January’s – ‘The Confidence Issue’ – Download Now

When it comes to mining gemstones, Gemfields holds three key values to the highest of standards: transparency, legitimacy and integrity.

As the world-leading supplier of responsibly-sourced coloured gemstones, the group’s CEO Sean Gilbertson explains how Gemfields puts responsible sourcing at the forefront, always.

Gemfields was founded in 2005. How has the brand evolved since then?

When Gemfields entered the coloured gemstone sector, the industry was fragmented, largely small-scale, unregulated and not delivering a reliable supply to downstream clients. For more than a decade now, Gemfields has implemented industry-leading policies and practices across our mining operations and played an active role in working groups to modernise the sector. We have created projects to improve health, education, and livelihoods for the communities around our mines and have supported conservation efforts to protect Africa’s wildlife. Our work has shown that responsible, large-scale mining and a transparent auction system can deliver a consistent supply of precious gems, vital to the sector’s future growth, and bring about significant contributions to host communities and governments. Over the last 10 years, Zambia and Mozambique have become the world’s number one exporters of emeralds and rubies respectively.


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Is it true Gemfields produces around 25 per cent of the world’s emerald supply and around 50 per cent of the world’s ruby supply? How do you ensure your stakeholders and consumers have confidence in what you’re producing?

We estimate the figures are actually higher! Both mines today are the largest in the world delivering some 60 per cent of mined rubies and 30 per cent of emeralds worldwide. As pioneers of responsible gemstone mining, we have institutionalised the grading and auction of rough emeralds and rubies. We invite government officials from host nations to attend and supervise the entire process and we publish all data. All of our auction customers are vetted and our gemstones are sold via an auction platform with a transparent, repeatable and consistent point of sale. This platform is also very important as it reduces risk in the supply chain for the jewellery brands that buy from our auction partners. We see ourselves as the custodians of our host countries’ gems with the duty of achieving the best possible price and repatriating the full proceeds to the country of origin to ensure maximum benefit for host-country citizens and local communities.

To that end, we recently launched ‘The G-Factor for Natural Resources’, an indicator of the share of natural resource wealth paid to a host country’s government. Through this announcement and by publishing our own five-year revenue contributions of 30 per cent to Mozambique and 24 per cent to Zambia, we invited other mining entities and organisations like The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to collaborate in further increasing transparency in the sector. In 2015, we were the first to promote the embedding of nanoparticles (Gübelin Provenance Proof ) in our rough emeralds and have since partnered again on blockchain for emeralds and rubies, pioneering fool-proof mine-to-market traceability.

At the heart of Gemfields is providing ‘responsibly sourced’ stones. What does this mean?

Responsible sourcing for Gemfields means implementing industry-leading policies and practices across operations, transparency in our auction sales process, playing an active role in working groups to modernise the sector, creating projects to improve health, education and livelihoods for the communities around our mines and supporting conservation efforts to protect Africa’s iconic wildlife. In January this year, we also established the Gemfields Foundation, our charitable arm, through which donors can contribute funding to directly support community and conservation projects in Africa, magnifying the scale of the work already carried out by Gemfields itself.

What is the environmental effect of mining gemstones – how is Gemfields combating this?

Before starting full-scale mining operations, we carry out environmental and biodiversity studies and involve the local communities, to ensure that their needs are always accounted for within our plans. We go beyond just adhering to national regulations. To ensure that we operate with the highest possible standards, we align our approach to the broader strategic aims of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as the management of environmental risks through international management systems. We are realistic and open about the impact of mining on the environment because what we do, does have an environmental impact. Using environmental and biodiversity studies to guide us, we aim to meet and exceed international best practices to mitigate the effects of our operations and incorporate the subsequent management plans into our mining operations long-term. We limit our impact by back-filling our open-pit mines, collecting seeds of indigenous plants and trees from the topsoil and creating plant nurseries for replanting vegetation in order to return the land to its original state at the earliest opportunity. There are no hazardous chemicals used in our processes and we recycle the water used in our wash plants.


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When did the focus shift for Gemfields to ensure gems are responsibly sourced?

Since launching, Gemfields has championed responsibility across the coloured gemstone sector. Our goal has always been to operate in a way that contributes positively to national economies, takes a leading role in modernising the coloured gemstone sector and builds lasting livelihoods for the communities around our mines. We believe that coloured gemstones should be mined and marketed by championing three key values: transparency, legitimacy and integrity.
Environmental, social and good governance (ESG) practices lie at the heart of
our business: these back up our brand statement and support our efforts to play a pivotal role in improving the credibility of the entire coloured gemstone industry.

