GemGenève, carats and wonders

The first GemGenève fair will be held in Geneva from 10 to 13 May. Initiated by two gemstone and antique jewellery merchants, Ronny Totah and Thomas Faerber, the show is already shaping up to be a success, with around 150 exhibitors and a growing waiting list. The dealers and lapidaries we met in New York are looking forward to coming to Geneva. Photos:© Scott McDermott. – Isabelle Cerboneschi, New York.

For decades, Ronny Totah and Thomas Faerber did what they do best: buying antique ornaments, Burmese sapphires, natural pearls, jewels of royal provenance, precious stones, exhibiting them at fairs and shows, selling them, sometimes keeping them.

For decades, Ronny Totah and Thomas Faerber built their reputation as they would a solid house for future generations. They have done their job with the passion that drives them, with their intuition, trying to get luck on their side, because every purchase is a risk. They have also made a few mistakes, “because anyone who doesn’t make mistakes is not a good dealer, » says Thomas Faerber.

This is what Ronny Totah and Thomas Faerber have been doing for decades. They’ve known each other for 40 years. That’s a lot of shared fairs. And then in 2016, tired of not finding a show that took into account the real needs of their trade, they had the idea of creating it. They talked about it to their partners, merchants and friends, and without any assurance or guarantee of results, they got them on board. Among the 150 or so exhibitors are some of the most respected names in the world of jewellery: William Goldberg, Michael Gad, Yafa, Maria Canale, the GIA and the Gübelin Gem Lab, to name but a few.

How did GemGenève emerge?

« GemGenève was born out of a desire on the part of two people who didn’t work together at the outset.  But it was in the air. Thomas and I, each on our own, thought it was time to create a show tailored to our profession, and we found ourselves talking about the same thing,” says Ronny Totah “And this adventure, this madness you might say, is now coming to life! It’s exciting because we’re learning so much, even if it’s just about organising an event: we used to work in our own offices, each of us working for himself, and now we’re united to achieve something for for the entire industry ,» continues Thomas Faerber.

The two men have been working tirelessly on this project for eight months, with the enthusiasm of two young start-up entrepreneurs hoping that the show will live up to their dream and the expectations of the exhibitors. I had the privilege of following them for a few days in New York, in the discreet offices of the 48th Street negociants. Ronny Totah and Thomas Faerber admired some of the pieces to be presented at GemGenève, suites of Colombian emeralds at Emco, Ashoka®-cut diamond sets at William Goldberg, “if they are not sold by then, » and historic jewellery by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron. But unlike usual, they have not come to New York to do business: just to talk about GemGenève.

The fair will be showcasing, among others, gemstone traders, antique jewellery merchants and treasure hunters. “We travel all over the world, we go to Switzerland, Hong Kong, we attend fairs, auctions, we meet private clients. Sometimes we come across a piece of jewellery by chance. It’s a quest,» explains Maurice Moradof, the founder of Yafa, whom we met at William Goldberg’s offices.

« All the exhibitors are small and medium-sized family businesses, with an owner, a philosophy and an ethos behind them. We created this show to keep our brotherhood alive, we occupy niches and we bring knowledge that only individuals can bring to our industry,» stresses Thomas Faerber. « I think GemGenève is going to be an exceptional show, a wonderful experience. The quality of the exhibitors that the organisers have chosen is really very high. And when you put so many great people in one place, wonderful things happen,» says Maurice Moradof.

This whole adventure didn’t start in 2016, but long before. « It began in 1970 for Thomas and in 1980 for me. It was all those years during which we built up relationships of trust with the players in this industry that enabled us to think up GemGenève and get them to follow us. The same goes for four world-renowned gemmology laboratories: GIA, Gübelin Gem Lab, SSEF and GemTechLab,» says Ronny Totah.

Exhibitors have high expectations. “Previous shows have disappointed us, and we’re all looking forward to GemGenève: all the traders in our industry are hyper-optimistic, and we’re looking forward to doing great business together, » explains Justin Sachmechi of Michael Gad, as he presents me with a set of diamonds and 13 pear-cut Colombian emeralds totalling 58.36 carats.

Fairs and exhibitions are the industry’s only way of opening up to the world. However, having to deal almost once a month with “organisers whose main job is to sell square metres” and who do little to meet the needs of exhibitors, can be too much in the long run. « We designed this show from the point of view of the organisers, the visitors and above all the exhibitors. They now have a show organised by two people who think like they do. Our adventure is a family affair, » says Ronny Totah.

Geneva, the beating heart of the jewellery world

Between the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in January, GemGenève in May, the EPHJ-EPMT-SMT – the World Fine Watchmaking Exhibition that brings together watchmaking subcontractors – in June, with 850 exhibitors in 36,000 m2 of exhibition space, and the auctions in May and November, an entire profession is represented in Geneva. “This puts the city back in the position it should never have lost,” says Ronny Totah. “While Basel is a central point for presenting watches, jewellery needs to be exhibited in a different environment, and Geneva is ‘The place to be’,” confides Ursula Piekut, Sales and Marketing Director at Maria Canale Jewelry.

The show will be held in the same week as the auctions, and there will be a GemGenève desk at Christie’s. The two major houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, will be providing a certain amount of visibility for this new event. In short, it’s a virtuous circle: one company’s customers are another company’s customers.

Seventeen countries and all religions will be represented, and “we will all be peacefully gathered together”, Thomas Faerber points out. “Together” is a word you don’t often hear at trade fairs these days…

Given the enthusiasm generated by such an initiative, we can reasonably believe in the success of a business model based not on cynicism, arrogance, short-sightedness and profitability at all costs, but on experience, unity, shared passion and respect for one’s word.