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:
Photos and maps by: Vincent Pardieu, Mike Rogers, Guillaume Soubiraa, Richard W. Hughes. (This temporary page was updated on July 20, 2008)
This expedition, even if it was privately conducted during my holidays and financed by the authors, was supported by the Gubelin Gem Lab located in Lucerne, Switzerland, where I'm working as gemologist at the time of the expedition.
Gemstone mining in East Africa does not have the long history like gemstones mining in Central Asia (Afghanistan), South East Asia (Burma) and South Asia (Sri Lanka) but during the last few decades countries located on the East African Mozambique Belt like Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar have become important gemstone producers and several of its gem deposit of significant economic and gemological importance are poorly known.
During my first visit in Tanzania with Jean Baptiste Senoble in August 2005 we faced several problems: Tanzania was the last visit on our four months gemological traveling schedule: We were tired and less healthy than when we started our expedition in Vietnam and we were running short in time for such a large country. Nevertheless in 20 days we were able to visit most of the areas we planed to visit: Longido (ruby), Merelani (Tanzanite), Lemshuko-Komolo (Tsavorite), Umba (sapphire, garnet, tsavorite), Morogoro with Matombo (ruby, spinel) and Mahenge (ruby, spinel), Songea (sapphire), Tunduru (ruby, sapphire. spinel, garnet, diamond, tsavorite,chrysoberyl, alexandrite,...) but in Umba the visit turned to be difficult as for 5 days I was down with a bad malaria, later in Songea Jean Baptiste suffered a serious food poisoning and then in Tunduru we were harassed by the local immigration officers which main focus was to find a way to get as much dollars as they could from us. After 2 days of serious harassment, we decided to leave the area in order not to finish our 4 month gemological expedition with a visit to the local Tunduru jail.
Returning home after that visit I was dreaming to come back in order to complete my work regarding sapphires and rubies from Songea and Tunduru as very few was written about them in the gemological literature.
When Richard W.Hughes asked me to help him for a visit to visit Tanzania in order to collect data for a future update of his book: "Ruby and Sapphire", I immediately asked three weeks of holidays from the Gubelin Gem Lab where I'm an employee, and started to save some money for this private expedition. On the following map you can place the different Tanzanian (and Kenyan) gem mining areas we visited during our recent gemological expeditions during Summer 2005, October 2007 or April 2008 (to be published in the future):
(General Kenya and Tanzania map presenting Vincent Pardieu's 2005, 2007 and 2008 gemological expeditions. Map courtesy (and slightly modified) from R.W. Hughes, 2008
This expedition came at the right time as the end of 2007 was very exciting in Tanzania as three serious gem rushes occurred: Giant spinel crystals were found in Mahenge in August, and in november 2007, interesting spessartine garnets were found near the Serengueti national Park and very fine rubies and pink sapphire were found near Dodoma creating some noticeable gem rushes.
We arrived in Tanzania on October 06 2007 after a four days visit to the Tsavo ruby and tsavorite mining area in Kenya. Arusha gem market was of course very excited about the new red spinels which were told to have been cut from four giants crystals of about 50, 30, 20 and 9 kg found in August. Most of these crystals were told us not to be gem quality and only a thin outside layer was gem quality.. Sadly we could not see these big crystals which were rapidly broken is smaller pieces for security reasons in order to be more easily transported and cut. These spinels were recently noticed at the April 2008 Basel gem fair:
( Large faceted "Mahenge Spinels" associated with small Mahenge rough. Stone courtesy: Paul Wild, Idar Oberstein, Germany, Photo: V.Pardieu/Gubelin Gem Lab, 2008)
We left Arusha for Morogoro on October 07. The Morogoro region became famous after the discovery on a ruby and spinel deposit near the village of Matombo in the East of Morogoro town in 1986. We visited Matombo in 2005 and were reported during this second visit in October 2007 that there was no mining there at that time.
On October 8th we visited the local mining officer to get his support to visit the Morogoro province mining areas, visited an interesting workshop managed by Spiro, a greek gem dealer who presented us an interesting update of Tanzania past and current gem production a nice visit which was a interesting start for us.
