Scottsdale, AZ—Richard Wise is a colored gemstone expert, former retailer, author and self-proclaimed ‘Colored Gemstone Rebel.’ Appearing Tuesday morning at Centurion 2017, Wise will give better jewelers a true insider look at the colored gemstone trade and how profits can grow in this area of business. Wise has had an interesting journey becoming the rebel he is today. The Centurion recently spoke with him about his background and his love for colored gemstones.
“My first job was with Ross-Simons. At that time, the company had two stores and was not the brand power it is today. “I was just getting out of the service and looking for a job in sales, “I was hired to be a salesman/shipper. I was hired in July and fired in September.” Wise was happy to leave. Why? “Too much time in the cellar wrapping packages,” he told The Centurion.
Wise went on to college and earned a BA and masters in philosophy. Imbued by the politics of the 60’s with a burning desire to save the world, he next went to work for social activist Saul Alinsky and spent the next decade organizing for social change. “After burning out of social action, I found myself learning skills of a goldsmith in a tiny shop in New Bedford, MA in 1978.”
He set up a store, and gem dealers began to call. Wise began asking questions. From one of his early jobs selling Christmas cards/magazines and encyclopedias door-to-door, he learned “when customers ask questions, you better have answers if you want to make the sale. It seemed to me to be important to understand gemstone quality,” he said.
“I started questioning the dealers, but all I got were stupid answers,” Wise remembers. “I didn’t understand why. Either these guys didn’t want to tell me or they really didn’t know the answers. Later, I discovered it was a little bit of both. The gem trade is an old and venerable one, conservative and secret. There are lots of historic reasons for that.” But Wise dug into gemstone education anyway.
“Everyone in the business is a diamond specialist. I decided to get involved in color. Colored gems were cheaper, more beautiful and more interesting than diamonds. I tried research, but books didn’t help much; they had a lot to say about sources, science and lore, but little about connoisseurship or quality.”
Wise then made two pivotal decisions. He enrolled, by correspondence, in the Graduate Gemologist program at GIA and decided to take his questions to the source. “Now, I knew those dealers got their stones from somewhere and thought, ‘If I really want to learn, I should take my questions to the source.’”
Wise managed a letter of introduction from a dealer friend to a brokerage house in Bangkok. “I borrowed $5,000 from the local bank and bought a round-trip ticket to Thailand.”
Bangkok was an eye-opener. “I went with the idea that if I could buy a stone for $1,000 in New York City then I should be able to buy it for half that or less in Bangkok and maybe get a better selection.” Over the years, he has made regular trips to most of the world’s gem major gem producing areas including Burma, East Africa, Colombia, the Australian outback and Brazil.
“On the retail level, I decided to specialize in hand fabricated originals.” Wise wanted to position himself at the top. “It didn’t make sense to me to make one of a kind jewelry and try to compete with mass manufacturers and overseas labor. My cost of production was always going to be higher. I decided to make a better mousetrap.” He did just that and spent the bulk of his working life making fine handmade jewelry set with gorgeous, unique gemstones.
His advice to today’s jewelers? “Don’t follow the herd unless you want to get slaughtered. Find opportunities where everyone else is not looking.”
Wise lived that advice. “I didn’t stock a diamond over a fifth of a carat. I didn’t do repairs or change watch batteries. If anyone asked, I told them we were design specialists and didn’t do that sort of work. If you look at the average store and how it operates, I did everything wrong. With my extra time I researched and wrote articles for jewelry magazines.”
Wise is recently retired from retail. “I had 1,150 square feet, my wife and two employees in a resort town with a ten week season. The last ten years of business, I regularly sold gems in the six and seven figures and averaged a strong seven figure annual gross.”
Wise has written over forty articles and authored three books. His Secrets of the Gems Trade, The Connoisseur’s Guide,” sold so well in its original edition that the updated second edition was released in November. He also is the author of The French Blue, a book that tells the life story of 17th century gem dealer Jean Baptiste Tavernier, the man who sold Louis XIV the Hope Diamond.
Looking for the path less traveled? Don’t miss Wise and the rest of his incredible gemstone story next week at the upcoming Centurion Show. Visit www.centurionjewelry.com for more information.