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.
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.
Index page: Vincent Pardieu's Blog
About the Author
About me : How did a countryside Frenchman became a "Shameless travel addicted gemologist"? ( Under construction)
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:
- Introduction to AIGS/ICA/Gubelin Gem lab 2005 Expeditions
Special 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 STUDY GEMOLOGY?
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:
GIA FE35 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 35): April. 28 -April. 09, 2012: Madagascar
2012 seems defenitively to be a on the right tracks to be a year that will please many blue sapphire lovers: In March the author lead an expedition for the GIA Laboratory Bangkok to Sri Lanka in order to visit a very interesting new blue sapphire deposit near Kataragama in the south East part of the "Gem Island" (see here)
During the Songkran holidays (The Thai / Sri Lankan and Burmese new year's celebration) while I was working on the study of that new material, Philippe Ressigeac, a gem merchant recently graduated from GIA Thailand and living in Ilakaka (Madagascar) informed me about the discovery of a new sapphire deposit in Madagascar. His partner, Marc Noverraz, just told him that blue sapphires and also fine rubies were reportedly found near the town of Ambatondrazaka, a rice farming center located between Madagascar capital Antananarivo and Andilamena, a gem producing region famous for its rubies The next day Nirina Rakotosaona, a Malagasy miner the author met several time in Ilakaka, confirmed this time from Andilamena the discovery and provided me some additional details about the stones he saw that convinced us that I had to find as soon as possible a plane ticket to Madagascar...
Discover here the GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE35 Expedition Report to Didy, Madagascar.
It is including a very illustrated expedition report and an inclusion study.
It was published on GIA Laboratory websites: here (in the GIA laboratory Bangkok Research Ongoing web page) here (in the GIA Laboratory Bangkok field report page) here (in the GIA's main website: www.gia.edu in the News from Research part of the website)
Now as traveling alone is not neither really safe or fun, I had to find a good buddy. For such an expedition, that guy had to be an experienced one... Luckily, two of my regular travel buddies: Jean Baptiste Senoble and Lou Pierre Bryl, were in Bangkok: There was just a small problem: Jean Baptiste was preparing his wedding, scheduled two weeks later and Lou Pierre and I were supposed to be his best men. To discuss the issue, we had one of these great diners with meaning and passionate discussions I really enjoy before an expedition.
That evening, Lou Pierre was hesitating.
"Going next week with you on a gem rush in Mada?", JB said. "Hum, that's the only acceptable reason I see for me to miss my own wedding... LOL".
He added: "Traveling few years ago together to Winza during the rush was one of the best experiences in my life. I would love to go with you but if I miss my own wedding because we get stuck in the jungle, my wife might not be really happy about it."
"But guys, if you miss my wedding because you are in Mada on that rush that will be the only reason I will accept for you guys to miss it.", JB added.
Lou Pierre was finally convinced. I had my team mate.
We had now to find some affordable flights to go to Madagascar and return on time for JB wedding. That was not easy but we found a solution with two stops: Bangkok to Antananarivo via Mumbay and then Nairobi: 18 hours to go and 19 to return. Our chances to be back on time? Well possibly one of two as we had that non confirmed flight on the return from Mumbay to Bangkok... Furthermore the correspondances were quite short, and the airlines different. Thus we decided to travel light with only hand luggages and the minimum necessary to survive 2 or 3 days in the muddy jungle.
Now we had to prepare ourselves. But for a field expedition to be succesful, the key points are not to have the right shoes or a good camera, it is first to travel with the right guys and follow few basic rules. Which rules? Well simply the "Rules of Field Gemology" that Richard W. Hughes (the author of Ruby & Sapphire) loves to give me regularly hard time about and is regularly asking me to write about them.
Here is may be a good occasion:
"Basic Rules of Field Gemology"
Over the past ten years traveling around to gem mining areas, I would say that these are 5 or 6 very basic rules that I do my best to follow in order to make a field expedition succesful and be able to maximize my chances to survive on the long run... That might looks funny to read but keep in mind that if you accept that on each expedition you have 1% chance not to return, the statistics will be that you will have only 36.6% of chance to survive until the end of expedition number 100.
That new expedition for the GIA was to be Field Expedition FE35... meaning my 35th expedition for the GIA Laboratory. Still if I take in consideration the 30 missions I also lead when I was working at the AIGS or at the Gubelin Gem Lab, I can only say that I survived 65 field expeditions so far. Not yet 100...
