Some Pointers on Selling Gemstones
What does it take to succeed at cutting and selling gemstones? Jeff Graham offers newcomers some advice on treating faceting like a business.
9 Minute Read
In my opinion, you need to cut natural, appealing, unique stones of high quality. Most importantly, you can't sell what you haven't cut. Sounds simple, right? If you want to make money cutting and selling gemstones, you'd better be cutting.
The key word in "markets for any cut gemstone" is "cut."
Making Money vs Making a Living Selling Gemstones
Making money cutting and selling gemstones takes time, talent, and experience. Some people can certainly learn to facet and do make money from it. However, we need to clarify what "making money" means.
Now, making enough money to pay for a faceting hobby is easy enough. I think most people that facet for any length of time will probably reach this point. So, the hobby will pay for itself, and some people might even make a few extra bucks.
Actually making a living cutting and selling gemstones, as in earning a real income, is a whole different story. While it can be done and there are people doing it, it's not easy and not everyone can do it. If this is what you hope to accomplish, you must approach faceting like any other business, not as a casual undertaking. It will take hard work and investment.
Another thing I often hear is this: "I'm going to retire and I want to learn to facet as a source of income." This is all well and good. Some people can accomplish this. However, most of the time people don't realize what this entails. The words "retire" and "income" don't go together. You can retire from your old job, but if you want to make a living faceting, you'll have a new job.
What Do You Need to Succeed at Cutting and Selling Gemstones?
Any business needs hard work and investment to succeed. Here are five more things you'll need if you're going to cut and sell gems for a living.
It takes years, sometimes decades, to make connections, secure rough, and just plain learn how the gem business works. Nobody can magically acquire all of these things in a few months or years. All businesses take time to build. If you want to make money selling gemstones, you better plan on spending some time learning about business as well as faceting.
There's no easy way to get it and no replacement for it. You have to know what you're doing, and gaining experience is always expensive. Sometimes very expensive. You can only get business experience by being in business, and that will cost you time, money, labor, and all kinds of other things you'll have no idea about until you're actually in business.
Some people have talent, some don't. If you don't have at least some basic talent for gem cutting, you're wasting your time and money. If you have the talent, you'll still need time and hard work to realize your potential. Talent alone doesn't mean you'll make money.
This is an often overlooked dimension of the gem business. Even if you have time, experience, and talent, you won't make any money if you have no way to sell the gems you cut. In fact, learning to sell itself requires time, experience, talent, and investment. Early on, you need to have a plan and work on selling what you cut.
The more stones you cut, the more you sell. This is simple math but it's amazing how many people don't understand this basic principle. For example, if you show a customer two stones, you may or may not sell a stone. However, if you show that same customer 50 stones, your odds of selling at least one stone go up exponentially. You must have quantity. Of course, I don't mean you need to cut a ridiculous amount of stones at an unreasonable pace. I mean you need to be working hard creating quality-cut stones and seriously building your inventory. To paraphrase a famous line, cut it and they will come. So keep cutting.
Investing in Quality Gemstone Rough
Of course, you'll have to invest in tools and a workspace as well as a place to sell your cut gems — whether that's online or in a brick-and-mortar shop. However, there's one critical investment many new faceters may not consider carefully and try to skimp on: gemstone rough.
Can You Make Money Cutting Synthetic Gem Rough?
I can't tell you how many times people have said to me: "Well, I cut lab-made stones because it's cheaper and I can't sell natural stones."
If you're buying cubic zirconia (CZ) or other cheap synthetic material for pennies, that's what you'll make… pennies. Although there are markets for quality-cut synthetic gems, making money by faceting synthetics is very difficult, and I don't recommend trying to make a living from it. Of course, if you're cutting just for fun, you can facet whatever you want. However, if you're cutting for practice, I still recommend starting with natural instead of synthetic rough.
You have to invest in something worth money before you facet it and make it worth more money.
Choosing Quality, Natural Gem Rough
You need to build your inventory by cutting quality, natural gem rough. Don't make the mistake of buying and cutting low-quality natural rough. If you do, you'll be competing against huge cutting houses that can sell their products cheaply and still make money. You won't win.
