Thanks and disclaimer:


Important Note: The author: Vincent Pardieu is an employee of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Laboratory Bangkok since Dec 2008. Any views expressed on this website - and in particular any views expressed by Vincent Pardieu - are the authors' opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GIA or GIA Laboratory Bangkok . GIA takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any content on this website nor is GIA liable for any mistakes or omissions you may encounter. GIA is in particular not screening, editing or monitoring the content on this website and has no possibility to remove, screen or edit any content.


About FieldGemology. org

This website is home for "Shameless Travel Addicted Gemologist" Vincent Pardieu (B.Sc., GGA, G.G.). Vincent is "Supervisor, Field Gemology" at GIA Laboratory Bangkok. He is a gemologist specialized on "origin determination of gemstones".
This is also home for Vincent's regular traveling companions: David Bright, Jean Baptiste Senoble, Richard W. Hughes, Guillaume Soubiraa, Walter Balmer, Michael Rogers, Kham Vannaxay and many others like recently: Philippe Ressigeac, Oliver Segura , Flavie Isatelle and Lou Pierre Bryl.

We are gemologists (gemmologists) sharing a passion for gemstones, gemolology (gemmology), gem people and traveling.

You will find in this website gemological expedition reports and some studies of gemological interest.

Visiting many gem mining areas we saw that people in remote mining and trading areas have difficulties to access to gemological publications. As today the Internet can be accessed in most of these gem mining areas and trading centers, the author started to build this website to give gem people living there the opportunity to see the result of the gemological expeditions they were associated in. It is a way to thanks them for their time and collaboration and to help them to get access to more gemological information.

At the same time the author hope that these expedition reports will please the people from consuming countries interested in gemstones and fascinated by their mysterious origins. Our purpose here is to help people facing difficulties to get quality first hand information about gems and their origins to get the information they need through this website and its links.

With our field expeditions to gemstone mines and gem markets around the world, we intend also here to share our passion for photography, gems and our fascination for the work of the "Gem People" bringing gemstones from the ground to magnificent jewelry.

From the gems external beauty to the intimate beauty of gemstone inclusions, from gem lore to the mines, the people and the landscapes gems origin from, we expect to share with you our passion for gemstone beauty.

We also invite you to join us on some gemological forums we are active in as they are convenient tools to get rapid answers to your questions as they are regularly visited by many other passionate gemologists, jewelers, hobbyists and professionals willing to learn more and share their knowledge about gemstones.


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Index page: Vincent Pardieu's Blog

About the Author

About me : How did a countryside Frenchman became a "Shameless travel addicted gemologist"? ( Under construction)


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Popular Articles

"Tsavorite, an Untamed Gem" with R.W.Hughes, first published in ICA's InColor (Winter 2008)
"Working the blue seam" The Tanzanite mines of Merelani with R.W.Hughes first published on
"Spinel, the resurection of a Classic" with R.W. Hughes, first published in ICA's InColor (Summer 2008)

Gemological studies

(Apr. 2009) "Sapphires reportedly from Batakundi / Basil area" a preliminary study about unusual sapphires we saw at GIA Laboratory Bangkok
(Mar. 2009) "Rubies from Niassa province, Mozambique" a preliminary study about rubies we saw at GIA Laboratory Bangkok
"Lead glass filled rubies" :
First published on AIGS Lab Website (Feb 2005)

Expedition Reports

Autumn. 2009: GIA Field Expedition FE09: Rubies from Mozambique. (pdf file)

May. 2009: GIA Field Expedition FE08: Melos and their pearls in Vietnam. (pdf file)

Dec. 2008 and Feb-Mar. 2009: GIA Field Expeditions FE01 and FE04: Rubies and sapphires from Pailin, Cambodia. (pdf file)

Aug. 2008: Sapphires and Tsavorite from the south of Madagascar with the AFG (Association francaise de Gemmologie) : Available soon...

Apr. 2008: Expedition to the new Winza ruby deposit in central Tanzania with Jean Baptiste Senoble and the support of the Gubelin Gem Lab

October 2007: Gemological expedition to East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) with Richard W. Hughes, Mike Rogers, Guillaume Soubiraa, Warne and Monty Chitty and Philippe Bruno:

Summer 2006: Expeditions to Central Asia gem wealth with Guillaume Soubiraa and the support of the AIGS, the ICA and the Gubelin Gem Lab:

Oct. 2005: Colombia by J.B. Senoble

Sep. 2005: Madagascar with Richard W. Hughes and Dana Schorr (Will be available one of these days...)

Summer 2005: Gemological expeditions to South East Asia (Vietnam) South Asia (Sri Lanka) and East Africa (Kenya, Madagascar and Tanzania) with J.B. Senoble and Tanguy Lagache with the support of the AIGS, the ICA and the Gubelin Gem Lab:

- Feb. 2005: A visit to Thailand, Cambodia with the AFG (Association Francaise de Gemmologie) (under construction)

- 2002-2007: Expeditions to Pailin (Cambodia), Chanthaburi Kanchanaburi (Thailand) Houay Xai (Laos) Mogok, Namya (Burma) (under construction)

- 2001: Expeditions to Namya, Hpakant and then Mogok with Ted and Angelo Themelis and Hemi Englisher (under construction)

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Discover fieldgemology newsletter:
(Currently under "hibernation status"...)

Number 01: Sept 2006
(I know: it was long time ago...)



THANKS for their support
for our field expeditions since 2005:


about gems, gemology, field expeditions, studying gemology, minerals, jade, pearls or jewelry?
We recommend these FORUMS
where the author is contributing:

Do you want to

Here are some recommended institutes where the author studied gemology in Thailand ... and was happy about his investment!

For those willing to go further after their gemological studies: Recommended Advanced Gemological Courses:

To finish here are some BOOKS about gemology
the author have read and appreciated and would like to recommend to people willing to learn more about gemstones, gemology and the places where gemstones are found:




Creative Commons License

The photos and articles on are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Feel free to use the photos and articles with links and credits. No commercial use without permission.
All the best,

March 31th, 2012 | Keywords:Vietnam , spinel Travel |
Blog Title: FE34_Vietnam_Blue_Spinels

GIA FE34 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 34): Mar. 17th - Mar. 27th, 2012: Vietnam

After the GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE02, FE08 and FE16 field expeditions to Vietnam respectively in January and May 2009 and then in April - May 2010, the author returned to Vietnam in March 2012 in order to continue working on several interesting project about rubies, spinels and pearls.

This time the main objective was to try to deal with some unfinished business about blue spinels.

As regular visitors of may know in May 2009 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE08) the author was traveling in Vietnam with several friends including one of his regular travel buddies: Jean Baptiste Senoble. For the author, besides training and evaluating young gemologists for field activities, the focus was to collect ruby reference specimens for the GIA reference collection. But as it had been the case with Tsavorite in 2009, Jean Baptiste was able to highjack the author's initial plans and interest him to a gemstone that was fascinating him: Blue spinels.
JB was in love with blue spinels since the day he saw in Bangkok a beautiful faceted gem reportedly from Vietnam that had been found by a Bangkok based gem merchant who really motivated people there to mine blue spinels: While the author was looking around for rubies, Jean Baptiste was asking for blue spinels. After few days he was able to find from a Yen The merchant two tiny highly saturated rough blue spinels. The color of the little stones was amazing: No tone, no gray were visible, they were stunning bright little "Jedi" spinels, far away from the "Dark Side": Their deep bright blue color was even matching without shame the window cleaning liquid used by our hotel staff... Not sure if the color was coming from cobalt or something else had then fun calling them "Windex" blue spinels.

The author was hooked.

Back at the GIA Laboratory Bangkok, the author had a new surprise as after studying the two stones: Indeed, GIA gemologist Sudarat Saeseaw found out that if one stone was natural, the other one was a tumbled synthetic! The author was amazed as once again it was a classic example of the "Dick's Law", presented by Richard W. Hughes in his masterpiece "Ruby & Sapphire" on page 113 ( and on his website at "Buying at the source" where you can see a photo of these two little stones and where this funny story was first published.)

Since then, the author was wondering about the origin of the bright blue natural stone. It is quite a classic. If most people when they see a nice gem are wondering about its price, for the author each time the same question is jumping to his mind:

"Where is it from?"

When we got the stone in Yen The, the answer was very classic: "An Phu"... Well, that was not helping very much as there are tens of deposits in the mountains around An Phu village and to visit and study all of them could take months of hard work due to the difficulty of the jungle covered karst mountains.

Few days after finding these lovely "windex" spinels, after a one day long expedition in the tricky mountains near An Phu, we could confirm that the source of most of the nice sky blue spinels found in the market in the Luc Yen district was a small mining site called "Bai Son", from the name of a very poisonous tree found there... But the saturation of the Bai Son spinels was much lower than what could be seen in the "Windex" like little gems...

We decided then to continue our quest and keep things a little bit quiet despite pressures from here or there to publish what we had so far. Yes it would be nice to write about these nice stones but we had yet no idea about where they were really coming from: Too many questions, not enough facts: A classic "unfinished business".

"Blue spinel rough from the Luc Yen district"
Details one two small pices of "Double Bai Son" rough spinels (meaning that the gem saturation is double compared to what is usually found in Bai Son area) seen in Yen The, Vietnam in March 2012.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

In December 2009, Philippe Ressigeac, a young gemologist recently graduated from GIA Thailand asked the author for advice for his career. We knew each other well for about a year and I had a good idea about his projects, motivation and capacities. I was then thinking that Philippe could be a potential great traveling companion for future expeditions. I had to test him and give him an opportunity to do some good useful work. After few minutes I told him that he would have a lot to learn going to North Vietnam: Blue spinels were far to be the author's research priorities at the GIA Laboratory but were still a small unfinished business that was regularly bothering me. I was believing that he could do some useful gem hunting job there in North Vietnam as very few was known of these beautiful gem rich mountains. Philippe could be then very useful to the author as a scout to prepare the coming FE16 expedition to Vietnam scheduled in April 2010. That could be a great experience for him also to get few months of first hand experience about how things are going on in such gem producing area. Furthermore the French gemological Association was willing to visit Vietnam with 2 groups of 25 people in May 2010. I told Philippe that I could put him in contact with them and that I could arrange things for him to be they guide as my work at GIA was not enabling me to have the time to work on this gemological tourism project. Philippe was enthusiastic and within few days, Lou Pierre Bryl, a friend of Philippe and a veteran of the author's expeditions, decided to join Philippe in that quest.

The GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE16 expedition was composed of a great bunch of young gemologists and geologists with a passion for both gems and traveling. As usual Vietnam was for the author a great training ground to see if these young gemologists would be Ok as travel assistants for longer and tougher expeditions to Africa or Central Asia.

Our main objectives were of course rubies, but we had of course a keen interest also for blue spinels. If we could get several interesting deep blue spinel on marble matrix, we were not able to confirm the location of any primary deposit as visiting the places where the gems had been reportedly mined from we could not find any primary deposit. The difficulty in such humid jungle covered mountains is that any mining site is within few weeks or months covered by moss and vegetation.

After these 2010 expeditions, Jean Baptiste Senoble published "Beauty and rarity, a quest for Vietnamese blue spinels" an interesting article about hunting for blue spinels for "InColor", the ICA' magazine.

It was nevertheless still an unfinished business as the source for these little "jedi" / "windex" bright blue spinels were still unconfirmed.

In July 2011, in Poil, a small village in the French countryside, as each summer, a very informal but very interesting gemological gathering is taking place. During that event the author met Boris Chauvire, a young French geologist/gemologist willing to have some field experience. The author felling about the 22 years old young man was good and we decided that we could try to do something together.

