The GIA recently conducted a study on the effect of blue fluorescence and the appearance of diamonds. The conclusion? Blue fluorescence either helps or has no effect on a stone's appearance and most consumers do not notice anyway. Further, most veteran GIA graders thought strong fluorescence diamonds had a better appearance when viewed through the table, but saw no difference when viewed table-down. Most observers saw no relationship between fluorescence and transparency. The bottom line is you need to look at these fluorescent stones. Take them outside in the sun and look for a blue undertone. If you like them you can usually buy them less expensively than similar stones without fluorescence.
The diamond market is presently moving sideways. Prices have not increased significantly because the US market is flooded with supplies of diamonds from foreign cutting centers. These international firms seek to unload the diamonds they used to sell in the Far East. Competition is fierce and US retailers now have a broad selection of goods and suppliers available to them at discounted prices. De Beers CSO rough cutbacks are steadily decreasing overall supplies from the cutting centers. The current surplus is expected to erode sharply for 3/4 and larger, better color goods by end of summer.
During the conference, Victor Carranza, Colombia's emerald czar, was arrested by the Colombian military. He was charged with organizing a right-wing death squad. Carranza, 63, owner of the Muzo and Cosquez emerald mines, was the main organizer of the event. More than 600 emerald miners and 200 gemologists attended. Due to the present recession in Colombian emeralds, the Colombian gem dealers agreed only to treat their emeralds with cedarwood oil or Gematrat. This agreement will expire after the GIA publishes its long awaited research report on emerald treatments.
Emerald Production Today
The vast majority of emeralds today are from the Muzo and Cosquez mines. Both of these mines are known for their green-yellow colors. Cosquez now accounts for 60-85% of today's production. Most of this production is cut into squarish emerald cuts.
Most of the production at Muzo is taking place in underground shafts. Miners use pickaxes and drills and load the black shale onto ore carts, then haul it to the surface for cleaning and sorting.
There are several open tunnels at Cosquez. The material where emerald is found is gray shale. The tunnels are filled with 1/2 foot of water and the ceiling is so low you have to crouch. Collapses are common.
Chivor is the other main mining district in Colombia. In 1996, a Canadian company, Chivor Emerald Corporation, Ltd. bought an 80% stake in the mine. The new company uses computers and modern mining methods to search for rough emerald. Its software plots mining moves with three-dimensional diagrams. They have only found about $250,000 worth of stones so far. These stones tend to be longer emerald cuts and green-blue in color. The one advantage to these stones is that they are cleaner than the goods from Muzo and Cosquez and sometimes do not require oiling.
Nearly Half of Colombians Want To Leave
According to recent poll by Reuters, nearly half of all Colombians would like to start a new life abroad because of rampant violence and the deteriorating job situation at home. The telephone survey showed 45 percent of those questioned would like to leave the country and more than 33 percent said the United States would be their first choice of destinations. Among those who said they would like to leave Colombia, 38 percent said they would do so for "economic and professional reasons". Colombia's National Statistics Department said urban unemployment had reached 14.5 percent, the worst level in 10 years. About 33 percent said they would leave the country to escape insecurity and violence. Colombia is one of the most violent countries in Latin America with more than 25,000 homicides and 1,800 kidnappings last year. It also has the oldest and largest guerrilla forces in the hemisphere and US officials and Western diplomats estimate the rebels now have de facto control of at least 40 percent of the country. Three-quarters of those polled said the overall situation in Colombia was getting worse, with only 7 percent saying it was improving.
On May 31, the presidential election was held in Colombia. The ruling Liberal party's Horacio Serpa won 34.4%, compared to 34.3% for the Conservative's Andres Pastrana, a former mayor of the capital, Bogota, and son of a former president. The run-off will take place on June 21. At least 11 people were killed and four wounded in election-related violence. More than 220,000 soldiers and police were on alert to counter a sabotage campaign by left-wing guerrillas. Fighting between the guerrillas and government troops accounted for eight of the deaths. A bomb in the strategically important oil refinery town of Barrancaberneja killed three people and injured two soldiers. Police said they suspected the bomb was planted by National Liberation Army rebels. In other attacks, in 16 of the country's 32 provinces, rebels are reported to have kidnapped at least 14 election officials. They have also burned ballot papers. Large parts of southern Colombia are without electricity after two bombs brought down power lines. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pablo Escobar, the late kingpin of the notorious Medellin drug mob, launched a bloody series of bomb attacks in Bogota and the northwest city of Medellin as he successfully battled to force the government to ban the extradition of drug lords. But the Medellin cartel fragmented after police shot Escobar to death on a Medellin roof top in 1993 and there has been no repeat of urban bombings on that scale. Both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Latin America's oldest and largest rebel group, and the smaller National Liberation Army have urban guerrilla units and a network of urban militia fighters. But until now the rebels have concentrated their fight in the countryside. One of Colombia's bloodiest election campaigns was the 1990 presidential poll. Three candidates, including the front-runner, were assassinated.
