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Posts tagged ‘burma’

Under the hammer

April 21st, 2016

From the mantle, Myanmar and Mars, rare rocks go on the auction block

by Greg Klein

These have been the days of the $22-million no-sale, the ruby-red beauty of Burma and the scream from outer space. Over two days, two rival auction houses offered up some of the most exceptional stones known to this planet and others.

From the mantle, Myanmar and Mars, rare rocks go on the auction block

Sotheby’s rejected $2.2 million
a carat for the Shirley Temple Blue.
(Photo: Sotheby’s)

The much-anticipated main event at Sotheby’s April 19 Magnificent Jewels sale lasted less than a minute before the hammer came down on an anti-climactic $22 million. The auctioneer rejected the bid and withdrew the lot, having wanted something in the range of $25 million to $35 million. Such was the optimism inspired by the Shirley Temple Blue diamond, a 9.54-carat, potentially internally flawless, cushion-cut fancy stone once owned by the child phenom.

Still, $22 million was a tad more than the $7,210 paid by Temple’s dad in 1940. But extraordinary expectations have been provoked by some extraordinary prices.

Earlier this month Sotheby’s unloaded the De Beers Millennium Jewel 4 in Hong Kong for $31.8 million, a record price for Asia. In November Christie’s auctioned the 16.08-carat Sweet Josephine for $28.5 million. The following day the same buyer—a father rather more extravagant than Temple’s—paid Sotheby’s “a new record price for any gemstone and per carat” for the $48.4-million Blue Moon of Josephine.

This time around Sotheby’s performed relatively modestly, selling five items for over $1 million each, with the top-selling lot getting $4.56 million. That was for a “magnificent platinum and fancy purplish pink diamond ring” that came in close to the $5-million maximum estimate. In all, the auction pulled in nearly $29.89 million. But the Shirley Temple disappointment held the total far back from that of a Sotheby’s event 12 months earlier, which raked in a record $65.08 million.

From the mantle, Myanmar and Mars, rare rocks go on the auction block

Christie’s called the Jubilee “the very best Burmese
ruby offered for sale” in the U.S. for over 25 years.
(Photo: Christie’s)

Christie’s came much closer to that figure just one day after the Shirley Temple got shelved. That rival Magnificent Jewels auction offered 255 items and totalled nearly $57.03 million. Starring the show was the 15.99-carat Jubilee ruby. “To find an almost circular cut, unheated gem weighing more than 15 carats, with near-perfect crystallization is the dream of every gemstone connoisseur,” oozed the auctioneer. Set in a gold and diamond ring, the Jubilee sold for $14.16 million, well inside the hoped-for $12-million to $15-million range.

Another bidder put up $8.84 million for a 10.07-carat “fancy intense purple-pink diamond” mounted in a platinum and gold ring. With a pre-sale estimate of $8 million to $12 million, that gem also sold within expectations.

As did a $7.22-million, 40.43-carat round brilliant-cut diamond that was estimated between $7 million and $10 million.

While Christie’s New York was peddling opulence, Christie’s London was marketing meteorites. Prices hovered much closer to earth, however—between $267 for “a corner cut of the Toulon meteorite” and $62,213 for the Tirhert, “a meteorite which never hit Earth.” A Moroccan kid found it wedged between tree branches.

But no matter how exotic, the more expensive extra-terrestrial stuff got consigned to inventory.

Bidders passed up souvenirs of Mars, one of which Christie’s hoped would bring up to $355,500 and another up to $639,900. Similarly spurned was the “world’s largest oriented meteorite with extra-terrestrial gemstones.” That was further described as “encompassing an enormous aggregate of extra-terrestrial olivine and peridot in a steel-blue patina dappled with mango accents.”

From the mantle, Myanmar and Mars, rare rocks go on the auction block

Even this extra-terrestrial expression of
Munch-ish anguish failed to find a buyer.
(Photo: Christie’s)

Christie’s wanted somewhere between $711,000 and $1.13 million for the 650-kilogram chunk of rock, arguably a bargain compared to those earthly objects measured in mere carats. And they’re not even dappled with mango accents.