After this visit we took the road to Gongoni, near Kilosa to visit a "moonstone" mine worked by "AAK Brothers Co Ltd". "Moonstone" was reported to have been discovered there in 2000 and the mine produced a lot of "moonstone" material from Sept 2003 to October 2006. I say "moonstone" as some gemologists believe that the word "peristerite" is more appropriate as this adularescent feldspar material is not orthoclase with thin layers of albite like for the traditional moonstones from Sri Lanka or Burma but albite with thin layers of orthoclase. If peristerite is possibly more scientifically correct it is for sure less romantic.. Anyway it was not much an issue for our guide and friend: Gem broker Abdul Msellem, on the right with a piece of feldspar from the mine.
The name controversy was not anymore a discussion subject among us when we arrived at the mine as we found it lifeless with only few guards to watch the mining equipment left behind and the large empty hole.
We were told that the miners moved to mine spinels in Mahenge. We did not returned to Morogoro empty handed as speaking to the guard we heard that about 200 people were mining the river banks for sapphires the river down the hill were the "moonstone" mine was located. After a short walk we could visit this alluvial mining area where low quality colorless "corundum sapphire" was mined.
I say "corundum sapphire" as I prefer to use the word sapphire only for the gem quality of the mineral corundum and it is a fact that we did not saw any gem material at Mbuyuni. The system at this alluvial corundum mine was interesting: The mine production was sold by the owner to an Indian dealer in Dar Es Salaam, which would heat the stones and dyed them, probably to make beads for the Jaipur market. All the miners working in the area had to sell the stone to the owner of the mine for 12.000 shilling (about $10) per kilo. The miners we met were mostly farmers. They were working there as at that time there was not much work in their farm. Peter Chelwa a miner / farmer from Mbuyini village told us that "to get a little bit of cash mining here was better than staying at home doing nothing". Peter Chelwa told us that in this area a team of 3 to 4 miners had to dig from about 3 to 5 days to get to the gem bearing gravels, they had then to wash the gravels to collect the corundum sapphires. Sometimes there were many stones sometimes there was no stones. But as an average a miner was able to expect to make about 15.000 per week, about $2 per day. It seems low for people working in New York, London or Tokyo reading this page but the Tanzanian miners told us it was good money for them as their farms were poor and this little cash was a very welcome income during the dry period when there was not much to do.
A short video showing a 360 degres view from the central area of the remote corundum mining area we visited that day.
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
Another short video showing a deep mining pit in which the ingenious miners built a small washing pond... A good way to save energy.
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
On October 9th we left Morogoro early in the morning with Mr Bakari Shemsanga, a mining technician from the Morogoro mining office, for a long drive to Mahenge. It is was a nice drive passing through the Mikumi and Udzungwa national parks which enabled us to enjoy the sight of elephants, antelopes, buffaloes, giraffes or monkeys.
It was also interesting to meet local gem dealers traveling on motorbikes from Mahenge to Morogoro or Dar, a very common practice in Mahenge where motorbikes and cell phones are the key elements of the local gem trade: For security reasons there is no gem market in mahenge as in older mining areas like Mogok in Burma.
Arriving in Mahenge, a small misty mountain city known in Tanzania to produce good quality beans and rice, we went to meet the authorities to get their support in our project to visit the mines and went around the town to visit several mine owners in order to plan the following day visits.
On October 10th we started our day driving south in the direction of the Lukande ruby mining area, a place close to the famous Selous game reserve, we visited already in 2005. On the way we passed near the Kitonga ruby mining area which produced cabochon quality rubies from 1988 to 1993, small scale mining involving possibly 3 to 5 miners was reported to be still present in the area. We passed then near the Mbangayao mountain which is currently a game reserve. It was also reported us to have produced some cabochon quality rubies in the 1990's. We continued our way passing Mbarabanga the ruby and color change spinel mining area we visited in 2005. We had this time no time to visit again the area but we were reported that gem mining was still present there with possibly between 30 to 50 miners. Finally we reached the Lukande mining area which was very active from 1986 to 1992 when Thai people were mining at the "Simba" mine. Tanzanian miners told us that the mine closed due to riots. It seems that the Thais killed a Tanzanian thief, then the Thai camp was attacked by a mob of angry Tanzanian miners and 3 people were reported to have been killed during these events. The Thai miners left then the area to start working in Songea which was just discovered. We also heard another story about how ruby mining started in the area: It seems that a local hunter Mr Gutapak found a big red stone on the ground in 1989. He bring the stone to a villager called Mr Mash who registered the whole area and started mining, the hunter became a security guard. The mine became later from 1990 to 1994 a joint venture with Khun Tom, a Thai national and became known as the "Tom mine". In 1994 mining stopped as the miners moved to the new Tunduru deposit.
