Gems TV, ITV, review: How one family and a shedload of Tanzanite made Gems TV a winner


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The Independent Culture

Documentaries don't have to be angry, hypocrisy-exposing investigations to hold our interest. Gems TV (ITV) was an entertaining hour, soothingly soundtracked by 1950s easy listening. If you've ever wondered why people watch those shopping channels, here was your answer: they're happily hypnotised.

Gems TV UK is one of three jewellery auction channels headed up by tycoon Steve Bennett and his extended family, including second wife, Sarah, his son and soon-to-be son-in-law. In essence, it's a family business operated out of a shed in Birmingham, but not many family businesses boast an annual turnover of more than £100m. While traditional jewellers sell only a few items a year with a high mark-up, the Bennetts' business model is based on selling thousands of pieces a day, sourced direct from the mines and at bargain basement prices.

Admittedly, it's not rubies or emeralds that are flying out the warehouse, but stones that most people have never heard of. Tanzanite, a blue-purple gem originating in the Mererani Hills of northern Tanzania, is so popular they've nearly run out, so Steve was off to Africa, to personally source a new seam. It was a bit like scene out of the 2006 blockbuster Blood Diamond, only there was no mention here of the environmental or ethical impact of precious stone mining and no mention at any point of Gems TV's recent scandal involving a presenter sacked for making a rude gesture live on air.

That's the kind of grit that might dull a stone's sparkle, and Steve Bennett knows it. Which is why when he returned home with only a cheesy Wotsits-coloured gem called "spessartite", he quickly went about renaming it "tulelei" and creating a backstory that would capture the imaginations of his viewer-customers. They call it "romancing the stones".

This may not be the whole, uncensored story of Gems TV, but with David Brent's disciples so plentiful in other business documentaries, a display of competence makes for a refreshing change. Here was a businessman who actually seemed to understand people as well as products. Selling jewellery is "never about price, it's only about the perceived value", said Steve and his theories were confirmed by interviews with Gems TV's happily bejewelled customers. These Liz Taylors of Leeds, Princess Graces of Macclesfield and Miss Havishams of Hammersmith were all interesting enough to warrant a documentary of their own.