We often hear the phrases "diamonds are forever" and "diamonds are a girl's best friend". However, leading UK mining firm believes that coloured stones – emeralds, sapphires, rubies, amethysts – have been neglected for far too long and should regain their place alongside the sparkling white stone. As Gemfields CEO, Ian Harebottle said, "The world has a natural love for colour".

So Gemfields has been on a mission to promote coloured gemstones. Apart from the obvious business aspect, why is there a need for the push?

Our focus is on the mining and marketing of these incredibly rare and beautiful coloured stones – emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts; stones that mankind have loved forever and then forgot about for a short while. But the world has a natural love for colour. It's embedded in our roots.

Interview-with-Gemfields-CEO-Ian-Harebottle

Do you foresee a time when coloured gemstones will overtake the diamond as the preferred stone of choice?

Mankind's accepted history stretches back about 6000 years. Now for more than 5,500 of those years, coloured stones were seen as more valuable as diamonds but it's only the last 60-80 years when diamonds shot forward. Their marketing, driven be De Beers, was "Diamonds, and then nothing else". We've never had that approach. To us, diamond is a gem and white is a colour. I don't wake up each day hoping that emeralds, rubies and sapphires will be seen as more important than diamonds but I do believe they should be seen as just as important. At least as valuable, because they are. They are rarer, just as ancient and with an even longer history.

To put into context, each year there are about 50 million carats of diamonds that are cut and polished into the market while for emeralds the figure stands at only 5-8 million while for rubies it's a mere three million. So you can see how much rarer it is. But that incredibly rarity is also part of the problem because it's hard to build marketing supply and inertia.

Interview-with-Gemfields-CEO-Ian-Harebottle

The 'Say Say Yes in Colour' campaign with Faberge offers a very interesting take on the engagement ring...

For a very long time, diamonds owned that engagement sector but we saw a great opportunity. The whole campaign, with all the colours and the moods, tried to showcase that we're all different. For a long time the engagement ring became almost generic – 90% is made of the single solitaire, so how do I showcase my relationship with my partner if everything is the same. Coloured stones create those opportunities.

While the campaign might showcase individuality, it does seem targeted more for the masses. Given the nature and rarity of the stones, would it not be wiser to market coloured gems as highly exclusive?

You've got to do a little bit of everything. Why should it be that only those with millions have access to these gems? It's important to have the aspiration as well as the accessibility. One cannot go without the other. The best example is Lamborghini and Bugatti, both of whom would have gone bankrupt had it not been taken over by the Volkswagen Group. This one firm is able to show the highest quality and echelons of competence and excellence while it can still sell a lot of those brand value and accessible prices. It's the Polos and the Golfs that keep the others afloat, not the other way round. And that's exactly the same with the gems.

You've probably been asked many times about the best stone. So, which is it?

The best stone is always the one that is best for you and that means one that you think is beautiful as well as one that you can afford. No matter how beautiful the stone is, the moment you put yourself in a bad financial position to buy, it is not good for you because it needs to be something you celebrate and not give stress. That stress decision might be 500 for one man and 5 million to another but regardless, each man deserves the right to access something that is important and meaningful to them.

Gemfields prides itself in ethical mining. Do you believe the industry has gotten rid of the bad reputation that it has?

No. No matter how much you do and give back, you have to understand that people always want more. It's just human nature. Also, there are those who don't like the good things that you are doing because they have come to monetise ignorance and the lack of transparency. Gemfields is very committed to ethics and sustainability. This means promoting the product around the world with transparency including taxes, royalties and processes. There are a lot of mining companies that invest extensively not only in making sure they have minimum impact on the environment but also paying taxes, creating jobs and having money put aside to rehabilitate that land when they leave.

Now, how would you convince someone to choose coloured gems instead of diamonds...

It's difficult to convince anyone to do away with diamonds because diamond is a gem and white is a colour. If you were walking in to a store however, what I would like to convince you is why should you consider the coloured stones alongside a diamond, and why you should recognise them as just as valuable. What we want is for a young person to walk in and say "I want something really special, and what should it be – sapphire, ruby, diamond or emerald?" As long as they are at that level then we would have achieved our vision. 

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