Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ruby: Precious gem of Baringo, Taita Taveta

Three of the four priciest gems in the world have been found in Kenya. In a prospect that places mining sector ahead of tourism, tea and coffee combined, mineral dealers say Kenya has emeralds, sapphire and ruby. Mining Cabinet Secretary Dan Kazungu admires one of the precious stones when he visited Gemstone dealers in Nairobi last week. [PHOTO: PIUS CHERUIYOT/STANDARD] They say the most expensive of the precious stones are readily traded in a largely informal market. There are however no known deposits of diamonds. “We have gem quality stones in Baringo that compare to the finest in the world,” said Nitin Pattni, a director at Corby – a gemstone mining company with interests in Baringo and West Pokot. Naturally clean and brilliantly coloured stones are often more expensive as they are mainly used in making high-end jewelry. “The Baringo ruby is of same quality as Burmese or Cambodian,” he adds, in a tour by mining Cabinet Secretary Dan Kazungu to gemstone dealers. Among the stones he had on his display was a 40-gram red ruby, he described as third-rate, but was in the market at a conservative price of Sh1 million ($10,000). So precious are the gemstones that there is not an exact pricing guide in the international market as sales are through auctions. A past commentary from the Gemological Institute of America acknowledges the value of the Kenyan gemstones, specifically the rubies that have been found in Sandai area of Baringo. “With the pink rubies from the Baringo area, these new rubies present some serious hope for the Kenyan gem industry as the stones we saw were of commercial to very fine facet quality,” gemologist Vincent Pardieu said of a fact-finding tour of Kenya. “...the quality of the rubies we saw there was globally the best that we saw on our entire Kenyan trip.” In May last year, a rare grade Burmese ruby, dubbed pigeon’s blood after its colour, weighing just over 5 grams (25.59 carats) was sold for a world record Sh2 .8 billion ($28.25 million) in an auction in Geneva. Rubies found in Baringo could be of comparable value, in Pardieu’s assertion. It is such pricing that has informed the latest estimates that Kenya’s mining industry could earn more than Sh200 billion a year, three-fold the peak earnings from tourism. Kazungu said more than half of the precious stones traded in the World had actually been mined in Africa, but were traded in Thailand- the global capital of jewelry. Thousands of dealers, mostly from Africa, and jewelry enthusiasts converge in Bangkok every day to trade in precious gems, a market that Kenya could grab a share of and enable Nairobi become an alternative mineral exchange. Geological studies “We could earn more from this kind of tourism since we are centrally placed in Africa- the source of most of the precious stones,” Kazungu said. Kenya’s geological map compiled in the 1960s confirms the distribution of more than 60 minerals, including Tsavorite- many times rarer than diamond and emerald, but only found around Tsavo in both Kenya and Tanzania. Absence of regulation in the mining of the precious minerals, mainly in Taita Taveta where Tsavo is, and now in Baringo, has meant that the State and communities do not benefit from the billions’ worth of production. Kazungu acknowledges that most of the minerals are smuggled out of the country to waiting buyers, who then deliver them to the global markets for a fortune. Kenya has earned a paltry Sh1.3 billion from its minerals including gold, in 2014, according to official statistics – a near ten-fold rise from the previous year. The jump in revenues is linked to modest changes in regulations in a market that has operated for decades as free for all. Other more recent geological studies have discovered deposits of jewelry-grade ruby in other parts of Baringo in 2005 and Simba near Voi in 2007. Both are promising, with their finest qualities of pinkish red rubies exhibiting great transparency, the gemologists reported.