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Archive for July, 2006

Inventory Changes

Posted July 30, 2006 By AussieSapphire

Just letting our customers know that we are rearranging some of our inventory.  As mentioned in a previous post, Ebay will be dramatically increasing fees for Store Owners during August.  Due to this, we will not be able to maintain our current level of inventory on the Ebay Store.  Therefore, we have started shifting some of these items over to the main website.  Regular visitors will notice some changes in pricing – some reduced and some left on Ebay will be increased.  If you have had some of our Ebay items on your watchlist, we recommend that you act quickly and contact us about the particular item of interest.  We invite you to check out the online shop – can click on new items for a quick look at the latest additions to our catalogues.

Has been quite wet here over the last couple of weeks so mining has been difficult and production down.  On the upside, this means that Andrew will have some time to grade up some parcels of rough that have been waiting for his attention.  So stay tuned for some new additions soon.

Speaking of Andrew – he has had an interesting weekend at Lightning Ridge.  Will be back tomorrow with some photos and stories so will try and do a post about that through the week.  I know he is coming back with some opal after bartering a bit of sapphire rough with an old opal miner so looking foward to seeing this.  Not sure how we will go photographing opal but we will do our best to show you these wonderful gems from outback Australia.

Next Gem of the Month article will be on Sardonyx – alternative birthstone for August.  This article is almost finished so stay tuned.

cheers for now from Leah (the other half of Aussie Sapphire)

Growing Interest in Black Spinel

Posted July 27, 2006 By AussieSapphire

Came across an interesting article in the news today about Van Dieman Mines who operate a tin and sapphire mining venture in Tasmania, Australia.  See here for the article in Life Style Extra:

Van Dieman Mines says cut spinel has potential to generate 1.5 mln usd/yr sales

We wish them lots of luck and wait with great interest to see how it turns out.  We have found black spinel in our sapphire mine for years and wondered why it wasnt used by more people.  So a couple of years ago, we decided to just start cutting this great black gem alternative and get it out there in the marketplace.  Of course, black spinel has been cut for many years in Thailand but we have noticed a definite increase in interest in this gemstone since we started selling online in earnest.

blacks.jpgThe article indicates that some 3,500 carats of cut black spinel have been cut for sampling to the jewellery industry.  We would like to point out that if you are interested in having a look at this excellent black diamond alternative, we are able to supply calibrated sizes in a range of shapes as well as cabochon gems.  These are in stock now and we restock with new batches of cutting all the time.  See our website for more information on Black Spinel or to browse our product catalogues.

We have not come across this company before although we have heard reports of new investment in sapphire mining in Tasmania.  By the look of their annual report, they have not yet started in full production but are optimistic about the future.  Take a look at their website if you are interested to find out more:  Van Dieman Mines. 

Cheers for now from Leah (holding down the fort while Andrew is at Lightning Ridge – report on this adventure to be posted next week).

Ebay Turmoil

Posted July 23, 2006 By AussieSapphire

Some of you may be aware that Aussie Sapphire has both its own website and an Ebay Store.  Since the launch of the upgraded website, we have been gradually stocking up the “shelves” with items from most of our product categories.  However, we had always intended to maintain the Ebay Store as well as we have many repeat Ebay buyers and we enjoyed being able to offer our high quality products in a marketplace that is flooded with cheap, inferior rubbish.

However, the recent fee increases announced by Ebay for Store Owners have changed the situation.  We have been slammed with a four-way hit:

  • our listing fees will increase five-fold for items costing more than $50
  • our monthly store subscription fee has increased by 50%
  • the final value fee (or Ebay commission on sales) has doubled to 10%
  • and to make things even harder, the reduced visibility of our store items in Ebay searches will make it harder for buyers to find them

Ebay has tried to put a positive spin on this by saying it will “bring the magic back to Ebay” by encouraging more auctions.  EBay CEO, Meg Whitman was quoted as saying “Whenever we do a fee increase our community does not like it but I think they will understand the reasons we are doing this“.  She is dead right: we do not like it and understand perfectly that these fee increases are nothing more than a grab for cash to prop up a company whose share price is in free-fall.  Sellers certainly do not agree with the stated reasons for the change and the announced changes do nothing to redress the problems that Ebay has.  Ebay claims that most sellers will not be significantly affected – this is clearly untrue and we ask our customers to understand that it is just impossible for us to absorb this large increase in our costs.

Fee increases are nothing new – Ebay raises fees regularly but the scope of these changes for Store Owners make it impossible to continue selling in the same way.  The reaction from sellers has been vehement to say the least.  Almost 26,000 signatures in an online petition and a flood of new members registering on alternative auction sites.  Despite the announcement of these changes in the latest earnings report to the market, the share price fell another 4.9% during the next trading day so maybe the market is not convinced either?

Although we are very angry and disappointed about the changes, it is probably impractical to jump ship entirely.  Here at Aussie Sapphire, we will spend the next few weeks trying to decide how to handle this new fee structure and still maintain a viable business.  At the very least, our fixed prices must increase to cover the higher costs of selling through Ebay.  The future of our Ebay Store is still uncertain – if it is possible to keep it open, we will be dramatically reducing the number of items available for sale.

However, the news is not all bad – our new website is fully functional and new items are being added all the time.  We plan to keep a similar number of auctions running so keep your eye out for these bargains – listed items will be reduced in number and increased in price but we will do our best to minimise the impact on customers. 

