Data from Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council, a trade body supported by the ministry of commerce and industry, show imports of rough gemstones grew from $106 million from 2008-09 to $906 million in 2017-18. These imports include precious and semi-precious gemstones.
In the April-August 2019, coloured gemstone imports went up by 150%. Rough diamonds imports are much larger by value but even though it is significant that imports fell by 22.9% in the same period.
Gems are usually imported into India from a wide variety of countries, from Sri Lanka and Mayanmar to the US and Australia (see graphic). They are polished and made into jewellery. The manufacturing capital of gem jewellery in India is Jaipur.
Young Indians prefer gems for a variety of reasons, from aesthetic to concerns about mining process. Bengaluru-based Ankita Sharma (31) didn’t want diamonds on her wedding ring. The way diamonds are mined was one of the main reasons, she said, for her and her fiancée to pick gemstones instead. They settled on a blue sapphire ring.
Celebrities around the world, including British royalty, have opted for gemstones instead of diamond. Global brands like Tiffany and Cartier have ultra high priced pieces created out of emeralds, rubies and sapphires.
Indian jewellers said some stones have been part of the Indian heritage and are also gaining popularity. Yash Agarwal, creative director, Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas, headquartered in Jaipur, said the company has seen customers wanting alternatives to all-white and all-yellow jewellery”. “Adding a pop of colour adds a lot of interest to the piece…whether stones are rubies, sapphires and emeralds…”, he said.
Hyderabad based jewellery brand Kishandas & Co.’s CEO Pratiksha Prashant said rubies and emeralds have had a strong presence in Indian traditional jewellery, especially in the South.
In the North, gold dominates the wedding jewellery market but a range of customers are now looking to pay top prices for what the trade calls coloured pieces. Ten to 15% of Tanishq and Zoya‘s sales come from precious gems, say its representatives. The company said its data shows urban Indian customers are experimenting much more with such jewellery.
And, of course, top class gems are expensive – prices range from a few lakhs to a few crores. Jewellers said excellent quality stones can often be as expensive, if not more pricey, than the most sought after diamond. Mid-market gem-based jewellery starts from around Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000, and top-of-the-range pieces are priced at crores, jewellers said. Most of them disclose prices only to customers willing to place an order.
A good to top quality gem can increase in value over time because stones become rarer and rarer, says Ruchi Durlabhji, partner at Jaipur-based jewellery firm KS Durlabhji. She adds that if you invest in a good stone, the price of the stone can shoot up substantially.
One mining company based out of Hong Kong has noticed that diamonds are going through a transitional phase because of the pessimistic world economic situation. “We see the demand for rubies and emeralds in India growing. Sapphires are slightly less popular because of the “shani” or blue colour,” says Sanjay Kothari, vice chairman at KGK group of companies which manufactures and distributes gems and diamonds.
The company sources its rubies from Mozambique through Gemfields auctions and other open markets. Burma is another source for rubies. Sapphires come from Sri Lanka and Madagascar. Ten percent of the business for them comes from coloured stones but in terms of profitability, it’s much more profitable. “People are looking to coloured stones more now also because they have an expensive look. “With diamonds on the lower side, fortunately, in the emerging markets like China, South East Asia, we see the trend for precious stones,” he adds.
Indian hubs like Jaipur do a lot of global work, too. Amrapali’s founder Rajiv Arora said, ” the best gems are brought to India from Myanmar, Thailand, South American and Africa countries…we cut and polish them here…even companies like Cartier and Bvlgari have come here for the level of karigiri or workmanship”. Like in the case of diamonds, a big proportion of the world’s gems are cut in India.