Currently small scale mining is still present in both Lukande, Mayote and Chipa with about 20 miners in each area During this first visit we met there people mining an alluvial placer but the visit on October 10th 2007 was very interesting as we could that time visit a group of miners working a primary deposit on a hill side. The rubies were found in marble associated with mica. Walter Balmer a Swiss gemologist who visited also recently the area confirmed to me that Mayote and Chipa, the two neighboring areas producing also rubies, pink sapphires and blue spinels, are also primary deposits with elluvial/alluvial placers.
We left Lukande around lunch time to drive to the Ipanko ruby and spinel mining area. The Ipanko area was of course one of the highlight of our expedition as it was the place where several giant spinel crystals were found during August 2007. We were reported that four giant crystals weighting 52, 28, around 20kg and 5.7kg were mined there all from the same box known as the "Joel box". The crystals were reported to us to be mostly low quality in their center but the outside part of the stones were gem quality and some stunning clean pinkish to red stones from 10 to nearly 50 carats were cut from them. A parure composed of 15 Mahenge spinels was one of the main discussion subject at the recent Basel fair in March 2008.
Here is one of the stones cut from those giant crystals. The stone hold by ICA Ambassador to Tanzania Eric Saul weighted about 12 carats and was pinkish red. Larger stones cut from the same crystals were more red as saturation increase with the size.
During our visit on October 10th we could witness some mining in the location were the large crystals were found. A company named "Interstate Mining & Mineral Tanzania Ltd" was working the boxes were in 2005 several small groups of miners were working. We visited also the spinel hard rock mining area just nearby where spinels are mined from marbles in association with blue apatite and clinohumite.
A short video showing the mining activity we witnessed during our visit in October 2007 at the exact location where the giant spinel crystals were discovered at Ipanko spinel mines in August 2007.
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
Near the place were the giant crystals were found a hard rock spinel mine is found. On the right spinel miner Benjamin Makoti present us some of the spinels he took from the marbles. In that mine, spinels are associated with clinohumite and blue apatite.
A short video showing the mining activity we witnessed during our visit in October 2007 at the Ipanko hard rock spinel mines located just few meters from the place where the giant spinel crystals were found 2 months before our visit..
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
It seems few days after our visit mining stopped at Ipanko due to a conflict about the mining rights. We were reported that as a result of these difficulties in November and December 2007 many miners left Mahenge to go to the new spessartine deposit near the Serengeti and to the new "ruby rush" near Mpwapwa.
On October 11th we left Mahenge about 5am very for a long drive to arrive about 9pm in Songea. Songea is a known in Tanzania for its coffee and tobacco plantations. In Songea we started our visit with the office of the region mining officer to get his support in our project to visit the sapphire mines near Kitai. Gem mining in Songea mainly take place near the villages of Ngembambili and Masuguro we visited on October 12 and 13. On the other hand gem trading takes mostly place in downtown Songea where about 10 Thai buying offices are present. Thai buyers are usually about two per office working here with a 3 months business visa. African dealers buy the stones from the miners at Masuguro and Ngembambili and travel then to Songea to sell the stones to the Thais. Foreigners are usually not welcome at the mines as the African dealers are afraid that they will try to bypass them and buy directly from the miners. About 150 African traders are the link between the 2000 people living at the mines and the 20 to 30 Thai buyers. 50 of them, the "town brokers" live in Songea and travel daily to the mines while about 150 smaller brokers called the "bush brokers" live and work at the mines with the miners and work in fact for the "town brokers". Compared to our last visit in 2005 it seems that the number of miners went down in Songea region. The local people told us that it was mainly due to the fact that the Thais are not anymore paying as much as in the past for the stones. The local African complain that the Thais are working like a syndicate to control the prices while the Thais complain that the market for Songea material is bad as most of these stones have to be treated with beryllium in order to be sold and the current prices of Songea beryllium treated sapphires in the world market are very low and many Thai dealers had to stop buying.
A gem broker is waiting for stones to buy in Songea Ngembambili.
A short video showing the mining activity we witnessed during our visit in October 2007 at the Ngemba Ngembambili mining area near Songea..
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
A short video showing enthousiastic gemologist Mike Rogers visiting one of the Songea mining pits. Mike here give us a demonstration of the Songea way to return from the deep of a mining pit...
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
At Ngemba Ngembambili, Mine manager Joseph Mdomba is presenting us some of the stones produced by his mine.