Thank you for your past support and we hope to see all of our Ebay customers at the new website for great products at realistic prices.  If some of your favourite Ebay sellers have moved to alternative auction sites, we ask you to please consider supporting them at their new location as this is one small way you can stand up for the little guy.  Big business doesnt always have to win all the battles.

Cheers for now from Aussie Sapphire

The Mines of Madagascar

Posted July 23, 2006 By AussieSapphire

For those interested in gems from exotic locations, an excellent series of articles have just been published in the online edition of Colored Stone magazine.  The three-part series is titled “The Mines of Madagascar” and is by Vincent Pardieu and Richard W Wise – both very highly respected in the field of gemmology.

These articles provide a fascinating glimpse of the gem mining industry of this country – now one of the world’s major suppliers of sapphire.  As Vincent points out, Ilakaka is the world’s largest sapphire market; with more than 100,000 people living there and working in the gem industry, it is even bigger than Chanthaburi in Thailand.

Although it has been known that sapphire was present in Madagascar for many years, mining for other gems such as topaz and tourmaline has been more important.  Since major discoveries of good quality corundum in the late 1990’s, the main emphasis in Madagascan gemstone mining has switched to sapphire (both blue and fancy colour). The writers report that since the Ilakaka discovery in 1998, sapphire mining in Tanzania has dropped off markedly as many buyers moved their buying offices to Madagascar.

Of course, a mining boom of this size comes at a cost.  The huge number of people working in the area with little government regulation creates a number of problems.  Lack of effective environmental protection is causing large areas are being damaged with little likelihood of proper restoration.  Deforestation and soil erosion caused by forestry, agriculture and mining are two important problems causing significant environmental degradation.

The following links provide some further reading on the subject: 

The other interesting thing about gem trading in places like Madagascar is the practice of gem substitution.  Certainly a case of “buyer beware” with cases of synthetic gems being included in parcels right at the mine level.  Quoting from the Pardieu and Wise Part 2 article: The World’s Biggest Sapphire Market:

But the Ilakaka gem market is not an easy place to buy and make money…Sapphires that are heated locally at low temperature to improve their color are commonly sold as unheated gemstones. Gemstones are routinely “improved” with ink and added to parcels. Sapphire rough that was heated abroad (and turned out badly) is brought back to Ilakaka to be sold again locally as unheated rough. You will also find broken and tumbled synthetics that look like natural, alluvial crystals; irradiated yellow and orange gemstones which will fade with time; and, of course, the traditional glass and imitation gemstones that are a mainstay of gemstone markets all over the world.

Madagascar would be a fascinating place to visit.  In the meantime though, we are happy to dig up our own sapphires in our own little patch of ground.  Will have to settle for reading these very entertaining articles – hope you enjoy them too.

cheers for now from Aussie Sapphire

World Mining Report

Posted July 16, 2006 By AussieSapphire

An interesting article in Colored Stone last December 2005 gives a summary of gemstone mining around the world.  As the article points out, accurate figures and information are extremely difficult to obtain in the notoriously secretive industry.  However, it makes interesting reading for those interested in gems and where they come from.

The section on Australian sapphire mining is somewhat incomplete but is excerpted here for your interest (our comments follow):

World Mining Report (December 2005): 
“The same difficulties — operating expenses and government regulations — are affecting Australian sapphire mining. One notable exception is the Gloucester corundum deposit in New South Wales, which is producing large quantities of ruby and fancy-colored sapphire, although most are in sub-carat sizes. Reports indicate that 12.5 kilograms of gem-grade ruby and sapphire were recovered during a two-week period in August.
In central Queensland, new regulations have opened up more area for sapphire mining as well as opal mining; as a result, approximately 500 sapphire miners are working throughout the region. Large-scale mechanized mining has been hampered by a continuing drought, and a decrease in local buyers has made funds hard to come by. The future remains uncertain.”

One thing they did get right is the last sentence: “the future is uncertain“.  The Australian sapphire industry is struggling for survival at the moment.  While we have persevered in the hope that market conditions will improve, it has not yet happened.  However, to imply that there is only one sapphire mining operation that is producing good quantity is misleading.

The corundum (ruby and sapphire) mined at Gloucester by Cluff Resources does not represent a major portion of sapphire production in NSW, Australia.  While this mine produces an excellent range of fancy colours, including some that can be classified as ruby, the stones are generally very small.  Company reports released to the market to date indicate weekly production of gem grade ruby/sapphire ranges from about 3 to 6 kg.

kp_truck.jpgIn contrast, sapphire mining in the New England region including the largest sapphire mine in NSW (at Kings Plains) and a smaller mine on the renowned Reddestone Creek provides continuous production in large quantity and good range of size (including large stones exceeding 5 carats).  Current production from this area runs at about 250 kg per month of corundum in all sizes of (about 13 kg/week gem grade sapphire).  There is capacity to double this production at short notice in response to market demand.  Buyers looking for stable and continuous supply are advised to review mine run specifications and contact us or Jack Wilson for more information.

We still have faith in the sapphire industry and hope that more buyers will start to appreciate the advantages of doing business in a safe and stable country where origin and lack of any heat treatment is absolutely guaranteed by the miner.

cheers for now from Andrew (Aussie Sapphire)