Thanks and disclaimer:


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.


About FieldGemology. org

This website is home for "Shameless Travel Addicted Gemologist" Vincent Pardieu (B.Sc., GGA, G.G.). Vincent is "Supervisor, Field Gemology" at GIA Laboratory Bangkok. He is a gemologist specialized on "origin determination of gemstones".
This is also home for Vincent's regular traveling companions: David Bright, Jean Baptiste Senoble, Richard W. Hughes, Guillaume Soubiraa, Walter Balmer, Michael Rogers, Kham Vannaxay and many others like recently: Philippe Ressigeac, Oliver Segura , Flavie Isatelle and Lou Pierre Bryl.

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.


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About me : How did a countryside Frenchman became a "Shameless travel addicted gemologist"? ( Under construction)


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Popular Articles

"Tsavorite, an Untamed Gem" with R.W.Hughes, first published in ICA's InColor (Winter 2008)
"Working the blue seam" The Tanzanite mines of Merelani with R.W.Hughes first published on
"Spinel, the resurection of a Classic" with R.W. Hughes, first published in ICA's InColor (Summer 2008)

Gemological studies

(Apr. 2009) "Sapphires reportedly from Batakundi / Basil area" a preliminary study about unusual sapphires we saw at GIA Laboratory Bangkok
(Mar. 2009) "Rubies from Niassa province, Mozambique" a preliminary study about rubies we saw at GIA Laboratory Bangkok
"Lead glass filled rubies" :
First published on AIGS Lab Website (Feb 2005)

Expedition Reports

Autumn. 2009: GIA Field Expedition FE09: Rubies from Mozambique. (pdf file)

May. 2009: GIA Field Expedition FE08: Melos and their pearls in Vietnam. (pdf file)

Dec. 2008 and Feb-Mar. 2009: GIA Field Expeditions FE01 and FE04: Rubies and sapphires from Pailin, Cambodia. (pdf file)

Aug. 2008: Sapphires and Tsavorite from the south of Madagascar with the AFG (Association francaise de Gemmologie) : Available soon...

Apr. 2008: Expedition to the new Winza ruby deposit in central Tanzania with Jean Baptiste Senoble and the support of the Gubelin Gem Lab

October 2007: Gemological expedition to East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) with Richard W. Hughes, Mike Rogers, Guillaume Soubiraa, Warne and Monty Chitty and Philippe Bruno:

Summer 2006: Expeditions to Central Asia gem wealth with Guillaume Soubiraa and the support of the AIGS, the ICA and the Gubelin Gem Lab:

Oct. 2005: Colombia by J.B. Senoble

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:

- Feb. 2005: A visit to Thailand, Cambodia with the AFG (Association Francaise de Gemmologie) (under construction)

- 2002-2007: Expeditions to Pailin (Cambodia), Chanthaburi Kanchanaburi (Thailand) Houay Xai (Laos) Mogok, Namya (Burma) (under construction)

- 2001: Expeditions to Namya, Hpakant and then Mogok with Ted and Angelo Themelis and Hemi Englisher (under construction)

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(Currently under "hibernation status"...)

Number 01: Sept 2006
(I know: it was long time ago...)



THANKS for their support
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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

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:




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The photos and articles on are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Feel free to use the photos and articles with links and credits. No commercial use without permission.
All the best,

October 18th, 2012 | Blog Keywords:Madagascar , Didy , Ruby , Sapphire Travel |
Blog Title: FE35_Madagascar_Didy

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...

"Ruby and and blue sapphire from Didy, Madagascar"
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

Didy GIA 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: 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."

We agreed.

"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.

"Gem Rush!"
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:

Didy madagascar GIA report
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
Didy GIA Madagascar
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.
Didy Madagascar TGJTA

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.

All the best,

March 31th, 2012 | Blog Keywords:Vietnam , spinel Travel |
Blog Title: FE34_Vietnam_Blue_Spinels

GIA FE34 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 34): Mar. 17th - Mar. 27th, 2012: Vietnam

After the GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE02, FE08 and FE16 field expeditions to Vietnam respectively in January and May 2009 and then in April - May 2010, the author returned to Vietnam in March 2012 in order to continue working on several interesting project about rubies, spinels and pearls.

This time the main objective was to try to deal with some unfinished business about blue spinels.

As regular visitors of may know in May 2009 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE08) the author was traveling in Vietnam with several friends including one of his regular travel buddies: Jean Baptiste Senoble. For the author, besides training and evaluating young gemologists for field activities, the focus was to collect ruby reference specimens for the GIA reference collection. But as it had been the case with Tsavorite in 2009, Jean Baptiste was able to highjack the author's initial plans and interest him to a gemstone that was fascinating him: Blue spinels.
JB was in love with blue spinels since the day he saw in Bangkok a beautiful faceted gem reportedly from Vietnam that had been found by a Bangkok based gem merchant who really motivated people there to mine blue spinels: While the author was looking around for rubies, Jean Baptiste was asking for blue spinels. After few days he was able to find from a Yen The merchant two tiny highly saturated rough blue spinels. The color of the little stones was amazing: No tone, no gray were visible, they were stunning bright little "Jedi" spinels, far away from the "Dark Side": Their deep bright blue color was even matching without shame the window cleaning liquid used by our hotel staff... Not sure if the color was coming from cobalt or something else had then fun calling them "Windex" blue spinels.

The author was hooked.

Back at the GIA Laboratory Bangkok, the author had a new surprise as after studying the two stones: Indeed, GIA gemologist Sudarat Saeseaw found out that if one stone was natural, the other one was a tumbled synthetic! The author was amazed as once again it was a classic example of the "Dick's Law", presented by Richard W. Hughes in his masterpiece "Ruby & Sapphire" on page 113 ( and on his website at "Buying at the source" where you can see a photo of these two little stones and where this funny story was first published.)

Since then, the author was wondering about the origin of the bright blue natural stone. It is quite a classic. If most people when they see a nice gem are wondering about its price, for the author each time the same question is jumping to his mind:

"Where is it from?"

When we got the stone in Yen The, the answer was very classic: "An Phu"... Well, that was not helping very much as there are tens of deposits in the mountains around An Phu village and to visit and study all of them could take months of hard work due to the difficulty of the jungle covered karst mountains.

Few days after finding these lovely "windex" spinels, after a one day long expedition in the tricky mountains near An Phu, we could confirm that the source of most of the nice sky blue spinels found in the market in the Luc Yen district was a small mining site called "Bai Son", from the name of a very poisonous tree found there... But the saturation of the Bai Son spinels was much lower than what could be seen in the "Windex" like little gems...

We decided then to continue our quest and keep things a little bit quiet despite pressures from here or there to publish what we had so far. Yes it would be nice to write about these nice stones but we had yet no idea about where they were really coming from: Too many questions, not enough facts: A classic "unfinished business".

"Blue spinel rough from the Luc Yen district"
Details one two small pices of "Double Bai Son" rough spinels (meaning that the gem saturation is double compared to what is usually found in Bai Son area) seen in Yen The, Vietnam in March 2012.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

In December 2009, Philippe Ressigeac, a young gemologist recently graduated from GIA Thailand asked the author for advice for his career. We knew each other well for about a year and I had a good idea about his projects, motivation and capacities. I was then thinking that Philippe could be a potential great traveling companion for future expeditions. I had to test him and give him an opportunity to do some good useful work. After few minutes I told him that he would have a lot to learn going to North Vietnam: Blue spinels were far to be the author's research priorities at the GIA Laboratory but were still a small unfinished business that was regularly bothering me. I was believing that he could do some useful gem hunting job there in North Vietnam as very few was known of these beautiful gem rich mountains. Philippe could be then very useful to the author as a scout to prepare the coming FE16 expedition to Vietnam scheduled in April 2010. That could be a great experience for him also to get few months of first hand experience about how things are going on in such gem producing area. Furthermore the French gemological Association was willing to visit Vietnam with 2 groups of 25 people in May 2010. I told Philippe that I could put him in contact with them and that I could arrange things for him to be they guide as my work at GIA was not enabling me to have the time to work on this gemological tourism project. Philippe was enthusiastic and within few days, Lou Pierre Bryl, a friend of Philippe and a veteran of the author's expeditions, decided to join Philippe in that quest.

The GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE16 expedition was composed of a great bunch of young gemologists and geologists with a passion for both gems and traveling. As usual Vietnam was for the author a great training ground to see if these young gemologists would be Ok as travel assistants for longer and tougher expeditions to Africa or Central Asia.

Our main objectives were of course rubies, but we had of course a keen interest also for blue spinels. If we could get several interesting deep blue spinel on marble matrix, we were not able to confirm the location of any primary deposit as visiting the places where the gems had been reportedly mined from we could not find any primary deposit. The difficulty in such humid jungle covered mountains is that any mining site is within few weeks or months covered by moss and vegetation.

After these 2010 expeditions, Jean Baptiste Senoble published "Beauty and rarity, a quest for Vietnamese blue spinels" an interesting article about hunting for blue spinels for "InColor", the ICA' magazine.

It was nevertheless still an unfinished business as the source for these little "jedi" / "windex" bright blue spinels were still unconfirmed.

In July 2011, in Poil, a small village in the French countryside, as each summer, a very informal but very interesting gemological gathering is taking place. During that event the author met Boris Chauvire, a young French geologist/gemologist willing to have some field experience. The author felling about the 22 years old young man was good and we decided that we could try to do something together.

As usual, the process was simple: I told Boris: "Well, if you want to travel with me: First take a plane ticket and join me in Bangkok next winter. Then, lets go for few weekend type expeditions to neighboring gem mining areas. If everything is fine, meaning that you dont give me too much headhakes and if you can show me that you can be a useful asset for such expeditions, then I might consider taking you as travel assistant on some longer ones for one or two weeks. Then again we will see if we can make plans for the future. The fact is that I don't feel good traveling on long serious expeditions to Africa or Central Asia with people that I don't know and/or that I've not trained". Finally before to go on any long/serious expeditions, it is better to know if we can feel good traveling together.

Boris then said: "Coming to Bangkok? Hum, I would love to, but that's not easy as I'm working on a master degree in Geology at Nantes University. But may be we could discuss the issue with my supervisor: Dr. Benjamin Rondeau?"

The good thing was that Dr. Rondeau was not far away. We discussed the issue and within few weeks we built what was looking like a good solution: Boris will come in Bangkok from January to April 2012 in order to do some field work in relation with his master degree... on the geology of the Vietnamese blue spinels!

Boris came in Bangkok on January 22nd 2012. The author introduced him to Philippe Ressigeac who was also for few weeks in Thailand. The feeling was good between them and two weeks later Boris and Philippe were on their way for Northern Vietnam with two Swiss friends of the author: Stephane Jacquat and Marc Noveraz.

"Marc Noveraz, Boris Chauvire and Philippe Ressigeac looking for gems at the Yen The morning gem market".
Photo: Stephane Jacquat, Feb. 2012

Thanks to Philippe knowledge of the region, to Stephane experience as a mountaineer, and to Marc experience as a gem buyer, Boris was able to become rapidly familiar with the country, the area around Yen The and gem trading in such place. During that first expedition they found that gem mining was very low in the Luc Yen district. It was to be expected as the "Tet", the celebration of the Vietnamese new year, was still keeping the local busy and it was still very cold and humid in the mountains Furthermore the local farmers/miners were too busy with agriculture and rice cultivation to get any interest in gemstone mining. The expedition was nevertheless far to be a waste of time as Philippe introduced Boris to some key local people and helped him to prepare the coming "harvest" expedition that was planned later with the author. That expedition was scheduled in March 2012, as late as possible in accordance with Boris time frame for his master degree that had to be completed by June 2012.

The GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE34 "harvest" expedition took place from March 17th to March 27th 2012. Boris Chauvire returned then to Vietnam with the author and an old university friend of the author: Maika Berrouet joining the expedition as a photographer to document it.

Things turned very well as the weather was very fine during our whole expedition. It was not raining. This is an important point in the jungle covered karstic mountains dominating Yen The and An Phu as the tough terrain in these mountains is very dangerous when the rocks are wet and muddy.

We were also lucky as the first day while meeting some Yen The merchants the author visited regularly during the past years, we could find some very interesting deep blue spinel parcels matching the "windex" window liquid... Nice! We spent few hours selecting interesting little pieces in these nice parcels.

"Selecting bright blue spinels in Yen The"
Boris Chauvire and Maika Berrouet selecting highly saturated blue spinels from some parcels seen in Yen The, Luc Yen district, Northern Vietnam.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

Then thanks to the support of our Yen The friend: Mr. Shuan the next day we were heading to the mountains and the deposit that where these spinesl had been reportedly mined from. During the three days we spent scouting the mountains around Yen The we could visit several interesting spinel and ruby deposits, collect some interesting additional samples for the GIA reference collection and, thanks to Mr. Shuan work with the local miners between Boris two visits to Yen The, we had finally the pleasure to find in the mountains some marbles hosting deep blue spinels!

"A mystery getting solved..."
Boris Chauvire happy to have finally found some saturated blue spinels in their host rocks in the mountains of the Luc Yen district thanks to the help of some local Vietnamese miners.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

Still the author and Boris will have to check at the GIA laboratory and in Nantes University if these spinels are indeed matching the lovely small natural "windex" stone the author and JB Senoble were able to get in May 2009. But obviously after 7 expeditions either lead by the author or by Philippe Ressigeac, an "unfinished business" was looking to be on the way to find a conclusion.

"Gemmy blue spinel octahedron on matrix"
Details on a nice gemmy blue spinel octahedron found on it matrix. More information about the location of the deposit and the associated minerals will be presented by Boris Chauvire in June 2012 when he will complete his Master Degree in Geology at Nantes University (France).
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012


"Discussing spinels..."
The author discussing gemology of spinels with Mr Shuan and Boris Chauvire at a blue spinel mining site in the jungle covered mountains over Yen The, Northern Vietnam.
Photo: Maika Berrouet, 2012

Soon Boris Chavire will return to Nantes, do some good work on the 25 kilos of samples he collected on site visiting the different spinel deposits we scouted over these recent years and complete his master on the geology of blue spinels from the Luc Yen district.

You will find more informations and photos when Boris will complete his master degree and on future GIA publications: either in GIA's eBrief (see G&G eBrief March 2012), Gems & Gemology and News from the Research on GIA websites.

All the best,

March 12th, 2012 | Blog Keywords:Kataragama , Sri Lanka , sapphire Travel |
Blog Title: FE33_Kataragama_Sri Lanka

GIA FE33 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 33): Feb. 28 - Mar. 09, 2012: Sri Lanka

After the GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE24 and FE30 field expeditions to Sri Lanka respectively in March 2011 and January 2012, the author returned recently to Sri Lanka at the end of February 2012 as some surprising news came from the "Gem Island". Indeed On Feb. 23rd 2012, Shamil Sammoon from Sapphire Cutters Ltd, informed the GIA Laboratory Bangkok that a new sapphire discovery happened near Kataragama, a sapphire mining locality located west of the famous Yala National Park. The area is a known sapphire producing area since the end of the 1970's (For more details read: Zwann P.C., "Sri Lanka, the Gem Island", Summer 1982 issue, Gems & Gemology) and the author and his team visited in 2005 and 2011. But if the place was known for about 30 years, it was mostly known to produce usually small included stones.

The new discovery had some serious exposure in the Sri Lankan media and visiting the island it was obvious that many people were living a blue sapphire fever. News about large fine blue stones were reaching Bangkok and within few days the GIA laboratory planned a new expedition thanks to the support of the Sri Lankan NGJA (National Gem & Jewelry Authority) who provided us some useful support and local contacts including the necessary introduction letters to pass the police check points protecting the access to the different mining sites.

On March 13th the GIA sent around the world its March 2012 G&G eBrief containing a short concise expedition report from that FE33 field expedition to Kataragama signed by Lou Pierre Bryl, Andrea Heather Go (Canada), Boris Chauviré (France) and the author. It will be available to non G&G subscribers in June 2012 at the following G&G eBrief archive
On May 02nd, 2012, the GIA Laboratory published on their websites (here and here) an extensive study about the new discovery near Kataragama. The study was written by Vincent Pardieu, Emily Dubinsky, Supharart Sangsawong and Boris Chauviré.
It includes:
- a presentation of the area,
- the GIA FE33 expedition report,
- some observations and comments about the geology of that new unusual deposit
- and a detailed study of some of the samples collected on site during the expedition.

On March 12th 2012, a selection of four "GIA postcards" were published on NGJA's website from photos taken by the author during that expedition and that the GIA was happy to share.

As it seems that these photos are already been posted in many places, you might enjoy to find them here also:

"Icy transparent (but included...) sapphire crystal from Kataragama, Sri Lanka"
A local man from Kataragama presents us a 30 carats sapphire crystal he told the author to have found on the road building site where the gems were first discoverted in Feb. 2012.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

"Gems on the road..."
A young girl from Kataragama is presenting to the author a sapphire crystal found on the road construction site near Kataragama where the stones were first found on Feb 14th, 2012.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

"Wine and sapphires..."
That's a kind of photograph the author wanted to take for quite a while.
The occasion came in Colombo on March 09th 2012, while having our farewell diner in a cosy restaurant. One of the author's Sri Lankan new contacts, he met duing that expedition, was nice to present him a noticeable sapphire crystal found few days before on the road construction site near Kataragama. As it is common in Kataragama material from the new deposit, the large crystal hold by Boris Chauviré, and weighting around 150 grams had sadly many fractures, but still in several areas some clean facetable material was present".
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2012

The author is hoping that this new discovery will enable people to appreciate even more the beauty, the quality and the diversity of the gemstones produce from Sri Lanka, it is just unbelievable that after so many centuries of gemstone mining people are still discovering there new deposit. It means one wonderful thing for the author: It means that it is very likely that in places like East Africa where the tradition regarding gemstone mining are much more recent but that share many similarities with Sri Lanka due to their common geological history, we can expect for the years and probably the centuries to come still many new discoveries.

All the best,

February 11th, 2012 | Blog Keywords:emerald , Davdar , China Travel |
Blog Title: Davdar_Emeralds_Mineralogical_Magazine

Conditions for emerald formation at Davdar, China: fluid inclusion, trace element and stable isotope studies

Authors: D. Marshall, V. Pardieu, L. Loughrey, P. Jones and G. Xue.

Click here or on the photo to get the article

Abstract: Preliminary geological work on samples from Davdar in China indicate that emerald occurs in quartz veins hosted within upper greenschist grade Permian metasedimentary rocks including quartzite, marble, phyllite and schist. Fluid inclusion studies indicate highly saline fluids ranging from approximately 34 to 41 wt.% NaCl equivalent, with minimal amounts of CO2 estimated at a mole fraction of 0.003. Fluid inclusion, stable isotope and petrographic studies indicate the Davdar emeralds crystallized from highly saline brines in greenschist facies conditions at a temperature of ~350°C and a pressure of up to 160 MPa. The highly saline fluid inclusions in the emeralds, the trace-element chemistry and stable isotope signatures indicate that the Davdar emeralds have some similarities to the Khaltaro and Swat Valley emerald deposits in Pakistan, but they show the greatest similarity to neighbouring deposits at Panjshir in Afghanistan.

Keywords: beryl, China, Davdar, emerald, fluid inclusion study, greenshist facies, stable isotopes geochemistry

Read the rest of the article at the following link


Figure 1: Emerald crystals in matrix from Davdar mining area, Xin Jiang Province, China. The largest crystal is gem quality and about 5 centimeters long. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok

This new article is based on the samples collected on site in China during the field expedition to the new Davdar emerald mining area lead by V. Pardieu in 2006 with the support of the AIGS and the Gubelin Gemological Laboratories (see expedition report and a brief gemological study of Davdar emeralds here). The geological samples collected during that expedition were then provided in 2007 to Dan Marshall with the support of the Gubelin Gem Lab.

For more information about Davdar emeralds, read also the article published in InColor Magazine (spring 2009) about Davdar emeralds in Collaboration with Jean Claude Michelou. (Download the pdf here).

All the best,

January 24th, 2012 | Blog Keywords:Bosshart , gemology , Pailin Travel |
Blog Title: Georges Bosshart (19xx- 2012)

This post is not about one of the author expeditions or about an article he collaborated with, but it is about one friend, who was a great source of inspiration for the author's when he was still searching his way in gemology: I mean Georges Bosshart.

Last week while I was traveling to Sri Lanka I received the sad news that Georges passed away in Switzerland after a long and very courageous struggle with cancer. He was one of these persons that I would have loved to spend more time with. All my thoughts are today to the one he used to call his best treckking companion: His wife Anna.

The first time I met Georges Bosshart, it was in 2003. I was then working as a part time consultant for the AIGS laboratory in Bangkok, but I was mainly spending my time traveling to Burma to buy gems for my boss Henry Ho, the owner of the AIGS lab. Georges came to the lab while he was on an OPT (Off Premise Testing) mission for the Gubelin Gem Lab. On that occasion Georges was willing to use some of the advance equipment we had. For a young gemologist like the author, learning from such an experienced gemologist like Georges Bosshart was an occasion not to be missed. The contact with Georges turn to be extremely easy as we were sharing similar interests not only for gemology but also about traveling to gem mining areas (particularly in Burma).

"Swiss gemologists in Pailin, Cambodia!"
Left to right Georges Bosshart, Walter Balmer checking heat treated sapphires at a sapphire burner place in Pailin, Cambodia"
Photo: V. Pardieu / AIGS, 2006

That first visit was quite brief as it took less than one hour, just the time to make few analyses. Few months later, on a another OPT, he contacted us again and this time Jim Mullen, the AIGS lab director, made an agreement with Georges Bosshart that in exchange of the possibility to use the lab advanced instruments, he would spend some time showing to the lab gemologists how to better use them. Thanks to that on that second visit the author had the privilege to be able to spend two full days in the lab with Georges Bosshart teaching him how to better use the EDXRF, the UV-Vis and the FTIR. Then as out contact was very good, we also spent a day looking at the samples I collected in Burma during my gemology studies and discussing about them, gemology and our experiences traveling to gem mining areas in Burma. Georges was one of the rare persons to have been able to visit not only the gem mines of Mogok and Hpahant but also the small diamond deposit near Momeik.

These three days working on instruments and looking at stones besides Georges Bosshart were a major event for the author as Georges passion for gemology was very contagious: For the young gemologist still searching his way that I was then, his comments and advices were very encouraging and inspiring. After discussing with Georges, I had the great feeling that I was doing the right thing. Georges also convinced me that I could do much better because I had the unique opportunity to be a young gemologist based in Bangkok: It was then much easier for me to get some interesting samples to study visiting the numerous gem mines and markets located around Bangkok that it had been from him in his young days based in Switzerland. He encouraged me to continue going to the field in order to collect seriously reference samples, and then study them very seriously as he said it was the best way to get more knowledge.

In the weeks and months following Georges visit, I spent more and more time in the lab. I also started to travel more regularly to gem mining areas near Chanthaburi, Kanchanaburi and Pailin in order to collect reference samples at the mines, study them back at the lab and then I also started some heat treatment experiment with the help of local Burners in order to see what had changed in the samples after heat treatment.

My boss Henry Ho noticed then rapidly my increasing interest for gemology and soon accepted that I was somewhere lost for the gem trade. In September 2004, a little bit more than one year after meeting Gorges Bosshart for the first time Henry Ho proposed me to become the Director of the AIGS Laboratory. I accepted with pleasure and passion...

In December 2006, few weeks before leaving Thailand to work as a gemologist for the Gubelin Gem Lab in Switzerland I had also the pleasure to welcome again in Thailand Georges Bosshart with his wife Anna and two other Swiss friends: Walter Balmer (who had just left the Gubelin Gem Lab to start a PhD at Chulalorkorn University in Bangkok) and Michael Kremnicki from SSEF. We went on a field expedition to the sapphire mining areas near Chanthaburi and then to the ruby and sapphire mines near Pailin. It was a real pleasure to spend some time with Georges, this time in the field, help him to visit Cambodia and use that occasion to thank him for these very inspiring days we spent together in Bangkok. Again we had some great discussions about some of his favorite subjects like green minerals or Burmese diamonds.

