Q&A: Ian Harebottle, Gemfields

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The miner’s chief exec on its boom in 2012, motocross and actresses.

Gemfield’s chief executive Ian Harebottle has had a busy year, acquiring mines, overseeing exciting designer collaborations and growing his company’s supply in the US market. He was named a Business Big Shot in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012, in association with the Company of Master Jewellers.

Professional Jeweller: Gemfields has had quite a year, acquiring mines, collaborating with emerging jewellery design talent and expanding business internationally. What has been its biggest achievement as a business this year?
Ian Harebottle: The acquisition of a 75% stake in Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM). MRM owns the mining rights over an area spanning some 300 square kilometres in northern Mozambique and has the potential to become the world’s single largest producing ruby deposit. The ability to add rubies to our current platform as the world’s single largest supplier of ethically mined and distributed emeralds and amethyst is very exciting.

PJ: Gemfields has become the name on everybody’s lips when it comes to gemstones. Tell us what you have done to promote, build and market Gemfields and its stones over the past year
IH: The Gemfields team has been busy with several different initiatives, trade and consumer, to help build Gemfields profile in the last 12 months. Most notably, the launch of Gemfields new global advertising campaign, called Rare Coloured Gemstones, which references the company’s singular focus on reliable and ethically-produced gemstones. We also continue to collaborate with new and upcoming designers and in the last year we have worked with Jordan Askill who used Gemfields amethysts in his 2012 collection and with Shaun Leane, who designed a necklace using Gemfields Zambian emeralds for the Brilliant exhibition at the Masterpiece fair.

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It is my view that the key to Gemfields success is directly related to two key areas: one, the skills and passion of our team and their commitment to what they do, and two, our relationship with external stakeholders at large, whether they be governments, suppliers, customers or consumers. I have thus continued to dedicate a large percentage of my time to the on-going development of our team and to direct communication and interaction with stakeholders.The balance of my time has been directed at new markets and the various growth opportunities that we are increasingly being presented with.

PJ: Gemfields’ design collaborations have been really exciting – how have you selected who you work with and what has been the advantage of these partnerships?
IH: We will only ever collaborate with people and companies that share our same vision and that means upholding good ethics and in the case of designers we look for exceptional craftsmanship and unparalleled design. Our recent collaboration with Amrapali and their Gemfields ethical emerald collection entitled Panna is a good example that shows fine artistry, coupled with good principles. By continuing to collaborate in this select way helps spread the word of Gemfields and highlights our company philosophy and introduces us to new and exciting markets.

PJ: As a booming company in tougher times, what kind of challenges has Gemfields had to overcome?
IH: While history shows a clear and inherent love for colour to be firmly engrained into the human psyche, the past 50 years have shown a gradual shift away from colour toward more conservative choices. Whilst we realise that there is a place for every product, there has been a need to remind people that there are other stimulating options available to them and that coloured gemstones have a long history and can be a great store of value. Our efforts seem to be paying off and colour is increasingly being brought back into fashion.

PJ: What has been your personal highlight of the past 12 months?
IH: I believe that I’m a blessed and lucky man in that there have been many highlights throughout the past year, just a few of which include the constant increase in demand for our ethically supplied emeralds and amethyst that we continue to receive from all major markets, the fact that the Kagem mine (after years of unprofitability under its previous ownership) has paid off all of its inherited debts and has been able to become a significant contributor to the national wealth of Zambia and the inclusion of rubies into our product offering, to name but a few. However, if I have to choose just one, then it has to be the large number of talented, beautiful and elegant actresses that clearly decided to include the rich and vibrant colour of gemstones into the jewellery they wore to key red carpet events across the globe.

PJ: They have certainly made an eye-catching impact. Looking forward, how do you hope to develop business in 2013?
IH: I believe that 2013 is going to continue to be an exciting year for Gemfields as our ruby mine comes on stream, our Kagem emerald mine opens new areas of production, amethyst begins to play a more important role within jewellery, the US market continues to strengthen and our various marketing initiatives within China and the rest of Europe and Asia begin to take hold. There are also a number of other projects that we have been working on for some time now, many of which should come to fruition within the coming year. Wow, I can’t wait.

PJ: You seem to be very busy. How do you strike the work/life balance – what do you do relax and get away from it all?
IH: Again, I truly am fortunate in that I honestly love what I do and am able to travel extensively across the globe to numerous fantastic locations and to meet with excellent people wherever I go, Zambia, Mozambique, India, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, New York, Cape Town, Paris, Bangkok, to name just a few and certainly destinations that most people would pay good money to visit. As such, some may argue that everyday could well be called a holiday for me. However, the global nature of our business does mean that I am not able to spend nearly as much time as I would ideally like to with my family, being home less than two weeks out of every seven, but I do have a fantastic family that support me in everything that I do and in turn I try to focus on them as much as possible when we are together, starting with choosing holiday destinations where there is no telephone or internet connection – these are getting harder and harder to find, but they are out there.

Other than that, my two sons and I are all petrol heads and we love motocross, motor racing, speed and fast cars. My poor wife, she really is a saint because despite the fact that I am involved in the luxury goods sector, much of her life is spent either in the bush or surrounded by noise and the smells of oil, grease and sweat.

 

 

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