. While closed, a few customer orders were placed through his store’s website and social networks, such as Facebook. Adapting was not easy, but he made it work.
Evidently, when it came time to re-open his brick-and-mortar store, operations, including the number of staff members and customers in the shop at one time, had to be altered to conform to new provincial standards. Nonetheless, Octeau’s customers returned—in droves!
“We had to close on Tuesdays, along with our usual Sundays and Mondays, just to be able to work on our orders,” he says. “Adding to that, I decided to close every day at 5 p.m. to be able to work from 8 until 10 a.m., and then during the evenings from 5 to 9 p.m. in the workshop without being disturbed!”
“I don’t really know what the future holds, what with the gold prices going the way they are, but I hope the clients will keep choosing jewellery with their hearts.”
Taking care of tomorrow
Preparing for the future also means taking care of ourselves and our customers right now. These days, it feels as though the ‘new normal’ is for us to adapt to any and all situations, while continuing to do our best to ensure we’re providing our clients with great service and a safe, comfortable space (whether in-store or online).
Whatever the future holds, jewellers will always have the power to transform emotions and memories into precious jewels—we simply have to assess, adapt, and shine.
Lauriane Lognay is a fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (FGA), and has won several awards. She is a gemstone dealer working with jewellers to help them decide on the best stones for their designs. Lognay is the owner of Rippana Inc., a Montréal-based company working internationally in coloured gemstone, lapidary, and jewellery services. She can be reached via email at [email protected].