ICA Newsletter - March 2019
Terry Coldham,
CEO of Intogems
Report b y Terry Coldham

ICA Ambassador to Australia

A presentation on behalf of the Australian Opal Industry was made at the GILC meeting in Tucson 2019 on a proposed revised classification system for opal. ( InColor Winter 2019, Benjamin-Thomas). It is the culmination of considerable thought and discussion by a cross-section of those involved in the Australian opal industry. A similar presentation was made at the last CIBJO meeting. It is proposed that this revised classification be used as the basis for an internationally accepted classification of opal and form a model for the classification of other gemstones.
Australian Opal
Lightning Ridge New South Wales: Production from the Lighting Ridge fields has been consistent over the last three years. Demand for both rough and cut has steadily increased giving rise to the perception that production has decreased, which is not the case. It has remained steady. Miners are increasingly processing their better stones and this, as well as selling through Internet channels, is reducing the quantities of rough marketed on the fields.
**The whole Lighting Ridge opal reserve encompasses some 5000 square kilometers of which some 3000 square kilometers are potentially opal-bearing. Less than 1% has ever been placed under mining title and 50% remains unexplored. Currently, there are some 3200 mineral claims, however, they are being operated by only 100 full-time and 150 part-time miners with perhaps a further 200 hobby miners. It is very difficult for any estimates of total production to be made, although rough estimates indicate that the field produces some 40 to 45 million dollars of opal annually based on field prices.
**Tourism is up and playing a very important role in the economics of “The Ridge.” It is estimated some 100,000 visited the fields during the last year. The increased interest can be put down to the efforts of the Lightning Ridge Tourism Association and TV shows such as “Out Back Opal Hunters,” “Back Roads” featuring life on The Ridge. Another important factor is the activity of The Australian Opal Centre encouraging interest in a variety of ways including educational activities such as their very popular “Fossil Dig” ( InColor Winter 2019, Brammall). T he Australian Opal Centre has been promised $9.5M from Federal, $7.5M from State, and $2M from governments. Along with funds promised by the founders and the local community, this means that $20M is now available to complete stage one of this iconic project.

White Cliffs New South Wales: These fields are very quiet at present. While there are some 150 to 200 claims registered, most are worked by retirees and hobbyists. There are only three or four serious miners who have no trouble selling whatever they produce. Currently, due to Native Title considerations, new claims are not being registered. It is hoped that this situation will be resolved soon. Like most other fields, tourism is becoming increasingly important and the community makes special efforts to welcome them. White Cliffs is famous for occasional finds of opal “pineapples.” Some spectacular examples were found in late 2017 and attracted a lot of attention in Tucson this year.

Coober Pedy South Australia: This field continues to produce good quality opal. Although production is down due to a lessening number of new and especially younger miners working the fields, demand for rough is high. Whatever is produced can be sold. There is plenty of prospective ground available and the community is encouraging new miners to “have a go.” Tourism has always been an important factor for the town. With Lake Eyre being filled with water and the iconic “Ghan” rail trip from Darwin to Adelaide making stops at Coober Pedy, it is expected that tourism will increase in 2019.

Andamooka South Australia: Production remains steady with 30 to 40 full-time and part-time miners. New miners are being encouraged to mine opal in their days off from working at nearby large-scale non-opal mines. Although only few buyers visit the fields, there is no problem selling production. This is mostly done through Coober Pedy or miners’ regular buyers in Adelaide and/or overseas. Some 5000 tourists, mainly in the form of “Grey Nomads,” visit the fields annually between April and October.
Mintabie Fields South Australia: These fields were once the largest producers in Australia, but are now reduced to just a few major operators and part-time miners. The South Australian government announced in 2018 that the town was to be closed, although opal mining could continue. At this time, there is quite a bit of uncertainty in respect to what Mintabie will produce in the future, however, those who are there continue to lobby government of the life of this amazing field.
Queensland Boulder Opal Fields: During the summer of 2018-19 the area encompassing the Queensland opal fields was especially hot, causing a decrease in activity over recent months. Demand has been consistent with buyers from Australia and overseas visiting the various fields. The popularity of boulder opal has been steadily increasing over the last several years and looks to continue over the next twelve months.

