Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Hidden amongst the dense streets, in a small enclave, is Chinafort, the jewel of Sri Lanka’s global gemstone industry. Just minutes removed from the oceanside town of Bentota, this walled neighbourhood is where the action happens.  

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Its residents are predominately Muslim and gemstones are traded daily - with the exception of Fridays when prayer takes precedence over business.  Otherwise, it is a constant, bustling marketplace where many of the worlds sapphires make a brief stop before moving on to broader markets. 

In addition to the thriving marketplace, gem cutting factories and heat-treating facilities are nearby. Gem brokering takes place anywhere two people can find the space to negotiate; crowded office spaces, on street corners, in alleyways, and even on tiny, plastic tables set up specifically for this purpose.

However, the most established gem-cutters - the ones with the inside track on fine sapphires and direct access to the mines of Ratnapura - are tucked away in gorgeous Sri Lankan style villas or larger residences on the side streets in Chinafort.

Emanating from these villas is prime inventory which flows regularly between Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Europe by way of in-house brokers (usually a family member) hosting a constant rotation of showings to private clients. 

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Depending on the time of year, inventory levels fluctuate greatly. For example, during monsoon season mining slows dramatically, leading the pace of cutting production to decline substantially. 

Outside of the villas, the main gem market of Chinafort is where lower to medium quality gemstones can be purchased; either by the parcel for recutting, or by the single stone as needed.   This type of buying takes patience. If you’re hoping to find premium goods, or you’re looking for something really specific, your best to seek out the assistance of a trusted local or broker.  

It can be extremely difficult to get a feel for who has the best selection and quality on a particular day. Therefore, searching for specifics gems in a place this hectic is incredibly time consuming and take hours, days, or even weeks.

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Outside of town, about 3 hours depending on how fast your local drivers drives, is the town of Ratnapura. This place is a Mecca for rough sapphires, polished gem-trading, and basically anything sapphire related as the mines are all located in nearby mountains, rivers, and tunnels.

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A typical day in Ratnapura starts early in the morning at one of the rotating rough gem markets around town. Depending on the time of day, the focus then shifts to various offices and cutting factories. By late afternoon, it’s essential to have an office with direct daylight on one of the busiest gem market avenues for the best opportunity to grade, select, and buy the sapphires passing by.

On the outskirts of Ratnapura, into the hills by way of dirt roads steeped alongside the odd Tea Plantation, are the mines themselves. Typically, it’s easier to see the mine owner in town to buy their gems but, on occasion, it’s worthwhile to visit them in person and see what’s been dug up over the previous few weeks. The mines we toured were river bed mining and shaft mining - almost 100 metres deep - which leave the least environmental footprint of any type of operation.

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Buying direct can save money if everything works out accordingly, but the risk often outweighs the reward.  Taking the time to properly assess the sapphires in a comfortable and pressure-free environment in these parts isn’t always an option.

What to look for when buying a gemstone

What to look for when buying a gemstone

When you're in the business of handling gems, you need to have a pristine idea on which stones are precious and which ones are just pretty.  At Cavalier, the most important factor to keep in mind when taking stock of an oceanic sapphire or eye-catching emerald is the colour. It sounds simple enough, but it takes a keen attention to detail to properly assess the richness and colour depth within the gem.

After sorting through a parcel and taking hold of a single stone, one of the first things to determine, aside from the colour, is the clarity of the gem as-is. Does the stone's pure colour sparkle through at every angle, for instance, or is there windowing, where white backing seen through the other side of the gem reduces its overall brilliance? Taking a close look with a loupe is the next step to answering questions on a particular gem, like whether recutting a piece can provide even more colour saturation or lighten it up, but there's more to consider before we put a stone up for sale. 

The quality and price of a ruby, sapphire or emerald often correlates to where it came from. Colombian emeralds, for instance, are treasured for their uniquely rich colour range, and that perfect sparkle comes at a premium. The reputation of a mine doesn't only come from their product, though, as fair working wages, professional working conditions, and political stability also factor into price. Additionally, other buyers from around the world are often looking for the same gems, which means the price paid for a gemstone can vary simply based on supply and demand.

