By Lyman Mlambo, Chairman of the Institute of Mining Research
What are Semi-Precious stones?
To understand semi-precious stones, we need to view them within the context of two closely related terms, precious stones and gemstones. Precious stones are generally understood to be beautiful, translucent, rare and hard crystalline minerals. Only four stones are classified as precious stones and these include diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Semi-precious stones are all the other beautiful or quality stones other than these four. However, precious stones are not necessarily more valuable or beautiful than semi-precious stones, and today, are not necessarily rarer.
The distinction between the two classes was conceived in the mid-1800s by the ancient Greeks, with the main distinguishing feature being rarity. Precious stones were rare while semi-precious stones were relatively abundant. Semi-precious stones are also termed coloured stones even though precious stones are also valued for, apart from their translucency, the richness of their colour, except for diamonds that gain more value with greater colourlessness. Generally, the ancient classification (lists of precious stones as distinguished from semi-precious stones) is still being used. The term gemstones includes both precious and semi-precious stones. All gemstones are crystalline.
Resource, Diversity, Occurrences and the Mining of Semi-Precious Stones in Zimbabwe
The resources of semi-precious stones in Zimbabwe are estimated to be vast. Their total value is estimated at US$20 billion. The country hosts about 33 different types of semi-precious minerals. The minerals are under-explored (more so than other minerals), so the estimated number of types and value could be way below the actual. These minerals are easily found and mined and are sometimes just collected or picked in the field.
The mining of semi-precious stones in Zimbabwe is dominated by artisanal miners who sell informally to foreign dealers (mainly Zambians, Congolese, Mozambiquans, Pakistanis, Indians and Chinese). The miners do not appreciate the value of these minerals (they think they are essentially value-less) and hence they sell them cheaply to foreign dealers who come to their mining sites, some of whom are members of international cartels. Zambia has a more developed semi-precious stone industry, with a mining company there establishing a massive (precious stone) ruby processing plant in Mozambique. Low quantities of semi-precious stones are coming to the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ), hence the Corporation has not been serious about their marketing, as it is not viable to organize small consignments. MMCZ has no significant database of buyers of semi-precious stones as it does for other minerals.
It is not a straightforward issue identifying semi-precious stones using the naked eye because of the wide range of colours the same semi-precious stone may have. Also, some semi-precious stones are also industrial minerals, so that they are recognized as semi-precious when they are gem-quality rather than industrial quality; examples include feldspar, gypsum, talc, and quartz.
|Mineral||Sample Pictures||Known Occurrences|
|Agate||Nyamandhlovu, Chikomba, Lupane|
|Amethyst||Hurungwe, Nyamandhlovu, Hwange, Makonde, Lupane|
|Antimony||Kwekwe, Bubi, Mberengwa, Kadoma, Shurugwi|
|Aquamarine||Karoi; Mt Darwin; Mutoko. Mainly small stones available, though bigger ones are also available in small quantities|
|Beryl||Hurungwe, Kariba, Goromonzi, Harare, Mudzi, Rushinga, Mutoko, Bindura, Marondera, Gutu, Buhera, Bikita, Chegutu, Hwange, Mberengwa, Gweru|
|Bismuth||Gwanda, Insiza, Goromonzi, Hwange|
|Calcite||Hwange, Bindura, Chiredzi, Mwenezi|
|Chrysoberyl||Karoi-Hurungwe. A related stone, alexandrite, is found in Masvingo.|
|Citrine||Marondera, Harare, Goromonzi|
|Cordierite (a clear variety of this stone is termed iolite)||Makuti, Hurungwe, Rushinga, Chimanimani, Beitbridge|
|Corundum||Beitbridge, Chiredzi, Shurugwi, Marondera, Mberengwa, Mazowe, Rushinga, Insiza, Gromonzi, Wedza|
|Dolomite||Mutare, Beitbridge, Makonde, Mudzi, Masvingo, Rushinga|
|Feldspar||Harare, Bikita, Umzingwane, Goromonzi|
|Garnet||Beitbridge, Hurungwe, Mudzi, Guruve, Rushinga, Marondera|
|Goshenite||Karoi; Mt Darwin; Mutoko. Mainly small stones available, though bigger ones are also available in small quantities|
|Heliodor||Karoi; Mt Darwin; Mutoko. Mainly small stones available, though bigger ones are also available in small quantities|
|Magnetite||Gwanda, Nyanga, Kadoma, Mwenezi, Insiza, Buhera, Mberengwa, Beitbridge, Gweru|
|Quartz||Gweru, Kwekwe, Makonde, Chegutu, Gokwe, Harare, Gromonzi|
|Talc||Bubi, Guruve, Insiza, Nyanga, Mutare, Mt Darwin, Mberengwa, Goromonzi, Mutoko, Wedza, Makoni|
|Topaz||Hurungwe, Gweru, Mutare|
|Tourmaline||Karoi-Hurungwe. Readily available, in particular the green and black varieties.|
All pictures are obtained from simple Google Search done on each stone using the search terms ‘mineral name (gem) stone natural picture’ on 24 and 26 June 2021. The author does not have copyrights over them, and they are used for illustration purposes only.