Yowah and Koroit: Renowned for “opal with character,” these fields continue as steady producers of boulder opal. Production is down a bit at present due to the complexity and costs of the tenure process, thus making new claims difficult. Demand for rough is good from both fields. At Yowah, there are about 10 permanent miners, and during winter months, this number increases with the arrival of “hobby” miners. As with other fields, tourism plays an important part in keeping the town alive.

Quilpie, Winton and Longreach: These townships are the centers for a number of large scale open-cut opal mines scattered over many thousands of square kilometers. In recent times, heat and lack of water have been a problem. It is expected, however, that production will continue as conditions cool down. Demand for rough continues.

During 2019, there will be a series of opal events and visitors are always welcome. For further information visit:
20 – 21 April 2019: Coober Pedy Gem Trade Show
12 – 13 July 2019: Winton Opal Trade Show
20 – 22 July 2019: Yowah Opal Festival
24 – 27 July 2019: Lightning Ridge Opal Festival
1 – 2 August 2019: Australian Opal Exhibition Gold Coast
August, TBA, 2019: Anakie Gem Fest

Australian Sapphire
In the decades from 1965 to 1985, Australia produced very large quantities of rough sapphire from the operations of both large mechanized miners and smaller hand miners. Almost the entire production was sold to visiting buyers from Thailand, who flocked to the fields in droves. Those days have gone and now production from the sapphire fields in both Queensland and NSW has been reduced dramatically. Almost all of the rough produced these days is still sold for processing offshore. There is a small, but skilled number of lapidaries cutting in Australia mainly for the local market, but with its small population, Australia is not a large market for cut stone. Sapphires, in particular, fancy colors such as teal blues and greens and yellows have always been popular. In recent years, there has been a steady increase in international demand for these colors as well.

Queensland: On the Queensland gem fields, centered around the villages of Rubyvale and Sapphire, there are at least four large scale mechanized operations, although presently only two are operating. One of the large mining operations ceased recently for re-financing and may restart in the second half of this year. The others are on standby due to a lack of water. There are many small operators both underground and above ground. It is hard to estimate how many, but a couple of hundred at least. Many are retired, hobby miners or even tourists.
**Still a handful of Chinese and Thai buyers visit the fields to buy what they can. The larger miners deal directly with their regular buyers. Locally, the prices for rough have remained quite steady for a few years, whereas cut stone prices have increased steadily. The immediate future for the fields looks stable. There continues to be good demand for well-cut Australian sapphires. It is estimated that some 15,000 tourists visit the fields annually and the income derived from their stays is of great local importance.
** In Far North Queensland is another lesser known sapphire field called Lava Plains. During 2016, prospecting and sampling operations were carried out with mixed results. Some of the blue sapphire is of especially good quality, although quantities recovered were sub-economic. The mine remains on a care and maintenance basis while testing and evaluation continues.

New South Wales: There is little production from the fields of Northern NSW with only one large-scale mining operation that processes and sell its production offshore. Apart from this company, there are only a few small miners and hobbyists working on the fields.

