Exports of Colombian emeralds hit $129 million in 2021 – a figure exceeding best projections made by industry insiders and more than triple the value of exports seen the previous year.
The 2021 figure is the highest seen since 2018, when exports totalled $142 million, and the fifth-highest annual figure seen over the past ten years. The best year during the last decade was 2015, when exports of Colombian emeralds exceeded $160 million (all figures in USD).
Previously, the Colombian Association of Emerald Exporters (Acodes) had said it hoped for exports to reach $126 million in 2021 — $3 million less than the figure achieved.
The strong showing for 2021 represents a major turnaround for Colombian emeralds, after economic turmoil and travel restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic saw exports tumble to just $42 million in 2020.
Colombia is famed for being one of the few countries where the gems are found, as well as being the source of some of the highest quality emeralds in the world.
The country’s emerald deposits are concentrated in the neighboring departments (states) of Boyaca and Cundinamarca — the latter of which surrounds capital city Bogota. Most of Colombia’s emerald mines are located between Bogota and and Boyaca’s departmental capital Tunja.
According to Oscar Baquero, president of the National Federation of Emeralds of Colombia (Fedesmeraldas), the quality of Colombian emeralds is due to their hydrothermal-sedimentary origin.
“It provides unique characteristics such as brightness, transparency, color, play of light and optimum hardness, which make them the most sought-after in the markets of the United States, Europe, and Asia,” he told Colombian financial publication Portafolio.
While the United States and Switzerland are key destinations for the gems, Asia is an increasingly significant destination, with Portafolio last year highlighting how 80% of exported emeralds were destined for China.
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Colombian emeralds an important export commodity
The best Colombian emeralds are recognized for their warm and intense color, with the gems commonly containing less impurities and fractures than emeralds from other major producing countries, such as Brazil and Zambia.
Emeralds are generally known for being green, however the highest quality gems have a bluish tint, while others can also have a yellowish tint, with the color based on the balance of chemical elements, which include chromium, vanadium, and iron.
Previously, the emerald trade in Colombia was mired by violence and lawlessness, with the state retaining limited control over the key production zone of Western Boyaca, and so-called emerald “clans” maintaining large and heavily armed private armies to protect their interests.
However, the trade has evolved considerably, with foreign capital increasingly involved and Colombia’s National Mining Agency last year reporting interest from investors based in the United States, Canada, Peru, Poland, the United Kingdom, China, and Japan, among others.
Today, gems and precious metals are Colombia’s second-most valuable export commodity, behind only hydrocarbons. While gold makes up the bulk of that categorization, Colombian emeralds carry considerably more fame and are sought out by buyers.
Beyond mined and extracted resources, other well-known export products include coffee and flowers, as well as fruits and vegetables, thanks in part to Colombia being among the most biodiverse countries in the world.
Other than primary goods, Colombia has a growing services sector and is increasingly recognized for its tech and innovation, with second-largest city Medellin named one of Latin America’s new ‘Silicon Valleys’ and a host of the biggest Latin American and international companies having a presence in or nearby capital city Bogota.
These conditions combined with Colombia’s status as a close ally of the United States and its success in significantly reducing violence over recent decades contribute to the South American country’s increasing popularity among foreign investors.
That is made evident by the fact that foreign direct investment as a percentage of GDP increased more than eight-fold between 1989 and 2019.
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