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Lastly, one major factor that sometimes goes under the radar is the relationship with the supplier. In the gemstone business, the people (or companies) that pays the quickest, can usually receive better service, selection, and price. If a gem cutter is able to get a quick return on the inventory, secure his payroll expense or operating costs, and focus their attention back toward running their business in general, there’s real value in allowing them to do that by simply paying quickly.

WEDDING SEASON FAQ

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WEDDING SEASON FAQ

Tis The Season

Everyone has their favorite season. Prefer days on the slopes and nights where you can actually use your quilt? It’s winter. Prefer those same mountains, minus the snow and with hiking shoes? It’s Spring or summer. How about pumpkin infused craft beer and Sundays full of NFL football? Fall, for sure. 

For us, at Cavalier, there is really only one choice. Our friends from Wedding Crashers will explain. 

Thankfully, wedding season is a busy time at Cavalier. I mean, if it wasn’t, we’d probably be out of business. Over the past 5 years, we’ve learned that from Easter through Labour Day time is always at a premium - especially for couples tying the knot. 

This post will focus on FAQ’s that we answer daily, often multiple times. Our goal? To eliminate some of that pre-wedding stress that leaves couples wondering if eloping to Vegas would have been the best option after all. If you’re a current or potential client, and if this post helps answer at least one question, we’d consider that a win for everyone. 

But, I just got it! 

Yes, you will probably have to leave your engagement ring with us in order to get a perfect match to your wedding band. And while we certainly understand clients not wanting to part with their engagement ring, the finished matching wedding band will fit and match better if we are able to have the corresponding engagement ring on hand. This is especially true if we are setting diamonds by hand on the wedding band. 

Still, in addition to getting a perfect match, there is another positive to this: while your rings are with us, we’re able to clean, check, and tighten the engagement rings so they’re both looking new for the wedding photos! 

If not now, when? 

If you’re not sure when is the best time to drop off your ring, consider what events you have leading up to the wedding. Bachelorette? Photo shoot? Wedding shower? Essentially, check your calendar and plan accordingly. 

If you feel you’ll need your ring for any of the events, let us know and we can either expedite your matching band order so you have your ring back in time, or schedule a day to drop it off in the future after the upcoming event has passed. 

Size matters. 

It’s certainly not uncommon for both partners in a relationship to think about slimming down and shaping up prior to a wedding. But, while you will typically worry about your midsection, we worry about your…fingers? Well, yes. 

A lot of people’s hands swell in the summer when the weather warms up. Couple that with the fact your fingers tend to swell when you are nervous or stressed, and you can see where we are going with this. Basically, unless its you’re fourth wedding - and it’s outdoors, in December, in Winnipeg – there’s a good chance your fingers are going to swell like the Grinch’s heart at the end of the Dr. Seuss classic. 

For this reason, we offer free sizing on our rings. So, try to make time to come in and try on the finished rings at least a few weeks before the wedding. If it feels a bit loose in the store, that’s ok - we can always re-size it after the ceremony. 

Measure twice, engrave once. 

If you and your partner are considering engraving, this should be done after we know the rings fit perfectly. While not as difficult to reverse as the face tattoo your fiancé got on his stag, it’s always best to come and do a fitting beforehand. Resizing rings when there are engravings on the inside can result in the original work needing to be redone, incurring unnecessary, additional costs. 

Just a little patience. 

Two things we’ve found with our male clients: Guys have big knuckles and many aren’t used to wearing rings. As a result, men’s rings will often feel loose once they get over the knuckle but, the reality is, it’s always going to spin a little bit and this will take some time to get used to. 

As mentioned above, resizing is free but we recommend wearing the ring for a bit before committing to a smaller or bigger size. If necessary, we do have the in-store technology to custom fit a different shape of ring in a wax model, around the finger, to eliminate as much spinning or irritation as possible. 

Plan ahead. 

There will be a lot going on, but don’t forget about the relatively small item that will make up a big part of your ceremony. Come in early and get your rings crossed off the wedding list so we can lessen some of the inevitable stress around wedding planning. 