As usual, the process was simple: I told Boris: "Well, if you want to travel with me: First take a plane ticket and join me in Bangkok next winter. Then, lets go for few weekend type expeditions to neighboring gem mining areas. If everything is fine, meaning that you dont give me too much headhakes and if you can show me that you can be a useful asset for such expeditions, then I might consider taking you as travel assistant on some longer ones for one or two weeks. Then again we will see if we can make plans for the future. The fact is that I don't feel good traveling on long serious expeditions to Africa or Central Asia with people that I don't know and/or that I've not trained". Finally before to go on any long/serious expeditions, it is better to know if we can feel good traveling together.

Boris then said: "Coming to Bangkok? Hum, I would love to, but that's not easy as I'm working on a master degree in Geology at Nantes University. But may be we could discuss the issue with my supervisor: Dr. Benjamin Rondeau?"

The good thing was that Dr. Rondeau was not far away. We discussed the issue and within few weeks we built what was looking like a good solution: Boris will come in Bangkok from January to April 2012 in order to do some field work in relation with his master degree... on the geology of the Vietnamese blue spinels!

Boris came in Bangkok on January 22nd 2012. The author introduced him to Philippe Ressigeac who was also for few weeks in Thailand. The feeling was good between them and two weeks later Boris and Philippe were on their way for Northern Vietnam with two Swiss friends of the author: Stephane Jacquat and Marc Noveraz.

"Marc Noveraz, Boris Chauvire and Philippe Ressigeac looking for gems at the Yen The morning gem market".
Photo: Stephane Jacquat, Feb. 2012

Thanks to Philippe knowledge of the region, to Stephane experience as a mountaineer, and to Marc experience as a gem buyer, Boris was able to become rapidly familiar with the country, the area around Yen The and gem trading in such place. During that first expedition they found that gem mining was very low in the Luc Yen district. It was to be expected as the "Tet", the celebration of the Vietnamese new year, was still keeping the local busy and it was still very cold and humid in the mountains Furthermore the local farmers/miners were too busy with agriculture and rice cultivation to get any interest in gemstone mining. The expedition was nevertheless far to be a waste of time as Philippe introduced Boris to some key local people and helped him to prepare the coming "harvest" expedition that was planned later with the author. That expedition was scheduled in March 2012, as late as possible in accordance with Boris time frame for his master degree that had to be completed by June 2012.

The GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE34 "harvest" expedition took place from March 17th to March 27th 2012. Boris Chauvire returned then to Vietnam with the author and an old university friend of the author: Maika Berrouet joining the expedition as a photographer to document it.

Things turned very well as the weather was very fine during our whole expedition. It was not raining. This is an important point in the jungle covered karstic mountains dominating Yen The and An Phu as the tough terrain in these mountains is very dangerous when the rocks are wet and muddy.

We were also lucky as the first day while meeting some Yen The merchants the author visited regularly during the past years, we could find some very interesting deep blue spinel parcels matching the "windex" window liquid... Nice! We spent few hours selecting interesting little pieces in these nice parcels.

"Selecting bright blue spinels in Yen The"
Boris Chauvire and Maika Berrouet selecting highly saturated blue spinels from some parcels seen in Yen The, Luc Yen district, Northern Vietnam.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

Then thanks to the support of our Yen The friend: Mr. Shuan the next day we were heading to the mountains and the deposit that where these spinesl had been reportedly mined from. During the three days we spent scouting the mountains around Yen The we could visit several interesting spinel and ruby deposits, collect some interesting additional samples for the GIA reference collection and, thanks to Mr. Shuan work with the local miners between Boris two visits to Yen The, we had finally the pleasure to find in the mountains some marbles hosting deep blue spinels!

"A mystery getting solved..."
Boris Chauvire happy to have finally found some saturated blue spinels in their host rocks in the mountains of the Luc Yen district thanks to the help of some local Vietnamese miners.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

Still the author and Boris will have to check at the GIA laboratory and in Nantes University if these spinels are indeed matching the lovely small natural "windex" stone the author and JB Senoble were able to get in May 2009. But obviously after 7 expeditions either lead by the author or by Philippe Ressigeac, an "unfinished business" was looking to be on the way to find a conclusion.

"Gemmy blue spinel octahedron on matrix"
Details on a nice gemmy blue spinel octahedron found on it matrix. More information about the location of the deposit and the associated minerals will be presented by Boris Chauvire in June 2012 when he will complete his Master Degree in Geology at Nantes University (France).
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012


"Discussing spinels..."
The author discussing gemology of spinels with Mr Shuan and Boris Chauvire at a blue spinel mining site in the jungle covered mountains over Yen The, Northern Vietnam.
Photo: Maika Berrouet, 2012

Soon Boris Chavire will return to Nantes, do some good work on the 25 kilos of samples he collected on site visiting the different spinel deposits we scouted over these recent years and complete his master on the geology of blue spinels from the Luc Yen district.

You will find more informations and photos when Boris will complete his master degree and on future GIA publications: either in GIA's eBrief (see G&G eBrief March 2012), Gems & Gemology and News from the Research on GIA websites.

All the best,

July 18th, 2010 | Keywords:ruby , Afghanistan , Jegdalek , spinel , Badakshan Travel |
Blog Title: GIA_FE17_Afghanistan

GIA FE17 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 17) : June 08th, 2010 - Julyl 15th, 2010:



The purpose of the present blog is not to publish another gemological /geological description of the rubies from Jegdalek as this not the objectives of this website dedicated to gemology and traveling. You will nevertheless find in that blog some links to valuable publications providing such technical gemological and geological content.

With this blog the author would just like to share with the reader

1) Some elements about the history, the geography of Jegdalek area he found learning about Jegdalek and also some first hand reports from people who visited the region in the past or recently that he has found to be very interesting.

2) Some stories and photos about his own experiences traveling to Jegdalek as he feels that such personal souvenirs could also be of some interest for those willing to learn more about the origin of these gems but who had not (yet?) the possibility to travel to Afghanistan.

Finally the author would like also to thanks with this report the different Afghan people who took some of their time to help the author to travel to these remote ruby mining area and to visit the mines. The author hopes that the present report will give some exposure to the fascinating gems and gem people of Afghanistan.

All the best,

Summary of the FE17 Field Expedition to Afghanistan:

The GIA Laboratory Bangkok Afghanistan 2010 field expedition was planned with the support of Mr. Parveez, an Afghan gem dealer from Jegdalek the author met in Peshawar in 2006.

In Afghanistan the author main objectives were to visit ruby and sapphire deposits in the North East of the country:

- First the Jegdalek ruby mining area located in the East of the Kabul Province, an area the author already visited in 2006.

- Then the author was planning to visit the less known ruby and sapphire deposits located in the Badakshan province: First a small very remote ruby deposit that was reported at Khash near the villages of Boharak and Jurm (See G&G ...) and then an interesting new blue sapphire deposit discovered reportedly in 2009 and located near the old lapis lazuli mines of Sae-E-Sang in the Kokcha Valley.

The author was during that expedition able to visit the ruby deposit at Jegdalek. In Badakshan on the other hand the expedition was not really successful as he could not get closer than one kilometer from the Khash ruby deposit and as his security was compromised he decided to return to Kabul and to wait another occasion to visit the sapphire and lapis Lazuli mines at Sar-E-Sang.

A concise report about the different results of that expedition to Afghanistan in June 2010 can be found in the "Update about ruby and sapphire mining in Pakistan and Afghanistan" that was published in "Gems & Gemology", Winter 2010 issue, as part of GNI (Gem News International).


Furthermore a study about these interesting blue sapphires reportedly from a new deposit in the Kokcha Valley of the Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan was published in "Gems & Gemology" Spring 2011 issue as part of Lab Notes. Interestingly some areas of these blue sapphires were found to contain naturally some unusually high levels of Beryllium and Tungsten.

Some highly recommended books and articles about Jegdalek and its rubies:

First the author would like to introduce to the reader some publications that he found to be very useful to prepare his expeditions:

ruby & Sapphire by Richard W. Hughes

"Ruby and Sapphire" by Richard W. Hughes is one of the author favorite books. The great thing about that book was that it was a interesting combination of science, history, geography and arts, each of them presented in a way accessible to people without serious expertise in each domain. Reading that book, the author was truly fascinated about the fact that rubies and sapphires were not really found in the most quiet places on Earth but instead in some of the most exotic and remote areas of our planet.

The chapter 12 about "The world sources of rubies and sapphires" was for the author one of the most fascinating. Organized by alphabetical order, it was starting by Afghanistan with as a tasty subtitle: "The Great Enigma: Afghanistan ruby and spinel mines"...

Please also visit Richard W. Hughes' website where a chapter about Aghanistan can be found:

Gems & Gemology

Gems & Gemology

"Gemstones from Afghanistan" by Gary W. Bowersox and Bonita E. Chamberlin is the most complete priblication to this date about about the gems found in Afghanistan and particularly the rubies from Jegdalek.

"The Gem Hunter" is another interesting publication by Gary Bowersox where he write about his life and his adventures traveling to Afghanistan. Gary Bowersox being one of the very few foreigners who actually ever visited the Jegdalek ruby mines.

You might be also interested to visit the rest of Gary Bowersox informative website:

That "Ruby and Sapphire from Jegdalek, Afghanistan" by Gary W. Bowersox, Eugene E. Foord, Brendan M. Laurs, James E. Shigley, and Christopher P. Smith. This study published in Gems & Gemology, Summer 2000, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 110-126 is to this day the most complete article about rubies from Jegdalek with great information about the history, the mining, the geology and some very useful technical gemological information about Jegdalek rubies.

The author would like also to advise the reading for those interested by the geological aspect of the Jegdalek deposit of “Ar–Ar and U–Pb ages of marble-hosted ruby deposits from central and southeast Asia” (2006) a pdf in English by V. Garnier, H. Maluski, G. Giuliani, D. Ohnenstetter, and D. Schwarz that had a French version: “Les Gisements de rubis associes aux marbres de l’Asie centrale et du Sud Est” published in “Le Regne Mineral” (2006) and signed this time by Virginie Garnier, Gaston Giuliani, Daniel Ohnenstetter, Dietmar Schwarz and Allah B. Kausar. 

About Jegdalek and ruby mining in Afghanistan:

For the author there is really something fascinating about gems from Afghanistan and the rubies from Jegdalek:

The fact is that they are not just beautiful stones, they are also stones related to historical events, fascinating characters and exotic places: Afghanistan is first of all one of the oldest (or possibly the oldest) gem mining area in the world as the Lapis Lazuli mines in the Kokcha Valley are known to have been worked from nearly 7000 years. Also the spinel mines in Badakshan, that were discovered probably around the 9th century at the time of the Silk Roads, are believed to have produced most of the fabulous historic "rubies" that are found in the treasures of the former rulers from Western Europe to India. Probably the most famous of them being the "Black Prince Ruby", the gem that got to the author his very first serious interest for gemology while he was studying the life of the Prince Edward of England, famous nowadays as the "Black Prince".

"Baby Black Prince?"
(An Afghan gem merchant presents to the author in Kabul an fine specimen of gem quality red spinel in matrix mined recently from the old "Badakhshan ruby mines". These mines known today as the Kul-I-Lal are believed to have produced the "Black Prince ruby" and other historic stones such as the "Timur Ruby" and the "Cote de Bretagne".
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

During that period what is nowadays Afghanistan was a strategic place located in the centre of the Eurasian supercontinent right in the center of the main trade network link the China in the East to Europe and the Mediterranean in the West. Central Asia and particularly Afghanistan was then a rich region with beautiful old cities.

The Mongol invasions, the Black Death and the insecurity that followed for disintegration of the Mongol Empire during the 13th century changed that and with the development of maritime transportation, the trade between Europe and Asia moved from transportation by land on the Silk Roads to maritime transportation in the Indian Ocean on the Spice Roads. The process was further accelerated after the arrival of the Europeans in the Indian Ocean at the end of the 15th century. Soon Afghanistan and its gem mining areas, far away from these new maritime roads became a remote and forgotten region while on the other hand the gems from Ceylon, India, Siam and Burma found few miles from the busy harbors found easily their way to Europe.

