One of the largest commercial centers for emeralds in Brazil, Campo Formoso, a municipality in the north of Bahia, is about 2 thousand kilometers from Rio de Janeiro, from where a group of jewelers and jewelry designers left to find, in the basement of their lands. Arid, the true value of the gemstone. The trip, which started by plane between Rio and Petrolina, with a stopover in Salvador, and another three hours by bus to Campo Formoso, reached its destination when the caravan formed by 21 people, on a mission promoted by Ajorio and Firjan, plunged into a depth of 230 meters in the São Francisco mine, in the Carnaíba prospect, located in the neighboring municipality of Pindobaçu.
Accompanied by an experienced gold digger, each member of the caravan descended to the bottom of the mine, a route that takes about one minute to the first level, 120 meters below the ground, where the use of cap and galoshes is necessary to protect themselves from the water that flows from the earth. From there, we proceed to the second well, completing the remaining 110 meters to the entrance of the mine, a labyrinth of tunnels and galleries through which the information that leads to the emerald veins spring up.
Guided by the mine manager, businessmen accustomed to trading stones in comfortable refrigerated offices followed the emerald path. Analyzing the types of rock, the garimpeiros decide where they should go, and so they open galleries, detonate and excavate the earth until they find the stone that guarantees the sustenance of 1.6 thousand workers from Serra da Carnaíba and will become the jewels that will be in the windows of the great capitals of Brazil and the world.
“It was an incredible moment in my life, when I could see the extraction of the emerald in loco. Now is the time to develop my work to illustrate and privilege these garimpeiros, who give us the opportunity to carry on our bodies, close to us, and decorate our homes, with these wonders of Mother Earth. I will cut, transform, light these stones, to deliver them in a magnificent way. That’s what we came here to do, to integrate these two worlds. Mother Earth will give the way for them to privilege all of our work and the work of these men, ”said jewelry maker Márcia Mór.
For designer Yara Figueiredo, who was celebrating her birthday on the day of the visit, the experience was exciting. “I turned 51 in an emerald mine. I don’t even have words to say what a thrill it was. I have always had a great respect for stones and, today, it is really bigger. Each stone that I take in my hand will have a much stronger meaning. It was unforgettable, ”she said.
“After descending the mine, we realize the difficulty that exists in this line of work, in order to obtain a volume of emerald. The market has no idea how difficult it is. The investment is very high, the owners work for four to five years to get some return. It is a job in which you need to believe and invest a lot of money ”, analyzed the designer Eduardo Vaks, from Lafry.
This was the fifth business mission promoted by Ajorio and Firjan with the aim of bringing manufacturers, designers and retailers of jewelry in Rio de Janeiro closer to suppliers, taking them to the main centers that produce precious stones in the country. The caravan has already passed through Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Piauí. In Campo Formoso, more than good business, the mission generated fruits that will turn into social development projects for the local population.
According to the president of Ajorio, Carla Pinheiro, the importance of the mission lies in the approximation with this link in the chain, which ranges from the extraction of the rough stone to the cutting. “Brazil has always been an important polisher in the entire chain, and this has been lost. We came to Campo Formoso to get to know not only the reality, but also the needs, to know what our battles are, because we have a lot to improve. Ajorio has this as DNA, joining the entire chain, the entire sector in a single objective, to show what this wealth has, what Brazil has to say about our jewelry, our designers, our stones, and show this for Brazil, for the consumer and for the whole world. And tell our public authorities that we want to do this in the right way, ”she said.
For Carla, the demands of mining precious stones should be on the public policy agenda. “If well promoted and well supported, mining activity can transform even the country’s GDP, as in countries like India and Thailand. Precious stones can and should leave income, jobs and wealth in our country. And today this is not what happens. What we see are individualized initiatives, made by people who believe, who struggle on a daily basis, but who do not have the support they should have from institutions, agencies and public authorities, ”she concluded.
Born in Campo Formoso, businessman José Nilson Rodrigues brokered the arrival of the caravan to the municipality. Grandson of prospectors who started the Carnaíba mine in 1963, he argues that the activity should continue in the hands of the miners, but claims that investments are lacking. Today, the Cooperativa Mineradora da Bahia (CMB) has about 300 members, but it has only 28 mines, called service, in operation. “We also need the presence of investment banks here in Campo Formoso so that the prospectors are able to produce more. In Africa, in Colombia, the government participates directly, so they have great productions. Here, we have the production that each person’s condition allows. What we need is investment, because we have the capacity, ” he said.
The emerald is the thermometer of the local economy. According to the mayor of Campo Formoso, Rose Menezes, when the mines are producing, the trade movement in the whole region is more heated. Much of the commercialization of emeralds is carried out at the Feira do Rato, in Praça Herculano Menezes. The stones are traded in the open, where large numbers move, but not in cash. The financial system works based on vouchers and exchanges of objects. In the square are also the large offices of foreign buyers. “The emerald chain moves from the small ones, who are there at the mouth of the mine, washing the ore, washing the stones, even the tallest businessman in Campo Formoso,” she explained.
In order to expand the social potential of the emerald, the City Hall seeks to train young people as goldsmiths, to also develop the production of jewelry. The initiative started to count on the support of Ajorio, who started to develop a project to take people from the region to qualify at Laboratório da Joia, a school opened with Firjan a year ago in Rio de Janeiro. The idea is that these people can return and share the knowledge acquired, so that the municipality, which currently has a small industry, can also be a supplier of the finished jewel.