If your budget is a concern, remember, you don’t have to pay the balance until the rings leave the store. For example, if you put a deposit down on March 1st and the bands are done and ready to go on April 15th – but the wedding isn’t until August 10th – you don’t have to pay the balance until pick up, preferably before August 10th.

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Bogota

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Bogota

By the time we arrived back to Bogota after touring the emerald mines, one thing was clear; The amount of work it takes to remove an emerald from the earth has given me an entirely new appreciation for them.  Ironically, despite all that, the work has only just begun.  Before an emerald can be put into a ring or a pair of earrings, the journey that emerald is about to embark on is one that Chance, Sassy, and Shadow would be proud of. 

On our trip, we managed to pick up a few Muzo emeralds, and we’ve partnered with @muzoemeralds and his in-house master cutter, Ricardo, to cut these new gems with the goal of building an engagement ring collection around them. 

In general, the rough emerald (once it’s been mined) will be graded and discussed onsite, or at the nearest town by the mines owner or production manager. From there, the owner will either have it cut himself - by his own cutters in Bogota - or try and sell the rough emerald directly to someone like us. This is where we take on a significant amount of risk

Emeralds are a notoriously difficult gem to cut so if the owner takes on the risk of getting them cut himself, he could potentially end up with a devalued, or worthless, stone.  Even the best Colombian emerald cutters have been fooled by rough emeralds. This because emeralds are often attached to rock formations, and if the imperfections remain undetected and come in contact with the polishing wheel, the entire emerald can combust and become unsalvageable.  

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So, when we buy an uncut emerald for a lower price, it’s the owners way of hedging his bet.  Hedging involves cutting into a potentially larger profit by ensuring you will walk away with something.  For example, if you bet the Las Vegas Knights, at 200/1, to win the Stanley Cup you’ll probably want to put a couple bucks on whoever they are playing if they make it through another round.   

Basically, if the owner of the emerald gets a satisfactory price for the emerald(s) in his possession, it makes more sense to take the guaranteed money continue on with their mining operation.  

Upon purchase, we get both an uncut emerald and an increase in risk.  We then have Ricardo inspect the stone, looking both at its shape and yield potential, in order to figure out which method provides maximum potential to capture the best possible colour.  With emeralds, colour occurs in various pockets and predicting how light will affect it is very tricky.  

Due to its delicate nature, the cutting process for a single emerald can take 4-8 weeks. Assuming it goes well, we are left with another fork in the road.  We can sell the emerald as a loose gem, either through Cavalier or to another dealer; or, we can keep it and design an engagement ring that will appeal to someone looking for a finished product. 

In order to make the best decisions for our clients, we ask ourselves the following questions:   

  1. Is the quality what we thought it would be? 

  2. Should we keep it loose or design a custom ring around it?  

  3. What is the market price for a loose gem, or more specifically, what would a collector pay for a Fine Colombian Emerald of this particular grade? 

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The Emerald Exchange market in Bogota is a scene in itself. There’s nothing else like it. We’ve been to gem markets throughout Thailand, Burma, Hong Kong, and New York, and I can say that Bogota Emerald Exchange is the most interesting and unique. It screams Colombia. Everything from how the dealers dress, interact, package, and sell the emeralds.    

It’s a combination of these obstacles that gives us a new meaning of appreciation for each emerald’s journey from mine to market.

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The Finest Emeralds

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The Finest Emeralds

Technically, my first encounter with emeralds would’ve been playing  Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Genesis.  Officially, my first real-life experience was slightly less reminiscent of a seizure inducing acid trip. I was 6 years old and my Opa was then, as he is now, a wholesaler in the jewelry business. When my Oma was out with my Mom, and my Dad was away fishing, my Opa was tasked with the babysitting. Where my Oma would give me German candy and chocolate, my Opa would give me emeralds. Really though, it sounds a lot cooler than it was; they were the unsold, undesirable, dull pieces left from his sales trips and I kept them in an unmarked box under my bed.  Once under my bed, the emeralds were forgotten about in favour of Lego and WWF figures, but the stories accompanying them persisted.   

