Jaipur Hosts ICA Congress
The International Colored Gemstone Association’s (ICA’s) biennial Congress held its 17th edition in the Pink City, from October 21st to 24th, the second time that India has hosted the ICA event since 2003.
Jaipur is one of the most important gems and jewellery exporting cities in the world, and it has been our honour and privilege to host the ICA Congress here,” stated Rajiv Jain, chairman of the Jaipur ICA Congress.
More than 275 participants came from 25 countries, including 100 attendees from India. Speakers included world-renowned gemmologists, miners, cutters, jewellery designers, business experts and authorities on sustainability and transparency. The traditional poster competition also showcased creative graphic design related to gemstones.
The Congress kicked off with a welcome speech by GJEPC chairman, Praveenshankar Pandya, who stated that GJEPC is ready to support generic marketing of coloured gemstones. He also touched on the various laws affecting gem trading in India, such as the Goods & Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation, stressing the need for local dealers to be compliant and transparent in adopting these new rules.
Transparency, along with corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability were themes evoked by a number of speakers at the Congress. First among them was Sean Gilbertson, CEO of Gemfields. After a few minutes dispelling negative rumours concerning the recent takeover of Gemfields by Pallinghurst, he talked about Gemfields’ focus on Africa and the large-scale miner’s goal of providing a consistent and reliable supply of gems. He also discussed the importance of building trust and transparency and briefly mentioned the company’s CSR policies. In terms of marketing, he said that Gemfields spends more than $50 million to get the word out about its emeralds and rubies, and that this promotion benefits the industry as a whole.
Gilbertson also showcased the rare and remarkable Insofu (“Baby Elephant”) emerald, discovered in 2010 at the Kagem mine in Zambia. The exceptional 1.220-kg (6,100-ct) stone was recently purchased, for an undisclosed sum, by Rajkumar Tongya, chairman of Diacolor, a fourgeneration, family-run gem and jewellery business. “This is one of the best pieces I have seen,” Tongya commented. “Its size, quality and green lustre make it a truly rare and priceless stone.” He added that the Insofu will be displayed in museums before he decides ultimately what to do with the exceptional gem.
While Gemfields represents the advantages of large-scale mining, other speakers noted that 85-90% of gem extraction is carried out by small-scale, artisanal miners. The challenges of “illegal” mining were highlighted by geologist Odulio de Moura, whose talk centred on tourmaline deposits around the world. He stressed the need for artisanal miners to respect the laws of the country where they work, as they put “legal” companies at a definite disadvantage.
Issues concerning small-scale miners were also discussed by Vincent Pardieu, of VP Consulting, and gem collector and dealer, Federico Barlocher. Pardieu discussed the recent discoveries of sapphire in Madagascar and the need to balance responsible mining with jobs. He underscored the issues facing some national parks in Madagascar that have been overrun with illegal miners seeking sapphires. Barlocher featured a film on ruby mining in Mogok, Myanmar, where mining is carried out by both small-scale and industrial techniques. He added that many mines are losing money, although some are doing well.
On a related note, Edwin Molinas, president of Aprecol, spoke frankly about the challenges large-scale miners face in Colombia when it comes to interactions with local communities, who often think of the miners as arrogant, disloyal and dishonest. “We are losing the battle with communities,” he lamented, insisting that large-scale miners must build bridges with the people in their area. He gave several examples of this bridge-building in the form of hospitals, environmental protection and working with local law enforcement, while stressing the importance of transparency and traceability of the gems.
In the “Ethics” section, Dr. Assheton Stewart Carter, director of the Dragonfly Initiative, discussed accusations by several NGOs and journalists concerning the gem trade. “It’s too easy to cry ‘fake news’ when it comes to these claims, as there is usually an element of truth in them,” he warned. Carter emphasised the importance of developing a supply-chain standard where gem cutters and miners can have a clean and dignified life. He also mentioned that 2,000 people a year die in India from silicosis caused by inhaling dust from gemstones. He also gave several examples, including Walmart and Chopard, that offer products sourced in a traceable and responsible manner.
Rajiv Jain, chairman of Sambhav Gems, was quick to point out, however, that no case of silicosis has been reported for cutters in Jaipur because they use wet techniques. Agate cutters in Khambat, however, which represent less than 1% of India’s total gem production, were at risk for silicosis as they used dry techniques. To remedy the problem, the GJEPC went to Khambat to educate the artisans on safe techniques. By 2014, they were using wet techniques to cut the gems.
In terms of business opportunities, Prida Tiasuwan, chairman of Pranda, explained the three tax structures in Thailand—import, VAT, excise—and how the laws have changed to help gem and jewellery companies. He noted that the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association (TGJTA) is ready to help companies that want to do business in Thailand with services, including free advice by attorneys.
Indira Malwatte, CEO of the Sri Lanka Export Development Board, explained that it is important to market to millennials whose appreciation of coloured gems is growing. This generation also prefers brands that practise good CSR and are even willing to pay more for products from sustainable sources. She also indicated that the mid-market segment is declining while the high and low ends are growing.
A presentation that elicited some controversy was given by Dr. Daniel Nyfeler, managing director of Gubelin Gem Lab. In order to help with transparency and traceability, Gubelin has developed an Emerald Paternity Test, which allows a DNA capsule to be placed inside a gem right at the mine. This tiny 100-nanometre barcoded capsule is not visible and remains with the gem throughout the supply chain. Brazil-based Belmont mine and Colombia’s Muzo mine are the first two companies to help research this technique. After his presentation, several detractors told me they were against this type of system for a number of reasons, among them, the possibility of abuse by people who might obtain the capsules and place them in emeralds from anywhere. Others were worried that this type of “identification” might devalue emeralds that did not have this “paternity.”
For more information on the ICA and the Congress, visit Gemstone.org.
The incoming ICA president, Clement Sabbagh, lights the flame at the inaugural lighting ceremony at the start of the Congress.
The winner of the ICA Poster Competition, by Shanna Senior.