Another non-mover was “an otherworldly evocation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.” Naturally formed, Christie’s insists, the 179-kilogram space oddity came with an aspired but unrealized price between $213,300 and $355,500.

The auction totalled just $817,601 for 44 meteorites, leaving nearly three dozen unsold. Evidently aficionados prefer the products of domestic geology. Maybe there’s still something to be said for this planet after all.

Next month Christie’s and Sotheby’s plan to separate big spenders from their loot in Geneva. Sotheby’s set a hopeful $28-million to $38-million target for the 15.38-carat Unique Pink diamond, while Christie’s talks of up to $45 million for the 14.62-carat Oppenheimer Blue.

Assuming there are takers, how does one explain such extravagance?

“Even though there may be a general economic malaise, a lot of people are making a lot of money and are very cash-rich,” David Bennett told Rapaport Magazine. As chairperson of Sotheby’s jewelry division, he conducted the Blue Moon auction and several other high-profile sales.

“Fine gemstones have always been something that people consider having in their portfolio of investments,” he added. “If they are going to buy something, they want to buy the rarest, the best.”

Global Witness identifies Myanmar jadeite as a conflict mineral one month before a mine site landslide kills over 100 people

December 2nd, 2015

…Read more

Over 100 dead at Myanmar jade mining site

November 22nd, 2015

by Greg Klein | November 22, 2015

With more victims still unaccounted for, rescuers so far have pulled 104 bodies from a landslide in northern Myanmar, local media reported. The Global New Light of Myanmar stated a hill of soil extracted from a jade mine collapsed early November 22, burying around 70 huts housing small-scale miners and their families.

Over 100 dead at Myanmar jade mining site

Environmental degradation at the world’s
largest jade mining district takes a deadly toll.

The inhabitants were in the area to search mine waste for jade, the paper added. They had been warned of landslide risks around Hpakant in Kachin state, home to the world’s biggest jade mining operations.

Last month Myanmar’s jade industry came under fire from Global Witness for corruption, degrading the environment and funding violence. Because of the industry’s practices, “mountains have become valleys and valleys have become mountains,” one Hpakant source told Global Witness.

In June Radio Free Asia reported at least five landslides had occurred at jade mining sites in the first half of the year. At least 20 people died in a January landslide, Global Witness stated.

The group’s 12-month investigation found large jade operations were controlled by families and cronies of government and military figures, people connected to the former junta, drug lords and rebel militias fighting a conflict that’s killed thousands of people since 2011.

An upbeat story about jade in the same issue of the Global New Light of Myanmar said the industry contributes US$2 billion to $3 billion a year to the government. Global Witness stated the big mines made at least $12 billion last year, probably closer to $31 billion.

Earlier this month the country held its first free elections in 25 years, won by the opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest during military rule. But, according to a New York Times analysis, she might be forced to co-operate with former junta officers who still wield influence in the transitional government.

The Global New Light of Myanmar reported more fighting between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Defence Services) and rebel Kachin Independence Army between November 15 and 19.

Read about the Global Witness investigation into Myanmar jade mining.

Myanmar’s dirty ‘state secret’

October 26th, 2015

Environmental and human rights abuses taint the most prestigious type of jade

by Greg Klein

One of the planet’s most precious gems, the highest-quality jade can sell for over $13,000 a kilo. What that meant to Myanmar last year alone was at least $12 billion in production, more likely up to $31 billion, according to Global Witness. That figure represents about 48% of the impoverished country’s GDP and 46 times the expenditures on health care. But, the human rights group maintains, most of the money goes to government insiders and military officers, their families and cronies, and the war efforts of both sides in an independence struggle that’s left thousands dead since 2011.