Leading World Producers of Semi-Precious Stones
Zimbabwe is not recognized as a producer of semi-precious stones. The countries or areas noted in this section are not only rich in the indicated stones but are also leading producers. Africa is known for the production of ‘tanzanite’ emerald, alexandrite, aquamarine, rhodolite and ‘tsavorite’ garnet and tourmaline. Among some of the producing countries in the African continent are Zambia, Zaire (DRC), South Africa, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Angola, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Kenya, Mozambique and Madagascar. Semi-precious stones produced in Madagascar include aquamarine, tourmaline, demantoid, spessartite, tsavorite, morganite and colour-change garnet.
Sri Lanka (in South Asia) produces a variety of semi-precious stones including the finest chrysoberyl (cat’s eye and alexandrite), moonstone, garnet, topaz, tourmaline, quartz, zircon, peridot, and spinel. Myanmar (also known as Burma, in South East Asia) supplies spinel and imperial jade mainly to Asian countries including Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. Australia is the biggest producer of opal accounting for close to 90% of the planet’s supply. It has a wide range of opals of various colours.
The market for Semi-Precious Stones
Just like the demand for gold in its use in the manufacture of jewellery, the main sources of demand for semi-precious stones include India, the USA, China, Middle East (including Dubai), Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Egypt, Turkey, Italy, Japan, North America and Germany. India, USA and China top the list reflecting the importance of semi-precious stone jewellery in culture and special occasions including Christmas, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, as well as religious festivals.
Semi-precious stones are polished, cut and treated into personal ornamentation items (that is, jewellery) such as necklaces, rings, bracelets and brooches; ornamental appendages to various items such as wristwatches, clothing and other wears, domestic items such as lounge suites, tables, chairs; for general decoration of places such as bedrooms, dining rooms and bars; and for creation of luxury art such as hardstone carvings and collection of antiquities. The cutting, polishing and further treatments enhance the clarity and colour of the stones, their beauty and hence their value. The natural samples shown in the table above, once worked on, would look tremendously more splendid. The market is aware of the existence of imitation or synthetic products which look like the original stones but do not possess the chemical and physical properties of the stones.
Dynamics noticeable in the global jewellery market and hence semi-precious stones are the increased advertisements through various platforms such as television and the internet, the increased incomes of dealers due to growth in the demand from Asian economies for use as ornaments in their ceremonies, and the drift away from the unorganized product markets (which have been the conventional market) to more organized branded product markets. The last dynamic, evident in emerging economies such as in Asia Pacific, is a reaction by consumers to safeguard themselves from the many counterfeit products flooding the market. Increased spending by the current individual consumers, expected changes in lifestyles by others towards greater ostentation and expanded use in decoration purposes (as the world economy expands), would be the main factors behind a growing demand for semi-precious stones in the near future. Greater market opportunities exist in Latin America, the greater Asia Pacific and Africa, which need to be activated.
Just Gemstone (n.d.) (a) website lists the following as the ten most expensive gemstones (with the list including any qualifying precious stones for comparison) in the world in decreasing order: Jadeite (most expensive at USD3million/carat), red diamonds (USD2-2.5 million/carat), serendibite (USD1.8-2 million/carat), blue garnet (USD1.5 million/carat), grandidierite (USD100,000/carat), painite (USD50,000-60,000/carat), musgravite (USD35,000/carat), bixbite or red beryl emerald (USD10,000/carat), emerald (USD8,000/carat), and black opal (USD2,400/carat). It is interesting to note that two of the four precious stones (ruby and sapphire) do not make it to the top ten, and emerald is second last, demonstrating that the literal designation of gemstones by ‘precious’ and ‘semi-precious’ is in practice, at least getting obsolete.
