Gem News International Gems & Gemology, Spring 2017, Vol. 53, No. 1

Conversation with Gemfields

Zambia’s Kagem emerald mine.
Figure 1. The massive open-pit Kagem emerald mine in Zambia is perhaps the largest colored gemstone mining operation in the world. Photo by Andrew Lucas, courtesy of Gemfields.

UK-based Gemfields is widely considered the largest producer and distributor of responsibly sourced colored gemstones. This year in Tucson, we had an exclusive interview with CEO Ian Harebottle to get his insights on the company and the colored gemstone industry overall.

Unlike the diamond industry, almost every segment of the colored stone trade has traditionally lacked scale and systematic practices. Gemfields has dramatically changed this dynamic in some of the most influential colored stone categories. The company is actively working on three mining operations: the Kagem emerald mine (figure 1) and the Kariba amethyst mine in Zambia, and the Montepuez ruby mine in Mozambique. Among the three, Kagem and Montepuez are world-class operations, supplying about one-third of the global emerald production and 70% of ruby production. Before, both stone types experienced fluctuating supply and chronic shortages. Gemfields is very optimistic about the expected supply from Kagem and Montepuez, based on scientific field surveys and detailed geophysical and geochemical studies. 

To stabilize supply for the global market, Gemfields requires the mines to reserve one year’s production in case yield declines significantly. Based on the authors’ research, many Gemfields clients appreciate the standards set by the company on emerald and ruby mining and distribution. The consistent supply and well-tuned rough grading systems grant buyers more time to focus on faceting, jewelry making, and sales. This practice also has a positive influence on other mining companies that aim to meet the same standards.

In 2013, Gemfields purchased the iconic luxury brand Fabergé. Harebottle explained that the deal does not reflect an interest in vertical integration but in creativity and uniqueness in the market, an area where Fabergé has a rich heritage (figure 2). Therefore, he hopes that the brand can be a platform of magnificent jewelry designs, igniting the passion for colored gemstones in the younger generation. According to Gemfields, Fabergé’s sales orders jumped 95% during the second quarter of fiscal year 2017.

Faberge jewelry piece
Figure 2. The merger of Gemfields and Fabergé should continue to inspire one-of-a-kind colored gemstone pieces. Photo courtesy of Fabergé.

When it comes to corporate social responsibility, Gemfields sets a good example across its mining locations through successful joint ventures and community programs. The Kagem emerald mine is one of the only mining companies that has paid federal taxes in the past 15 years in Zambia. The Montepuez ruby mine was named Mozambique’s most transparent tax payer and the most important job generator in its province. Harebottle described the different challenges the company has faced and will be facing in the future. Since the sites are usually located in areas that lack robust mining regulations or laws and some countries have a very long mining history, the company often applies different strategies to localize itself. To champion responsibility and sustainability on location, a foreign company such as Gemfields needs to make the local people feel confident about their future, and this is fueled by job opportunities.

Since its founding less than 10 years ago, Gemfields has always sought to rekindle the passion for colored gemstones. Harebottle likes to compare the company’s role in colored stones with that of De Beers in the diamond sector, especially when the latter heavily promoted diamonds. He also feels that colored gemstones should have a stronger position in the luxury goods market. With this mission under way, and active exploration for new production sites in Colombia and Ethiopia, more accomplishments are expected from this major colored gem supplier.

Andrew Lucas is manager of field gemology for education at GIA in Carlsbad, California. Tao Hsu is technical editor Gems & Gemology.