3 min read.Updated: 28 Jun 2019, 02:03 PM ISTSohini Dey
Indian jewellery brand Diacolor has acquired the Inkalamu, a 5,655-carat emerald unearthed from Zambia’s Kagem Mines, the world’s single largest producer of emeralds
Zambian emeralds have becomes increasingly popular in recent years, with luxury brands like Chopard, Fabergé’s and Bulgari incorporating the gemstones in their designs
Walking into the Diacolor boutique at Delhi’s DLF Emporio mall could make even seasoned jewellery buyers feel like a kid in a candy shop. Tiered necklaces fringed with tourmalines, floral earrings studded with sapphires, diamonds everywhere you look, all paired with exquisitely jewelled De Grisogono watches. But the brightest baubles in the boutique are eclipsed these days by the Inkalamu, a 5,655-carat emerald, which is the most expensive single emerald rough ever sold by mining company Gemfields. Acquired by Diacolor in November during the Gemfields emerald auction in Singapore, the gemstone, whose name means “lion" in the Zambian language Bemba, was unveiled in India earlier this month.
The Inkalamu comes from Zambia’s Kagem Mines, at present the world’s single largest producer of emeralds. According to Gemfields, which acquired a 75% stake in the mines in 2008, Kagem accounts for approximately 25% of global emerald production. The Inkalamu isn’t even the biggest find from the mines—in 2010, Gemfield unearthed a 6,100-carat emerald which it christened Insofu (meaning baby elephant). The Insofu too is part of Diacolor’s collection of enormous gemstones, acquired in 2017.
“It’s the rarity (of the gemstones) that stands out the most—in certain cases it’s the size, in others it’s the colour, and sometimes it’s a mix of both," says Rishabh Tongya, creative director, Diacolor. Since he acquired a large diamond from South Africa about 13 years ago, Tongya has been building a collection which encompasses emeralds, Mozambique rubies, fancy coloured diamonds, and sapphires, including a pair of yellow sapphires approximately summing up to 300 carats. Tongya sees major potential for gemstones, especially emeralds. “India has been, in general, a gold-consuming society in the last 150 years, but if you rewind the story about 500 years ago, then the Mughals and Indian maharajas were the (biggest) connoisseurs of emeralds," he says, adding that the green gems will continue to be popular for the foreseeable future. “We see a demand for emeralds across the board—from someone who wants to wear a ring for rashi ratan (a gem corresponding to their sun sign) to those who want to make an investment."
The most precious emeralds have historically come from Colombia, whose valuable mines were thrown open to the world with the Spanish conquest of the region in the 16th century. Zambian emeralds are comparatively newer, but increasingly found in the designs of some of the world’s most hallowed jewellery and watch brands. “We are experiencing strikingly increased demand for high- quality Zambian emeralds from the major brands, particularly in Europe," Elena Basaglia, Gemfields’ London-based gemologist, told the press in October, when the Inkalamu was unveiled.
Notable pieces include Fabergé’s Lady Libertine II watch, composed of a central cabochon Kagem emerald surrounded by smaller carved emeralds with diamonds and mother-of-pearl, Chopard’s Palm D’Or-inspired jewellery and watch for its Green carpet collection in 2016. Bulgari also incorporates the gemstones extensively in its high- jewellery collections. Closer home, brands like Amrapali, Zoya by Tanishq and Ganjam have incorporated Zambian emeralds in their creations.
In the face of growing demand, one of the major challenges in collecting gemstones today is ensuring ethical and sustainable sourcing. “It’s not just about having stringent policies, but even just as a human being one doesn’t want to be working with people affiliated with mining malpractices," says Tongya, who works with organizations like Eco-Age, a UK-based sustainability and communications consultancy firm. “We are associated with transparently-run companies and follow the best practices in the industry to ensure the provenance and origins of the gemstones. Today, people want to be sure that their jewellery is coming from the right sources."
But there’s more to do, particularly for the Zambian community that mines these gemstones. Speaking to the media during the Inkalamu’s unveiling in Delhi, Zambian high commissioner Judith K.K. Kan’goma-Kapijimpanga urged the Diacolor team to build a local polishing unit in Zambia, which she said would elevate the financial status of miners. Tongya’s father, the brand’s founder, Rajkumar Tongya, has promised to help. As for the Inkalamu, Tongya hopes to collaborate with museums in the country to showcase the gem along with other rare pieces from his collection. “We want to promote awareness about emeralds and their consumption story in India," he says.