Think Green

A turning point in the fortunes of the emerald business may be under way.

The International Forum of the Colombian Emerald, held in November in Santa Fe de Bogota, Colombia, and an emerald congress to be held later this year are designed to breathe new life into the world’s emerald business. Even more significant, observers say, is a change in attitude at the highest levels of Colombia’s emerald industry and government – factions historically at odds.

In an unprecedented display of unity, the government joined with private mining companies, emerald cutters, dealers and jewelry retailers to create the forum. Lecturers even had a private audience with Colombia’s president, Ernesto Samper Pizano.

“Today, Colombia dresses in green. We are going to determine a new course for this interesting, magical gemstone,” Rodrigo Villamizar Alvargonzalez, Colombia’s minister of mines and energy, told the forum. “We must generate competitive advantages with the efficient use of exploration, development, emerald treatments and emerald faceting. The key is not only to possess a natural resource, but also to have the capacity to generate value-added industries.”

The forum was sponsored by Minerales de Colombia S.A. (known as Mineralco), a mining company that carries out government projects, with support from the Colombian Emerald Federation. Organizers say the goal was to brainstorm, exchange ideas and promote frank and honest discussion of issues. The list of speakers read like a Who’s Who in the Colombian emerald business and included an impressive roster of world gem experts.

The forum was actually a dress rehearsal for the First World Emerald Congress, to be held in Colombia July 5-10. For information, call Claudia Uribe in Bogota at (57-1) 312-0318.] “The congress will be host to several other emerald producing countries, such as Zambia, Brazil, Russia and others,” says Antonio Jose Sanchez Murillo, chief executive officer of Mineralco. “We would like for it to be a truly international event.”

The discussions and proposals at the forum included:

  • The creation of an international emerald and precious stones bourse where emeralds from around the world could be exchanged, sold and auctioned under one roof. Organizers hope the bourse will be in operation by summer 1997.

  • Villamizar Alvargonzalez, the minister of mines and energy, suggested creating a multimillion-dollar national fund to facilitate global emerald strategies, including promotions.

  • The proposal of an “emerald law” to the Colombian congress to facilitate trade, all within a framework adhering to social, environmental, economic, technical and political needs. Several officials spoke of the need to modernize and upgrade Colombia’s mining infrastructure and to explore several untapped mining regions.

  • Several speakers urged emerald producers to seek “open and honest solutions” to the problems of controversial emerald treatments and the nondisclosure of those treatments to clients. The speakers signaled a global “crisis of confidence” and a general confusion regarding Colombian emeralds. Speakers blamed these sentiments for a dramatic drop in emerald sales in recent years.

  • The development of value-added industries for Colombia, such as an emerald cutting school in Colombia, appraisal laboratories, treatment investigation, research facilities and jewelry manufacture. “We want Colombia to be the place people come to for any aspect relating to emerald,” says Sanchez Murillo.

  • The International Colored Gemstone Association was invited to the forum to discuss the possibility of promoting 1997 as the “Year of the Emerald.” ICA suggested that emerald – as a gem variety – can be promoted throughout the year, regardless of the country of origin.