So here are these "Rules of Field Gemology", still unpublished but quite famous among the small community regularly traveling with me, these rules that Richard W. Hughes likes to tease me about:
Rule 01: "Survive: It is better to have a good reason to come back than to be dead".
It is useless to go somewhere and die trying to get samples, photos or I dont know what. In some occasions you might experience danger, difficulties and fear. You will have to think about your situation and you might decide to be courageous. That's fine, but be careful. There is just a thin line between courage and stupidity.
My advice: Never take risk if it's not worth it. Keep out of trouble, use safe transportation and focus on securing your return with a good story and some interesting samples. It is much better to have a good reason to come back than not to be able to come back. If you fail to reach the place you wanted: No problem you will have other occasions, just consider that expedition as a scouting expedition: Learn from it and think about the next one.
Now sometimes you might think: How to survive and at the same time do some good job? Well, i like to say that an intelligent man learn from his mistakes, but a wise man learn from other people mistakes. May be you should be equally intelligent and wise and read the other rules of Field Gemology which are basically just about common sense.
Rule 02: "Never go on a serious expedition with people you don’t know."
A gem rush in Madagascar jungle: That's something to think seriously about as it was going in Andilamena, few kilometers from the place were where this time heading to, that I got malaria in June 2005 and when I returned there few months later in September it was there that I saw a bullet going on the wall of the hut we were having lunch just 10 centimeters from the head of my friends and mentor Richard W. Hughes... On that expedition I had Lou Pierre with me. That's good: First I dont like to travel alone. It is just boring and not as efficient and interesting as traveling with young motivated people enthusiastic about learning more about gemology or older experience people willing to share their knowledge. Lou has become one of my regular traveling buddies as he is not just a regular wannabe adventurer, he is one of the best young guys I know today: Associating courage and wisdom, he has a great passion for gems and a cool attitude that make him be to be far away from the boring type but still very reliable. A rare mix. Besides him I was going to travel with Marc Noverraz and Nirina Rakotosaona, two of the most knowledgeable and serious people I know about Madagascar and its gem trade. Thats' what I call a dream team: Just perfect!
Rule 03: "Expect the unexpected"
Plans may change at anytime depending of security, local events, opportunities. That was exactly what was happening while I was working on these sapphires from Kataragama and I learned about that new deposit near Didy: But well this is one of the reasons why I believe my life is great: it is full of surprises and my job is somewhere to deal with them.
Rule 04: "Keep going!"
While in the field: You have to get the hunting spirit and take the mission seriously. It means here: Don’t stop unless you are stopped or if you reach the mining site. That can be a tricky one in some situations when difficult decisions have to be made. But remember that you are in the field for a good reason... That reason give some meaning to the whole expedition, so focus on it.
Rule 05:"Never complain"
Complainers are a poison for the morale of the whole team. Whatever happen in the field, remember that if you are there it means that you have signed for it. As I was told in the army: "You signed for S***, you should be happy because you are getting what you signed for". So use your energy to hep your team mate and make them feel good. The worse the situation, the more important it is to keep your team morale high.
Rule 06:"Time and good friends worth more than money and fancy shoes"
At any time: Time and a good local contacts are the two most important assets you need for a succesful expedition: It is useless to have good shoes or a great medical kit if you have not enough time for the mission and a useless local crook to help you. Basically in the field good friends and time are much more useful, than money and things. But of course if you have the right equipment and the money to finance the expedition, it helps when you have already the right team and enought time to make it... and that particularly when you think about Rule Number 02: "Expect the unexpected". But my point is that it is useless to have the money and the equipment if you dont have the right team and enough time to prepare and execute the mission.
Rule 07: "Optimize the luck factor with hard work"
Finally dont forget about luck... In my opinion it is a lot of hard work to become lucky as my experience so far tells me that luck is smiling mostly to clever hard working people. The reason is simple, if you are well prepared you will be more likely to take the right decision at the right time. It means that for me the key for a succesful field expedition is to preprare it very seriously. If you want to optimize your luck, the best way is to work hard and of course to work smart. In that sense you have to look at the preparation of a field expedition more like preparing a military campaign than going on a "safari-adventure" in Kenya. Prepare your mission seriously: First collect all the information you can on the area you plan to visit: Everything that was written about it: Maps, books, articles, etc... and study them. Learn about the people living in the area as you will have to connect with them, if you can meet some of them! That knowledge will be useful to you when you will have to take some difficult decisions, and possibly one day you might then realized that you had been lucky to have taken the right decisions. Choices that made your life better or even saved your life...
