Cold Feet on Benitoite

June 1999

Gemstones & Pearls:News

Cold Feet on Benitoite

A rare gem with great attributes faces an uncertain future

Benitoite was about to take off last year. A natural, colorless-to-blue gem, benitoite benefits from its rarity, high refractive index and remarkable dispersion. Properly cut, it is compared with blue sapphire or blue diamond. But now, for one company at least, benitoite has lost a bit of its sparkle.

AZCO Mining Inc., a large Canadian company specializing in gold and copper mining, announced plans last year to acquire the Benitoite Gem mine in San Benito County, CA. This spring, however, it paid $20,000 to extend its option on the mine until January 2000 in hopes of finding another buyer.

In recent years, several other large mining operations specializing in metals have turned to gemstones as an alternative to depressed markets in silver, gold, copper and tin. Now sources suggest AZCO doubts the immediate viability of gem mining. (The company also pulled away from plans to acquire the Chivor emerald mine in Colombia last year.)

The company says it has too many other projects under way. "Benitoite's future is very bright," says Doug Ramshaw, vice president of development for AZCO. "We simply have other projects we have to focus on." Ramshaw also says reintroducing benitoite to the market as an all-natural, all-American, non-treated rare and beautiful gemstone would be guaranteed a strong welcome.

The Benitoite Gem Mine was originally offered for sale at US$1.5 million. New conditions in the extension agreement suggest the price might drop by as much as $300,000. Ramshaw says several interested parties are seriously negotiating fro the mine, but he declines to identify them.

Benitoite was discovered in 1906 in California, has a hardness of 6-6.5 on the Mohs scale and eye-visible dispersion. Average sizes for faceted gems are under 1 carat. Sizes over 2-3 carats are considered very rare. Wholesale prices average about $1,000 per carat.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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