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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Zambia Restriction on Gem Sales A Major Setback for Gemfields

Mila Kunis in a Gemfields ad.

The Zambia Ministry of Mines, Energy and Water Development issued a directive Friday stating that all auctioning of emeralds be held in Zambia, arguing that their sale in foreign markets contributes to capital flight. The timing of this order has dealt a major blow to the emerald ambitions of Gemfields, which operates what is believed to be the world’s largest emerald mine in Zambia.

The government in a statement said the directive is designed to promote transparency and accountability in the marketing of emeralds, stimulate local demand for emeralds, create more opportunities for small-scale miners to have access to colored gemstone markets, and increase tourism.

“Zambian gemstones have for a long time been sold on foreign markets, a situation that has contributed to capital flight and denied Zambians of the much needed benefits from the resource,” Yamfwa Mukanga, Zambia mining minister, said in the statement.

The move seemed to have come as a surprise to the London-listed company and the markets. Gemfields shares fell 16 percent Monday after the government announcement. In the past, Gemfields held its emerald auctions in other locations, including Singapore and in Jaipur, India. The next auction of its emeralds was already planned to be held in Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka from April 15 - 19.

The company is in partnership with the country of Zambia, which makes this seemingly sudden announcement more difficult to understand. Gemfields owns a 75 percent stake in the Kagem emerald mine with the government owning the remaining 25 percent. In addition, the two parties own a 50-50 stake in the Kariba amethyst mine, which will also be affected by the outside selling ban.

“Not allowing Gemfields to auction abroad is going to take us out of the competition with Brazil and Colombia, which holds 30 percent each of the world's supply of emeralds,” Dev Shetty, Gemfields COO, told Reuters.

The company that wants to do for emeralds what De Beers did for diamonds in the 20th Century recently had a string of marketing successes. It signed actress Mila Kunis as its ambassador; released an emerald-specific colored gemstone jewelry line made by independent jewelry designers ranging from Theo Fennell and Stephen Webster, Shaun Leane and Alexandra Mor; and finalized the acquisition of luxury jeweler Fabergé.

Since 2007, Gemfields has been creating a mine-to-market initiative for its emeralds using the Kagem mine as a single, traceable source for its emeralds. In addition, it is working on a program to mine its emeralds in adherence to fair-trade practices and in accordance with environmental, social and safety standards.

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