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A story from the rough edges of globalisation:
(click audio below
and/or read text) 


Here is book one of my series

'Adventures of a gem-trader':

"Trouble in Madagascar"

Also as audio-book, click 'play' and simply listen:

And, tatata, book number two:

"Monkey Business in Kenya"

Monkey Business in Kenya:

Also on Audible, or as paperback at Amazon and good-old book shops.


"DEMUTH" is on Audible.


The Boy and the Sapphire

Much depends on how we manage globalization: Peace, ecology and economy; basically everything.

Politicians meet in Doha and Kyoto, but the difference is made, or not, on the ground; and it is never simple.

Here is a story from the rough edges of globalization:

I had just finished my daily bone-crush-ride from a new mine in the jungle when the dogs alarmed at the gate. A small boy was standing there, staring at me. Watching foreigners is a common past-time in Sri Lanka but this boy was more than just curious. He had something to sell.

I chased the dogs away and asked what he had. He looked around; making sure nobody was watching, stepped closer and opened his hand: On the dirty palm lay a huge blue sapphire crystal. I was still holding my breath when the little fist snapped closed again.

He had little trust in grown-ups and took several more steps backwards when I came out; ready to run at any time. I stepped closer and he stepped back, keeping out of my personal grabbing distance. He had the wary eyes of a man but the body of a Western pre-school-boy. Scrappy black hair thick as wire, naked feet and hands showing scars of hard work and little care. He wore a blue sarong and a fresh yellow shirt. Very poor he looked strangely dressed up. He also carried a brand-new plastic bag.

I asked him to give me the crystal but he nodded his head, which means NO in Sri Lanka. He let me have another look at his treasure, from a safe distance. It was big; and blue, filling his little hand.

Meanwhile my wife had locked away the dogs, opened the gate and, when she came out, we got a first shy smile out of the boy. The presence of a woman and the locked-away dogs seemed to sooth his fear.

He gave the crystal to my wife, his hands shaking. My wife, keeping an eye on the boy, passed it on to me.

Behold! It was a fully grown, undamaged sapphire pyramid, perhaps over fifty grams. Most rough sapphires are found as unshapely water-worn pebbles. Intact crystals are a rarity. This one was highly symmetric with orderly and smooth flanks. In parts it showed a silky blue, the color of a foggy morning sky, in other parts the blue deepened to a cornflower blue, one of the famous colors in sapphire.

I got the laser torch from the car, wetted the crystal in the pond and beamed light through it. There were few fractures, some inclusions flaws but nothing bad, and some dirt that could be steel-brushed off. It was a beautiful piece.

Personally, I think such symmetry in nature is proof of God's existence. Apart from that, it would be good business. We could sell it as it was, uncut, a rare collector's item.

While I was examining the stone, the boy searched my face for emotions. I didn't hide it: I wanted this crystal. But there were many problems to solve, so we invited him in for tea.

We formally introduced ourselves and he blushed. His name was Sunil and he thought that he was fourteen or so. They never know exactly how old they are.

We sat down with some tea to discuss the circumstances of the sale, as we would have done with any seller. Slowly he warmed up and shared his situation.

He skipped school regularly to search the riverbeds for gems and sold what he found at the "Pola", the weekly gemstone market. Whatever he got he invested directly into food, sweets or ice cream, before anybody caught him with the money. His father, he said, was drinking too much arrack and took everything from him. He wasn't allowed any property. However, once stuff was eaten it was his, so he usually made quick process of any cash. His father regularly searched him for money. Common practice.

Having found this treasure had turned into a problem. After the first euphoria he had realized that from such a sale he could eat all sweets and ice-cream in a 100 mile radius and still have too much left to go home. If his father heard of it, all he would get was a terrible whacking.

Anyways, such a gem he could not simply sell at the Pola. The news would spread to his family in no time so he had kept the crystal hidden, in a tree-trunk, he said. Nobody knew. He was a clever little fellow, jungle-wise and tough.

He had decided to take a radical step and had started from home before dawn, walking all day to find the foreigners running a mine in the jungle. It was common knowledge that foreigners buy crystals and he figured we would make him the best price; also were least likely to rat him out. The sale had to be closed without anybody from his family in the know.