We were told by local miners that the Songea mining area was discovered in 1991 when a local farmer gave some stones he found in his rice field to Songea town Indian and Arab rice dealers who later sold these stones to Thai gem dealers in Dar Es Salaam. In 1992 the first Thai gemstone buying office opened in Songea and mining was high until the discovery of the Tunduru sapphire and chrysoberyl deposit in 1994. From 1994 to 1999, when the Thai and Sri lankan buyers left Tunduru to buy gems in the new sapphire deposit in Ilakaka (Madagascar) mining was very low in Songea. In 1999 some of the people who left for Tunduru returned to Songea and with the discovery of the potential of "beryllium heat treatment " for Songea sapphire, the Thai buyers returned massively in Songea in 2002, the miners said that the prices given by the Thais were then good and more than 6000 miners were working in Ngembambili, now there is less than 3000 miners in all the area, as many people moved to other business. In my experience, after 4 years traveling regularly to many mining areas in Asia and Africa, I would say that this is quite typical: Typically people start as miners, if they get lucky to get some good stones they get enough money to become a broker, some dealers will then spend this money buying cars, houses, cell phones while the wisest often invest their money in other business and rapidly focus on their new activities. Very few miners and dealers seems to invest back in mining as it is a hard work and a difficult business depending a lot about luck: If it is possible to get rich rapidly in the gem business thanks to good luck it is possible also to get poor or even worse also as rapidly. I call that the "gem casino". In 2005 we mainly focused our visit on the Masuguro area where two mechanized companies, one "Thanistar Mining Co Ltd" is run by Mr Prayun, a famous Thai miner who worked before in Lukande near Mahenge, the other "World Gem Supply" is run by an Australian: Brad Mitchell. Visiting "Thanistar" on October 13th we were told that the company was not currently producing gems as it was moving its mining operation 6 km north of their current location we visited already in 2005.
On this 2007 expedition I decided to focus on the Ngemgambili mining area we could not visit in 2005 as we were getting short in time after my 5 days suffering from malaria in Umba and due to the fact that we lost one day in Songea as Jean Baptiste Senoble, then he suffered from a serious food poisoning. This visit was very interesting as we visited two very different mining areas at "Ngembambili Amanimakoro" and at "Ngemba Ngembambili": We visited several small scale mining operations at Ngemgambili and we could learn about the different economic systems operating there: In one mine we were explained that the mining licence and land owner was providing tools and food to the miners, the miners were then getting 25% of the money from the selling of the stones while the mine owner was keeping 75%. In another mine the mine owner was not providing food or tools and as a result he was just getting 25% of the income from the mine while the miners were getting 75% but had to feed themselves and buy their mining tools. Finally we heard about another mine where the mine owner was getting 30%, then a business sponsor (usually a "town broker" or a Thai dealer) was providing food and tools to the miners in exchange of 30% of the mine income and Finally the miners were getting 40% of the result of the selling of the gems.
The visit was also very interesting as we could see that in "Ngemba Ngembambili" the miners were mining an alluvial deposit, which is the typical mining deposit in Songea area: Sapphires are found as slightly rounded pebbles from a gravel layer, the stones are usually clean with few fissures.
A short video showing the mining activity in a swamp area at Ngembambili near Songea. The sapphires are here collected from the gem rich ground using simple tools. The ground collected is then taken to the washing area nearby. Hard work...
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
A short video showing the gem washing activity in the swampy area near Ngembambili mining area near Songea, Tanzania... Gems are collected after washing the gem rich ground collected nearby.
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
In "Ngembambili Amanimakoro" the sapphires are not find in a gravel layers but in veins associated with schorl from a white kaolin like weathered body. The sapphires which can be purplish to green or yellowish are usually surrounded what looks to be a mica like crust. Fractures are very common is common in this material which for the rest is similar to the stones found at "Ngmeba Ngembambili". It seems then that if the deposit worked at "Ngemba Ngembambili" is a secondary deposit, the deposit at "Ngembambili Amanimakoro" seems to be a weathered primary deposit.
On October 13th in the afternoon we left from a 5 hours drive to Tunduru which was for Richard W.Hughes and myself the main objective for this expedition. On the way from Songea to Tunduru we passed near Namtumbo which produce some aquamarines.