Rule 08: "Paciencia"
Finally dont forget about one of the basic rule of all hunting activity, one rule that became really obvious to us while visiting Mozambique: Paciencia: meaning : Be patient. Visiting gemstone mining areas you will have to expect long days on the road, long days waiting for a permission or for a key local contact to be ready to take you to the place you want to visit, then you might also have to wait for the local chief of the village to welcome you and this is probably not the end as you may not be able to get the samples you wanted to have during that visit. Pacience is one of the main qualities of all hunters... and it is best combined with focus and determination. In fact for me, the worse type of people on a field expedition are people lacking patience and complaining all the time.
and last but may be not the least:
Rule 666: ...
Well speaking about the "Rules of Fieldgemology" without writting about the very special rule Richard W. Hughes started to bully me about would just not be acceptable... So here it is: "Sick men dont drink!" Sadly for you guys, the details about that one are still classified.
Just two things:
1) It does not mean that in my opinion healthy men should drink (Thanks Barbra for your 2 cents on that one...)
2) The field expedition related with that story was not one of my own expeditions, nut it was one we had some discussion about and from that discussion Richard W. Hughes tried to convince me regularly to write something about the "Rules of Field Gemology".
Now to declassify that special rule, you will have to contact the copyright owners meaning an expedition leader living currently in Switzerland or may be you can try to convince R.W. Hughes to tell you more about that story. The later might be the most efficient as the Swiss guy might be difficult to convince while R.W. Hughes will be probably very happy to tell you that story if you invite him for diner! (to contact R.W. Hughes, just follow this link)
All the best,
For that expedition, things were looking good: I had the full support of my boss at the GIA laboratory Bangkok and I had a lot of information about the place we were heading to. But still as I got more information about what was ahead of us I had some concerns.
Regarding the team it was close to perfection: Lou Pierre was on that adventure with me, then in Madagascar, I had a great many great guys ready to help:
- Marc Noverraz, from Colorline Ilakaka Ltd., a Swiss gem merchant based in Ilakaka whose help was invaluable during all our expeditions to Madagascar since our first visit there in 2005, was waiting for us at the airport with a good car and some supply.
- Then Nirina Rakotosaona, who already visited the mining site was waiting for us with fresh news in Ambatondrazaka
- Finally Nochad, a young Sri Lankan gem merchant I knew also since 2005 was waiting for us in Didy...
We had the right key people at every key place, a good car and supply. We had all a good physical condition. Not as good as Nirina's condition (he had lived in the jungle for about one year and was as fit for the mission as a samourai blade) but we were ready to be up to the challenge. Our only problem was time particularly when Nirina told us that we had to expect 12 to 15 hours of very tough walk through some thick jungle to reach the new discovery site.
In Ambatondrazaka a group of Malagasy miners are on their way to Didy.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012
On that expedition the combination of Rule Number 5 and Number 2 were a concern: We had enought time for the mission but if things were not going as expected and if we got delayed here or there, then difficulties would be expected.
On my side, that would not only mean that I could miss my return flight and miss the wedding of one of my best friends, but also it would affect my work in the lab on the Kataragama new discovery: The fact was with these unexpected discoveries in Kataragama and now in Madagascar, I was getting short in time in my work at the lab. First the Kataragama study was not yet published... That was not good: In theory we should complete the job on one expedition before to leave for the next one as if it is easy to start many projects it is difficult to finish one. And I dont like unfinished business. Then few days after my expected return in Bangkok I was expecting a very busy May 2012 month with the visit in Bangkok of GIA's Board of Governors and a scheduled expedition to Australia and Tasmania... So I had to return to Bangkok rapidly with the reference samples the laboratory was needing and soon enough to have to the time to finish the work on the Kataragama rush and do the work on Didy before to leave to Australia. Already, I had to tell several friends that I could not comply with the dead lines they had given me about some projects. Time was for that expedition a serious problem as if I had to miss that return flight there might be some unpleasant consequences. I was hoping that things were going to be fine...
In fact, as usual I have to say that once again I was somewhere lucky: The unexpected as expected was on the way.