Way Forward on the Semi-Precious Stones Industry in Zimbabwe
Legislative Framework and Developments
Realizing the potential semi-precious stones have in contributing to the development of the mining industry and the national economy at large, MMCZ submitted a draft Statutory Instrument (SI) to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, to formalize the process regarding the extraction and use of semi-precious stones across the whole value chain. This is a stand-alone piece of legislation from the Precious Stones Trade Act (Chapter21:06), with the latter applying only to diamonds, emeralds, ruby and sapphire. The Ministry reviewed the draft SI and recommended some changes, which changes the MMCZ is working on. It is hoped that the SI would be finalized soon, probably by the end of 2021.
What happens in the meantime if a miner wants to extract and sell the semi-precious stones? The Mines and Minerals Act does not specifically address semi-precious stones. Any prospective miner of semi-precious stones has to apply for a prospecting license, peg and register the claims as base metals. In the case of a farmer making a find of semi-precious stones in his/her farm, currently, the Mines and Minerals Act does not provide for the farmer’s right to first refusal – the Act applies as it is. Such new provisions could be in changes that might come into effect after the signing of the Mines and Minerals Amendment (MMA) Bill into law. The formal selling aspect is currently done through MMCZ processes, though the state entity at the moment has a small database of buyers of the semi-precious stones, and has not done many sales due to the current largely informal nature of the current operations and transactions. Whatever transactions have gone through MMCZ have relied heavily on the miners’ own knowledge and connections with the global market players.
Opportunities for Development of the Sub-Sector
The diversity and richness of the country in semi-precious stones needs to be verified through reconnaissance exploration as well as detailed follow-up exploration. It is quite possible that the country could have more than the known 33 plus semi-precious stones alluded to above and that the occurrences (geographical) and the quantity of resources could be more expansive than is currently estimated. The fact that neighbouring countries in Africa are noted producers of gemstones points to the potential existence of high geological prospectivity in Zimbabwe. Perhaps, the greatest opportunity that faces the sub-sector in the country is the existence of a big global market which is very lucrative if one looks at some of the prices quoted earlier. With the sub-sector in its nascency in Zimbabwe, there are likely to be opportunities for big finds and lower costs of production as the near-surface semi-precious stones do not require large complicated machinery to mine.
To spur this industry forward MMCZ could do the following:
- create a market (to market the minerals), in order to stimulate demand – this requires a simple market study and advertising through physical engagement and various electronic platforms, including social media;
- (ii) formalize the sector through finalization of the SI that creates a framework for the whole value chain of the semi-precious stones in the country; and
- (iii) directly participate in its own right in the whole value chain of this sector (mining, beneficiation and manufacturing of jewellery, ornamental appendages, decorative products and luxury art products) as part of its statutory mandate provided for by the MMCZ Act.
The government in general needs to promote investment in semi-precious stones by creating a conducive investment environment. Geological prospectivity is the first and necessary condition for attracting investment to the country. However, the second and sufficient condition is the policy environment which should be complete (in terms of the governing instruments), competitive (in terms of the fiscal regime and the ease of doing business) and stable so that long-term large investments in exploration, mine development, production and beneficiation can be attracted. Government, for example, needs to complete the National Minerals Development Policy, the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill, and in conjunction with MMCZ, the SI.
There is a need to enhance the country’s spatial infrastructure (road, railway and air transport) and make utilities (power, communication and water) accessible and affordable. There is also a need to directly promote wider investment (local private and foreign direct investment) in the mining, beneficiation (cutting and polishing) and the local manufacturing industry utilizing semi-precious stones. This can be done through targeted fiscal incentives, higher foreign exchange retention levels, and the granting of economic zone status. The world’s largest ethically sourced gemstone producing company, Gemfields plc, has some major interests in Zambia and Mozambique, Zimbabwe’s close neighbours. Demonstration of the resources the country has and provision of a competitive investment environment can easily woo such a giant to extend its interests to Zimbabwe.
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