Tunduru is a small city which main business is cashew nut plantations, the area is also famous for its tse tse flies and its man eating lions. This last fact reminds us another area famous for its man eaters: Tsavo in Kenya we visited few days before.. It is quite interesting to see that rubies and sapphires are again found in some of the wildest and less man friendly areas of planet Earth.
Gem mining started in Tunduru in 1994, Gem dealer Werner Spaltenstein, known as "Malapa" told me that in 1994 we was buying gems in Songea when he was presented a yellow gem he identified as chrysoberyl. He gave to the owner a good price asking him where the stone was from: Tunduru.. He provided then to the owner of the gem some money in order to go mining there. Soon Tunduru became one of the most active gem mining areas in Tanzanian with (possibly..) around 50.000 to 100.000 people living from the gem trade: mining, selling, buying or supplying the miners at Tunduru highest in 1995 and 1996 as many foreign buyers and investors came to Tunduru to buy sapphires, rubies, alexandrites and chrysoberyls. But we were told that some Tanzanian officials created then many problems to the investors and the foreign buyers putting restrictions to the use of machinery or blocking them waiting for bribes. Foreigners were also harassed by the local immigration and were concern about security in Tunduru remote areas. It was during that period than a daring man eating lion terrorized Tunduru killing more than 30 people within 2 or 3 months. It was incredible to hear that the man in charge of hunting the man eater was also killed by the beast one night near his house downtown Tunduru about 100 meters from the guest house we were staying.. In 1999 after the discovery of Ilakaka in Madagascar nearly all the buyers deserted Tunduru and its difficulties within few months for Madagascar leaving all the local miners and brokers without any market for their gems. Most of the miners returned then to their farms or went working to other mining areas like Ruangwa where Tsavorite was found, some miners also returned to their home in area like Mahenge with some knowledge about the value of gems like spinels. Currently gem mining is found in a wide area around Tunduru from the Selous Game reserve in the north to the Ruvuma river in the south which is also the natural border with Mozambique. We could also see that most of the mining is performed in the east of the Tunduru along the Muhuwesi, the Mtetesi, the Lumesule, the Mbwenkuru and the Ruvuma rivers. All the mining areas we visited in 2005 and 2007 were alluvial mining areas. We never heard about any area where gems were taken from a primary deposits, but several people including the Tunduru mining officer were believing that the gems mined around Tunduru could origin from the Muhuwesi hills located on the north of Tunduru in the south of the Selous Game Reserve which is the origin of the gem bearing rivers in Tunduru area. But this is far to be confirmed.
Mining in Tunduru is very different depending the seasons: When we visited the area in August 2005 the water level in the rivers was still high and we could visit "land mines" where people were mining few hundred meters from the river Muhuwesi to collect gem gravels which were then taken to the river to be washed in order to collect the stones. This type of mining is typical of the wet season mining. In October 2007 we could see that mining was mostly taking place in the dry bed of the river which level was then very low. In Tunduru the wet season goes from December to July, most of the people are then involved in farming rice, corn or vegetables. Few teams of professional miners are then mining in the land, but it is quite a dangerous work as the ground is not dry enough: mine pits and tunnels can collapse and the miners risk to be buried alive. During the dry season the main activity in Tunduru region is cashew nut farming and gem mining: As soon as the rains stop, typically from August to September , the work force is busy with the work at the cashew nut plantations, for mining the highest period is then during the dry months of October and November until the return of the rains which means that Tunduru people will start again to work in their farms.
The gem trade in Tunduru is also quite organized: Foreign buyers are present in Tunduru. They are not allowed to go to buy gems at the mines of to the local Tanzanian trading center at Maji Maji. In October 2007 we could see that ten Sri Lankan , two Thai and three local Tanzanian gem buying offices were open downtown Tunduru.
At Maji Maji, a small village one hour driving in the direction of Masasi in the East we visited several times on our way to the mines, we were told that around 70 brokers were operating. 52 brokers were members of the "Maji Maji Mining Group", the local Tanzanian gem trader association and 20 were operating outside this association.
As Maji maji is located between the Muhuwesi and the Lumesule river it is a convenient spot for the local miners to sell their production. The Maji Maji gem traders will then sort the gemstones and create some parcels. We were told by several brokers that an average gem broker working with sapphires could collect about 500 grams of sapphires in 1 to 3 months. The gems are then typically sold to the Tunduru foreign buyers or to visiting buyers like the famous "Malapa", a Swiss gem buyer we could meet during a buying expedition in Tunduru in 2005.