His grand plan: Sell the thing and run; escape into the city where nobody knew him and then "start a new life", as he expressed it. The brand-new plastic bag contained his personal belongings and he was planning to take the night bus to Colombo, never to return. That's why he was all dressed up.

This deal was going to be even more difficult than I thought.

We quizzed him about the rest of his family. Was there nobody to help? No, his mother died long ago, and his uncles and aunts couldn't be trusted. They all would have to go to his father, even if they disliked it, but they would not dare interfere between father and son especially with money involved. I knew it was true. The boy had no rights what so ever and nobody would, or could, protect him.

While we talked I re-examined the sapphire. It was worth serious money for these parts. I was thinking of "one lakh", one hundred thousand rupees, approximately $1200 a few years ago, more than a laborer made in a year, enough to start a small business, or to go to hell on local booze. People got killed for much less every day, here or in the city.

It was time to negotiate the deal. I pushed Sunil for his price. He squirmed on his chair. Calling the first number was always tricky. He risked to be laughed at or, worse, sell too cheap. Any price, once named, had to be honored. Rule of the trade. In knew he wouldn't come out first. Big crystals are uncommon and he had no idea were to start, except higher than ever.

I pretended to calculate a bit and then said "One lakh!"

He spilled his tea, choked a bit, stammered and then pretended to carefully consider my offer, just to keep up the form, but his eyes were already shining like two sunsets. We shock hands and he got ready to fill his plastic bag with cash and to disappear into the children-eating hell called Colombo. Not so fast, I said.

The sunset faded from his eyes when I told him that first, uh-uh, we had to see his father. He screamed in fear and anger, jumped up and, like a cornered animal, tried to go for the window. My wife stopped him. He started to cry, bitter tears of disappointment dropping quickly. I waited until he was ready to listen again.

It was dark when were finished. Sunil ate chicken curry, bread with butter, lentil soup, chocolate-cake, and finished off all our sweets. Then he slept in the maid's quarter.

In the morning we went to search his father. I was worried he would bolt in fright during the day so I wanted to keep his sapphire hostage; but he wouldn't give it to me. We settled on keeping the stone with my wife at the house.

Those days I had a rough 4-wheel Toyota pick-up truck with double cab and gangster-stile mirror windows. Sunil went into hiding on the back-seat. I would have gone alone but in the jungle there are no street addresses and I needed him as a guide.

We drove for about an hour, first through tea plantations and then deep into the jungle. In Sri Lanka people live everywhere. When we arrived in his "neighborhood" Sunil showed me his home and then crawled to hide on the floor. I wanted to keep the car window open but he begged me not too, so afraid was he of being discovered.

I left the car standing on the track (there would be no traffic) and walked up to the miserable mud hut he called home. Mind, not all huts are miserable, some are tidy comfortable places, kept with as much pride as a mansion in Monaco, but this one was a lousy place littered with garbage and in desperate need of repair. Plastic bags fluttered on the patched-up roof.

By the time I arrived at the hut, a throng of kids followed me, screaming "Hello-Hello" and "Schoolpen-Schoolpen", tucking at my cloth. Probably all friends and relatives of Sunil.

Startled by the racket Sunil's father came out; obviously he had been sleeping. My sudden appearance confused him even more and at the moment he seemed mad. Extensively scratching his crouch, he asked me what I wanted. The man looked just like his hut.

I loathed to go into this whole and probably he didn't want to ask me in either but it was the only way to get rid of the ever growing crowd of curious neighbors. Not that such a hut offers much privacy (without a door) but at least we could whisper inside. Normally I would have asked him to come into my car, a safe heaven, but there was poor Sunil shivering in the heat.

He murmured some curse about foreigners as we dove into his dark room. Several neighbors tried to follow us but he yelled at them and they rushed out laughing and screaming. Some kids climbed up to peek through a whole in the wall, a sort of window, but they got yelled away too. Inside it was smelly, stuffy and hot and chair-less.

We sat on the floor and I explained why I came and what I wanted. His mouth opened and closed as he ran through a series of emotions, first greed, hoping for one lahk, then anger, wanting to throw me out and trash his son, and finally desperate thirst. I gave the boys lingering outside ten rupees to run and get some arrack.