To look at my Opa, is to see a portly German man wearing track pants, a Costco golf shirt, and glasses who would drive his SUV to his mail box if he could.   

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But, to listen to him speak is to be enchanted. Just picture the storyteller that would emerge if you combined Frank Costanza, Don Cherry, the Dad from Big Fish, Barack Obama, and Roald Dahl.  Now, set their stories against the backdrop of any Indiana Jones movie.  The travel, the distance, the (alleged) smuggling; the story accompanying every emerald instantly turned that pale green colour into a lusher, richer, shade of vivid forest green. Basically, put him in Glengarry Glen Ross and there’s no way he would ever be forced to wait for new leads.  

Certainly, there have been times when I’ve had reason to doubt the legitimacy of these tales.  But, for me, that was the first core lesson of gemstones. The better the story, the better the stone. The second lesson being, if I nodded along for long enough, he would eventually dig into his pockets and give me a piece of fine German chocolate.   

That said, when it came to the emeralds and the stories that went along with them, one thing he didn’t exaggerate was how long it took to get to the Colombian mines. One road in, one road out and you were accompanied by security guards and armed escorts. However, even in that type of environment, or maybe because of that type of environment, he was able to develop real friendships with the countless, interesting people he met along the way. It goes without saying (but I’m going to anyways) that business is done very differently today than it was fifty years. But, when I think about the way my Opa described the journey - the jungle, the mines, the travel - so much of it still holds true. The jewelry business is a relationship business and access to the top producing mining regions in Colombia is still extremely limited simply by the geography. It’s still one road in, one road out for most mines and deposits around the Muzo region. 

And then there’s the people. Hard working, kind and eager. These people loved to smile and seemed stress free, far away from the daily hustle of Bogota and very, very far from the long nights in Medellin.  They’re always excited to see a new face and judge how much they knew about an emerald simply by how they held it. The more casual and nonchalant, the more knowledgeable you will be perceived to be.  Pro tip: don’t take this same tact when holding your friends newborn baby for the first time.  

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For example, when they handed me this 27.00 carat rough gem, I didn’t want to stare too long, knowing they would up their opening price purely based on my first, natural expression. Emeralds, especially ones that hail from the Muzo and Chivor regions, are known for their quality and indescribable hues and tones. Believe it or not, emeralds possessing such fine clarity and colour have almost always commanded higher prices than fine diamonds and, when it comes to cut, Colombians are world renowned for their excellence and know their material better than anyone.  Cutting emeralds - a notoriously fickle and included gemstone - is a skill all in itself. But, not every emerald is cut equally.  When buying rough emeralds, it’s imperative to have a veteran buyer who can assess potential yields and grade on the spot.  It sounds simple enough but the pressure ramps up slightly when you are in the searing heat, with sweat dripping down your brow, under the judging, watchful eye of the gems owner, while small machinery works in the background, and armed soldiers fiddle with their military grade weapons a few paces away.   

As I mentioned, it was sometimes difficult to discern fact from fiction when it came to my Opa’s stories. Because of that, I thought the stories I heard beforehand, from him and others in the business, and from the (gem) dealers in Bogota were from a world long gone, if it ever existed at all.  Like a memory or a fleeting feeling that can’t be relived, I wasn’t sure if the quality of the emeralds themselves would be as I had heard, or imagined.  

I was wrong. Everything about Muzo, from its vast jungle, to its people, to seeing some of the world’s finest and most fabled emeralds in their natural environment made me feel as if I had travelled back in time. Despite the world around it becoming more advanced, developed, and congested, this region maintains the rugged, beautiful, raw identity that has defined it for over two centuries.   

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Part of growing up is learning the stories you were told weren’t necessarily accurate. Jack never really climbed that beanstalk, pixie dust and Neverland aren’t really things, and no matter how many lamps you rub you’re not going to get three wishes. These can be difficult realities to confront but, in truth, it just makes it better when, as was the case with my Opa and his emeralds, one of those stories turns out to be true.   

 

 

 

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