First we had a flat tire few kilometers after leaving for Didy. Then Marc asked me: Ok, now we can continue with the spare tie, but well if we get anymore trouble then we will be stuck... We decided to return to Ambatondrazaka and loose few hours. Lucky wise decision as arriving to Ambatondrazaka we found out that we had a second tire that was going to be flat. After few hours we found new tires and went back on the road to Didy. Things went fine as the weather was good, but the drive had been hard and our car got stuck twice in deep mud... Luckily it had stopped raining for few days but it was clear to us that going to Didy would be a hell of a trip if it was raining. We were all thinking about the return... Yes indeed if rain was coming we might be stuck in Didy for few days.
"Hope and long walk"
After a long day walking from Ambatondrazaka to Didy village this group of miner still have a long way to go to reach the new mining site, deep in the jungle where they hope to find fortune.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012
Then arriving in Didy late in the evening we had to take a decision: Should we try to leave to the mines the following day in the morning or should we stop for a day in order to try to see some stones coming back from the mines and collect more info about what was going on there... We had up to the morning to decide about that. The decision was tough to take as rule number 4 is about "Keep going!". As to reach our next place to sleep we had just 3 or 4 hours to walk we decided to stay for the morning and decide again after lunch.
During the morning we could see some interesting samples and meet a lot of interesting people. Things were going fine but as we were discussing about the afternoon schedule we had the visit of the gendarmerie, the local security forces in charge of the area. They informed us that they had the order to notice all the foreigners that they had to leave Didy and return to Ambatondrazaka before the next day at noon.
Well, that were bad news. We had then the choice to leave to Ambatondrazaka or to leave to the mines.The situation was the following: We had already some samples to work on at the lab andthanks to Nirina previous visits of the mining site, we had also some precise information about the mines inlcuding the GPS data of the new deposit. The main thing we were missing were samples collected on site by myself and photos of the mining activity there... Now if we decided to try our luck and go there, then according to our sources we had some very serious chances not to be back on time in Tana to take our return flight to Bangkok as schedule... and then it would be a big mess. Furthermore if we decided to leave to the mines and had the bad luck to meet again the local security forces, the next meeting would probably not be as friendly as the first one. After discussing with my team, everybody was in favor to return to Ambatondrazaka. As it was a joint expedition, we decided to stay together and play safe. The next day we returned to Ambatondrazaka with all the other foreigners and for few more days we did our best to see more stones with the help of our Sri Lankan friends.
In the meanwhile, as the police only asked the foreigners to return to Ambatondrazaka, I gave to Nirina Rakotosaona one of my cameras and he went rapidly on site to take some photos of the mining activity. He was able to return to Ambatondrazaka only few hours before our departure to Antananarivo. It was great: He had some great photos of the mining activity and some additional information. We had more than what we were needing for a first article on the subject and nevertheless there will be probably in the future new occasion to visit that area.
This is what I was thinking on my way back to Bangkok.
"Ruby and sapphire mining in the jungle near Didy"
Along a stream, timber loggers searching for gold during their spare time found some nice rubies and sapphires, within weeks thousands of people from all over Madagascar joined them seeking fortune.
Photo: Nirina Rakotosaona / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012
In fact when I returned to madagascar at the end of July 2012, the Malagasy security forces had expelled all the miners from the jungle around Didy and all the foreign buyers from Ambatondrazaka at the end of June 2012. According to several gem merchants met in Antananarivo and Ilakaka, still few people were still mining secretly there...Nirina Rakotosaona, Marc Noverraz were back in Ilakaka working on a new sapphire mining project for Nirina and on collecting fine stone to make some colorlines for Marc. On our Sri Lankan friends side, most of them were also back in Ilakaka or in Sri Lanka. For them it was furthermore ramadan times... Nobody was willing to return to Didy. So going there would mean going there with no reliable local contact. Not really a good option based on Field gemology rule number 2 and 6.
So I decided for that new expedition I would be focussing on trying to finish the work I started on blue sapphires from Ilakaka- sakaraha and not to loose my time and the time of my friends on playing some mouse and cat games with the police in the jungle around Didy.
But still... I cannot stop thinking that it is too bad not to have been able to see with my own eyes these 5,000 miners working in the jungle there. Anyway, what was important was to get enough samples from multiple independant sources in order to be able to study this new material.