Reports from Burma indicate unheated 1 to 2 carat Mogok rubies and 3+ carat sapphires in top qualities are becoming increasingly rare. Rubies above 1.5 carats, of any quality, are in short supply and the prices are rising. Larger stones are almost impossible to find, and when they hit the market they are quickly bought.
The Burmese government is trying to crack down on smuggling and now requires all loose stone purchases to be sealed, initialed by customs, and declared/shown at the airport upon departure. Dealers must also pay the 10% tax at the time the goods are sealed.
Thai buyers are purchasing large quantities of low quality ruby and sapphire rough, and heating it in Chantaburi.
In April, 14 tanzanite mines were closed after heavy rains and flash floods caused the mines to collapse, trapping miners hundreds of feet below the surface. As many as 100-200 miners were feared dead. By the end of May, rescuers had recovered only 65 bodies after six weeks of heavy rains and mud slides flooded mine shafts in northern Tanzania. Miners urged the government to stop searching and end an April 13 ban on mining at the site. The government said, however, that safety measures must be in place before they resume digging for tanzanite. The miners, who are licensed by the state and work for themselves, normally dig shafts by hand and use ropes to lower themselves to remove soil and gemstones. These mines are the only consistent supply of tanzanite. The mines are expected to reopen in July. Since production has been low for the last year, expect prices to climb about 20-30%.
The market for commercial quality Thai and Cambodian ruby and sapphire is weak. Some report goods are down 20-40%. Fine gems are just not being shown because the holders of the highest quality goods do not want to sell and lose money. They will simply put these gems in their vaults until the market improves.
William Goldberg recently cut a 13.90 rough Brazilian red diamond crystal into a 5.11 gemstone. This is the largest red diamond ever graded by the GIA.
Diamonds should be considered in the same light as a sculpture or painting...They're a collectible. There is no stock market for diamonds. Except in times of chaos, such as war, revolution and economic turbulence, gems ought to be viewed primarily as a luxury item. They answer a desire, a want...They show affection. They show appreciation. They show commitment. The entire idea of gems as an investment has to do with their portability...In nations where there is political or economic instability, the ability to pack a suitcase with one's wealth in diamonds has a great attraction. Then there are the really rare stones: colored diamonds such as pinks, blues, yellows and greens. Prices for these have gone up over the last decade...A deep blue diamond can fetch between $100,000 to $500,000 a carat at auction. Such a figure that is out of reach for the average consumer. Investing in such rare gems, like investing in Impressionist art, is just not an option for most people. Gems are a luxury item...They are to be enjoyed like a sports car or a fancy sailboat. A precious stone is an investment in happiness."
National Jeweler, April, 1998
"Although sapphire is always described as a crisp and cool hue, blue corundum stands alone as the hottest selling gemstone on today's market. Of the classic three gemstones, sapphire is the most popular among consumers due to its widespread availability and inexpensive price compared to that of ruby and emerald. The majority of available stones are less than 2 carats."
"The vibrant coloring and durability of ruby, for it shares the same physical properties of sapphire, have also made red corundum a popular choice. But unlike its blue brother, rubies are facing a few supply and treatment problems. Quality rubies in sizes larger than 2 carats are extremely scarce, according to multiple sources. As a result, already expensive ruby prices are being driven up further."
"Of the classic three gemstones, emeralds have been the weakest seller in recent months, according to sources. All the controversy surrounding the non-permanant enhancement methods and a recent television expose on synthetics have further undermined customer demand for emerald. Some jewelers have either cut back or completely stopped carrying emeralds, because of all the answered questions concerning treatment and durability. As a result, emerald prices and sales have faltered.
However, all this may turn for the better. Jewelers are likely to invest additional money into emeralds once they are confident that prices will remain stable. If people are confident they aren't going to lose money on an investment, they will start stocking up on stones."
Houston Chronicle, February 19, 1998
Emerald Miners Rework Gem's Image
By JOHN OTIS
"COSCUEZ, Colombia -- Hunched over, their faces streaked black with dirt, hundreds of emerald miners dig day and night with picks and sledgehammers in search of the sparkling green gemstones that -- after coffee and cocaine -- are Colombia's most famous export.
Nestled between the craggy mountain peaks of central Boyaca state, Cosquez is an emerald city. It is dominated by a series of shaft and open-pit mines that have helped to make Colombia the global leader in emerald production. This is the area where miners uncovered the 7,000-carat Emilia, one of the largest emeralds in the world. It is also the home of Victor Carranza, the "Juan Valdez" of Colombian emeralds, who uncovered his first gem at the age of 10 and is now one of the nation's richest men.
