While knowledge of gem deposits in Vietnam may have existed among intrepid traders and travellers, due to long, arduous decades of severe conflict, Vietnam only surfaced as an essential source for precious stones in the late eighties.
Gem mining in Vietnam has remained a cottage industry with many indulging in the activity alongside farming. Co-founder of KV Gems, Joe Belmont first visited Luc Yen in Vietnam in 2005. Since then, he has returned on more than 120 occasions sourcing untreated rubies, spinel in pastel, vivid pink and the extremely rare cobalt blue hue, and bright pink no heat sapphires.
Maria Belmont, Joe’s daughter and partner in KV Gems, recalls her first visit to Luc Yen in 2005, “I must have been 11 or 12 years old. Dad had already been to Vietnam a few times and was very excited to show me the mining area and the traditional marketplace. The contrasting colours of Orange-red mud with the lush green vegetation painted a romantic picture. Most gem miners are farmers in Vietnam who mine during the offseason. They use water pumps and manual tools to extract gems and bring them to the traditional market for sale. Like Chanthaburi in Thailand, in Vietnam, too, the marketplace is dominated by women. I felt very safe and comfortable walking around from table to table managed by young and older women who drive a hard bargain. The minute my father would sit down at a table, he would attract the attention of a few dealers. There would be one primary dealer interacting and showing him stones with others watching and patiently waiting for their turn.”
Since those early days, KV Gems have emerged as one of the leading suppliers of spinel globally. Adding to his daughter’s observations, Joe Belmont elucidates, “We were one of the first who started buying the rare cobalt blue and pastel spinel in Vietnam. Like with most coloured gem deposits, the production is in small quantities, and with each season it’s more challenging to find good quality gems. In the last ten years, the popularity of spinel has skyrocketed. With increasing awareness about spinel’s rich history and it’s mistaken identity as Ruby, I believe the demand will grow consistently. We are super impressed with the quality of gems from Vietnam. The most beautiful spinels we have sourced have come from Vietnam, but it is rare to find them in larger sizes.”
Quality is vital to value appreciation over time. The team at KV only source the best gems from long-established sources in Vietnam. Maria Belmont shares what she has learnt from her parents in this regard, “We believe in only acquiring the best quality from miners and wholesalers we have known for a long period. They understand what we are looking for and work hard to provide us with quality material. For us, beyond the acquisition of beautiful gemstones, it is also important to learn about the source. Loyalty and trust are the most important facets of our dealings, and our suppliers are our friends. We know their families, we are comfortable with their value system, and believe the path to market that our company provides creates a positive impact in these communities.”