Green Speak at the Second World
“We believe emeralds should really be green—from every point of view.” These words by Edwin Molina, President of the Colombian Emerald Producers Association (Aprecol), were representative of the green theme of the Second World Emerald Symposium (2WES). Beginning on October 12 in Bogota, Colombia, this very successful event followed the First World Emerald Symposium that took place to rave reviews in October 2015.
By Cynthia Unninayar
By Cynthia Unninayar
A seven-member panel, moderated by Jean Claude Michelou, discussed responsible practices and traceability. (Left to right, Jean Claude Michelou (2WES), Daniel Nyfeler (Gubelin Lab), Cathelijne Klomp (LVMH), Edward Mendelson (Everledger), Charles Chausspied (RJC), Edwin Molina (Aprecol) and Charles Burgess (MTC Muzo). (Photo: Cynthia Unninayar)
A model dressed in traditional Colombian attire wears emerald earrings during the gala dinner for participants of the 2WES. The butterflies on the screen represent the famous blue Morpho butterflies of Colombia, which are among the more than 3000 varieties found in the South American nation. (Photo: 2WES)
During three days, informative presentations by some of the world’s most prominent gem experts enlightened the audience on a variety of topics, including industrial and artisanal mining, geology, gemology, origin, treatments, new technologies, jewelry and more.
The primary and recurrent theme, however, was ethics, which included responsible sourcing, transparency, sustainability, an ethical supply chain and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Featuring over 75 presentations, the Symposium attracted more than 200 people from overseas and some 300 from Colombia.
Organized by Fedesmeraldas, Colombia’s National Emerald Federation, the 2WES brought together the world’s key players in the emerald sector, including representatives of the Colombian government and emerald trade associations (Aprecol, Acodes, Asocoesmeraldas), dealers, gemologists, large and small-scale miners, geologists, laboratories and jewelers.
Oscar Baquero, President of Fedesmeraldas, explained that the Federation encompasses the needs of the emerald industry and works with the government to ensure best practices and also to promote Colombian emeralds abroad. He noted that it also conducts research at the mines to expand the knowledge of the nation’s green gem, all while promoting projects for sustainable and responsible sourcing.
Ethics & More
Illustrating the importance that the Colombian government places on ethics and best practices in the emerald industry, a number of high-level officials spoke at the 2WES. Among them was Vice Minister Caroline Rojas Hayes (Ministry of Mines and Energy), whose keynote address opened the symposium with a welcome to the delegates and a discussion about the improvements in the emerald mining sector that have been made, as well as challenges facing the sector.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, continued the discussion on responsible sourcing and outlined policies intended to help the entire emerald industry supply chain, including local communities and the environment.
Monica Maria Grand Marin (Directorate of Mine Formalization, Ministry of Mines and Energy), explained how the government works with unlicensed miners to help them acquire legal status and to work in accordance with national standards.
Keynote speaker Guillermo Galvis, President of Acodes (Colombian Exporters Association) and chairman of the Symposium noted that responsibly-sourced gems build confidence for consumers who are concerned about their purchases, while reiterating the importance for the private sector to work with the government and local communities to achieve lasting social solutions for sustainability in the mining areas. “It’s up to us to have a better industry,” he stated.
Another keynote speaker was Edwin Molina, President of Aprecol, which groups emerald producers and promotes established best practices and sustainable development initiatives, along with corporate social responsibility. Founded in 2002, Aprecol works with the Colombian government to help set policy and support sustainable emerald production. This green effort also extends to helping local farmers, improving infrastructure, driving tourism and even cultural programs such as promoting community art classes for adults and children.
Under the skillful gavel of moderator Anthony Brooke, representatives from the major gem and jewelry trade associations spoke on a variety of issues, focusing on ethics. These included Jean Claude Michelou (ICA Advisor and 2WES International Coordinator), Jeffrey Bilgore (AGTA President), Douglas Hucker (AGTA CEO), Clement Sabbagh (ICA President), Alan Hart (Gem-A CEO), Gaetano Cavalieri (CIBJO President), Prida Tiasuwan (TGJTA Chairman), Pramod Agarwal (GJEPC Chairman) and Zhao Xinhua (GAC Deputy Director), among others.
Traceability & Origin
Edward Mendelson, Project Manager of the Sustainable Supply Chain project at Everledger, explained how blockchain technology can be used to trace gems from mine to market. He described how blockchain’s traceability could play a role in small-scale mining, while explaining that “private” blockchains would be more appropriate than “public” blockchains in order minimize the amount of energy needed for the transactions.
The importance of the 2WES on the global gem scene was also illustrated by the presence of the representative from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Policy Analyst Luca Maiotti, who described the OECD’s guidelines for traceability and responsible mineral supply chains.
Continuing the traceability theme, Daniel Nyfeler, Managing Director of Gubelin Gem Lab, explained the lab’s nanotechnology project that was recently initiated with industrial miners. He also indicated that this technique might be suitable for small-scale miners if a structure could be put into place to organize them into a larger group.
A different approach to traceability was provided by Gloria Prieto, from Colombia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy. She unveiled the government’s plan for a five-year “Mineral Digital Fingerprint” project that started in 2018. The goal of the Fingerprint is to provide an understanding of the particular conditions and physical-chemical characteristics that were present at the time of the geological formation of a mineral, which then gives a specific geo-chemical DNA. This Fingerprint can also be traced at the different stages of exploitation, refinement and commercialization of minerals.
