Major mines represented
On the mining side, speakers representing three of the largest mines in Colombia related their activities.
“There is a reticence about Colombia and its past, but this must be the past. We work with communities now that are established and reliable,” said Rosey Perkins, manager of new projects and corporate communication for Canada-listed Fura Gems (owner of the iconic and recently acquired Coscuez Mine). “In the last nine months, we have employed 270 local people with experience in mining and we are also committed to working with 70 local suppliers in Coscuez.”
Among its community-oriented activities, Fura supports a health clinic, bakery, and sewing centre, and recently formed a women-only washing plant for mine waste.
“We even teach English to the workers because that is what they have asked for,” said Perkins.
Later, during my visit to the Coscuez Mine in Boyacá State, Dev Shetty (CEO of Fura Gems) explained the operation has produced fine emeralds for more than 400 years.
“Our strategy is very clear,” he explained. “We are going to understand the geological science, because we want to have large-scale projects that we believe will produce for 20 years or more.”
Similarly, MTC Muzo’s Burgess detailed the transformation of the Colombian emerald industry over the last few years, including MTC’s purchase in 2009 of one of the region’s most important mines, Puerto Arturo in Muzo. MTC soon introduced modern mining methods and technology and today has numerous social and health programs for the local community. One of MTC’s non-mine community projects is Furatena Cacao, which promotes sustainable cocoa cultivation by farming communities.
“There can be no growth in this industry without bringing in local communities,” Burgess said, adding MTC has also established a cutting facility in Bogotá for its emeralds, which brings added value and employment to the local population.
German Forero, director of Esmeraldas Santa Rosa (owner of the large Cunas Mine), also spoke about his company’s socially and environmentally responsible mining projects in the Boyacá region, where most of Colombia’s emerald mines are located.
“Our country, despite violence in the past, has a great deal to offer due to the national development plans that include mining, housing, and education,” he said. “The mining industry is an example of development in Colombia that includes good social practices, the promotion of employment, and working with the environmental authorities to improve standards in the region. We are also committed to community projects such as raising literacy rates.”
Origin and more
Emerald mines in other countries—including Canada, Brazil, and Zambia—were also on the agenda at the event. Dr. Lee Groat, a professor of earth, ocean, and atmospheric sciences at the University of British Colombia (UBC), offered an overview of the emerald occurrences in Canada—specifically, in the Northwest Territories. He explained the Canadian model, which uses geological data to analyze terrain for chromium and vanadium (minerals associated with emerald deposits). He concluded by noting there are many challenges to exploration, including inclement weather and sparse infrastructure, to name a few.
Canadian gemmologist and geologist Warren F. Boyd, president of supplier R.T. Boyd, explained the various modes of gemstone formation and mine types (e.g. hard rock, alluvial, etc.), along with some financing options and the need for regulations in Canada. The latter was highlighted with his discussion of a major scandal that rocked the Canadian mining industry two decades ago, when Bre-X Minerals, a Canadian group of companies, salted a mine in Indonesia. When the fraud was discovered, the stock price collapsed and thousands of shareholders lost their investments.
The rather thorny topic of where emeralds originate (i.e. which mine, country, or region produced them) was discussed at length in a panel discussion led by GIA’s McClure. Members included Milisenda (DSEF), Lu (NGTC), and Scarratt (DANAT). While the panelists generally agreed origin determination is important to today’s consumer, the reality is it is not always straightforward or simple.
Scarratt summed up the problem by saying, “You need hundreds of thousands of specimens, and that’s the easy part. The difficult part is having the instrumentation and the people with the right training to create databases that people can use around the world. This is a phenomenal task that no single lab has ever been able to achieve. The enormity of this task is mind-boggling.”
On a more cultural note, the symposium participants were treated to a gala dinner and a fashion show of traditional costume-clad models showcasing some of Colombia’s most precious emerald jewellery.
The Second World Emerald Symposium was informative, constructive, and reflective of an industry that knows where it is going. This is a strong contrast to the first symposium in 2015, when the emerald industry was in a state of flux. As noted by this year’s speakers, the stability, investments, and technologies international companies bring to Colombia are moving the industry into the future. Additionally, the notion of corporate social responsibility is being taken very seriously, which helps the local communities in mining areas and the country as a whole.
A 20-year veteran of the jewellery and watch industry, Cynthia Unninayar travels the world reporting on the latest trends, promising new designers, global brands, and market conditions. Her interviews with some of the industry’s top players offer insight into what’s new and what’s happening on the global jewellery stage. Unninayar can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.