Fura Gems, a startup precious colour gemstone mining company launched in 2017, is uniquely positioned as the first and only mining company in the world to explore three color gemstone categories including emeralds, rubies and sapphires. While achieving this remarkable feat, Dev Shetty, Founder & CEO, set another extraordinary and unprecedented record for the fastest turnaround of mines from exploration to production. In 2021, Fura gems will produce 5.5 million carats of Australian sapphires, 6 million carats of Mozambican rubies and 300,000 carats of Colombian emeralds. Here are excerpts from a recent interview where he talks about the winning strategies that are leading Fura to the market leadership position.
Q: FURA Gems is a startup mining company. How would you sum up its purpose briefly?
Dev Shetty (DS): FURA Gems is ambitious about the future of the global colour gemstone market. Our purpose is to spread trade transparency by providing ethically sourced color gemstones with complete traceability of the mine-origin to end-consumers. At that end, we have already acquired the 122-95 M Coscuez emerald mine in Colombia on October 30, 2017, seven ruby mining licenses of various shares in Mozambique by October 2019, and the Great Northern Mining and Capricorn Sapphire mines in Australia by end of 2020. We are the first mining company in the world to explore all three color gemstone categories.
Q: Financing is one of the principle barriers to entry into the mining industry. How did you secure the financing for the startup mine?
DS: It's a capital-intensive industry with a long gestation period. With the history of diamond marketing, investors have strong reference point for diamond mining, not color gemstone. A startup such as Fura didn’t have a reference point of its own. We changed the tactic of partnering with traditional investors and spent two years to find like-minded shareholders who believe in our long-term vision.
Q: You have brought to market the roughs in record time. It is unheard-of in the mining industry. What do you attribute this remarkable feat to?
DS: We take great pride in having established a record for the fastest turnaround of mines from exploration to production. Primarily, it can be attributed to our approach to acquiring new mines. We have been extremely discerning in locating mines with scalable and rare quality resources which are past the initial discovery phase. Having said that, we have invested significantly in high-tech geo mapping to accurately gauge the mine-life. The collective expertise of our top management is enabling us to build processes and systems that help optimize the production capacities on site. The combined outcome is enabling us to steadily scale up production even as we keep the costs efficient.
Q: What are the plans to bring the rough produce to the market?
DS: We held our first emerald auction in The UAE and Colombia in March 2021. We are holding our inaugural ruby auction in months’ time in August 2021. Later in the year, we will hold our very first auction for Australian Sapphires. In 2022, we have plans to produce 10 million carats of Australian sapphires, 8 million carats of Mozambican rubies and 400,000 carats of Colombian emeralds. This achievement is equivalent to decades of operation in other precious gemstone and precious metal space.
Q: With category diversification comes great market responsibility. What are the key responsibilities FURA gems holds in terms of organising the colour stone market?
DS: The larger colour gemstone market still operates without much credibility of the product; it rarely comes with certification or any guarantee of the gemstone origin. That doesn’t go down well with the millennial buyers who want to know if the products procured are clean. Our standpoint and core responsibility stems from this fact as we want to ensure complete chain of custody. Fura's stepping up the game on chain of custody. Our products are not only ‘mined responsibly’, but also managed and traced across its chain right from the origin. Finally, on the grading front, Fura is introducing a ground-breaking format that is extremely simple to comprehend and acts as a reference point for both retailers and consumers to ascertain the price vs quality equation.
Q: The Fura Marketing Council is a pioneering effort to consolidate marketing of three different verticals. How is the value chain responding to FMC campaigns?
DS: The Fura Marketing Council is the first such initiative in the history of colour gemstone trade where one platform is paving way for the future of colour gemstone fashion. It will bring chosen manufacturers and progressive retailers to collaborate on building the categories of Australian sapphires, Mozambican rubies and Colombian emeralds. Industry members across international borders have been responding to it tremendously well. This is because colour gemstones still command a huge margin for retailers and manufacturers. There hasn’t been an industry leader working on promotion of this category. Thus, we are getting partnership inquiries from The UAE, India, Australia and The United States.
Q: What are the year-on-year expectations FMC shoulders in terms of colour gemstone market growth?
DS: From the current $2bn colour gemstone market, Fura with FMC and trade stakeholders will help grow the category with a 20% year-on-year growth rate. FMC, being the first such initiative, will pave way for growth of other players. We hope that this would energize competitors to ensure transparent trade. Thus, the combined force of FURA Gems and other mining companies in this space can help achieve $6bn global market of colour gemstones within a decade.
Q: Sustainability’ has become a buzzword in recent years especially for mining companies. Tell us about the Fura’s efforts in this regard.
DS: Sustainability is the way forward for futuristic mining, as an ethical miner needs to be constructive about the value extracted from the source and value returned to the community. While Fura strives to organise the market, stakeholders need to realize the importance of sustainable practices. We are instilling that from the scratch with activities such as reforestation, tree-plantation, and donating to local schools. The Fura Academy launched recently in Coscuez aims to educate about 3000 people from the two communities in over 50 courses. Apart from financing a newspaper for the community in Central Queensland, Australia, we have started the ‘Meals on Wheels’ programme in which we provide free meals to the needy for a year. We are mindful towards holistic development.
We are also rebuilding excitement in sapphire mining in Australia by supporting local tourism, aiding recreational mining, supporting gemstone training and the popular Gemfest so that even the artisanal miners profit from the category demand created through these processes. We have recently laid the foundation stone for a primary school in Montepuez.
CSR activities are an indispensable part of Fura's ideology, and we believe that our ongoing efforts are ensuring sustainability across our regions of operations.
Q: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for Fura as an organization and the industry as a whole in the coming decade?
DS: In the past the color gemstone industry has lost a lot of opportunity due to supply and demand mismatch. The supply of colour gemstones has decreased in the past two decades. We need more mining companies to come up in the organized sector for the category to realize its full potential and make a transformation. Another challenge is that the retail and consumer awareness and knowledge about colour gemstones is too low and can only be improved with years of training.
As far as opportunities are concerned, there is a steady rise in consumer’s positive sentiment towards colour gemstones which has failed to translate into substantial business for the trade. Steady supply and a variety of sizes remains Fura’s biggest promise to the industry and builds our leadership in the category.