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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Emeralds and rubies take limelight as diamonds lose sparkle for traders

Superior profit can be made from coloured stones compared with their clear carbon cousins

Gold and enamelled Sirpech (turban ornament), detailed with emeralds, diamonds and pearls. Courtesy Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Gold and enamelled Sirpech (turban ornament), detailed with emeralds, diamonds and pearls. Courtesy Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” Marilyn Monroe famously sang in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Fast forward 65 years, and the ladies appear as smitten with the stone as ever, judging by the numerous photos of friends’ diamond engagement rings on Instagram and Facebook feeds.

When it comes to gemstone traders in search of a profit, however, gentlemen (and ladies, of course) now seem to prefer coloured stones like rubies and emeralds, given the superior profit that can be made compared with their clear carbon cousins.

While global demand remains high, ample supply and a clear set of industry standards governing quality mean that diamonds have become increasingly commoditised, resulting in thin margins compared with coloured stones.

“[Standardisation] has allowed many people in the trade, as well as consumers, to feel they can make a purchase based on a grading report without actually handling the stone,” says Stuart Robertson, research director at Gemworld International.

“That’s not at all the case with coloured gemstones because there are such variables in colour tones that they really don’t lend well to selling solely on the basis of what a laboratory report says about the stone.”

Dev Shetty, chief executive of Dubai-based Fura Gems, estimates that the global market for coloured gemstones stones - encompassing rubies, emeralds and sapphires - will grow to $5 billion within five years from its current level of $2bn.

Emeralds in particular are likely to see a significant rise in demand in the coming years, boosted by an uptick in demand from the Middle East, according to Mr Shetty.

“Emeralds play a very important part role in this part of the world. Their colour makes them very auspicious in the Middle East,” he says, noting the colour green’s importance within Islam.

Saudi Arabia - whose flag consists of the Islamic shahada and a sword on a green background - accounts for about half of the emerald market within the Arabian Gulf, Mr Shetty notes, with the UAE representing the region’s second-largest market.

The Middle East is the third-largest market worldwide for emeralds behind the US and China, he adds.

While demand for emeralds has been muted in recent years due to intermittent supply, the market for the green gems is set to rise by around 20 per cent in the coming two years, according to Mr Robertson.

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“We see them as one of the more popular gemstones right now, and there seems to be growing demand once again and good supply coming out of South America, Central America and Africa,” he tells The National.

Mr Shetty hopes that much of this demand will be met from Colombia’s Coscuez emerald mine, in which Fura acquired a 90 per cent stake in January.

“50 per cent of the world’s emeralds supply comes from Colombia,” he says.

“We have 240 people on the ground working with us in the country, and we’ll be scaling up [operations] as we go along.”

Alongside its emerald interests, Fura is bullish on the prospects for rubies, spurred on by demand from markets such as China, the US, Europe and India.

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The company, which is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, acquired nine new ruby mines in Mozambique in July, combining with existing assets in the country giving it what it describes as the largest ruby land package in the country.

Yet while the market for rubies has been robust over the past years, margins are set to fall as additional supply comes online, according to Mr Robertson.

“The market’s probably stabilised after a decade of very strong production from Mozambique. We’re seeing a levelling off in the market, there’s [now] a lot of material in the market way above historical levels,” he says.

Fura plans to start marketing emeralds in the second quarter of 2019, with rubies coming on line the following quarter.

In addition to its mining interests, Fura Gems plans to market rough stones from its headquarters in JLT in Dubai.

“Marketing is going to play a very important role in our business,” Mr Shetty says.

“We’re operating in a sector that is highly unorganised; people increasingly want to know the source of the stones, and we intend to specialise in building an ethical route to market, via a culture of disclosure and transparency.”

Fura is already in discussions with diamond traders within the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre about rubies and emeralds, with Mr Shetty reporting positive feedback thus far.

“A lot of the diamond guys who are making thin margins are looking to get into coloured gemstones,” he says.

Fura has 10 staff in Dubai, a figure it expects to grow by 30 by the end of next year. Mr Shetty hopes to increase staff at the company’s office, including a treatment for emeralds and rubies, to around 100 staff within two to three years.

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