Afghanistan became again connected to the world in the middle of the 19th century when the British and Russian colonial ambitions collided in the mountains of the Hindu Kush and along the Oxus River. It was the time of the Great Game. The first Anglo Afghan war was one of the worse setbacks for the British power with the destruction of the General Elphinstone army during his retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad in January 1842. In fact some of the most dramatic and famous events of that conflict happened just near Jegdalek then called "Jugduluk":


"The Last stand at Gandamack"
(Photo of the reproduction of the painting by William Barnes Wollen about the battle of Gandamack that can be seen in the restaurant hall of the Gandamack Lodge in Kabul, a place that the author has no problem to recommend to all people willing to stay in Kabul. Note: The original painting is visible at the National Army Museum, in London.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

1) People visiting in Kabul the "Gandamack Lodge" can study on the wall of the restaurant a very interesting and detailed map presenting these tragic events. In fact we can see on that map that most of the British force was destroyed on the Jugduluk pass leading to the valley of Jegdalek. The following day the British commander, General Elphinstone, was taken prisoner at Jegdalek by the Afghans. (See here for more details). Later at night few soldiers were able to break through the Afghan lines in a desperate attempt to reach Jalalabad. Exhausted, out of munitions, fighting in deep snow, they had their last stand near Gandamack, a village south of the Black Mountains south east from Jegdalek. A reproduction of the famous painting presenting the last stand of the British soldiers at Gandamack, can be seen near the map. Of the 16000 people (including 4500 soldiers) only one British: doctor Brydon, was able to make it to Jalalabad.

2) Later during the war another battle occurred at Jegdalek opposing General Pollock to strong force of Afghan Tribesmen (see here and here for more)


"Jugduluk, January 1842..."
( from the map exposedon the wall of the Restaurant hall at the Gandamack Lodge in Kabul
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

According to the article "Ruby and Sapphire from Jegdalek, Afghanistan" by Gary Bowersox & al, the ruby mines at Jegdalek were worked for about 700 years. This is indeed possible as Jegdalek and its ruby deposits are located on one of the main communication axis between Kabul and Peshawar.

Nevertheless the oldest mention about Jegdalek (Jegdalek, Jagdallak or Jugduluk depending on the reference) the author was able to find so far are the travel reports of some of the British officers who served in Afghanistan during the 19th century. Jegdalek was then on the main track linking Kabul to Jalalabad and most travelled going to Kabul were passing there: None of them mention any ruby mines instead the place is described as miserable: Lieut. Alex. Burnes of the East India Company, one of the main characters of these tragic events writes in 1834 in "Travels into Bokhara being the Account of a Journey from India to Cabool, Tartary and Persia":

The country is barren and miserable, Jugduluk is a wretched place with few caves as village. There is a proverb which describes its misery: "When the woods of Jugduluk begins to burn, you melt gold" for there is no wood at hands on the bleak hills.

Another report from a British officer who passed at Jugduluk around 1840 can be found here: "Narrative of the war in Afghanistan: In 1838-39, Volume 2" by Sir Henry Havelock. Shahamat Ali, another traveler wrote about his journey from Peshawar to Kabul passing by Jagdalak in 1839 (see in p 459 to 461 of his book). None of these authors reveal the existence of ruby mines,

During his visit at Jegdalek the author asked several time to local elders about how long ruby mining was taking place in Jegdalek, most people agreed to say that it started long time ago but asking more precisely an elder said that it was about 100 years ago adding that about 400 to 500 years ago Jegdalek was an active gold mining area... May be this explains the reference to gold and to the fact that there were no trees around Jegdalek in Burnes' travel report: Gold miners need fuel to extract the precious metal. Anyway in the author opinion the 100 years does not really means anything more that it was long time ago.

In fact it seems that the first foreigner to have visited the ruby mines at Jagdalak and reported about them was a British officer: Major G. Stewart who reportedly visited the mines in 1879 as it is reported by several authors including Edwin Streeter. The mines were later visited by geologist C.L. Griesbach in 1888 who reported his visit in 1891 in the Geology of Safad Koh published in the Geological Survey of India volume XXV:

"The Pari Darra, that narrow defile within which a British force was destroyed in the first Afghan war, shows the section through this series of rocks which are gneissose with some beds of mica schist and a wide belt of highly crystalline marble, the whole dipping under a high angle to the north.

This chain of hills forms a well defined part of the northern ranges of the Safed Koh: and under the name of Siah Koh, all the hills between the Pari Darra near Jagdallak and the Doronta gorge west of Jalalabad is understood. During the early spring of 1888 I was engaged in geologically exploring this system of ranges.

A section through the Siah Koh from south to nort presents what appears to be an unbroken sequence of strata. Near the middle of the range, at Bab-i-Kach, a belt of considerable width (at that spot about six miles wide) is formed by a series of metamorphic strata, chiefly mica and hornblendic schists with talcose phyllites. Some beds of finely crystalline grey gneiss occur in this series, but the whole the character of the zone is more schistose. This series is overlaid by highly altered strata, principally limestone beds, within which the old ruby mines of Jagdallak are situated."

Now the fact that the British soldiers and other people traveling through the region before Stewart and Griesbach did not reported the presence of the ruby mines does not mean that ruby mining was not occurring there. Possibly as Griesbach is writing, the ruby mines at Jegdalek could be old mines, much older in fact than the arrival of the British soldiers in the region.


"Aerial view over the Jegdalek Valley and its ruby mines"
(While arriving by plane in Kabul from Dubai, the author had the pleasure to fly over Jegdalek getting the possibility to take that photo showing the different ruby mining trenches on which the author added later the name he was provided by the miners at Jegdalek. You can compare that photo with Google Earth using this placemark to find Jegdalek village.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

Jegdalek was also famous to have been a strong mujahedeen base during the "Jihad" as in Afghanistan they commonly call the war against the Soviet Union. The Jegdalek village was then controlled by mujahedeens from the Jamiat I Islami (lead by Rabbani) on the eastern side the Mia Khel area was under the control of mujahedeens from the Hezb-i-Islami (Yunus Khalis faction) (see map). According to people from Jegdalek during the Jihad, people from jegdalek were more involved in fighting the Soviet than mining rubies, most people met in Jegdalek agree that the inverse was true regarding the Mujahedeens from Mia Khel. The valley was reportedly difficult to attack and was heavily bombed by the Soviet aviation resulting in the destruction of the Jegdalek village. Nowadays we can still see the ruins of the old village in Jegdalek. During the attacks the people were hiding in the numerous caves and ruby mines that can still be seen today. Others reminder of that difficult period are the numerous minefields that can be seen along the road from Sarobi to Jegdalek. If most of these mine fields along the northern road coming from Sarobi were reportedly cleaned, it seems that the road going south west from Jegdalek pass is still very dangerous due to land mines.


"Minefields on the way to Jegdalek"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

According to the Jegdalek ruby miners and traders he met while visiting the region, it seems that after the war with the Soviet Union, when the Afghan civil war started most of the population of Jegdalek moved to Pakistan as they did not wanted to take part in that conflict. On the other hand the population from Mia Khel continued ruby mining during the civil war and under the Taliban regime (1997 - 2001). Several figures from Mia Khel were also told to the author to have become government officials under the Taliban regime. The situation inversed after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001: The people from Jegdalek then returned from Pakistan. Several leaders from Jegdalek, like commandant Anwar "Jegdalek" or Commandant Khan started to work with the new government. (Note: Commandant Khan became chief of the police for the whole Sarobi Province and took the author to visit Jegdalek for 2 days in 2006, Anwar jegdalek is currently the Governor of the Kunduz Province). During that exile in Pakistan, the Jegdalek people built many business contacts with the gem and jewelry business community in Peshawar and Karachi.
Due to the fact that it is nearly impossible to export gemstones legally from Afghanistan due to the very complicated and inefficient system that was put in place after 2001, and thanks to these contacts created during their exile in Pakistan, most of the gems from Jegdalek are nowadays finding their way first to Pakistan to be faceted and then exported to the world markets (or imported back to Afghanistan to be sold locally).


"On the way to Jegdalek: A maze of dry hills on which nomads are traveling with their animals."
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

In 2005 the author, then Director of the AIGS Gemological Laboratory in Bangkok (Thailand) in association with the Gubelin Gem Lab in Lucerne (Switzerland), decided to start an ambitious "Field Gemology" research program with focus on rubies and sapphires. He started then to get seriously interested about visiting the Central Asian ruby deposits and particularly Jegdalek to collect reliable samples to be used for gemological research about the origin determination of gemstones.

Based on the publications he could find and particularly the writings of Richard W. Hughes, Gary Bowersox and Virginie Garnier and with the support of Guy Clutterbuck, a British gem merchant also well connected in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the author was able to get some useful local contacts in Peshawar and Afghanistan and then feel confident enough to plan an expedition there.

In 2006 the Afghan government was not allowing officially the people to mine at Jegdalek and police officers were playing hide and seek with local miners. Of course looking at the number of stones available in first in the market in Peshawar, then in Kabul and later in Jegdalek village it was obvious that several groups of miners were working more or less secretly:

In fact the author first visited Jegdalek in July 2006 with the support of Commandant Khan, the chief of the police for the Sarobi district, himself a native of Jegdalek and a former mujahedeen commander, who spent years in Pakistan during the civil war. Commander Khan invited the author to come with him in Jegdalek and helped him to visit the mining area. During that visit as we had a police escort we could not witness any mining, as a matter of fact arriving at Jegdalek and then Salnow village, the visit started by our police escort to discuss with local elders and miners, probably to get their approval about our visit and make sure that everything would be fine. While reaching the mining area, we saw one man running away and visiting a mining trench it was obvious that mining had taken place recently.


"Arriving at Jegdalek"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

On the overall in 2006 the valley was looking very peaceful despite the mining fields we met on the way and the ruins of the old village and the war going on in the country. The population and our police escort were friendly and several new buildings (including a school, a clinic and a mosque) were very visible near the old ruins. After visiting the Khalwat and Lalpura ruby mining areas the valley was safe enough for the author and his assistant be able to spend the night in one of the old houses of the Jegdalek village and enjoy the following day sharing a breakfast with the miners and then enjoying a wonderful morning in the orchard near the village looking at the rubies brought to us by local miners thanks to the help of Commander Khan.


"The green valley of Jegdalek"
(A view of Jegdalek with its new mosque, its ruins (on the left) its typical Afghan fortified houses in the background
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

In 2009 few months after his return in Bangkok (after spending two years working in Switzerland) as he was starting his work as "Supervisor for Field Gemology" at the GIA Laboratory Bangkok, the author was informed by Afghan and Pakistani merchants visiting Bangkok gem trading center that ruby mining was now officially possible at Jegdalek and that several hundreds of miners were now openly working there. At that time the author focus was nevertheless on East Africa as rubies from new deposits in Mozambique were flooding the market in Bangkok for few months and the author had to focus first on these new deposits. Nevertheless he started to plan a possible expedition for summer 2010. During spring 2010, one of the Afghan contacts the author met in the field in 2006 was visiting Bangkok. The man, a native of Jegdalek, brought him some very interesting blue sapphires from a new deposit in Afghanistan and as about the same time the author had been invited to visit another interesting pink sapphire deposit located in Pakistan, a new expedition to Central Asian ruby and sapphire deposit was starting to make a lot of sense despite the security and political problems in the region.