"These hills are full of emeralds. If you dig long enough, you will find them," said Itamar Avinami, an emerald dealer in Bogota, as he removed a gleaming specimen, worth about $10,000, from a piece of tissue paper. But like much of Colombia, the emerald industry has been wracked by violence and corrupted by drug traffickers. Although the nation still provides 60 percent of the world's emerald supply, such troubles have discouraged new investment and exploration. Analysts fear that several of the mines are just about tapped out. Developing new ones is an expensive, high-risk proposition.
"We are still exploiting the same mines that the Indians discovered during the time of the conquistadors," said Pablo Elias Delgadillo, a Colombian mining magnate. Emeralds are among the world's most precious gems and are much rarer than diamonds. In some cultures, they symbolize fertility, luck or eternal love. Experts have identified 64 shades of emerald green.
Spanish explorers searching for salt stumbled upon Colombia's emerald mines in the Andean highlands. The resulting war with local Indian tribes lasted 60 years. In the 1970s, state-run mines were bleeding money due to widespread smuggling and were turned over to private operators. But soon, left-wing guerrillas and drug traffickers, led by Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, known as El Mexicano, tried to move in. The mines were coveted for their wealth and strategic location adjacent to Antioquia state, the home of Gacha's one-time ally, the late drug lord Pablo Escobar. The business also became a favorite way to launder drug profits. Drug traffickers do this by creating a fake company that appears to be profiting from the gem business or by turning to confederates whose books report the drug dealers are earning cash on gem deals.
The miners, led by Carranza, formed private armies and fought back. An informal truce was declared in 1990, but by then, more than 3,500 people -- including Gacha -- were dead. At the height of the war, drug lords stuffed a labor leader into a burlap bag and dropped him from an airplane flying over the mining town of Muzo.
"When there is so much money involved and a long history of violence, it's very difficult to talk of a lasting peace," said Miguel Maza Marquez, who was director of Colombia's equivalent of the FBI during the so-called "green wars".
Now the industry wants to use this period of relative peace to bring in much-needed investment in new mines. Major spending is needed to develop this industry in Colombia. Billions of dollars in stones have been smuggled out of the country without taxes being paid. The jewelry business was never fully developed; 85 percent of legal exports are of rough stones, which are less profitable than crafted emerald rings and bracelets.
International prices have fallen. And except for a few Canadian mining concerns, foreigners have largely avoided Colombia. Of the 1.6 million acres that geologists have identified as having potential emerald veins, only 7,054 acres are being mined. Part of the problem is that it's impossible to confirm the presence of emeralds without a major excavation. Developing new mines "is very risky and requires a large investment," said Jose Antonio Duran, president of the industry group, Fedesmeraldas, in Bogota. Delgadillo said he recently sank $3 million into a 5,000-foot tunnel mine but has yet to find one emerald. "This is a business for crazy people because no one really knows" where the emeralds are located, said Nestor Ramirez, an emerald buyer in Cosquez.
The industry wants to create an organization with the power to control the market, like the De Beers syndicate, which controls prices in the diamond market by limiting the supply of uncut stones for sale. Fedesmeraldas will unveil a publicity campaign for emeralds similar to the highly successful print advertisements for diamonds. The long-term goal is to make emeralds the No. 3 legal export after oil and coffee.
Mining veterans say the industry has already started to rebound. "I have seen huge transformations," said Javier Guerrero, a sociologist who recalled his visits to the mines in the 1980s, when you never knew when someone might point a gun at you. "They are making a big effort to legalize the business, attract investment ... and become legitimate businessmen." Yet the shady image of the trade is hard to shake. It even inspired a sultry Colombian soap opera called Green Fire.
Exports peaked at $456 million in 1995, but money-laundering schemes may have accounted for more than half of that, Delgadillo said. Last year, exports dropped to about $130 million, and Duran estimates that 10 percent of production continues to be smuggled out of the country."
About 50 South American gang members have been recently arrested. They have been targeting jewelry salespeople. According to the Los Angeles Times, these thieves have netted around $200 million in goods. The arrests were the result of a special task force using surveillance and sting operations. The LAPD has created a computer database of several hundred jewelry suspects. Expect these robbers to move to other areas now.
Valentine Carat Candy Taxes
In the last Gemstone Forecaster we discussed the Godiva promotion of giving away a Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis necklace. It was won by Susan Fisher of Long Island. The downside? The medical secretary had to pay $45,000 in taxes to retain the necklace. She decided to auction off the piece and set up a trust fund for her two children.
The international auction house was recently sold to French businessman and art collector Francois Pinault. The 233-year old institution will return to private ownership after 25 years as a public company. Pinault, a self-made billionaire with financial assets in companies ranging from luggage maker Samsonite to Chateau Latour wine, will reportedly offer $6.57 per share for Christie's, a price that would value the firm at $1.2 billion. Pinault became the largest shareholder of Christie's in May, 1998 when his holding company, Artemis, acquired 29.1 percent of the auctioneer from British businessman Joseph Lewis for $242.8 million.
For comments, questions or price quotes E-mail NGC, Attn: R. Genis
Return To Home Page