We could see during our visit that Tunduru produce a wide variety of gemstones chrysoberyl ( including its Alexandrite color changing variety), sapphire (blue, purple, yellow and pink), ruby, topaz, quartz, garnet (including tsavorite), spinel, and also diamonds diamonds as we could witness in 2005
During our visit in Tunduru area on October 14 we visited first the office of the local mining officer then we left to river Muhuwesi, which was the river where mining started in 1994. We visited several mining operations at spot number 8 and spot number 2. As it was the dry season we could see how gem mining was performed in the river: First a small dam is commonly build in order create a dry area in the river bed, then workers are digging in the sand in order to reach the gem gem bearing gravels. This operation can take about one week. In order to avoid the return of the water in the mining hole it is necessary to use a pomp. The gravels collected are then washed and the gem was collected. Most of the time the miners which are farmers during the rest of the year do not own the necessary tools to work such river mines. The mining capital including the pumps, the gas, the food and the mining tools are provided by a sponsor which is commonly Sri Lankan and the system was then similar to what we saw in Songea.
A short video showing the mining activity on the river banks of the Muhuwesi river near Tunduru in Tanzania: While monkeys are playing in the trees, gem miners are working the river bed collecting sapphires, alexandrites and sometimes also diamonds.
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
A short video showing the mining activity in during the dry season on the Muhuwesi river near tunduru: As the level of the Muhuwesi river is low gem miners built small dam to keep some part of the river dry and mine it...
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
River mining at Muhuwesi river can be a very difficult work, to reach the gem bearing gravels it is sometimes necessary to break large rocks and even then the mine production can be very weak.
47 years old gem miner Joseph Mayunga present to Richard W.Hughes an old "Gem and Gemology" magazine which was given to him by a Sri Lankan dealer after a succesful chrysoberyl business. He was living and mining at Muhuwesi river for more than 7 years.
Young American gemologist Warne Chitty, from Aspen, Colorado recently graduated from GIA. He was studying now his FGA but he took a break to come with us and his father on the field in Tanzania. It was a real pleasure to have him around.
On October 15th we took the road to the Ruvuma river and the Mozambique border to witness the gem mining area. Traveling was long as we had to drive more than 2 hours through the bush infested of tse tse flies.
Tsetse are large biting flies from Africa which live by feeding on the blood of vertebrate animals. They are infamous to be the biological vectors of the African trypanosomiases, deadly diseases that include sleeping sickness in people and nagana in cattle.
We killed about 10 of them on the way to the Ruvuma river as they found a way to enter our cars.
We reached then Mbuyuni village which was reported to us to be the main local gem trading center on the Mozambique border. We could see several small gem trading huts but very few where occupied by gem buyers. Going a little bit down the river we could find a small gem mining operation where about six miners were working.
We could see and buy the mine production composed of the same mix of gemstones we saw the day before on the Muhuwesi river except that the stones were looking smaller and more tumbled, meaning possibly that we could be then farther from the origin of the gems.
A short video showing the mining activity on the river banks of the Ruvuma river, the natural border between Tanzania and Mozambique: A group of miners is mining for alluvial rubies, sapphires, alexandrites and diamonds... while gemologist Richard W. Hughes is fighting against nasty flies.
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
On the way back from Mbuyuni we stopped at Maji Maji to witness the local Tanzanian gem trade and enjoy a fresh beer!
On october 16 we left Tunduru again very early to visit mining areas on river Lumesule. Our main objectives were the areas known as "D.S.M. Box" and Kitowelo. It seems that gems were first discovered there in 1995 by a local fisherman, about one year after the gem discoveries in river Muhuwesi. We were told that the "DSM box" area on river Lumesule was one of the most active Tunduru gem mining localities from 1995 to 1998 with around 10.000 miners. At the time of our visit this very remote mining area was looking like a small village with about 100 huts in which may be 300 miners were living. DSM Box was the only place we got some problems during our 2007 expedition. Few minutes after our arrival the people wanted to collect from us a special tax that the foreign visitors had to pay, after few minutes after we explained the village elders the reasons of our visit and the elder decided that it was not necessary for us to pay the tax. We went then to visit some mines in the Lumesule river bed and also a "land mine" about 300 meters from the river. Returning to our cars we had the surprise to be surrounded by a mob of angry people lead by a young miner willing to collect the special tax from us. They had stones in hands and wood sticks and after few tense minutes we decided to pay the tax in order to leave safely.
