The discovery of coloured gemstones dates centuries back. Once known as gifts from God, wearing these pieces were a symbol of wealth and opulence for the Roman royals. It was only in the 1870s that diamonds were discovered in Africa and only through years of active marketing has it reached here — the symbol of status, love, purity and relationships.
The recent decade, however, shows a different trend. London-based leading mining company Gemfields’ CEO Sean Gilbertson confirmed the same in Knight Frank’s Q1 2019 report on Luxury Investment Index (Coloured gemstones special). “The swing toward precious coloured gemstones is overwhelming. The past decade has seen record prices for emerald and ruby, surpassing that of colourless diamond on a per carat basis. It surely can’t be long before sapphires overtake diamonds, too,” he said.
Gemfields is currently the world's leading supplier of rubies and emeralds. It recently discovered what came to be known as the largest emerald ever mined. The 5,655 carat, golden-greenish hued Zambian rough with remarkable clarity was named Inkalamu, the Lion Emerald. It became one of the 15 emeralds in the world to earn its own name — not just for the quality, but also the size. Most emeralds with names are less than 1,000 carat in size.
And incidentally, the Inkalamu is in Delhi at present, with Diacolor India. The brand successfully managed to acquire the stone through an auction held by Gemfields. But is it up for grabs yet? “For now, we would like to possess the piece, but I am sure one day the Inkalamu will find a house for itself,” says Rishabh Tongya, creative director, Diacolor. Tongya is still unsure if the massive stone would eventually get broken into pieces to be polished or if it will find a buyer who would want to keep it as a collector's item in its natural form.
Brands such as Diacolor and Gem Plaza are official retail partners in India for Gemfields, who source their emeralds from the mining major’s auctions. Over the years, these brands have built a reputation for themselves among Indian and western HNIs. They house some of the best quality Zambian and Colombian emeralds, which they export mostly to the West.
Apart from the Inkalamu, which is the most expensive piece that the store owns, Diacolor is proud of its Maharani pendant design. Tongya describes, “We have used a single high-quality Zambian emerald of 70 carat surrounded by an intricately designed white gold frame. It can fetch anywhere between Rs.20 million to Rs.34.5 million for a piece.” He, however, refrains from disclosing his clients' names. A family business of three generations, Diacolor has earned trust among its loyal client base, becoming a group with a turnover of Rs.12.13 billion as of FY17-18.
Jaipur-based Gem Plaza presently has emeralds with prices ranging between Rs.300,000 and Rs 1 million per carat. “The Colombian emeralds are more rare and take centuries to form. The purest and highest quality pieces will have a golden-green shade. Zambian emeralds are comparatively newer,” says Akhil Dhaddha, creative director, Gem Plaza, who also heads the design team. The company has created pieces for Hollywood stars such as Mila Kunis and Bollywood celebrities including Amrita Rao. Dhaddha, too, is reluctant to disclose his clientele. He adds, “We customise jewellery for our clients. Most coming from affluent backgrounds already own basic and popular designs. So, there is heavy demand for unique emerald-based designs.”
It may seem like the next achievable thing for most who can afford expensive jewellery for special occasions, but don’t hold your breath. With rising demand, prices are expected to soar. Which means, if not already, it will start costing an arm and a leg. In fact, Gemfields, since 2009, has held 41 auctions – 30 for Zambian emeralds and 11 for Mozambican rubies, which has now surpassed $1 billion in combined auction revenue. That, according to the Knight Frank report, is a remarkable feat.