Traceability was also the subject of a panel moderated by Jean Claude Michelou, 2WES International Coordinator. Offering their outlook for the necessity of responsible industry practices and traceability, the seven members comprised Daniel Nyfeler (Gubelin Lab), Cathelijne Klomp (LVMH), Edward Mendelson (Everledger), Edwin Molina (Aprecol), Charles Chausspied (RJC) and Charles Burgess (MTC Muzo). The takeaway was that traceability and responsible practices are not only good for the industry, but also generate goodwill with the consumer.
The complicated and somewhat controversial topic of origin determination of emeralds was discussed at length in a panel discussion led by Shane McClure of GIA. Members included Claudio Milisenda (DSEF), Taijin Lu (NGTC) and Kenneth Scarratt (DANAT). While the panelists all agreed that origin determination is important to today’s consumer, the reality is that it is not always straightforward or simple. Scarratt stated, “You need hundreds of thousands of specimens, and that's the easy part. The difficult part is having the instrumentation and the people with the right training to create databases that people can use around the world. This is a phenomenal task that no single lab has ever been able to achieve. The enormity of this task is mind boggling.”
From the Mines
Speakers representing three of Colombia’s largest mines spoke about their activities. Rosey Perkins, Manager of New Projects and Corporate Communication at Toronto-listed Fura Gems (owner of the iconic and recently acquired Coscuez Mine) stated, “There is a reticence about Colombia and its past, but this must be the past. We work with communities now that are established and reliable. In the last nine months since we started, we have employed 270 local people with experience in mining and we are also committed to working with 70 local suppliers.” Among its community-oriented activities, Fura supports a health clinic, bakery, sewing center and a recently created women-only washing plant for mine waste. A few days later, during my visit to the Coscuez Mine in Boyaca State, Fura Gems CEO, Dev Shetty, explained that Coscuez has produced some of the world’s finest emeralds for more than 400 years. “Our strategy is clear. We are going to understand the geological science, because we want to have large-scale projects that will produce for 20 years or more.”
The President of Mineria Texas Colombia (MTC), Charles Burgess, detailed the transformation of the Colombian emerald industry over the last few years, including MTC’s purchase in 2009 of one of the region’s most important and iconic mines, Puerto Arturo in Muzo. MTC soon introduced modern mining methods and today has a number of social and health programs for the local community. One of MTC’s non-mine community projects is Furatena Cacao, which promotes sustainable cocoa cultivation by farmers. “There can be no growth in the emerald industry without bringing in local communities,” he said,
German Forero, Director of Esmeraldas Santa Rosa, owner of the large and productive Cunas Mine, spoke about the company’s socially and environmentally responsible mining projects in the Boyaca region. “Our country, despite the violence in the past, has a great deal to offer due to the national development plans that includes mining, housing and education. The mining industry is a strong example of development in Colombia that includes good social practices, providing employment and working with environmental authorities to improve standards in the region.
Emerald mines from other countries were also on the agenda, including Brazil, Zambia and Canada. During his presentation, Sergio Martins from IBGM in Brazil stated that his nation is the world’s third largest producer, after Colombia and Zambia. “Brazilian emerald production started only about 70 years ago, with emeralds first found in Minas Gerais, accounting for about 74% of the total, and then in Bahia, with about 22%,” he said, adding that some 40% of Brazil’s emeralds go to the USA.
Dr. Lee Groat, Professor at the University of British Colombia, offered an overview of the emerald occurrences in Canada, specifically in the North West Territories. He explained the Canadian model that uses geological data to analyze terrain for chromium and vanadium, which are associated with emerald deposits. Groat concluded by noting that there are many challenges to exploration, including weather and sparse infrastructure, and that drones are now being used to determine potential deposits.
An overview of Gemfields’ sustainability program at its large Kagem Mine in Zambia, as well as its other activities around the world, was presented by Elena Basaglia and Algy Strutt, who noted the company’s five key dimensions of Sustainability—Community, Employees, Human Rights, Environment, Product—which lead to transparency, legitimacy and integrity.
Ioannis Alexandris, CEO of Gemolithos, gave a colorful presentation on “Old Mine Emeralds,” which included a number of beautiful antique and vintage pieces of jewelry and objets d’art. Later, jewelry expert and author Joanna Hardy traced emerald jewelry through the millennia, while Professor Clemencia Plazas of the Contemporary Jewelry School in Colombia delved into the fascinating symbolism and attraction for emeralds in the pre-Colombian era.
Moving up a few thousand years to the present, Richa Goyal Sikri, social media guru, touted the benefits of Instagram, explaining that people who use this platform are generally looking for authenticity. She recommended that the “people who post their products on Instagram should not try to sell, but rather to build trust with their followers.”
On a more cultural note, the symposium participants were treated to a gala dinner and a spectacular fashion show of traditional and modern costume-clad models showcasing some of Colombia’s most beautiful emerald jewelry.
For more on the symposium and its many speakers and emerald-related topics and presentations, please visit the 2WES website: www.emeraldsymposium.com.