Andrew Cody, the president of the International Coloured Gemstone Association, reveals his plans to increase sales of coloured gemstones around the world.
What is the ICA?
It’s the International Coloured Gemstone Association. It has been around for 25 years and is made up of 530 leading gem traders from around the world including about 20 from Australia. The ICA does not just let anyone join – only people who have a history in the industry and who have been highly recommended. We like to think the Association is made up of the world’s leading ethical gem traders.
Why did you join the ICA and become so actively involved?
I joined the ICA about seven years ago after my brother attended some meetings and told me that we should join as it was very active and progressive. At first I was reluctant as we were already members of some other associations and didn’t really see the need to join another but after attending some meetings I realised the ICA presented us with a terrific opportunity to network and brand ourselves as ethical traders.
What have been the biggest achievements in your first 12 months as president?
When I was handed the presidency in May last year I put pen to paper and wrote down what the ICA was, what it was doing and what I thought it should be doing. Of course, the ICA had achieved, and was achieving, a lot but the organisation wasn’t communicating that information to many in the industry. Therefore my first, and probably, most important task was to articulate, in the form of a business plan, what the ICA was and what it’s doing. This plan, which we’re calling our ‘corporate profile’, is highly ambitious but I believe it will really reinforce the value of ICA membership as it will enable our members to see exactly what we’re doing and what still needs to be done. In addition, the ICA has now developed its first International Gemstone Show in Dubai (13th-15th October 2008), and has negotiated the next Congress in Panyu China in May 2009.
What are your main plans for the next 12 months as president?
I would like to develop an international gemstone report that includes the essence of all the information that a jeweller, retailer, gem merchant or miner needs to know about gemstones including basic gemmological information, mining information (eg, current production quantities and future production estimates) and a photographic grading scale.
I believe that such a report will be a great asset for the entire industry – it will help the customer and it will help the retailer. For example if a client is considering purchasing a $30,000 gemstone but they’re wavering the retailer could just open up the report and reassure the client with official information such as “the stone is reducing in production and is therefore likely to increase in price each year…” .
I imagine that we can probably produce 300,000 to 400,000 of these reports each year and we can put them in the hands of retail jewellers around the world quite easily by working with the national jewellery organisations like the Jewellers Association of Australia.
What have been your biggest setbacks during the same period?
There have been no major setbacks but I am disappointed that some ICA members are reluctant to accept that the Association has to change with the times. There’s always a loud few who still want do business the way it was done 25 years ago but the world has become smaller since then and we need a new set of rules to grow. Thankfully however most members do want change and are very pleased with the way we are going about it.
What do you see as the ICA’s key role(s)?
Apart from promoting ethics, we also promote harmonisation throughout the world jewellery industry with events like The Gem Industry Laboratory Conference. The Conference, which is attended by many of the world’s laboratories, is an open forum where we discuss harmonisation and treatment issues and try and get the world’s industries speaking the same language so there is no confusion about disclosure.
In the future our plan is to work much more closely with national associations by telling them what we’ve been doing and what we’re planning to do and then encouraging them to work with us to achieve mutual goals.
Why have you decided to launch the first ICA Fair?
I believe the jewellery industry has given away a lot of opportunities over the years by not owning its own fairs. Most jewellery fairs are run by trade fair managers so the money paid out by exhibitors and visitors never really flows back into the industry. At our meeting in June last year the vice-president, Prida Tiasuwan, proposed that the ICA look into setting up its own wholly-owned trade fair. We all agreed the Fair would be a great idea for the industry and now the ICA International Gem Fair Dubai is set to open on October 13.
The Fair will be completely different to other trade fairs – all the industry’s major source businesses located in one luxurious five-star hotel. The exhibitors will be ICA members or Dubai Gems Club members and will have signed ethics agreements so that buyers can be 100 percent certain they are getting what they are paying for.
How does the ICA currently promote gemstones to consumers?
There is more to promoting gemstones that just advertising to consumers – in fact a lot of our marketing happens before the jeweller even buys the gemstone. For example we work with governments to reduce tariffs and taxes or help governments invest in their countries’ infrastructure and these activities directly impact on gemstone supply and customer demand.
What is your vision for the coloured gemstone industry internationally?
