Mardon at the GIA Symposium

June 11th, 2011 by James L. Sweaney, CGA, FGA. GG
International Flags Fly at GIA Symposium

International Flags Fly at GIA Symposium

Recently, daughter Jenny and I spent a memorable Memorial Day weekend at the 2011 GIA International Symposium. This year, Symposium was divided into two tracks, one focused on current scientific research in the field of gemology, while the other concentrated on the future of business for the jewelry industry.

This year’s keynote speaker was noted publisher, economist, and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, whose highly successful Forbes Magazine and related publications have proven him to be a keen observer of the world economy. He noted how the rapidly growing Asian middle classes have increased demand and competition for luxury items, particularly gems and precious metals. We certainly see this in the current scarcity and sky rocketing prices for fine gems and precious metals.

Mr. Forbes

Steve Forbes holding forth

Mr. Forbes spoke at length how the value of money has become unreliable, how this instability drags down the global economy, and he predicted a return to a gold standard as a basis of monetary value within the next five years.

Sunday morning, we heard from notables including Ken Royal of the influential Gallup organization, and representatives from the famous jewelry house Van Cleef and Arpels, rising star Dhamani Jewels, and Pandora, all of whom presented a window on the changing role of luxury in the new economy.

The afternoon session on Jewelry Design was one of my favorites, featuring Wallace Chan, a modern sage and acclaimed genius of jewelry making.  His pieces are truly astounding, many of which showcase his groundbreaking work in the use of titanium, allowing large showy pieces that are lightweight and comfortable to wear. Here are a few samples

Pleasure- titanium pin with Imperial Jade and Green Garnets

Pleasure- titanium pin with Imperial Jade and Green Garnets


Elephants with Rough Diamonds

Harlequin Opal

Harlequin Opal

The first day was capped off by Scott Galloway, Professor at the NYU Stern School of Business who founded the think tank L2. He discussed the recession and how it has affected consumer values and choices. He noted that newly successful Gen Y consumers, while they may have different shopping habits and criteria, love their bling! Even with the present difficult economy, he predicts the the US luxury market with grow 12% over the next year. We were heartened to hear his optimism.

Prof. Galloway detailed the phenomenal impact of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, showing how they are revolutionizing how people interact not only with each other but also with the things they consume and are interested in. Check out Mardon on Facebook and Twitter.

Day two began with fascinating information on the future of gemstones.  In a world of increasing demand and diminishing supply, the trend is for more suppliers to develop new ways to enhance low grade materials so they are acceptable in the marketplace. Keynote speaker Stuart Robertson, research director of Gemworld International, discussed the impact of these low grade materials, such as glass filled ruby.

Our friend Doug Hucker, Director of the American Gem Trade Association, emphasized the importance of informing consumers about gemstones and their treatments, as well as the increasing role of fashion in jewelry design and marketing, especially with regard to the colors of the season.

Our afternoon session centered on the auction markets and vintage jewelry. Sotheby VP Gary Schuler traced the phenomenal growth of jewelry auctions driven by the sales of the jewelry of the Duchess of Windsor and Jackie (Kennedy) Onassis, and predicted record turnouts for the auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s estate. Rick Harrison, star of History Channel’s “Pawn Stars” related the engaging story of his pawn business and how he created his blockbuster TV reality show.

The Symposium capped off with Dr. Brian Nattrass, noted author and expert on sustainable business practices. With global focus on fair trade, ecological impacts, and quality of life, the strategy and implementation of sustainability has become necessary for businesses to be successful. With jewelry, control of global supply chains is a hot button issue, often very difficult to implement because of conditions in the originating countries.

Mardon has endeavored to develop socially responsible business practices, such as the use of recycled gold and ethically sourced gemstones, but we realize we need to go further.  Jenny and I both came away with the realization that we can do more to make our business leaner and cleaner, and will keep you up to date as we accomplish the necessary steps.

Jenny and Tashey's

Jenny with Miriam and Tom Tashey

Finally, the two days gave us the chance to hobnob with industry notables and to socialize with old friends, something we always enjoy. Jenny got hugs from Miriam and Tom Tashey, gemologists par excellence, who now own the Professional Gem Sciences laboratory in Chicago. Mark Mann and Jim got to know each other while developing the original Jewelry Arts Program in the early 80’s– Mark is now Director of GIA’s Global Jewelry Manufacturing Arts Program.

Jim and Mark and bronze of Richard T. Liddicoat

Jim and Mark and bronze of Richard T. Liddicoat

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