As Baselworld continued to neglect its jewellers, gemstone dealers and the aristocrats of antique jewellery, concerned only with watch brands – though not sufficiently, recent editions would suggest – rumblings of revolt could be felt. Then three years ago, two respected members of the profession – Thomas Faerber, an expert in antique jewellery and precious stones, and Ronny Totah, a connoisseur of diamonds and gemstones – decided to turn their backs on Basel once and for all. Twelve months later, ably assisted by their two daughters and the experienced staff at Palexpo exhibitions centre, they cut the ribbon at GemGenève, Geneva International Gem and Jewellery Show. A triumphant debut!
Both men agree that “after years of attending fairs all over the world, we knew exactly what we wanted should we ever have to organise our own event. We would favour quality, ethics and diversity of exhibitors over quantity. It would take place at a smaller venue with lots of light, preferably natural daylight, and would give our colleagues all the comfort they need. Every booth would have its own safe, there would be chilled water delivered every morning, and recycling bins. All in a welcoming atmosphere for trade… and public.” And so it was!
After years of attending fairs all over the world, we knew exactly what we wanted.
From the very beginning, GemGenève opened its doors to the next generation, with students of art – in particular from Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design (HEAD) in Geneva and, this year, Haute Ecole de Joaillerie in Paris -, young designers and emerging talent in every register from sedate to sensational. Last year, Camille Combremont, a student at HEAD, took first place in a competition to design a piece of pearl jewellery. This year, as part of the Faerber Collection, she showed a parure in blackened 750 white gold studded with round moonstone cabochons, mounted on links which the wearer clips together to form a necklace, a bracelet, even earrings. Financially supported and guided by Thomas Faerber, she is on the cusp of what will certainly be a promising career.
Vivienne Becker, a foremost jewellery historian – her book on Lalique is considered the authoritative work on the subject – spent the past twelve months tracking down the avant-garde of young talent and designers to bring them to Geneva. For this second edition, her Designer Vivarium hosted Tenzo, a talented jeweller with a particular love for the precious stones of his native Russia; Tatiana Verstraeten and her astonishing diamond feather necklace; Racine, a duo of designer and gem dealer whose pieces blend Art Deco with classical influences; and Sean Gilson, a gifted designer and goldsmith from Connecticut in the United States. As for Switzerland’s quartet of emerging talents, best remember their names because you’ll be hearing more of them. They are Ena Iro whose openworked bangles embrace history and tradition; Cléa Horowicz and her jewelled head ornaments; Pierre d’Alexis who works with pink calcite mined in the Swiss Valais region; and Isabelle Siz whose jewellery is an explosion of colour.
Antique jewellery and gems
This year, the well-planned maze of booths included an additional sixty-some exhibitors. GemGenève is a jewellery-lover’s delight, akin to a museum where visitors can actually touch and feel the pieces on show. Exhibitors were cheerful, never condescending, and always delighted to talk about the jewellery, the designers, even hallmarks. Prices were willingly divulged and in many cases explained. The coloured gemstone dealers, often Indian, American or Russian, extended an equally pleasant welcome. They patiently explained the difference between a stone that has been heat-treated and one that hasn’t, and the considerable impact this has on price. Special mention must go to Valentina, a dealer offering unheated rubies and sapphires, cut by an excellent Parisian lapidary.
Copies of grading reports from international organisations were passed around. Switzerland takes the lion’s share with the SSEF (Zurich), the GGTL (Geneva and Lichtenstein) and the Gübelin (Lucerne). The Gemological Institute of America (GIA), one of the most famous, if not the most famous, laboratories was there to promote its reports as well as enrol new students to its Graduate Gemologist study programme. As for the stones themselves, diamonds of every size, cut and colour were yours for the taking… price permitting!
Listen and learn
Throughout the four days of the fair, thanks to talks on a range of themes by pre-eminent speakers, visitors could learn about jewellery styles, which stones were fashionable at different periods in history, and even fill up on anecdotes to serve at their next dinner party (Vanessa Cron’s talk on Muses and Collectors was a mine of information!). At Touch and Feel sessions, groups of twenty participants were given a crash course on how to observe a stone using a loupe, following which they shared impressions and business cards. Rest assured you will leave GemGenève a little smarter than when you arrived!
The general opinion among exhibitors was that business had been good. Customers are eager for one-off pieces while some are looking to diversify their portfolio with a stunning, possibly historic jewel or a remarkable gem. The Chinese investment frenzy has yet to target antique jewellery, prompting a certain amount of speculation as to when… For the two organisers, the challenge will be how to say “no” to those who, next year, would like to slip into the reassuring cocoon of a fair now hitting its stride.
More information: gemgeneve.com