An update on Ruby and Sapphire mining
in South East Asia and East Africa.
By Vincent Pardieu
and Jean Baptiste Senoble
General Presentation:(visit here)
Part 1) Introduction: (visit here)
Part 2) Vietnam:
We left for Hanoi , Vietnam, on April 22, 2005 to meet our local contact. After a visit to his cutting factory near Hanoi, where he is mainly cutting spinels from Luc Yen, we left for Yen Bai, the doorstep of the Luc yen mining area.
Yen Bai is a small city located northwest of Hanoi near the Thac Ba lake dam. It is the beginning of the ruby, sapphire, and spinel mining area known as “Luc Yen”. If the area was already known during the French colonial time for its gems, it became famous after the discovery near An Phu village in 1992 for gem quality rubies. Vietnamese rubies were said to be the equal of Burmese gems. A gem rush happened, but after 2000 the activity began to weaken possibly because some Thai dealers, which are said to control the market, left the area to go to buy gems in an easier place: Madagascar after the discovery of Ilakaka in 1999, and later Vatomandry and Andilamena in 2000.
We visited our first ruby mine a few kilometers beyond Yen Bai near Tan Huong. This area is the major producing center for the Vietnamese star rubies. It was a small private mechanized operation with eleven miners producing mainly star ruby and some dark red spinels. This mine was very close to the former VIGECO mine which has produced some very large stones including some which are now national treasure. The VIGECO mines are now closed and the Vietnam Gem Corporation does not mine anymore in Luc Yen or the Quy Chau area.
(Left to right: Ruby mining in Tan Huong, V. Pardieu with rough star rubies from Tan Huong,
Photos: Jean Baptiste Senoble, 2005)
After the mine visit, we rented a small transportation boat for a cruise on the Thac Ba lake. We were told that the lake level was very low and in some areas many people were mining the lake banks. After two hours cruising, we reached the mining area. Around 1000 miners were there mining star ruby.
(Left to Right: Boats on the Thac Ba lake banks, Mining landscape in the mining area on the island near the lake. Photos: Vincent Pardieu, 2005)
After our return, we continued our trip to Luc Yen city. Along the way we visited red spinel mines near Truc Lau: There, many locals were mining for spinels in their rice fields. Five or six mine holes were then visible, but Antoine told us that within few weeks, many more will be in operation in the area. The Truc Lau area is famous for its red spinels which are darker than the more pinkish or purplish spinels found south of Luc Yen near An Phu.
(Left to right: Red spinel mining in Truc Lau paddy fields. Photos: Vincent Pardieu, 2005)
On Monday, April 25 th, we started our visit of the Luc Yen area by a visit at the local gem market. The market was quite active with around two hundred people buying and selling mostly rough and crystals. Then we rented some Russian made motorbikes to visit south of Luc Yen in the mountains beyond An Phu Village, the area were spinels and rubies are mined in primary deposits. After a forty minute walk, we finally reached the cliff were red and pink spinels are mined. Several tens of people were working there and below the cliff was a small village were traders from the valley were coming to meet the miners and buy their production. Sadly on the way back I realized that my memory card was broken and I could never recover my photos! Passing An Phu, we were able to see some large marble blocs hosting attractive ruby and spinels. In the surrounding rice field, some small alluvial mining operations, typically involving a family, were producing rubies, sapphires, and spinels. Returning to Luc Yen, we visited several dealers and a burner where we were able to witness some ruby heat treatment using a jeweler torch. Many stones in Luc yen area were told us to be burned this way before being sold by the three burners active in Luc Yen.
(Left to Right: Gem Market in Luc Yen, Luc Yen ruby in its marble matrix,
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, 2005)
(Left to right: Watching the spinel hard rock mine before to start walking: It is the white cliff on the mountain...; An Phu spinels
Photos: Jean Baptiste Senoble and Vincent Pardieu, 2005)
The day after we continued our visit of the Luc Yen area, we again visited the market and dealers both in Luc Yen and near Tan Huong. As a conclusion, the visit was very interesting but the mining production in Luc yen was quite low compared to the activity few years ago. Most of the rubies we saw in the area were pinkish or purplish red. We departed in the afternoon for Hanoi where our friend, Antoine Hoang, left us.