A short video showing the gem washing activity in the Lumesule river near the DSM box mining village.
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
We then went to Kitowelo which is known to be the place where Tunduru biggest blue sapphires and alexandrites were mined. We heard about gem quality blue sapphires up to 30 carats and about an alexandrite weighting 36 grams rough. Kitowelo mining area was also reported to have been discovered in 1995. We were also told that from 1995 to the beginning of October 2007 a large Thai operation with machines was present, but few days before our visit, Mr Prayun, the Thai miner who is also mining in Songea moved his equipment to his new mining project in Masuguro, Songea. The number of miners went then within few days from about 300 to about 100 people. After visiting Kitowelo we drove to Masasi where we arrived late in the evening.
On October 17th we drove to Ruangwa in order to visit the Tsavorite mines. The first stones were discovered in the first months of 1999 by a local hunter on Namumgo hill about 20 km from Ruangwa city which economy is dominated by cashew nut farming. It became rapidly an important mining area as after the discovery of Ilakaka in Madagascar, many Tunduru miners were without market for their stones and many moved to mine tsavorite in Ruangwa. At Ruangwa Tsavorite mining is underground, it is performed using methods that are also present in Merelani. many miners in Ruangwa are former merelani miners and they imported there the mining techniques they learned to mine Tanzanite. At Ruangwa the mining tunnels are less deep than in Merelani, the deepest being about 200 meters deep, the reason given to us was that the mining in Ruangwa is more recent than in Merelani. We were told that about 30 mining tunnels were dig in Namumgu hill and about 300 miners were currently working there which is much less compared to years 1999 and 2000: At that time more than 1000 miners were told us to have been working there.
A view over Namungo hill, the Ruangwa tsavorite mining area.
A short video presenting a 360 degres view from the entrance of the Ruangwa mining pit we visited: The area was pretty wild with no fence. The mine entrance was just a hole covered with a small roof located few hundred meters from the miners village located on the other hill..
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
Of course it was difficult to resist to visit the mines and witness the work underground. We went then to visit a typical mining operation from "Gemini Exploration and Mining Services", a Dar Es Salaam based company. The mine was starting by a vertical 20 meter pit, we went down using a wooden ladder with a torch light attached on our heads.
In the mine, several galleries about 1 to 2 meters high and about 4 meters wide were going slightly down. We had to walk about 150 meters underground to reach the place where a team of about 50 miners was working:
The work was hard and the miners were very surprised to see a group of foreigners arriving in the place they were working, we were surprised by their warm welcome: The mine was noisy with "Musungu Gwaka happa... Musungu Gwaka happa" meaning "White men are here!". They were very proud to show us about their work, showing us the areas where they were believing to get good stones. It was difficult for us to understand anything among such a noisy crowd about 150 meters underground. But it was fine.
A short video to remember the activity in the deep of Ruangwa tsavorite mine: The unexpected arrival of a group of western gemologists was welcome by the miners with a tremendous excitement. Quite impressive as we were soon in the center of a noisy crowd: It turned to be fine and just great!
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
The main problem mining there was the water which was had to be pump out of the mine in order for the galleries not to be flooded. Spending about 40 minutes underground with the miner enabled us to get an idea about the difficulty of their work: The mine manager explained to us that the mine was worked day and night. Each day a miner work 6 hours underground in 3 shifts of 2 hours separated with each time a 2 hours resting period. There is a night team and a day team. Tough life, but we could see that many miners working there were quite excited about what they were doing, and proud to show us what they were doing and what they had found as in the following video:
A short video where, in the deep of Ruangwa mine, some friendly miners present us proudly the tsavorite they found that day..
Video: Vincent Pardieu.
If some miners were true believers ofcourse there was also a couple of "funny guys". But well things it was fine... Believing in his luck is the gem miner pride and luxury!
A parcel of low quality Ruangwa tsavorite: The gem is here associated with pyrite and graphite.
Mr Sudi one of the major sponsor for the Ruangwa miners is presenting us a Tsavorite rough mined recently at Namumgu hill.
We left Ruangwa to return to the North of Tanzania and continue our visit to the Tanzanite, Tsavorite, Tourmaline emerald and alexandrite deposits around Arusha.