"Old and New construction in Jegdalek"
(A view of Jegdalek with its new mosque (left), its old building (center) and in the background the new school (build with the support of the USAID) and the medical center. Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

In June 2010 after visiting the Batakundi purple sapphire deposit in Pakistan, the author travelled to Kabul to meet his Afghan friends and after spending some time looking at stones in the Kabul gem market they planned a new short visit to Jegdalek. From Kabul to Jegdalek nothing had changed since 2006. We took the nice road linking Kabul to Sarobi that was built during spring 2006, then we took right to the Lataban pass for few kilometers and then finally left the dusty and rocky track heading to Jegdalek. As in 2006 we passed near under the old Red Army base located on a cliff dominating the valley south of Sarobi and that is currently occupied by the French army, in charge for the NATO of the area in association with the Afghan national army and police. Then as we sleft the valley and started to drive in the mountains we passed several old land mine fields and nomad camps. Indeed Jegdalek is located in a strategic pass used by the Kuchis and their herds of sheep, goats and camels on their way back and forth from the low lands of the Pakistan tribal areas where they spend most of the winter to grazing areas of Afghanistan where they take their animals during summer time.


"The ruins of Jegdalek"
(Life is going on in Jegdalek despite the destructions of the Soviet aviation
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Arriving at Jegdalek things were similar but also quite different compared the author last visit in July 2006: The first difference was that the number of new constructions had increased around the old village and its ruins dating of the Jihad period against the Red Army. That was quite a positive sign meaning that the economic situation at Jegdalek was looking good. The second difference was less positive as the village was not looking as peaceful as it was during our first fist in 2006. Arriving on that Friday morning in the center of the village near the small market and the mosque where many people usually gather on such day dedicated to God and resting, we found several vehicles full of heavily armed Afghan policemen. After few minutes of discussion the author local friends told him that the night before two pickups loaded with insurgents came less than five kilometers south of the village searching reportedly for a mechanic. The police was here to enquire about that... About 20 minutes after our arrival the police left. Of course the author could feel that the situation was a little bit tense but the author was again, as few years before, surrounded by his friends, some peaceful looking bearded gem miners and merchants in an Afghan village with no visible military or police presence. Everything went fine.


"Ruby mining trench at Injuno Gaspei, Jegdalek, Afghanistan"
(An Afghan miner is entering a ruby mine at Injuno Gaspei, in the background we can see the white trenches of the Shakur Kalrana ruby mining area. Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Few minutes after the police departure, an old friend of the author's friends happening to be a famous local ruby miner, invited the author and his group to visit the mines he was working. First we had to plan lunch and spent some time selecting some goat meat that the miner sent to his house to get cooked. Then we took, as we did in 2006 the road to Salnow village. Arriving as Injuno Gaspei we could see that the police camp and check point we stopped at in 2006 had disappeared. We went then directly to visit an old mining trench at Injuno Gaspei where the miner was recently working. The author could there visit briefly a mining trench, collect some data and samples. As it was Friday no miners were present on site. We then left to the Taghar mining area where our guide was nowadays working with his team. It was not very far, just on the other side of the hill, but to reach it we had to drive on a very rocky track around the hill. The drive turned to be more interesting for the author as it first expected as we passed not very far from one of the former underground mujahedeen base located down the scenic Shakur Kalrana mining area (also called Newei Khan) enabling the author to take few photos of the area. We then stopped for few minutes near an interesting rock located about two meters near the track and transformed by the local miners into a shrine due to the fact that the natural metamorphic designs on the rock boulder were reminding the Arabic writing for the word "Allah". It was a local tradition for the miners and visitors on their way to the mines to stop for few seconds and pray. Finally after driving up a narrow dry valley, we reached the Taghar mining site where our guide was working nowadays with his team.


"Ruby mine in Taghar, Jegdalek, Afghanistan"
(A view over the ruby mining site we visited, the miners had their camp just near the trench they were working.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"Mining trench in Taghar"
(Rubies in Jegdalek are only found in narrow bands of marbles that are nearly vertical. Thus the miners have over the years dig these huge, deep trenches that are secured thanks to some "bridges" of marble left behind between the 2 sides of the trench. Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

The mine we visited at Taghar was about 40 meters deep which is quite deep even if reportedly some mines in the area are reportedly more than 150 meters deep. The miners had a power supply group, a pump and some jackhammers to work underground. They were using a rope to go up and down the mine and to take the production out of the trench.


"The way down..."
(View of the rope system used by the miners to go up and down in a ruby mining trench in Taghar, Jegdalek, Afghanistan
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Nevertheless, if in 2006 the author was able to take his time to visit some mining trenches in Khalwat, on that day things turned to be quite different: Few minutes after our arrival at the mine in Taghar while the author was inspecting the rope system used in the trench by the miners to go down to the working site, our driver came in the trench to inform us that he spotted several men observing us from a nearby hill near the old mujahedeen base.

We decided then to leave rapidly the mine and the area as we had no real idea about who could hide in these old caves particularly knowing that the night before there had been some insurgent intrusion.


"Shakur Kalrana and the ruins of the former Mujahedeen base, Jegdalek, Afghanistan"
(Down the ruins but not visible on the photo are located several caves where the Mujahedeen were hidding during the Jihad"
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

We returned then rapidly (and safely) to Jegdalek village and then took the direction of the miner's fortified house where we had lunch and were able to look at numerous rough rubies and mineral specimens. The author spent some time studying them, taking some notes about them and the current mining activity in Jegdalek. It was also a good occasion to acquire directly from the miner some interesting rubies for the GIA reference collection.



"Show time..."
( At the miner house, the miner shows some specimens to the author.
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Speaking with the miners (briefly) about security issues, the author was told that if there are no insurgents in Jegdalek, it seems that more and more often insurgents are coming close to Jegdalek particularly from the region in the south (in fact on the other side of the forest covered hills you can see on the photo presenting the Jegdalek mosque) where is also located Gandamack.

In fact the miner's main problems seemed more about mining: At Jegdalek like in many other primary gem mining areas, good gems are rare and difficult to mine. Unlike secondary deposit where gems are accumulated in gravels, in such deposits gems are found in hard rock, furthermore most of them are not gem quality, as many has too many fissures or inclusions to have a good transaprency. As it is an old mining area, the mining trenches can be very deep and flooding becomes a problem. Miners have to use pumps and the mining costs of course become higher as they go deeper. Another main issue they face is that they dont have access to mining explosives adapted to marble type ruby deposits. In fact, it seems that for security reasons, the Afghan government do not allow small-scale miners (who usually work their mine for years without any mining license) to buy legally mining explosives. As a result they have the choice between working without explosives using hand tools or a jackhammer, but then mining is very slow and tough, or to get illegally explosives, meaning mainly military explosives from unexploded munitions, land mines or from old stocks left behind after the jihad and the civil war. The problem is that these explosives are not only dangerous to handle but also that they are too powerful and not adapted to ruby mining and as a result many stones are broken or damaged by the blasts. Indeed the author commonly get the feeling while comparing parcels of rubies from Jegdalek with gems from similar marble type deposits in Tajikistan, Burma or Vietnam that in the case of parcels from Jegdalek the stones are often more fissured and pink looking due to the numerous open fissures probably created during the mining process by the use of the wrong type of explosives.


"Considering the author offer..."
(As the author has made an offer for some specimens, the miners are considering about it.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

To complete our visit we returned to Jegdalek village and spent some time in the orchard eating fruits, looking at some additional interesting ruby specimens and speaking about life with the local miners:

Working as a ruby miner in places like Jegdalek is of course very hard, but around Jegdalek several people after some very tough years and also to some luck, got wealthy according to the local standards (and sometimes even more) from gem mining and trading. Commonly the miners told the author that feel lucky and thank God to have been able to live that life working with gems as they can choose more easily than their neighbors (from villages without gem mines) not to get involved in drug or in fighting/insurgency/mafia type businesses.

Most of the time when you are correctly introduced by the right people, when you meet gem miners at the mines, you don't find any hostility in their eyes, but instead some curiosity, the pride to have a respectable life and also hope or sometimes the faith and the certitude that they will get "Inch Allah" a better future. For the author meeting such people this is part of the pleasure associated with visiting gem mining areas as besides the possibility to get at the source the samples he needs for his research work, and some first hand information about what is going on in this or that mining area, he feels that this is a true privilege to meet such gem people:

In Afghanistan gem mining producing areas, hope, faith and hard work seems to be the daily companions of the gem miners. If hard work is a tough reality, hope can be a cruel mistress as at the end of the day many miners will return from the mines exhausted and empty handed, nevertheless in many cases they have seen worse and often they might feel some pride to live a "halal" life: One Afghan ruby miner told the author that gem mining and trading is very good for them as Muslims as they said "the prophet himself (God bless his name) was for a while a gem merchant in Arabia". He added that tomorrow, "inch Allah", fortune might smile to them and he might be able to get a better future for him and his family.


"After business: Lunch time..."
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Of course some might think that this is a very naive way to look at the Afghan gem trade. It is also true that hope is often a short cut to deception. Nevertheless hope and faith give to the Afghan gem miners a reason to continue living with dignity their tough life, and in a region facing so many problem, this is something giving a good feeling. Many will sadly remain poor, but in the modern cities of the western world or in the slums of Kabul not everybody is wealthy and happy: The modern consummation society has also its unlucky, unhappy people living a difficult and sometimes even miserable life... On many occasions after visiting gem mining areas in some of the most remote parts of the world, the author returns home with a lot of admiration and sympathy for these tough gem people. Obviously they are not all angels. It is a fact that many Afghans miners and dealers are tough in business. Some can also be very tricky, others are even worse. But this is the human nature we can find everywhere... And thinking seriously about the life they had with their families in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past 40 years, who can really blame them to try to get a better life? If today they get a fine gem (or even a bad one), obviously they will try to get from it as much profit as they can as they don't know how things will turn tomorrow for them. But at the end of the day, on the other side of the world, somebody might one day buy that gem and offer it to his love one. Happy ending? May be this is really too much an optimistic vision of the gem trade, but well as a matter of fact the author is not really one of these people who seems to enjoy finding darkness on a sunny day in the desert.


"Jegdalek orchard"
(Apricots in Jegdalek
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

That afternoon under the shade of the apricot and mulberry trees in the orchard near the old Jegdalek village, the author was not really in a pessimistic mood: We were looking at gems, speaking about life and at least on the author side, enjoying every second of that quiet afternoon.

On the way back, we went to drink at the nearby spring and the author was happy to see that the local irrigation system had been repaired thanks to the support of his countrymen... Asking about the French soldiers visiting regularly the area, the miner smiled and said that they were good customers. He added that he had sold many rubies to them and that they were giving "good prices". I was thinking: Yes, it seems they were indeed giving very good prices because as I could see that day compared to 4 years earlier, the stones had become really much more expensive in Jegdalek. Obviously the soldiers were indeed giving very good prices. A pessimistic gem merchant would probably think that they were spoiling the market, but well, the author was not a gem merchant and, at the end of the day, that 2010 expedition to Jegdalek had been very positive and successful.


"Ruby specimen from Jegdalek on its marble matrix"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Returning to Kabul in the evening, driving through the dry hills separating Jegdalek from Sarobi, the author was thinking about the green Jegdalek valley with its peaceful orchards, its delicious apricots and mulberries, its rocky hills covered with ruby mining trenches, its new constructions surrounding the ruins of the old village, its gem people and its nice rubies:

The whole place was looking like an oasis of prosperity as people would like to see more often in Afghanistan. But obviously the valley was also surrounded by dangerous passes full of minefields, by insurgents and/or drug lords. Indeed for the people of Jegdalek the situation after 2001 has changed for much better compared to what they lived since the invasion of Afghanistan by the Red Army in 1978. They were living in peace and had a good business mining and trading rubies. But for Jegdalek as for the rest of Afghanistan, the future remains clearly very uncertain.