In the meanwhile I made my preposition: Firstly, there would be no Sunil-trashing, ever. Secondly, he would get ten thousand rupees the very same day and, finally, ninety thousand rupees would be kept for his son, at the little bank in the next town, until he finished his school.

He was about to throw a serious fit when, thank God, the arrack arrived and he got busy downing quick shots from a plastic cup. He didn't mind drinking alone.

Against my plan, he had a thousand objections. He railed at getting only 10% of what was legally his. The boy was no good, he said, he wouldn't go to school. They couldn't have bank account because he had no ID. He didn't want to pay for opening an account. The bank manager would steal the money and more nonsense of that kind.

I promised to solve all those problems and made clear that the only alternative was Sunil disappearing on his own with the full lakh. He accused me of kidnapping his son (partly true), blackmail (true), theft (not true) and threatened me with the police. I dropped the name of my friend the local police-chief and he dropped the idea of calling him.  

In the end, the bottle was empty and he wanted the ten thousand. We shook hands (yuk) and I gave him ten crisp big notes.

When I came back to the car, Sunil was half dead - heat and nerves. He had puked and the smell in the baked car was terrible. It was nearly dark when we arrived home. A full day of hard work had passed and more to come. Business takes time in the jungle.

I gave Sunil a small job at our mine, under the condition that he went to school daily, which he did. When Sunil's father had finished his share (six weeks), he tried tricks and threats to get the remaining 90k but he didn't succeed. I had my friend the police-chief visit him for beating Sunil. I don't know the details (and I don't want to) but after that he kept well out of sight.

Two years later the crystal was commissioned to be set into a massive shark-tooth-stile pendant and sold to America. Bless the internet!


The same year Sunil finished his school, took his money plus interest from the bank and disappeared, probably to Colombo.


I do not know what happened to him, nor his father. We left the country as the civil war rekindled. I can't offer a happier ending.


These are the realities of fair trade. It ain't simple.  



Edward Bristol




I had a free afternoon at the Emirates Mall in Dubai, the biggest, most expensive-and-all-superlatives mall of the world; the one with the ski slopes inside.


Gemoholic I am, so I didn't ski but went to search for colored gemstones. I was wearing a dark suit; and pretended to have recently defrauded Kabul Bank out of $50 million.


All the big names are there: Moussaeiff, Van Cleef & Arpels, Graff, Tiffany and the rest. I pestered them all. I played dumb, but not too dumb to raise suspicion. I didn't take my own lens and as they offered me one, I worked it tourist-stile.


The jewelry gorillas occupy the entrance of the mall; an area the size of Luxembourg. Retail professionals know top-margins get the entrance. Low-margins, like electronics or food, go higher up: To buy cheap DVDs or milk you have to run the jewelry gauntlet. 


There was lots of cabochon amethyst, so-so tourmaline, plastic citrine and nasty magic topaz, mountains of filled rubies and deep fried sapphires, some set nicely, some cheesy, but all at painful prices.


I must admit today's sellers know about gemstone treatment. When I did a similar excursion in 2004 I got raised eyebrows, ignorance or flat lies. Today, the staff is as well informed as you may expect. They know most gems are treated somehow, they are not always sure how (who is?) or why, some get it wrong, but I heard no more all-our-gems-are-natural-guaranteed-bla-bla.


When I asked for untreated gemstones the branch manager usually entered scene. He knew the real stuff:

"This ruby is only heat treated but not filled" or

"This is GIA certified untreated sapphire".

With certificates ready in hand - a real improvement from 2004. Great. My compliments!


Here is what I found:


A pair of blue sapphires, each 6 carats, pear-shape, set in earrings. Good color, a shade too inky perhaps but clean and GRS certified unheated Madagascan, precision cut to match. The pair, set with some gold and small diamonds, was on offer for $480.000. I calculated down to $35.000/carat for the stones. Solitary each gem was top-notch, as a pair they were quite remarkable.


Next, I found an emerald shaped, vivid red, AIGS certified unheated Mozambique ruby of 1.21 carat, lightly included, square-ish but not fully symmetric "native" cut, rather a color-stone with little or no luster, some window but still fully red in the center. Price tag: $139.000 set in a ring. Minus small diamonds and gold I estimated it at $80.000 per carat. A good stone, but way overpriced.


