Ever popular with our viewers and always bang up to date on what’s happening in the jewellery trade, our gemstone expert David Troth has had to find a new way of doing things since the pandemic began. We spoke to him back in mid-2020 about how he’s been coping, how it’s been anything but business as usual for him, and how he created a series of informative and candid interviews with figures from the gemstone industry. This interview was first published in the Autumn 2020 edition of our Gemology magazine, and has been edited slightly for this blog.
Hi Dave, how are you? How have you been coping with lockdown?
I’m well, thanks. I’ve been trying to stay positive, and the lockdown has allowed me to spend more time with my daughter. I finally taught her how to ride a bike without stabilisers, which is a really cool thing to look back on when we remember these crazy times in the future. I’ve been homeschooling her too. For me personally, it’s been all about family time. But I’ve also been doing my best to keep in touch with the gemstone industry, and our jewellery workshops over in Jaipur, India, and with what’s happening in the market.
For those that might not have seen you on-air yet, what do you do at Gemporia under normal circumstances?
What I’m usually doing is following our gemstone acquisitions all the way from when we first hear about them to when they finally appear on screen many months later. I speak with all our hosts about the new gemstones, their history and why they’re significant. It involves a lot of research to bring the story of each gem to our collectors. I also put together different collections and am responsible for buying the gemstones which go into creating them too.
The mine to jewellery process takes around six months, doesn’t it?
It is six months on average, though in certain occurrences, it can be as little as two months if the stones that we’ve acquired are already faceted, and we have the designs in mind from the moment we receive the gemstone parcel. This probably only happens for three of four showcases a year, though.
During the lockdown, you’ve been working on a series of informative online videos with some of Gemporia’s regular guests. How did this come about?
I’m always calling our guests and industry contacts to stay in touch, see what they’re working on, find out the latest on what’s happening in the industry, what people are talking about or if anyone has picked up on any leads for new gemstones. One day I was on a call with Glenn Lehrer and thought, “We should record this!” I always talk about how transparent I am on TV; I just say it as it is and talk about some of the decisions that have been made higher up, or controversial things that have happened in the market. Certain companies might be artificially raising the prices of gemstones, and I’ll just say it, and I can get into trouble for it sometimes. But I like to think of it as lifting the curtain because, at Gemporia, we’ve got nothing to hide. These conversations can be quite candid, but they’re also fascinating. I thought it might be nice to do a more long-form interview, a more extended version of the chats we often have in our video clips, where we’re always extremely limited by time. This is no fault of anybody, but even when a guest is in the studio, there’s just so much we can’t get into because time is so precious on live TV. Understandably, our viewers want to see the designs as soon as possible too. Quite often, we’ll do a brief intro at the top of a show and then get into talking about each piece, whereas online, it’s nice to do more of an extended chat. With Rudi Wobito, for instance, it allows us to talk about his father, his grandfather and their fascinating family history in the industry. Also, to have Rudi show us the inside of his workshop and what’s in his safe is just incredible. We often only get to talk about the points that have direct relevance to our TV showcases when we’re on-air, but these remarkable characters have so much more to share. Rudi has some natural Pakistani Topaz in his safe, which is amazing. He’s going to apply an Asscher cut to it, and I can’t wait to see the results. So, I thought it would be great to chat outside the time constraints of television and away from particular gemstones or collections. It helps us learn more about what these people do and what they’re like out in the real world. Some of them haven’t been on our channel yet. I’ve spoken to Glenn Preus, who I hope to work with soon at Gemporia. I met him at the JCK Las Vegas Jewellery Show two years ago. He was cutting for Harry Winston in the 1980s, he’s an incredible guy, so I interviewed him down the line from Hawaii! Ultimately, there are so many interesting people, interesting characters and interesting stories in this industry, and I just wanted to share them with everyone.
Who else have you spoken with?
François Xavier, a Sapphire and Spinel dealer from France, who buys Blue Spinels for $20,000 per carat! So that was incredible, just to hear what’s happening in the market with Spinel. Vikas Sethi too, who is an expert gemologist and one of my best friends in the industry. He’s been in the business for almost 30 years and was with me recently in Burma and Nepal. He has a vast wealth of knowledge and has studied at the GIA. Oh, and Sagyan Kharel too, who owns the mine where we source the finest Kyanite we’ve ever seen - the jewel they call Nilamani.
What are some of the highlights so far from your conversations?
François Xavier's interview was fascinating as it was all about what’s recently happened with Spinel, particularly Mahenge Spinel. Me and Glenn Lehrer talk about why we think Garnet has taken off so much recently. Glenn thinks it’s due to the next generation of cutters rising through the ranks. Cutters and carvers need big carat weights of clean rough material to learn their trade with, and back when Glenn’s generation was learning, they could afford Spinel. Today, the new generation can afford Garnet because it’s not yet as expensive as Spinel, but in turn, their incredible new creations are driving the cost of Garnet up! It’s a circle of creativity and talent.
So, as well as being able to share all this fascinating information, have these conversations helped you keep your finger on the pulse of the whole industry, too?
