Smaller 2018 Basel Fair is Still Biggest Rare Gem Showcase

Crowds mingle on the Baselworld 2018 show floor.
The 2018 edition of Baselworld had half the number of exhibitors of last year’s fair. Management vows to retrench after this major exodus. Photo Courtesy of Baselworld

Business at the scaled-down Baselworld 2018 Show (March 22-27) was spotty with some jewelry brands and gem dealers posting respectable sales, while others found trading to be very slow.

The show was half the size (650 exhibitors) of last year’s and less than 40% of the size of the show at its peak in 2014. Most of the departures were watch brands (Movado, by far the largest exhibitor at the show, was not present this year), jewelry design houses and nearly all of the manufacturers of jewelry manufacturing equipment. The number of gem dealers, however, declined very slightly.

The show was hemorrhaging exhibitors for several years because of the very high costs – more than double other trade shows – and the eight-day-long length of the show, which increased costs even further. This year, the Baselworld management reduced the length of the show by two days, and the price accordingly.

A ruby and diamond bow brooch; stones are invisibly set.
An invisibly-set ruby and diamond bow brooch by Graff. Photo by Russell Shor/GIA

Sylvie Ritter, managing director for Baselworld, said next year’s fair will be one week and there will be some “new exhibition formats” for smaller exhibitors to help add value to their presence. She did not elaborate, saying these details will be announced in the fall.

Exhibitors in the jewelry brands sections who had a large existing clientele generally did fairly well because high-end retailers still see the luxury market continuing to recover in Europe, the U.S. and China. Most were buying for stock and adding a small number of distinctive, costly pieces they believed they could move fairly quickly. There was very little new business at the show, however, so exhibitors who did not have a regular clientele found trading very slow, despite the fact that half of their competitors were no longer exhibiting.

Necklace is three rows of light-to-dark green cabachon tourmalines; earrings are comprised of four shades of green cabochon tourmalines.
A graduated color cabochon tourmaline necklace from Paul Wild, Kirschweiler, Germany, of 174 stones totaling 730.25 carats. Photo courtesy Paul Wild


Among the design trends were black diamonds (lots of black diamonds) and green gemstones – emeralds, tourmalines and peridot. The popular motifs were boughs, bows and blossoms.

The Baselworld gem hall offers perhaps the largest array of extreme top-end gemstones anywhere in the world outside of the auction houses – major fancy colored diamonds, 10-carat-plus colorless diamonds and large rubies, sapphires, emeralds, Paraiba tourmalines and other rare gems. This year’s edition had even more than usual.

Business in this hall was spotty as well, driven largely by other dealers looking for major stones for which they have immediate calls, or speculators who believe prices of certain goods will be increasing.

Flower design rings. One is black and colorless invisibly set diamonds and one is colorless and light brown diamonds.
The Stelle in Flore pair of rings from Pascale Bruni, Vicenza with invisibly-set black, colorless and light brown round diamonds set in 18k gold. Photo courtesy of Pasquale Bruni

Fancy colored diamonds dominated the spotlight in the gem hall, with at least a dozen diamonds from past Argyle pink diamond tenders. Demand, however was strongest for fancy blue diamonds in the intense and vivid grades (without modifying colors) because of a trade sentiment that such stones are now underpriced.

One major dealer noted that “we heard the rumor, raised our prices and these dealers bought them anyway.”

Fancy yellow diamonds also saw a recovery in demand if they had no modifying color, dealers said.

A huge hunk of rough diamond.
The 910 ct “Lesotho Legend,” the fifth largest diamond ever discovered was mined at Letseng, Lesotho in January. Photo Russell Shor/GIA.

Taché, the Antwerp diamond manufacturer, exhibited the 910 carat rough diamond Lesotho Legend that was mined earlier this year from the Letseng mine in Lesotho. It is the fifth largest diamond ever found, and Taché bought it for $40 million two weeks before the show opened. The company said it will study the diamond for four or five months before beginning the cutting process.

A fiery pear shaped diamond.
A 110 carat pear shaped diamond from the Nizam of Hyderabad Collection offered by Rare Diamond House of Antwerp. Photo by Russell Shor

The Rare Diamond House of Antwerp displayed a Moghul-era 110 ct-plus D internally flawless, Type IIa pear-shaped diamond that reportedly belonged to the legendary Nizam of Hyderabad, who accumulated one of the largest gem collections in history before it was sold off in the 1970s and 1980s

Oded Mansouri, director of Rare Diamond House, said he acquired the diamond about 18 months ago. “The diamond had been cut in the 1800s and was not completely symmetrical,” he said. “But it was so fiery that when I gave it to the cutter to recut, he told me he would walk out before it would recut this stone.”

Base and frame of the clock are clear rock crystal and blue and gold material. The clock face, also clear rock crystal with blue and gold material, hangs from the upper frame.
A “Mystery Clock” by RCM Gioielli, Valenza Italy. Two marquise cut fancy brown diamonds, 2.33 ct and 1.56 ct, serve as the hour and minute hands. The base, dial and columns were fashioned from one 70 kg piece of rock crystal, said Mirella Francia, a director of the company. The “numbers” total 34.86 carats of round diamonds set in lapis. Rose cut diamonds totaling 10.5 carats are set in 18k gold. Photo courtesy of RCM

M. Vainer of London offered a 4.25 ct Fancy Deep orangy brown diamond that displayed secondary colors of red and yellow in different light sources, and several Argyle diamonds from tender auctions in the 1990s.

“Some of these older Argyle diamonds are being recut because in the years since, they have learned how to draw the best colors from these stones,” explained Richard Vainer, a company partner.

All stones are unset, but grouped to form a necklace and a bracelet.
A suite of demantoid garnets by Constantin Wild, of 21 round cuts weighing 28.54 carats total, plus a 3.43 ct center stone; a bracelet of 13 demantoids weighing 15.93 carats and two demantoid center stones over 2.5 carats. Photo by Russell Shor/GIA

Constantin Wild showed a necklace demantoid garnet of 21 round cuts weighing 28.54 carats total, plus a 3.43 ct center stone; a bracelet of 13 demantoids weighing 15.93 carats and two demantoid center stones over 2.5 carats.

“Such stones are very rare over one carat,” Wild noted.

A group of 14 various size and color melo pearls
A melo pearl collection from Gem Trade, Lugano containing 15 pearls ranging from 10 carats to 45 carats. Photo by Russell Shor/GIA.

Gemtrade of Lugano, Switzerland offered a 15-piece melo pearl collection ranging from 10 carats to 45 carats, in addition to a number of rarely seen gemstones.

Russell Shor is senior industry analyst at GIA in Carlsbad.