Then, I got to see an oval 4.6 carat pink sapphire with a window. It was a good hot pink and GIA certified, no origin, but the fish eye was bad. Set in a rose gold pendant with many small calibrated pink sapphires (no certificates), it went for $95.000. The big sapphire must have been under 15.000/carat. Given that the pendant itself looked pretty, this price seemed Ok-ish to me, under the circumstances.


I continued my search. Some shops I left without seeing anything worth mentioning. There was no untreated emerald, no Paraiba, no good Alexandrite, no Padaparadscha, nor tsavorites or such, at least no exceptional ones. As always, I ignored diamonds. All-in-all I must have been in ten+ high-end joints. 


Finally, late in the day: A dream of red spinel, round, 3.2 carat, absolutely flawless, no window, no inclusions, perfect hue, tone, great luster and all, GRS certified Burma, set in a simple platinum ring. This was a master gem. Selling for: $180.000. Totally fat ruby-priced but very nice. Loved it.


That was my last find. After five hours I ended the tour due to exhaustion and low sugar levels. I hate wearing a suit; and pretending. I also felt sorry for the branch managers.


I allowed myself a HägenDazs ice cream and called it a day.




The Channel and the Wall

Our house in Bangkok stood at the end of a cul-de-sac inside a big compound bordering to an even bigger slum. A barbed-wire fenced wall separated us from the poor. I liked the wall for the cozy atmosphere it creates in our street, but the inhabitants of the slum didn't seem to justify the security. Their lives were just as burdensome or as happy as ours; and they didn't care about the crazy foreigners inside the compound.

Crime was not a topic, but bad things did happen behind the wall.

To control the swamp that Bangkok is build on, the city's engineers dug up channels and concreted over every trickle of running water. Today, the channels and rivers of Bangkok are deathtraps to all land creatures. The embankments are unforgiving walls; too steep and slippery even for rats to climb up.

Such a channel lay behind our compound's wall: a dark and still body of water choked with garbage, a sad sight with a bad smell, but normal in Bangkok. 

During one of the first nights in our new house, I was roused by a wail and splashing sounds. I ran to the upper window from where I could see the channel. A dog had fallen in. I saw him paddling back and forth, searching a way out. Every few seconds, he let out this heart-stabbing wail. Then, he tried to climb on one of the garbage islands, but in vain; it sunk away and reemerged in a circle around him. I looked out for the fridge that I had seen floating the other day but it was gone.

Our dogs, joining the terrible wails with their own interpretation, interupted even my wife's deep sleep. When she came up and saw what happened, she started to cry. I put my arms around her; she was shivering despite the heat. It must have been two or three o'clock in the morning yet Bangkok was still like a steam sauna.

After years in the third world, one, sadly, gets hardened to suffering; yet I can not stand idle when there is at least something that can be tried. The compound's wall was too high to climb. Even if I had a ladder, there was too much barbed-wire on top. The dog wailed and paddled-on for his little life.

I grabbed my sneakers and started to run - first a kilometer or two into the opposite direction, away from the wall and the channel, out of our compound and down onto Sukhumvit Road, one of Bangkok's busy eight-lane arteries. There I turned right towards the first big junction. I ran fast, feeling positively athletic in my mission, which I was not - in fact I carried 20 kilo overweight. Lorries and cars honked at me: a crazy foreigner in pajamas and sneakers racing through the dark.

At the big junction I turned right into a smaller road (which means only four lanes in Bangkok) and from there again right into a residential street, consequently making a wide circle around our compound; and finally arriving at a bridge crossing the channel behind the compound. Beside the bridge I found the little track which I had noticed earlier and which followed up the channel between our compound's wall and the slum.

When I got to the back of our house, my wife had climbed into a tree from where she could peer over the wall. The dog was still alive but in-between his wails there were gurgling sounds. He was clawing the wall, trying to hold onto the slippery moss. I lay on my belly and leaned over the bank. As he saw me, he squeaked and tried to get away. It was a typical midsize street mutt - half-wild creatures with no family attachment, shy and wary of humans.

