Madagascar Gem Mining

Published: Dec 2010
by George Williams, Senior Gemstone Buyer
from In the Loupe Volume VIII

The wave of achievement that started a decade ago and vaulted Madagascar into the world’s gemstone spotlight has turned into a calm pool. After political stagnation following a rebellion, an export ban on gems, and a recession to boot, the gem trade there is challenging, to say the least. The export ban has finally been lifted, but the process of exporting has become very bureaucratic and time consuming. It will take a few years for colored gemstone mining to get back to where it was. The good news is that JTV has a full-time rough buyer (Jacques) living there, and he will play an important role in helping Madagascar return to the colored gemstone radar.

I spent 10 days in Madagascar with Jacques. Our first stop was an aquamarine mine named Tsaramanga, which was about an hour-and-a-half from Antsibare. It is a proven mine that became famous about six years ago. A pegmatite was unearthed, delivering a large amount of super fine aquamarine. Since then, the owner has been following the vein, which will lead to more… and he will find it. However, it is painfully slow-going because a massive rock of rose quartz has blocked the way and worn drill bits and rudimentary hand tools are being used. Plus, because there are millions of tons of earth vertically above, explosives cannot be used. But they will get there eventually, and when they do, you will be the first to hear about it!

The area around Antsibare is scattered with many small mines that produce mostly quartz; however, many other gems are there, too, including tourmaline and beryl. At another small mine, we found a beautiful example of some of the exotic quartz varieties found in this region.

The Antsibare region is the breadbasket of Madagascar, supplying 75% of the rice and vegetables for the country. The rice fields are particularly scenic and demonstrate how neighboring land owners worked together to create the miles of waterways necessary for this type of agriculture.

On our journey to the southern mining region, we passed cattlemen near Antannanrivo, hindering vehicle traffic. (The cattlemen herd cows all the way north –a one-month’s journey– where they will sell them and then resume the trek home.) It was a convoy stretching eight kilometers, with an entourage consisting mostly of spouses, who set up meals and camps ahead of them at the correct distances and locations along the way. We had just witnessed the second largest commodity (after gemstones)–cattle– that the poor southern regions of Madagascar produce.

Southern Madagascar has the most prolific production of gemstones in the country. There were major discoveries of sapphire at Ilakaka, where as much as 40% of the sapphire cut in Thailand was mined in the years before the export ban. And the region has much more to offer, including garnets of every variety, from green to red and including a Malaya-type, rhodolite, and, of course, the famous color-change garnet north of Gogogogo. Other gems found in the south are spinel, chrysoberyl, apatite, labradorite, quartz... and there are many more!

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