Q&A: AGTA CEO John Ford on His New Role, Goals

SourcingAug 31, 2022

Q&A: AGTA CEO John Ford on His New Role, Goals

National Jeweler chats with him about how his background in gems will guide him and his plans for the organization’s future.

The American Gem Trade Association named industry veteran John Ford as its new CEO in early August.
Dallas—The American Gem Trade Association named John Ford, an industry veteran and one of its own members, as its new CEO in early August.

Ford was the owner of The Lightning Ridge Collection by John Ford, centered on black opals from Lighting Ridge in Australia, but he left that business to focus on the new role.

He also relocated from Galveston to Dallas, Texas.

National Jeweler recently caught up with Ford via email to hear more about his plans as CEO. Here’s what he had to say.

National Jeweler: Tell us a little bit about your background in the industry and how you got into it.

John Ford: I originally got into the trade at age 19, when I met someone selling gold chains in flea markets in Houston, Texas, who bragged about how much money they were making. I was intrigued and found a few wholesale suppliers, and suddenly I was in business. I sold gold chains, charms, and earrings on weekends and even at school as I attended Texas A&M University.

I soon progressed into fine gemstones, being primarily influenced and mentored by Keith Shaftel of Shaftel Diamonds of Houston, Texas, and the late Irving David Clark of Galveston, Texas, an esteemed jeweler and gemologist.

I opened a brick-and-mortar retail jewelry store with a wholesale trade shop in Galveston. Business flourished and, by total accident, I was exposed to Lightning Ridge opal, which forever changed my life. 

The colors and of the beauty of black opal captivated me, and as time went on, I transitioned solely into wholesaling loose and finished jewelry set with black opal. That transition into black opal ultimately led me to AGTA firm membership and its board of directors.

 Related stories will be right here … 

NJ: How do you think that background, and having been an AGTA member yourself, will inform how you approach the role of AGTA CEO?

JF: My background is very diverse; being a gem dealer, I understand the unique aspects of our industry, those involved, and how to position AGTA at the industry’s forefront. I have extensive corporate governance experience and board experience in both the public and private sectors that, combined with my jewelry industry experience, provides me a unique perspective as CEO of AGTA.

NJ: What is your No. 1 goal for AGTA as you step into the CEO role?

JF: To solidify AGTA as the trusted source for colored gemstones and cultured pearls in the industry and as the authority on ethical practices for the trade and consumers alike.

NJ: Where do you think AGTA’s greatest areas of opportunity lie?

JF: Our greatest opportunity lies in increasing our membership, with an emphasis on retail members, and promoting our trade shows to a larger wholesale audience.

“My background is very diverse; being a gem dealer, I understand the unique aspects of our industry, those involved, and how to position AGTA at the industry’s forefront.”

NJ: How important do you think the organization’s GemFair events are when it comes to the future of the organization, and what would you like to see happen with those?

JF: We are expanding all our GemFair events, (beginning with) the expansion of the AGTA GemFair Denver pavilion at the HardRock Summit Sparkle & Joy this September. And most notably our growing renewed partnership with JCK Las Vegas.

I’m excited that our 2023 AGTA GemFair Las Vegas Pavilion will be expanding four times larger than in 2022. The popular AGTA GemFair Tucson is getting an upgrade as well—the Tucson Convention Center added 18,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space, and we’re going to bring new aspects to the show in the future.

NJ: As conversations around responsible sourcing continue, what do you see as AGTA’s role when it comes to being a part of those and how will you address that? 

JF: AGTA will continue to be the authority on ethical practices for colored gemstones and cultured pearls in the world just as we’ve done over the last 40 years. Responsible sourcing is in the fiber of who we are as an association.

NJ: Are there any other goals or areas of focus you’d like to mention?

JF: My goals as CEO are for AGTA to be a sustainable entity, growing in membership with an emphasis on retail memberships, promoting our trade shows to a larger wholesale audience with a comprehensive new marketing strategy solidifying AGTA as the source for colored gemstones in the world and the authority on ethical practices for the trade and consumers.

Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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