By Nasir M Khokhar

GEMS ARE of great value to everyone for their worth, colours and beauty. People believe that a specific gem, as per their zodiac sign, can change their fortune and raise them to the brilliance. All of the kings and emperors had been wearing different gems during their glories. The royal families of the world collect gems since ever. Diamonds, sapphire, ruby, emerald, aquamarine, and topaz etc have always been favorites of royalties and lords of all the times and all geological regions of the world. From the ancient time, gems have served as status symbol. They have religious attachments to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, etc.

Gems are divided in to two categories, precious and semi-precious stones. The precious stones include diamonds, sapphire, ruby and emerald. The semi precious stones are garnet, amethyst, aquamarine, emerald, pearl, moonstone, alexandrite, sardonyx, peridot, opal, tourmaline, topaz, citrine, turquoise, lapis lazuli, zircon etc. Every stone is found in different kinds of mines. Age, temperature, pressure and pre-existing rock decide the kind of stone to be developed. Development of diamond needs maximum time, temperature and pressure than the other stones. This is the reason, that diamond is more hard, beautiful and precious than any of the others and is the rarest stone found in the world.

The raw stones are neither beautiful nor expensive. It is cutting and polishing which add the value and make them a gem in real. A nicely finished piece of a gem can price hundreds time more than uncut piece of the same gem. Value addition has increased the business many folds in gems and Jewelry industry.  Pakistan, like the other natural resources, is very rich in gem deposits too. Quite a good number of gemstones are mind from different areas of the country. Northern areas, Gilgit and Baltistan, are known globally for their gems along with their scenic beauty. The gems found in Pakistan include Quartz, tourmaline, peridot, garnet, ruby, topaz and many more. In uncut or raw form, they fetch very little price. For example, quartz is exported for few dollars per kg in raw. While only one stone of few karats (1 gram = 5 karats) after value addition can bring more prices then a kg of raw stones.

A couple of decades before, value addition of gems simply meant its cutting and polishing. These two steps can add value to a stone up to a certain level. The pre-requisites for this simple value addition is that gem should be of good color and very clear. Poorly colored and opaque specimens cannot get good price even after cutting and polishing. In the recent past, scientists have developed several techniques to give new colors to gemstones for value addition. As these colors are uncommon in specific gems, they get very high price in market. Much brighter colors are produced in stones when they are treated with thermal, electron beam heat, gamma rays and neutron irradiations. These artificially colored stones are called “treated gemstones”. It sets very good example of generating wealth through research and prosperity through science.

Topaz is leading the treated gemstones market in the world. It is famous among rich and ruler class since centuries. It is found in USA, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Myanmar and Pakistan etc. In Pakistan, topaz is mined from Gilgit, Hunza, Shiger, Skardu, Roundoo and Mardan. Pure topaz is always colorless. Colors are produced due to the inclusion of other elements in it. The colors found in topaz are yellow, brown, orange, beige, red and green. The treated blue topaz becomes 30-50 times expensive then the ordinary one. It is fact that most of the blue topaz is treated to change its color but it is not always. Blue topaz is also found naturally in Texas and Russia.

We are living in the age of value addition. Raw material is turned in to finished products to earn more money. It is need of the day. We must add value to our gemological treasure to generate wealth for lifting up countrys economical condition. Indonesia and Thailand are making millions of dollars by exporting treated gemstones to the world.  Although, government of Pakistan has taken the first step by establishing “Gems and Jewellery Development Company and an institute for training of man power for cutting and polishing the gems, but it is not enough. To make the maximum out of our gem deposits, we need to adopt the latest value addition techniques.

Pakistan is rich in topaz deposits and has the neutron reactors too. This meets the basic needs to change the low cost topaz to valuable blue topaz by neutron radiation. Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) has taken initiative on this very important and profitable idea and has started a collaborative project to standardize the tools and techniques for adding blue colour to topaz by neutron irradiation. It will increase the value of low cost topaz, abundantly available in the country. Successful experimentation has already carried out on little quantities. The results are very encouraging. In the second step, larger quantities of topaz will be treated with neutron radiations to change their colour to blue. After optimization of dozes and duration, commercialization of this facility is planned. The exporters and businesspersons will be able to get their stock treated and turn their average grade topaz in to value added commodity. Many countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka are already selling this service and several companies on the web can be seen offering the color change of topaz for 0.2 to 1.0 $ per carat depending on the quantity to be treated. After the successful completion of this project, Pakistan will not only be able to add value to own low grade topaz but will also be able to sell this service to international traders to earn foreign exchange.

The government of Pakistan is also interested to enhance gemstone export not only to earn needed foreign exchange but also to uplift the living standards of the people of remote areas where these stones are mined from. Adding the value to the gems, if, is properly promoted to international market will double the impact. Free access of small and medium entrepreneur and businessman to international gem and jewelry business may increase the scope of this sector. It is hoped that government. will extend further cooperation to promote export of treated gems especially, and our RandD institutions will discover new avenues of value addition of other low cost gems to capture the international market and bring the foreign exchange home, for prosperity of the nation.

The writer is Senior Scientific Officer in the Pakistan Science Foundation, Islamabad.

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