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March 2, 2010
 

prehnite pendantTucson Gem Show 2010
The Gem Show was pretty subdued this year, as buyers and vendors deal with the continued collapse in consumer spending. Most vendors I spoke to seemed to be happy with sales volumes, and they were hopeful for the coming year.

The hot stones this year seemed to be the same as last year: mystic topaz, kunzite and prehnite. There wasn't any new "must have" stone.

There was a huge influx of Chinese crystal, however. In a direct challenge to Swarovski, the crystal beads had rich, colorful coatings and there were a wide variety of size and shapes to choose from.

To give an idea of what this could mean for Swarovski, a typical 4mm bicone, the heart of their bead line, sells at retail for about 12¢, though it can be purchased in bulk through some dealers for as low as around 5¢ per bead.

The price most dealers at the show were charging for a strand of 100 bicone 4mm beads was $1. That represents a price advatnage of about 80% over Swarovski.

Chinese manufacturers have been trying to get their production right on this type of crystal for several years, but it looks like they have finally succeeded with a decent product and finish.

Make no mistake, this crystal is not as good as Swarovski. It is very close, however, and at 80% less than Austrian crystal, I am sure consumers will go for it.

The response from Swarovski should be interesting. I am betting they will go for the quality difference, but given what I saw at the show, this probably will not be enough to convince consumers to shell out five times more for a product that is hard to discern from the Chinese version.

I heard several people remark at the show that they thought this would be a real challenge for Swarovski. We'll have to wait and see what happens when all this new product finds it way through bead stores and designers to end consumers. My bet is that buyers will vote for Chinese crystal in big numbers...