It’s another story of conflict minerals from a deeply troubled part of the world. Yet Chinese appetite persists for jade in both its forms, the more expensive but often ethically tainted jadeite from next-door Myanmar and the more modestly priced nephrite jade, of which British Columbia supplies about 75% of world supply. As Myanmar prepares for its first elections since the military junta ended in 2011, Global Witness released an October 23 study calling for thorough reform of the jadeite industry, possibly “the biggest natural resources heist in modern history.”

It centres around Hpakant in Kachin state, the world’s biggest jade mining district and described by a community leader as “one of the most valuable places on earth because you can earn billions from a very small area… and yet only a small number of people are getting advantages.”

“If openly, fairly and sustainably managed, this industry could transform the fortunes of the Kachin population and help drive development across Myanmar,” Global Witness states. “Instead, the people of Kachin state are seeing their livelihoods disappear and their landscape shattered by the intensifying scramble for their most prized asset. Conditions in jade mines are often fatally dangerous, while those who stand in the way of the guns and machines face land grabs, intimidation and violence.”

As heavy equipment and explosives demolish hills of jade, “mountains have become valleys and valleys have become mountains,” one source said. Polluted rivers, water-filled craters, deforestation, landslides and flooding now characterize Hpakant.

As for the beneficiaries, Global Witness’ 12-month investigation revealed a list that “reads like a who’s who from the darkest days of junta rule.” They include families of high-ranking military and government figures, some dating to the dictatorship, others with the current cabinet. At least four “army companies” exploit jade to provide “off-budget finance for secret military projects and an income stream for retired army officers.” Tycoons with junta connections lead a third category of “crony companies.” Drug lords control a fourth category.

The four can overlap. Drug lords, according to one source, can bribe an army officer for his assistance in securing a jade concession. “If the licence comes through, this general or one of his family members will get a share in the mining company.”

They do very well indeed, at Hpakant’s expense. Jade companies linked to former military dictator Than Shwe, current government minister Ohn Myint, drug lord Wei Hsueh Kang and government crony Aike Htwe “recorded around US$430 million in pre-tax sales at the 2014 official government jade sale alone.”

Jade also provides the main source of income for two rebel groups, the Kachin Independence Army and the Kachin Independence Organization. That makes “the battle for control of jade revenues a strategic priority for both sides in the conflict.” Apart from having killed thousands of people since 2011, the struggle has displaced another 100,000, Global Witness reports. Like the government military, the rebels stand accused of war crimes.

When many fear hardliners may finance sectarian violence and dirty tricks, Myanmar’s citizens urgently need to know where the jade money is going.

With the industry playing an integral role in both motivating and financing the struggle, peace depends on addressing “the question of who benefits from Kachin state’s jade.”

Until the early 1990s, when the junta got involved in jade concessions, small-scale operations with local miners benefited. Now, with a “massive upswing” in jade extraction over the last year, local people fear resource depletion could leave nothing for future generations.

That adds a sense of urgency to Global Witness’ call for reform. So does the impending November 8 election. “When many fear hardliners may finance sectarian violence and dirty tricks, Myanmar’s citizens urgently need to know where the jade money is going.”

Global Witness describes its mission as investigating and campaigning “to change the system by exposing the economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction.” Among other projects, previous Global Witness campaigns have targeted conflict diamonds in Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic, and conflict gold and tantalum in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Download Jade: Myanmar’s “Big State Secret”.

November 22 update: A landslide at a Myanmar jade mining site kills over 100 people.

First-mover advantages

June 19th, 2015

Electra Stone sees opportunities as the first publicly traded jade company

by Greg Klein

What prompted Electra Stone TSXV:ELT to become the world’s first publicly traded company to pursue jade? For starters, president John Costigan points out a tremendous price increase. “In 2004, A-grade B.C. jade was $40 a kilo. Last year it sold for $1,800 a kilo.” Obviously something big was happening, but under the radar of other juniors. Taking advantage of British Columbia’s importance to global jade supply, Electra began acquiring properties, not to mention expertise. Now, with summer exploration slated to begin imminently, the company sees jade opportunities beyond exploration and mining.