For independent cutters, the money is in faceting quality and high-end stones. You need to cut at least good quality rough to make money. The better quality the rough, the more money you could make. Of course, the better quality the rough, the more it will cost. You won't get any "deals" on high-quality gem rough. Those who sell rough know what it's worth and will charge accordingly. And when you sell the gems you facet from high-quality rough, you'll also charge accordingly. That's just how business works. If you don't invest in your business, you won't make any money.
Offer Your Customers a Wide Selection
You need to offer your customers more than a few choices of finished natural gemstones. Selection is important. That means having gems of various species and varieties as well as different colors and styles.
To some extent, color choices are more important than gem type. After all, we're talking about faceting and selling colored gemstones. Customers may ask for a particular type of gem, but you may discover that what they really want is a particular color. They just think that color comes only from a specific gem.
For example, customers often ask for emeralds because they want a green color. They may have no idea there are other, much better faceted green gemstone options. As far as I'm concerned, emeralds are mostly poor quality. On the other hand, chrome tourmaline and tsavorite garnet both make better jewelry stones. Unfortunately, many customers don't even know these gems exist, much less that they're almost always cleaner, harder, higher performing, and untreated.
Do I have emeralds in my cut inventory? Not often, but I sometimes do carry some natural, unoiled, Zambian stones or something similar. I won't cut or sell oiled stones, and almost all emeralds are fractured, oiled, and, in my opinion, just overpriced. If customers ask, I tell them why I don't carry emeralds.
Rarity and Uniqueness
Quality plus uniqueness makes a cut gem easier to sell. Rarity can play a major role in both the value and salability of a natural cut stone. However, "rarity" applies not only to the gem material but also to the cut or style. It could even be the case when a well-known cut is used on a little-known gem — or when a well-known gem is cut in a novel style.
I think style is probably the most important thing that will help your inventory stand out. By "standing out," I'm talking about not only looks but also performance. The average customer probably won't ask for performance or even realize what it means when they start looking at gemstones. However, when customers compare a typical commercial-cut stone to a gem cut by a high-end faceter, they'll see the difference.
In a cut gemstone, style basically means design, shape, and size.
Well, I freely admit I'm biased. I prefer my own designs. However, you can choose from many different quality gem designs out there. You want designs that commercial cutters don't cut, something different from what's commonly available.
You can approach shape in two different ways. First, you can look for something unusual, like my Origami Star.
Or, you can take a shape with a common outline, like a square or oval, and look for a design that still makes the stone look different. For example, look at this ametrine with my Killer cut.
Although the Killer has a generic square outline, that's about all that's generic about this stone. The orientation and design both make this stone unique, even though squares aren't uncommon.
The finished size of your cut gemstones will be a result of your natural rough and the design you choose. However, there are size "sweet spots" in the gem market. Some sizes in some materials just sell better than others.
Is There a Market for Natural Gemstones?
I've actually heard people say there's no market for quality natural gem stones, beyond what's available of commercial-cut quality. In my opinion, they're wrong. There's a huge market for all types of natural colored gemstones, and it's growing.
Nowadays, I think many consumers know more about gemstones than ever before. In part, this trend started because of TV shopping networks. Yes, I know (and agree), a lot of those TV people have questionable sales techniques and ethics (and so do some people in traditional gem sales). Nevertheless, these networks are marketing colored stones and people are watching and buying.
Since the appearance of TV shopping networks, the Internet and all the information it makes available have only helped fuel the demand for all kinds of gemstones, including high-end stones. Also, more customers are realizing the importance of quality cutting. People can go online and visit my website and those of other gem cutters and discover a world of faceted colored gemstones unlike anything they've seen before. They often tell me they had no idea the difference cutting could make until they saw the cut stones on my website.
I have friends that now specialize 100% on natural gemstones. In the past, some dealers carried them but didn't specialize in them.
Educating the Consumer
If you're selling gemstones, you want consumers to know about gemstones. As faceters, we want them to know about quality cutting. Tell your customers about the gems in your inventory, talk about their properties and what makes them unique, and how the designs you cut bring out the best in these natural wonders. You can help educate this growing market, and that will benefit you and all independent gem cutters.
The more people see quality cutting, the more they'll learn to value it, and the more likely they are to buy our cut stones.
So, keep cutting. You can't show — or sell — what you haven't cut.
Jeff R. Graham
The late Jeff Graham was a prolific faceter, creator of many original faceting designs, and the author of several highly-regarded instructional faceting books such as Gram Faceting Designs.
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