"Georges Bosshart at the IGC in Arusha in Oct. 2009 with a large crystal of Tanzanite. If he was already struggling against cancer, his passion for gems was still vibrant, fresh and contagious."
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

I had the pleasure then to meet again Georges and Anna at their home in Switzerland for a great diner where they introduced me to Alan Jobbins, who studied the Pailin ruby and sapphire mining areas in the 1970's. We also met at few more occasions in Bangkok and in Tanzania for the IGC in Arusha in 2009. Again his discussion was very inspiring.

Georges was indeed somebody very special: It is not easy to describe him with words. He was of course a very complete gemologist and a true gem connoisseur with a very extensive knowledgeable about diamonds, pearls, jade and colored stones. He was an expert on instrumentation and a great lab gemologist. But that was not all: He was also an experienced traveler and one of the most experienced gemologists regarding traveling to gem mining areas. But most of all he was also a very sincere, passionate, and meaningful man, a great man who enjoyed sharing his tremendous knowledge with young people, speaking true to them mixing humour and sarcasm to the perfection: A very rare man and a truly a great source of inspiration for young gemologists like the author.

Georges, it was a real pleasure to have been able to meet you and to have had the privilege to have spend few days around you. I would like to thank you here for all these inspiring moments and great advices that you gave me. If today I enjoy working as Field Gemologist at the GIA, I've to say that I own you a lot as you helped me to find my way and then to keep on the right track...

You will be missed for sure but be sure that you will remain a great source inspiration for all the people who had the pleasure to have met you.

All the best,

December 29th, 2011 | Blog Keywords:Thailand , Burma , GIA , GGA , gemology , studies Travel |
Blog Title: Ten years as a gemologist

In December 2001, ten years ago, the author became a gemologist...

This new blog is a little bit unusual as it is not about a place the author visited recently.

When you plan to visit a mine located on the top of a mountain, there are moments and places where it is nice to stop for few seconds, breath. Enjoy the moment and the beauty of the area. You can have a look down to the valley and study the track you have walked, then you look up to the mine and see what still needs to be done... You may also look inside yourself and feel weather you will be able to make it or not.

This blog is about one of these moments.

"The author with U Aung Ko, one of his gemology teachers in 2001 and the Director of the G.G.A. (Gem Genuine Association) gemological school in Yangon, Myanma (Burma)". Photo: Jean Baptiste Senoble, 2006

Indeed in March 2001, after four months studies, he graduated from the G.G.A. (Gem Genuine Association) in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) and then in December 2001 after six further months studying gemology at the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) campus in Bangkok (Thailand), he got his G.G. diploma.

10 years... It is long and short at the same time. The author hopes that you will find the following of some interest, even if it is in some way very naive and personal. But may be those willing to study gemology and searching their way into the gem trade will find here some reasons not to give up and find some good advices.

This page is dedicated to them and to all the people who helped and mentored the author during the past 10 years.


"The author receiving his G.G. diploma from the hands of Christopher Keenan, then Director of the GIA Thailand school"
Photo: GIA, 2001

Introduction: "Past is Prologue"

The author's gemological studies in South East Asia were the consequence of a long personal quest that the author will present you chapter after chapter in the coming few days and also the beginning of a great personal adventure that will take him to be a gemstone buyer in Burma, a gemology teacher and a lab gemologist at the AIGS in Bangkok, Thailand. Then he will become director of that gemological laboratory. After some work on treatments and particularly the lead glass and the beryllium treatment, he will focus more on origin determination of gemstones starting an ambitious field gemology program to collect reference samples in mining areas. He will then move for 2 years to Switzerland in order to work as a gemologist specialized on origin determination of colored gemstones at the Gubelin Gem Lab in Lucerne. Finally he became GIA's first "Field Gemologist", a position he enjoys each day for the past three years.

Regularly the author is told to be lucky to have such a great job. Well yes. But it was a lot of hard work to become "lucky".

Shakespeare wrote: "Past is prologue...". The reader might possibly wonder why a young countryside French guy like the author decided to study gemology in Burma and then in Thailand? Well as in most cases, there is the long story and the short one.

In the next few days the author will invite you to discover the long one as a series of 10 short chapters (one chapter, one year... 10 years? 10 chapters? Ok, that's a private for a "toon" who might read these lines one day if she has some time to loose). But as not everybody might be interested in the author's detailed long stories, here is the short one: The point is that, even before to get a serious interest for gemology, the author had a deep passion for traveling. Deciding to invest a year studying gemology was a great opportunity to discover at the same time another country, learn not only about gems and gemology but also about gem people, their culture and the gem trade. Now when you realize that most of the rubies and sapphires going into the gem trade weather they are produced from traditional sources like Burma or Sri Lanka or from new deposits in Africa will probably travel one day to Thailand, that choice makes a lot of sense. As I found out later, it was indeed a good move for the simple reason that:

"The gemstone trade is not truly just about sciences, arts, money or even gemology. It is mainly about people."

The author's point is that if somebody is interested in studying wine, the author, as he was born from a wine making family near Bordeaux in France, would recommend him to study in France. Studying wine in Thailand could be great (as studying gemology in France.) but my point is that when you study wine in Bordeaux (or may be Burgundy...), it is a different experience for the simple reason that when you leave your school, you are still surrounded with the wine culture: If you are truly interested in wine, you can then use your weekends to visit vineyards, shop for fine bottles in local cellars, witness the "vendanges" and the following wine making process, meet wine makers and traders, build a network of friends and contacts that might make the difference later for your career, and of course you can also have the pleasure to build your own expertise in wine going for lunch or diner in one of the numerous local restaurants and experiment how good wine is a key component of fine French food and social culture.

In fact while selecting the right place or the right school to study, it all depends on your personality, on the school specificities and your project. If your project is to live in Paris and to find a way to make a career with one of the famous French jewelry brand names like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Dior, Chanel, Chaumet, Boucheron or JAR then studying gemology in France, few hundreds meters from Place Vendome, might make sense, particularly if you find out that several former students from that school are currently working in the company you would like to join. But if you are more on the adventurer side and dreaming about going one day to buy gems in the jungles and the mountains of Asia or Africa, or if you want more quietly to discover gems and at the same time discover what is going on in these Asian emerging economies, then going to study gemology in Thailand for six months might be a great move.

But don't get me wrong: I don't mean that a "smart" choice that fits your personality and your project will be a guarantee for success. The wannabe gemologist will still need to work hard to be successful: Along the road, there will be positive and less positive experiences, but as I repeated to many young people coming in Thailand to start a career in relation with gemstones:

"You will be able to say that you have failed only when you will have decided to stop trying."

In the author's experience knowing what you want to do and taking some smart decisions will definitively help you to success. It is like preparing an expedition in mountains: To be successful in the gemstone trade you will need to schedule and to finance your studies and may be as it was the case of the author you might have to accept to work at the beginning for a very low salary, just to be able to get the experience you need to complete your profile and enable you to get a better position few months or years later... It might surprise some of the readers but it took seven years to the author, working as a gemologist, to be able to get a position with a salary enabling him to save some money at the end of the month while doing what he likes to do. Gemology is a very competitive business, it is difficult to make a living with gems if you don't have a real professional level, and to get it, there is no choice (particularly if you were not born from a gem merchant family) you will have to work hard and not just hard but also very smart... As we know: "Rome was not build in one day", and with gems, experience is really very important. The author's point is that if you don't take the right decisions, working hard, might turn to be more or less useless. Thanks to his mentors, the author got great advices and was able to make the right choices. Thanks to that he became quite successful in what he was doing. Then one day, when things were not very easy, he got the opportunity to be "lucky"... It had been a lot of hard work to get the chance to be "lucky" that day but it was worth it.

Now let's stop here for a while. Tomorrow and each of the next following nice days, the author will post an additional chapter to that blog telling more in details, chapter after chapter, how was able to combine his passions for gemology and traveling and how he became 10 years ago a gemologist. The author hopes that the next chapters will be found useful for people willing to start something in relation with gems. He also hopes that the people spending some time reading that blog will not feel too much bored by that long and quite complicated story...


Chapter 1: From the "Black Prince" to Mandalay.

Chapter 2: A French Jeweler in Italy.

Chapter 3: A man called U Phone Gyi.

Chapter 4: A crazy project.

Chapter 5: Kunming, from naive dreams to cold realities.

Chapter 6: Books, letters, hope and shadows...

Chapter 7: Meeting U Kyaw Thaung...

Chapter 8: Gemological studies in "The Other World".

Chapter 9: Paris, GIA Thailand and first Field Gemology experiences.

Chapter 10: Getting a first job and 10 years working as a gemologist. (Scheduled to be released on Jan 23rd 2011)


"See through the eyes of Jean Marc Aubert, one of the author's friends from his time at Bordeaux Science University, here is a funny game related short biography of the author written in French (sorry for the non French speaking visitors), that was published in 2004 in a French strategy game magazine. Courtesy: Jean Marc Aubert"

Chapter 1: From the "Black Prince" to Mandalay.

I got my very first interest for gems while reading the novel by Joseph Kessel: "La Vallee des Rubis". It was about Mogok (Burma) and its rubies. That interest increased later while studying sciences in Bordeaux University (France). It was not really coming from my chemistry studies but from something completely different. Besides studying sciences I was actively involved in the organization of LARPs (Live Action Role Playing Games) with a group of friends. I was enjoying working on creating scenarios for fantasy and historical medieval type events. In such aspects I found that gems were of great interest particularly while I was working on a project based on the "100 years war between France and England". Studying in detail the life of one of my favorite characters, Edward of Woodstock, famous as the "Black Prince of England", I came to learn about the existence of the "Black Prince Ruby". For few weeks I did my best to learn as much as I could about that gem. Its history was already fascinating to me but there was something more: It was just amazing to me that what was probably the world's most famous ruby was not really a ruby but actually a spinel... How come? From that mystery came my very first interest for gemology, rubies and spinels. An interest I never stopped studying since then.

I bought my very first gems in Vietnam while traveling in 1997 near Yen Bai on my way to Sapa. I was approached then by a man introducing himself as a farmer who found some rubies in his paddy fields. He told me that he needed money as his wife was sick and needed some medication. His stones were five nice rough waterworned shining colorful gems. It was like candy to me... Few minutes later I had 5 rubies in my pocket and $500 less. The stones turned to be synthetics.

"The author (right) with Anne Riou (left) and Christophe Gilanton (center) posing in Bagan, Burma in February 1998."
Photo: An unknown Japanese tourist, 1998

In February 1998, as each winter, I was backpacking in Asia with two of my friends: Christophe Gilanton and Anne Riou. They were not really what we could call members of the gem trade. I met Anne in London while I was studying chemistry in UK in 1995 and Christophe in 1996 while I was studying business in Toulouse (France). Anne is now a school teacher while Christophe is working in IT. We were then visiting Mandalay, one of the former capitals of Burma.

I was excited to visit Burma. One of my projects was to visit Mogok, the famous valley of rubies I read about when I was young. Visiting the gem market in Mandalay I had some fun looking at stones and buying another nice ruby, faceted this one, that I paid $100.

For few days my friends and I took two different paths: They had a visit to Hsipaw while I had an interesting solo adventure traveling to Mogok with U Phone Gyi, a Burmese man I met the day before near the Irrawaddy River. That's a very long story but to make it short I will say that few days after that encounter this U Phone Gyi took me to visit some sapphire mining sites near Mogok. There while speaking about gems with a group of Burmese miners and dealers, they asked to see the stone I bought in the market. I learned then that the ruby I bought few days before was obviously "Pyinthi" meaning "French"... What do you mean by that, I asked? Then the Burmese dealers told me that for more than 100 years French are famous to have discovered the way to make synthetic rubies. Thus the Burmese word for "French" is used to describe synthetic gems. Well that was the second time I got cheated. U Phone Gyi told me then few words I like to remember: I had to be careful with gems as if this gem trade can be seen all about love and trust, there are two nasty devils called greed and ignorance messing with it... It was a nice Asian indirect way to tell me that I had been stupid particularly as it was the second time I did such mistake. These 2 days around Mogok were just like heaven to me, but I had soon to return on Earth and we had to escape from the area. Finally we were able to return safely to Mandalay. Waiting for my two friends to return from Hsipaw, I spent my time with that interesting Burmese man meeting gem people around Mandalay and looking at gems with a focus on his favorite gems: Star rubies and star sapphires. Wonderful days...

Later on our way back to Yangon, while sailing slowly on a merchant boat from Bagan to Pyay for days, I took some time to thing about my life and these recent Burmese experiences. I had some great discussions with my friends about what happened in Mandalay and around Mogok. As it happened several times in my life, while speaking ideas came and suddenly I realized then that gemstones were at the junction of everything I was interested in: Adventure, science, art, history, geography, nature, people... I had nevertheless a problem: So far I was cheated twice. Obviously I had to learn more about gems in order to be able to make the difference between genuine natural rubies and synthetics.

Back in Yangon, I was decided to learn more about gems. Visiting the Bogyoke market, I found the book "Ruby & Sapphire" by Richard W. Hughes. That was exactly what I was searching: The introduction "Something of myself" written by the author was an echo to my own wanderings and the rest of the book finished to convince me: Rubies and sapphires were found in many places I was dreaming to visit. I was convinced: Rubies and sapphires were really the connecting point of all the things I liked. The book became my favorite traveling companion when I was traveling around the world, taking tourists to visit Europe and Asia. Each time I had some time I was taking some pleasure to read again this or that chapter and studying it.

"The author posing in Venice, Italy during summer 1999 while working as a tour leader for FRAM, a Toulouse based French tour operator. Some people might note that I had then already by bush hat and my lozenge shaped glasses: That was my way to be easy to recognize by the people in my group in order to minimize the chances to loose somebody."
Photo: An anonymous French tourist, 1998

Chapter 2: A French Jeweler in Italy.

The main problem the author had for many years was that he did not really know what he wanted to do with his life. Meeting young (and not so young...) gemology students coming to study gemology in Thailand, I found that he was far to be the only one in such case:

In 1998 after some science and business studies I was working for few years as a full time tour guide specialized on Asia and Europe. I was very happy with my work and FRAM the company I was working with. I had nevertheless the feeling that it was, for many reasons, just a period in his life. Life was then like walking on a mountain. It was nice to visit so many countries and meet interesting people, but I had the feeling that I had not yet found my place. As I had no real goal, something was missing. In other words, as I was very involved in historical and fantasy type LARPs, I was often feeling (like many other young guys) like a wandering young knight searching for a quest that would lead me one day to some princess or some holy grail.

In summer 1999, a year after my expedition to Burma with Christophe and Anne, I still working as a tour guide for FRAM, I remember a specific day while I was traveling with a group of tourists in Italy to visit Venice, Verona and the lakes of northern Italy. For about one year I had an interest for the gem trade and I was searching (quietly...) a way to start something in relation with gems. When I had some time, I was not missing an opportunity to read this or that chapter of my favorite book: "Ruby and Sapphire" by Richard W. Hughes. A French jeweler who was traveling among my group of tourists noticed these readings. The jeweler came to see me and we had a very interesting discussion. It was one of the great things working as a tour guide: It was not only about visiting many beautiful and fascinating places, but it had also often the chance to meet a lot of people. Some of them had very interesting lives and great stories to tell. They were on holiday. I was their guide. They had some free time and some of them were happy to talk. Often these conversations were very meaningful as at the end of their life, few people have any reason to lie to somebody they will probably never meet again. In that case the author does remember that he told the jeweler about his very naive desire to try mixing gems and traveling. The jeweler said that it would be very difficult in his opinion as if there was an easy way to make a living with gems and traveling, then he would not be a jeweler in countryside France. That was not really what I wanted to hear, but it was something I would often think about during the following years...

He had several interesting points:

He said that if just the fact of traveling to the source in Thailand, Vietnam or even Burma and buying there gems was enough to make a good living, then pilots and air hostess would be millionaires: They are not.

Of course he said, I could buy some gems here or there and sell them to my friends but his feeling was that it is quite a dangerous idea to build a business model based on making profits on your friends: Just make a mistake (like buying synthetics as the author already did twice...), sell it to a friend and the result can be a pure nightmare: Everybody will probably find out about it. You might then loose their trust and may be also their friendship if you don't deal correctly with the issue. He was preaching a convinced one, as I never feeled comfortable to sell a stone to a friend: Usually I prefer just to offer them the gem they like... Furthermore, it is also important to understand that gems are not food: After few months, he said, when all your friends will all have bought from you a fine gem, you will need to find other customers because they will probably not need another stone...

Gemstones are not salads, he said, if you don't understand that point: You will fail. That was a very good point I would remind since then and that I recently refreshed in association with on the presentation I gave in May 2011 at the ICA congress in Rio de Janeiro.

But the main weakness he could see in the author very naive project was that the author had no family in the gem trade:

I had Nobody to advise me, nobody to provide me some useful business contacts... No mentor.

He was right: I had a serious problem with that project.
A good book was obviously not enough...
One solution was making a lot of sense: I had to find a mentor.

Well, that's something easy to say but not that easy to find. Mentors accept to advise you usually if they feel that they are not loosing their time with you. I had then not a real idea about what a mentor could be. One of my friends, who happened to be a serious fan of star wars, was enjoying speaking about the Force, Jedi Masters and their padawans,... Basically his vision of my problem was that I was a wannabe young padawan searching for some Master Yoda to teach him the way to use the Force and to help him to stay away from the Dark Side... The reader might think at that point that the author has possibly some mental problems, but rapidly the author found that it was nice to use that Star Wars terminology. Indeed it was fun and clear but the main advantage is that it is not related to any specific religious background. I found it very useful many years later when I started myself to mentor some young gemologists that my old French university friends and myself like to call my "padawans" as I could explain to any of them independently of their personal religious beliefs what I was meaning in a way that would be seen as fun and acceptable.

Returning to the discussion that day in Italy with the French jeweler, I was starting to wonder about who could be my Jedi Master? Who could spend some time advising me?

Immediately one face came to my mind: U Phone Gyi, the Burmese man I met in Mandalay, took me to Mogok and for several days shared with me his love of star rubies and sapphires.

"The author discussing with U Phone Gyi on January 02, 2000 in Mandalay near the river banks."
Photo: GIA, 2001

Chapter 3: U Phone Gyi.

I decided to return to South East Asia during winter 1999-2000, in order to meet U Phone Gyi, spend some time with my girlfriend and get some additional personal knowledge of Thailand, its people and culture. After some disappointment with my girlfriend, instead to spend the millennium New Year's day with her, I decided to focus on my quest. I traveled again to Mandalay, alone this time, to meet again U Phone Gyi, celebrate with him the millennium and ask him if he could teach me what he knew about gems and become my mentor...

May be at that point I should introduce you U Phone Gyi. That will be a long story but you might find it interesting:

U Phone Gyi was exceptional to me in many aspects. He was very simple in many ways. He had a lot of knowledge but still a tremendous curiosity. He was one of these people from another time who had a life full on unbelievable adventures and who would tell you about them as you would tell your last Sunday searching mushrooms in the woods near your house... He was a kind of poet with an disturbing fascination for light and darkness. Obviously he had seen, lived and possible done a lot of terrible things in his life. He had many shadows in his mind but he was not loosing as occasion to smile, live and laugh. He was usually very serious in all what he was doing: speaking, looking at gems but also sadly drinking and gambling. Extreme in many ways he was nevertheless often very wise. Very educated he was speaking a very good English and Chinese... Weak in appearance he was tough and sharp like a blade of the best steel. He was one of these complex personalities: A survivor of many dark and few bright days and he used to say... What he was telling about his life was just fascinating to me: According to what he told me, he was from a good wealthy Burmese family from Yangon, he studied zoology at the university as he had a passion for natural things. But he was also rapidly involved in politics and joined the BCP a group of communist insurgents operating in Northern Burma. Then under circumstances that are not clear to me he then joined to the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) and got married with a Kachin woman. He was later arrested by the Burmese military regime and spent 3 years in jail where he told me to have experienced forced labor. At some point in his life, it is not clear to me today if it was before or after his arrest, he also worked as a jade miner in Hpakant (Kachin state) and as a gem trader around Mogok. Thanks to his knowledge about gems, the nature and the areas along the Chinese border he told me that he was making a living as a small gem dealer, buying gems in Mogok or Mandalay and selling them in Mandalay or in China. He was also working as a translator or as a kind of public writer. He was living what was looking to be a simple life in a small house in Mandalay, between with his wife and his lovely 7 years old daughter. As everybody he had also his share of shadows. Many of them in fact... It was what he was calling his dark side. He was not hiding them to me due to the circumstances of our first encounter:

Meeting with U Phone Gyi on Mandalay river banks... On February 13th 1998, U Phone Gyi found me seated at his favorite gambling spot. If I was simply enjoying the morning on the riverbanks of the Irrawaddy River, writing things on my diary, on his side he was coming to gamble with his friends. But as he told me later,

"Your presence was disturbing for us as we were not feeling comfortable with a young foreigner seated at their table and witnessing our shameful addiction to gambling: You see Vincent, as a foreigner, you are a guest in our country and it is our duty to show me a good image of Burma. We could not let you look at us gambling and drinking as we were willing to do..." So he told me that he came to me with as objective to find a polite way to make me leave the place.

He was a nice educated man, and after a short discussion he noticed that I was wondering about what was going on on these islands I could see on the river. There were some people taking regularly small boats to go there. He then invited me to take me there, not to the most busy part of the island as that place was according to him a dangerous place for a foreigner with its numerous opium dens and gambling places, but instead he could take me to visit the nice village on the north of the island. I had time to loose, I was curious, I was enjoying the discussion and despite the idea that may be it could be a trap, I had a good feeling with that man and I decided to trust him and to visit that nice village. Indeed the village was beautiful and we had a great lunch under a huge flame tree. We spend there three hours together speaking about life. I told him about my deception not to be able to visit Mogok, the famous valley of rubies that I was wishing to visit one day. The place was interesting me as I first knew about Burma after reading the novel "La vallee des rubis" by Joseph Kessel but the day before we had to drop our plans to visit it. U Phone Gyi then told me: "Vincent, if you really want to go to Mogok, we can go there together...I know very well the place and have many friends there". That was the start of a long discussion and the consequence was that following day I was with U Phone Gyi on my way to Mogok, an incredible expedition that I see today as one of the most significant turning points in my life. But telling that story would just be too long for that blog.

"The author while traveling as a young "padawan" near Mogok, Burma, in September 2001"
Photo: Hemi Englisher, 2001

Regularly U Phone Gyi was abandoning himself to that dark side going at night to the Irrawaddy river, its river banks and its islands... He told me that Mandalay was an extreme city. Hot and sleepy during the day, wise and spiritual at sunrise or sunset when the monks were walking along the streets collecting donations or when people were enjoying the last rays of the sun... but also wicked and dark particularly at night near the port and on the islands of the Irrawaddy River where reportedly opium, heroin, gambling, drinking, sex, sweat, greed and misery where blending with passion. According to him despite these darkness still there was hope. Beautiful, rare and durable, the stars were for him truly the gems of the sky. He had a special love for stars: He told me that when life had been very tough for him, suffering in the jungle while he was with the guerilla, or in jail or loosing himself at night near the Irrawaddy, still he could see these stars like distant symbol for hope. Now if the stars from the sky are impossible to catch, you can find stars also in the most precious stones coming from the Earth. He told me that in rare cases the best rubies and sapphires could also display a star. He was convinced that star rubies and sapphires were truly powerful talismans and in wicked places or during difficult times, it was important for him to have a beautiful star stone as a protection. He believed truly that the reason why he was still alive is that the stars loved him. When I told him that I read somewhere that rubies were symbols for health and strength and sapphires for the wisdom and the soul, his eyes shined and he said: Yeesss!

