Doings and dealings - part 1

This is Part 1 of a talk I held in front of an audience of german-speaking gemmologists and appraisers at a conference in Vienna´s Museum of Natural History.
Thomas Pfneisl, Vienna Gem Center

Changes in international gem trade since 1984

Technological changes

In 1984 I went on my first gem buying trip. At that time, up until the early 1990ies, contacting a supplier in, say, Jaipur, India, was rather difficult. Sending a letter took much too long, telex machines were inaffordable, so the only reasonable option was the telephone.

However, back then, making a phone call to India cost a lot of time, patience and money. I remember countless occasions, when I tried to get a line all noon and, after a lunch break, for another two hours in the early afternoon until it got too late because of the time difference.
So, I started all over the next day until eventually I got through.

The resulting 10-minute phone was very expensive, indeed. At a rate of appr. € 3.50 per minute, monthly phone bills of € 500 were not uncommon at all.

The first technology, which made lives of gem traders much easier, was the fax.
In the beginning fax machines cost a small fortune and it took several years, before they were sufficiently widespread in the countries of origin, but then the investment paid off fast. After all, it now took only thirty seconds to transmit a request.
On top of that, thanks to automatic re-dialing, I did not have to spend hours on the phone and was not restricted to local business hours any longer.

A few years later e-mail was invented and ever since communication costs next to nothing and, unless one transmits several large photos, it happens in real-time.

Speaking of photos: the next technology to revolutionize gem trade was digital photography. No more awkward attempts to communicate the particular shade of green the requested pair of tourmalines had to have, to match the customer´s ringstone. Instead, I just send a photo! Despite the fact that colours are displayed slightly different on every monitor, this works surprisingly well.

Last but not least I want to mention something, which does not come to mind instantly, but which greatly influenced and accelerated gem trade: international courier services.

Postal shipments from Asia, Africa or Latin America took at least three weeks, sometimes substantially more. Give another few days for customs clearance and the business did not come about because the customer´s birthday had passed by then.

Now here´s a real-life example of how a combination of modern communication technology, digital photography and a fast courier can work.

Some time ago we received a request from a goldsmith, whose customer was looking for a fine quality three-coloured, emerald-cut tourmaline. The minimum lenght was 35mm. Not an easy task at all!

In the past this deal would almost certainly not have come off. I would not have had such a gem on stock, neither would the few other gem traders i could have called. So, all I could have done was to promise to keep my eyes out on my next gem buying trip and ask for patience until the end of September...

Now, in this case I forwarded the request to our man in Brazil who immediately grabbed his smartphone and made off to the local gem traders and cutters. Thirty minutes later I received the first couple of photos of a tourmaline, which, however, was neither good enough nor large enough. After another hour, at the third trader, we got lucky. I sent the photos to the goldsmith, who immediately forwarded them to his customer and a few minutes later we got an OK. Three or four days later the tourmaline was on the goldsmith´s bench.

Brave new world.
35 years ago every single step of this transaction was pure science fiction...