For the readers interested to get more information about Jegdalek from another point of view, the author recommend the readings of two interesting articles by Adnan R. Khan, a Canadian journalist covering the war in Afghanistan and who obviously visited also Jegdalek and reported about his visits in two interesting articles:

- The long walk of the Kuchis (2006)

- Lessons from an Afghan Oasis (2010)


"A fine ruby specimen from the Taghar mining trenches, Jegdalek, Afghanistan"
(The miner who took us to his mine at Taghar presents to the author a fine ruby specimen on its marble matrix he got from the mine we previously visited. If the stone is not gem quality, such specimen is not without value and interest for collectors. Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Update after the GIA Field Expedition FE25 to Afghanistan (May - June 2011):

In May 2011 at the time of that new expedition, the author tried of course again to visit Jegdalek, but while he was gathering news about the area, he was told by one of his local contacts that for the past few days there had been some fighting between the Afghan police and some insurgents near Jegdalek. The way to the village was also reported not to be as safe as in the past as several merchants and miners had been reportedly ambushed in the rocky desert hills between Sarobi and Jegdalek. As usual the main problem about Jegdalek and with many other gem mining areas is not really at the mines: It is more to go and return safely from the mines...

And in May 2011, we decided not to try our chance.


"Rubies from Jegdalek"
(The same ruby crystal specimen reportedly from Taghar presented by the miner on the previous photos associated here with few small rough rubies and a very fine unheated faceted stone weighting more than 4 carats that was probably mined from the Khalwat trenches in the Jegdalek ruby mining area, Afghanistan.
The stone is one of the best rubies the author ever saw he believed to have been mined from Jegdalek.
Faceted Stone courtesy: Guy Clutterbuck, Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

Finally the author would like to write some words about things he tought about after giving a presentation at the US Embassy in Kabul about Afghanistan and its gems. These few lines might help people working in Afghanistan with an interest for Afghan gems.

The consequence of the presence of more than 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan seems for the author to be quite positive for gem mining areas like Jegdalek as the foreigners currently in Afghanistan are providing a good local market for the Afghan gem miners. With many people (soldiers or civilians) willing to return home with some Afghan ruby or emerald as a souvenir of their time in Afghanistan has obviously a very positive effect on the gem production in Afghanistan.

The classic problem for any gem miner around the world is not really about how to sell the exceptional and naturally beautiful gems he was lucky to find but instead to find a market for the rest of his production. On that aspect the Afghan gem miners are lucky to have people, like the French soldiers the author was told about in Jegdalek, who were paying good prices for low quality gems and mineral specimens that are not good enough to interest international gem merchants: As the miners get a market for his daily production, he might continue to mine. Then once in a while, some very fine and exceptional stone might be produced. Of course the higher the number of miners the more likely such gems will be produced rapidly and regularly.

In Afghanistan like in any other gem mining area, in most cases, the most likely reason explaining why an exceptional gem is produced is that enough people are crazy enough to spend their time (and/or their money) mining for gems.

The author cannot say how many fine beautiful natural unheated rubies like the stone on the photo at the just over this paragraph are produced each year in Jegdalek, but he knows that for such a gem to be produced in an area like Jegdalek, kilos of lower quality rubies are mined and if these lesser material cannot find a market, it is likely that the motivation of the miners will drop. Miners are simple to understand: They need to eat every day and to feel that they have a good chance to get rich one of these days. If they stop hoping, they will stop mining and as a result no more fine gems will be produced.

So you might feel that the author is a little bit cynical here but in the author opinion, one the reasons explaining why Afghanistan has produced during the past 10 years some nice rubies is just an indirect consequence of the presence of the foreign troops in Afghanistan since 2001. It is in fact very simple:

When money comes, miners starts to dig... But when the buyers go away, the miner will soon stop digging.

Furthermore, for many Afghans and particularly many people from Jegdalek who left to Pakistan with their families from 1978 to 2001, Kabul and Afghanistan is seen for them as a much safer and better place to live than Pakistan: Business in Kabul looks to be good despite some security concerns and the city looks like a gigantic construction site. If things are far to be perfect in many parts of Afghanistan, Kabul in 2010 and 2011 was seen by the local gem merchants the author met as safer and even better for business than Peshawar. That was not the same in 2006. Of course they are not happy about everything as things are far to be perfect in Afghanistan. With all the foreigners in Kabul, renting a hotel room is very expensive, then there are many other problems but as one merchant told the author:

"In Pakistan gem business is easier: There have cutting centers, jewelry makers, international shipping and it is easy to export gems from there. You can do it legally. Here in Afghanistan we have the worse legal system you can imagine to export gems. But well it is our country, we prefer to live here as we stayed in Pakistan long enough. And after all, if the Afghan governement make stupid laws about exporting gems, we can still send our stones to our friends in Pakistan or Dubai to export them: Sending a parcel of stones to Peshawar cost less than 100 dollars and takes few hours, the legal process to export them from Kabul is an administrative nightmare that can last weeks and cost you more than 25% of the value you were able to negociate with the customs people... and at the end you are not even sure that this money will go to the government."

"Evening ruby trading in Kabul"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

But beyond the technical and legal problems like the fact that the miners cannot get suitable mining explosives to work, that there is no efficient legal system (no mining licenses for small scale miners, useless export system) the positive thing is that nowadays Afghanistan is again connected to the world. Kabul airport is busy, gems and people are going in and out...

As a result in places like Jegdalek the local population has the possibility to get some income from gem mining, a peaceful activity. It is already a very positive result.

Of course at the same time some corrupt officials helped by stupid laws will try to get bribes here or there in exchange of a stamp on a piece of paper. It is really annoying to face them... But well.

Of course crooks will also try to get their share of the cake trying to cheat guys like you (or me...) with synthetics, treated stones or imitations. But well study gemology, be careful and use some common sense, you might be able to survive.

In that sense it is not worse than in most of the rest of the world. Old timers like to repeat to me that it was the same at the time of the Vietnam war when they were coming for the first time in Thailand...

In fact one of these old timers (who told the author that he don't want to get quoted on that one but who might recognize himself if he read these lines), used to share with the author an interesting theory about bad people in the gem trade that the reader may find interesting to conclude this long blog.

"The positive thing with bad people in the gem trade is that these people are usually not of the worse type. I mean that in most cases they are of the crook type: They will try to cheat you or may be rob you but they will usually not try to hurt or kill you (if you are not yourself searching for troubles).

The fact is that the gem trade is just too tough to interest real bad guys with serious balls. These bad guys will go for much more profitable and dangerous activities like drug or weapon business where you need to have serious balls... "

So actually if that theory is true, the good thing about the gem trade in a country like Afghanistan is that, even if it is far to be perfect, it provides a way to make a peaceful living to many good people and to some guys that could be worse. So far the author experiences after four visits to gem mining areas in Afghanistan since 2006 seems to confirm that theory.

...and the author would add that at the end, somewhere one day, thanks to that, somebody will have a some nice gems to buy and to give to his love one.

All the best,


Special thanks:

First the author would like to thanks his friends from Afghanistan and Peshawar to have helped him to travel in Afghanistan safely, to have helped him to visit their wonderful country and to have spend so much time speaking with him about their gems, their country and their culture. It was really a pleasure each time to enjoy their support. The author does hope that this blog will please them providing some exposure to some gems, a mining area and a beautiful country that are really something special for the author.

He would like also to thanks all the miners and merchants he met during his visits, as they provided him not only interesting samples, but also some very valuable information and most of all some beautiful memories...

He would like also to thanks his friends and particularly Richard W. Hughes, Guy Clutterbuck, Jean Claude Michelou and Gary Bowersox for their much appreciated support and advices regarding these expeditions.

Finally he would like to thanks his boss Ken Scarratt and his colleagues at the GIA and more particularly at the GIA Laboratory Bangkok for all the support provided.

June 13th, 2010 | Keywords:Vietnam , Luc Yen , ruby , spinel , Field Report GIA Travel |
Blog Title: GIA_FE16_Luc_Yen

GIA FE16 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 16): April 08th, 2010 - April 15th, 2010:


Introduction to the Vietnam Luc Yen 2010 expedition: The GIA Laboratory Bangkok Vietnam 2010 field expedition was planned with the support of Dr. Pham Van Long from the Vietnam National Gem and Gold Corporation. After visiting pearl farms in Ha Long and Bai Tu Long Bay with my colleague from GIA Lab Bangkok Nick Sturman and Kham Vannaxay, the author plan was to continue to the mountainous district of Luc Yen located in the province of Yen Bai, in the North West of Hanoi, about five hours driving on the way to the Chinese border.

The expedition had been prepared by the author and a young French gemologist who studied at GIA Thailand in 2009: Philippe Ressigeac. Philippe, following the advices of the author, left to Vietnam in January 2010. There he took few weeks to learn some Vietnamese in Hanoi and then travelled to the Luc Yen gem mining area. In Yen The, the capital of the Luc Yen district, thanks to his skills speaking a bit of Vietnamese he was able within few days to become friend with Mr. Shuan a local gem broker who had an excellent knowledge of the whole mining areas but who, as most people in Yen The, was not able to speak English or French. Few weeks after Philippe arrival in Vietnam, Lou Pierre Bryl, another young gemologist (from Canada) who used to travel a lot with the author joined Philippe. Rapidly the region and particularly its blue spinels mining areas had no more secrets for them.


Left to Right : Mr. Shuan, Lou Pierre Bryl, Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, Tracy Lindwall, Herve Rezo, Pierre hemon and Philippe Ressigeac at the Koan Thong (Bai Thai) memorial stone explaining that here was found the first Vietnamese ruby in 1988.  Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

"Meeting VP team at the ruby discovery memoroial stone"
(Left to Right : Mr. Shuan, Lou Pierre Bryl, Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, Tracy Lindwall, Herve Rezo, Pierre hemon and Philippe Ressigeac at the Koan Thong (Bai Thai) memorial stone explaining that here was found the first Vietnamese ruby in 1988.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

For that new expedition to Vietnam, besides Philippe, Lou Pierre and Mr. Shuan the author selected some additional very motivated young gemologists:

- First two intrepid young women who just finished their gemological studies at GIA Thailand: Tracy Lindwall (USA) and Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, (Germany). They had already some experience about gem mines visiting ruby and sapphire deposits in Thailand and Cambodia with the author and besides the motivation to discover Vietnam and its gems they wanted to show to the author that they could be fit for longer summer time expeditions to African gem deposits.
- and also two young French geologists/gemologists: Herve Rezo and Pierre Hemon, studying the DUG (Diplome Universitaire de Gemmologie) in Nantes University with Prof. Emmanuel Fritsch and Dr. Benjamin Rondeau and willing to get some field experience in relation with gemstones and gem mining.

With these six people, the author had a very motivated team. Each member of the group was assigned responsibilities over a specific task. One had to take care about accounting, others had to collect all the GPS data, take photos or notes about the geology while another one would focus on the stones. The objectives for that new expedition were to complete the work done previously by the author on rubies and spinels from North Vietnam: After visiting the area two times in 2009, the author had gathered a lot of information about places that he had not yet the opportunity to visit. Besides training some new young gemologist for possible longer expeditions in Africa returning to Vietnam was a great opportunity to complete some unfinished business, meaning going to visit these mining location he heard about, meeting miners there and collecting data and samples in order to get a better idea about Vietnamese gems. Our main objectives were of course rubies and blue spinels.


After that expedition a short update about ruby and spinel mining in North Vietnam was published in the Gem News International section of "Gems & Gemology" summer 2010 issue (Vol. 46, No. 2)

Furthermore Jean Baptiste Senoble, another young gemologist who travelled with the author in Vietnam in 2009, was then able to complete an article for the ICA InColor magazine using the additional information about blue spinels mining siteswe provided him. "Beauty and Rarity - A Quest for Vietnamese Blue spinels" by Jean Baptiste Senoble was published in the summer 2010 issue of ICA's InColor Magazine.