At the beginning of our adventure, I was wondering if he was one of these common crooks searching for tourists to cheat or if he was really that type of man he told me he was. To be honest, I never really knew if he had been indeed a member of that communist insurgent group, but I had the feeling only a incredible story could have produced such a unique character. And despite many concerns, I had a good feeling about him and I had really great time enjoying his presence.

On December 30th 1999 I arrived in Mandalay to meet him again. The stars were probably also loving me as I had no difficulties to meet him again. We had great time together. We talked a lot. We saw many nice star gems. I bought one of them including a beautiful star gem half pink and half white with very sharp and regular branches: The perfect gem to have to celebrate the passing from the 20th to the 21st century. Indeed I did very well with that little gem on January 01st 2000. U Phone Gyi was very happy and during the following days we started building some crazy projects dealing with nature, gems and traveling. When today I think about them I cannot avoid smiling as I was obviously very naive, but nevertheless it was a great period in my life and I learned a lot...


"The author traveling in Mandalay, Burma, with his old buddy Michel Tournerie"
Photo: Greg, October 2001

Chapter 4: A crazy project:

When I came to meet again U Phone Gyi on December 30th 1999, I did not arrived empty handed, I knew his love for star gems and I came with a small precious present: A nice Vietnamese star ruby that I bought during the last visit I had as a tour guide with FRAM in Vietnam. He was very interested by that gem, but not exactly the way I was thinking he would be. The star stone was very nice even if the color was a bit purplish pink. According to him the price I paid for it was not outrageous. He liked the gem, but not only because it was a beautiful little gem, but because he had never heard that quality star rubies could be found outside Mogok. He wanted to know more about the Vietnamese ruby mining areas: Was I able to visited them? No... Why? He asked me. Well, I had no real answer to give him and I was suddently feeling a little bit stupid. He then told me that unlike Burmese people like him as a young Frenchman and I can go everywhere around the world. I was even able to go to Mogok with him... So I could probably go to these Vietnamese ruby mines if I was willing to. If he was me this is what he would do as he was thinking that there could be some very good business opportunities between Vietnam and Burma: If I could find out the source of these gems we could have a good business partnership. Burmese people would pay a very good price for a fine star ruby...

I was feeling incredibly good as the man I was coming to see in order to ask him to become my mentor was more or less proposing to me. As I learned while studying business in France years before: You don't convince people with your arguments, instead you convince them with their own arguments, and you reach the master level when you can set up the things for them to feel that the idea is coming from them. I was just witnessing that. I was telling myself that If I had planned the things, it could not have been any better. In fact I had no hidden ideas with that stone, it was just a present. But a present that turned to be a wise one... The stars were indeed my friends as U Phone Gyi told me regularly! Lucky...

Back to planet Earth, he told me that for our project to succeed I should learn more about rubies. He could teach me about that and also I should learn to speak Burmese, if I could speak Burmese and get my skin more tanned, I could then travel in northern Burma introducing myself as a Gurkha, one of the descendants of the Nepalese soldiers from the British colonial times. The Gurkhas are still living in Burma and particularly in Mogok and many of them are gem dealers. That would be a good cover. For me to learn about rubies, learn Burmese language, get a tanned skin and to get some money, he had an idea that some old friends would describe as quite fun while most of the readers will probably label as completely crazy. But it happened that when he told me about that plan, I was not in Paris or bangkok: I was seated with my old friend near the Irrawaddy river in Mandalay. Everything was different as I was in the Other World, somewhere out of time and reason.

"The author on his way to the Namya ruby and spinel mines with Ted Themelis and Hemi Englisher (on the elephant) in July 2001"
Photo: Sorry but I don't remember, 2001

For me to learn all that at the same time, I needed to be able to spend about a year in Burma. He said that this could be possibly done with the help of some monastery. The plan B was more rock'n roll: We could go north in the remote Kachin state where his wife had some family. In that area, he said, there is no Burmese military. I could stay there as long as i wanted and he could teach me about ruby and even jade... I could learn about how to cut star rubies and to speak some Burmese and Chinese. Now to finance that year and our future projects, he had one of the funniest ideas I ever heard. An idea that now I think as "so Burmese...": We could capture some wild elephants and train them. Then when the elephants would be trained we could travel west through the jungles of the Nagaland to India. There we could sell our gems and also the elephants. It could be a good and quite safe way to have a good starting capital for our project and it would allow him also to have enough time to train me quietly about gems, Burmese and life in the jungle as that knowledge would be very useful for the second part of his plan!

The second part of his plan was involving me to go to Vietnam, make some good connections at the mines and get some good star rubies at reasonable prices. With my knowledge about gem cutting I could know how to make the difference between good and bad gems. Then the idea would be to travel from Vietnam to Yunnan and meet there Mr. Lee, one of his old Chinese friends, from the time he was fighting as an insurgent along the border between China and Burma…

May be he is still alive he said. One of my first tasks, he added, would be to find out about that traveling to Yunnan. Indeed he had no news from his friend for several years, but he could write for me his address near Kunming. If I could go there and pay him a visit, I could convince him to join us for that business. He gave me an introduction letter for Mr. Lee and wrote his address in Chinese at the back of the letter. With that he said I should be able to find my way to Mr. Lee after my arrival in Kunming.

At the end of that visit in Mandalay he introduced me to a miner from Mogok who had knowledge of an interesting book being written about Mogok, the man had a flyer about that book: “Mogok, valley of rubies and sapphires” by Ted Themelis. I found that interesting as Ted Themelis was one of the people associated with the chapter about heat treatment in the book "Ruby and Sapphire" by Richard W. Hughes. According to the flyer Ted Themelis was based in Thailand. I took his email, thinking that definitively I had to get that book.

"The author in Kunming with some "funny" Chinese guys who had fun with snow balls. What was in my mind then? Chinaand myself in two words... But well despite everything I cannot say now that it was not cool. With the wind, the "City of Eternal Spring" was freezing cool! Note: Some will get with that photo that in Asia it is not easy for guys like the author to find pants with the right lenght for legs... LOL"
Photo: Unkown Kunming citizen, 2001

Chapter 5: Kunming: From naive dreams to cold realities:

Back in Chiang Mai, my first idea was to get a visa for China and travel to Yunnan to see if I could meet that mysterious Mr. Lee. May be we could become friends and work together? I had also an interest learning more about China: So far unlike Vietnam, Thailand and Burma, I had only travelled to China as a tour guide, never by myself. Searching for Mr. Lee could be a good occasion to have some personal experience outside the touristic tracks with China… I had an old interest for the Silk Roads, and for years I had the desire to travel one day from Yunnan to Tibet and then to Kashgar. That could be a great personal adventure to visit these remote places that few foreigners visited. I could give it a try as now I had some good reason to go to Yunnan.

On January 27th 2000 I took a flight from Chiang Mai to Kunming. But there things did not happened as expected. First arriving at the airport while waiting at the immigration I was stolen my wallet. Then the letter from U Phone Gyi turned to be a useless piece of paper. After two days showing around the name and the address I was given by U Phone Gyi, it was clear to me that I had no chance to find that man who was possibly dead for more than 10 years in that huge modern looking city with more than five million people.

Kunming at the end of January 2000 was not really what I could describe as a foreigner friendly city. I was wondering what to do? I could try to scout the way to the Burmese and/or the Vietnamese border, but I had also my old dream: Visiting Tibet and going to Kashgar. I was still a tour guide and with my tour operator I took tourists to visit Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Guilin, Gwangzhou, Hong Kong. Now I was for few frustrating days in Kunming and I was willing to do something different. I was lonely as never I had been as I could not find any friendly person in the city who could speak any of the languages I knew. I got the feeling that it would be nice if I could go to Lhassa and may be from there to Kashgar on the Silk Roads. Reading my old diaries and writing these lines, I'm amazed today about how I was able to get such funny ideas that were not making any sense at all. Anyway, the next day, I found myself traveling on bad roads in one of the worse public bus I ever took. After a night in a scary and really disgusting "shit hole" (Sorry about the vocabulary but honestly I feel that the words are still a little bit soft to describe that place that some of my friends reading these words might rightfully associate with one of the author favorite stories he usually keep for good diners...) I found myself the next morning stopped at a checkpoint. I had no idea about where I was or about what was the problem but I was not allowed to go further. After few hours wondering what was going on at the police checkpoint, the police put me on another bus going in the opposite direction. I had then to spend another night on the disgusting shithole I told you about. Back in Kunming after 3 days for nothing, I was tired, my body was broken after 3 days on bad roads and I had a definition for China in two words: "It Sucks!". Anyway, that was what to be expected when you go to such difficult country as China without even a minimum of planning, with nearly no cash and no good local contact. One of my padawan would call that traveling technique few years later the "Optimization of the luck factor". That day, i wrote in my diary a definition for myself in also two words: "Damn stupid!"

I had only one idea after that complete waste of time: Returning to Chiang Mai and Thailand… The story is much longer and is quite out of subject regarding that blog. But some may find it tasty... So to make it short, the next day I found myself blocked in Kunming for few more days due to heavy snow falls. The people at Thai Airways told me that the plane could not come due to the bad weather. We had to wait for the weather to get better. I was freezing as I had no winter clothes. Furthermore I had not enough money to pay one more night in my hotel. I was hungry and nobody was looking to show any concern about me. After few depressing hours seated on a chair inside the warm office of Thai Airways and wondering what could be my next move, the staff asked me quite roughly to leave as they were closing the office. I was then alone in the snow feeling that I could die in the street and nobody would care about it. Some guys had fun throwing snow balls at me. Thanks to them my pullover became really wet. I asked them to take a photo of us... I was feeling very very cold, depressed, lonely and angry about how stupid I had been to have put myself in such situation. The day was going seriously down, I had just $10 in my pocket and I had to survive for possibly 3 or 4 days here may be more. I had to find a solution as the cheapest hotel in the area was much over my budget... I had then the bright idea to enter one of the best-looking hotels in town: The King World located just near the Thai Airways office. The Force was with me, as I met at the reception an Italian I saw briefly before at Thai Airways. Like me he was supposed to fly to Chiang Mai and was then also stuck here. After few minutes and few drinks, I told him my story and he offered to share his room at the King World with me. Of course I accepted. Suddenly I was feeling again that I was really a lucky bastard! But I had also the certitude that I had seriously to wake up and to be more serious, if I wanted to be one-day successful in my life. No more "Mai Pen Rai" type expeditions: If it is Ok to make mistakes, it is not ok to repeat them. I had been lucky, I had survived... I had now to learn from that failure.

"The author With Jerome Garcia (alias "Grand Jesus") and Julie Capitrel in Bagan, Burma"
Photo: Ludwig Aymard, July 2000

Chapter 6: Books, letters, hope and shadows...

Back in Chiang Mai, I decided not to give up on my projects. I continued visiting gem merchants and jewelers in the area, and went also to send an email to Ted Themelis in order to see if I could buy his book and may be (let's be bold...) meet him in Bangkok.

I was surprised to get very rapidly an answer and on February 21st 2000, I spent half my day discussing with him in his apartment in Bangkok about my experience with U Phone Gyi near Mogok... First he was feeling that probably I never went there, but then as I was able to provide him many details about the village I visited, I was able to convince him. We had then a great discussion. The book about Mogok was not yet finished. He was still working on it. I bought his other book about the "Heat treatment of ruby and sapphire"... I had no money in my wallet to pay it but he let me go with it. It was greeat from him to trust me. Few weeks later he was surprised to receive by the regular mail, a letter from me containing a $100 bank note carefully placed in a sheet of carbon paper...

We remained in contact and in July 2000, on my way again to Burma with three friends (Jerome Garcia alias "Grand Jesus, Julie Capitrel and Ludwig Aymard), I passed to see him before to return to my "other world" as I was then calling Burma. He asked me to help him with something in relation with his coming book about Mogok: I had to hand carry for him two letters to people in Burma and return with some photos to illustrate the book. Of course I was happy to help and I went to Burma with my friends and the two letters. I had no idea yet that these two letters would completely change my plans and probably save my project!

As soon as we arrived in Yangon we took the train to Mandalay. My friends wanted to experience real Burma, I gave them a 30 hours long experience about Burmese railways. It was tough as we sat on hard wood in the ordinary class. In Mandalay we settled in my usual guest house and we went of course to meet U Phone Gyi. I was quite excited to introduce that character to "Grand Jesus", one of my old LARP friends. We found him not really at his best: Shadows, in his eyes, he had. I told him briefly about the Yunnan fiasco and that in my opinion the whole project would probably not be as easy as he was thinking. He was obviously not in one of his best days. He was much more skinny than before. Obviously the dark side was eating him slowly. He was hearing my words more than listening to me. He was not living anymore with his Kachin wife and his daughter, and the elephant project was obviously not anymore a project. Shadows... We talked nevertheless about Mogok. He told me that he was planning to spend some time in the south of Mogok in an area controlled by the South Shan state Army, another insurgent group he had, it seems, some good connections with. He added that one of his good old friends was one of the local leaders of the SSA. A mysterious man U Phone Gyi was... He told me that within few days he was planning to visit that friend and he would ask him if we could spend winter there. From there he said, we could go to Mogok through the jungle (as we did before) and he could teach me all the things I was needing to know about star rubies. I had a bad feeling about all that: May be I was then becoming wiser? I was not thinking so as in the past my feelings had been usually as useful as my thinkings... But that day since the beginning of that meeting I had the feeling that something was wrong, and later my friend "Grand Jesus", told me that he was also sharing that feeling.

Was he going too often and too deep at night near the Irrawaddy in that "Heart of Darkness" of his? I was wondering... Unlike with our previous encounters, this time there was not much of that cheerful complicity I was used to. We were distant... He was here but somewhere I had the feeling that the U Phone Gyi I knew was far away. We left each other too rapidly that day as I was not alone but traveling with three of my friends. I was hoping that I would meet him again few weeks later as I was expecting to return to Mandalay. Hopefully we would have then more time to speak a little further about some projects in relation with gems. I was hoping that we could have again some great time as before when he was far away from his shadows...

I was wrong.


"The author (center) with U Kyaw Thaung (left) and gem merchant and spinel lover Hemi Englisher (right) in Yangon"
Photo: Ko Htun Htun, probably around February 2001

Chapter 7: An opportunity called "U Kyaw Thaung".

After Mandalay we continued our visit of Burma spending some great days in Bagan. Finally we reached Yangon. It was the monsoon and it was raining night and day. Everything was wet. Our money was going seriously down. We had to stay in a cheap hotel near Sule Pagoda were we had to defend our room against moisture during the day and at night against the rats that were ruling the corridors, the kitchen and the bathroom. I was happy to leave the hotel in order to go to deliver the letters Ted Themelis gave me.

The first letter delivery turned to be just a formality: I met the lady at the Bogyoke market and the whole story took less than two minutes. The second one turned to be a very different story: I went to visit a man named U Kyaw Thaung. He was a gemstone merchant from Mogok specialized in crystals specimens and spinels. He was living now very far from the beautiful Schwedagon pagoda. He welcomed me in his house, took the letter from Ted with a great smile and invited me to take some tea while he was asking his nephew to get the photos Ted was asking to publish in his book. As we sat in his living room he said something I will remember forever:

"Let's talk about gems!"

We talked about a lot... After about one hour he came to me with the following proposal: He wanted his nephew to study gemology in English, he would have like him to go to study at GIA in Bangkok so his nephew could become friends with some foreigners, but for Burmese people it was difficult to get a passport and travel abroad. So speaking to me his idea was that he could help me to come to study gemology in Burma with his nephew. I could study gemology each morning with his nephew, spend some time after that at the gem market, then may be learn how to cut star rubies and sapphires and in exchange I could teach him how to better use his new computer. He added that one of his good friends, U Aung Ko had a gemological school near Sule Pagoda called the G.G.A. (Gem Genuine Association). The school was very small but U Aung Ko had a great personal gem collection, one of the best collections of Burmese gems in the country. So studying there I will see a lot of interesting stones... U Kyaw Thaung said that the "Associate Gemologist" diploma at the GGA would take me about 4 months to complete. He asked me to give him a phone call few days later to confirm if I was interested, on his side he will see how things could be possible with the school and the Burmese authorities as for a foreigner staying several months in Burma was not very easy. I said that if that could be possible then I would very seriously think about it but I knew already that I would not miss that opportunity.

I had a very good feeling with the U Kyaw Thaung. He was honest looking, and very friendly. A little bit like with U Phone Gyi at the beginning. There were no shadows in his eyes that instead were sparkling with intelligence. He was looking very motivated by that idea and I had the feeling that he would really do the necessary to find a way for me to be able to come and study in Yangon.

On the way back to Sule pagoda, despite the rain and the depressing moisture, I was feeling incredibly lucky, happy and full of energy. My good star was obviously back! If things were turning fine, to have carried that simple letter to U Kyaw Thaung could become a life changing event, particularly after the Kunming experience that had suddenly become a forgotten story. The idea to come to spend four or may be five months living in Yangon during the next winter was a pure delight as I was truly in love with that country and its gem people. Furthermore , staying in Yangon I would probably be able to visit Mandalay sometimes and meet U Phone Gyi again. Obviously it will be a great opportunity to learn more about Burma, its gems and its gem people. I was feeling back on tracks: New tracks. Good tracks!

Back in Bangkok, I told Ted Themelis about U Kyaw Thaung proposal. He confirmed to me that U Kyaw Thaung was a very nice guy, and that I was very lucky to have been given such an opportunity as, to his knowledge, no foreigner had ever studied gemology in Burma since the colonial times... He added that it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to study there as countries like Burma and Sri Lanka can be seen as gemological "holy lands" with a deep and ancient gem mining and trading culture. Obviously I had nothing to loose as after these five months if I had the feeling that the gem trade was not for me I could return to my life as a tour guide, but in his opinion studying at the source in Burma was a great way to start a career in relation with gems. Music to my ears...

Few days later I phoned to U Kyaw Thaung. He told me that he had arranged the things and that I could definitively come to Yangon as soon as I was ready. I decided nevertheless to return in France to work for FRAM during the high touristic season from August to October as expected by my company. I would be able to save some money to finance my studies and get ready while U Kyaw Thaung would have the time to arrange everything. Then I could return in Yangon to study during winter 2000-2001.

We were both very excited.

"The author using his GIA Dark field loupe in order to select from U Kyaw Thaung stock some rubies and sapphires from Mogok with interesting natural inclusions for his collection"
Photo: Dorothee Perrot, Dec. 2003


When I asked if I had to bring anything for my studies, he told me that I had indeed to get few tools as gemological tools and books were difficult to get in Burma. He advised me to get to buy the "Photoatlas of Inclusions" by John Koivula and Dr. Gubelin, a book he heard a lot of good things about and also to get the same type of loupe as the one he got recently from one of his best customers: Bill Larson, a famous American gem merchant. That special loupe placed over a torchlight was called a "dark field loupe". That pocket microscope made by GIA was a wonderful instrument to check rubies and sapphires in the field. Using it a knowledgeable gemologist would be able to identify most synthetics and treated stones... That was a very convincing argument for a guy who so far had bought only synthetic stones...

He told me that I could get both of them at GIA Thailand.

The next day I gave my first visit at GIA Thailand. I bought on the spot the "Photoatlas of Inclusions" and a GIA "Dark field loupe"... The book was the most expensive I ever bought and the GIA made loupe was not cheap either. But eleven years later I still use the same dark field loupe each time I go to the field, and the Photoatlas is still one of my favorite book. I've no problem to say that the "Photoatlas of Inclusions" and the dark field loupe were truly with "Ruby and Sapphire" the best investments I ever made.

Back in Europe I continued for few months working as a tour guide and saving as much as I could in order to finance a possible change of career. To be honest I was already saving money for about five years in order to preprare my future and now I had the feeling that I had enough money to invest in studies for a couple of years.

In November 2000 I returned to Thailand. I met briefly Ted Themelis who gave me some new mission to carry on while studying in Burma and I took my flight to the other world...

Some of my friends or members of my family were of course a little bit worried to learn that I was planning to study in a country ruled by a military dictatorship with a really bad reputation. On my side, I was happy as few times before and full of hope in my future.

"The author on his way to study gemology at the G.G.A. in Yangon, Burma."
Photo: Ko Htun Htun, 2000


Chapter 8: Studying in "The Other World"

Arriving in Yangon beginning November 2000, I was welcome by U Kyaw Thaung and his family. U Kyaw Thaung Nephew: Ko Htun Htun and I went right away to register at the GGA.

The GGA School was located near Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. It was a small school with two classrooms: Our class with Htun Htun and I were in a small room with Daw Than Myint as teacher. The second class was composed of about 15 young Burmese students. It was very simply furnished and very lively. The focus of the school was to teach to students how to identify gems in Burmese market. Few instruments were available: I remember that we had a demonstration about how to use a refractometer, but then as the school had not enough liquid we never used again that instrument. I was quite frustrated at the beginning but our teacher was repeating us with wisdom that in market conditions, the best instrument we should rely on was ourselves. It was meaning that we should come to the market with as much knowledge as possible, and then we had to learn how to observe the gems in order to put that knowledge into practice. Getting knowledge was fine but getting knowledge and a lot of practice was much better. To emphasis on that every Friday the school was organizing a gemological competition: The only instruments available for the challenge were a 10x loupe, a dichroscope, a polariscope and a glass of water. It was team type competition and we had 10 to 15 stones to identify. It was very fun and helped to motivate the students to learn. Nevertheless the results were quite predictable as the team that had the chance to have Htun Htun as a member was nearly sure to win.

The fact was that Htun Htun as many young Mogok people started learning about gems as he was five years old. He was then going with his grandmother to “Kanase” at the gem mines: There he spent hours searching for nice little gems in the left over or the tailings. In 2000 he was now 25 years old. That was meaning that he had already 20 years of experience with gems meaning that he knew already all the stones by instinct and experience. I was 31 years old and if I knew most of the course by heart my whole experience was more or less limited to the fact that I had been cheated twice... Practicing the gem market game conditions besides Htun Htun was sometimes very frustrating as even if I knew all the theory, if we had let’s say four red stones in front of us: a ruby, a spinel, a garnet and a zircon, then in less than the time necessary to spell their name he was able to identify each gem correctly without instrument just looking at the gem and playing with it and the light in his fingers. For me despite my theory knowledge, they were just four red stones that were looking pretty similar.

"How can you know that this is a spinel?" I would then ask commonly.

"I don't know, Vince. It's just obvious to me". He would typically answer.

Well, that was not really what I was willing to hear. Studying with Htun Htun was a permanent challenge and I do remember of some occasions where I was feeling hopeless. But it was great as Htun Htun was all the time very kind and helpful with me. Practicing each day, I slowly understood how to study the gems and use my knowledge. Working hard each day, never missing an opportunity to see more gems, to meet gem people and learn more, I improved rapidly. After two months of daily practice I was also making a lot of progress and I was not anymore one of the weakest on the Friday challenges.


"The Schwedagon pagoda in central Yangon, few minutes before sunrise."
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, 2003

In Yangon I was living like a chicken: Waking up with the sun and going to sleep when night was falling. The point was that most of the time in the area I was staying, there was no electricity in the evening and at night. My days were starting early around 6am, sometimes earlier when the nearby temple was using its loudspeakers. I was then usually going to Schwedagon Pagoda as the atmosphere there was beautiful in the morning. The place had something truly magic and still now when I visit Yangon I enjoy visiting Schewedagon for the sun rise. I had also my habits at a small restaurant near the huge gold covered pagoda. There they were serving a delicious Mohinga. A typical Burmese fish soup with rice noodles.