Ornamental Gem Materials: Australia is a major producer of ornamental materials such as mookaite, opalite, jasper, tiger eye, petrified wood (including peanut wood), agate, chrysoprase and prehnite. All are currently being mined and, in most cases, exported as raw material to the lapidary industry around the world. Until recently, the main market was China, however, demand there has dropped off in recent times and new markets such as India are being explored. Read Online
*** ICA's Reception at Inhorgenta Munich 2019
The third Inhorgenta ICA Reception is becoming almost a traditional meeting. Organized by Claudia Hamann Edelstein, ICA Germany Ambassador, and Saurabh Bansal, ICA Germany Director, the reception took place in Kaefer Tagesbar on February 23 and welcomed members and guests from all over the world, as well as numerous ambassadors, providing a good opportunity to exchange views. Read More
***The HKTDC-Organized Twin Hong Kong Gem & Jewelry Shows Attracted a Record Numbers of Visitors
The results of the recent gem and jewelry shows in Hong Kong have proven once again the importance of the city as a global destination for gems and jewelry. A myriad of colorful and luxurious gems and jewels are featured in this article, including many from ICA exhibitors. Read More
***Gübelin Gemstone Blockchain Goes Live
Switzerland’s Gübelin Gem Lab has launched a blockchain for colored gemstones, which, it claims, will enable source verification throughout the entire supply chain. The digital ledger is now open to industry members wishing to place their gemstones on the platform.
The blockchain will record all transactions involving a stone, enabling participants to see the relevant available data about the piece’s history. Businesses across the supply chain can register for the free program, including miners, dealers, cutters, treaters, laboratories and jewelers. Retailers will then be able to show consumers the entire story of the stone.   Read More
*** Nirav Modi Nabbed, Held on Bail in London
Nirav Modi has been arrested in London and is being held on bail, numerous news outlets reported earlier this week. The Indian government, which has been on the hunt for the billionaire diamantaire since he fled the country early last year after being implicated in a $1.8 billion bank fraud scheme, said it wants Modi back in the country to face charges of criminal conspiracy, corruption and money laundering as soon as possible. . Read More
*** Fancy Color Research Foundation: Prices Stable In Q4
The Fancy Color Research Foundation (FCRF) reported that, in Q4 2018, fancy color diamond prices showed stability across all sizes and saturation. The Fancy Color Diamond Index (FCDI) indicates that in Q4 prices of blue fancy color diamonds increased by 0.8 %, and fancy intense blues increased by 1.9%. Pink diamond prices remained stable, while the 2-ct pink diamond category rose by 1.1%, led by fancy vivid pink that rose by 2.1% and 10-ct fancy pink decreased by 0.8%. Yellow fancy color diamonds showed a general decrease by 1.5%, with an increase by 1.2% in the fancy vivid yellow 5-ct category, the FCRF reported. Read More
***Luxury Defies China Slowdown Fears
China’s appetite for luxury goods is still strong and featured prominently in this month’s results announcements from major luxury players.  Kering   posted record 2018 profits  on the back of a 29% increase in sales for the year, with chief executive  François-Henri Pinault  stating, "In terms of the momentum with Chinese clients, it's very strong." Hermès’ organic sales growth topped 10% in 2018, as the group remained  impervious to any slowdown in China . The same sentiment was echoed by  Moncler , which confirmed that trading in China was strong through the beginning of 2019, and by Estée Lauder in its  quarterly results , which prompted the beauty group to upgrade its forecasts for the full year. Read M ore
*** Year of the Pig: What to Expect from the Chinese Luxury Market?
This week Bloomberg asked in a headline: “How Bad Is China’s Economic Slowdown?” Their answer: “It Depends What You Sell.” Much has been written about China’s economic downturn, and dramatic sales numbers like those of Apple seem to indicate that the boom in China is over. But is it? First, the Chinese economy is still growing at a rate above 5 percent. While slower than in the past, it is still an impressive number that other economies envy. Second, there are about 200 million additional Chinese Generation-Z consumers about to enter the market over the next several years. Read More
***Scientists Take a Look Inside a Rare Wire Gold Specimen
For the first time ever, scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory in the USA had a peek inside the structure of the Ram's Horn, a 263-gram, 12-centimeter tall wire gold specimen considered one of the few of its kind. Using neutron characterization techniques, the researchers were able to take a look to try to better understand how the shiny object was formed. "Almost nothing other than the existence of the specimen is known about wire gold," said Sven Vogel, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory's neutron science center.   Read More
*** Gemfields Unveils New $15M Automated Ruby Sort House in Mozambique
The gemstone miner noted in a statement that the sort house, in which it invested US$15 million, was the first of its kind for the gemstone industry and would be on par with the best diamond sorting facilities in the world. It works by using the natural properties of  rubies  as a means of automated sorting. The process starts with the washing of the raw material, before passing it under ultraviolet (UV) light. Read More
*** Crevoshay - Art of the Jewel Is at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
In California, the Natural History Museum of LA County is holding a special exhibition of original colorful jewelry. Entitled Crevoshay - Art of the Jewel, it features the colorful artistry of Paula Crevoshay, whose luxurious, nature-inspired and very personal jewelry sheds new dazzle on the natural history of precious gemstones. A descriptive video can be found by clicking here .
*** UK Gemological Center Expands to US Market
The Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A) has partnered with Jewelry Television (JTV) to expand its educational services to the US market. The UK-based organization has given accreditation to JTV to operate a teaching center in Knoxville, Tennessee, where the retailer is headquartered. The location will be the first under the Gem-A brand in North America, offering gemology-foundation, gemology-diploma and diamond-diploma courses. Gem-A currently teaches gemology in seven languages across 26 countries.   Read More