Now I would like to share with you some interesting parts from that adventure using few photographs we took during the expedition:

Part 1: Yen The Morning Gem Market: Each morning from 7am to about 9am most of Yen The gem merchants go to a small square near Yen The Lake to meet people, friends and get the news. Many ladies with beautiful hats will gather and present few stones on small wooden tables while men will come around to check them and may be buy some. But the market is not limited of course to that small square. People from all the areas: miners, brokers, merchants will come to meet each other. Modernity with its mobile phones and motorbikes has of course changed things but nevertheless people still like to gather there each morning: Usually after few minutes looking around and discussing a bit here or there, we were moving to a small open air coffee and tea shop located just near the lake about 100 meters from the main market. Usually we were not alone, the next tables were commonly used by miners and traders discussing business or other matters... Gem markets as this one are a real pleasure for the author as if it is not the place where obviously you will see top quality gems, usually you will enjoy meeting there many gem people:




"Hats and ladies" (At Yen The morning market, while Herve Rezo is looking at small ruby specimen,Vietnamese ladies all covered with lovely hats discuss about life and gems. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Hats and ladies"
(At Yen The morning market, while Herve Rezo is looking at small ruby specimen,Vietnamese ladies all covered with lovely hats discuss about life and gems.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"Gem Paintings"  (Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Training the next generation"
(A young Yen The girl is getting some gem trading experience at the Yen The morning gem market with her mother. She has already the right hat.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"The Fellowship of the Rings"  (At the Yen The gem market several most of Vietnamese gem merchants are wearing ring, spinel rings to be more exact. Photo: Philippe Ressigeac, 2010)

"The Fellowship of the Rings"
(At the Yen The gem market several most of Vietnamese gem merchants are wearing ring, spinel rings to be more exact.

Photo: Philippe Ressigeac, 2010)

"Vietnamese Blue Spinel" (Mr. Hoan, a Yen The spinel merchant is proudly presenting us an exceptional rough Vietnamese blue spinel. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Vietnamese Blue Spinel"
(Mr. Hoan, a Yen The spinel merchant is proudly presenting us an exceptional rough Vietnamese blue spinel.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)



"Gem trading in Yen The"
(At Yen The morning market, a Vietnamese trader is displaying rubies, blue sapphires and spinels.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)



"Blue spinels rough"
(Rough Blue spinels at the gem market.
Photo: V. Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

But Yen The is not just about morning gem markets. During after visiting the market most dealers will return to their house and work. The area around the lake is of particular interest as many gem shops and small family type factories are located there.. Typically in Yen The, people are living and working at home: the lower part of the house usually open to the street and is dedicated to gem business while the family lives in the back or the upper part of the house. People can be seen working on gem painting or cutting and polishing stones from dusk to several hours after down... One of the interesting activities that has developped continuously since the author first visit in Yen The are "gem Paintings". During our visit in 2010 we could see more than ten houses-factories working until late. The production of these gem painting will then get exported all over Vietnam mainly to supply the local market. In Vietnam as houses are often designed and decorated following geomancy rules (a local version of the Chinese Feng Hsui) there is a strong demand for stone carvings and gem paintings.

"Gem Paintings"  (Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Gem Paintings"
(Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Gem Paintings"  (Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Gem Paintings"
(Two young Vietnamese women working on a gem painting project in Yen The, Vietnam.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Gem Paintings"  (Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Details of a religious gem painting"
(Details on a finished fine gem painting seen in Yen The. Note the rubies used for the clothes of Mary.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"Gem Shop in Yen The"
(Gem shops in Yen Theare often open from early in the morning to very late in the evening: As long as somebody in the family is awake, business is ongoing.
Photo: V. Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Part 2: Hunting rubies and blue spinel in Luc Yen jungle covered mountains: The main difference between hunting and hunting for gems is that going to a gem mine is usually easier as if there is a gem mine there is probably a path to visit it as miners will regularly travel from the mine to their village. Nevertheless it does not means that all gem mines will be 5 minutes walking from a given village. Sometimes and this is particularly true for the most remote mining sites in the Luc Yen district of North Vietnam, you will need to get ready for several hours walking on tricky jungle covered mountains.

During the 2010 GIA Laboratory Bangkok field expedition our focus was for five days to try to visit some of the most remote gem mining locations we heard about. Places that the author had not visited yet during his two previous expeditions in 2009 where he focused one the main mining locations at that period. We also tried to find out if there were some other mining areas still unknown to us. The difficulty for people willing to collect reference specimens in order to build a good reference collection is that one should not only focus on where many people are mining today but also on the places where many stones were produced in the past: Sometimes there is still a little bit of gem mining there by few small scale miners and thus going there might worth a visit as some interesting samples can still be collected from them. Small less known or completely unknown sites have also their interest as possibly these areas might produce many gems in the future. Thus each mining site, whether its current activity is high or low, might be interesting to visit in order to get as many interesting samples as possible, from as many different places as possible in a given mining area. Working that way enable to get a better idea about the whole region, the variety of the gem it produces, its challenges and its potential. In the Luc Yen district there is indeed a lot of challenges and potential as the more we were visiting these mountainous area the more we understood that the whole region is rich in gems. In fact the main question for the local miners is not really to find a place where there are gems but to find out if it is profitable to mine here or there. In the Luc Yen district about 20 years after the discovery of rubies in the region, most of the easier gem mining areas (meaning the secondary deposits located under the paddy fields near the Yen The town) have been mined out. In 2010 we did not saw any mechanized mining in the Luc Yen district. The most modern gem mining operations were consisting typically of a team of about 10 miners working with a small pump and a locally made jig. In fact as the author writes these lines, gem mining is present in many remote areas where it was not (or will not be) easy to bring mining machinery. The production is low as fine large gems are very rare, but in Yen The, besides the market for fine gems there is with the local gem painting industry a market for small and low quality stones. To the author experience this is one of the things that explains why there are hundreds of small scale gem miners in the Luc Yen district: Not only the fine exceptional gems can get a market but also all the rest of the production, from tiny gems to low quality large stones. Thanks to that miners will get some income even if they dont find some fine gems. Not much but enough to keep them mining. Thanks to that once in a while a good gem is produced here or there... In many other gem mining areas the author visited the main problem is that there is no market for very small or low quality stones, thus people get hopeless with their production that cannot find any market. As a result soon they will stop mining and go to another business. In the Luc Yen district as we visited the region during spring 2010, local people perform most of the gem mining. When they are not busy with other activities like farming or social events, they have the choice between staying at home doing nothing, going to mine gems, going to cut wood in the forest or to go poaching. Many people in Luc Yen seems to prefer gem mining as it provides them some additional income and mining for gems they hope to get lucky and feel that they have a chance to get find a good stone that will change their life for the best. They know that farming rice they will never get rich, On the other side if gem mining is hard job, they feel that they also have a chance to change their life.

Hope and hard work are the two realities of gem mining. If hope can nevertheless be a cruel mistress or a short-cut to deception, nevertheless it give them a reason to live, to wake up in the morning and do something with their time that will be useful for them and their families... And funnily this gem fever is commonly very contagious for young gemologists as arriving in Yen The everybody was ready to go for long days walking in the misty mountains, on dangerous slippery tracks.

The first day of our expedition the weather was misty and we started walking under a gentle rain. It was not too hot, but the expedition was challenging as the way to the mines was then very muddy and the numerous marble pinnacles were very slippery. We had to be very careful particularly while passing over the numerous deep crevasses using some slippery (and scary) wood "bridges". After a little bit more than two hours walking we reached the Bai Gau blue and pink spinel mining area to find out that, due to the rain, most of the miners were not working that day but instead were resting eating red rice and drinking rice alcohol. The following days the weather was sunnier and thus walking was safer in these mountains as the muddy jungle paths and the rocks were becoming less slippery. That was good as day after day if the spirit of the author's team was still very high, our bodies were starting to feel tired.



"Bikers in Luc Yen" (On the way to the ruby and spinel mines, VP team and is discovering on motorbikes the beautiful landscapes of the Luc yen district. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Bikers in Luc Yen"
(On the way to the ruby and spinel mines, VP team and is discovering on motorbikes the beautiful landscapes of the Luc yen district. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"There!" (Mr. Shuan is indicating the muddy way to the Ba Ling Mot valley while Philippe Ressigeac looks very excited to go for a new walk in the Vietnamese jungle. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

(Mr. Shuan is indicating the muddy way to the Ba Ling Mot valley while Philippe Ressigeac looks very excited to go for a new walk in the Vietnamese jungle. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"Kin Cang scenery" (A view over a small gem mine in the paddy fields of Kin Cang Valley near An Phu village. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Tricky mountains"
(On the way to the Vat Sinh ruby mines, Tracy Lindwall is negociating some crevasses in the jungle covered karstic mountains following Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo and Herve Rezo opening the way.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Jungle Wood Bridge" (On the way to the Bai Gau blue spinel mines, Jazmin Amina Weissgarber Crespo is carefully crossing a slippery wooden bridge while Tracy Lindwall is getting ready to follow her... Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Jungle Wood Bridge"
(On the way to the Bai Gau blue spinel mines, Jazmin Amina Weissgarber Crespo is carefully crossing a slippery wooden bridge while Tracy Lindwall is getting ready to follow her..
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Jungle Wood Bridge" (On the way to the Bai Gau blue spinel mines, Jazmin Amina Weissgarber Crespo is carefully crossing a slippery wooden bridge while Tracy Lindwall is getting ready to follow her... Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Jungle Ruby Mine"
(A ruby mine at Vat Sinh, a remote jungle mining site in the mountains North West of An Phu villag, there six miners were collecting gem rich ground accumulated in natural crevasses that became over several millions years natural traps for rubies.. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Rubies from Khoan Thong" (A Vietnamese miner present us some small fine rubi he found mining in Khoan Thong valley neat Yen The". Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Rubies from Khoan Thong"
(A Vietnamese miner present us some small fine rubies he found mining in Khoan Thong valley neat Yen The".
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Dragon fruit and Dragon Gems?" (Rubies from Vat Sinh and a juicy dragon fruit. The color of the milky gems was very similar to the color of the fruit skin...Yummy! Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"The Meaning of Happiness"
(After several hours walking in the mountains, getting some fine samples at the mine and enjoying a juicy fruit is just wonderful... Here are some rubies from Vat Sinh and a dragon fruit. Note that the color of the milky gems was very similar to the color of the fruit skin...Yummy! Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"On the road again?" (VP team on the way to Ba Ling Mot... Days were long walking in the jungle covered mountains of the Luc Yen district, but what a pleasure to visit gem mines and enjoy nature. Photo: Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, 2010)

"On the road again?"
(VP team on the way to Ba Ling Mot... Days were long walking in the jungle covered mountains of the Luc Yen district, but what a pleasure to visit gem mines and enjoy nature. Photo: Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, 2010)

Each day reaching the gem mining site after several hours of hard walk, meeting the miners, looking at their production and sharing some of their time was a wonderful experience for the young gemologists in the author team... Most of them surprised themselves in these mountains: Each evening we were all very tired but our memories were full of beautiful natural landscapes, gems and encounters with gem people. For the author who used to be a hunter in countryside France, there was no surprise: It was just the feeling and the taste of the real thing. For the young passionate gemologists like those I took with me on that expedition to Vietnam, as it was the case for the author when he decided to come in Burma and Thailand to study gemology, there is just nothing like going to the mines...


Left to Right : Mr. Shuan, Lou Pierre Bryl, Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, Tracy Lindwall, Herve Rezo, Pierre hemon and Philippe Ressigeac at the Koan Thong (Bai Thai) memorial stone explaining that here was found the first Vietnamese ruby in 1988.  Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

"Tracy Shot"
(Left to Right : Tracy Lindwall, Vincent Pardieu, Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, Pierre Hemon and Philippe Ressigeac happy to have returned safely from the Vat Sinh ruby mining site, to have been able to spend there some nice time with the miners and finally to have been able to collect fine samples for the GIA gemstone reference collection.
Photo: Tracy Lindwall)

The author would like to thanks all his travel companions for their courage and their enthusiasm. It had been a real pleasure to travel and work with them in Vietnam. Thanks to their support we have been able to add many interesting specimens to the GIA Reference Collection. We would like also to thanks all the people (miners, gem merchants, farmers...) we met in the Luc Yen district for their welcome. It has been a real pleasure to share with them some instants in the mountains of the Luc Yen district. In Vietnam if we found few nice gems we truly met many gemmy people!