I was then usually walking to U Kyaw Thaung place in order to meet Ko Htun Htun, take a second breakfast and get ready to go to the GGA. Usually we were going there using the local bus. It was nice and many Burmese were surprised to see that tall foreigner dressed as a Burmese and going like them studying. The school was usually finishing around lunch time. Usually with Htun Htun we were taking a lunch near the Bogyoke market and from there I was often going to visit its gem market and numerous gem shops. I had soon the habit to seat in front of U Kyaw Wanna FGA Lab. There I was playing chess, looking and learning about gems and crystals. Then I was returning to U Kyaw Thaung place to learn how to cut star rubies and sapphire with U Myint Lwin the cutter of U Kyaw Thaung. I have to admit that I was not very good at that. In fact I preferred to teach him about how to use his computer, speak with him or study stones from his stock. Then after an early diner with all U Kyaw Thaung, I was returning home to study and then sleep as soon as night was falling as I could not read anymore. Life was very simple and my days were quietly busy.

After few weeks, when things were well settled down, I took the night bus to Mandalay in order try to meet U Phone Gyi to tell him about my life in Yangon studying gems. It may sound weird to people reading these lines in 2012, but in 2000 in Burma mobile phones, emails were not very common and U Phone Hyi was not the type of man to have a telephone.

When I arrived at his small wooden house I found it closed and for two days I was not able to get any news from him. I was thinking that I was probably in Mandalay at the wrong time and possibly he went for business to Mogok or the Chinese border. While visiting the jade market on my second day in Mandalay, I met one of our common friends. Asking about U Phone Gyi I learned that my old friend died few weeks ago in a local hospital. Asking what happened to our friend, I was told that he died from AIDS but here that was not something to say in Burma those days: Obviously nevertheless U Phone Gyi was going too much to the Irrawaddy and the shadows finally took him...

That was a shock, as I was never thinking that he could be sick with AIDS. It was also the first time that one of my close friends died from AIDS. But somewhere it was so obvious: His shadows, his desire to live every instant, the fact that he was afraid of nothing. Suddenly with that new perspective, I understood many things about my old friend and mentor.

The shadows took him.

On my way back to Yangon during the 20 hours long travel by local bus, I had the time to think about him, his life, the time we spent together, our projects and my future: Life is short. On that planet we have only a limited amount of time to do what we like, we should not waste any of it doing what we don't except for some very good reason. I was already 31 years old, I was still healthy, but my feeling was that I had nevertheless no more time to loose. I really had to work very hard now if I wanted to be successful in 10 years as a gemologist!

I had definitively also to be careful about the dark side of the Force. I had to stay away from the shadows of Bangkok or of the Irrawaddy.

"The author working on his notes outside U Kyaw Thaung house in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)"
Photo: Not really sure, 2001

Back in Yangon, I dedicated myself more than ever to my studies. I was convinced that it was time to work hard and dig my hole. I had just no choice, as if I wanted to get the respect from the local Burmese dealers I was meeting everyday at the gem market, I could not mistake for long a ruby for a spinel.

Living among U Kyaw Thaung family, I realized the chance I had as truly I could not be in a better place than among a gem family to learn about gems and the gem trade. With U Kyaw Thaung, I had a natural new mentor. Thanks to him and his friendship, I was immersed in a wonderful gem culture. For four months, I was not only able to study gems, but I could also meet many Burmese and foreign gem merchants coming to buy gemstones in his house. It was fascinating for me to meet in Burma, in the office of one of their suppliers people like Bill Larson, Hemi Englisher or Andrew Mc Grath. I learned a lot from them comparing the way they were negotiating with U Kyaw Thaung and looking at gems. We often some great discussions and thus I was able to widen my interests and understanding for other gems than just rubies and sapphires. Soon I got a fascination for crystal specimens, for inclusions in gemstones and for spinels... I started to collect small crystal specimens and checking with my darkfield loupe thousands and thousands of small stones from U Kyaw Thaung stock, in order to identify their inclusions using the “Photoatlas of Inclusions” I had invested in, I started soon a collection of rubies and sapphires selected carefully for the quality of their inclusions.

Finally as Yangon was an important gem trading center, I was also able to witness some very interesting events:

First, again with U Kyaw Thaung support, I was able also to attend to the Emporium: The official sales organized by MGE (Myanmar gem Enterprises) of the stones like Jade, rubies, sapphires mined from the government run mines. Besides to auction sales of the government gems, many private Burmese traders were also selling interesting gems. Searching around I found an interesting but unusual star ruby that I bought thinking that possibly I could make a profit selling it later in Paris.

I had the chance to live a small gem rush as in December 2000 we heard in Yangon that several thousands of miners from Mogok and Mong Hsu were moving to a swampy area called Namya, located between Myitkyna and the famous Hpakant Jadeite mines. At that time gem mining areas where out of reach from foreigners, and thus I could not visit Namya. But looking at gems in the market in Yangon and speaking with traders returning from the new areas, I could rapidly learn that the main products were rubies that could be as good as the best Mogok stones. Unlike what is found in Mogok or Mong Hsu the deposit was completely of the alluvial type and thus many other gems were associated with rubies including a very special one that soon became one of my favorites: Namya hot pink spinels. Candy to my eyes...

These were four incredible months.

In March 2001, I finally completed my studies and graduated from the GGA... I returned then from Burma to Thailand with more than just a diploma in my hands and few gems in my pockets: I had now deeply convinced to have found my way and I definitively wanted to go further into gemology.

"Left to right: The author's main instructor at GIA Thailand Mon Mon, Christopher Keenan then Director of GIA Thailand, Thu Vannaxay and the author"
Photo: Not really sure, Dec. 2001

Chapter 9: Paris, the GIA Thailand and first experiences about gemology in the field.

I returned to France for few months with some stones I bought during my studies in Burma. My idea was to see if the idea to start a business as a gem merchant between Burma and France was making any sense. I had one parcel of 30 small and nice star rubies and sapphires all carefully selectedthat I got from U Kyaw Thaung and also I had the five carats star ruby I found at the Emporium.

In Paris I was joined by one of my old friends from university: Pierre Emmanuel Barba. We were thinking that maybe we could that a gem trading company together: The idea was that I would focus on purchasing in Burma while he would focus on sales in France. The adventure did not started very well as with our first shipment between Thailand and France we got an issue with the French customs. Then we spent two days together visiting gem merchants in Paris and then around Bordeaux. The best we could say was that the test was not really convincing. I remember a particular reaction from a jeweler looking at our star sapphires:

"Vous savez, le cabochon c'est pas folichon!" (the French speaking readers will appreciate...).

The only gem merchant in place Vendome who received us to see our star ruby got suddenly afraid when he learned that the stone had not being properly imported in France and nearly expulsed us from his office. Rapidly we found out that we had still a lot of things to learn particularly about the trading aspects: How to import the stones? How to get paid?

In fact we found out that things were just incredibly more difficult than what we expected. I also found out that it was better not to tell too much about my studies in Burma as such an unusual background was seen as very suspicious more than anything else. In fact soon I found that the best was not to speak at all about it as my Burmese diploma had absolutely no recognition in France. To be able to present myself as a gemologist and to be able to make Parisian type gem traders feel more comfortable with me the best would be to get a gemological diploma with more international recognition that my obscure Burmese one...

Learning about gems in a place like Burma was a wonderful experience. But it was obviously not enough. Back in Bangkok I returned to meet Ted Themelis. I told him about my Parisian adventure and he advised me to study in Thailand at the GIA in order to get a diploma with a much better recognition. In his opinion I could also benefit a lot of these 6 months studies in Thailand to learn more about treatments and synthetics as that was not something that was covered by my studies in Burma. Studying at GIA in Thailand I would have the opportunity to visit regularly the week end gem market in Chanthaburi, the border gem trading centers like Mae Sot and Mae Sai. Furthermore Bangkok itself was a major gem and jewelry trading center with hundreds of gem trading companies located around Mahesak and Surasak areas between Sathorn, Silom and Surawong roads. Finally studying in Bangkok I could attend to the Bangkok Gem Show organized twice a year in February and September by the TGJTA (Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association), a great professional show attended not only be local traders but also by merchants from all over the world.

After that deceiving experience trying to sell these Burmese gems in France, I had to take a serious decision: I could continue that project in relation with gems or I could forget about it and continue working as a tour guide. After few more tours with FRAM in Italy and Portugal, I decided that it was better to fail trying to follow my dreams than to have regrets one day not to have at least seriously try. Ted arguments about studying at GIA in Bangkok were very convincing. I sold then most of the things I had in France: My car, most of my books and even one of my hunting bows. Then I took then again a plane ticket to Bangkok to study at GIA Thailand.

Except for short visits, since then I never returned in France.

Arriving in Bangkok I started my studies with great enthusiasm. Studying at GIA was great as the classes were modern, I felt particularly in love with the great microscope we had, that were so much better compared to the old one we had to share at the GGA. The approach and the focus of the studies were very different from what I had at the GGA and thus I was enjoying the class a lot. I was also spending a lot of time after my classes with Ted Themelis. He was my new mentor and I was following his advices as so far they had turned to be great. About twice a month, when I was not too busy with my homework, I was traveling to Chanthaburi, Kanchanaburi, Mae Sai or Mae Sot in order to get some additional experience from the local gem markets. Each time I went alone as my classmates preferred to spend their time partying in Bangkok, going to the beach or were working for their families... Most of them were the sons or daughters of members of the gem trade. I was not. Unlike in Burma, I had nevertheless already some gemological knowledge and I could have fun right away competing with my strongest classmates and particularly Kobi Sevdermish from Israel and Robert Rossberger from Germany. It was very fun. Another big difference between the GGA and my class at GIA Thailand was that at the GGA I was the only non Burmese. At GIA Thailand I do remember that the very first impression I had of my class was: What is that zoo?

My classmates were from Germany, Israel, Lebanon, Italy, Texas, Singapore, Burma, Brunei, Vietnam, India and Thailand. None of us except a young Thai couple and the Vietnamese lady, who had also a French passport, were from the same country. It was just great at the class was at the image of the international gem trade in Bangkok. The focus of most of my classmates was about doing the necessary to get their diploma and enjoying their time in Bangkok and Thailand with their classmates.

On my side, things were very different as I had to find a job rapidly after the end of my studies in order to be able to survive. I spent a lot of time after my class with Ted Themelis, visiting him often. Away from Yangon and U Kyaw Thaung, Ted became my new mentor. We became good friends and he gave me numerous good advices. About a month after the beginning of my studies, in July 2001 he proposed me to join an expedition to Burma he was planning in the next few days: Mogok was still out of reach but the Burmese authorities were now allowing foreigners to travel to the Hpakant Jade mines. On the way we would be also allowed to visit the new Namya ruby and spinel mining area. To reduce the costs of the expedition and help him to collect data, he offered me to join. The opportunity was too great for me to start to worry about the money or my study schedule. Immediately I said YES! As my results at GIA were very good, I was able to negotiate within few days with Christopher Keenan, then Director of GIA Thailand, the possibility to miss the class for one week. Thanks to Chris understanding, I was soon on my way back to the “Other world”.


"The author assisting Ted Themelis to collect data visiting sapphire miners north of Mogok on the way to Barnardmyo"
Photo: Hemi Englisher, Dec. 2001

That expedition was like a journey to heaven for me. Besides Ted Themelis, Hemi Englisher, a very experience gem merchant I met Hemi while studying in Burma, was part of the expedition. He was very interested in Namya hot pink spinels. To go to the Jade mines we had to travelled to Myitkyna, the capital of the Kachin State. To save money I decided to travel by train from Yangon to Mandalay and then Myitkyna. After a two days long epic journey, I arrived just on time to sleep few hours before out early departure from Myitkyna.

We left early in the morning with a joint escort from the Burmese military and the KIA (Kachin Independance Army) one of the former insurgent group that had then a cease fire agreement with the Burmese military regime. We travelled west for half a day to reach Namya. It was quite something for me as the place was the first gem mining area I really visited. In July 2001, about six months after the beginning of the rush, we were the very first foreigners to ever visit the area. To reach the mining area at Seboh we had to travel for several hours through a swampy jungle to reach the mining area. Ted and Hemi were riding an elephant while on my side as I was short in cash I decided to walk like the soldiers traveling with us. Despite the difficulties we reached the mines: I was in heaven!

After Namya we continued on an epic journey to Hpakant and the jade mines on a very dusty dirt road. The track was scary but after four hours as our bodies was asking for mercy we reached Hpakant. As assistant for Ted and Hemi, in the following days I did my very best to help collecting GPS data, photos, videos and samples. We visited different type of mines, from open pit to underground operations. It was impressive and truly a wonderful experience.

Later in September 2001, as Mogok was also open to foreigners, Ted and Hemi proposed me again to join them for another Burmese adventure. Ted wanted to collect more data for the second volume of his book about Mogok. Again as my results at GIA Thailand were very fine, Christopher Keenan allowed me to miss some class for nearly 10 more days to allow me to join that gemological expedition.

After few days in Yangon and Mandalay to prepare the expedition I could finally visit the wonderful "Ruby Land" I was hoping to visit with U Phone Gyi: The very place I was dreaming to visit since the days I read the novel by Joseph Kessel "La Vallee des Rubis". After traveling one day from Mandalay we spent three full days visiting mines from dusk to down with the help of a man that was to become a great friend: Dr. Saw Naung U. Days were long, as we wanted to visit as many mining site as possible, we never stopped for lunches. There was just so much to do before to leave. The days were long and tough but again: I was in heaven!

Thanks to these two expeditions working as assistant for Ted and Hemi, I learned a lot. Not only about Mogok and Burmese gems, but also about gemological expeditions and how to collect data in the field. That knowledge was to become very important few years later when I started my own expeditions to gem mining areas.

In December 2001, 10 years ago, after six great months studying gemology at GIA Thailand, I finally got my G.G.

That was the start of a new adventure as I had then to search for a job.


"The author with behind him Mogok and its valley from the view point on the way to Momeik. That was the achievement of an old dream and a good project. Three months after that photo, he got his G.G. diploma from GIA Thailand and was ready for a new adventure: Getting a job!"
Photo: Angelo Themelis, Sept. 2001

See you in few days for the Chapter 10: Getting a first job and 10 years working as a gemologist. (Scheduled to be released on Jan 23rd 2011)


All the best and best wished to all of you for 2012!

October 29th, 2011 | Blog Keywords:tsavorite Travel |
Blog Title: Tsavorite_Mineralum_Deposita_Article

18O/16O and V/Cr ratios in gem tsavorites
from the Neoproterozoic Mozambique metamorphic belt:
a clue towards their origins?

Authors: Gaston Giuliani, Anthony E. Fallick, Julien Feneyrol,
Daniel Ohnenstetter, Vincent Pardieu and Mark Saul.

Click on the photo to get the article

Abstract: The combination of oxygen isotope composition with V–Cr–Mn trace element concentrations of V-bearing garnets (tsavorites) originating from the main deposits of the Neoproterozoic Mozambique Metamorphic Belt is reported for the first time. The database enables the identification of the geological and geographical sources of the main productive areas from northern and southern Tanzania, Kenya, and Madagascar. Three consistent sets of δ18O values between 9.5‰ and 11.0‰, 11.6‰ and 14.5‰, and 15.5‰ and 21.1‰ have been recognized for primary deposits hosted in graphitic gneisses related to the Neoproterozic metasedimentary series. The δ18O value of tsavorite is a good tracer of the environment of its formation; the δ18O of the fluid in equilibrium with tsavorite was buffered by the host rock during metamorphism and fluid-rock interaction. This study is a first step in characterizing the geochemistry of gem tsavorite from most of the deposits and occurrences worldwide.

Keywords: Mozambique Metamorphic Belt . Tsavorite . Oxygen isotopes . V/Cr ratio . Mn . Geographic and geologic origins

Figure 1: Tsavorite or Mint Garnet? That large crystal of green grossular garnet was part of an interesting pocket found at the end of November 2010 near the Bloc D in Merelani (Tanzania). Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok

Read the rest of the article at the following link

May 8th, 2011 | Blog Keywords:ICA , Brazil , Conservation , Fair Trade , congress Travel |
Blog Title: ICA Congress Brazil 2011

14th ICA (International Colored stone Association) Congress, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (April 30th - May 04th 2011):

Few days ago the author put for the first time in his life his feet in South America as he attended the 14th ICA congress. In the following blog once is not the rule, it will not be about the author and some friends going on an expedition in an exotic gem mining location around the world. To the inverse, it is about a congress where the author was asked to give a presentation. As in Panyu (China) in 2009, Dubai (United Arab Emirates) in 2007 and Bangkok (Thailand) in 2005, the ICA congress taking place once every two years are not really something that could be qualified as "field gemology" but it was nevertheless about traveling, meeting gem people and learning from new experiences and encounters.

The congress was cozy and comfortable; it was taking place in Copacabana beach. This time the congress was dedicated to "Ethical Mining and Fair Trade, certification challenges from mines to market" and on the following photos you will not see the author dressed like an Afghan or like a guy ready to go to the African bush...

"Last minute preparation of the author presentation..."
The day before his presentation the author was cought still working on his presentation by the official ICA photographer while his neighbor Hanco Zwaan looks more focus on what is going on on the stage.
Photo: ICA, 2011

The congress was very interesting regarding many aspects:
Brazil has some very strict environmental laws compared to many other colored gemstone producing countries and several Brazilian presentations were very interesting. The author particularly appreciated the conclusions of Marcello Ribeiro presentation:

"In mining, more money can go to the ground than come out of it. So, you should not act as a treasure hunter, but as an investor, managing risks in pursuit of profitability."

That was reminding the author of the words he was told in 2005 by Campbell Bridges while he was visiting his tsavorite mine near Tsavo in Kenya:

"For a gem mining operation to be successful you need to master three things: The geology, as you need to understand where are the gems, the mining engineering as you need to find a safe and profitable way to mine these gems and the security as you cannot afford to be stolen your production. If you fail on any of these 3 points: You mining operation will be a loosing money operation..."


"ICA Vice president Jean Claude Michelou, speaking to the author and Philippe Scordia from Dior"
Photo: ICA, 2011

The author also particularly appreciated some other presentations like the one from an Ian Harebotle from Gemfields. Gemfields is one of the largest colored gemstone mining companies in the world. Being big means that, potentially they are a target for some activists. Aware of that fact they have adopted a proactive strategy and are one of the leading gemstones mining companies regarding fair trade and conservation issues. The company while doing its best to be profitable is also supporting several interesting programs about development and conservation in association with the World Land Trust. The author found the "Emeralds for Elephants" program particularly interesting as here gems are used to promote and finance conservation. The success of that operation might motivate other members of the gem trade to consider also associating their gems with conservation efforts...

That aspect was the main subject of the author own presentation "Fair Trade and Conservation: “When origin matters". In that presentation the author acknowledge that if fair trade is a very interesting concept for non-durable products, with products like colored gemstone the concept has some major limitations particularly because gemstones, unlike bananas or coffee, are a durable product.


Discover here the author presentation "Fair Trade and Conservation: “When origin matters" given during the 14th ICA Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That presentation was following the article written for InColor about "Rubies from Niassa, A Chance for Conservation?" in the Summer 2010 issue pp. 26 to 29 (also available online here)

Indeed most of the gemstones currently in the stock in the safes of the gem merchants, the jewelers or in the jewelry boxes of ladies around the world were mined more than 3 years ago. Furthermore many gemstones found in auction houses were probably mined tens or even possibly hundreds years ago.

That idea was given to the author about 10 years ago during a discussion with a Parisian gem merchant while the author, then a young wannabe gem trader, was trying to see if he could build a business with fair trade gems. That merchant words were not really what I expected, I remember to have been quite stunned by them and few days after that discussion I decided to explore other possibilities to start something in association with gems. His words were more or less:

"Well Vincent, I will be honest with you: I don't want to promote Fair Trade: The reason is quite simple: Most of the stones in my stock like these Mughal emeralds (that are probably more than 300 years old) are old stock. Of course I've no information about the producer or the miner... They are probably dead for centuries. So promoting your stones as Fair Trade might just make people think that my other stones, that cannot comply to fair trade rules, are may be bad... This is not an idea I want to put in the head of my customers. And I don't want to get everyday people asking me for Fair Trade emeralds: I don't have any in my stock. And even if I wanted I need first to sell what I have in my inventory..."

The Parisian merchant was right on spot as if most of the bananas today available in our fruit markets were probably grown less than few months ago, only a small percentage of the colored gemstones existing today were mined by people that are still alive. Asking the colored gemstone industry to make efforts on fair trade issues means somewhere to put a lot of pressure on a very small percentage of the stones currently in the trade while you will have difficulties to get support from the people with stock full of old stones...

Of course most people agree that it is important to improve the working conditions of the gem miners, but a good question might be the following: Is it fair to ask the miners working today to do alone all the work required for the gemstone industry to looks good and save the planet? Or may be we could find some ways for the gems mined in the past to participate in the process? Could we find a way to interest people like the Parisian jeweller I met to participate in some efforts to make the situation around gem mining areas better?


"The author giving his presentation about Conservation and Origin"
Photo: ICA, 2011

Traveling in Niassa to visit a new ruby deposit in 2009 the author spent 3 days under arrest in the Niassa bush. During this long hours and the following days and months working on Mozambique rubies, he spent a lot of time communicating with conservationists in charge of Niassa and brainstorming with them about conservation and gem mining. It woke up something that was a little bit sleepy for many years inside the author who started to think seriously to think about conservation and gemology. Because if origin for gemstones matters, then what is going on where the gems are produce obviously matters. From these days was born.

The author was then introducing the concept of "Conservation Gemstones" as something possibly more adapted to the gem trade than "Fair Trade Gemstones": We could imagine that any gemstone, even mined several hundreds years ago could be used to promote and finance good ideas.

Technically it could be quite simple to put in place: An individual gemstone dealer or jeweler could decide to start using his gemstones to promote and finance this or that good idea associated with conservation. We could imagine a jewelry designer with a passion for lions creating a jewelry collection using Mozambique rubies willing to support the work of Dr. Colleen and Keith Begg for their Niassa Lion Project. On a larger scale some African gem trading association could find interesting to collaborate with conservationists in East Africa on a joint project using gemstones from East Africa to support East African National Parks and as the same time to using the fame of these national parks to promote gems of African origin.
In fact it does not have to deal only with conservation: We could imagine people deciding to use their gems to support some projects about the education of children in this or that gem mining area. In such case all gems could be useful, not only those that are extracted today...


"GIA time"
During that congress, 3 speakers from GIA (Andy Lucas, Robert Weldon and the author) were invited to give presentations. It was interesting to see that from three different perspectives, we were both providing more or less the same message.
Photo: ICA, 2011

The fact is that the issue of ethical and fair trade are not as simple as they look. Simple ideas are sometimes very complicated to become realities. The presentation by ICA Vice President Jean Claude Michelou was interesting as it shows how complex is the supply chain from mine to market and thus how difficult it is to change the world into a perfect or even more modestly into a better one.

Another presentation was in that sense of great interest in the author opinion: It was the presentation by Douglas Hucker from AGTA about how the trade was able restore public confidence in Tanzanite after the suggestion by some articles few weeks after 9/11 that there was a link between tanzanite smuggling and terrorism. The trade was able to react efficiently and prove that these suggestions were not based on facts and took measures to ensure the legitimacy of the supply chain and protect it from criminal abuse.

The idea that what is happening at the origin matters regularly came back in other people presentations and not all the time as problems but also as opportunities: Steve Bennett from Rock Color ltd and Gems TV said that by working directly with miners whenever possible, he is not only able to track gems from the source, but also track the people who bring it to market, and share their stories. According to him:

"The more you tell, the more you sell".