I snatched him by the neck and hauled him up. Determined to fight for his life even in this misery, he bit me in the wrist. Now, I squeaked; and let go in midair. Luckily he was already on an upward trajectory. He crashed against the wall and landed on his feet.

For a moment we stared at each other, me breathlessly non-athletic and him scared out of his senses. Then he dashed off; and again fell into the channel!

There he was paddling around and wailing once more. I was rather dispirited but my wife up in the tree was not.

The second time, having learned my lesson, I got him by the tail, pulled him upwards and swung him to safe ground, always keeping good distance from his jaws. I was afraid his tail might come off but it held fine. Those street mutts are tough little fellows.

The instant I let go of his tail, he disappeared down the path and into the dark. No more splashing sounds. He, too, had learned his lesson. Probably he felt that he had escaped not only the water but also Bangkok's legendary dog eater, the nightmare of all street puppies. I was left behind in the mud, bleeding and panting. You can't expect him to say thanks.

To my wife, however, I was a hero and back in the house I got beer for my wrist and many hugs. The next day, I broke the lock of an emergency exit in the compound's wall (there was, of course, no key) and thus got direct access to the little path next to the channel. Then, we bought a big landing net in a fishing shop.

We regularly rescued lizards, birds and cats, but mostly dogs - young dogs; they are just too silly. We also built a watchtower for our dog to guard the channel (see picture). When something falls in, he howls; and we get the net ready.


Edward Bristol


What 3rd World?

Most Westerners who start a business in places like Ghana, Venezuela or Sri Lanka do so either because they  fell in love with the country or with one of its inhabitants. 

Both reasons are valid starting points, but one will nevertheless soon begin to miss simple amenities such as fresh cheese, a bakery, the cinema or reliable plumbing, to name a few. Sending a registered letter takes half a day, and paying the electricity bill is a challenge even for the locals. Traffic in the 3rd World either combines truck racing with a German highway or, alternatively, does not move an inch. 

All this may be outweighed by the feeling of doing something special instead of waiting for retirement in the cold somewhere.

But, to be honest, there are borderline cases. I had just renovated a house in the only residential area in Colombo town with broadband access. We moved our business to 512kbit and celebrated a fast connection to the virtues of global communication. Where there is a will there is a way. Or so I thought.

The following week our neighbor started a new business involving the extensive use of three chainsaws, non-stop, from dawn until midnight, seven days a week, including Christmas and New Year.   

Simultaneously, our broadband died down to a 15kbit narrowband. (For the non-techies: That is not enough to open hotmail before the PC hibernates)

Thanks to the chainsaw I could hardly understand my own yelling at the Telecom people. After three (!) days, the Telecom emergency (!) squad checked the lines from the switchboard to our house. They proudly localized and removed one crow and one bat (both rotten) from the cables. Nothing changed.

The Telecom squad then concluded that it must be our modem. I scared the hell out of the modem supplier until he first exchanged and then upgraded the modem. Nothing changed.

Meanwhile I noticed that the line was great from midnight until dawn.

The modem seller: "Oh, yes, sure! Interference with the chainsaw."

The chainsaw???

From what I had learned in 35 years of high-tech life this was simply impossible. Nevertheless I searched two days for an "anti-interference" modem. A fortune and one week of nerve-wrecking installations later we made it to sad 17kbit.


I was at the end of my capabilities and no Buddhist wisdom could help me calm down. The neighbor happily chainsawed my brain and our business model into slices.


Finally, I put on my best smile and went to visit him with a bottle of the finest local Arrack. I offered him everlasting friendship and buckets of money if he only stopped chainsawing.  He felt criticized. He felt offended. I felt deeply nervous, and threatened to call the police.

"Good idea!" he said, to my surprise. "Let's call the police."


Three hours later the local sergeant arrived: 250 pounds of corruption stuffed into a dirty uniform, staring at me with booze eyes.


I immediately felt sick, but did not despair. Determined, I made my case, logically, friendly and reasonably. Surely, anybody could see that I was right. How may one chainsaw 7/18 in a residential area?


The sergeant did not say a word until I finished my speech. Then he slowly turned to my neighbor and addressed him in Singhalese. They both laughed. 


