The Power of Advertising: How the Marketing Juggernaut Behind the Barbie Movie Rocked the Gem World

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©Canva. Used with permission.

On July 21, 2023, the world got its first look at the long-anticipated movie Barbie.

Fans went nuts and the movie ultimately topped almost $1.5 billion. But the lead-up to the film began long before the theatrical release. Warner Bros. started unveiling first looks back in April of 2022. Between then and the premiere, fans were treated to photos of the actors on set (both officially released and some taken by paparazzi) and trailers showing snippets of the film.

All total, it was said that the advertising budget for Barbie was $150 million, which was slightly more money than the film itself cost to make. It was a cultural phenomenon that grew to be so powerful that it affected the global gemstone market. 

Each year, I travel to Tucson to talk to gemstone dealers from the American Gemstone Trade Association (AGTA) and the Gems and Jewelry Exchange (GJX). I always go into the shows armed with questions about certain themes, but I love asking sellers if anything has taken them by surprise in the last year.

This time, a shocking number of people responded without prompting that the Barbie movie notably affected their businesses by rapidly inflating the public interest in pink gemstones. John Weidemann, a representative of John M. Bachman, INC., went so far as to coin a term for this surge in the sale of pink stones - "The Barbie Effect".

The first question that you may have is which gemstones can be pink. Fortunately, there are quite a few options for you to choose from! From the gentle color characteristic of morganite and kunzite to the saturated hues of spinel, tourmaline, and garnet, there is much variety on the market today. Also, of course, is the classic pink sapphire. These gems each have their own following, however, Abulkalam Alawdeen of Starlanka Fine Gems, Inc said that quite a few people have come to him asking simply for "Barbie pink stones", not caring about the exact species of the gem.

Sri Gems is a company that specializes in pink sapphires from Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Tanzania and I had the opportunity to speak with CEO Mohammad Mushir Munas. He told me that all the gems that Sri Gems sells are unheated, a mark of an unusually high quality of sapphire as the vast majority of gems have been heated to enhance their color and improve their clarity. 

Mr. Munas acknowledged that he noticed the jump in sales of his pink sapphires in the last year. Further, he said that this spike affected the global market by reducing available inventory and, consequently, prices have inflated to the point where it is now cost prohibitive for many looking to make purchases - "It has become hard for many people to buy."

trays of pink sapphires
One of many trays of pink sapphires from the Sri Gems booth at GJX. © Emily Frontiere. Used with permission.

Mr. Muditha Dela, director of Beauty Lanka Gems & Jewellery (pvt) Ltd., echoed Mr. Munas' sentiment, saying that his company "is selling pink sapphires better than before. It has picked up in the last year". He also, credits Barbie with initiating this trend, saying simply - "That's how advertising works." 

Mr. Weidemann and Sean Byrne, a cutter who works with Bellagem, independently pointed out that all varieties of pink gems have benefited from the attention brought by the film. They each noted that pink spinel is up in terms of popularity and price. Mr. Weidemann further said that pink rubellite tourmaline and morganite have been similarly affected. Mohamed Jameel of the Thai Gem Centre said that all of his pink inventory is selling.

Pink Spinel from Mahenge
A tray of Pink Spinel from Mahenge, Tanzania from Bellagem. © Emily Frontiere. Used with permission.

I also spoke with Tom Cushman, owner of Allerton Cushman & Co. Mr. Cushman is an interesting fellow with an equally unique business. He has no website and did not provide any contact information. The Tucson gem show is really the only place that he comes to sell his inventory. Mr. Cushman is a true eccentric who is in the business simply because he loves it, and his enthusiasm is contagious. At one point, he actually turned away a buyer to continue our conversation uninterrupted.

pezzottaite gems
A fan of unusual gems, Mr. Cushman had a full display of pezzottaite gems. Also, notice the large purplish-pink kunzite in the center of the image. © Emily Frontiere. Used with permission.

Mr. Cushman's booth had quite a bit of pink gemstones including the rare and valuable pezzottaite which he displayed alongside pink tourmaline, sapphire, kunzite, and other gemstone species. He has seen prices for pinks increase so much as a result of increased demand that he pondered "When will we reach the limit of the price?"

Jelly Bean
Mr. Cushman described this 7.5 ct. buff top cabochon with faceted back Pezzottaite as being a collector's gem due to its high per-carat value. © Emily Frontiere. Used with permission.

While the Barbie Effect took some dealers by surprise, others quickly identified the trend and sprang into action to benefit from the increase in sales of pink stones. Jamie Elle Miller, a sales representative for Sophia by Design, oversees several satellite stores. She told me that she instructed all of her managers to put the entirety of their pink inventory in their front windows to capitalize on the trend. She said that is just smart business sense. 

Barbie wasn't just a movie, it was a sustained, elevated interest in all things Barbie beginning over a year preceding the release of the film. Once the film debuted, it remained a fixture in theaters for months. The color pink was front and center the whole time. As such, the steep rise in interest in pink gemstones makes sense. But, just as trends can strike in an instant, they can fade just as quickly. 

Sam Sulimanov of Samuel Sylvio Designs noted the increased sales, decrease in available supply, and subsequent inflation of per-carat values for pink gems connected to the film. But, he cautioned that such sudden trends are temporary by nature and people move on from fads. What is hot one minute may be less popular in the not-so-distant future.

pink sapphire and diamond bracelet by Samuel Sylvio Designs
A pink sapphire and diamond bracelet by Samuel Sylvio Designs. Used with permission.

Emily Frontiere

Emily Frontiere is a GIA Graduate Gemologist. She is particularly experienced working with estate/antique jewelry.

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