As Fura Gems prepares for its historic Colombian emeralds auction in the first week of March, DEV SHETTY, the President and CEO of the company, speaks to SOMA BHATTA, Editor-in-Chief of The Retail Jeweller India, about the potential that coloured gemstones harbour, blithe enough to disrupt the jewellery sector with their untapped potential. His dream? Changing the face of the coloured-gemstone sector in an organized way.
Soma Bhatta: It’s truly inspirational to see you change the playbook of the coloured gemstone jewellery industry. You are also a few days away from conducting your first auction. It’s a historic moment not only for your company, but also for the entire industry globally. So, what are your expectations?
Dev Shetty: This is undoubtedly a historic moment and naturally, we are very excited. For three years now, we have burned the midnight oil and worked very hard to reach this stage. After having introduced exquisite coloured gemstones like emeralds from Zambia and rubies from Mozambique, now, for the first time ever, we are going to bring Colombian emeralds for the industry. Colombian emeralds are the world’s largest suppliers in dollars, and we will sell them on an organized platform. The Fura team has been steadfast and this will change the face of the entire sector. We believe in introducing coloured gemstones in an organized and transparent fashion. This spells growth for the jewellery sector.
Soma Bhatta: The data from your latest research into the American market points at a growth in terms of demand and margins. What, according to you, is the short-term outlook for the US market?
Dev Shetty: I have been in this sector for 12 years now, but the results of the USA market research amazed me. We found 93% of the trade, including retailers, stock coloured stones. They swear by sapphires, emeralds and rubies, and this is exactly what we are trying to show the world. Coloured gemstones are here to stay. Historically, the US has led the market when it comes to coloured stones. Now, India is also gaining traction and will soon become an important market.
Soma Bhatta: When we talk about these coloured gemstones, typically one tends to veer towards rubies and emeralds. Now we see sapphires coming in with all their glory and variety. How is the category evolving?
Dev Shetty: In the 1970s and 1980s, Australian sapphires would make for 70% of the global supply. At its peak, it sold a significant quantity worth $300 million. The supply came down over time as the miners moved to other commodities in Australia. Fura wants this focus to return. Our US research props an interesting piece of data, where 46% retailers’ top-selling category remains sapphires. This is followed by emeralds and rubies. Some of our blues are as good as the Ceylon blue from Sri Lanka. We will launch Parti sapphires — one of my favourites — very soon. Our yellow and green sapphires are also part of the multicolour portfolio, which we will also introduce. What excites me is the wide array of colours that we will bring to the industry.
Soma Bhatta: Fura has introduced the Fura Marketing Council in USA and India. What are its core objectives?
Dev Shetty: US and India are going to be our focus markets. Fura Marketing Council (FMC) will drive the marketing and trade agendas for the company in these nations. It will work closely with the trade, and focus on introducing education programs and marketing campaigns that impart more knowledge within the industry and build the base for greater consumer aspiration.
Soma Bhatta: Retail brands are keen on new categories to boost margins. Coloured stones show a lot of promise. How do you plan to activate the trade for the opportunities presented by Fura?
Dev Shetty: In the ‘70s, coloured gemstones traded at par with diamonds. De Beers did a great job in bringing consistency to the diamond supply. Its effective marketing opened a flood of opportunities for the sector. Coloured gemstones stayed behind because the sector was not organized, and supply was poor. Fura promises a consistent and calibrated supply. The right mix will make it possible for jewellers to create a wide spectrum of pieces spanning different price points.
What’s important is that our supplies will not even make up for a fraction of the current demand, thus driving margins for the trade. India is a huge market. We also have China, USA and Europe to cover. We will be their suppliers and also educate consumers. Our resource is endless but we still won’t be able to cope up with the demand in the next 10 years.
Soma Bhatta: Emeralds and rubies have a glorious past from the times of royalty. What are the present-day opportunities for retailers to build connect with modern consumers?
Dev Shetty: Precious coloured gemstones will always hold the power and mystique that comes with royal ethos. We understand the importance of retelling the story laced with a fashion quotient. Besides the strong narrative of a glorious past, retailers will be able to add design value to the jewellery and also recreate the magic of colours from the large repertoire of gemstones we offer. Think about the rich splash of rubies, sapphires and emeralds in the Tutti Frutti collection, which is emblematic of the Cartier style. There is a huge opportunity in creating a new range and style of jewellery with only colours, and spreading the basket to all segments of consumers. It will not only add uniqueness to designs, but also drive margins — a win-win for both consumers and retailers.
Soma Bhatta: What are the challenges in the Indian market and how is Fura preparing itself to address them?
Dev Shetty: I think the biggest challenge is lack of education. Demand is hardly the issue. As far as the Indian market is concerned, besides the mainstream emerald and rubies, yellow sapphires do equally well. But there is a pressing need to educate the sales staff to ensure that it percolates down to the consumer. Millennials want to know the story behind each material used in a piece. As an organized player, we would like to invest in education and training on areas concerning the product source, how it is mined or what makes emeralds from Colombia, rubies from Mozambique and sapphires from Australia the distinguishing factor.
Soma Bhatta: A new trend suggests that consumers expect brands they support to be socially responsible. Even though Fura is a young mining company, it is firmly committed to social upliftment of communities in the mining countries. Can you tell us more about it?
Dev Shetty: Our three important business pillars happen to be community, employee and sustainability. We could stick to them even when Covid was wreaking havoc around us. When businesses were shutting down and job-cuts were a regular affair, we did not let any employee go. There were no salary deductions, rather we kept adding manpower. Our second initiative revolved around Colombia, where we started a community fund to provide food to 12,000-14,000 people for three months at the peak of the pandemic. We also provided Covid kits to the Mozambican government. CSR remains an important part of our business, so last week we had a socialization event in Colombia. We are also going to launch a Coscuez Training Academy to train the community in both mining and non-mining areas. It is very important to create a broader employment base for the population and also focus on Colombia. In Mozambique, we will launch our first primary school, which can support 400 children near the mining location where we operate. We are going to give agricultural support to the people by launching a farming project.
Soma Bhatta: I understand that India is an important market for you. What would be your message to the Indian retailers and manufacturers, who will, in turn, support the Fura pipeline?
Dev Shetty: India is a very important market for us. A lot of mass jewellery manufacturers who cater to India want a consistent supply to meet the demands. India is also a huge export hub. For them, we have a series of calibrated gemstones across all varieties. We can tick that box quickly now. We will support them with aggressive marketing strategies to expand awareness in both India and the US markets. We are looking forward to new partnerships in India and tap the true potential of the gemstone industry.
Courtesy: Retail Jeweller India News
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