Facets 2011 – Chinese buyers snap up most of the Ceylon blue sapphires at the show

Facets 2011, the 21st version of Sri Lanka’s only international gem and jewelry show, organized by the Sri Lanka Gem & Jewelry Association (SLGJA) and sponsored by the National Gem & Jewelry Authority (NGJA) of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (SLEDB), was held successfully between September 8 and 11, 2011 at the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Memorial Exhibition and Convention Center, at Bullers Road, Colombo. The show was declared open by the Chief Guest at the event, Mr. Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce. Mr. Hans George Wild, the renowned colored gemstone dealer and lapidary owner, based in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, was the Guest-of-Honor at the occasion and was associated with the heads of the Russian and Chinese trade delegations. Among other distinguished guests who participated in the event were Senior Minister A.H.M.Fouzie, the Chairman of the Export Development Board Mr. Janaka Ratnayake and the Chairman of the National Gem & Jewelry Authority General Rohan Daluwatte.

Addressing the gathering soon after declaring open the show, Minister Rishad Bathiudeen said, “As the international gem market recovered, the gem mining sub sector, which declined by 17.2% in 2009, too recovered and grew by 7.9% in 2010. The Gem and Jewellery sector, which was severely affected by the global meltdown, has been able to register a positive upwards trend, from minus 26% growth in 2009, to 1.56% in 2010. 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 of Industries and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen ceremonially opening Facets 2011 on September 8, 2011

 Speaking on the great potential of the gem and jewelry sector in contributing to the overall export earnings of the industrial sector, the Minister said, “I believe that if we focus well, the gem and jewelry sector also could become a major growth driver to achieve our 2015 export earnings target of US $ 15 billion. The National Gem & Jewellery Authority of Sri Lanka has set a target of US $1 billion through gem and jewelry exports by 2016. It is in this context that I see the great potential of this sector. I am glad to announce that day before yesterday we launched the Sri Lanka Expo 2012 show to be held in March 2012. I invite Sri Lanka’s gem and jewelry industry to become a key exhibitor in this show”

Elaborating further on Sri Lanka’s historical position as a source of high-quality gems, and the contribution of the gem and jewelry industry to the economy in modern times, in terms of generating foreign exchange and employment, Mr. Bathiudeen said, “From ancient times Sri Lanka had been widely known as a supplier of highly treasured gems. Sri Lanka’s mineral rich soils have been yielding a seemingly never ending supply of high quality precious and semi-precious gem stones such as sapphires, star sapphires, rubies, cats eyes etc.  The Gem and Jewelry industry’s contribution, to the economy, in terms of foreign exchange earnings and employment generation is commendable. Therefore, all efforts taken to promote and strengthen this industry are indeed welcome and I am happy to be associated with the Sri Lanka Gem and Jewellery Association, which is the main organizer of the show” 

Commenting on the advantages of FACETS in promoting the gem and jewelry industry and trade in the South-Asian sub-region he said, “I am happy to announce that the Ministry of Industry is always committed and ready to support the Industry to take part in Expo 2012 show and also to find new international markets.  FACETS, being one of the leading trade fairs held in the Asian Region, looking forward to expanding trade ties with India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, also creates a perfect platform, to the local manufacturers to enter the market, as well as providing a unique opportunity for the Gem & Jewelry industry stakeholders in neighboring countries to view and buy our products.

In conclusion the Minister said, “ I express my deep appreciation to the Chairman and the Organizing Committee of “FACETS” for the  initiatives taken in  organizing the Facets Sri Lanka show annually, offering a perfect platform to the Sri Lanka Gem and Jewelry industry to showcase its capabilities