Of course all depends of the story you have to tell. Then the obvious next step might be to do the right things to get better stories to tell. Conservation gemstones? The author proposal at the end of his own presentation:

"Associate yourself with the good guy today in order not to be associated with the bad guys tomorrow",

was very similar to the final advice given by his colleagues from GIA Andy Lucas and Robert Weldon at the end of their own presentations:

“Do the right thing in all that you do. You will know it, your supplier will know it, and so will your customers".


"Men in Black?"
Left to right: Etienne Marvillet, Vincent pardieu, Flavie Isatelle, Thomas Hainschwang, ICA Vice president Jean Claude Michelou and Philippe Scordia. ICA congress are great place to meet people, network, exchange ideas and initiate projects.
Photo: ICA, 2011

Now many nice words, interesting ideas and succesful examples were heard and discuss about during these few nice days days in Rio de Janeiro. The author hopes that it will motivate and help people in the gem trade to make things better. Of course: Rome was not built in one day. The author knows that... but hopefully one stone at a time, things might go in the right direction.

The author would like then to thanks the ICA and the people from Brazil to have organized such a nice event in Rio de Janeiro. It was a pleasure to have participated and I hope that this would have been useful for ICA, the GIA, Brazil, the whole gem trade and also the people involved in conservation or just trying to make a living near the places where colored gemstones are mined.

All the best,


February 6th, 2011 | Blog Keywords:Zambia , emerald Travel |
Blog Title: blog_GIA_FE22_Zambia

GIA FE22 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 22): Jan. 24, 2011 -Jan. 28, 2011:


Each last Wednesday of the month, the GIA Laboratory Bangkok and the GIA Thailand School join their forces to organize events called the "GIA Gemstone Gatherings" at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (previously known as Pan Pacific hotel) on Rama IV road in Bangkok. On November 24th, 2010, Flavie Isatelle, a young French geologist/gemologist who travelled for one year around the world visiting gem mines was given the opportunity to give a public presentation about Emeralds from Colombia as during summer 2010 she spent nearly a month in Colombia living for several weeks in an emerald mine in Muzo in order to study its geology. Thanks to the interest generated worldwide by that presentation, she was contacted by Gemfields, an important company mining emeralds in the Kafubu deposit in Zambia (one of the world’s largest emerald deposit) and was invited to give again her presentation in Zambia. That was a great opportunity for her to visit that mining operation one of the world largest colored stone mines. Remembering the help that the author provided her in her numerous expeditions in Asia, Africa and South America, she was nice to ask the me if I was interested to travel with her in Zambia... There are some proposals that are very difficult to refuse.


For more information about the GIA Gemstone Gatherings please visit the "news" page on GIA Laboratory Bangkok website. There you will find, details about the next event. Using the calendar at the bottom of the page you will also find written reports and photos of the previous GIA gemstone gatherings.


Thanks to Flavie, I was also invited by Gemfields and at the end of Januray 2011 I was on my way to Zambia. We arrived in Zambia on January 24th for a three days long visit at the Kagem mine. For once I was not to be the expedition leader: Flavie was the boss and I became for few days her assistant and personal photographer. This blog and the following photos will then simply reflect that fact. Of course as official photographer of the expedition I took many photos where Flavie was not part of the landscape, but we have decided to keep these photos for the future publications. Soon you will be able to read our first report in "Gem News International" of the next issue of "Gems and Gemology" and later (probably around August 2011) you will find a more extensive and illustrated report on the following websites:,, and


(Geologist Robert Gessner explaining to Flavie Isatelle the mining at the Kagem Gemfields main emerald mining pit.)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

We were welcomed at the Kagem / Gemfields mine by geologist Robert Gessner. Robert took us around for the following days from the main mining pit to the fascinating underground mining operation he is managing and also to the washing plant and the sorting house, where we could see some interesting emerald samples and meet with several local gemologists. The visit was very interesting particularly as it is very rare to encounter such high level of organization in the colored gemstone mining operation.


(Underground at the Kagem Gemfields mine in Zambia geologist Robert Gessner explains to Flavie Isatelle the local geological setting. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Visiting the mine with Robert Gessner was a real pleasure as Robert, besides being a very knowledgeable geologist (and a great tour guide), is also sharing with us a passion for gemology (Robert is currently studying gemology at GIA using the GIA distance education program) and photography as you can discover on "RoGe ImaGes" .

(Robert Gessner explaining to Flavie Isatelle how the emeralds are getting manually sorted at the Kagem Gemfields emerald mine in Zambia. As most emeralds are still attached to some matrix, manual and visual sorting was prefered to techniques using gravity or optics.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


Most of the young gemologist/geologists interested in gemstones who regularly contact the author for advice using the Internet might found Robert background interesting: After studying geology in South Africa, he graduated in 2004. Robert started then working as geologist at the Tanzanite One mine in Merelani, Tanzania. There he got some serious experience about the specificities of underground gem mining. In Jan 2009 he moved to emerald mining in Zambia to work on a very interesting and challenging project: Pioneering underground mining at the Kagem Gemfields emerald mine, a mine which is traditionally and historically an opencast mine. The main difficulty for most young geologist/gemologist is to find a first job as most companies prefer to hire people with experience... So my advice is the following: Be smart and work hard to get the right skills/profile. Then do your best to get the right first job, the one that will enable you to get the experience you need in order to be lucky later receiving a proposal to become what you have all your life dreamed to become.

Hard work is much more efficient if you work smartly.


(Finally one photo without Flavie and Robert... Zambian gemologist Jackson Mtonga working as superintendant at the Kagem Gemfields sorting house is presenting one of the emeralds from the company master set. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


The visit at the Kagem Gemfields mine was very interesting as there are very few colored gemstone mining operations where gems are mined in such a way using modern geological and mining techniques. It was a great opportunity for me to visit that mine and meet there many interesting characters: Geologists, gemologists, miners, security officers and managers.


Very special thanks to Flavie Isatelle to have given me the opportunity to travel with her to Zambia. Flavie is currently searching for some job as mining engineer in a colored gemstone mine and is searching some ways to finance her PHD. For more information about Flavie and her profile, please visit her website:

I want also to thanks all the people from Gemfields for their invitation and their welcome in Zambia. It was truly a real pleasure to visit the mine and have the opportunity to share some knowledge with each other. I hope that I will soon have the possibility to return to the mine in Zambia and work on some projects together.


All the best,

October 13th, 2010 | Blog Keywords:Richard W. Hughes , Laos , conservation Travel |
Blog Title: A friend on the road again

This post is not about one of the author expeditions or about an article he collaborated with, but it is about one friend who was a constant source of inspiration for the author for many years. He was an inspiration before we actually met and he is still today as he is one of my most regular travel buddies: From 2005 to last month we visited Madagascar, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam ... That post is about my friend and mentor Richard W. Hughes.

Today I received the following press release (follow that link) from Sino Ressources Mining Corporation Ltd (Sino RMC) a mining company with a very interesting approach of gem mining. Richard W. Hughes has become CEO of the Sapphminco Division, and Senior Vice President of SinoRMC. Last Saturday he left Bangkok to Hong Kong where he will be based. This is sad news but also and good news.

Sad news as it will now be less easy for the author to meet Richard and benefit from his knowledge and experience about ruby and sapphires.

Good news as Richard will work on a very interesting project: Few months ago we visited together that mining operation on the Mekhong River banks near the city of Houay Xai in Laos. I visited already Houay Xai three times before that visit. Nevertheless that visit was a great surprise and one of the most interesting visit I had. The reason is simple: They were obviously trying to do there what I'm believing could be a great chance (and also a great challenge) for the gem industry:

I mean "conservation gem mining".

For several months visiting East Africa during summer 2009, the author visited several areas dedicated to conservation where gems were also produced. After spending 3 days under arrest in the Niassa National Reserve, trying to visit a ruby deposit in Mozambique, the author started to think seriously about concepts like "conservation gem mining" or "conservation gems". Nevertheless I was not thinking that just few months after I would visit a mining operation trying already to work for several years on such a project.

That was very motivating particularly as the author was working on his project.

Nevertheless Simon, the CEO of SinoRMC asked me to stay quiet for a while, as he was not yet feeling ready to communicate about what they were doing. They had first to be able to present some results, not only a nice project. No problem: For the GIA Laboratory Bangkok, the important thing is to be able to collect reference samples for our research projects on origin determination of gemstones. I can stay quiet for months or years if necessary.

But recently Sino Resources Mining Corporation has put a website online, hired Richard and sent that press release: It will be very interesting to follow what will happen between Laos, Australia and Hong Kong... So it is now time for this blog to go online and reveal a glimpse of what is going on near the great Mekhong River.


"On the move again!"
(Richard W. Hughes on the Great Mekhong river between Houay Xai (Laos) and Chiang Khong (Thailand)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

With Richard on board, I wish SinoRMC all the best as, if succesful, their mining concept in Laos could be used as a very interesting case study to extend conservation gem mining to other ruby and sapphire deposits in Asia and Africa.

All the best,

October 12th, 2010 | Blog Keywords:tsavorite , Lemshuku , Tanzania , Kenya , garnet Travel |
Blog Title: Article about Lemshuku tsavorite deposit, Tanzania

Dear all,
I would like to inform you of a new publication about tsavorite. It is about the geology of the Lemshuku deposit in Tanzania where these green garnets were discovered there in 1967.

"Lithostratigraphic and structural controls of ‘tsavorite’ deposits at Lemshuku, Merelani area, Tanzania",

an article by Julien Feneyrol (a), Gaston Giuliani (b), Daniel Ohnenstetter (b), Elisabeth Le Goff (c), Elias P.J. Malisa (d), Mark Saul (e), Eric Saul (e), John Saul (f) and Vincent Pardieu (g)

- (a) CRPG-CNRS, Nancy université, 15, rue Notre-Dame-des-Pauvres, 54501 Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy, France
- (b) IRD-LMTG, 24, avenue Édouard-Belin, 31200 Toulouse, France
- (c) BRGM, 3, avenue Claude-Guillemin, 45060 Orléans, France
- (d) Department of Geology, University of Dar-es-Salaam, P.O. Box 35052, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania
- (e) Swala Gem Traders, Uchumi House, Sokoine Road, Arusha, Tanzania
- (f ) ORYX, 3, rue Bourdaloue, 75009 Paris, France
- (g) GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 10th Floor, U-Chu-Liang Building, 968, Rama IV Road, Silom Bangrak, Bangkok, Thailand


The first study of the Lemshuku ‘tsavorite’ mining district is presented. From bottom to top, the lithostratigraphic column corresponds to a metasedimentary sequence composed of quartzite, fine-grained graphitic gneiss, kyanite-graphite gneiss, biotite-almandine gneiss, metasomatized graphitic gneiss and dolomitic marble. ‘Tsavorite’ occurs in quartz veins and rarely as nodular concretions. Two factors control mineralization: (1) lithostratigraphy, with ‘tsavorite’ in association with pyrite and graphite confined to quartz veins within the metasomatized graphitic gneiss; and (2) structure, with the mineralized veins characteristically controlled by tight isoclinal folds associated with shearing.

It was published in Comptes Rendus Geoscience, Volume 342, Issue 10, October 2010, Pages 778-785.

It is also currently available online


(Mark Saul of Swala Gem Traders presenting the author a piece of tsavorite he just mined at Lemshuku
Photo: V. Pardieu / Gubelin Gem Lab, 2007)

The author visited the Lemshuku deposit in 2005 and 2007 when Swala Gem Traders mined it. In 2009, few months after Julien Feneyrol to spend several weeks at Lemshuku to study the deposit, Swala Gem Traders stopped their mining operation there. While returning to East Africa in October 2009, the author was not able to get in contact with the new owner and thus could not visit it once again. If what is currently happening at the former mine operated in the past by Swala Gem Traders is not clear to the author, the area is nevertheless still very interesting as Tanzanite One with their "Tsavorite One" project have started also to prospect in the region around Lemshuku. The author would then not be surprised to read or hear again about Lemshuku in the future as one of the main tsavorite supplier in East Africa.

Note: Update about the July 2010 tsavorite workshop in Nairobi, Kenya:

Today I was able to communicate with Dr. Gaston Giuliani from the Nancy University on another subject related to Tsavorite: Last year in October 2009, we tried to visit together the ruby and tsavorite deposits in Kenya but our expedition was not really succesful (see blog Kenya 2009).
Dr. Giuliani and Dr. Ohnenstetter were then just back from a tsavorite workshop in Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) and they were working on a similar project for 2010, this time in Nairobi (Kenya). Today I was told by Dr. Giuliani some excellent news about the Nairobi 2010 workshop he was then planning:
The workshop happened and reportedly turned to be very successful. After the workshop more than 40 people also were able to go on a field expedition to Tsavo lead by Dr. Cedric Simonet.
Currently a research program about tsavorite in collaboration between Kenyan and French Universities is in preparation. Dr. Giuliani told the author that he was very happy about the way things happened during summer 2010.

For more information about tsavorite, the author also invite you to read "Tsavorite, an Untammed Gem" an article written with R.W.Hughes, first published in ICA's InColor (Winter 2008)

All the best,

July 18th, 2010 | Blog Keywords:ruby , Afghanistan , Jegdalek , spinel , Badakshan Travel |
Blog Title: GIA_FE17_Afghanistan

GIA FE17 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 17) : June 08th, 2010 - Julyl 15th, 2010:



The purpose of the present blog is not to publish another gemological /geological description of the rubies from Jegdalek as this not the objectives of this website dedicated to gemology and traveling. You will nevertheless find in that blog some links to valuable publications providing such technical gemological and geological content.

With this blog the author would just like to share with the reader

1) Some elements about the history, the geography of Jegdalek area he found learning about Jegdalek and also some first hand reports from people who visited the region in the past or recently that he has found to be very interesting.

2) Some stories and photos about his own experiences traveling to Jegdalek as he feels that such personal souvenirs could also be of some interest for those willing to learn more about the origin of these gems but who had not (yet?) the possibility to travel to Afghanistan.

Finally the author would like also to thanks with this report the different Afghan people who took some of their time to help the author to travel to these remote ruby mining area and to visit the mines. The author hopes that the present report will give some exposure to the fascinating gems and gem people of Afghanistan.

All the best,

Summary of the FE17 Field Expedition to Afghanistan:

The GIA Laboratory Bangkok Afghanistan 2010 field expedition was planned with the support of Mr. Parveez, an Afghan gem dealer from Jegdalek the author met in Peshawar in 2006.

In Afghanistan the author main objectives were to visit ruby and sapphire deposits in the North East of the country:

- First the Jegdalek ruby mining area located in the East of the Kabul Province, an area the author already visited in 2006.

- Then the author was planning to visit the less known ruby and sapphire deposits located in the Badakshan province: First a small very remote ruby deposit that was reported at Khash near the villages of Boharak and Jurm (See G&G ...) and then an interesting new blue sapphire deposit discovered reportedly in 2009 and located near the old lapis lazuli mines of Sae-E-Sang in the Kokcha Valley.

The author was during that expedition able to visit the ruby deposit at Jegdalek. In Badakshan on the other hand the expedition was not really successful as he could not get closer than one kilometer from the Khash ruby deposit and as his security was compromised he decided to return to Kabul and to wait another occasion to visit the sapphire and lapis Lazuli mines at Sar-E-Sang.

A concise report about the different results of that expedition to Afghanistan in June 2010 can be found in the "Update about ruby and sapphire mining in Pakistan and Afghanistan" that was published in "Gems & Gemology", Winter 2010 issue, as part of GNI (Gem News International).


Furthermore a study about these interesting blue sapphires reportedly from a new deposit in the Kokcha Valley of the Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan was published in "Gems & Gemology" Spring 2011 issue as part of Lab Notes. Interestingly some areas of these blue sapphires were found to contain naturally some unusually high levels of Beryllium and Tungsten.

Some highly recommended books and articles about Jegdalek and its rubies:

First the author would like to introduce to the reader some publications that he found to be very useful to prepare his expeditions:

ruby & Sapphire by Richard W. Hughes

"Ruby and Sapphire" by Richard W. Hughes is one of the author favorite books. The great thing about that book was that it was a interesting combination of science, history, geography and arts, each of them presented in a way accessible to people without serious expertise in each domain. Reading that book, the author was truly fascinated about the fact that rubies and sapphires were not really found in the most quiet places on Earth but instead in some of the most exotic and remote areas of our planet.

The chapter 12 about "The world sources of rubies and sapphires" was for the author one of the most fascinating. Organized by alphabetical order, it was starting by Afghanistan with as a tasty subtitle: "The Great Enigma: Afghanistan ruby and spinel mines"...

Please also visit Richard W. Hughes' website where a chapter about Aghanistan can be found:

Gems & Gemology

Gems & Gemology

"Gemstones from Afghanistan" by Gary W. Bowersox and Bonita E. Chamberlin is the most complete priblication to this date about about the gems found in Afghanistan and particularly the rubies from Jegdalek.

"The Gem Hunter" is another interesting publication by Gary Bowersox where he write about his life and his adventures traveling to Afghanistan. Gary Bowersox being one of the very few foreigners who actually ever visited the Jegdalek ruby mines.

You might be also interested to visit the rest of Gary Bowersox informative website:

That "Ruby and Sapphire from Jegdalek, Afghanistan" by Gary W. Bowersox, Eugene E. Foord, Brendan M. Laurs, James E. Shigley, and Christopher P. Smith. This study published in Gems & Gemology, Summer 2000, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 110-126 is to this day the most complete article about rubies from Jegdalek with great information about the history, the mining, the geology and some very useful technical gemological information about Jegdalek rubies.

The author would like also to advise the reading for those interested by the geological aspect of the Jegdalek deposit of “Ar–Ar and U–Pb ages of marble-hosted ruby deposits from central and southeast Asia” (2006) a pdf in English by V. Garnier, H. Maluski, G. Giuliani, D. Ohnenstetter, and D. Schwarz that had a French version: “Les Gisements de rubis associes aux marbres de l’Asie centrale et du Sud Est” published in “Le Regne Mineral” (2006) and signed this time by Virginie Garnier, Gaston Giuliani, Daniel Ohnenstetter, Dietmar Schwarz and Allah B. Kausar. 

About Jegdalek and ruby mining in Afghanistan:

For the author there is really something fascinating about gems from Afghanistan and the rubies from Jegdalek:

The fact is that they are not just beautiful stones, they are also stones related to historical events, fascinating characters and exotic places: Afghanistan is first of all one of the oldest (or possibly the oldest) gem mining area in the world as the Lapis Lazuli mines in the Kokcha Valley are known to have been worked from nearly 7000 years. Also the spinel mines in Badakshan, that were discovered probably around the 9th century at the time of the Silk Roads, are believed to have produced most of the fabulous historic "rubies" that are found in the treasures of the former rulers from Western Europe to India. Probably the most famous of them being the "Black Prince Ruby", the gem that got to the author his very first serious interest for gemology while he was studying the life of the Prince Edward of England, famous nowadays as the "Black Prince".

"Baby Black Prince?"
(An Afghan gem merchant presents to the author in Kabul an fine specimen of gem quality red spinel in matrix mined recently from the old "Badakhshan ruby mines". These mines known today as the Kul-I-Lal are believed to have produced the "Black Prince ruby" and other historic stones such as the "Timur Ruby" and the "Cote de Bretagne".
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

During that period what is nowadays Afghanistan was a strategic place located in the centre of the Eurasian supercontinent right in the center of the main trade network link the China in the East to Europe and the Mediterranean in the West. Central Asia and particularly Afghanistan was then a rich region with beautiful old cities.

The Mongol invasions, the Black Death and the insecurity that followed for disintegration of the Mongol Empire during the 13th century changed that and with the development of maritime transportation, the trade between Europe and Asia moved from transportation by land on the Silk Roads to maritime transportation in the Indian Ocean on the Spice Roads. The process was further accelerated after the arrival of the Europeans in the Indian Ocean at the end of the 15th century. Soon Afghanistan and its gem mining areas, far away from these new maritime roads became a remote and forgotten region while on the other hand the gems from Ceylon, India, Siam and Burma found few miles from the busy harbors found easily their way to Europe.

Afghanistan became again connected to the world in the middle of the 19th century when the British and Russian colonial ambitions collided in the mountains of the Hindu Kush and along the Oxus River. It was the time of the Great Game. The first Anglo Afghan war was one of the worse setbacks for the British power with the destruction of the General Elphinstone army during his retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad in January 1842. In fact some of the most dramatic and famous events of that conflict happened just near Jegdalek then called "Jugduluk":


"The Last stand at Gandamack"
(Photo of the reproduction of the painting by William Barnes Wollen about the battle of Gandamack that can be seen in the restaurant hall of the Gandamack Lodge in Kabul, a place that the author has no problem to recommend to all people willing to stay in Kabul. Note: The original painting is visible at the National Army Museum, in London.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

1) People visiting in Kabul the "Gandamack Lodge" can study on the wall of the restaurant a very interesting and detailed map presenting these tragic events. In fact we can see on that map that most of the British force was destroyed on the Jugduluk pass leading to the valley of Jegdalek. The following day the British commander, General Elphinstone, was taken prisoner at Jegdalek by the Afghans. (See here for more details). Later at night few soldiers were able to break through the Afghan lines in a desperate attempt to reach Jalalabad. Exhausted, out of munitions, fighting in deep snow, they had their last stand near Gandamack, a village south of the Black Mountains south east from Jegdalek. A reproduction of the famous painting presenting the last stand of the British soldiers at Gandamack, can be seen near the map. Of the 16000 people (including 4500 soldiers) only one British: doctor Brydon, was able to make it to Jalalabad.

2) Later during the war another battle occurred at Jegdalek opposing General Pollock to strong force of Afghan Tribesmen (see here and here for more)


"Jugduluk, January 1842..."
( from the map exposedon the wall of the Restaurant hall at the Gandamack Lodge in Kabul
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

According to the article "Ruby and Sapphire from Jegdalek, Afghanistan" by Gary Bowersox & al, the ruby mines at Jegdalek were worked for about 700 years. This is indeed possible as Jegdalek and its ruby deposits are located on one of the main communication axis between Kabul and Peshawar.

Nevertheless the oldest mention about Jegdalek (Jegdalek, Jagdallak or Jugduluk depending on the reference) the author was able to find so far are the travel reports of some of the British officers who served in Afghanistan during the 19th century. Jegdalek was then on the main track linking Kabul to Jalalabad and most travelled going to Kabul were passing there: None of them mention any ruby mines instead the place is described as miserable: Lieut. Alex. Burnes of the East India Company, one of the main characters of these tragic events writes in 1834 in "Travels into Bokhara being the Account of a Journey from India to Cabool, Tartary and Persia":

The country is barren and miserable, Jugduluk is a wretched place with few caves as village. There is a proverb which describes its misery: "When the woods of Jugduluk begins to burn, you melt gold" for there is no wood at hands on the bleak hills.

Another report from a British officer who passed at Jugduluk around 1840 can be found here: "Narrative of the war in Afghanistan: In 1838-39, Volume 2" by Sir Henry Havelock. Shahamat Ali, another traveler wrote about his journey from Peshawar to Kabul passing by Jagdalak in 1839 (see in p 459 to 461 of his book). None of these authors reveal the existence of ruby mines,

During his visit at Jegdalek the author asked several time to local elders about how long ruby mining was taking place in Jegdalek, most people agreed to say that it started long time ago but asking more precisely an elder said that it was about 100 years ago adding that about 400 to 500 years ago Jegdalek was an active gold mining area... May be this explains the reference to gold and to the fact that there were no trees around Jegdalek in Burnes' travel report: Gold miners need fuel to extract the precious metal. Anyway in the author opinion the 100 years does not really means anything more that it was long time ago.