Electra Stone sees opportunities as the first publicly traded jade company

British Columbia supplies about
75% of the world’s nephrite jade, presenting opportunities that Electra believes other juniors have missed.

“The Chinese have virtually mined out all their domestic jade,” Costigan says. “But they have an emotional and spiritual connection to this stone. It’s far more significant than an attachment to say gold or silver. The Chinese will actually use jade as a currency and as a storehouse of value, much like gold but it has a spiritual element to it. According to belief, jade, especially green jade or B.C. jade, can confer good health and good luck upon oneself.”

Of the two types of jade, jadeite is the more costly stuff, which comes in different colours from Myanmar. Dwindling supplies and a re-awakened interest in China’s traditional jade have increased consumer interest in nephrite jade, of which B.C. produces about 75% of global supply.

A-grade nephrite goes into jewelry and carvings. B-grade finds uses in furniture or architectural adornments. Costigan sees a neglected market for B-grade jade. With attributes largely overlooked by B.C. suppliers, jade’s characteristics make it an ideal dimensional stone, he says.

“First of all, it’s harder than granite or steel,” Costigan explains. “It’s non-porous so it doesn’t stain. You can get a mirror polish on this stone. Its translucency also adds to its functional value. When back-lit, you get this soft, green glow. You combine all these qualities and you have a fantastic, beautiful, strong stone that will compete with high-end marble. So it has not only functional characteristics in terms of its architectural applications, but aesthetically it’s very pleasing.”

He adds, “The Asian community has used it for walls, fireplaces, trim, tables, table legs—there’s a panorama of uses for B.C. jade that’s barely been touched.”

Already an industrial minerals company, Electra began compiling its jade portfolio earlier this year with three properties in northern B.C.’s Liard mining division. Two were acquired through staking, the 2,225-hectare Rustic project and the 478-hectare Kutcho property. Last month Electra signed a 100% option on the 1,490-hectare Polar placer jade project, about one kilometre north of the Polar Jade mine, one of Canada’s most important jade operations.

Barely south of 60, Liard’s climate allows only a short working season. Electra has a 90-day prospecting program scheduled to begin shortly, with the four-person crew working under a seasoned jade prospector. Although the campaign will cover as much of Electra’s ground as possible, Polar will get particular attention.

Should the properties become operational, relatively simple quarry or placer mining would take place. No processing would be required, Costigan says.

You combine all these qualities and you have a fantastic, beautiful, strong stone that will compete with high-end marble.—John Costigan, president of Electra Stone

With the appointment of CiCi Yim to Electra’s advisory board, the company gained the expertise of the chief gemologist and jade specialist for the 24K Gold Company. Among other accomplishments, she holds a diploma from the Hong Kong Institute of Gemology and an MBA in supply chain management from Birmingham University in the UK. Electra has also created a jade marketing team and joined the Canada National Jade Research Institute.

Longer-term goals would have the company become a vertically integrated miner with its own trading arm and manufacturing operations.

A private placement closed this month with $850,000 in convertible debentures, of which $350,000 came from Costigan and the rest from a Chinese investor. Electra hopes to close another $750,000 placement soon while waiting for a shareholder vote on another $2-million placement by an individual subscriber that would result in change of control for the company.

Revenue comes to Electra from its Apple Bay project, a chalky geyserite quarry on Vancouver Island. Also known as aluminum silica, the product is shipped to a cement manufacturer in Seattle.

Having “inherited” Apple Bay as a money-losing operation during Electra’s restructuring, Costigan says, “We made some big changes and we’ve turned the corner. Our first profitable shipment was a few months ago.”

Meanwhile Electra shares began this month at $0.10, twice their mid-May price, and have so far spent most of June doing even better, reaching a 52-week high of $0.14 on June 18 and again on June 19. Not surprisingly, the stock’s performance boosts Costigan’s confidence. “As of today we’re the only public jade company in the world,” he says. “And that gives us a lot of first-mover advantages.”