I think the gem industry is on the crest of a huge wave of demand in the next decade for two main reasons – firstly there are no margins left in the diamond industry so retailers can no longer afford to rely solely on diamond sales and secondly, fashion houses are beginning to push coloured jewellery as well.
What is your vision for the coloured gemstone industry in Australia?
The coloured gemstone mining industry in Australia is really quite depressed at the moment especially compared to 20 years ago. The major challenge is undoubtedly the lack of supply. There are just not enough people working in the industry to be able to get a critical mass of supply and make it internationally competitive. I would like the industry to work on scientific research with governments and scientists to increase supply and make a real impact on the world gemstone market.
How has your practical experience as an Australian opal dealer helped you in your role as president?
As a small business owner in the jewellery industry I have learnt to achieve my goals with limited resources. Like most small jewellery business owners, I have only ever had a small staff to help manage quite a large job dealing with expensive stock, importing/exporting, governments, bureaucracies and opal miners, etc. Therefore I have become very practical and adaptable and don’t get bogged down with unimportant details.
What are the major challenges facing coloured gemstone producers today?
From the international perspective the major challenge is simply whether the entire industry, at all levels from mine production to retail, will be able to meet the demand for colour over the next ten years. I am absolutely convinced that colour is going to be much bigger in the next decade but unfortunately I’m not convinced we’re ready to meet that demand.
How is the demand for ethically responsibility impacting on the coloured gemstone market?
The ICA is trying very hard to encourage ethical responsibility. Blood Diamond made the general public award of negative industry practices across the whole mining sector not just diamond mines. There was a lot of pressure to guarantee that an item was a ‘Fair Trade’ item so one of the projects that we’re trying to develop is the Fair Trade Scheme ‘brand’ which will be able to be applied to all levels of the gemstone industry from wholesalers and cutters to laboratories and retailers.
What is the ICA’s stance on gemstone purchasing in Burma?
The ICA condemns the violent repression of human rights, supports the pro-democracy movements in Myanmar, and calls on all its members to stop buying Burmese gemstones from any Myanmar government sources or government-sponsored auctions. However, ICA believes a boycott of all rough and cut gems from Burma could actually do more harm than good to the very people the gem and jewellery industry is trying to help and protect and therefore does not support it. There are 400,000 people in the Mogok Valley whose livelihoods seem to have been forgotten in the rush to implement this boycott.
How is the growth in the synthetic and treated stone market affecting natural stone sales?
There is a market for synthetic stones. People who don’t have enough money to buy natural stones should be able to enjoy the pleasure of owning beautiful jewellery. Synthetics don’t really take away sales from natural stones as there will always be people who want to buy the real thing and have the money to pay for it.
How does the ICA help jewelers sell coloured stones?
We are working on 20 different projects that we believe will promote coloured gemstones by bringing ethical coloured gemstones to the retailer. The projects include harmonisation of terms, the launch of the annual gemstone report, advertising and trade fairs, and helping CIBJO produce the coloured gemstone section of its Retailer’s Reference Guide. We have also launched a ‘Gem Millennium’ campaign where we work with supplier countries to help bring their coloured gems to the fashion runway.
Will the ICA be launching any major marketing campaigns this year?
I think you’ll see a lot more about the ICA in the next 12 months as we are just about to employ our first full time marketing director. His initial task will be marketing the trade fair in Dubai and his second major task will be marketing the Congress in China.
What goals would you like to achieve before the end of your term as president in 2009?
I would like to see the coloured gemstone industry set up an ethical trade centre in collaboration with other organisations worldwide so that every member of the public would want to buy ethically gained goods. I would also like to set up a successful stable of trade fairs and see Chinese taxes on coloured gemstones come down to four percent.
What benefits does the jewellery buyer gain from the ICA?
The consumer benefits from the ICA because we promote ethical trading and full disclosure of treatments so they can be confident they’re getting what they’re paying for.
In your role as ICA president do you promote the opal?
Obviously I’m meant to be impartial in my role but I believe the opal needs to have a proper place in the coloured gemstone world so I promote it as much as I can. For example I am currently writing the opal section of CIBJO’s Retailer’s Reference Guide and I mention opals in every speech I make. In addition the opal is one of only four gemstones that will appear on the cover of the ICA’s ‘corporate profile’.