That was achieved and at the end this is all what matters today as I'm very happy to invite you to discover the following reports we published about rubies and sapphires from Didy after that expedition to Madagascar and before the complete report to be published on GIA Laboratory Bangkok website (here and here) and also on GIA's main website: www.gia.edu:
On May 8th 2012 the GIA sent around the world its May 2012 G&G eBrief containing a short concise expedition report from that FE34 field expedition to Didy signed by Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada), Nirina Rakotosaona (Madagascar), Marc Noverraz (Switzerland) and the author. It is available here at the G&G eBrief archive
A more extensive report about rubies and sapphire from Didy (Madagascar) was also published in the Summer 2012, Volume 48 Issue 2 of Gems & Gemology magazine. in the Gem News International.
In July 2012 a short expedition report about the Didy discovery was also published in the TGJTA (Thai Gem & Jewelry Traders Association) newsletter. You can get the story here.
Hoping that you have enjoyed this blog and the expedition report to Didy published on GIA websites.
This article written by the author in association with Richard W. Hughes was first published in InColor, Fall 2008, pp. 36–45, the magazine of the ICA (International Colored stone Association).It was a special request from the ICA as they had appreciated another article from the author about tsavorite called "Tsavorite, une pierre Africaine" published in the French gemological magazine: "Revue de gemmologie AFG" in 2005.
"Tsavorite cut, rough and porphyroblast from Tsavo region, Kenya" Stones courtesy: Genson Micheni Musa/ Tsavolite Co Ltd, Photo: V. Pardieu/Gübelin Gem Lab, 2007
Traveling to East Africa in 2005 with Jean Baptiste Senoble, the author priorities were mainly rubies and sapphire, nevertheless Jean Baptiste Senoble had a contagious passion for green stones and motivated the author to add to their visit schedule the tsavorite deposits located in Tsavo near the ruby mines. Things became worse for the author when JB Senoble got the support of African mining veteran Campbell Bridges, then he got into a passion for the "Untamed green beauty".
There is nothing more contagious than traveling to the source with a gem afficionado. Few years after that first adventure, the author was each time he got a possibility, the author was enjoying visiting tsavorite deposits. With this article the authors are trying to explain their interest for this fascinating gem.
Gübelin Gem Lab: A Visit to Madagascar, August 2008: Aug. 01 - Aug. 23, 2008
While participating in the AFG (the "Association Francaise de Gemmologie") yearly event known as the "Journees du Senat" in Paris in 2006, I proposed to Didier Giard, the president of the French Gemological Association and Annick Graulier to help them if they wanted to visit Madagascar for their 2008 field expedition. They welcomed the idea and we decided to work on this project.
At that time there was at AIGS an interesting student: Francis Vallier, a 50 years old French surgeon based on Reunion Island who discovered gemstones while visiting Madagascar on his numerous motorbike expeditions there. Despite the fact that he had no experience in tourism, I was seriously thinking to collaborate with him for that expedition. The good point was first that he was highly motivated for it and that he turned to be a nice guy to travel with around Bangkok while he was studying in Thailand. He had also a friend (Thierry) owning a travel agency specialized on Madagascar: Madabrousse willing to collaborate with him on this gemological tourism project. Finally Francis personal medical background was also a clear asset to the expedition in case of problems.
I put then Francis in contact with Annick Graulier and provided him an expedition schedule suitable for the people of the French gemological Association which were willing to go for something more serious than just a visit to Ilakaka. I advised then Francis to take the 2 groups of the French gemological association from Antananarivo to Ansirabe (to visit its gem market and one tourmaline mining areas) then continue to Ilakaka, the famous sapphire mining area to take the plane in Tulear to visit the remote Andranondambo blue sapphire mining area which sapphires stunned the world by their quality reminding for the best stones the beauty of the Kashmir sapphires. As in 2007 I moved to the
Gübelin Gem Lab to work as a gemologist, spending 20 days in the field as a Tour guide for the French gemological Association as I did in Thailand and Cambodia in 2004 was not really possible, nevertheless, with the support of the A.F.G., we were able to convince the Gübelin Gem Lab to give me 10 days on my working time in order to spend 20 days in Madagascar with the A.F.G..
The solution was in fact a very good win-win deal as the French gemological Association was planning to send two groups of 25 persons to visit Madagascar in August 2008. We decided that I would be present for the 2 groups of the French Gemological association for their visit in Ilakaka and between these 2 visits, I would lead alone a 10 days expedition on the behalf of the
Gübelin Gem Lab to Madagascar ruby and sapphire mining areas around Zazafotsy, Ilakaka, Isoanala, Andranondambo and Gogogogo.
