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Add Personality (and Profits) to Your Store with a Colored Gemstone Specialty

HOW TO MAKE MONEY: Here’s how to add another profit center to your business.

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How can I build my reputation for colored gemstones?

Donnie Blanton, owner of Brittany’s Fine Jewelry in Gainesville, FL, began paying close attention to fine colored gemstones years ago when he realized that big box stores weren’t able to easily compete in this sector. Now colored gemstone jewelry represents 30 percent of his total business, while Brittany’s has built up a reputation in town as the major player in color. Shoppers can see 75 natural sapphires in the case, where at competitors they might be able to see two. Says manager Jim Carnes: “When we started, we might sell a colored piece for $300 or $400, which is pretty run of the mill. Now it’s not uncommon to sell a $15,000 or $20,000 piece.” Stocking it is key. “If you can’t carry it, you can’t sell it. When people walk in and something strikes them, they say they love that particular gemstone and they want to buy it right here, right now,” Carnes says. “If they see a three-carat Paraiba tourmaline in the case, they’re not going to find another one easily, and I’m not going to get into a price war. Color has its own personality. That will sell itself. You can make money on color while it’s getting difficult to make money on diamonds at all.”

How important is educating the customer?

Very. “Most customers only ‘know’ what they see on TV or the Internet, and that is usually suspect,” says Mark Thomas Ruby of SunSpirit Designs in Loveland, CO. “I use stones in almost all of my work, and most customers have never heard of many of them. Give them a lesson and they will have bragging rights over their peers.”

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How do customers respond to learning about colored gemstones?

“In general, personally, we are less interested in diamonds, and that shows in the display cases,” says Katherine Cotterill of EAT Gallery in Maysville, KY, who spends much of her time educating first-time clients on colored stones. “It blows people away who do not know color that the pink stone necklace center I constantly wear is an unheated sapphire or that the big ‘purple’ ring is a spinel and not an amethyst. Once people see how amazing yellow beryl, Merelani garnet, Mahenge Spinel, or something like an alexandrite are, they want those amazingly cool stones so they can tell the same stories to their family and friends.”

Add Personality (and Profits) to Your Store with a Colored Gemstone Specialty

Cline Jewelers of Edmonds, WA, promotes a visit from famed colored gemstone hunter Roger Dery with its “From Mine to Cline” event.

What’s the best way to buy color?

Jim Carnes shops jewelry and gem shows for color when he can, but he prefers to see the gems under the store’s lighting conditions. “Sometimes if you buy it in Vegas, you get it back home and it doesn’t look as incredible,” he says. So he relies on regular visits from reliable suppliers, as well as forging relationships with designers including Simon G and Philip Zahm Designs. “Hands-on buying is really key,” he says. “That’s the only way to know if it speaks to you or not.

Pamela Hecht of Pamations in Calumet, MI, goes right to the source and comes back with stories. “I actually go out in the field (mines) and collect 80 percent of my rough stone material that I use to create my jewelry,” she says. “When I show a piece to a customer, I talk about how you mine or collect it and what inspired me to create what they are looking at.”

Does color work for bridal?

It can. “I have a client in California that does very well with a platform in their case with ‘unconventional bridal’ pieces,” says Larry Johnson. “Rings with colored stones, rings with unpolished diamonds. This does well with LGBTQ clients as well as young women with an independent taste and mindset.” Color is also popular for second weddings, says Carnes, who steers clients to durable choices for everyday wear.

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How does a gem roundtable work?

Each spring and fall, Micky Roof, owner of The Jewel Box in Ithaca, NY, hosts a gem roundtable event with gem dealer Judith Whitehead. She caters dinner and then passes around 100 rare gemstones, fossils, and minerals. “The event is a rare opportunity to see, handle, and possibly take home some of the finest gems found anywhere,” she says. In October, opal miner Bill Kasso comes to the Jewelbox for three days with a collection of opals and opal specimens straight from the Queensland Outback. “We transform our gallery into an opal paradise for a hands-on interactive exhibit,” Roof says.

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Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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