The price of loose Sapphires in the trade has increased by 200 to 400% over the past few months. Even entry grade quality, with Beryllium treatment, has gone through the roof. Regardless of colour and regardless of location, every miner, cutter and dealer seems to have ramped up their prices. But the biggest increase of all is Ceylon Sapphires, where in some sizes and grades we have witnessed a 5 to 10 times increase in price. Now this is not the first time this has happened to a gemstone variety and behind prices hikes there is normally an easy to understand answer.
Ametrine and Ethiopian Opals for example have recently shot up in price as their respective governments have banned the export of uncut gems. Amethyst prices increased significantly last year and are slowly increasing this year as Chinese buyers are currently investing in it, as if the world will run out of purple gemstones tomorrow. Diamonds of course have their own pricing patterns and with such a huge worldwide demand for them, seem to change prices almost as frequently as gold prices.
But such a dramatic change in just a few months for the cost of Sapphire was alarming. What could cause this? Was there a wide spread price fixing scam under way? In the past that would have been impossible to imagine, as you are dealing with so many countries and often incredibly remote locations, but today with mobile phones working almost everywhere and in many places the chance to go on the internet, it could in theory happen. Was it as some people were saying, down to the press coverage of the Duchess of Cambridge’s ring, which was reaching every corner of the world, increasing demand in some areas in excess of Diamonds? Whatever the reason, we were not getting consistent stories in Jaipur and as this is the epicenter of the universe for coloured gemstones, this was very unusual indeed.
So we had a long chat with our gem sourcing team and they suggested that I head for Sri Lanka, after all it is there Sapphires that are regarded as the most valuable in the world and it was these, especially the Ceylon Blue Sapphire, where we were witnessing the biggest hike in price.
So before booking flights we started investigating and we started asking more and more questions. We started to try and track the guys who are actually extracting the gems. More often than not, the gems have already changed hands several times before they arrive at the China Fort market. With FBI like intelligence, my team try and trace the original source to see if the increase starts at this point. With Sapphires being so rare and artisanally mined worldwide, we source our corundum (the parent gem to Sapphire and Ruby) through various channels. Sometimes direct with mines, sometimes from cutting houses and even occasionally from representatives of certain mining hubs.
As we were working out where to start the trip, a good friend of mine Mr Ashok called and said his contacts in Ratnapura were currently experiencing some good finds. So, with one guaranteed supply in place and the adventure of possibility rooting out other mines or miners, my son Matt and I booked our tickets and set off. Unfortunately, the trip did mean we were going to have to let down at the last minute one of our friends in China, who had somehow arranged a filming trip in Hunan, an area notoriously difficult to get a filming permit. But the adventurer in me kicked in, preferring the gamble of a big Sapphire find, rather than travelling to film a mine we already knew a reasonable amount about and where the prices were increasing at a more controlled level.