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Zambian gemstone jeweller looks to dazzle the Chinese market

By Daniel Finnan

Lusaka-based gemstone company Jewel of Africa is taking aim at the Chinese market after establishing exports to the US, pushing their “home-grown” precious stones. The family-run business runs its own mines, cuts and polishes gems and runs retail outlets, employing around 100 locals. The Zambian jeweller is looking to further its expansion into the lucrative Chinese market.

“People are getting to know more about gemstones and about the quality and value of Zambian gemstones,” Sandra Kasaby, Jewel of Africa’s marketing and operations manager told RFI at the recent World Export Development Forum.

Jewel of Africa uses gemstones such as garnet and tourmaline. “We like to say that we have the best amethysts,” says Kasaby, pointing out that their emeralds are also very popular.

Q&A: Sandra Kasaby

The Zambian firm produces showcase jewellery worth over 100,000 US dollars in value and at the bottom of the range from 50 US dollars upwards. “We cater to all walks of life,” says Kasaby, describing clients including the Moroccan King, diplomats as well as young gentlemen looking to propose to their girlfriends.

The jeweller prides itself on taking precious stones direct from the earth straight to their workshop. “Our slogan is ‘mine to you’, so we are at every step of the chain,” says Kasaby. “We mine, we cut, we polish, we jewellery manufacture, we retail and resize, repair and also certify jewellery and gems.”

Export

Jewel of Africa has already taken advantage of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) which enables countries in sub-Saharan Africa to access the US market tariff-free.

“Thanks to that we are able to export to the US,” says Kasaby, outlining the trade shows they attend and the buyers they have in different US cities.

Pink and blue sapphire earrings on white gold by Jewel of Africa. Photo: Jewel of Africa

The next step is to further their appeal in China. “We have a lot of Chinese coming to Jewel of Africa to buy our gemstones, especially emeralds,” says Kasaby. “We see that as an opportunity to market that,” she adds. Jewel of Africa has recently been chosen by the Chinese embassy in Zambia to represent the country at exhibitions in China.

Consumers in China are becoming “more knowledgeable about gemstones and jewellery, and more astute in their purchases”, according to a report by the Gemological Institute of America. The report describes China as the second-largest jewellery consumer in the world.

Constraints

The business does, however, face some headwinds. Finance can be a problem and trade policy in Zambia also creates some obstacles.

“Mining is very expensive and it’s difficult to get access to credit here in Zambia,” says Kasaby. The company sometimes teams up with foreign partners to try and access lower interest rates.

The other issue relates to the ATA Carnet system which provides a framework for temporary import-export. Zambia is not a member of the system, impacting the ability of Jewel of Africa to bring jewellery for exhibitions duty-free and tax-free. To visit trade fairs with expensive jewellery this often means putting down a large deposit with customs, which can affect cash flow, according to Kasaby.

The company is one of a kind in Zambia, says Kasaby - nobody both mines and produces jewellery. Their biggest competition on the African continent comes from South Africa, she says. Most of their competitors in South Africa are focused on diamonds, leaving Jewel of Africa to specialise in coloured gemstones.

The company is proud to provide “opportunities for people to grow”, says Kasaby, outlining the training Jewel of Africa gives to new employees whether in sales or manufacture. “Coming from three to over 100 people in 25 years is a pretty good accomplishment,” she adds.

Reporting assignment supported by the International Trade Centre

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