From the little Singhalese that I know I gathered the sergeant was my neighbor's brother-in-law.


I longed for a quiet office job in the cold somewhere.


While I search for a new house, it is good to work at night, especially from midnight to dawn. Maybe I will find a house on the beach.


That would be nice, wouldn't it?


Edward Bristol

Reader Comment: 

D.K., San Diego:

"1. thx for your column, i enjoyed reading andlearningfrom it! :)
2. I am a BSEE, and yes, chain saws cause sparks in their motors which are an electromagnetic emmission and can cause interference i unshielded cable runs. the only fix is shielded cable runs."


That dog was part of Cambodia's dwindling rain forest. The uncontrolled logging there leaves behind irreparable destruction and sets off an ecological downward spiral of soil erosion, floods, reduced biodiversity and in the end turns forest to wasteland.  

Today, everybody should know this.

There are better ways, proven in the West and Japan:
Sustainable forest management, wildlife protection and reforestation have actually reversed the past in Europe and our forests are again growing every year.


But don't expect that Cambodian women to think about protecting rain forests for two dollars. And don't wait for any enlightened government or big business to do it. Like the Cambodian women, they only do what they are paid for.


Hence, deforestation can only be stopped if we pay enough for a valuable resource. With two dollars there is no money to carry selected old logs per helicopter out of the forest, there is no margin for better labor conditions, and there is sure nothing left for reforestation. The same counts for other global industries like fishing or mining.


The little wooden dog only has a symbolic meaning, but it makes very clear how globalization should not be. Squeezing the last cent out of the 3rd world does no good.


In an educated guess, the little mahogany dog should be no less than 20 dollar. If you are not willing to pay for what it actually costs to produce it, you should not buy it. 


Globalization starts and ends with us, not others. That is how important we are. 


Edward Bristol


P.S. Our gold comes from the Columbian "Corporación Oro Verde". Oro Verde ("Green Gold") is, like us, committed to bring the benefits of globalization to the mining areas while avoiding the ecological and social downfall that usually follows suit. With only 10% premium on international gold prices, Oro Verde does a great job in developing the local communities and protecting their environment. Read more here.


Is Ebay neutral?


Tiffany has sued Ebay for willingly (all eyes closed) profiting from fraud, counterfeiting and trademark infringements. So far it looks as if Tiffany has done its homework and Ebay's business model of a "neutral" market organizer is jeopardized, and rightly so, I think.


In a specific case they tracked down a ring of companies on the same street in Rhode Island who give each other positive feedbacks to maintain credibility for the faked jewelry they source together. Though exposed, Ebay did not do anything against them.


Tiffany says out of the 200 items they bought under cover 150 were faked. 75%!


Of course, we know gemstones are even more difficult to judge than jewelry and they have no trademarks. No doubt, we also know that many honest people sell on Ebay but in the big picture, the majority of stones sold (not offered) on Ebay smell bad.  


The sheer volumes make the business: A lot of small but unhappy clients can be perfectly profitable.


Return policies? Yes, sure, but who sends a stone back that he bought for $20, when the reenlisting fee is $10 and the transport $5, plus the bother to pack and go to the post etc.? However these people are mostly not sure whether what they got is real or not.


At the end of the day, these buyers are frustrated and turn away from stones on the web.


I hope Tiffany is getting through and Ebay will at least have to take complains more seriously.


Ebay says they are not specialists in any of their product categories but only a "neutral" website specialist. Yes, true, but they could have definitely afforded someone with know-how who once in while checks out the obvious questionable offers, but instead they even ignore complains of cheated buyers.


The point is they didn't want to follow the complaints, because they care more about the seller than the buyer. And that is not neutral at all!


Edward Bristol


Do gems finance the Tamil Tigers?


The Tigers say they started fighting for political independence because the Tamils were hindered from participating in the then booming Sri Lankan economy.


In regard to the gem business, this was true: Traditionally Tamils were not part of the gem trade. The simple reason for this was not racism on the Singhalese side, but geological circumstances. Despite the fact that 80% of Sri Lanka is said to be gem bearing, no significant gem deposits are found in the east-north Tamil Tiger areas.

