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FURA’s successful turnaround of Australian sapphires



New origin, forgotten gem — and yet, FURA Gems and its talented founder have rolled up their sleeves and plunged right into Australian sapphires. This is category creation, and it’s happening before our eyes. Here’s how Dev Shetty, the president and chief executive officer of FURA Gemsand his global mining startup are laying the ground for a new narrative, a new luxury product and long-term growth opportunities in the gems and jewellery industry.

Australian sapphires are the unsung hero of the global gemstone industry. Sapphires were discovered in Queensland a century and a half ago and,since then, Australian miners have unearthed these gems in a rainbow of colours that buyers around the world rarely get to see. Exploring the enormous range of Australian sapphires has been a journey of discovery for FURA Gems.

Rough and ready history

It all started with the chance discovery of sapphire corundums (the mineral of which sapphire is a variety) by gold miners in Queenslandin 1851. Artisanal mining of sapphires started in 1919 and, at first, the greatest gems went to Europe. Bulk production began only in the 1950s.

In the 1980s, Australia was responsible for nine-tenths of global sapphire production.It mined 30 million carats annually, which earned $90–100 million. Unfortunately, the miners were not in a position to create an organised,worldwide market for Australian sapphires. Without such a strategy, Australian sapphires competed directly with gems from Madagascar, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, and demand did not take off. Despite formidable reserves, within a few years the Australian mines had to curtail their operations.Eventually, they shut.

Before they shut, inevitably, Australian sapphires began to be dumped at unusually low prices. Depleting profits and the high cost of mining in Queensland made the business unviable, even as alternate sources of sapphires emerged on the global scene. Australian sapphires were unlikely to find their way back into favouranytime soon.

Back on the map

Until 2020. In this pandemic year, a robust,multinational mining startup based in the United Arab Emirates showed an interest in outback sapphires. Founded in 2017 by a globetrotting young executive problem-solver named Dev Shetty, FURA Gems was already mining gemstones on different continents, including emeralds in Coscuez, Colombia, and rubies in Montepuez, Mozambique. In 2020, FURAacquired the Australian sapphire mining leaseholders Capricorn Sapphire and Great Northern Mining.

Shetty, the president and chief executive officer of FURA Gems, has a vision: to organise the largely unorganised global colour gemstone industry. It is an ample vision, but one that his company is well on its way to achieving.FURA has been building global recognition for the natural beauty of exotic blue, blue-green, green and multi-hued ‘parti’ sapphires.It wants to clean up and rebuild the market, while boosting the interests of Queensland and its people.

FURA is gradually but steadily increasing the volume of production of rare Australian sapphires.

“In 2021, FURA Gems will produce 5.5 million carats of Australian sapphires,” says Shetty, in his no-nonsense way. “This will go up to about 10 million carats in 2022. This progress reaffirms our commitment to supply stability in Australian sapphires.”

With a team of just nine people on site in Australia, FURA Gems relies on its state-of-the-art systems to achieve stable, minimally invasive and scientific mining. Not only does this approach ensure a predictable supply downstream, it sets a high benchmark for the industry.It is no surprise that miners worldwide are paying attention.

Shetty expects FURA’s pathbreaking efforts to draw other serious players into the category.“Based on our thorough geological studies,” he says,“we remain assured of a minimum mine-life of 15 years.We can expand this by adding more mining area and increasing exploration.” His assurance clearly grows out of diligence and transparency.

“To boost the supply of Australian sapphires,” he says,“FURA will install its second sapphire mining plant,with a capacity of 250,000carats per month, by early 2022.” Thiswill bolster the output of the existing plant, which has a capacity of 500,000 carats per month.

Innovation Strategies

Besides increasing capacity, the colored gemstone mining giant is progressively working towards building the pillars of a high-growth category.After the gemstones are mined they must be graded.

FURA is ready with a state-of-the-art grading system for Australian sapphires. “A thorough gradation of roughs across metrics will benefit stakeholders by giving clarity on the value of the stones,” Shetty explains.

The company’s work does not end here. Shetty is building the category of Australian sapphires all the way to the retail end. FURA recently launched the Fura Marketing Council, a body whose sole objective is the creation of a new narrative for colourgemstones in the consumer domain. It will help shape thoughtful marketing that celebrates the unique traits of sapphires, among other gemstones,to educate consumers and unlock their enthusiasm.

FURA is also committed to developing a robust ‘mine of origin’programme. “FURA Gems willhelp all stakeholders across the value chain trace the source of each Australian sapphire back to the Great Northern Mining and Capricorn Sapphire mines, thus spreading trust in the gemstone vertical,” Shetty says.

The Australian government sets high ethical and environmental standards for the mining industry. FURA is committed to compliance, letter as well as spirit. Going above and beyond, however, the company has applied for membership in the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), the London-based, global standards-setting organisation of the jewellery and watch industry.

Well, FURA has one more pathbreaking plan in the works: a full-fledged auction platform. FURA intends this platform to establish,for the first time, a levelplaying field for the sapphires trade. The inaugural sapphires auction will be held during 15–19 November in Bangkok, Thailand. You can expect to see Australian sapphires in fine jewellery stores for yourself, soon enough. With FURA hard at work on multiple fronts and along the entire pipeline, the industry expects to see assured supply.

Anchoring all of FURA’s efforts is the sapphire itself, that magnificent creation of the Australian continent. The sapphire is the inspiration, says Shetty. He wants the world to share his admiration for this gem. FURA is on its way to accomplishing just that, in the measured, resolute, full-spectrum, far-sighted yet quick-moving way that the gems and jewellery world has come to expect of this unusual startup.

Courtesy: Retail Jeweller World News

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