The author would like now to invite you to visit the Vietnam 2010 Luc Yen Expedition photo gallery, you will be able to enjoy the beauty of one of the most beautiful gem mining area in South East Asia.. (AVAILABLE VERY SOON...)


All the best,

October 9th, 2009 | Keywords:Tanzania , ruby , spinel , tsavorite , tourmaline , garnet , Mahenge , Morogoro , Umba , Winza Travel |
Blog Title: GIA FE09, Part 3: Tanzania Sept. 2009

GIA FE09 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 09): Part 04: Sep. 20 - Oct. 07, 2009: Central Tanzania:

This is the third part of the GIA Field Expedition to East Africa, I'm leading for the GIA Laboratory Bangkok: I arrived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania from Mozambique with gemologists Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada), and Flavie Isatelle (France) on Sep. 20th 2009. We met there our Tanzanian friends: Abdul Y. Msellem a Tanzanian gem broker and Moussa a Tanzanian driver working for Fortes Safaris.

Our objective was to continue the work I did during my previous expeditions in 2005, 2007 and 2008. This time our focus was to visit the ruby and spinel deposits in Central Tanzania at Winza, in the Morogoro province (in Matombo and Mahenge districts) and around Umba.

Our visit started in the Tanzanian capital Dodoma to get the support of the mining officer to visit Winza. We did not miss the opportunity to visit the Geological Survey of Tanzania in order to get some useful maps and publications.



"Our team (left to right: Vincent Pardieu, Flavie Isatelle and Lou Pierre Bryl) leaving the Geological Survey of Tanzania in Dodoma: It is all the time useful to get some good maps and publication before to visit gem mining areas"
Photo: A. Y. Msellem / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

We then left to visit Mpwapwa and the Winza ruby and sapphire mines. I visited already Winza with Jean Baptiste Senoble in April 2008 and we were then the first gemologists to visit this unique deposit.

(For more information about Winza, please visit our Winza expedition report and for more information about the gemology of these interesting rubies and sapphires, please read the complete article published in Gems and Gemology about Winza)

It was then the end of the rainy season and more than 5000 miners were working there washing the gem rich ground for rubies and sapphires and digging the hard rock underneath to get blue and pink sapphires.

During that new visit we found that around 500 miners were still working there. We could visit the mining area and collect some interesting samples. An update about ruby and sapphire mining in Winza will be soon published by the GIA Laboratory Bangkok after my return in Thailand. I will keep you informed.

"Geologist and gemologist Flavie Isatelle returning to the surface after a visit underground in Winza"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009


After our visit to Winza we focused on visiting the ruby and spinel deposits in the Morogoro region. First we visited the ruby deposits located in the Matombo district of the Uluguru Mountains in the west of Morogoro. We visited the different mining area near the Mwaraze and Ngongolo villages, I visited already in 2005 (see our Tanzania 2005 expedition report), and which were very active during the 1980's up to the beginning of the 1990's producing rubies.

After this visit we continued to the Mahenge where we visited the spinels deposits near Ipanko, Mbarabanga and Kituti. It was interesting to see the evolution of gem mining at Ipanko after our visits in 2005 and 2007. Spinel mining stopped at Ipanko few days after our visit in 2007 and started again in April 2009 after a controversy regarding the mining rights. Ipanko is now again producing beautiful red spinels and is now the most active gem mining area in Tanzania after Merelani with nearly 1,000 miners.

Besides Ipanko we also spent some time continuing the visits I did in 2005 and 2007 of the numerous ruby deposits near Lukande, Mayote, Chipa, Gombe, Ibogoma, Nbangayao, Kitonga, Kitwaro and Kisewe. Some of these areas were reported to have produce during the 1980's and 90's some very fine and large marble type rubies and they remain very poorly known.

"Mahenge Spinel Crystal"

This rough crystal we saw at the mines was weighting nearly 100 grams, this is nothing compared to a 54kg rough spinel but this can give an idea about what we speak about...
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

After that visit we drove to the north of the country to Tanga and the Umba valley. Tanga is a special place for me as in 2005 I spent there some of the hardest days of my life when I was suffering from malaria.

This time our visit was more pleasant: We visited first the red zircon deposit at Mwakijembe then we visited sapphire, ruby, tsavorite, rhodolite, almandine and malaya garnet mines along the Umba river near Kigwasi and Kalalani. Then on our way back we turn our interest to tourmaline mines at Ngombeni and in the Usambara Mountains.

"A Massai trader present us his treasure: A pair of blue and orange Umba sapphires"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

After that visit we returned to Arusha in order to do the export process for our reference samples collected in the field on site while visiting mines.

It is also for me the time to spend some more cozy times participating to the 31st IGC (International Gemological Conference) which will start on Oct 9th and will finish on Oct 14th.

"The 31th International Gemological Conference, Arusha, Tanzania, 2009"

The IGC conference means also that it will be time for my traveling companions: Lou Pierre Bryl and Flavie Isatelle to continue their own travelings respectively to Poland and Madagascar.

It was very nice to have them with me during that expedition as they were very helpful motivated to visit Tanzanian gem mining areas. I wish them all the best.

On my side after the end of the conference I will continue to Kenya with new travel companions: Dr. Gaston Giuliani and Dr. Daniel Ohnenstetter from Nancy University, France and Dr. Stephanos Karempelas from the Gubelin Gem Lab in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Our focus will be on visiting ruby and tsavorite deposits around Voi in Southern Kenya.


All the best,

June 14th, 2009 | Keywords:Field Report GIA , Vietnam , ruby , spinel , sapphire , pearl , melo , Luc Yen , Quy Chau , Ha Long Bay , Yen Bai , Phan Thiet , Dak Nong , Di Linh , pearl farm Travel |
Blog Title: FE08: Vietnam: A visit to gem mines between the sea and the sky.

GIA FE08 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 08): May. 15 - Jun. 10, 2009: Vietnam
After our FE02 expedition to Vietnam in Jan 2009, we had now all the contacts and were able to make all the arrangements in order to be able to conduct a complete survey of Vietnam mining areas. This project was done in collaboration with:
- Dr. Pham Van Long, a well known Vietnamese geologist and gemologist working as Director of the "VGC Center for Gem and Gold Research and Identification" in Hanoi. This is the Vietnamese official gemological laboratory which also delivers all the necessary paperwork to export legally gemstones from Vietnam.
- Mr. Hoc, my old friend, a local French speaking Vietnamese tour guide working for Viet-Y. I was working with Hoc while visiting Vietnam during the 1990's when I was working as a tour guide in Vietnam for FRAM, a major French Tour Operator.
To help me in this expedition were several friends, all experienced travelers: Jean Baptiste Senoble (from France, in charge of photography and sourcing), Kham Vannaxay (from France, video and translation as he speaks Vietnamese), David Bright (from USA, in charge of GPS recording and photography) and Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada, in charge of photography and accounting). Note: as usual, all the team members were financing their own traveling costs and their part of the common costs in this join expedition.
Our program was to visit first the ruby and spinel mining areas in North Vietnam in the Yen Bai and Nghe An provinces and also a pearl farming operation in Ha Long Bay and an experimental farm in Hanoi. Then we were planning to visit the blue sapphire deposits in the south of the country located in the Highlands region north of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

"The Hanoi Opera and the Vietnam 2009 team"
Posing in front of the beautiful Hanoi opera, one of the author's favorite French colonial style buildings, which color harmony was an inspiration for the design of this website third version, are the member of the author's team for that 8th expedition for the GIA Laboratory Bangkok: Left to right: Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada), Jean Baptiste Senoble (France), David Bright (USA) and Kham Vannaxay (France)"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

After a short stay in Hanoi to arrange all the expedition details, the first part of our expedition for the GIA Laboratory Bangkok was to visit the Yen Bai area with the Tan Huong and Thac Ba Lake ruby and spinel mining areas. Sadly due to the heavy rains of the previous week all mining stopped as the water level was high. We then left to Truc Lau (ruby and spinel) and then Yen The, the main city of the famous Luc Yen district of the Yen Bai province. If our first day in Yen The was rainy and thus spent to visit the local gem market and the different town dealers, the following days were blessed by a sunny weather which enable us to visit all the mining areas we planned to visit. That was wonderful as the author was not able to visit them as he wanted in 2005 and Jan. 2009 due to the weather conditions: We first visited on May 19th the Bai Chuoi and Khoan Thong mining areas which were the places were the Thais and VIGECO were mining with machinery during the 1990's. Then on May 20's we moved to the An Phu area to visit the Cung Truoi 2 and 3 (Note: "Cung Truoi" means "the Sky Gate" it is a high marble cliff which is divided in three areas: Cung Truoi 1, 2 and 3) ruby and spinel mining areas in a failed attempt to visit the May Thuong ruby mining area (Note: "May Thuong" means "the high clouds" as this is one of Vietnam most remote and difficult to access ruby mines). The expedition was very difficult due to the jungle covered karst type terrain where we had literally to jump from marble pinnacle to marble pinnacle risking at each step a serious wound if we put our feets in the wrong place. The following day, using a different guide and path we visited the Cung Truoi 1 red spinel mining area and finally, after another very hard walk in the karst type cliff, we succeeded to visit the May Thuong ruby mining area which is producing most of the ruby in matrix specimens seen in Luc Yen region markets. Then on May 22, we went on the track of Vietnam fabulous blue spinels and were able to visit the main deposits in Bai Son and Co Ngan after another hard walking day in the jungle covered mountains. After these great four days hiking Luc Yen region scenic but deadly mountains we returned to Hanoi exhausted but really happy...

"An incredible blue spinel from Vietnam"
Here is what we were looking for regarding Vietnam spinels: An incredible small neon blue spinel with a very high saturation and nearly no tone... A pure little blue "Jedi" spinel far away from the "dark side of the force".
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

Back in Hanoi we got prepared for the second part of our expedition which was about pearls: We first visited a cultured pearl farm producing "akoya" type pearls from "pinctada fucata" oysters on Ha Long bay and its hatchery located nearby. The visit was interesting as we could witness on the Bay the grafting process. Later in Hanoi we could visit a experimental fresh water bead nucleated pearl farm producing pearls from mussels.

We then visited in Hanoi a melo pearl dealer and were able to get some interesting useful information that enabled us few days after to visit the Cat Ba island and its port and to meet there Vietnamese melo melo fishermen. We were able to study several specimens of these mysterious sea snails producing in very rare cases one of the rarest, largest but also one of the most beautiful natural pearls: Melo pearls. (Read our report on "Melos and their pearls in Vietnam" for more details)

Finally after a visit to the Quy Chau and Quy hop ruby and sapphire mining area, which was very quiet, we took the plane to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in order to visit the blue sapphire deposit of Vietnam Highlands. We started our survey on the cost around Phan Thiet city with the deposits near Da Ban and with Ma Lam villages. Then we took the road to the mountain to visit the former mining area near Di Linh where there is currently no activity as most of the local working force is busy working in the coffee plantations which have replaced all the jungle and covering nowadays all the region. We finally left to the new province of Dak Nong (formerly Gia Nghia) where we scouted the Dak Ton and Dak Rung mining areas. There as the coffee was not yet replacing all the jungle we could find after several hours walking in the jungle some small scale mining areas and meet some sapphire and zircon miners.

"Melo snail in Cat Ba port"
A Vietnamese fisherman is holding a melo melo sea snail in Cat Ba port, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. These sea snails are known to produce in some very rare cases beautiful large natural pearls.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

They after this visit to the south we returned to Hanoi in order to do, with the help of Pham Van Long, the necessary paper work for the export of our samples and returned to Bangkok on June 10th after a truly very successful field expedition.

