By Olivia Quiniquini
Changes in consumer profiles and expectations are having a profound impact on the coloured gemstone sector. Catering to these new requirements entails industry collaboration and compliance on issues of transparency and sustainability, according to Clement Sabbagh, president of the International Colored Gemstone Association.
The rise of the millennial consumer along with growing market clamour for supply chain transparency, sustainability and social responsibility are among the issues reshaping the coloured gemstone landscape, according to Clement Sabbagh, the new president of the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA).
The director of Brazilian coloured gemstone specialist Ben Sabbagh Bros officially started his two-year term at the helm of ICA at the association’s Annual Congress in Jaipur, India last November. In an interview with JNA, he disclosed the pressing issues facing the coloured gemstone sector and presented his outlook on the industry.
Aside from promoting demand for coloured gemstones, one of Sabbagh’s top priorities at ICA is helping the industry adjust to new market behaviours. Consumers traditionally purchased products directly from jewellers and specialty houses. The age of the Internet has however ushered in a new type of consumer, one armed with more information about the market and with broader access to offers, Sabbagh noted.
“Millennials place great emphasis on the credibility of their purchases and expect full disclosure on the products they buy. The industry should therefore provide the information consumers need to bolster their confidence in their purchases. This warrants the formulation of a uniform language and standard terminology among manufacturers, laboratories, the academe and educational institutions about the industry and its products,” he explained.
Provenance also increasingly influences purchase decisions of consumers nowadays. To millennials, a gemstone’s origin not only connotes its quality and value but also tells the tale of its unique journey from mine to market, Sabbagh pointed out. This serves to once again reassure consumers of the validity of their purchase, he added. Providing this information however comes with its own set of challenges as the coloured gemstone sector is highly fragmented. “So many different species of gems with a multitude of colours are produced in 47 different countries. Over 50 percent of this production comes from artisanal and small-scale miners (ASMs). Gemstones from ASM-operated deposits take multiple paths before reaching the dealers, let alone the consumers, making it difficult to determine exact provenance in some cases,” he remarked.
With consumers and the big luxury brands also demanding more transparency, accountability and sustainability from their suppliers, the ICA, as the legitimate representative of the international gemstone community, and all players in the supply chain should unite and cooperate to bring about the desired results of compliance and ethical practices, Sabbagh added.
"Millennials place great emphasis on the credibility of their purchases and expect full disclosure on the products they buy. The industry should therefore provide the information consumers need to bolster their confidence in their purchases."
Looking ahead, Sabbagh is upbeat on business prospects for coloured gemstones this year, noting that sales in all markets have been on the rise since the third quarter of 2017.
China is once again showing signs of activity, following a significant reduction in purchases in the last four years. Smaller stones are moving well among buyers from the mainland, the ICA official noted. Demand is robust for large, no-oil emeralds and top-quality unheated rubies with the proper certificates. Tanzanite, which has been popular in China the last two years, is also projected to continue its stellar run.
The US is likewise showing much promise, according to Sabbagh. “The US market, with its new economic dynamics, has regained its appetite for all types of stones. It is also more accommodating of colours such as purple and yellow, which do not move that well in other markets,” he said.
Over in Europe, buyers are increasing their intake of tourmalines. Paraiba tourmaline is particularly favoured, with the market willing to pay a substantial premium for stones from Paraiba, Brazil.
In terms of colours, green stones have been in favour, with demand for emeralds skyrocketing and peridot and demantoid garnets rebounding strongly. Blues remain perennial favourites with Paraiba tourmaline and top-colour sapphires leading the charge. Red and pink spinels as well as rubies are moving well too. “With Pantone’s recent announcement of Ultra Violet as the Colour of 2018, we expect a strong increase in demand for purple gemstones in all denominations,” Sabbagh added.