“Gemstones of the World”
Photographer and former senior writer and Director of Photography of Professional Jewelers Magazine.
Current Manager of Photography and Visual Communications, GIA Library and Information Center was the speaker on July 23rd 2007.
Well traveled Robert Weldon gave a rich presentation covering the world of gems. The message was that the world of gemstones is changing, whether for good or bad remains to be seen. In either case major changes will affect the mining, distribution, imports and treatments of gemstones during the next decade. Globalization, including ever-changing circumstances, is condensing the gem-industry as a whole.
Currently a major shortage of rough gem material has affected the world market. Good rough material is moving to other areas outside the USA faster than ever before, and the weakness of the dollar has clearly affected the routing of fine gem material. Some mines require more advanced technology as mines are drying up, and it becomes more difficult to extract gems in several regions. The lines of distribution are getting shorter and the middle man is being eliminated as a result of environmental, political, and demographic changes.
Millions of carats of some gems are controlled by a small number of people and companies who manage the entire production-line. One gem, Bolivian ametrine, is now in the hands of a single company which controls mining, cutting, setting and retailing the gem from beginning to end. This vertical integration can facilitate stable prices and retain complete control of distribution. The “Tanzanite 1” marketing group is another vertical integration example of an aggressive Tanzanite-only world-wide marketing effort. Their main targets include the Carribean, Europe and Russia.
Regulatory permits, licensing requirements, and possible non-compliance has created the recent irradiated blue topaz “debacle” which has resulted in several major retailers returning their blue topaz stock to their suppliers. Supposedly 10 million dollars worth of blue topaz has been withdrawn from the market. The jewelry trade has responded by calling for a meeting with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This will certainly not be the end of this issue. Not too long ago several American stores refused to sell Tanzanite because of “terrorist ties” as the media reported. Publicity without the substantiation of facts can damage a specific gemstone’s marketability very quickly, and in the end Tanzanite sales had nothing to do with financing terrorism, as was verified later by a State Department announcement. Unfortunately by then the mining and distribution were affected to the point of causing needless financial hardship and suffering for many.
Mr. Weldon emphasized the importance of social responsibility in the marketing and mining of gems in today’s very aware world. Columbia Gemhouse’s method of actually advertising their commitment to marketing “Fair Trade Gems” was given as an example. They have no trouble selling their “Socially Acceptable” African color. The tsavorite mines of Lemshuko in Tanzania provide schools, teachers and educational material to the families of miners and responsible mine owners like Campbell Bridges are actively exploring different ways to make their mines safer.
The wide variety of photos from Mr. Weldon’s travels included beautiful scenes from Columbia where the vegetation mimics what comes out of the ground…stunning green Muzo emeralds! The current president of Columbia is actively moving toward stabilizing his country, but the efforts to create openness, welcome debate and scrutiny by one important “Esmaldero” ended in his tragic death. His efforts to allow miners to earn proceeds, allow wives to join their husbands, and build roads and a laboratory are now on hold.
A shrinking world facilitates the travels of Tanzanians selling their products in Idar Oberstein, and German buyers frequently travel to Brazil. Competing in this ever-shrinking circle is becoming increasingly difficult. The time may be right to visit sights where gemstones are born and gain first hand knowledge about gems. Burma however is not a place where one should travel without considerable caution. It is a beautiful place with beautiful people and lots of wonderful gems. It is the Government that has created a difficult environment and the US embargo is driving the poor into even more poverty without truly stopping gems from leaving the country. Burmese gems still find their way to the cutting factories in Thailand and China and are then exported world-wide.
Promising future markets include India (with a population on 300 million people) and China, which is expected to show a huge market growth within the next decade. Already these countries are purchasing major amounts of rough gem material around the globe. With the US dollar’s value shrinking it is inevitable that gem prices will also rise in the United States. It has already been noticed that the US low end sales have dropped considerably, the middle range has shown some decline, and only the high end is experiencing stable sales. Unique and rare jewelry and gems are selling well.
The internet has created a world marketplace, but has also created a source of misinformation, and untruths, which make it more difficult for the independent, well educated, experienced jeweler to compete. More transparency, safeguarding of the environment, fair labor conditions, disclosure, education and familiarity with the sources of gemstones may well provide a stable and positive future for gem-sales and the jewelry trade as a whole. Environmental consciousness is clearly on the rise, shown by the increasing number of consumers who are actively involved in questioning sources and social issues. Statistically 89% of people want a good-cause product, and that may well be the ultimate success story!
Summary by Denise Nelson
Photo by Denise Nelson