All the best,

April 6th, 2009 | Keywords:Field Report GIA , Thailand , Kanchanaburi , sapphire , nin , spinel Travel |
Blog Title: GIA_FE06: Thailand: A visit to Kanchanaburi sapphire mines

GIA FE06 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 06): Apr. 04 - Apr. 05, 2009: Kanchanaburi
That week end again I decided that watching TV or working on this website would not be a good option. It was time to continue my visits of Thailand sapphire mining areas for the GIA.
"Monday to Friday at the lab, week end in the field!", this is a field gemologist type week. Something nice also as it enable the field gemologist to travel with few motivated friends and make the whole thing more pleasant and more efficient: With Richard W. Hughes, his wife Wimon Manoratkul, Valentina Petri, a young Austrian gemologist from Vienna and Raphaelle Delmotte, a young French girl working in Bangkok, we decided to leave Bangkok and spend the week end visiting sapphire mining areas around Kanchanaburi.
We drove to Bo Phloi, the small mining town 30km in the north of Kanchanaburi to visit the SAP sapphire mine. During the end of the 80's and the 90's, this mine was one of the largest sapphire mines in the world. It is something very unusual in Thailand where most of the gemstone mining operations were small scale mining. The SAP Company is an important industrial mining company which decided to mine gems. Again to have Richard W. Hughes with me was very interesting as he was the first to report about the SAP large scale mining operation when he visited the area as he noticed at the end of the 80's that many unusual sapphires appeared in the Bangkok gem trade. Wimon presence was also great as even if Richard and I can speak some Thai, to travel with a gemologist fluent in both Thai and English is really nice while meeting people at the mines. An when this gemologist is also an excellent photographer, and a great travel companion then the whole stuff turn into a dream team!

(A view over the mining operation as we saw it at SAP mine. The machines were then mainly removing the overburden to be able to work later th sapphire rich layer located 20 meters deep.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009)

The mine is much less active as in the past and the former mining pits were turned into lakes and their surroundings into a lovely golf and a week end resort. We could nevertheless witness some mechanical mining with excavators and trucks, but the miners told us that now due to the high cost of gas and to the fact that the best places were already mined, most of the income from the mining was not coming anymore from the sapphires but from the sand and the other construction material. Nevertheless, sapphire mining was still active and a huge washing plant was processing the gem rich ground bring by the trucks.

(A security guard is watching the workers picking sapphires on the belt at SAP mine, Kanchanaburi.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009)

Further at the mine sorting house a group of workers were sorting the sapphire rich gravels on a mechanical belt... Besides sapphires the mine is know to produce a lot a black opaque spinel (locally called "nin") and some zircons. We saw few sapphires that day as they were then sorting the big gravels: Most of the mine was reported to be currently composed of small stones. But Kanchanaburi is known to have produced many sapphires over 50 carats.

(A French girl and a Thai stone: Raphaelle Delmotte holding a small blue sapphire from Kanchanaburi.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009)

After that visit we returned to Kanchanaburi and visited a little the area around the famous bridge over the River Kwai. Besides few genuine gemstones a multitude of vendors were selling mainly imitations and synthetics were, a real nightmare/wonderland for gemologists willing to train their skills!
All the best,

January 13th, 2009 | Keywords:Field Report GIA , Vietnam , Luc Yen , ruby , Ha Long Bay , pearl , spinel , pearl farm Travel |
Blog Title: GIA FE02: Vietnam: Rubies, spinel and pearls from the north.

GIA FE02 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 02): Jan. 03- Jan. 13, 2009: A visit to North Vietnam!
For my second field expedition for GIA, as our focus was on that first winter and spring season on ruby and sapphires from South East Asia, I decided to scout again Vietnam. The last time I visited Vietnam gem mining areas was in 2005 and in order to prepare a full scale expedition scheduled for May and June 2009, I decided to take advantage of the fact that one of my friends from Switzerland was visiting the area. Sadly, just few days before the beginning of the expedition, he told me that he would not be able to join it.
With the support of Vietnamese gemologist Pham Van Long, and with my old friend Hoc, I was able to visit again the Yen Bai and Luc Yen ruby and spinel mining areas for 5 days: As most people in Vietnam were preparing the "Tet": The Vietnamese New Year, mining was quite low. Nevertheless we were able to visit the spinel mines on a marble cliff near An Phu village and several alluvial type mines in the rice fields around An Phu and Minh Tien villages:

(Gem mining in the paddy fields near Minh Tien village in the south of Yen The city.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009)

It was also very interesting to meet people in Yen The city, the local gem trading center of the Luc Yen province. There we could see that in less than 20 years the gem mining and trading industry has turned into something very successful: Besides high quality rubies and spinels which will finish on international gem markets, we saw a very busy industry turned to the local Vietnamese market producing gemstone paintings and carving: A great way to use the gems too small or those which quality is not good enough to be used on jewelry... Thanks to these paintings and carvings, the local miners can find a market for their production and thus get some regular income even the day they are not lucky to get a fine stone. Thanks to that they are mining day after day and thus the conditions for fine gems (like the following star ruby) to be find are present!

(A vietnamese dealer presenting a star ruby probably mined at Tan Huong, near Yen Bai.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009)

After that visit to the gem mines in the mountains of North Vietnam, I returned to Hanoi where I was joined few good friends to continue our expedition with a week end on the famous Ha Long Bay in order to visit a pearl farm producing Akoya type cultured pearls and rest a little.

(A view over the Akoya type cultured pearl farm we visited on Ha Long Bay.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009)

This second Field Expedition for GIA was again a success! It was also very nice to see again all my Vietnamese friends and to travel again in this beautiful country.
All the best,

August 31th, 2008 | Keywords:spinel , Burma , Mogok , Namya , Vietnam , Tajikistan , Tanzania , Travel |
Blog Title: Spinel, the resurection of a classic

Spinel, the resurection of a classic:

This article written by the author in association with Richard W. Hughes and Edward Boehm was first published in InColor, Summer 2008, pp. 10–18, the magazine of the ICA (International Colored stone Association).

With that article the author wanted to share his old interest and understanding of spinel, a stone that he discovered while studying gemology in Burma, living with a Burmese spinel dealer and then working for a short while as a spinel buyer for a great spinel connoisseur: Henry Ho.

The article is also available online on and also on Richard W.Hughes website:




"Gemologist Hai An Nguyen Bui studying a spinel crystal from Namya mining area, Northern Burma"
Photo: V. Pardieu, 2006

Hoping that you will like it.
All the best,

November 25th, 2007 | Keywords:Tanzania , Hughes , Merelani , Morogoro , Mahenge , Songea , Tunduru , Ruangwa , Lendanai , Komolo , Manyara , Lemshuku , ruby , spinel , tsavorite , tanzanite , emerald , alexandrite , tourmaline , moonstone , garnet Travel |
Blog Title: Tanzania 2007

Expedition to gemstones mining areas in Tanzania: (October 2007):

Introduction: This report (in two parts) presents the details of the field expedition to Tanzania lead by the author in October 2007. The author was then working as a gemologist for the Gubelin Gem Lab in Lucerne, Switzerland when his friend Richard W. Hughes (working then at the AGTA GTC Laboratory) asked him if he could help him to visit Tanzanian gem deposits in East Africa. After some difficult negociatiosn with his laboratory the author was allowed to take some holidays and travel to Tanzania with Richard W. Hughes and his group.

The group was composed of Richard W Hughes, the author of "Ruby and Sapphire", Warne and Monty Chitty, Mike Rogers, Guillaume Soubiraa and Philippe Brunot. For the expedition we got the support of Mark Saul (From Swala gem traders) and Abdul Y. Msellem a young Tanzanian broker who was already the author guide in Tanzania during his previous visit in 2005.

We started our visit in the north of the country in Arusha.

We travelled first to Morogoro where we visited some moonstone (I should probably say "peristerite"...) and corundum deposits. Then we continued to Mahenge to visit ruby and spinel mining areas. The visit was interesting as it was just few months after the discovery of several huge spinel crystals. Then we took the road to Songea and Tunduru famous for their sapphire mines. After that we continued to Ruangwa to visit its tsavorite mines. We returned then to the north of the country where we visited the Tanzanite mines at Merelani, emerald and alexandrite mines at Manyara, tsavorite mines near Komolo village and tourmaline mines near Lendanai in the Massai steppe.

Two reports are available on (with the old design of, before Dec 2009)

"Tanzania, October 2007, A Gemological Safari. Part 1: Ruby, Sapphire, Moonstone, Spinels, Tsavorite, Alexandrite: Gems from central and south Tanzania"

"Tanzania, October 2007, A Gemological Safari. Part 2: Tsavorite, Tanzanite, Chrome Tourmaline, Emerald and Alexandrites: Gems from the Massai Land (North Tanzania)"



"Mahenge Spinel"
Eric Saul, (from Swala Gem Traders) presents proudly to the author an exceptional red spinel from Mahenge. The stone weighting more than 10 carats is exceptionally clean and is believed to have been cut from one of the giant crystals found in Mahenge during summer 2007.
Photo: V. Pardieu, 2007

This expedition to Tanzania was in fact very succesful not only for the areas visited and the samples collected but also for the contact created with local miners and traders. Few weeks after the author return in Switzerland, his local contact Abdul Y. Msellem informed him of the discovery of a ruby deposit near Winza.

These expedition reports were also the base of two publications in collaboration with Richard W. Hughes:
- "Working the Blueseam: The Tanzanite Mines of Merelani" about Tanzanite mining at Merelani, available both of and
- "Downtown: Gem hunting in Central & Southern Tanzania" about our expedition to the south of the country, available also both on and

Finally thanks to that expedition Warne Chitty was able to get the samples he needed for his Bsc Thesis in gemology and applied mineralogy (Kingston University, UK).

All the best,

September 25th, 2006 | Keywords:Tajikistan , ruby , spinel , Kul I Lal , Murgab , Badakhshan , Pamir Travel |
Blog Title: Tajikistan 2006

A visit to Afghanistan gem markets and gem mining areas (Summer 2006):

The whole expedition report is avaliable at that link.

A study of the Tajik rubies as they appeared in the market in Bangkok in 2006 is also available at the here.

The field expedition to Tajikistan (July 2006):

This fieldtrip was part of the expedition supported by AIGS and the Gubelin Gem Lab with the support of the ICA to the Western Hymalaya range during summer 2006. During that expedition to Tajikistan the author, then Director of the AIGS Gemological laboratory, travelled with Guillaume Soubiraa, Richard W. Hughes and Dana Schorr. While Richard Hughes and Dana Schorr came by plane from the US, Guillaume Soubiraa and the author arrived from Kabul in Afghanistan. The texpedition was possible thanks to the help of our local guide: Surat Toimastov, a Tajik photographer.

Expedition schedule: After one day in Dushambe we left to Khorog the capital of the Badakshan province. From Khorog we visited the historic Kul I Lal spinel mines and then left to Murgap to visit the "Snijnie" ruby mines which are located in the center of a large area rich in corundum. Then left to the Wakhan corridor following the Afghan border up to Iskhashim to finally return to Khorog and then Dushambe. The final part of our trip was the visit to the "Gubjemast" company which is mining in both Kul I Lal and Snijnie.


"The author favorite official photograph"
The author at the entrance of the old Kul I Lal spinel mines, dominating the mining village and the famous Oxus river separating Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Photo: Guillaume Soubiraa, 2006



All the best,

Important Note: Vincent Pardieu is an employee of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Laboratory Bangkok since Dec 2008. Any views expressed on this website - and in particular any views expressed by Vincent Pardieu - are the authors' opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GIA or GIA Laboratory Bangkok. GIA takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any content on this website nor is GIA liable for any mistakes or omissions you may encounter. GIA is in particular not screening, editing or monitoring the content on this website and has no possibility to remove, screen or edit any content.