As expected, there were nearly 7,500 visitors attending the show, an increase of 2,500 visitors, when compared to last year’s attendance of nearly 5,000 visitors, a percentage increase of nearly 50%. Of this nearly 1500 were foreign visitors, of whom 175 were gem trade visitors representing trade delegations from different countries, and the others were independent foreign visitors, the bulk of them coming from India. There were two 19-member trade delegations from China, organized by the Sri Lanka Embassy in Beijing, and a 16-member trade delegation from Russia arranged by the Export Development Board of Sri Lanka. Other delegations came from India, Thailand, Myanmar, Europe and the USA. The number of exhibitors, participating in the show, also increased by 50% this year, with a total of 154 booths displaying their products at the show. While 99 booths in the main hall, displayed precious and semi-precious gemstones, 55 booths in the second hall displayed jewelry, lapidary and other machinery used in the industry. A special feature of FACETS 2011 was the creation of a collector’s corner that provided visitors the opportunity to view rare and important gemstones from the collection of the National Gem & Jewelry authority of Sri Lanka. The enthusiasm shown by the foreign participants, particularly the Chinese was unprecedented, as indicated by the strong sales to foreigners registered during the period of the show that exceeded US$ 10 million, equivalent to SL Rupees one billion, considered high by Sri Lanka standards. More than 50% of the stall holders reported direct sales to Chinese buyers, and the gems sold were mainly the Ceylon blue sapphires, ranging in price from US$ 50 to US$ 5,000 per carat.

An upbeat FACETS Sri Lanka Chairman, Mr. Chanaka Ellawala speaking to journalists said,
“The downward trend in our gem and jewellery industry due to the 2008 global recession is now over. After the sales dip in 2008 and 2009, in 2010 there was a slight improvement and this year appears to be the turn-around year. More than 50% of stall-holders report direct sales to Chinese buyers. This shows that Sri Lanka is earning the confidence and trust of the Chinese regarding Ceylonese Gem supply. After Chinese buyers, Russians followed, though not at the high levels of Chinese purchases.

Speaking on the popularity of the Ceylon Blue Sapphire and the unprecedented demand shown for the gem by buyers at the show, mainly the Chinese, Mr. Ellawala said, “The number one preference for foreign buyers were Ceylon Sapphires, specifically, the Blue Sapphires. 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 in which the centerpiece of the couple’s engagement ring featured an 18-Carat oval-shaped blue sapphire from Sri Lanka. 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 sources of high-quality and consistent supply in blue sapphires; the reasons for higher sales of our blue sapphires. This proves again that Sri Lanka’s most popular and top gem brand is the Ceylon Blue Sapphire”

Mr. 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.


Speaking on the sales to local Sri Lankan buyers, he said, “ 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 setting in fine jewelry manufactured by them”  


The Chairman/CEO of the National Gem & Jewelry Authority of Sri Lanka, who too expressed satisfaction with the outcome of 2011 FACETS, said, This year’s FACETS is very encouraging and highly positive, and a result of our efforts of trying to reach out to the new players in the international gem and jewelry, the BRIC countries of Russia, India and China.” 

An elated Nawrooz Azmi, Assistant Secretary of the Sri Lanka Gem and Jewelry Association revealed that sales to foreign buyers alone easily exceeded US$ 10 million. He said, “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. For the first time in the history of FACETS, we have advanced bookings and we are now processing stall bookings for the 2012 show. Our continuous promotional efforts in China and Hong Kong have paid dividends, since most of the foreign buyers at FACETS 2011, were from these two countries.” Referring to the popularity and demand for the Sri Lanka blue sapphire at the show, which were snapped up by the Chinese buyers, he said, “This shows that the 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. The positioning of blue sapphire has strongest appeal among the Yuppie segment,”  a reference to the young upwardly mobile professionals, associated with mobile phones, money, expensive cars, and prestigious city jobs.


The Assistant Manager, Exports, of the National Gem & Jewelry Authority of Sri Lanka, Ms. Nandani Abeyratne, confirming China’s entry as the leading foreign buyer of Sri Lanka’s gems, said, “China is becoming the biggest consumer of our gem exports. This is despite the 37% tax imposed at the Chinese end for imported gems from Sri Lanka” 

Continuing in the same vein, Ms Ioma Dias, Assistant Manager of Export Promotion of the National Gem & Jewellery Authority of Sri Lanka, revealed that the turn of the Ceylon Blue Sapphire, for gemstones with the greatest international demand, has now arrived.  She said, “Strong demand for our blue sapphires among foreign buyers, shows, that the world is now well aware about the potentials of our blue sapphire”  

All in all by Sri Lankan standards the performance of FACETS 2011 can be described as an outstanding success, and judging by the preference of foreign buyers for the Ceylon Blue Sapphire, it appears that Sri Lanka is once again set to become the hub of the international sapphire trade and industry in the near future, a position the country had previously held from time immemorial, until the discovery of alternative sources of the valuable gem.

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