For that expedition I was traveling with my two former field expedition buddies as a join expedition:
- Guillaume Soubiraa, who was then working as manager for SMDA (Societe Miniere Delorme et Associes), one of Madagascar oldest mining companies, mining mainly ornamental stones and founded by Mr. Joel Delorme in the 1960's. To complete Guillaume brief presentation, at the time of our visit he was also starting his own gem business company: Soagems.
Jean Baptiste Senoble from Nomad's who was present with one of his childhood friends Xavier, a young French farmer who was willing to see what JB was really doing while visiting gemstones mines around the world. The expedition was a good occasion for Jean Baptiste to decide to create also his own company dealing with jewelry: a company simply named "Jean Baptiste Senoble" based in Geneva and Paris.
"The A.F.G. visiting Andranondambo "
Lead by Annick Graulier, 25 members of the Association Francaise de Gemmologie (the French gemological association) are visiting Andranondambo sapphire mining area."
Photo: V. Pardieu /
Gübelin Gem Lab, 2008
We arrived in Madagascar as scheduled. The first French group was already there but we had the sad news that one of the author's friends, gem dealer Olivier Galibert had been aggressed in Nosy Be Island in the north of Madagascar and was in serious troubles there. Things were so bad that we were seriously worried about his life. Finally Olivier, thanks to his great attitude in such conditions was able to get out of Madagascar but was then at the hospital for several weeks.
We left then to the south to visit first gem market in Antsirabe where we had the good surprise to see the serious improvement since 2005 in the quality of the gem cutting in Madagascar. We then continued to the Zazafotsy sapphire mining area we were able to visit thanks to the support of Federico Pezzotta. After this interesting visit we continued to Ilakaka where we met one of the author's main local contacts in Madagascar: Swiss gem dealer Marc Noveraz. Marc is probably the only foreigner to have been able to live in Ilakaka from the beginning of the sapphire boom town in 1999 to these days. Marc knowledge of the area and his useful advises were a key asset for my three gemological expeditions in Madagascar from 2005 to 2008. Visiting Marc in Ilakaka during Summer 2008 was not without surprises: Marc was not anymore living in a small wooden house, from 2005 to 2008 he was able to build a very nice stone house on Ilakaka busy main street: With a good small restaurant and bar the "Al2O3" at the back of his shop: It is now one of the most comfortable and quiet place to buy gems in the morning and meet people or rest all the rest of the day. Besides his comfortable restaurant he also completed a nice shop/show room conveniently placed and beautifully arranged like a small museum: The whole "Colorline" base is a perfect place for visiting tourists to get an idea about Ilakaka gem production without getting bothered like myself in 2005 by Ilakaka crowd and its numerous pick pockets. To complete this nice Colorline setting Marc also propose to visitors some short tours to visits Ilakaka's scenic sapphire mines at "Banque Suisse". I was impressed by the quality of the whole "Colorline" operation which is a very good example of what can be done to make sure that most of the people who will visit Madagascar will learn not only about his lemurs and baobabs but also about Madagascar beautiful colored gemstones: Well done Marc!
Rough and faceted Ilakaka sapphires: A good example of the classic "a photo speaks better than 1000 words" idea to show the wonderful diversity of the natural colors Ilakaka sapphire can offer.
Stones courtesy: Marc Noveraz / Colorline, Photo: V. Pardieu, 2008
Of course visiting Ilakaka was not meaning for us staying comfortably in Marc cosy restaurant, in fact we spent most of our time visiting the different mining areas around "Banque Suisse" where people are allowed to mine only using hand tools in order to provide work for the local poor people and also on the Taeze river we were able to visit a large mechanized mining operation managed by a friendly Malagasy miner Nirina.
After that visit we left the French Gemological Association and took the road to visit the extreme south of Madagascar. We first visited a ruby mining area near Isoanala, then continued to Fort Dauphin and Andranondambo where we spend several days to visit the scenic sapphire mines located in a beautiful hilly landscape covered with dry vegetation and baobabs. After visiting the Andranondambo and Tiramena sapphire mining areas we left the area for a long drive in the semi desert south to continue which took us to Ampanihy and Gogogogo. There we were surprised to see that most of the working force meaning several people including miners and their families were busy mining tsavorite. After visiting tsavorite and color change garnet mining areas we returned to Ilakaka in order to welcome the second group of the A.F.G. and visit again with the sapphire mines near "Banque Suisse" and along the Taheza River.
