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.
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.