Earlier this month, a new and significant benchmark was set in the gem and jewellery industry after the sale of the Estrela de FURA, a 55.22 carat ruby, was sold for $34.8 million (€31.9 million). Interest in the ruby, which was the largest gem-quality ruby of its kind ever to appear at auction, was at its peak, with many describing the sale as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Indeed, when the ruby was first discovered last July, it quickly attracted a lot of attention, not only for being the largest of its kind but also because it was found by an ethical gemstone mining and marketing company specialised in rubies, emeralds and sapphires, FURA Gems, which found the vivid red ruby in Mozambique rather than Burma, where rubies of “pigeon’s blood” colour are more traditionally associated with.
It is extremely rare, almost impossible, to discover a gemstone of this size and quality, noted Dev Shetty, CEO of FURA Gems who established the company in 2017. “Even in its rough, untouched state, Estrela de FURA was considered by experts as an exceptional treasure of nature…(for) its combination of rich saturation of colour, highly crystalline appearance, and incomparable size.”
“We decided to sell it to auction after a number of months of discussion,” Shetty added, who previously worked for Gemfields. “Given the continued and escalating interest in coloured gemstones driven by increasingly limited supplies, we felt this would be the best time to introduce this stone to the market, with the auction format offering the best opportunity for the ruby to be seen by the widest possible pool of potential buyers.”
While Shetty says the global market value of emeralds, rubies and sapphires is estimated to be worth around $1.5 to $2.5 billion, it still significantly trails behind the diamond market, which is valued at around $12 to $14 billion, but interest is growing.
“Gemstones are getting more popular now so it gives us a strong indication that rubies are making a significant impact among all the collectors; we can expect to see an upwards trend of collections featuring gemstones and rubies,” said Zulu Ghevriya, CEO and Co-founder of Smiling Rocks, a philanthropic lab-grown diamond jewellery brand based in New York that gives 3 percent of its jewellery revenue and 1 percent of its loose diamond revenue back to various different charity sectors.
“There’s also a strong indication that the collectors, especially the high-end luxury collectors, are more keen to pay the right price for better luxury,” Ghevriya added. “The collectible pieces we might see in upcoming days have a greater chance of being gemstone collections, and the collectors may be looking forward to these, too.”
“I expect strong consumer interest and sector growth to continue,” said Shetty. “Gemstones are unique and allow people to have their own preference and identity. Buyers are looking to expand their collections beyond colourless diamonds. Over the past decade, coloured gemstones have experienced some of the biggest price jumps in history.”
Indeed, this is something that Eddie Le Vian, CEO of fine jewellery brand Le Vian has seen in his business. The materials of most interest to clients are natural colour pink and blue and yellow diamonds, paraiba and watermelon tourmalines, alexandrites and precious and exotic gems, he noted.
“Our bestsellers are among our range of natural colour diamonds, and fine colour gems especially our Chocolate Diamonds and many other colour gemstones including Sunny Yellow Diamonds,” he added. “Our fastest growing division is our high jewellery division where the sky is the limit.”
Shetty, Ghevriya and Le Vian are witnesses to a growing new shift in the jewellery industry, which sees more and more brands aiming to provide more sustainable and/or ethical solutions and clarity to consumers who are increasingly concerned about the provenance of where the materials of their jewellery are sourced.
“I am proud to say that we are considered the fastest-growing coloured gemstone mining company,” said Shetty. “As CEO, my sole objective is to ensure stability and traceability of ethically mined coloured gemstones from rough to retail. On this note, we are currently in the process of joining the Responsible Jewellery Council and were an early adopter of the blockchain technology devised by Gübelin Gem Lab and Everledger to ensure the full traceability of the stones it produces.”
“The jewellery market has evolved drastically in the past few years, I have seen the new consumers, whom I consider the millennials, as the biggest buyers today for the luxury industry, specifically the jewellery industry,” said Ghevriya. “They’re coming up with a very conscientious mind to their purchases, and consumers are becoming more aware of them. They are questioning the industry directly about the sourcing, the traceability, so I’ve seen the consumers asking about the “DNA” or the trace of the complete time pipeline of the products.”
“Through this, consumers are more aware about the sustainable projections, which makes the brand inclined to look into managing sustainable business practices,” he added. “These are the predominant changes I have seen in the industry that the industry has been consistently open to apply.”
“Smiling Rocks is a lab-grown diamond jewellery brand, and we are emerging as the top luxury brand in lab-grown diamonds. We want to be known as the top-quality luxury brand for lab-grown diamonds that consumers and retailers, and the world see as a high-end luxury. That’s what Smiling Rocks is aiming for. Secondly, we want to be known as a brand that serves with great purpose and is serving luxury to the world as an essential component. We want to establish this as a business model that future generations adopt, which makes the world kinder and more beautiful.”
At Le Vian, the company plans to extend its certified natural colour diamond collection over the next few years, which are all responsibly mined and 10,000 times rarer than white diamonds. And philanthropy also plays a very important part in helping to reshape the family-run company’s future, as it sponsors medical charities, as well as others in diamond-producing communities via Diamonds Do Good, giving away 10 to 20 percent of its pre-tax profits to charity each year.
But the industry is not without its concerns or challenges like many other categories in the luxury space. Global concerns continue to persist over what experts are calling a “poly-crisis,” which factors in challenges like inflation, climate change, the war in Europe, supply chain disruptions and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which may dampen appetite for more expensive purchases like jewellery and watches.
“The jewellery industry is being disrupted with a lack of engagements caused by less dating during the pandemic affecting engagement ring sales,” noted Le Vian. “The market is also affected by inflation, affecting the buying ability of lower and middle-income shoppers. The travel boom is also cutting into the phenomenal growth of recent years."
“Currently, the jewellery market is facing one of the biggest challenges,” noted Ghevriya. “Luxury has always been considered a lower priority for consumers except if they are really purchasing that product for a particular reason. Looking at the current economic situation around the world, the luxury market, especially the jewellery market, is having certain challenges, but we are seeing a great window for the lab-grown industry that is giving people an option for affordable luxury.”
Looking forward, what remains clear is that luxury jewellery is a fast-growing industry with huge potential to develop even further. However, brands must consider who their customer is, where they shop and how they speak to them.
“Especially since customers now seek digital channels for their purchases, we accustom ourselves to this by making our omnichannel strategy ever more limber and ever more accessible,” said Le Vian. “I attribute this demand increase partially to the emergence of a growing middle-class globally.”
“The messaging of the brand is very important, added Ghevriya. “What the brand is willing to cater to, and what kind of communities the brand wants to represent. The clear way of branding is to stay around your communities, just stay around your messages, stay around the quality that you want to offer to your customers, I think that’s how the brand grows.”