AGTA Lab New Resource

Gemstones & Pearls:News

AGTA Lab New Resource

Retailers look to lab to help build business

The American Gem Trade Association is promoting its new gemological testing center in New York City as a prime resource for building consumer confidence in color.

Such jewelers as Ben Bridge in Seattle, Wash., and Tiffany & Co. in New York City plan to take full advantage of the gemological services AGTA has to offer. "There is a tremendous opportunity in color for the retailer," says Scott Sedlacek, vice president of merchandising for Ben Bridge. "We believe our investment in certifying gems will come back to us through increased business. We intend to sell a substantial amount of our inventory with AGTA certificates. "

Tiffany also pledged a significant amount of business in colored stone certificates for its important gem-set jewelry, as well as a grant for $150,000 to develop the lab. "For a number of years, we have been working with industry experts on the complex issues surrounding colored gemstones. We believe the creation of a laboratory devoted to colored gemstones is an important step in the industry that will be well-received by the consumer," says Tiffany President Michael J. Kowalski.

Five Certificates
The AGTA lab offers five types of gem certificates. Four provide details specific to sapphire, ruby, emerald and pearl. The fifth cert gives generic information about all color. Reports include an image of the stone and security hologram. AGTA charges $85 per stone for reports.

"There are so many issues for retailers and consumers concerning nomenclature, treatments and origin – especially for ruby, emerald, sapphire and pearl – that we thought it would be more effective to offer five different reports," says Ken Scarratt, lab director. "For the generic report, we can fill in any specific data about a particular gem that is not covered in the general information printed."

AGTA's color-coded gem reports are designed to provide consumer-friendly, yet scientifically accurate information.

"It's a great sales tool," says Sedlacek. "Consumers want a certificate for their colored stones. They've been trained by the diamond industry to ask for one. It's easier to sell larger, finer gems with a cert. It helps build consumer confidence and sets us apart from the competition."

Enhancement ID
AGTA will identify all gem enhancements and, for ruby and emerald in particular, determine the extent of enhancement used, says Scarratt. The reports will explain how and why the gems were treated in easy-to-understand language.

"Issues surrounding gem enhancements are at an all-time high," says Sedlacek. "We want to pass enhancement information along to our customers that is backed by an industry leader in disclosure."

Large Parcels
The AGTA lab is equipped to offer batch testing of quartz (particularly amethyst and citrine) to distinguish synthetic material from natural in large parcels, a service not offered by many labs in the world. "The synthetic quartz we're seeing on the market now more closely resembles its natural counterpart," says Eric Braunwart, president of Columbia Gem House in Vancouver, WA. "It never used to be twinned (crystals growing in plates) like natural; now it is."

Ben Bridge, a 58-store chain, plans to require any manufacturer that wants its business to batch-test all quartz. "AGTA has the ability to perform this service quickly and cost-effectively," says Sedlacek. At press time, Scarratt was not prepared to release a price structure for batch testing, but noted that fees would be minimal.

Country of Origin
AGTA will state a gem's country of origin on reports – important when it comes to better-quality stones. Initially, the lab will offer this service only for rubies and sapphires, followed by emeralds. Jewelers say country-of-origin information helps sales associates romance a gemstone.

Staying on Top
AGTA intends to conduct a significant amount of research to see what's on the market, says Scarratt. "We're buying various samples of material to test in an effort to stay on top of important issues in color."

To ensure the lab best represents the interests and concerns of all levels of the trade, AGTA established a large board of directors, including wholesalers, retailers, scientists and consumer advocates. "AGTA is trying to be more proactive in its stance to improve the colored stone business," says Doug Hucker, executive director. "The lab was a natural step for our association. We're focusing more on our customers; that's the direction for AGTA into the next century."

Braunwart, AGTA's membership chairman, says the group is looking to increase its retail affiliate members. "We're not doing this for a bigger security blanket. We want to find ways to help involve our customers. We are trying to gear many of our services to help jewelers sell more color. We want to encourage a network rather than remain isolated in opposing camps."

At press time, AGTA was developing a comprehensive benefits package to present to retailers in time for the Tucson gem shows in February. Affiliate members pay an annual fee of $125. For more information, call AGTA at (800) 972-1162 or (214) 742-4367. Or plan to attend "How to Use the AGTA Gemological Testing Center To Improve Your Colored Stone Sales," a seminar offered by AGTA during its GemFair in Tucson at 2 p.m. Feb. 6 in the Tucson Convention Center.

– by Deborah Yonick

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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