By Bernardette Sto. Domingo
Brazil has crafted an indelible niche in the global gemstone industry, providing a highly diversified source of top-quality gemstones to major markets.
The country maintains a sparkling repository of extremely coveted goods from tourmalines to Imperial topaz stones, aquamarines, morganites, amethysts, quartzes and Brazilian emeralds, which are steadily gaining steam in the global marketplace. Brazil is also a top source of perennial favourites such as rubies and sapphires.
Despite its celebrated history, Brazil’s gemstone sector is presently facing significant challenges, according to the Brazilian Gems and Jewellery Trade Association (IBGM).
The association cited the gemstone industry’s mediocre performance in the first half of 2017, resulting in a year-on-year decline of 7 percent.
Emeralds, however, present a silver lining for gemstone traders. IBGM data revealed that exports of emeralds rose 6 percent during the period in review, compared to the first six months of 2016.
“Unlike other coloured gemstones, the emerald sector performed positively from January to June this year,” IBGM noted. “Buyers worldwide started noticing Brazilian emeralds in recent years, and these gemstones have increasingly become valuable to them. The country is now a major emerald supplier worldwide.”
Another highly sought-after Brazilian gemstone is the Paraiba tourmaline, which is desired by many for its unparalleled quality and remarkable beauty, according to IBGM.
Brazil recorded a 9 percent increase in overall gemstone exports in 2016, driven by strong sales to the US.
Apart from the US, the country’s main export destinations include Hong Kong, mainland China, Germany, India, Thailand, Italy, Australia, Turkey and the UK.
Roadblocks and prospects
According to IBGM, Brazil’s gemstone industry faces a number of obstacles as a result of rampant bureaucracy in the country.
For years, the Brazilian government has struggled to eliminate complex and lengthy processes required for companies to export goods. Various reports have earlier indicated that a high level of bureaucracy in the country was to blame for lacklustre export sales and sluggish growth of companies.
Early this year, the government launched the Single Foreign Trade Portal, which is aimed at making export and import processes more transparent, thereby reducing bureaucracy.
Brazil is likewise in the midst of implementing its Brazilian Mining Industry Revitalization Program, which promises to help the industry attract new investors and increase competitiveness, among other reforms.
Whether these changes will have a positive impact on the gemstone industry remains to be seen, according to IBGM.
Another challenge in the industry is constantly meeting the needs of more discerning buyers who place a premium on origin determination and sound business practices.
“Evaluating the market more broadly, in which origin, traceability of products and fair practices are becoming increasingly demanded, Brazilian companies are becoming more and more aware of and committed to working towards these initiatives,” stated IBGM.
The association also cited a recent partnership between Brazilian gemstone expert Belmont Mine and Gübelin Gem Lab on an “Emerald Paternity” project.
The Emerald Paternity Test is a new traceability technology “creating independent proof of provenance for emeralds.” The technology uses customised DNA-based nanoparticles enabling traceability of emeralds back to the exact place of mining.
In a previous interview, Belmont Director Marcelo Ribeiro said Belmont and Gübelin Gem Lab are currently finalising some logistical arrangements.
“Our plan is to have all Belmont emeralds undergo the Emerald Paternity Test starting from 2018. We want our emeralds to carry the DNA-based nanoparticles, which allow Gübelin Gem Lab to identify the emeralds’ origins,” said Ribeiro.
“The project heralds a new era in the gemstone industry. Jewellers will be able to assure the market of the provenance of their emeralds. Consumers will get a glimpse of the history of the stones. We have now the opportunity to separate responsible sources for gemstones from those that are not creating value for society,” he added. “We can now give younger people one more reason to buy jewellery. Consumers are assured that they are doing good when buying gemstones from responsible sources. We expect this project to boost the demand for responsibly sourced stones.”
Another significant initiative of IBGM is the “Project Lapidar-se,” which is aimed at helping ex-prisoners reintegrate into society by learning the art of cutting gemstones and producing handcrafted pieces with the guidance of artist Maria Lucia Barbosa and gemstone producer Nevestones, owner of the Cruzeiro Mine.
IBGM said the gemstone sector is directly impacted by the performance of the global luxury market. Citing recent forecasts indicating a potential growth of between 2 percent and 4 percent in the luxury business in 2017, the association stressed that prospects are also bright for the gemstone business.
“We can expect the gemstone industry in Brazil to register some growth considering an anticipated increase in the luxury market. We cannot also discount the fact that Brazil is among the world’s leading suppliers of high-quality gemstones,” remarked IBGM.
The association likewise underscored the significance of Hong Kong as a hub for the Brazilian gemstone business in Asia.
“The Asian market is the second-largest destination of Brazilian exports. Before 2014, it was our main destination. However, reduced consumption of luxury products in China resulted in a decrease in exports,” noted IBGM. “Hong Kong is, and will continue to be, one of the main selling platforms for Brazilian gemstones.”