Gem News International Gems & Gemology, Spring 2018, Vol. 54, No. 1

Colombian Emerald Industry: The New Generation

Following author AL’s 2015 visit to Colombian emerald mines and cutting operations, we again had the opportunity to interview two representatives from this important source country. As part of the new generation of the Colombian emerald industry, both shared with us their experience and vision for the industry.

Luis Gabriel Angarita, director of the CDTEC gem laboratory in Bogotá, comes from a family that has been heavily involved in the industry for over 40 years. Since 2009, Angarita has been working on branding Colombian emerald. He recently resigned as president of the Association of Colombian Emerald Exporters and is working full-time for the gem lab. Angarita updated us on the large production coming from the Chivor mines. He said that while the production has been low for over 20 years, the quality of extracted stones is quite high.

Even though Angarita no longer heads the exporters association, promoting Colombian emerald as a brand is still at the top of his list of priorities. He sees several challenges in branding the Colombian emerald. First, the Colombian emerald industry lacks a well-accepted standard. This causes inconsistency between different players and makes it extremely hard to face the global market as a unified entity. Effectively educating consumers is another obstacle in branding. Angarita admitted that the Chinese market has the greatest potential for emerald. However, most Chinese consumers only want emeralds with no oiling. Goods with moderate oiling are almost unsellable. This misunderstanding of emerald value factors hinders the stone’s promotion. Inconsistent description among major gem laboratories further complicates the situation. Angarita also shared some information about a new emerald treatment being developed in Colombia. Finally, he informed us that the second World Emerald Symposium will be held in Bogotá in October 2018.

Luis Gabriel Angarita and the Emerald Industry
Luis Gabriel Angarita talks about the challenges present in today’s emerald market.

Edwin Molina, a fourth-generation Colombian emerald miner, serves on the board of directors of the Cunas mine in Santa Rosa. He also became president of APRECOL (the Association of Emerald Producers of Colombia) in 2017. Molina’s family has played a critical role in emerald mining in the Muzo area, and he was partially responsible for the transaction that formed today’s Muzo International. The family later switched its interest to the Cunas mine, which has been a joint venture with foreign investors since 2009 and is now one of the biggest in the area. According to Molina, production from Cunas is quite large. Although the mine typically lacks the very high-end stones with large sizes like those from Muzo, the quality is very stable. Compared to other operations in Muzo, Cunas is more controllable because its entrance is located far from the extraction points. There are three emerald-bearing zones in the mining concession, and so far only one is being worked on. Therefore, Cunas still has plenty of potential.

Molina also related his experience during this profound transformation from a family business to a formal mining corporation. He admitted that at the beginning of this journey, building trust with the investors was a challenge due to lack of supporting data from previous miners and operations. When he became involved, a new emphasis was put on formalizing the operation through environmental protection, infrastructure construction, and mining community building. Molina informed us that the mine would focus on increasing production by working on more extraction points within the 0.6 km2 concession. This is very important because foreign investment will dry up if the mine has no production for a prolonged period, as has happened before in the Muzo area. Another important factor in attracting and keeping foreign investors is the security of the mine and production. With the support of the national police, a local police department will soon be formed to help with security. Molina has always believed that the only thing investors need to worry about is the production of a mine. As a miner and businessman who grew up in the United States and went back to his motherland of Colombia, Molina wants local miners to go out and see the world. Putting the industry in a global framework will enable them to adapt to a new environment and seize new opportunities.

A Talk with Edwin Molina
Fourth-generation emerald miner Edwin Molina discusses the Cunas mine and relates his own industry experiences.

During the interviews, both Angarita and Molina expressed confidence in the future of the Colombian emerald industry and optimism about global demand for this “Mother Gem” of Colombia.

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