By Brecken Branstrator
Tucson, Ariz.--As 2016 gets going and the colored gemstone industry takes over Tucson, it’s a good time to examine what trends shaped the gem market last year and what will affect it in the year ahead.

On Thursday morning, Richard Drucker of GemWorld International gave a market update at AGTA GemFair, outlining what he found when he recently surveyed AGTA member gemstone dealers on supply, demand and pricing trends as well as what stones sold best for them in 2015.

Highlights from his seminar are as follows.

1. The two-tier market. Colored gemstones are operating in a two-tiered market right now. The high end is doing well and there is a lot of demand for fine gems. At the same time, demand for rare and beautiful gems peaked in 2015, especially when it comes to the market for non-heated sapphires and rubies, as well as Paraiba tourmaline.

Drucker said in the lower price points, the “bread-and-butter” material are the gems weighing between 1 and 2 carats, but possibly up to 5 carats if price points are met. The middle tier, he said, “is dead.”

2. New buying habits. Consumer purchasing habits are changing, and shoppers today are looking for lab reports for gems more than ever before, he said. Customers also are asking for specific colors instead of specific stones, perhaps substituting popular, more expensive gems with affordable-yet- comparable stones, and are showing more concern about possible treatments.

3. Retailer gem knowledge. According to the survey Drucker did of gem dealers, many expressed concern over retailers not understanding color as well as they should. “There is so much opportunity to educate consumers in colors, but retailers need to be educated first,” he said.

4. Best-sellers. Here is what gem dealers reported as their best-selling stones: sapphire (blue is number one, with the other shades a distant second), rubies, fine emeralds, tanzanite, aquamarine, tourmaline, garnets, spinel and morganite.

5. Trending stones. Lately, there’s been a return to the classics--sapphires, emeralds and rubies--while rare and unusual stones still are selling because of their uniqueness and the design opportunities they provide. Rough crystals and minerals also are on-trend.

Alexandrite at the high end also is doing well, where prices for a 1-carat stone can go as high as $16,000 per carat. “Our caution here is what’s happening with nomenclature,” Drucker said, noting that there has been an increase in the number of stones being marketed as alexandrite that don’t exhibit the classic color change.

6. Problems with lab reports. While everyone seems to understand and agree upon the value of a lab report, one issue gemstone dealers mentioned in Drucker’s survey is the inconsistency when it comes to the nomenclature used for gem varieties. For example, is Paraiba an origin or a “look?” What color exactly constitutes a padparadscha sapphire?

“There is absolutely no consistency,” Drucker said.

Color nomenclature is another issue that arose with the dealers who were surveyed. Demand for naming colors to describe gemstones started overseas, Drucker said, and is strongest there. The concern expressed by AGTA dealers is that, like nomenclature, labs all have their own standards for what makes a stone “pigeon’s blood” red, for example, or “cornflower blue.” This creates confusion on multiple levels.

“If we’re confused, where does that leave the consumer?” Drucker asked.

7. Future predictions. Drucker said there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead, especially as global markets remain in flux and as the United States faces an election year, raising the question, will consumers shy away from gems or will they move toward tangible assets?

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