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FACETS’ foreign sales top $ 10 M, world rediscovers Ceylon Blue Sapphire

Sep 15, 2011 5:10:40 PM - www.ft.lk

The just concluded 21st FACETS Sri Lanka 2011 international gem and jewellery exhibition saw strong sales to foreign buyers ‘easily exceeding US $ 10 Million’ but the overall totals could be far higher. More than 7300 visitors attended the show of which more than 1300 were foreign visitors. The topmost preference for foreign buyers was the Ceylon Blue Sapphire. And factors needed to make Sri Lanka a blue sapphire hub are falling into place. 

The 21st annual international gem and jewellery exhibition entitled FACETS Sri Lanka 2011 organised by the Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Association (SLGJA), was declared open by Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce on Thursday 8 September, at the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Memorial Exhibition Centre in Colombo. Held annually in Colombo since 1991 with state and private sector patronage, FACETS Sri Lanka 2011, this year’s show had 150 display booths of gems, diamonds and jewellery. “In 2010, Sri Lanka exported diamonds and jewelry to the value of US $ 335 million and US $ 70 million of Gems. Gem and jewellery contributes 5% to our total exports earnings. Gem and other mining also was the top sector contributing to the 15.5% growth in Mining and quarrying subsector in 2010. There are more than 600,000 people engaged in the gem mining to market cycle.” Minister Rishad Bathiudeen said on September at the occasion.
Sri Lanka’s gem (only) exports in 2010 first half stood at US $ 35.76 Mn and in the first half of 2011, in rose to US $ 48.46 Mn showing leap of 35.5%. The major buyers of Sri Lanka gems are Hong Kong, USA, Thailand and Switzerland. Emerging Markets for Gems & Jewellery are China, Russia, and Brazil. Held annually in Colombo since 1991, FACETS is Sri Lanka’s only international gem and jewellery show, which saw a new beginning in September 2005 when it moved to the BMICH Exhibition and Convention Centre in Colombo. Exhibitors increased by more than 50 percent and a total of 154 booths are on show this year which is the 21st annual exhibition in this series. Two, 19 member Chinese delegations and one, 16 member Russian delegations are in Colombo for FACETS 2011 which will conclude on 11September.
Nawrooz Asmi, Assistant Secretary of Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Association revealed that sales to foreign buyers alone easily exceed US $ 10 Million. “This is just the initial estimate and it could be much more. When added to sales to Sri Lankans, the total transaction values during FACETS could be far higher” Asmi said. “For the first time in the history of FACETS, we have advanced bookings and we are now processing stall bookings for 2013 show” he said. “Our continuous promotional efforts in China and Hong Kong have paid dividends since most of foreign buyers at FACETS 2011 were from these two countries” Asmi revealed.
Nandani Abeyratne, Assistant Manager Exports of Sri Lanka Gem & Jewellery Authority, confirmed China’s entry as the leading foreign buyer of Sri Lankan gems. “China is becoming the biggest consumer of our gem exports. This is despite the 37% tax imposed on China’s end for imported gems from Sri Lanka” she said. Sri Lanka Gem & Jewellery Authority sponsored the Sri Lankan gem and jewellery SME’s during FACETS 2011. 
Ioma Dias, Assistant Manager of Export Promotion of Sri Lanka Gem & Jewellery Authority revealed that Ceylon Blue Sapphire’s time ‘has come’. “Strong demand for our blue sapphire among foreign buyers shows that the world is now aware about our sapphire” she said.
“This shows that Ceylon Blue Sapphire, especially after the British Royal Wedding of 2011, is becoming another lifestyle precious stone of choice joining the ranks of diamonds and rubies” Asmi said. “The positioning of blue sapphire has strongest appeal among the Yuppie segment” he added (In advertising and marketing terms, “Yuppies” are young upwardly mobile professionals, associated with mobile phones, money, expensive cars, and prestigious city jobs).
“The downward trend in our gem and jewellery industry due to the 2008 global recession is now over” said Chanaka Ellawala, Chairman of FACETS, speaking to Media Unit of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. “After the sales dip in 2008 and 2009, in 2010 we saw a slight improvement and this year appears to be the turn-around year” he added. 
General Rohan Daluwatta, Chairman/CEO of the National Gem & Jewellery Authority (NGJA) of Sri Lanka, agreed: “This year’s FACETS is very encouraging and highly positive” Gen. Daluwatta said.  
According to Ellawala, in terms of foreign buying presence, the strongest buyers in this years’ FACETS were Chinese nationals. “More than 50% of stall-holders report direct sales to Chinese buyers. This shows that Sri Lanka earning Chinese’ confidence and trust regarding Ceylonese Gem supply. After Chinese buyers, Russians followed, though not at the high levels of Chinese purchases. The number one preference for foreign buyers were Ceylon Sapphire, specifically, the Blue Sapphire. The Blue sapphires sold in the FACETS ranged from US $ 50 per carat to $ 5000 per carat. The blue sapphire sales were possibly boosted by the recent British Royal Wedding where its centre piece ring featured a 18 Carat oval blue sapphire from Sri Lanka” Ellawala said. “But more importantly, Sri Lanka has been lately earning a reputation as a consistent supplier of big sized Blue Sapphires –that is above five carats, often 10 carats and above that other sources of sapphires such as Madagascar and Australia are not able to match. In short, Sri Lanka is internationally unmatched when it comes to a sources of high quality and consistent supply in blue sapphires, the reasons for higher sales of our blue sapphires. This proves again that the discovery of Sri Lanka’s top gem brand–it is Ceylon Blue Sapphire” Ellawala said.
The Gem and Jewellery Authority revealed that in 2010, Sri Lanka exported US $ 38.35 M (Rs. 4223 m) of Ceylon Blue Sapphires. Pink Sapphire exports stood at US $ 3.17 M followed by Yellow (US $ 2.29 m), White (US $ 445070), White (US $ 372405), Green (US $ 163495) and Golden (9000 US $).
“There were special gem trade delegations from India, Russia and China. All in all, 175 gem trade visitors attended this year’s show and they are not only from these three countries but many other destinations such as USA and EU as well. In addition, more than 1400 independent foreign visitors were seen, bulk of them coming from India” Ellawala added.
“This year’s FACETS was such a boost for the gem and jewellery community of Sri Lanka and it showed that Sri Lanka’s decision to reach out to BRIC countries, specially India, China and Russia was correct.
The Sri Lankan buyers were more focused on jewellery than gems. “Sri Lankans chose gold and silver jewellery. Meanwhile the diamond sellers reported good sales too though their buyers were not retails buyers but Industry buyers purchasing diamonds in bulk for their jewelleries” Ellawala said. 
“This is the time to focus on sourcing blue sapphires of other countries to Sri Lanka. We need to import them, use our gem knowledge to and expertise, we should re-export imported blue sapphires after value addition as Category 2 and 3 blue sapphires whereby giving it the premium category and status to Ceylon Blue Sapphires so that we can get a special premium price for our blue sapphires” Ellawala said. “I think the relevant factors are now in place to convert Sri Lanka to blue sapphire hub of Asia if not a gem knowledge hub” he said.


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