Rubellite Tourmaline from MyJewelrySource.com
One of the world’s renowned mining areas is the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. The location produces some of the finest tourmalines, aquamarine, morganite, chrysoberyl, and emerald, just to name a few. Mining is a very risky and difficult task as it is always a gamble as to whether or not exceptional gem deposits will be found. One amazing story involves the Jonas mine located in Minas Gerais. In 1978, the mine was thought to contain large deposits of rubellite tourmaline, but after 6 months of digging with absolutely no good results, the miners only had financing for one final week of digging. One of the miners had a premonition of a huge gem pocket which encouraged the miners not to give up and to keep digging. As luck would have it, they found a truly magnificent pocket that once excavated was 8 by 10 feet in size. It had almost 450 pounds of spectacular rubellite tourmaline crystals. One crystal was large enough to yield a million dollars worth of cut gems. A smaller second pocket was also found but it was not as spectacular as the first. Although mining at this location was essentially exhausted after a couple weeks of excavating, the miners hard work sure proved to be worth it.
It is interesting to think about all the things what could have happened to cause the difference between a 100% loss of their investment and their big payoff. The pocket containing the crystals was on 8 by 10 feet. Imagine how easy that would have been to miss. Imagine how many gem containing pockets have been missed by other miners in the past and how many must be out there.
Ruby in ring from Myanmar (Burma) and Sapphire in ring from Sri Lanka (Ceylon)Peridot in this ring is from Arizona, USA
Most people do not realize and appreciate what it takes to bring a beautiful gemstone to the market. A majority of gemstone mining is done by artisanal miners working with hand picks and shovels. The work is extremely strenuous and even sometimes dangerous with the mining working in deep underground tunnels or on very high mountain sides. Once the rough gemstone material is unearthed, these miners sort it and put together the best pieces to sell to a broker. The mining areas often unfortunately do not have the gemstone cutting expertise so these miners get very little for their hard work. Luckily there are many organizations now that are working with local people to develop cutting skills so that they can eventually make a better living.
For now, for the most part, gemstone rough travels thousands of miles to the major cutting centers of the world. These locations include Thailand, China and India. Bangkok, Thailand, for example, has some of the world’s best cutters who are experts at what they do. Fashioning and cutting a gemstone requires great skill and it is also an art form. Knowing what material to cut away, how to best display the stone’s color, clarity and brilliance, the right methods for treating (like heat treatment) the gemstones takes years and years of experience.
Once the gemstones are ready for the market, they are sold often in these locations. Large jewelry manufacturers and gemstone wholesalers travel great distances to seek out the gemstones that are right for their clientele. The large jewelry manufacturers most often purchase commercial quality goods that are available in bulk for the large volume of pieces they produce. Similarly, wholesalers from New York, for example, travel to the cutting centers often looking for middle market and one of a kind gemstones. These buyers also need great skill in what they do. Did you know that natural daylight is not the same around the world. So a beautiful ruby that has the perfect pigeon’s blood red color in Bangkok will not actually have the same color in New York. So the buyers have to adjust what they buy accordingly.
The large jewelry manufacturers then use the gems they have purchased to mass produce gemstone jewelry for large catalog companies or home shopping channels. The wholesalers would sell their goods to the independent or small retail jeweler who then creates more unique and one of a kind pieces. When you stop and think about it, you can really gain great appreciation for all the people across the globe who actually play an important role in the pieces of jewelry we ultimately wear and enjoy.
The tanzanite in this ring is from Tanzania, Africa
The peridot in this ring was mined from Arizona
Gemstone mining is typically a very primitive operation. That, combined with political instability, government restrictions, difficult terrain, sporadic deposits and even crime, makes one truly appreciate what goes into bringing the beautiful gems we see to the marketplace.
Many gemstones are mined by individual miners working with old-fashioned picks, shovels and wash pans, reminiscent of the days of the California gold rush. The work is very strenuous. And since gemstones are generally found in veins that are spread across vast areas, the mining process is very difficult and slow. Sometimes a vein is mined out in just a few months and sometimes it’s years.
Emerald mining actually began in ancient Egypt beginning in about 3500 B.C. Today, Colombia is where most exceptional emeralds are mined, but that is a very dangerous place. Miners often work along side armed bodyguards, and even gem wholesalers traveling to Bogota have to be very careful. Other emerald sources include Brazil, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Madagascar. The Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan also produces some of the finest emeralds in the world. But the production is uneven because of modern wars and safety concerns. Foreign dealers must have the protection of local authorities. The mountainous regions mined in Afghanistan consist of narrow tunnels in very hard rock. When Afghanistan was at war with the Soviet Union, emerald miners tried to make something good of an otherwise bad situation. They would actually place burned out vehicles in areas they wanted to mine. The vehicles attracted the Soviet bombs which then broke up the hard rock and made the mining a bit easier.
Stay tuned to this blog for much more on gemstone mining, emeralds and everything that goes in to creating a beautiful emerald ring.