According to the executive director of Ajorio, Angela Andrade, the partnership between Rio and Campo Formoso will be beneficial for both sides. “What they have we want very much, and what we have, which is creation, manufacturing and the market, the city is in great need too.
We had a debate and the designers volunteered to participate in this project. Five years from now, the trade in Campo Formoso will be changed with the union of these two ends of the production chain ”, she explained.
The intense shine of the emerald green that glitters in earrings and rings is just the tip of the iceberg of the economic potential of the rock from which the emerald is extracted. The geologist Osmar Santos, responsible for the processes of legalization of the garimpos, usually likens it to the ox. “The rock is like the ox. There is the filet mignon, which is the most noble and expensive part of the meat, but it also has the tripe that should be used. Here, we take advantage of everything from the rock, not only the extra emerald that goes to the big jewelers, but we try to extract all the commercial potential of the stone ”, he says.
Of the 2,500 to 3,000 kilos of emeralds produced per month, less than 5% correspond to extra emeralds, stones that can reach up to R $ 1 million per kilo. Monthly revenue is around US $ 2 million to US $ 3 million, and the main consumer is the Indian. Culturally, India devotes great admiration to emeralds, so they are interested in all the qualities of the stone. In the national market, unlike the Indian, the costs of cutting this quality of emerald are very high, which makes its commercialization unfeasible.
According to Osmar, the activity is in full expansion and not even 7% of all that has been explored. “There is research done through boreholes, which prove that there is emeralds up to 500 meters. There may be even more than that, ”he says.
As people do not live by filet mignon alone, Osmar developed, in the 90s, craft projects made with the rock from which the emeralds are taken, called malacacheta. From this project, sculptors were born recognized as great artists in the city, who produce monumental pieces of animals, busts and saints that weigh up to 300 kilos. Ajorio’s caravan visited some of these warehouses where sculptures are produced.
“My struggle has always been the fight for legalization. It was a victory to see the emerald mines legalized, and I continued in this quest also to support the activity of the garimpeiro and extending to the production not only of the stone, but also the transformation through cutting, and later of the handicraft, which became art in rocks, ”he explained.
The emerald production chain has several actors. The garimpeiro is the employee who works at the mine, who goes underground to fetch the stone. He receives a fair that varies from R $ 150 to R $ 200 reais per week and a percentage on the stones he can extract. Besides him, there is the investor and the owner of the land, who also receives a percentage for the extraction. However, about 50% of the stones removed are discarded and placed in the “throw away”. These are used by a population of 1,500 people, elders, women and men without work, called quijilas, who will break the stones in the hope of finding some emerald to sell.
Even for jewelry, it’s not just the extra emerald that matters. For designers, everything can become art. Denise Queiroz, for example, was enchanted by the rough stone. Passionate about the bright green of the emerald, she did good business in Campo Formoso. “I like the rough stone, because that’s how it came from nature. I saw beautiful stones here, with a very bright green. I was enchanted by one that I already imagined in the creation of a ring ”, she said.
The stone trade happens all the time in the city. They are the asphalt prospectors, who go to the mines to fetch the stones and sell them at the Rat Fair. During the four days of the mission, the entrepreneurs were able to make contacts, meet new suppliers and buy stones of all qualities.
For Jocelyn Motta, owner of Ben Bros Jewelers, relationships were more important than good shopping. “We had the opportunity to meet suppliers, open doors to new business opportunities, and perhaps develop collections from the sources that were found on this trip,” she said.
In addition to good business, Vinícius Braga, designer at Box Sixty Nine, got an extra dose of inspiration. “We had access to many plastic elements, in addition to minerals, and all the experiences visiting mines. The cerrado offers a lot of inspiration to work, from cactus fibers to the most beautiful emerald imaginable ”, he reported.
Lara Mader also thinks about transforming the trip into new creations, which should be carried out jointly by Joyá’s three designers – she, Denise Queiroz and Camila Herzfeldt. If it depends on the trio, a piece of Campo Formoso will be on display at the Ipanema Forum soon. “We did good business and made good friends. We are going to launch a collection, we are thinking of doing this together in the store, which is already a big step. Our idea is to take some of the history of Campo Formoso to Rio de Janeiro. Now, just wait for the result and see what will happen.
Márcia Mór, who had already launched a collection of emeralds at the beginning of the year, was even more enthusiastic about the stones she found. “My head has changed. I think that every rock is precious, not only the single stone, the perfect emerald, but its surroundings have its value. So, I will now take the emerald root, the emerald matrix, to the high jewelry store, ”she said.
Gemologist Priscila Maranhão was surprised by the quality of the emeralds she managed to negotiate. “It was amazing to know the emeralds of Campo Formoso, Carnaíba and Socotó. Brazilian emeralds are very famous, but I, until then, had only seen, live, stones with weaker qualities, not very good. And here I saw that we have incredible qualities, very good colors of emerald. I did good business, got good prices. There is a variety of prices, we have to negotiate.
With lots of stones in the luggage, ideas in the head and cards in the pockets, the group approved the result of the mission. “We did great business. Not only for the price of the material and everything we find high quality, high value, but mainly for the contacts we made with local producers. Without a doubt, this is an inexhaustible source of production. The best deal was in the commercial area, in fact. The next step will be in production, for supply in Rio de Janeiro ”, concluded Vinícius.