In fact it seems that the first foreigner to have visited the ruby mines at Jagdalak and reported about them was a British officer: Major G. Stewart who reportedly visited the mines in 1879 as it is reported by several authors including Edwin Streeter. The mines were later visited by geologist C.L. Griesbach in 1888 who reported his visit in 1891 in the Geology of Safad Koh published in the Geological Survey of India volume XXV:

"The Pari Darra, that narrow defile within which a British force was destroyed in the first Afghan war, shows the section through this series of rocks which are gneissose with some beds of mica schist and a wide belt of highly crystalline marble, the whole dipping under a high angle to the north.

This chain of hills forms a well defined part of the northern ranges of the Safed Koh: and under the name of Siah Koh, all the hills between the Pari Darra near Jagdallak and the Doronta gorge west of Jalalabad is understood. During the early spring of 1888 I was engaged in geologically exploring this system of ranges.

A section through the Siah Koh from south to nort presents what appears to be an unbroken sequence of strata. Near the middle of the range, at Bab-i-Kach, a belt of considerable width (at that spot about six miles wide) is formed by a series of metamorphic strata, chiefly mica and hornblendic schists with talcose phyllites. Some beds of finely crystalline grey gneiss occur in this series, but the whole the character of the zone is more schistose. This series is overlaid by highly altered strata, principally limestone beds, within which the old ruby mines of Jagdallak are situated."

Now the fact that the British soldiers and other people traveling through the region before Stewart and Griesbach did not reported the presence of the ruby mines does not mean that ruby mining was not occurring there. Possibly as Griesbach is writing, the ruby mines at Jegdalek could be old mines, much older in fact than the arrival of the British soldiers in the region.


"Aerial view over the Jegdalek Valley and its ruby mines"
(While arriving by plane in Kabul from Dubai, the author had the pleasure to fly over Jegdalek getting the possibility to take that photo showing the different ruby mining trenches on which the author added later the name he was provided by the miners at Jegdalek. You can compare that photo with Google Earth using this placemark to find Jegdalek village.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

Jegdalek was also famous to have been a strong mujahedeen base during the "Jihad" as in Afghanistan they commonly call the war against the Soviet Union. The Jegdalek village was then controlled by mujahedeens from the Jamiat I Islami (lead by Rabbani) on the eastern side the Mia Khel area was under the control of mujahedeens from the Hezb-i-Islami (Yunus Khalis faction) (see map). According to people from Jegdalek during the Jihad, people from jegdalek were more involved in fighting the Soviet than mining rubies, most people met in Jegdalek agree that the inverse was true regarding the Mujahedeens from Mia Khel. The valley was reportedly difficult to attack and was heavily bombed by the Soviet aviation resulting in the destruction of the Jegdalek village. Nowadays we can still see the ruins of the old village in Jegdalek. During the attacks the people were hiding in the numerous caves and ruby mines that can still be seen today. Others reminder of that difficult period are the numerous minefields that can be seen along the road from Sarobi to Jegdalek. If most of these mine fields along the northern road coming from Sarobi were reportedly cleaned, it seems that the road going south west from Jegdalek pass is still very dangerous due to land mines.


"Minefields on the way to Jegdalek"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

According to the Jegdalek ruby miners and traders he met while visiting the region, it seems that after the war with the Soviet Union, when the Afghan civil war started most of the population of Jegdalek moved to Pakistan as they did not wanted to take part in that conflict. On the other hand the population from Mia Khel continued ruby mining during the civil war and under the Taliban regime (1997 - 2001). Several figures from Mia Khel were also told to the author to have become government officials under the Taliban regime. The situation inversed after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001: The people from Jegdalek then returned from Pakistan. Several leaders from Jegdalek, like commandant Anwar "Jegdalek" or Commandant Khan started to work with the new government. (Note: Commandant Khan became chief of the police for the whole Sarobi Province and took the author to visit Jegdalek for 2 days in 2006, Anwar jegdalek is currently the Governor of the Kunduz Province). During that exile in Pakistan, the Jegdalek people built many business contacts with the gem and jewelry business community in Peshawar and Karachi.
Due to the fact that it is nearly impossible to export gemstones legally from Afghanistan due to the very complicated and inefficient system that was put in place after 2001, and thanks to these contacts created during their exile in Pakistan, most of the gems from Jegdalek are nowadays finding their way first to Pakistan to be faceted and then exported to the world markets (or imported back to Afghanistan to be sold locally).


"On the way to Jegdalek: A maze of dry hills on which nomads are traveling with their animals."
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

In 2005 the author, then Director of the AIGS Gemological Laboratory in Bangkok (Thailand) in association with the Gubelin Gem Lab in Lucerne (Switzerland), decided to start an ambitious "Field Gemology" research program with focus on rubies and sapphires. He started then to get seriously interested about visiting the Central Asian ruby deposits and particularly Jegdalek to collect reliable samples to be used for gemological research about the origin determination of gemstones.

Based on the publications he could find and particularly the writings of Richard W. Hughes, Gary Bowersox and Virginie Garnier and with the support of Guy Clutterbuck, a British gem merchant also well connected in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the author was able to get some useful local contacts in Peshawar and Afghanistan and then feel confident enough to plan an expedition there.

In 2006 the Afghan government was not allowing officially the people to mine at Jegdalek and police officers were playing hide and seek with local miners. Of course looking at the number of stones available in first in the market in Peshawar, then in Kabul and later in Jegdalek village it was obvious that several groups of miners were working more or less secretly:

In fact the author first visited Jegdalek in July 2006 with the support of Commandant Khan, the chief of the police for the Sarobi district, himself a native of Jegdalek and a former mujahedeen commander, who spent years in Pakistan during the civil war. Commander Khan invited the author to come with him in Jegdalek and helped him to visit the mining area. During that visit as we had a police escort we could not witness any mining, as a matter of fact arriving at Jegdalek and then Salnow village, the visit started by our police escort to discuss with local elders and miners, probably to get their approval about our visit and make sure that everything would be fine. While reaching the mining area, we saw one man running away and visiting a mining trench it was obvious that mining had taken place recently.


"Arriving at Jegdalek"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

On the overall in 2006 the valley was looking very peaceful despite the mining fields we met on the way and the ruins of the old village and the war going on in the country. The population and our police escort were friendly and several new buildings (including a school, a clinic and a mosque) were very visible near the old ruins. After visiting the Khalwat and Lalpura ruby mining areas the valley was safe enough for the author and his assistant be able to spend the night in one of the old houses of the Jegdalek village and enjoy the following day sharing a breakfast with the miners and then enjoying a wonderful morning in the orchard near the village looking at the rubies brought to us by local miners thanks to the help of Commander Khan.


"The green valley of Jegdalek"
(A view of Jegdalek with its new mosque, its ruins (on the left) its typical Afghan fortified houses in the background
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

In 2009 few months after his return in Bangkok (after spending two years working in Switzerland) as he was starting his work as "Supervisor for Field Gemology" at the GIA Laboratory Bangkok, the author was informed by Afghan and Pakistani merchants visiting Bangkok gem trading center that ruby mining was now officially possible at Jegdalek and that several hundreds of miners were now openly working there. At that time the author focus was nevertheless on East Africa as rubies from new deposits in Mozambique were flooding the market in Bangkok for few months and the author had to focus first on these new deposits. Nevertheless he started to plan a possible expedition for summer 2010. During spring 2010, one of the Afghan contacts the author met in the field in 2006 was visiting Bangkok. The man, a native of Jegdalek, brought him some very interesting blue sapphires from a new deposit in Afghanistan and as about the same time the author had been invited to visit another interesting pink sapphire deposit located in Pakistan, a new expedition to Central Asian ruby and sapphire deposit was starting to make a lot of sense despite the security and political problems in the region.


"Old and New construction in Jegdalek"
(A view of Jegdalek with its new mosque (left), its old building (center) and in the background the new school (build with the support of the USAID) and the medical center. Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

In June 2010 after visiting the Batakundi purple sapphire deposit in Pakistan, the author travelled to Kabul to meet his Afghan friends and after spending some time looking at stones in the Kabul gem market they planned a new short visit to Jegdalek. From Kabul to Jegdalek nothing had changed since 2006. We took the nice road linking Kabul to Sarobi that was built during spring 2006, then we took right to the Lataban pass for few kilometers and then finally left the dusty and rocky track heading to Jegdalek. As in 2006 we passed near under the old Red Army base located on a cliff dominating the valley south of Sarobi and that is currently occupied by the French army, in charge for the NATO of the area in association with the Afghan national army and police. Then as we sleft the valley and started to drive in the mountains we passed several old land mine fields and nomad camps. Indeed Jegdalek is located in a strategic pass used by the Kuchis and their herds of sheep, goats and camels on their way back and forth from the low lands of the Pakistan tribal areas where they spend most of the winter to grazing areas of Afghanistan where they take their animals during summer time.


"The ruins of Jegdalek"
(Life is going on in Jegdalek despite the destructions of the Soviet aviation
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Arriving at Jegdalek things were similar but also quite different compared the author last visit in July 2006: The first difference was that the number of new constructions had increased around the old village and its ruins dating of the Jihad period against the Red Army. That was quite a positive sign meaning that the economic situation at Jegdalek was looking good. The second difference was less positive as the village was not looking as peaceful as it was during our first fist in 2006. Arriving on that Friday morning in the center of the village near the small market and the mosque where many people usually gather on such day dedicated to God and resting, we found several vehicles full of heavily armed Afghan policemen. After few minutes of discussion the author local friends told him that the night before two pickups loaded with insurgents came less than five kilometers south of the village searching reportedly for a mechanic. The police was here to enquire about that... About 20 minutes after our arrival the police left. Of course the author could feel that the situation was a little bit tense but the author was again, as few years before, surrounded by his friends, some peaceful looking bearded gem miners and merchants in an Afghan village with no visible military or police presence. Everything went fine.


"Ruby mining trench at Injuno Gaspei, Jegdalek, Afghanistan"
(An Afghan miner is entering a ruby mine at Injuno Gaspei, in the background we can see the white trenches of the Shakur Kalrana ruby mining area. Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Few minutes after the police departure, an old friend of the author's friends happening to be a famous local ruby miner, invited the author and his group to visit the mines he was working. First we had to plan lunch and spent some time selecting some goat meat that the miner sent to his house to get cooked. Then we took, as we did in 2006 the road to Salnow village. Arriving as Injuno Gaspei we could see that the police camp and check point we stopped at in 2006 had disappeared. We went then directly to visit an old mining trench at Injuno Gaspei where the miner was recently working. The author could there visit briefly a mining trench, collect some data and samples. As it was Friday no miners were present on site. We then left to the Taghar mining area where our guide was nowadays working with his team. It was not very far, just on the other side of the hill, but to reach it we had to drive on a very rocky track around the hill. The drive turned to be more interesting for the author as it first expected as we passed not very far from one of the former underground mujahedeen base located down the scenic Shakur Kalrana mining area (also called Newei Khan) enabling the author to take few photos of the area. We then stopped for few minutes near an interesting rock located about two meters near the track and transformed by the local miners into a shrine due to the fact that the natural metamorphic designs on the rock boulder were reminding the Arabic writing for the word "Allah". It was a local tradition for the miners and visitors on their way to the mines to stop for few seconds and pray. Finally after driving up a narrow dry valley, we reached the Taghar mining site where our guide was working nowadays with his team.


"Ruby mine in Taghar, Jegdalek, Afghanistan"
(A view over the ruby mining site we visited, the miners had their camp just near the trench they were working.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"Mining trench in Taghar"
(Rubies in Jegdalek are only found in narrow bands of marbles that are nearly vertical. Thus the miners have over the years dig these huge, deep trenches that are secured thanks to some "bridges" of marble left behind between the 2 sides of the trench. Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

The mine we visited at Taghar was about 40 meters deep which is quite deep even if reportedly some mines in the area are reportedly more than 150 meters deep. The miners had a power supply group, a pump and some jackhammers to work underground. They were using a rope to go up and down the mine and to take the production out of the trench.


"The way down..."
(View of the rope system used by the miners to go up and down in a ruby mining trench in Taghar, Jegdalek, Afghanistan
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Nevertheless, if in 2006 the author was able to take his time to visit some mining trenches in Khalwat, on that day things turned to be quite different: Few minutes after our arrival at the mine in Taghar while the author was inspecting the rope system used in the trench by the miners to go down to the working site, our driver came in the trench to inform us that he spotted several men observing us from a nearby hill near the old mujahedeen base.

We decided then to leave rapidly the mine and the area as we had no real idea about who could hide in these old caves particularly knowing that the night before there had been some insurgent intrusion.


"Shakur Kalrana and the ruins of the former Mujahedeen base, Jegdalek, Afghanistan"
(Down the ruins but not visible on the photo are located several caves where the Mujahedeen were hidding during the Jihad"
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

We returned then rapidly (and safely) to Jegdalek village and then took the direction of the miner's fortified house where we had lunch and were able to look at numerous rough rubies and mineral specimens. The author spent some time studying them, taking some notes about them and the current mining activity in Jegdalek. It was also a good occasion to acquire directly from the miner some interesting rubies for the GIA reference collection.



"Show time..."
( At the miner house, the miner shows some specimens to the author.
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Speaking with the miners (briefly) about security issues, the author was told that if there are no insurgents in Jegdalek, it seems that more and more often insurgents are coming close to Jegdalek particularly from the region in the south (in fact on the other side of the forest covered hills you can see on the photo presenting the Jegdalek mosque) where is also located Gandamack.

In fact the miner's main problems seemed more about mining: At Jegdalek like in many other primary gem mining areas, good gems are rare and difficult to mine. Unlike secondary deposit where gems are accumulated in gravels, in such deposits gems are found in hard rock, furthermore most of them are not gem quality, as many has too many fissures or inclusions to have a good transaprency. As it is an old mining area, the mining trenches can be very deep and flooding becomes a problem. Miners have to use pumps and the mining costs of course become higher as they go deeper. Another main issue they face is that they dont have access to mining explosives adapted to marble type ruby deposits. In fact, it seems that for security reasons, the Afghan government do not allow small-scale miners (who usually work their mine for years without any mining license) to buy legally mining explosives. As a result they have the choice between working without explosives using hand tools or a jackhammer, but then mining is very slow and tough, or to get illegally explosives, meaning mainly military explosives from unexploded munitions, land mines or from old stocks left behind after the jihad and the civil war. The problem is that these explosives are not only dangerous to handle but also that they are too powerful and not adapted to ruby mining and as a result many stones are broken or damaged by the blasts. Indeed the author commonly get the feeling while comparing parcels of rubies from Jegdalek with gems from similar marble type deposits in Tajikistan, Burma or Vietnam that in the case of parcels from Jegdalek the stones are often more fissured and pink looking due to the numerous open fissures probably created during the mining process by the use of the wrong type of explosives.


"Considering the author offer..."
(As the author has made an offer for some specimens, the miners are considering about it.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

To complete our visit we returned to Jegdalek village and spent some time in the orchard eating fruits, looking at some additional interesting ruby specimens and speaking about life with the local miners:

Working as a ruby miner in places like Jegdalek is of course very hard, but around Jegdalek several people after some very tough years and also to some luck, got wealthy according to the local standards (and sometimes even more) from gem mining and trading. Commonly the miners told the author that feel lucky and thank God to have been able to live that life working with gems as they can choose more easily than their neighbors (from villages without gem mines) not to get involved in drug or in fighting/insurgency/mafia type businesses.

Most of the time when you are correctly introduced by the right people, when you meet gem miners at the mines, you don't find any hostility in their eyes, but instead some curiosity, the pride to have a respectable life and also hope or sometimes the faith and the certitude that they will get "Inch Allah" a better future. For the author meeting such people this is part of the pleasure associated with visiting gem mining areas as besides the possibility to get at the source the samples he needs for his research work, and some first hand information about what is going on in this or that mining area, he feels that this is a true privilege to meet such gem people:

In Afghanistan gem mining producing areas, hope, faith and hard work seems to be the daily companions of the gem miners. If hard work is a tough reality, hope can be a cruel mistress as at the end of the day many miners will return from the mines exhausted and empty handed, nevertheless in many cases they have seen worse and often they might feel some pride to live a "halal" life: One Afghan ruby miner told the author that gem mining and trading is very good for them as Muslims as they said "the prophet himself (God bless his name) was for a while a gem merchant in Arabia". He added that tomorrow, "inch Allah", fortune might smile to them and he might be able to get a better future for him and his family.


"After business: Lunch time..."
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Of course some might think that this is a very naive way to look at the Afghan gem trade. It is also true that hope is often a short cut to deception. Nevertheless hope and faith give to the Afghan gem miners a reason to continue living with dignity their tough life, and in a region facing so many problem, this is something giving a good feeling. Many will sadly remain poor, but in the modern cities of the western world or in the slums of Kabul not everybody is wealthy and happy: The modern consummation society has also its unlucky, unhappy people living a difficult and sometimes even miserable life... On many occasions after visiting gem mining areas in some of the most remote parts of the world, the author returns home with a lot of admiration and sympathy for these tough gem people. Obviously they are not all angels. It is a fact that many Afghans miners and dealers are tough in business. Some can also be very tricky, others are even worse. But this is the human nature we can find everywhere... And thinking seriously about the life they had with their families in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past 40 years, who can really blame them to try to get a better life? If today they get a fine gem (or even a bad one), obviously they will try to get from it as much profit as they can as they don't know how things will turn tomorrow for them. But at the end of the day, on the other side of the world, somebody might one day buy that gem and offer it to his love one. Happy ending? May be this is really too much an optimistic vision of the gem trade, but well as a matter of fact the author is not really one of these people who seems to enjoy finding darkness on a sunny day in the desert.


"Jegdalek orchard"
(Apricots in Jegdalek
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

That afternoon under the shade of the apricot and mulberry trees in the orchard near the old Jegdalek village, the author was not really in a pessimistic mood: We were looking at gems, speaking about life and at least on the author side, enjoying every second of that quiet afternoon.

On the way back, we went to drink at the nearby spring and the author was happy to see that the local irrigation system had been repaired thanks to the support of his countrymen... Asking about the French soldiers visiting regularly the area, the miner smiled and said that they were good customers. He added that he had sold many rubies to them and that they were giving "good prices". I was thinking: Yes, it seems they were indeed giving very good prices because as I could see that day compared to 4 years earlier, the stones had become really much more expensive in Jegdalek. Obviously the soldiers were indeed giving very good prices. A pessimistic gem merchant would probably think that they were spoiling the market, but well, the author was not a gem merchant and, at the end of the day, that 2010 expedition to Jegdalek had been very positive and successful.


"Ruby specimen from Jegdalek on its marble matrix"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Returning to Kabul in the evening, driving through the dry hills separating Jegdalek from Sarobi, the author was thinking about the green Jegdalek valley with its peaceful orchards, its delicious apricots and mulberries, its rocky hills covered with ruby mining trenches, its new constructions surrounding the ruins of the old village, its gem people and its nice rubies:

The whole place was looking like an oasis of prosperity as people would like to see more often in Afghanistan. But obviously the valley was also surrounded by dangerous passes full of minefields, by insurgents and/or drug lords. Indeed for the people of Jegdalek the situation after 2001 has changed for much better compared to what they lived since the invasion of Afghanistan by the Red Army in 1978. They were living in peace and had a good business mining and trading rubies. But for Jegdalek as for the rest of Afghanistan, the future remains clearly very uncertain.

For the readers interested to get more information about Jegdalek from another point of view, the author recommend the readings of two interesting articles by Adnan R. Khan, a Canadian journalist covering the war in Afghanistan and who obviously visited also Jegdalek and reported about his visits in two interesting articles:

- The long walk of the Kuchis (2006)

- Lessons from an Afghan Oasis (2010)


"A fine ruby specimen from the Taghar mining trenches, Jegdalek, Afghanistan"
(The miner who took us to his mine at Taghar presents to the author a fine ruby specimen on its marble matrix he got from the mine we previously visited. If the stone is not gem quality, such specimen is not without value and interest for collectors. Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Update after the GIA Field Expedition FE25 to Afghanistan (May - June 2011):

In May 2011 at the time of that new expedition, the author tried of course again to visit Jegdalek, but while he was gathering news about the area, he was told by one of his local contacts that for the past few days there had been some fighting between the Afghan police and some insurgents near Jegdalek. The way to the village was also reported not to be as safe as in the past as several merchants and miners had been reportedly ambushed in the rocky desert hills between Sarobi and Jegdalek. As usual the main problem about Jegdalek and with many other gem mining areas is not really at the mines: It is more to go and return safely from the mines...

And in May 2011, we decided not to try our chance.


"Rubies from Jegdalek"
(The same ruby crystal specimen reportedly from Taghar presented by the miner on the previous photos associated here with few small rough rubies and a very fine unheated faceted stone weighting more than 4 carats that was probably mined from the Khalwat trenches in the Jegdalek ruby mining area, Afghanistan.
The stone is one of the best rubies the author ever saw he believed to have been mined from Jegdalek.
Faceted Stone courtesy: Guy Clutterbuck, Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2011)

Finally the author would like to write some words about things he tought about after giving a presentation at the US Embassy in Kabul about Afghanistan and its gems. These few lines might help people working in Afghanistan with an interest for Afghan gems.

The consequence of the presence of more than 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan seems for the author to be quite positive for gem mining areas like Jegdalek as the foreigners currently in Afghanistan are providing a good local market for the Afghan gem miners. With many people (soldiers or civilians) willing to return home with some Afghan ruby or emerald as a souvenir of their time in Afghanistan has obviously a very positive effect on the gem production in Afghanistan.

The classic problem for any gem miner around the world is not really about how to sell the exceptional and naturally beautiful gems he was lucky to find but instead to find a market for the rest of his production. On that aspect the Afghan gem miners are lucky to have people, like the French soldiers the author was told about in Jegdalek, who were paying good prices for low quality gems and mineral specimens that are not good enough to interest international gem merchants: As the miners get a market for his daily production, he might continue to mine. Then once in a while, some very fine and exceptional stone might be produced. Of course the higher the number of miners the more likely such gems will be produced rapidly and regularly.

In Afghanistan like in any other gem mining area, in most cases, the most likely reason explaining why an exceptional gem is produced is that enough people are crazy enough to spend their time (and/or their money) mining for gems.

The author cannot say how many fine beautiful natural unheated rubies like the stone on the photo at the just over this paragraph are produced each year in Jegdalek, but he knows that for such a gem to be produced in an area like Jegdalek, kilos of lower quality rubies are mined and if these lesser material cannot find a market, it is likely that the motivation of the miners will drop. Miners are simple to understand: They need to eat every day and to feel that they have a good chance to get rich one of these days. If they stop hoping, they will stop mining and as a result no more fine gems will be produced.

So you might feel that the author is a little bit cynical here but in the author opinion, one the reasons explaining why Afghanistan has produced during the past 10 years some nice rubies is just an indirect consequence of the presence of the foreign troops in Afghanistan since 2001. It is in fact very simple:

When money comes, miners starts to dig... But when the buyers go away, the miner will soon stop digging.

Furthermore, for many Afghans and particularly many people from Jegdalek who left to Pakistan with their families from 1978 to 2001, Kabul and Afghanistan is seen for them as a much safer and better place to live than Pakistan: Business in Kabul looks to be good despite some security concerns and the city looks like a gigantic construction site. If things are far to be perfect in many parts of Afghanistan, Kabul in 2010 and 2011 was seen by the local gem merchants the author met as safer and even better for business than Peshawar. That was not the same in 2006. Of course they are not happy about everything as things are far to be perfect in Afghanistan. With all the foreigners in Kabul, renting a hotel room is very expensive, then there are many other problems but as one merchant told the author:

"In Pakistan gem business is easier: There have cutting centers, jewelry makers, international shipping and it is easy to export gems from there. You can do it legally. Here in Afghanistan we have the worse legal system you can imagine to export gems. But well it is our country, we prefer to live here as we stayed in Pakistan long enough. And after all, if the Afghan governement make stupid laws about exporting gems, we can still send our stones to our friends in Pakistan or Dubai to export them: Sending a parcel of stones to Peshawar cost less than 100 dollars and takes few hours, the legal process to export them from Kabul is an administrative nightmare that can last weeks and cost you more than 25% of the value you were able to negociate with the customs people... and at the end you are not even sure that this money will go to the government."