Yes. With the jewellery and gemstone trade, it’s not just that the whole industry is in lockdown, but everyone is isolated too. Even with modern technology, people on either side of the world aren’t talking to each other and don’t know who’s cutting what or who’s trading which stones. Even GemGuide, the go-to people for gemstone costing for much of the industry, has suspended its pricing publication because they just can’t get a read on the market. The best way to get a read on the market right now is to reach out to people and get the conversations going again. That’s why I wanted to do it. The trade has gone from being this market that we live and breathe every day, with information constantly flowing from cutters, miners, traders and journalists, to complete radio silence. We were asking ourselves, “How on Earth do we know what’s going on in the market?”
The jewellery industry is a global market, but it relies so heavily on word-of-mouth; it must be challenging to get even a vague idea of what’s going on at the moment?
That’s such an important point because it is world-of-mouth, and the gemstone world is such an old world. Diamonds are still traded with no contract, just a handshake. It’s almost prehistoric, and some business practices probably haven’t changed for hundreds of years. Technology hasn’t yet been wholeheartedly welcomed by the industry. The most significant change that I think may come out of this situation for our industry is that technology will be embraced. I also think there will be a massive trend towards television and internet shopping because many people aren’t going to want to leave their houses as much anyway. That’s just a hangover of what is happening right now. To have the jewellery store in your living room has never been more convenient - it’s a jewellery service that comes to you. Being able to bring everyone the information that our contacts share with us, along with a vast selection of gemstones from across the globe, and then deliver that directly to homes is incredible. We’ve already noticed at Gemporia that our customer numbers have increased significantly as collectors look for safe ways to acquire their jewellery, many of whom are brand new customers joining us for the first time. I don’t think the industry will ever be the same again after this, and I think that’s a good thing.
What can we expect to see on-air that you’ve initially discovered through these conversations?
Me and Jake (Thompson, Gemporia’s commercial director) are already in conversations about trying to get hold of some incredible Green Sapphire. François Xavier thinks the next big thing will be natural Green Sapphire, a stone he believes has been underrated and undervalued for far too long. Also, the natural Imperial Topaz from Pakistan that Rudi Wobito had spoken of. We used to think this was a single-location gem from Ouro Preto in Brazil. Apparently, for the last 50 years, tiny quantities of material have been coming out of Pakistan, with the golden yellow and subtle pink tones that Imperial Topaz is famous for. Rudi Wobito is the man who has cut the 50-carat Alexandrites of this world and who I saw showcasing a $20,000 per carat Tanzanian Ruby in Tucson a couple of years ago. At the end of our conversation, he asked if he’d like to see what was in his safe! I thought the Wobito safe would be full of world-class Alexandrite, Ruby and Sapphire, but he pulled out this incredible Imperial Topaz from Pakistan. We really want to bring that jewel to our collectors.
These conversations have been so enlightening. Are you hoping to continue these videos once things return to relative normality?
I am, yes. As I said, these conversations were taking place anyway; I just wasn’t recording them. The response has already been so good, and since day one, we’ve been harping on about bringing the stories and the education behind the gems to our collectors. It’s so important, and it can only be a good thing; the more you learn, the more you want to learn. I also think it’s crucial to introduce our collectors to these people who are instrumental in the industry. So yeah, I’m hoping to continue them for a long time. The industry is changing, the market is changing, and as the trade embraces newer technology, I want to be at the forefront of telling these stories - and not just in the five- or ten-minute window at the start of a TV showcase. I have an idea for when we invite all our industry friends over to our studios to show their latest collections, which only happens two or three times a year. A week beforehand, I’d like to film these video conversations with all our guests so that those collectors who want to know the full story can really get into it.
And there aren’t many places that people from the industry can share their stories and talk about what they do.
Exactly, and I just think that because we’ve built this level of trust with the people that we work with, they feel more comfortable sharing their stories and their secrets with us all. I really do feel like, with these interviews particularly, we’re lifting the curtain a little on a traditionally secretive industry. I can’t think of a more secretive industry than the jewellery trade. You never know what gemstones are being traded or what will arrive at the auction house. Even the most famous gems will disappear for decades! The Tavernier Blue Diamond went missing from France in 1791 and is widely believed to have resurfaced in London many years later, considerably smaller in size, as the Hope Diamond. The fact that nobody knows for sure if they’re the same Diamond adds to the whole mystique of how secretive this industry is. So sharing these conversations feels like a very positive thing to do.
When do you see things returning to normal for the industry and your role at Gemporia?
I’m raring to go! As soon as we’re a little more in the clear and the UK government says it’s safe to travel, I know that myself, Jake and Steve want to get back out there and get back into it. But I don’t know when that will happen yet.
Thank you so much for your time and your insight David. We look forward to seeing you on-air soon.
No problem at all, anytime.
You can view Davids ‘In Conversation With…’ video series on his Facebook page at facebook.com/DavidTrothGemstoneBroadcaster, just click ‘video’ in the left-hand menu to see them all on one page. You can also view them by following the short links listed in this feature.
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