As for the other reasons the Tigers come up with, yes, I do remember that 25 years ago when driving from west to east, roads would become bad and public infrastructure would decline. The Singhalese say that was because the Tamils are lazy (which is definitely not true) but in any case this is no excuse to invent suicide bombings.


Today one may say "Fortunately no gems are found", because the Tigers are broke, and that is good news. They have run down their areas and have not, as promised, brought them to independent blossom (for whatever reasons). Now there is not enough cash to recruit even children (the cheapest soldiers) anymore, let alone to buy new more sophisticated weapons. Therefore they have started to work with landmines washed out of the army camps by the tsunami. The latest attacks, including the air attacks, are hopefully the final death rattle of a deeply sick organization. 



The Sri Lankan civil war has completely lost its reasons, direction or purpose. For the Tigers terror has become the only form of self expression and the only way by which somebody will pay any attention to the wrecked east of some island in the Indian Ocean. Needless to say that all this is deeply sad for the normal peace loving Tamils, who are in the majority, but are understandably too scared to speak up.


I do not doubt that there were good reasons to oppose the Singhalese rule those days, but time has shown that violence does not produce any desirable result, but instead has laid the country in ruin. While Singapore, Thailand and South Korea have become self sufficient economies, Sri Lanka has decayed to life on western aid. Though blessed with sun, rain and all natural resources a country could possible wish for, Sri Lanka is today not able even to feed its own people without foreign help, let alone to produce anything that would pay for the huge trade deficit.   

In addition to the circles of hate that have lately escalated again, alcohol has become a huge problem in the east. Being left to isolation and terror for over two decades the bottle of arrack or worse the illegal "toddy" has turned out to be the only pleasure for the locals and the much needed fuel for the remains of courage amongst the Tigers.


Thus, as things stand, the country can be truly grateful that no gems are found in the Tiger areas.

In regard to mining, the worst thing about the civil war is that the government has other things to do than to worry about illegal mining and its ecological effects in the mountains.


So things just go their (bad) way...


Edward Bristol


2006/2007: We deeply regret the current development and express our deepest compassion to the innocent people suffering in Trincomalee and elsewhere.



Does one have to cook gems to survive?


Many miners and traders of colored stones face falling prices, mainly due to the vast amounts of cheap treated material that floods the market.


We find ourselves caught in a classical business dilemma and have to choose between price and quality.


From a business point of view a supplier facing falling prices has two choices:

  1. Reduce cost (e.g. use cheaper material meaning that treatment becomes a necessity) or
  2. Increase quality (e.g. specialize in new cuts or ecological mining).

Making a decision is in any case better than wavering until financial realities take over. Worst case is not to decide for one direction at all and thus get wasted between increasing or constant cost on one side, and falling prices on the other side - the so called "stuck in the middle".


Nevertheless, the decision to treat stones and thus cut cost while increasing out-put might also be shortsighted, because this strategy can only be maintained until prices fall again, then below cost or with margins going so slim that even volume doesn't help.


The outcome of falling prices combined with increasing supply usually turns out bad for the participating majority in the market and society in general. While e.g. the garment and transport industry has gone into cost cutting followed by epidemic bankruptcy for decades, oil and diamond prices are kept artificially high.


These examples show the two main possible reactions of a market:

a)  A competitive shake out leaves only the hardcore cost cutters to survive, usually in low salary economies e.g. the garment factories in China.

b)  Governments and monopolistic structures fix prices far above real cost (mainly to the disadvantage of consumers e.g. in the diamond market or on the back of other third parties e.g. with oil prices being kept high by the simple but effective means of war).


In the colored gemstone industry alternative b) is not likely to take place because of its high fragmentation and global diversity (no De Beers). Thus one might expect a shake-out with only some big players being able to survive on high volume and low margins.   


For many companies this will mean the end and thus the end to the current diversity in the gemstone market. As much as small garment factories in Europe have become history, small miners and lapidaries are doomed to die out.


From a micro-economical frog-view it can therefore make perfect sense not to meet falling prices with an increase of supply, but to concentrate on high-quality and added values.


And there is definitely a lot of need and room for improvement, be it in mining, cutting or the trade. 


Edward Bristol

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