The Good Life

Bidding for baubles

Gemfields is doing for stones what De Beers did for diamonds — and helping the underprivileged while at it

June 6 will see the gavel descend on 10 pieces of unique jewellery to be auctioned by Julien-Vincent Brunie of Christie’s at The Oberoi Trident in Mumbai. Supported by Gemfields for charity NGO Nanhi Kali and flagged by Mahindra & Mahindra, it will feature designs by 10 well-known stores using emeralds mined in Zambia and rubies in Mozambique — the products of Gemfields, which has been in the mining business since the 1940s. The estimates for the lots range from ₹21 lakh to ₹88 lakh, though this might change depending on the bidding, and it is hoped the auction will help raise between $150,000 and $200,000 for charity.

Such CSR activities are hardly new to Gemfields, which has in the past supported Mark Shand’s efforts to set up elephant corridors in India (for which it raised $100,000). The effort aims to combine charity with savvy marketing, as Gemfields hopes to do for coloured gemstones what de Beers did for diamonds. At a time when Colombian emeralds, for instance, have run their course, Gemfields is promoting Zambia for its “ethical” mining — no child labour is involved. The profits are not used for anti-social activities and there is no money laundering involved. Old and defunct mines are either filled with earth and allowed to return to a natural state for farming purposes or flooded with water to permit fishing. And with the mined gemstones now being auctioned locally — i.e., within Zambia — it has become a saviour for the local economy, boosting its tourism prospects in the bargain.

“India and coloured gemstones have a rich and powerful history and the country has played an important part in Gemfields’ success as a business,” says its London-based CEO Ian Harebottle. Certainly, 95% of those gemstones pass through the crowded bylanes of Jaipur, where they are graded, hand-cut and polished before being sold. Typically, Gemfields does not disclose its reserve prices ahead of its auction for mined roughs, which is why pricing, says its regional director marketing-Asia, Rupak Sen, is “judgemental, with huge differences between one bidder and the next”. Prices for its Zambian emeralds have been rising, having gone up by as much as 10 times between June 2009 and December 2013. Stringent disclosures are followed, so if baby oil or paraffin is used in its treatment, or bonding is undertaken, it needs to be mentioned as part of the history.

The June auction of jewellery that was put together using Gemfields gemstones casts emeralds and rubies alongside diamonds and yellow and white gold. The 10 chosen pieces have been designed by jewellery stores Abaran (Bangalore), Amrapali (Jaipur), Anmol (Mumbai), Hazoorilal (New Delhi), Lala Jugal Kishore (Lucknow), Mirari (New Delhi), Moksh (Mumbai), Narayan (Baroda), Talwarsons (Chandigarh) and Tibarumals (Hyderabad). The designs range from the pretty and floral (but overwhelming) to the Art Deco and contemporary. With Nanhi Kali as its beneficiary and Chitrangada Singh as its ambassador, the auction might serve to bring more than just colour to another social event in Mumbai by ensuring that the lives of 90,000 underprivileged girls are impacted in a way they could hardly have imagined — simply because someone decided to take home a piece of designer jewellery.

The writer is a Delhi-based author and curator