We both lead with our own standards and initiatives through the downstream supply chain and work with brands and other industry partners to standardise strong, transparent practices across the sector. Initiatives include the Coloured Gemstone Working Group, of which we are a founding member, and we aim to join and be Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) certificated.

In terms of shifting your focus, did this affect client retention at first? Or have you found jewellery houses – both well-known and up-and-coming – are responding to this ‘responsibly sourced’ message?

Responsible sourcing is increasingly important these days as many consumers want to know where their products and materials have come from and coloured gemstones are no different. Leading jewellery brands are increasingly, and rightly, focused on responsible sourcing and much work remains to be done. Our core values of transparency, integrity and legitimacy speak directly to these concerns. Mozambican rubies and Zambian emeralds from Gemfields give back to the local communities, ensuring a positive impact at the place of origin. Our ability to demonstrate our responsible practices and provide gemstone provenance is a key differentiator when it comes to purchasing coloured gemstones and as responsible sourcing receives ever-increasing attention and becomes progressively more important to consumers, gemstone provenance may become a key driving factor.

What trends in stones, gems and jewellery do you see when it comes to the Middle Eastern market?

As well as supplying the majority of the world’s rough rubies and emeralds, Gemfields initiates activations to build a desire for coloured gemstones. As a result of our marketing efforts, we are seeing increased awareness and demand for coloured gems, in addition to a growing consumer understanding of a gemstone’s origin and how gems can be responsibly mined to have a positive impact on the countries of source. We’re also seeing an increasing awareness of African gemstones and appreciation of their quality, resulting in stronger demand. African gems are just as rare, unique and captivating as the more established provenances such as Burma or Colombia.

Which jewellery houses do you work within this region?

Gemfields’ owned Fabergé has a retail presence in the market and a number of other brand partners also sell privately in the region including Bina Goenka and Fehmida Lakhany. We partner with jewellery brands that have a like-minded approach to responsible sourcing, and our plans for this year are still under wraps but we very much look forward to sharing these with you when we can. Often surprising, unexpected and unique, our collaborations are chosen to promote consumer awareness and increase the appeal of coloured gemstones, raising their profile, and, in turn, providing greater benefit to their place of origin in Africa.


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Beyond just mining the gemstones, how do you ensure the entire process of Gemfields is producing a positive impact on the environment and society?

As primarily a mining company (though we also own Fabergé), our principal focus when it comes to responsible sourcing lies at the heart of the business: the mining operations in Mozambique and Zambia. This encompasses environmental management, health & safety, community engagement, fair labour and employment standards and human rights. But beyond this, how transparently we export and sell the rough gemstones and support wider in industry best practices also play a pivotal role.

At our mines, this means following best practices wherever possible. We champion organised, large scale and controlled mining operations, the sensitive and appropriate use of security to protect our people and host-nation gemstones, working practically in partnership with communities to create livelihoods projects and managing the impact on the environment on a continuous basis. We typically invest up to USD2 million (depending on auction results) into our local communities each year in education, agriculture, health and conservation projects.

During Gemfields’ journey to ‘responsibly sourcing’ – what have been the hurdles the business has experienced?

The jewellery industry is ancient and therefore traditionally opaque without a consistent way of valuing gemstones. We’re trying to change this by being open about our revenues and taxes and selling our gemstones via an auction platform to provide authorised auction partners and government officials with a transparent, repeatable and consistent point of sale. This platform is important for the jewellery brands who buy from our auction partners in order to close the gap of uncertainty in the supply chain and minimise this opaqueness. What’s next for Gemfields? At the heart of all of Gemfields’ operations is a desire to return significant value to a gemstone’s country of origin, in addition to funding projects that benefit both local communities and conservation efforts. The search is now underway for an appropriate blue sapphire deposit for Gemfields to put its name to, and which would complete the “big three” trio of operations in Africa.

This is The Confidence Issue – how do you ensure people have confidence in Gemfields?

Gemfields believes that coloured gemstones should be mined and marketed by championing three key values: transparency, legitimacy and integrity. We are proud of our leadership position in this field. In practice, this means contributing to national economies, creating projects to benefit local communities in the areas of health, education and livelihoods, undertaking conservation efforts and implementing industry-leading policies and practices across operations. The combination of increasing awareness, setting standards within the industry, operating transparently across the supply chain, pioneering traceability initiatives, and providing a consistent, reliable supply will help combat obstacles and challenges and thereby provide confidence in Gemfields. Finally, we always encourage people to ask questions. There is much information online and on social media about the coloured gemstone sector and about companies in it. So, when in doubt, ask! More trust should be put in those people and companies who transparently answer the questions, and less in those who don’t!

January’s – ‘The Confidence Issue’ – Download Now

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