"Evening ruby trading in Kabul"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

But beyond the technical and legal problems like the fact that the miners cannot get suitable mining explosives to work, that there is no efficient legal system (no mining licenses for small scale miners, useless export system) the positive thing is that nowadays Afghanistan is again connected to the world. Kabul airport is busy, gems and people are going in and out...

As a result in places like Jegdalek the local population has the possibility to get some income from gem mining, a peaceful activity. It is already a very positive result.

Of course at the same time some corrupt officials helped by stupid laws will try to get bribes here or there in exchange of a stamp on a piece of paper. It is really annoying to face them... But well.

Of course crooks will also try to get their share of the cake trying to cheat guys like you (or me...) with synthetics, treated stones or imitations. But well study gemology, be careful and use some common sense, you might be able to survive.

In that sense it is not worse than in most of the rest of the world. Old timers like to repeat to me that it was the same at the time of the Vietnam war when they were coming for the first time in Thailand...

In fact one of these old timers (who told the author that he don't want to get quoted on that one but who might recognize himself if he read these lines), used to share with the author an interesting theory about bad people in the gem trade that the reader may find interesting to conclude this long blog.

"The positive thing with bad people in the gem trade is that these people are usually not of the worse type. I mean that in most cases they are of the crook type: They will try to cheat you or may be rob you but they will usually not try to hurt or kill you (if you are not yourself searching for troubles).

The fact is that the gem trade is just too tough to interest real bad guys with serious balls. These bad guys will go for much more profitable and dangerous activities like drug or weapon business where you need to have serious balls... "

So actually if that theory is true, the good thing about the gem trade in a country like Afghanistan is that, even if it is far to be perfect, it provides a way to make a peaceful living to many good people and to some guys that could be worse. So far the author experiences after four visits to gem mining areas in Afghanistan since 2006 seems to confirm that theory.

...and the author would add that at the end, somewhere one day, thanks to that, somebody will have a some nice gems to buy and to give to his love one.

All the best,


Special thanks:

First the author would like to thanks his friends from Afghanistan and Peshawar to have helped him to travel in Afghanistan safely, to have helped him to visit their wonderful country and to have spend so much time speaking with him about their gems, their country and their culture. It was really a pleasure each time to enjoy their support. The author does hope that this blog will please them providing some exposure to some gems, a mining area and a beautiful country that are really something special for the author.

He would like also to thanks all the miners and merchants he met during his visits, as they provided him not only interesting samples, but also some very valuable information and most of all some beautiful memories...

He would like also to thanks his friends and particularly Richard W. Hughes, Guy Clutterbuck, Jean Claude Michelou and Gary Bowersox for their much appreciated support and advices regarding these expeditions.

Finally he would like to thanks his boss Ken Scarratt and his colleagues at the GIA and more particularly at the GIA Laboratory Bangkok for all the support provided.

June 29th, 2010 | Blog Keywords:sapphire , Pakistan , Batakundi , Kaghan Travel |
Blog Title: GIA_FE17_Pakistan

GIA FE17 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 17): June 08th, 2010 - Julyl 15th, 2010:


Introduction to the FE17 June 2010 Field Expedition, First part: Pakistan: The GIA Laboratory Bangkok FE17 June 2010 field expedition to Pakistan was planned with the support of Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Abbas from the Kashmir Gems CPVT Ltd, Pakistan.

The expedition to Pakistan main objective was to visit the Batakundi pink, purple and blue sapphire deposit, a deposit producing stones recently studied at GIA (see following box) that was nevertheless quite mysterious as its exact location was unknown. On that new expedition to Pakistan the author was planning to meet the owner of the mining operation Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Abbas, travel to the mining site to confirm its location, witness the mining and collect some samples on site for the GIA reference collection.

"Sapphires reportedly from the Batakundi / Basil area" by V. Pardieu, Dr. K. Thirangoon, P. Lomthong, S. Saeseaw, J. Thanachakapad and G. Du Toit for the GIA Laboratory Bangkok
"(April 30, 2009) A preliminary examination and comparison with rubies and pink sapphires from other deposits in Central Asia."

Important Note: The present On-Going research study" was published BEFORE the visit to that deposit, a short update about Batakundi sapphiores was published in "Gems and Gemology" (Winter 2010 issue) providing the exact loaction of the deposit.

That pdf will be updated in the future when the work on these unusual stones will be completed.

The case of that deposit is interesting as it is a good example of the difficulties for gemological laboratories providing services regarding the origin determination of gemstones to build and keep updated a reliable reference database. Gemstones like rubies, sapphires and emeralds are often mined from very remote areas, in countries facing sometimes many difficulties and furthermore in many cases the people mining or trading these gems can decide to keep a low profile in order to avoid problems. Commonly gems from unknown deposits are submitted to gemological laboratories before the people working in these laboratories to have heard about that deposit. One of the big challenges for gemological laboratories providing origin determination services for colored stones like the GIA is to get informed as soon as possible about new deposits and to get rapidly some reliable samples, representative of the production from that new deposit. In some cases, when a major deposit is discovered as it was the case in Montepuez (Mozambique) during spring 2009, things can go rapidly, but in the case of a small deposit worked only by a small group of miners, then it can take years before the deposit to be known. But these stones can be a real challenge when they arrive on the desk of a lab gemologist that has to give his opinion about its origin of the stone particularly if that lab as no samples from that deposit in its reference collection.

The difficulties about the Batakundi deposit are typical of the problems related to small exotic deposits with a limited production.  As the gemological laboratories are not suddenly flood by a new type of material, research on such deposit is usually not a priority.  In that specific case there was some confusion regarding its exact location and even 10 years after its discovery, very few was known about it and it was very difficult to verify such information.

The author started to get interested about rubies and sapphires from Batakundi while preparing in spring 2006 his first expedition to Pakistan. As usual before any field expedition the author started by some bibliographic research about Pakistan ruby and sapphire deposits.

Besides the well-known Hunza and Nangimali deposits he found several references to a new deposit:

First a very beautiful and quite up to date publication about Pakistan and its gem deposits is the excellent “Pakistan, Minerals, Mountains & Majesty” (2004), a publication by Lapis International that give a great idea about the stunning beauty of gemstones and minerals from Pakistan.

In page 86 the author found a reference about a corundum deposit producing ruby and pink sapphires reportedly located at “Batti Kunda near the border with Diamar in the Muzaffarabad district of Azad Kashmir.”

Then another very useful information source about new gem deposits that the author consult before each field expedition are the “Gem News International” pages in Gems & Gemology magazine, a publication of the GIA (Gemological Institute of America).

In the Winter 2004 edition the author found two short articles of interest: One about "Pink sapphires from Batakundi, Pakistan” and another about “purple sapphires from an unknown source in Northern Pakistan”.

The author found a third reference in an interesting geological article “Ar–Ar and U–Pb ages of marble-hosted ruby deposits from central and southeast Asia” (2006) a pdf in English by V. Garnier, H. Maluski, G. Giuliani, D. Ohnenstetter, and D. Schwarz that had a French version: “Les Gisements de rubis associes aux marbres de l’Asie centrale et du Sud Est” published in “Le Regne Mineral” (2006) and signed this time by Virginie Garnier, Gaston Giuliani, Daniel Ohnenstetter, Dietmar Schwarz and Allah B. Kausar.  In that case there was a reference in the text about “Batakundi and Nangimali in Azad Kashmir” and a geological map with ruby deposits located very close by at Batakundi and Nangimali in Azad Kashmir.

So "Batti Kunda" in one publication, "Batakundi" in the two others. "North West Frontier Province" in one and "Azad Kashmir" in the two other publications. This can appear a little bit confusing but the author had the feeling that these references were probably about the same place but, and it is very common when local people report about a place to foreigners who were not able visit actually the mining area, the spelling of the name new deposit and even the location given for the deposit can be slightly different from one source to another.

With three independent publications disclosing the existence of that deposit there was obviously something of interest. Visiting the Namak Mandi gemstone market in Peshawar, Pakistan in June 2006, the author saw several interesting pink and purple sapphires and small dark red rubies that were presented as from Kashmir. Later when the author was asking to see some samples from Batakundi or Batti Kunda, the people around him told him that these were the unusual sapphire and nice small rubies he saw before reportedly coming from Kashmir… Hum, couldn’t they inform the author about such detail before? Not really...


"Kaghan Valley"
(A View over the Kaghan Valley near Shogran village
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

In Central Asian gemstone markets like Peshawar’s Namak Mandi market or Kabul’s Chicken Street, trying to get precise information about the origin of some gems is commonly difficult. For many obvious reasons related to competition most dealers there are reluctant to disclose too much information about the origin of their gems. In fact it is already a very good thing to be provided some incomplete but correct information as in many cases gem merchants don’t understand why people like the author ask so many questions about the origin of their stones. If things are not handled carefully they might refuse to speak or even lie about the origin of their stones in an attempt to protect their business or just because they don’t like to be asked so many questions. Sometimes they just have no idea where their stones are truly coming from: Often the gems are brought to these dealers by local people who might have personal reasons to hide the origin of this or that stone. Or in many cases the dealer just doesn’t care where the stone is from, he just care to buy it at a price he will be able to sell it for profit and will not enquiry about the stone origin. In fact to the best most dealers in gem markets like Peshawar provide only a vague information about the origin of their gems according to their experience and their memories: Things like Kashmir, Badakhshan, Tajikistan, Hunza, Skardu, Jagdalek…


"Sunrise over the upper Kaghan Valley"
(Near Batakundi village we can find during summer time many mud houses surrounded by terraces where people are growing potatoes and peas.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

In 2006, while visiting the Namak Mandi gem market in Peshawar, the rubies reportedly from Batakundi were small, had a very nice and rich red color, and had a classic aspect as obviously they were mined from a marble type deposit. The sapphires on the other hand were very unusual as they were presenting features that the author had never seen in any other sapphires: The color was purplish on the overall but with the loupe the inclusion scene was a combination of extremely sharp red and colorless color zoning, associated with a an overall milky aspect and some black metallic like inclusions. Very unusual… The author tried to get some samples but as it commonly happen the dealer wanted only to sell the whole parcel and not for the price of a good lunch…


"Gujars on their way to grazing areas with their goats"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Nevertheless the author got also in Peshawar the information that one British gem merchant: Guy Clutterbuck, famous to be one of the few foreigners who had ever visited the Lapis Lazuli mines in Sae-E Sang (Afghanistan), was able to visit the Batakundi ruby deposit. The author managed to contact him after his return from Pakistan and got the confirmation that the Batakundi ruby deposit was indeed producing small dark red rubies of very fine quality from a marble type deposit located nearly at 5,000m (16,500 feet) he added that he heard that some pink purple sapphire were also produced in the area but he was not sure of the exact location as he only visited the Batakundi ruby mining area in 2004.


"On the road to Batakundi..."
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Now the question for the gemologist willing to work seriously on origin determination of gemstones is to be sure that these stones are indeed coming from a place called Batakundi located in Kashmir… The best solution is of course to be able to travel to the mines, and see what is produced there. But in countries like Pakistan and particularly in the case of Kashmir, a disputed territory between India, Pakistan and China, traveling to the region near the 1972 Cease Fire line in Pakistan is challenging.

The first problem is to find a local guide: Somebody trustable, knowing the location of the mine and willing to take you there. The author spoke to the Pathan gem merchant who travelled with Guy Clutterbuck there, but he was not really willing to return there as he said that visit to Batakundi was the hardest walk he ever had in all his life: Several times he was feeling that he was going to die and he was not willing to return there. 5,000 m altitude: It was just too hard...


"Soch, the gateway to the Sapat Valley Peridot mines"
(About one day travelling on the west of the village are located the famous Pakistan peridot mines.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

For that specific case the second problem is that Kashmir is a restricted area and as such some permits have to be obtained from the Pakistan authorities. Getting the right paper work to be able to pass the numerous military checkpoints in Azad Kashmir province may take several months as the author writes these words. Few years ago, after the terrible earthquake that hit Kashmir on October 8th 2005 and killed more than 75,000 people, the paperwork process became easier in order to enable aid and reconstruction in the remote areas affected by the earthquake.

In August 2006, thanks to the support of Dr. Gaston Giuliani a French geologist from Nancy University who did some work in relation with the Nangimali ruby deposit, the author was introduced to Dr. Kausar, a Pakistani geologist working then at the Geological Survey of Pakistan and one of the authors of one of the papers reporting the existence of Batakundi. Thanks to their support the author could get all the paperwork done and could visit the Nangimali ruby mining area located near Kel, in the Neelam Valley. On the other hand he was not able to visit Batakundi as the expedition to Nangimali turned to be very time consuming and more difficult than expected.


"Besal nomad settlement"
(Besar, also called "Basil", "Besil", "Besar" or even "Basel" some publication and maps is a nomadic settlement only occupied during summer time mainly by Afghan refugees and their sheep. Most Afghans here are members of the Pashtuns tribes.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

The problem was that during summer 2006, the region had not yet recovered from the earthquake: Numerous landslides were blocking the roads in the Neelam Valley between Muzaffarabad and Kel. It took several days for the author and his group to reach Kel: We had first to wait for the first part of the road to be open, then we had to abandon several times our vehicle, walk through the landslides and then search for another vehicle to be abandon it again at the next landslide (Pardieu, 2006). At the end we were then too short in time to try to visit the Batakundi area that was facing the same problems. Nevertheless we could collect some additional information about that deposit from the people we met at Nangimali: According to them, unlike at Nangimali, mining at Batakundi was not performed by the government but more by local people and private investors and it was mostly illegal, furthermore it was reported to have mostly stopped after the earthquake. Asking about how go to Batakundi they told us that we had to travel back to Sharda, a beautiful village we passed on our way between Muzaffarabad and Kel, and from there take the road to the north in the valley taking to the Noori pass but the road was reportedly difficult and they also advised us to have to friendly local people with us…


"On the way to the Batakundi/Besar Sapphire mines..."
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

As we were short in time we never took the road to Batakundi. Furthermore after that visit the author lost contact for a while with Dr. Kausar as he retired from his position at the Geologic Survey of Pakistan. Batakundi was not a prime concern as it was only a small deposit and the author had some other priorities few months later leaving Thailand to go to work at the Gubelin Gem Lab in Switzerland. In 2008 the author got some fresh news about Batakundi as a dealer from Peshawar told him that Batakundi was producing recently some interesting blue sapphires. But working in Switzerland, far away from Pakistan he was not then able to get some samples. So things remained as they were.


"The Batakundi Sapphire Valley"
(The sapphire mining area is located on the northern side of the narrow glacial valley, in June most of the area was still covered with snow
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Things changed during spring 2009, for few months the author was working at the GIA Laboratory in Bangkok and one day he was given for examination some unusual purple sapphires a customer had submitted to the lab. The stones were presenting the same unusual combination of inclusions he saw in Peshawar in 2006 in the stones reportedly from Batakundi: A combination of very sharp red and colorless color zoning, with a milky aspect and some black metallic like inclusions that turned to be graphite. Furthermore the author boss: Ken Scarrat had acquired few years ago some similar stone samples reportedly from Pakistan that had also such exotic internal features. Asking to the customer about the origin of his stones, we were told about “Basil”, a location very close to “Batakundi” in Pakistan. Asking him to place the deposit on a map we got a plot north of Sharda village. At this time we had good reasons to believe that the Batakundi ruby and sapphire deposit was somewhere near Sharda village in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan, but searching on the different maps of Azad Kashmir we had we could find any location called “Basil”.


"Resting at the miners camp"
(After 45mn to reach the main mining camp we the miners welcomned us with some fruits, vegetables and some tea...
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

A study on that unusual material was then done based on the stones submitted to the lab and the stones acquired in the past by Ken Scarratt. The study was published on the GIA Laboratory websites as an ongoing research study (see here and here) even if the exact location of the deposit was not confirmed.

The idea about publishing such ongoing research study was to interest people and then may be get their support and complete the work as a joint project or teamwork. It was successful as about a year after the publication of the pdf on the GIA websites, in April 2010 the author received an email from Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Abbas who explained first that he was the person who submitted the stones in 2009 at the GIA laboratory in Bangkok, but also that he is the owner of the sapphire mine. He was very happy about the ongoing research we did on his stones and was inviting us to visit his mining operation in order to complete our work.

The expedition to Pakistan was planned first for July 2010 in order to get sure that the deposit, located according to Mr. Abbas at about 4000m altitude (13,000 feet), would not be covered with snow, but due to the difficulty to get a multiple entry visa for Pakistan, the author had to change his plans and decided to visit first Pakistan in June 2010 in order to visit Batakundi get then get a visa for Afghanistan and travel there for the second part of the FE17 expedition.


"Batakundi Sapphire mine"
(Miners at the entrance of the Batakundi sapphire mine, the sapphire rich vein is here vertical.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

At the end of June the author was traveling to Pakistan where we could visit the Geological Survey of Pakistan, get some maps and have the pleasure to meet again Dr. Kausar and reconnect with him.

On June 23rd he was traveling from Islamabad to Abbotabad where he met Zulfiqar Ali Abbas and then together the following day they left to Mansehra and the Kaghan Valley in order to reach the village of Naran, a very famous Pakistani touristic spot.

Traveling on the Kaghan valley was a real pleasure as the valley is truly beautiful: It is one of the prime tourist attractions of Pakistan famous for its scenic lakes, snow-covered mountains, flowery meadows and dense forests. The valley is about 160 km long from the Babusar pass culminating at 13,690 feet (4,170 m) to the region of Muzaffarabad where the Kunhar River joins the Jheelum River descending from the Valley of Kashmir. The Kaghan and the Kashmir Valleys are only separated by the Neelum River Valley, another beautiful green valley the author visited in 2006 on his way to the Nangimali ruby deposit.


"Placing explosives at the Batakundi sapphire mine"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

During that travel Zulfiqar Ali Abbas, provided the author some additional information about the discovery of the Batakundi ruby and sapphire deposit and the work he did over the past 14 years near Basil. These information will be disclosed in the publication about the rubies and sapphires from the Kaghan Valley, the author is working on at the GIA Laboratory Bangkok.

But what the author can say here of interest about the discovery of these deposit in the Kaghan Valley is that according to him during the 1990’s several groups of geologists had some interest for the upper Kaghan valley and visited the area (find several interesting geological studies about the upper Kaghan Valley at the following links: Here, here, here. Note: there are many others...). Local people started then to get some interest about the stones found there. He explained then that during summer 1996 one of the shepherds living during summer time in the valley West of Basil summer nomadic settlement bring to him some purple stones he found there. The stones got his interest and turned to be sapphires.

Few years after during summer 2001 as knowledge of corundum was becoming better among the local population, a second deposit producing rubies was discovered about 20 km from the site of the first discovery in the valley east of Batakundi village. Unlike at Basil, where large pink to purple stones can be found, most of the production at the Batakundi ruby deposit was consisting of small dark red stones. Furthermore the deposit is also reportedly much higher and more difficult to access. Finally he said after few years of mining, the work at the ruby mines stopped as working there was so hard due to the altitude. Then the terrible earthquake hit Kashmir and the Kaghan valley on October 8th 2005 and to his knowledge at the time of our visit of the Kaghan valley nobody was working there anymore.


"Collecting samples after blasting at the Batakundi sapphire mines"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

On June 25th 2010, the author was finally able to visit one of the three mining sites of the Batakundi pink-purple-blue sapphire deposit. Despite the fact that Zulfiqar Ali Abbas and his miners built a dirt road to the mines, traveling to the mining site was not itself very easy as the area was still partially covered with snow and the track was cut by numerous avalanches. Actually we had to stop our car about two kilometers from the first mining site and walk about 45mn to access it.  The combination of the altitude (3800m for the lowest mining site), the temperature and the weather (it was cold, windy and raining from time to time) were not making things easy for people like the author living near sea level in Bangkok particularly as he had not yet really the time to adapt to the altitude.


"Sapphires on matrix from Batakundi"
(Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

The miners had just started again working on the lowest mining site a week before the author visit. After spending about 4 hours at the mines, witness a mining blast and study the stones produced after that blast, the author could see that this mining site was indeed producing pink purple sapphires covered with graphite similar to those he saw in the GIA lab in 2009 and in Peshawar in 2006, he could then collect some samples on site for the GIA reference collection and confirm the exact location of the Batakundi purple sapphire deposit at (35°02'59"N 73°53'18"E) near the Besal nomadic settlement, few kilometers after the Batakundi village, on the way to the Babusar Pass in the upper Kaghan Valley of the Mansehra District in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.


"Detail on a Batakundi sapphire in matrix"
(Typically in Batakundi sapphires are found in graphite rich rocks
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Due to that snow covering the area and the difficult weather, the author was nevertheless not able to visit the 2 other mining sites located upper in the mountain.

A new expedition was first scheduled early September 2010, after the author expedition to Madagascar, but due to the terrible floods that hit Pakistan during summer 2010, killing more than 2000 people and devastated the Indus Basin, the September expedition was cancelled. Finally a brief article was finally published after that June 2010 visit in the GNI (Gem News International) section of GIA’s Gems & Gemology magazine Winter 2010:

Finally it was interesting to clarify that as if geologically the northern Kaghan valley is very similar to what is found around Nangimali in the Neelum Valley and in many parts of Kashmir, on the other hand on the geopolitical (geographic and historical) point of view things are quite different:

Unlike the Neelum Valley that was from 1846 to 1947 ruled by the Maharajas of Kashmir, the Kaghan valley itself was placed under the rule of the Maharaja of Kashmir only for about a year between 1846 and 1847. In fact after the first Sikh war, the region of Kashmir and Hazara were sold to Raja Gulab Singh, the former Raja of Jammu but the resistance of the Hazara region to the rule of their new ruler ended by the agreement between the Maharaja of Kashmir and the British to exchange Hazara for Jammu, enabling the creation of the "Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu" in 1847. As a result unlike the valley of the Neelum River, the Valley of Kashmir and the province of Jammu that were ruled by a Maharaja, the Hazara province (and thus the Kaghan Valley) was directly administrated by the British from 1847 to the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947.

During that period the British built and completed in 1892 the road along the valley and over the Babusar pass that became until the completion of the Karakoram highway in the 1980’s the only road linking the south of Pakistan to Gilgit, the Northern territories and Western China.


"Batakundi sapphires"
(Details on some rough and cut unheated Batakundi sapphires.
Photo: Vincent Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

In 1947, the Kaghan Valley became part of Pakistan. It is not part of the Kashmir disputed territories between India and Pakistan as it was not part of the "Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu". So even if the valley was placed during a year under the rule of the Maharaja of Kashmir and if geologically the rubies and sapphires found near Batakundi share many things in common with their cousins of Nangimali in Azad Kashmir and also the stones from the India controlled Kashmir and Jammu province, to be honest, it seems difficult to claim that these stones are coming from Kashmir.

Instead it seems to the author that the Kaghan Valley, already famous for its beauty, should be promoted and one day recognized also for the beauty of its gems: The rubies and sapphires from Batakundi but also the famous peridots from the Sapat area located in the Kaghan Valley. 

But well in gem markets like Namak Mandi in Peshawar probably sapphires are selling much better when presented as from "Kashmir" than from "Kaghan" due to the unique romance around the word “Kashmir” and particularly the romance associated with the blue sapphires mined near the village of Sumcham in the Indian controlled Province of Jammu and Kashmir.  But as some people told the author in Islamabad:

"Well the so called “Kashmir sapphire” deposit is itself not located in the Valley of Kashmir and in fact Batakundi and Nangimali are closer to the Valley of Kashmir than Sumcham…"

Well, that’s true...

