Reports coming out of Madagascar earlier this year testified to the ‘sapphire rush’ going on in eastern Madagascar’s remote rainforests.
According to French gemologist Vincent Pardieu, more high-quality sapphires have been found in this important bio-diverse area, specifically the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena, in the past several months than were produced there over the past two decades.
Size & Quality
As originally reported in the The Guardian, “I can tell you this is big,” Pardieu said. “Gem trade shows around the world now have nice, big, super-clean sapphires from the region. It’s the most important discovery in Madagascar for the past 20 or 30 years.”
American-based Natural Sapphire Company says this island nation produces about half of the global output of high quality sapphire annually. This new find is thrilling news for the gem world but clearly poses environmental risks to the rainforests. Thousands of artisanal miners and gem traders hoping to find their own cache have flooded into the region prompting calls for military intervention.
The unique island nation off the coast of Africa boasts some of the most diverse eco systems on the globe. Their jungle corridor is home to more than 2,000 plant species that appear nowhere else on earth. The place is also home to lemurs, including 14 endangered species of the iconic primate says the environment ministry.
Local officials have been unable to quell this rush. And Michael Arnstein, president of Natural Sapphire estimates that about $150M worth of sapphires may leave the country annually, although no actual figures are known. “You have all these small-scale, wild west operations,” he said. “Everything’s pretty much illegal. There’s no oversight, no taxes. It’s chaos.”
What a Rush
British gemologist Rosey Perkins uses her first hand experience to estimate that 1,500 to 2,000 people a day have been pouring in. People swelling into the rainforest regions with livestock and consumables have invaded the rigged-up mine sites. Concern lies with the security issues. According to The Guardian, the main site “looked quite wild,” said Perkins. “It was a real surprise to see a whole field of humanity out in the wilderness.”
Colorful History - Exciting Future
Madagascar is of course renowned for its abundant colored stones since early French exploration times. Once called Ile de Beryls, or Island of Beryl, the distinct terrain has yielded ruby, sapphire, every color of fancy sapphire, as well as aquamarine, emerald and heliodor. To that hoard add various quartz varieties - tourmalines, even alexandrite, labradorite and garnet. So, while the land has given up vast amounts of precious colored stones over time, this particular new hot spot on the island excites gem traders because of the quality and size of the sapphire rough.
Gemologist Pardieu estimates many more corundum mines (both ruby and sapphire) will be established in these protected locales over the next decade. He foresees, “just one deposit after another.”