Jim and Jenny Elliot – Industry Forum 2024

Jim and Jenny Elliot of Coolamon Mining give their insights into the successes and challenges of 2023 with hopes for the 2024 year.

Written by Jewellery World

Can you reflect on the notable successes and achievements of Coolamon Mining in 2023, and what were the key highlights that positively impacted your business and the sapphire industry?

Since the period of COVID, travel restrictions increased the number of travellers who stayed within Australia, and business significantly increased which contributed to Coolamon Mining having a very successful year, both at the Gemfields Showcase sales and exhibition centre and in sales to manufacturing jewellers through our main office. The highlight of our year was our outstanding display of cut sapphire at our Showcase outlet, which we set up as part of the annual Gemfields Community Festival held in August. This event is a must-see for anyone interested in quality-guaranteed natural Australian sapphire.

The largest mining operation on the Gemfields is that of the Dubai-based company, Fura. Fura exports its rough material, selling it in massive overseas auctions. This exposure has given the Gemfields greater exposure, and this growing awareness of Australian sapphires has worked in our favour. 

Could you discuss the notable challenges that Coolamon Mining faced in 2023 and how your team worked to overcome these challenges, particularly in the context of sapphire mining and production?

While the ever-increasing production costs of fuel and machinery parts have proved somewhat testing, the biggest challenge faced by all small miners is the bureaucratic costs and imposts by Government Departments that seem to constantly increase their regulations and charges.

A continuing challenge is to be able to find sapphire-bearing resource areas that can be economically mined. The best places have all been mined several times over the last century, so miners are restricted to less productive areas where they can re-treat previously mined ground. We are fortunate that some of our leases were pegged 40 years ago—but it is a finite resource!

Can you highlight the customer preferences and the unique attributes of these sapphires that have led to success in 2023 and will continue to be a focus for 2024?

There is no doubt the ongoing disruption caused by the proliferation of synthetics in the diamond industry has led to an increase in the use of sapphires as engagement and significant event stones, and being miners, we can guarantee the origin and authenticity of our product. In addition to the constant demand for blue sapphires, we are enjoying the rapid rise in popularity of parti-colour sapphires, which are a significant part of our production in the Gemfields.

These gorgeous gemstones contain two or more colours in each stone making them highly sought after, not only because the local parti-sapphires are the best in the world, but also because they cannot be replicated synthetically and hold a higher value as a result of their exceptional aesthetic appeal. The fact that we can guarantee the authenticity and origin of our natural product has contributed to our success in 2023 and will continue to be our focus in 2024.

What steps have Coolamon Mining taken in 2023 to align with eco-conscious practices and support ethical considerations, and how do you plan to carry these considerations into the new year?

We take great pride in our land regeneration practices and take care to rehabilitate the disturbance as the work progresses, so when the lease is exhausted, there is minimal extra work to be done.

There has always been a need in the Gemfields for a balance between the Environment Department’s requirement for absolute total rehabilitation and the Gemfields community’s desire for surrendered land to be suitable for “specking” activities by tourists, which brings many visitors to the Gemfields each year. However, we were one of a handful of Queensland miners who achieved the top environmental level one—so we must have done something right and will continue this practice in the future.

Looking ahead, what exciting plans or initiatives does Coolamon Mining have in store for the sapphire industry and its customers in 2024? How do these plans align with your vision for the future and your commitment to excellence?

Our main plan is to remain committed to the excellent standard of service we provide to our clients, placing great emphasis on the quality our customers seek.

We maintain a large stock of guaranteed locally mined sapphire. Because of the size of our stocks and the constant re-supply from our mining, we can provide matched pairs and sets for our customers in the jewellery industry. 

We have over 400 Australian manufacturing jewellers as clients. We also support the smaller outlets that provide our exceptional local product and provide a public service through our Sapphire Showcase on the Gemfields during the cooler months.

What message or advice do you have for individuals and businesses seeking to explore and invest in the sapphire industry and engage with Coolamon in the upcoming year?

We encourage people to come to the fields and experience the industry of the sapphire Gemfields first-hand, including the local business outlets and a large amount of small mining activity.

Our message to all prospective buyers of gems is to do your research and ensure that you purchase genuine products from a reputable source.

Any gemstone buyer has a right to ask for a certificate or some form of guarantee attesting to the origin and authenticity of the product they purchase—so exercise this right!

Coolamon Mining is regarded as one of the larger machinery miners as we use heavy equipment in our operations. However, we are a small, family-owned operation, and we recognise the importance of small miners in our industry. The ability of the small miners to continue mining is critical if the Gemfields communities are to survive and prosper into the future, and purchasing directly from the miners guarantees authenticity.

Coolamon Mining guarantees all our stock, and we trade for all but two weeks at Christmas.   Our annual show takes place in the second week of August every year, and we encourage old and new customers to visit the Gemfields to engage with the community and to view our display.

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