Please continue our Tanzania Oct 2007 expedition report with the second part of this report:
Recommended Articles from Gemological Magazines: - "Alexandrite from Lake Manyara, Tanzania", by E.Gubelin, Gems and Gemology, Fall 1976 - "Garnets from Umba valley, Tanzania: Is there a necessity for a new variety name?" by K.Schmetzer, Journal of Gemmology, 1981, XVII, 8 - "An Unusual garnet from Umba valley, Tanzania" by K. Schmetzer, Journal of Gemmology, 1982, XVIII, 3 - "Reddish-brown sapphires from Umba valley, Tanzania" by M. Gunawardene,, Journal of Gemmology, 1984, XIX, 2 - "Korunde aus dem Umba-Tal, Tansania, by H.A. Hanni, Z. Dt. Gemmol. Ges., Oct 1986 - "On corundums from Umba Valley, Tanzania" by H.A. Hanni, Journal of Gemmology, 1987, 20,5 - "Well-formed tsavorite gem crystals from Tanzania" by R.E. Kane, A.R. Kampf, H.Krupp, Gems and Gemology 1990 - "New rubies from the Morogoro area, Tanzania" by H.A. Hanni and K.Schmetzer, Gems and Gemology, Fall 1991 - "Gem quality green Zoisite" by N.R.Barot and E.W. Boehm, Gems and Gemology, Spring 1992 - "Lamellar inlcusions in spinels from Morogoro area, Tanzania" by K.Schmetzer and A. Berger, Journal of Gemmology, 1992, 23,2 - "An examination of colour change sapphire from Tanzania", by R.C. Kammerling, M.L.Johnson, Y.Liu, The Australian Gemmologist, Second Quarter 1996 - "A new colour change effect" by A.Halvorsen and B.B. Jensen, Journal of Gemmology, 1997, 25, 5, 325-330 - "Sapphire and garnet from Kalalani, Tanga province, Tanzania", by A. Siefert and J. Hyrsl, Gems and Gemology Summer 1999 - "Gem Wealth of Tanzania" by D. Dirlam, E B. Misiorowski, R Tozer, K.B. Stark and A.M. Bassett, Gems and Gemology, Summer 2002 - "Chemical fingerprinting of some East African gem rubies by Laser Ablation ICP-MS" by A.H. Rankin, J.Greenwood, and D. Hardgreaves, Journal of Gemmology, 2003, 28,8,473-482 - "The ICA 2006 World Colored Gemstone Mining Report", Incolor Spring 2006. - "My road to the discovery of Tsavorite" by C. Bridges, from "Into East Africa, a Journey to the Source", Incolor 2007 - "Tanzanite: Its discovery and early days" by J. Saul, from "Into East Africa, a Journey to the Source", Incolor 2007
"Gems News" and other "Gem News International" from Gems and Gemology : (to be completed...) - "Tanzanian spinel", Gems and Gemology, Fall 1991, p183 (about Mahenge spinels) - "Update from Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Fall 1991, p183 (about Longido ruby) - "Large Tsavorite garnet from Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Winter 1991, p258-259 - "Update on Tanzanian mining", Gems and Gemology, Winter 1991, p262 (about Tanzanite at Merelani) - "faceted ruby from Longido", Gems and Gemology, Fall 1992, p203 - "Ruby mining near Mahenge, Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Summer 1993, p136 - "Sapphires from Tanzania" Gems and Gemology, Spring 1995, p64-66 - "Sapphires and other gems from Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Summer1995, p133-134 - "Update on Tanzanite mining", Gems and Gemology, Summer 1996, p135 (about Tanzanite at Merelani) - "A new source for Tsavorite", Gems and Gemology, Summer 1999, p151-152 (about Ruangwa) - "Ruby from Songea, Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Winter 1999, p215 - "Another source of bicolor sapphire, Tunduru, Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Winter 1999, p215 - "Update on Tanzanite mining by AFGEM", Gems and Gemology, Winter 2003, p337-339 - "Large tsavorite and green grossular from Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Spring 2004, p72-73 - "Pink to pink oragne spinels from Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Spring 2004, p71-72 - "Control on Mineralization in Bloc D' of the Merelani Tazanite Deposit, Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Fall 2006 - "Geology and Mining of Southern Tanzanian Alluvial Gem Deposits", Gems and Gemology, Fall 2006, p107 - "Transparent dumortierite and sapphirine from Tanzania", Gems and Gemology, Winter 2007, p379
Interesting Books about Rubies, sapphires, spinels and Gemstones from Tanzania :
"Gemstones from East Africa" by Peter C. Keller (1992)
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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.