Do you ever look at beautiful, coloured gemstones and wonder where they come from? How many years did it take for them to form... Or how were they handpicked from a sea of stones to adorn that dazzling jewel piece? If you’re an jewellery enthusiast, and have a thing for rubies, you should totally scroll down more, for we are about to share our experience of visiting one of the riches ruby deposits in the world, courtesy of Gemfields.
For the uninitiated, Gemfields is a natural resources company, and the largest supplier of responsibly-sourced coloured gemstones in the world. The company specialises in the mining, processing and sale of coloured gemstones, particularly emeralds and rubies. In 2012, Gemfields added the Montepuez Ruby Mine—the largest known ruby mine in the world today—in Northern Mozambique to its portfolio.
During our three-day visit to the one of the most significant gemstone deposit in the world, we learned all about rubies, how you can judge the stone basis various criteria, and Gemfields’ sustainability programs in the region.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT ARE RUBIES?
Rubies are pink to blood-red coloured gemstones—a variety of the mineral corundum (aluminium oxide). The word ruby comes from ruber, Latin for red, and it’s one of the traditional gems, along with emerald, sapphire, diamond, and amethyst. This particular gemstone were treasured by early cultures as rubies represented the redness of the blood, and it was believed that they hold the power of life. Fun fact: in ancient times, rubies were often carried into battle for protection!
THE GEMFIELDS MONTEPUEZ RUBY MINE
Gemfields is the operator and 75% owner of the Montepuez Ruby Mining. The company, known for promoting transparency and responsible mining practices (more on it later), has one global vision: to be the global leader in precious-coloured gemstones. Their pride themselves in their progressive and unconventional approach. Though Gemfields is only involved in mining gemstones and not creating jewels, they support emerging talent, and collaborating with new-age, cutting-edge designers along with some of the world’s most iconic brands often.
As we explored the pit at the Montepuez Ruby Mine, we realised how rich it is...the ground there is littered with rubies. You can see it throwing up glints of red and pink in the dirt! Although the deposit was discovered in late 2009, the rubies at the this particular deposit are 500 million years old. And the most fascinating part is that over 50% of the world’s ruby supply comes from this mine. Mind-blown yet?
As we dug deeper and learned about the mining process, we realised that it is relatively straightforward. In a nutshell: it is an open-pit mining, which means that heaps (more like mountains!) of rich red soil are scooped out of the pit and taken to the wash plant to be processed further. The rubies are manually picked out of the gravel and then segregated depending upon their size, clarity, etc.
During our visit to the mine, the experts shed light on many aspects of mining and how each stone is carefully assessed. Being a leader of this trade, Gemfields has also devised a globally-acceptable rating system, with a promise that each stone comes with a guarantee and has been sourced ethically.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING RUBIES
When evaluating whether a ruby is worth your time and money, the Gemfields experts asked us to keep the 4 Cs in mind—colour, clarity, cut, and carat. The brightest and most valuable shade of red called ‘blood-red’ or ‘pigeon blood’, fetch a great premium. The experts at the mine also showed us how the most precious rubies in the world have even, saturated colour. While we were fishing through some true gems at the Gemfields Montepuez Ruby Mine, we discovered that this stone sometimes have a very strong chromium content, and if you look at it in yellow light, it seems like it is glowing.
THE SUSTAINABILITY FACTOR
These days, every big corporation has a CSR budget and agenda mapped out. But Gemfields doesn’t look at it as just an obligation... The work that this company is doing in the region for locals is commendable. Before starting any full-scale mining operations, Gemfields work with local/relevant authorities to assess the environmental impact. They have aligned their approach with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the focus primarily lies on balancing what they need to take out and put something back to keep the whole operation sustainable.
We had the chance to visit some of the grass-root level projects that the company is investing in. Gemfields has collaborated with the locals and formed a farming association that grows vegetables in the region...most of the produce is bought back by the company at market prices and used for the sustenance of its own employees.
They’ve also formed a poultry-farming cooperative to empower women in the area. There are schools in the region, providing education to local children so that they can have a better future, and mobile health-care clinics that are focused on treating and eradicating diseases.
Along with this, Gemfields is also working on implementing a transparent, legal mining process to stop illegal trade and abolish illegally-mined rubies being smuggled out of the country.
We can safely say that this three-day journey wasn’t just an amazingly rich experience—getting to know rubies and how they’re mined—but it also acquainted us with the holistic business approach of the company, which in no way can be negated or overlooked.