In Hanoi our focus came on melo pearls, we visited an important dealer in the conch pearl field: "Indochina Gems Trading". We could see several pearls and study the different kinds of sea snails living along the Vietnam coastline and eventually producing pearls. The conch pearl production in Vietnam is very low and we were told that an average of one or two pearls per year is found.
(Left to right: Diverse sea snales producing Vietnamese conch pearls. Vietnamese conch pearls; Photos: Jean Baptiste Senoble and Vincent Pardieu, 2005)
Then we went to meet and spend some time with Prof. Phan Truong Thi from the Gems and Jewelry Institute of Vietnam. We spent the afternoon trying to verify information gathered here and there, collecting contacts for the rest of the trip, and looking at gemstones. We visited the geological museum where we spent half a day with geologist Do Duc Quang preparing for our trip to Quy Chau.
On Friday, April 29th ,2005, we left for Halong Bay to get on one of my old friend's boats (I visited fourteen times Vietnam as tour guide from 1996 to 2001). We had a cruise to visit a pearl farm in the bay. The quality of the pearls produced in Halong bay is not great and is mainly going to the Chinese market. In the bay, many small boats were selling pearls to tourists. Most of them were freshwater Chinese pearls or plastic.! We also saw several pearls that could possibly have come from the pearl farms in south Vietnam. Regarding to the pearl farming, the pearl farm we visited was the only farm we could find in North Vietnam as the pearl farm in Hanoi on the west lake does not appear to exist any more. Larger farms are present in the southern part of Vietnam.
(Left to right: Sailing in Halong Bay on a Vietnamese "junk". Pearl farm in Halong Bay,
Photo: Pattareeya Junthakeeree and Vincent Pardieu, 2005)
After our return to Hanoi , we left on Monday, May 2, 2005 to Quy Chau, near Vinh, using an old Russian made jeep. We arrived in the Quy Chau area late in the afternoon and visited the city. No gemstones were visible at all. We were told that now in Quy Chau province, the local authorities have forbidden ruby mining and trading. Most of our contacts could not (or did not) want to receive us. So our first challenge was to find the former mines and to be able to visit them. Finally, we found and could visit Mo Coi (also called Doi Thy) and then Chau Binh mine. Both operations were closed. Using my “tea shop” technique, we stopped here and there taking tea and meeting people. Finally we found a “miner cutter” who agreed to show us some stones and bring us to some illegal mining areas in the surrounding hills. Thanks to him we were able to collect some valuable information about the mining situation and see some stones. All the Quy Chau rubies we saw were excellent red color but small in size, they are mined currently in remote area as the police are seriously active against illegal mining. Most of the production goes to the Thai dealer network which was said to be very strong in Vinh and Hanoi. It was not surprising for us as Thais came here as soon as the two ruby mining areas were discovered in the 1990's. Most of the Vietnamese ruby production was said be exported to Bangkok for heat treatment. We were also able to see some blue sapphires possibly from the neighboring Quy Hop area and some aquamarines possibly from Que Phong area near the Laotian border. It was interesting and surprising to learn that aquamarine mining was allowed but not ruby.
(Left to right: Ruby miner at Mo Coi mine, Quy Chau ruby parcel,
Photos: Vincent Pardieu, 2005)
On Thursday, May 5, 2005 we returned to Hanoi and then to Bangkok the day after. To complete this trip, it would have been interesting to go to visit the basaltic blue sapphire deposits in south Vietnam and also the pearl farms which are in operation in the south. But this will be for a future trip…
Part 3: Report about Sri Lanka (May 2005) (visit here)
Part 4: Report about Madagascar (June- July 2005) (visit here)
Part 5: Report about Kenya (July 2005) (visit here)
Part 6: Report about Tanzania (August 2005) (visit here)
Visit also our 2006 fieldtrip reports
Introduction: Presentation of the AIGS, Gubelin Gem Lab, ICA 2006 fieldtrip to central Asia: (visit here)
Part 1: Pakistan: The Central Asian capital of the gemstone trade. (visit here)
Part 2: Afghanistan: Land of beautiful gems and unique people. (visit here)
Part 3: Tajikistan: Gems from the Pamirs. (visit here)
Part 4: China (Xin Jiang): Emeralds from the silk road. (visit here)
Note: For more information and photos about all these different areas, please visit our photo galleries available from our home page.
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