“My mission is to get gems to people.” As Senior Buyer for Jewelry Television (JTV), recognized as the world’s largest purveyor of colored gemstones, Jay Boyle is uniquely positioned to do just that. Frequently traveling to find and buy gems at their source from exotic mining locales – from Myanmar, Bangkok and Tanzania to Colombia and Brazil – while also presenting exceptional gems directly to customers on live TV, Jay’s realm spans the world wide gem market. Sitting at the nexus between direct source and end market on a global scale, his perspective on the colored gem market is uniquely insightful.
I recently sat down with Jay as he spun his fascinating story. “I learned the gem business the hard way, by making mistakes,” he says with a laugh. “Fresh out of college I was looking for something exciting and different, something I’d love to do. I’d served in Vietnam and had a degree in Speech Pathology. But I was looking outside the box. A friend mentioned, ‘You can get rubies from Bangkok.’ It struck a chord. It was my first ‘Aha!’ moment.”
“In 1980 inflation was at 17%. We were in the midst of a hard asset boom. People wanted to invest in gold and gems – hard assets – as a hedge against inflation. I partnered with a good friend, Steve Pollack. We decided to try out the global gem business. We went on a learning spree, garnering all the information we could. We called gem dealers in New York and pumped them for information. I applied to the Gemological Institute of America. By the next summer I had graduated from GIA, we had borrowed $100,000 in start-up capital, and I was on my first trip to Hong Kong and Bangkok to buy rubies.”
So began Jay’s colorful adventures. “On my first trip to Thailand I met a fellow gem adventurer who had just escaped over the border from Burma (Myanmar) where he had been locked in a bamboo tiger cage for several weeks for carrying rubies illegally. That was the first of a long line of ‘white knuckle experiences.’ I began to realize that locating the finest quality gems was not going to be easy. Traveling alone to remote, politically unstable areas – Burma, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania – with cash in hand, asking for gems, is often asking for trouble. I quickly learned the importance of good contacts.”
“In 2002 I was able to visit the ‘Lost Valley of the Rubies,’ the Mogok Valley in upper Burma, historically the source of the finest rubies in the world. Eager to open a market for their gems in the US, the local military government approved my visit. I was one of only a handful of Westerners allowed to visit the remote, secluded area in many decades. Unfortunately, no one had informed the local military commander of my visit. Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by a platoon of soldiers wielding AK47s. It took a few heart-stopping moments before everything was sorted out.”
“During the 1980s we sold to gem dealers in NYC and Tucson. The profit margins were not large because we were selling to gem dealers. But I fell in love with gems. My passion for them kept me going. By 1990 I was looking for a new direction. I partnered with another friend, an American from Thailand, who wanted to sell Thai gems directly to the American market. We formed a company, Novastar, and I immersed myself in learning everything I could about gem treatments – heat treating, irradiation. During the 1990s I was selling $1.5 million a year to dealers, exhibiting at the major shows in Tucson, Vegas, Miami and NYC. I opened up markets in the Caribbean and sold directly to the retail jewelry stores in resorts there.”
“My overriding question is always, ‘Who can I sell gems to?’ It seems I’ve sold to nearly every market on Earth! At the time I saw an acquaintance on TV selling his plan for buying real estate with no down payment. This was before infomercials were ubiquitous, when selling on TV was a new concept. I thought, ‘I could do this with gems.’ The light bulb went off again. It was my second ‘Aha!’ moment. And from then on I was always looking for ways to sell gems through television.”
“In 1999 a colleague, Jerry Sisk, who owned America’s Collectibles Network in TN – the forerunner of JTV – asked me to bring back rubies for him from my upcoming trip to Thailand. The network at the time was selling Beanie Babies and other collectibles. He thought to try gems. He advanced me $50,000. Within 30 days all the rubies were sold. He then advanced $100,000 for the next trip. It snowballed from there. I would be off camera, handing gems to the person on camera selling them. One day Jerry had the flu and couldn’t appear live so I took his place. So began my career selling gems live on TV.”
“We were very successful because we were leapfrogging over the established distribution channels, jewelers. We were buying directly from the source and selling directly to viewers. We were able to sell at an extremely fair price. We always emphasized educating the viewers about gems and disclosing all treatments. We actually create demand for gemstones in the market by introducing new gemstones to viewers and informing them. Within seven years we went from $15 million per year to over $350 million in sales.”
Jay offers some tips for the retail jeweler. “Selling colored stones offers a great opportunity for the jewelry retailer. There’s a greater profit margin potential than with diamonds. I see everywhere smart jewelers taking advantage of the market demand we are helping create with colored stones. Viewers are exposed to beautiful new gems on TV and often visit their local jeweler to have a special custom piece made. The local retailer can provide a personalized experience that’s not available thru TV. Some retail jewelers also use us as suppliers for gems and equipment and buy from JTV and JTV.com. We are known for great competitive prices, good selections and a 30 day money back guarantee.”
Now, after 33 years in the business, Jay’s experience buying and selling colored gems is unrivaled in level and scope. He buys $50 million or more a year, at all grades, directly from the source. What does he see on the horizon? “The biggest trend is the expanding Asian market. Emerging wealth in China, Japan, Germany and Russia will make these markets for gems soon rival or surpass that of the US. Coupled with dwindling supply world-wide, the prices of colored gems can only rise.”
Jay currently enjoys the good life with his wife Lenora of 32 years. He reflects, “I travel throughout the world, have wonderful friends, am passionate about what I do. I’m living the colorful adventure I dreamed of years ago. I’ve been extremely blessed.”
Mia Katrin is an award-winning couture jewelry designer specializing in beautiful necklaces of gems in gold and silver. Featured in over 50 top stores nationally, her Collections have been worn by A-List Hollywood celebrities. Mia exhibits at trade shows and produces and hosts live fashion shows. A trend-setting style spokesperson, she is available for lectures and seminars. www.jeweljewel.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 877-JEWEL-MY (539-3569). She likes to be Liked on Facebook – search Mia Katrin for JEWEL COUTURE LLC.