"Gogogogo color change garnet "
A Gogogogo Malagasy gem dealer showing us one of the color change garnet from Gogogogo she just sold to us.
Photo: V. Pardieu, 2008
We then returned to Antananarivo where I was able to spend one day interviewing Joel Delorme, and meeting different key contacts like Tom Cushman, the ICA ambassador to Madagascar and to visit the IGM, the local gemmological school which was built with the support of the World Bank.
We were happy to learn that the two groups of the A.F.G. had both a very nice field trip in Madagascar, everything turned well without major problem. Obviously Francis and Thierry did some very good work: For a first step into gemological tourism it was obviously a very welcome success.
If the expedition was very interesting and succesful we nevertheless faced serious difficulties regarding the export of the gemstones samples we collected in the field for research purposes. Due to the fact that the Madagascar governement decided in Feb. 2008 not to allow rough gemstone exports, we were sadly not able to get our samples out of Madagascar and thus our research work on Madagascar sapphire will have to wait for the Madagascar authorities to change the law.
A visit to gem markets and gem mining areas in Madagascar (Autumn 2005):
Abstract of the Madagascar Autumn 2005 expedition: For that expedition the author was asked by Richard Hughes and his friend Dana Schorr if he could take him to visit the sapphire deposit in Ilakaka and the ruby deposit in Andilamena the author recenrly visited in June 2005. That expedition was the first time the author was traveling in the field with Richard W. Hughes. It was a great occasion for the author to spend some time with the author of "Ruby and Sapphire" the book that was largely responsible for the author decision to move from his past tour guide career into a becoming a gemologist.
That expedition was planned with the support of Tom Cushman, Danile Grondin and Marc Noveraz. We started our visit traveling from Antananarivo to Ilakaka where we visited the sapphire mine run by Marc Noveraz at Ampasimamitaka. That visit was an important one as later the analysis of the sapphires collected there revealed that some of these blue sapphires were containing naturally significant levels of beryllium, an element that was so far only believed to be present in beryllium treated stones. After visiting the Ilakaka and Sakaraha sapphire mining area we returned to Antananarivo and took the road to Andilamena. There we visited the Andrebabe sapphire deposit and the ruby deposit located in the jungle East of Andilamena.
"Gemologists at Andilamena" Left to right: Richard W. Hughes, Dana Schorr and Vincent Pardieu posing in front of the ruby mining village in the jungle East of Andilamena, at the time of our visit between 5 to 10,000 people were living there in the jungle mining rubies. Photo: "Aime", 2005
After that expedition a report was published by Richard Hughes on his website: "Sorcerers and sapphires, a visit to Madagascar" on www.ruby-sapphire.com. On his side the author published two short articles for InColor, the ICA Magazine, and the "Revue Francaise de Gemmologie AFG" about the discovery of sapphires containing naturally beryllium:
A visit to gem markets and gem mining areas in Madagascar (Summer 2005):
Abstract of the Madagascar 2005 page (Available at that link): This web page presents the field expedition lead by Vincent Pardieu (then Director of the AIGS Gemological Laboratory, Bangkok, Thailand) to Madagascar in May 2005. This fieldtrip was part of the expedition supported by AIGS and Gubelin Gem Lab with the help of ICA to Asia and Africa during summer 2005. During that expedition the author was helped by Jean baptiste Senoble and Tanguy Lagache, two young French gemologists who studied gemology at AIGS in Bangkok in 2005.
That expedition was planned with the support of Daniel Grondin and Marc Noveraz, two european gem merchants based in Madagascar. We started our visit traveling from Antananarivo to Ambohimandroso a ruby mining area located near Ansirabe. Then we continued to the sapphire mining area around Ilakaka and Sakaraha where Marc Noveraz was based. We then travelled by land to Andranondambo, the area where sapphires were first discovered in Madagascar. We returned then to Antananarivo to travel to the ruby mining areas near Vatomandry and Andilamena. Finally we visited the Anbondromifehy sapphire deposit located in the north of the country.
"A miner's vision of the world" After that photo, taken by Tanguy Lagache in 2005 from the deep of a sapphire mining pit in Andranondambo, the author will continue collecting such photos from the deep of a gem mining pit. Photo: Tanguy Lagache, 2005
After that expedition the author worked on a serie of three articles in collaboration with Richard Wise for Colored Stone Magazine. These articles are visible online on Richard Wise website:
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.