But on the other hand even if it is difficult to quantify such things, it is probably not that much the valley of Kashmir that made these sapphires famous, it is more the beauty of the best stones mined from Sumcham that made Kashmir famous in the gemological community.


"Zulfikar Ali Abbas and the author near the Batakundi sapphire mines in the Kaghan Valley"
(Photo: Javed Shah, 2010)

For those willing to get some information about the gemological characteristics of the sapphires from Batakundi, please consult the study published by the GIA on their websites (see here and here for the News from the Research pages at GIA):

Sapphires reportedly from the Batakundi / Basil area by V. Pardieu, Dr. K. Thirangoon, P. Lomthong, S. Saeseaw, J. Thanachakapad and G. Du Toit :
"(April 30, 2009) A preliminary examination and comparison with rubies and pink sapphires from other deposits in Central Asia."


Important Note: The present study will be updated (probably in winter 2011) when the ongoing research on these unusual sapphires will be completed...

At the time of the publication of the previous study, the exact location of the deposit was still unknown as the author had not yet visited the mining site. Nevertheless the confirmation of the location of the deposit in the Kaghan Valley was published in the update about ruby and sapphire mining in Pakistan and Afghanistan that was published at the end of 2010 in GNI (Gem News International) Winter 2010 of Gems & Gemology.

Anyway the author hopes that this timeline of his research on that exotic deposit located in Pakistan was interesting to read. It is a typical example of the challenge faced by gemologists working in gemological laboratories interested in the origin determination of gemstones today to confirm the location of new gem deposits.

As you can see this is still an on-going research topic as the author was only able to visit one of the three mining sites there, the two others producing a different type of sapphires were not yet visited and studied. Furthermore the Batakundi ruby mining area located according to gem merchant Guy Clutterbuck very high in the mountains East of the Batakundi village is still very mysterious...

But hopefully within the next few months the GIA should be able to publish a more complete study on rubies and sapphire from the Kaghan Valley.

Finally the author would like to thanks all the people who helped him on that issue since 2006 and particularly Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Abbas, the miners and people he met in the Kaghan Valley and particularly Javed Shah, Mr. Guy Clutterbuck and his friends from Peshawar and of course all his colleagues at the GIA Laboratory Bangkok.

All the best,


June 13th, 2010 | Blog Keywords:Vietnam , Luc Yen , ruby , spinel , Field Report GIA Travel |
Blog Title: GIA_FE16_Luc_Yen

GIA FE16 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 16): April 08th, 2010 - April 15th, 2010:


Introduction to the Vietnam Luc Yen 2010 expedition: The GIA Laboratory Bangkok Vietnam 2010 field expedition was planned with the support of Dr. Pham Van Long from the Vietnam National Gem and Gold Corporation. After visiting pearl farms in Ha Long and Bai Tu Long Bay with my colleague from GIA Lab Bangkok Nick Sturman and Kham Vannaxay, the author plan was to continue to the mountainous district of Luc Yen located in the province of Yen Bai, in the North West of Hanoi, about five hours driving on the way to the Chinese border.

The expedition had been prepared by the author and a young French gemologist who studied at GIA Thailand in 2009: Philippe Ressigeac. Philippe, following the advices of the author, left to Vietnam in January 2010. There he took few weeks to learn some Vietnamese in Hanoi and then travelled to the Luc Yen gem mining area. In Yen The, the capital of the Luc Yen district, thanks to his skills speaking a bit of Vietnamese he was able within few days to become friend with Mr. Shuan a local gem broker who had an excellent knowledge of the whole mining areas but who, as most people in Yen The, was not able to speak English or French. Few weeks after Philippe arrival in Vietnam, Lou Pierre Bryl, another young gemologist (from Canada) who used to travel a lot with the author joined Philippe. Rapidly the region and particularly its blue spinels mining areas had no more secrets for them.


Left to Right : Mr. Shuan, Lou Pierre Bryl, Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, Tracy Lindwall, Herve Rezo, Pierre hemon and Philippe Ressigeac at the Koan Thong (Bai Thai) memorial stone explaining that here was found the first Vietnamese ruby in 1988.  Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

"Meeting VP team at the ruby discovery memoroial stone"
(Left to Right : Mr. Shuan, Lou Pierre Bryl, Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, Tracy Lindwall, Herve Rezo, Pierre hemon and Philippe Ressigeac at the Koan Thong (Bai Thai) memorial stone explaining that here was found the first Vietnamese ruby in 1988.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

For that new expedition to Vietnam, besides Philippe, Lou Pierre and Mr. Shuan the author selected some additional very motivated young gemologists:

- First two intrepid young women who just finished their gemological studies at GIA Thailand: Tracy Lindwall (USA) and Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, (Germany). They had already some experience about gem mines visiting ruby and sapphire deposits in Thailand and Cambodia with the author and besides the motivation to discover Vietnam and its gems they wanted to show to the author that they could be fit for longer summer time expeditions to African gem deposits.
- and also two young French geologists/gemologists: Herve Rezo and Pierre Hemon, studying the DUG (Diplome Universitaire de Gemmologie) in Nantes University with Prof. Emmanuel Fritsch and Dr. Benjamin Rondeau and willing to get some field experience in relation with gemstones and gem mining.

With these six people, the author had a very motivated team. Each member of the group was assigned responsibilities over a specific task. One had to take care about accounting, others had to collect all the GPS data, take photos or notes about the geology while another one would focus on the stones. The objectives for that new expedition were to complete the work done previously by the author on rubies and spinels from North Vietnam: After visiting the area two times in 2009, the author had gathered a lot of information about places that he had not yet the opportunity to visit. Besides training some new young gemologist for possible longer expeditions in Africa returning to Vietnam was a great opportunity to complete some unfinished business, meaning going to visit these mining location he heard about, meeting miners there and collecting data and samples in order to get a better idea about Vietnamese gems. Our main objectives were of course rubies and blue spinels.


After that expedition a short update about ruby and spinel mining in North Vietnam was published in the Gem News International section of "Gems & Gemology" summer 2010 issue (Vol. 46, No. 2)

Furthermore Jean Baptiste Senoble, another young gemologist who travelled with the author in Vietnam in 2009, was then able to complete an article for the ICA InColor magazine using the additional information about blue spinels mining siteswe provided him. "Beauty and Rarity - A Quest for Vietnamese Blue spinels" by Jean Baptiste Senoble was published in the summer 2010 issue of ICA's InColor Magazine.

Now I would like to share with you some interesting parts from that adventure using few photographs we took during the expedition:

Part 1: Yen The Morning Gem Market: Each morning from 7am to about 9am most of Yen The gem merchants go to a small square near Yen The Lake to meet people, friends and get the news. Many ladies with beautiful hats will gather and present few stones on small wooden tables while men will come around to check them and may be buy some. But the market is not limited of course to that small square. People from all the areas: miners, brokers, merchants will come to meet each other. Modernity with its mobile phones and motorbikes has of course changed things but nevertheless people still like to gather there each morning: Usually after few minutes looking around and discussing a bit here or there, we were moving to a small open air coffee and tea shop located just near the lake about 100 meters from the main market. Usually we were not alone, the next tables were commonly used by miners and traders discussing business or other matters... Gem markets as this one are a real pleasure for the author as if it is not the place where obviously you will see top quality gems, usually you will enjoy meeting there many gem people:




"Hats and ladies" (At Yen The morning market, while Herve Rezo is looking at small ruby specimen,Vietnamese ladies all covered with lovely hats discuss about life and gems. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Hats and ladies"
(At Yen The morning market, while Herve Rezo is looking at small ruby specimen,Vietnamese ladies all covered with lovely hats discuss about life and gems.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"Gem Paintings"  (Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Training the next generation"
(A young Yen The girl is getting some gem trading experience at the Yen The morning gem market with her mother. She has already the right hat.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"The Fellowship of the Rings"  (At the Yen The gem market several most of Vietnamese gem merchants are wearing ring, spinel rings to be more exact. Photo: Philippe Ressigeac, 2010)

"The Fellowship of the Rings"
(At the Yen The gem market several most of Vietnamese gem merchants are wearing ring, spinel rings to be more exact.

Photo: Philippe Ressigeac, 2010)

"Vietnamese Blue Spinel" (Mr. Hoan, a Yen The spinel merchant is proudly presenting us an exceptional rough Vietnamese blue spinel. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Vietnamese Blue Spinel"
(Mr. Hoan, a Yen The spinel merchant is proudly presenting us an exceptional rough Vietnamese blue spinel.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)



"Gem trading in Yen The"
(At Yen The morning market, a Vietnamese trader is displaying rubies, blue sapphires and spinels.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)



"Blue spinels rough"
(Rough Blue spinels at the gem market.
Photo: V. Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

But Yen The is not just about morning gem markets. During after visiting the market most dealers will return to their house and work. The area around the lake is of particular interest as many gem shops and small family type factories are located there.. Typically in Yen The, people are living and working at home: the lower part of the house usually open to the street and is dedicated to gem business while the family lives in the back or the upper part of the house. People can be seen working on gem painting or cutting and polishing stones from dusk to several hours after down... One of the interesting activities that has developped continuously since the author first visit in Yen The are "gem Paintings". During our visit in 2010 we could see more than ten houses-factories working until late. The production of these gem painting will then get exported all over Vietnam mainly to supply the local market. In Vietnam as houses are often designed and decorated following geomancy rules (a local version of the Chinese Feng Hsui) there is a strong demand for stone carvings and gem paintings.

"Gem Paintings"  (Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Gem Paintings"
(Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Gem Paintings"  (Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Gem Paintings"
(Two young Vietnamese women working on a gem painting project in Yen The, Vietnam.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Gem Paintings"  (Using some colorfull gem powders and gems too small to be used in jewelry, the people of Yen The have developped a small industry of gem paintings where gems are glued and assembled to become "paintings". That activity is very useful for the gem industry as it create a market for all these small stones and thus it is supporting small scale miners. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Details of a religious gem painting"
(Details on a finished fine gem painting seen in Yen The. Note the rubies used for the clothes of Mary.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"Gem Shop in Yen The"
(Gem shops in Yen Theare often open from early in the morning to very late in the evening: As long as somebody in the family is awake, business is ongoing.
Photo: V. Pardieu, GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Part 2: Hunting rubies and blue spinel in Luc Yen jungle covered mountains: The main difference between hunting and hunting for gems is that going to a gem mine is usually easier as if there is a gem mine there is probably a path to visit it as miners will regularly travel from the mine to their village. Nevertheless it does not means that all gem mines will be 5 minutes walking from a given village. Sometimes and this is particularly true for the most remote mining sites in the Luc Yen district of North Vietnam, you will need to get ready for several hours walking on tricky jungle covered mountains.

During the 2010 GIA Laboratory Bangkok field expedition our focus was for five days to try to visit some of the most remote gem mining locations we heard about. Places that the author had not visited yet during his two previous expeditions in 2009 where he focused one the main mining locations at that period. We also tried to find out if there were some other mining areas still unknown to us. The difficulty for people willing to collect reference specimens in order to build a good reference collection is that one should not only focus on where many people are mining today but also on the places where many stones were produced in the past: Sometimes there is still a little bit of gem mining there by few small scale miners and thus going there might worth a visit as some interesting samples can still be collected from them. Small less known or completely unknown sites have also their interest as possibly these areas might produce many gems in the future. Thus each mining site, whether its current activity is high or low, might be interesting to visit in order to get as many interesting samples as possible, from as many different places as possible in a given mining area. Working that way enable to get a better idea about the whole region, the variety of the gem it produces, its challenges and its potential. In the Luc Yen district there is indeed a lot of challenges and potential as the more we were visiting these mountainous area the more we understood that the whole region is rich in gems. In fact the main question for the local miners is not really to find a place where there are gems but to find out if it is profitable to mine here or there. In the Luc Yen district about 20 years after the discovery of rubies in the region, most of the easier gem mining areas (meaning the secondary deposits located under the paddy fields near the Yen The town) have been mined out. In 2010 we did not saw any mechanized mining in the Luc Yen district. The most modern gem mining operations were consisting typically of a team of about 10 miners working with a small pump and a locally made jig. In fact as the author writes these lines, gem mining is present in many remote areas where it was not (or will not be) easy to bring mining machinery. The production is low as fine large gems are very rare, but in Yen The, besides the market for fine gems there is with the local gem painting industry a market for small and low quality stones. To the author experience this is one of the things that explains why there are hundreds of small scale gem miners in the Luc Yen district: Not only the fine exceptional gems can get a market but also all the rest of the production, from tiny gems to low quality large stones. Thanks to that miners will get some income even if they dont find some fine gems. Not much but enough to keep them mining. Thanks to that once in a while a good gem is produced here or there... In many other gem mining areas the author visited the main problem is that there is no market for very small or low quality stones, thus people get hopeless with their production that cannot find any market. As a result soon they will stop mining and go to another business. In the Luc Yen district as we visited the region during spring 2010, local people perform most of the gem mining. When they are not busy with other activities like farming or social events, they have the choice between staying at home doing nothing, going to mine gems, going to cut wood in the forest or to go poaching. Many people in Luc Yen seems to prefer gem mining as it provides them some additional income and mining for gems they hope to get lucky and feel that they have a chance to get find a good stone that will change their life for the best. They know that farming rice they will never get rich, On the other side if gem mining is hard job, they feel that they also have a chance to change their life.

Hope and hard work are the two realities of gem mining. If hope can nevertheless be a cruel mistress or a short-cut to deception, nevertheless it give them a reason to live, to wake up in the morning and do something with their time that will be useful for them and their families... And funnily this gem fever is commonly very contagious for young gemologists as arriving in Yen The everybody was ready to go for long days walking in the misty mountains, on dangerous slippery tracks.

The first day of our expedition the weather was misty and we started walking under a gentle rain. It was not too hot, but the expedition was challenging as the way to the mines was then very muddy and the numerous marble pinnacles were very slippery. We had to be very careful particularly while passing over the numerous deep crevasses using some slippery (and scary) wood "bridges". After a little bit more than two hours walking we reached the Bai Gau blue and pink spinel mining area to find out that, due to the rain, most of the miners were not working that day but instead were resting eating red rice and drinking rice alcohol. The following days the weather was sunnier and thus walking was safer in these mountains as the muddy jungle paths and the rocks were becoming less slippery. That was good as day after day if the spirit of the author's team was still very high, our bodies were starting to feel tired.



"Bikers in Luc Yen" (On the way to the ruby and spinel mines, VP team and is discovering on motorbikes the beautiful landscapes of the Luc yen district. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Bikers in Luc Yen"
(On the way to the ruby and spinel mines, VP team and is discovering on motorbikes the beautiful landscapes of the Luc yen district. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"There!" (Mr. Shuan is indicating the muddy way to the Ba Ling Mot valley while Philippe Ressigeac looks very excited to go for a new walk in the Vietnamese jungle. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

(Mr. Shuan is indicating the muddy way to the Ba Ling Mot valley while Philippe Ressigeac looks very excited to go for a new walk in the Vietnamese jungle. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


"Kin Cang scenery" (A view over a small gem mine in the paddy fields of Kin Cang Valley near An Phu village. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Tricky mountains"
(On the way to the Vat Sinh ruby mines, Tracy Lindwall is negociating some crevasses in the jungle covered karstic mountains following Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo and Herve Rezo opening the way.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Jungle Wood Bridge" (On the way to the Bai Gau blue spinel mines, Jazmin Amina Weissgarber Crespo is carefully crossing a slippery wooden bridge while Tracy Lindwall is getting ready to follow her... Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Jungle Wood Bridge"
(On the way to the Bai Gau blue spinel mines, Jazmin Amina Weissgarber Crespo is carefully crossing a slippery wooden bridge while Tracy Lindwall is getting ready to follow her..
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Jungle Wood Bridge" (On the way to the Bai Gau blue spinel mines, Jazmin Amina Weissgarber Crespo is carefully crossing a slippery wooden bridge while Tracy Lindwall is getting ready to follow her... Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Jungle Ruby Mine"
(A ruby mine at Vat Sinh, a remote jungle mining site in the mountains North West of An Phu villag, there six miners were collecting gem rich ground accumulated in natural crevasses that became over several millions years natural traps for rubies.. Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Rubies from Khoan Thong" (A Vietnamese miner present us some small fine rubi he found mining in Khoan Thong valley neat Yen The". Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Rubies from Khoan Thong"
(A Vietnamese miner present us some small fine rubies he found mining in Khoan Thong valley neat Yen The".
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"Dragon fruit and Dragon Gems?" (Rubies from Vat Sinh and a juicy dragon fruit. The color of the milky gems was very similar to the color of the fruit skin...Yummy! Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"The Meaning of Happiness"
(After several hours walking in the mountains, getting some fine samples at the mine and enjoying a juicy fruit is just wonderful... Here are some rubies from Vat Sinh and a dragon fruit. Note that the color of the milky gems was very similar to the color of the fruit skin...Yummy! Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

"On the road again?" (VP team on the way to Ba Ling Mot... Days were long walking in the jungle covered mountains of the Luc Yen district, but what a pleasure to visit gem mines and enjoy nature. Photo: Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, 2010)

"On the road again?"
(VP team on the way to Ba Ling Mot... Days were long walking in the jungle covered mountains of the Luc Yen district, but what a pleasure to visit gem mines and enjoy nature. Photo: Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, 2010)

Each day reaching the gem mining site after several hours of hard walk, meeting the miners, looking at their production and sharing some of their time was a wonderful experience for the young gemologists in the author team... Most of them surprised themselves in these mountains: Each evening we were all very tired but our memories were full of beautiful natural landscapes, gems and encounters with gem people. For the author who used to be a hunter in countryside France, there was no surprise: It was just the feeling and the taste of the real thing. For the young passionate gemologists like those I took with me on that expedition to Vietnam, as it was the case for the author when he decided to come in Burma and Thailand to study gemology, there is just nothing like going to the mines...


Left to Right : Mr. Shuan, Lou Pierre Bryl, Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, Tracy Lindwall, Herve Rezo, Pierre hemon and Philippe Ressigeac at the Koan Thong (Bai Thai) memorial stone explaining that here was found the first Vietnamese ruby in 1988.  Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

"Tracy Shot"
(Left to Right : Tracy Lindwall, Vincent Pardieu, Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, Pierre Hemon and Philippe Ressigeac happy to have returned safely from the Vat Sinh ruby mining site, to have been able to spend there some nice time with the miners and finally to have been able to collect fine samples for the GIA gemstone reference collection.
Photo: Tracy Lindwall)

The author would like to thanks all his travel companions for their courage and their enthusiasm. It had been a real pleasure to travel and work with them in Vietnam. Thanks to their support we have been able to add many interesting specimens to the GIA Reference Collection. We would like also to thanks all the people (miners, gem merchants, farmers...) we met in the Luc Yen district for their welcome. It has been a real pleasure to share with them some instants in the mountains of the Luc Yen district. In Vietnam if we found few nice gems we truly met many gemmy people!


The author would like now to invite you to visit the Vietnam 2010 Luc Yen Expedition photo gallery, you will be able to enjoy the beauty of one of the most beautiful gem mining area in South East Asia.. (AVAILABLE VERY SOON...)


All the best,

June 6th, 2010 | Blog Keywords:pearl , melo , Vietnam , Ha Long Bay , pearl farm Travel |
Blog Title: FE16 Pearls of Vietnam 2010:

GIA FE16 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 16): April 08th, 2010 - April 15th, 2010:


Introduction to the Vietnam Pearls 2010 expedition: The GIA Laboratory Bangkok Vietnam 2010 field expedition was planned with the support of Dr. Pham Van Long from the Vietnam National Gem and Gold Corporation. It was scheduled during the Songkran holidays (Thai New Year) 2010, in order to enable Nick Sturman (Supervisor, Pearl Identification at GIA Laboratory Bangkok) and Kham Vannaxay (an expert on pearl farming and gems from South East Asia working at Sofragem in Bangkok) to join the author for the first part of the Vietnam expedition dedicated to pearls with the visit of Cat Ba island, and two pearl farms one in Ha Long Bay, the other in Bai Tu Long Bay.

To complete the team the author had the pleasure to travel this year with five young gemologists: First two intrepid young women who just finished their gemological studies at GIA Thailand: Tracy Lindwall (USA) and Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo, (Germany) then three young French gemologists: Philippe Ressigeac who got his G.G. from GIA Thailand in 2009 and Herve Rezo and Pierre Hemon, studying the DUG (Diplome Universitaire de Gemmologie) in Nantes University with Prof. Emmanuel Fritsch and Dr. Benjamin Rondeau.


(GIA Lab Bangkok Supervisor for Pearl Identification, Nick Sturman, with Tracy Lindwall (G.G.) and Jazmin Amira Weissgärber Crespo (G.G.) with melo snails on a Vietnamese fisherman boat in Cat Ba Port.)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

The first part of the expedition was focus on the coast and its pearls.

Part 1: Dragon Pearls: The Quest for Melo Pearls: Last year while visiting Vietnam with gemologists Jean Baptiste Senoble (A.G.) and Lou Pierre Bryl (F.G.A.) we went on a quest for melo pearls from the cozy house of an antic dealer in Hanoi to Cat Ba Island harbor and sea food restaurants... This year, while visiting Vietnam again, the author could not resist taking his fellow field gemologists again on a melo pearl quest.

For more details about Melo pearls, the author would like to invite you to read the Melo field expedition report published after last year expedition by the GIA Laboratory Bangkok: Concise Field Report Vol. 2, Part 1: Melos and their Pearls in Vietnam (May - Jun. 2009) by V. Pardieu

The Pearl and the Dragon Finally the author recommend to all people interested by Melo pearls the reading of
"The Pearl And The Dragon, A study of Vietnamese Pearls and a history of the Oriental Pearl Trade" edited by Derek J. Content.

This book has four parts written by four differents authors:
- "The dragon and the Pearl: Perfection and power" by Benjamin Zucker.
- "The mystery of Origins" by James Traub
- "Reflections on the Geography and Historyof the pearl trade in China, Vietnam, India and the Near East: by Derek J. Content
- "Orange pearls from the Melo Volutes (Marine gasteropods): A Gemological study of a unique Collection with Data from other Examinations by Kenneth Scarratt with contributions by George Bosshart, Nicholas DelRe, Emmanuel Fritsch, Alan Jobbins, John King and Benjamin Zucker.


(A beautiful jewelry design using a Melo Pearl with an interesting flame structure. The design associate the dragon and the pearl... The symbol for power associated with the beauty of the gem...)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

If melo pearls are truly fascinating for their size, rarity and the beauty of their orange color associated with their delicate flame structure, for many young western gemologists nevertheless, there is in their fascination for melo pearls something completely different and often unexpected, something that show that gems can be appreciated for so many reasons as imagination has no limits: Here it is about a Japanese manga called "Dragon Ball Z" that was very popular at the beginning of the 1990's. Indeed, most people aged between 20 and 45 years old the authors knows are familiar with it: It is interesting as for many young western people (gemologist or not) their first interest about Asia and its cultures came in fact as they were fans of that manga:

Dragon Ball Z is a Japanese manga created by Akira Toriyama and inspired from the famous Chinese Folk novel "a Journey to the West": It is about the adventures of Son Goku, a mysterious young boy with a monkey tail, exploring the world with his friends and training in martial arts. During their adventures they discover the world, learn about themselves and try to gather seven mystical objects know as "Dragon Balls" in order to summon a wish-granting dragon.

During our expedition the association between Melo pearls and "Dragon Ball" came in fact very naturally: In Hanoi, at the beginning of the expedition, everybody was under the charm of the Vietnamese capital. We were visiting a melo pearl dealer in her cozy and traditional house in Old Hanoi. After few minutes, some sweet words and some delicious tea, she presented us a melo pearl she recently acquired. It was a beautiful and large orange pearl. On its surface, as it was moving in our hands we could see several golden bright points created by the reflections of the light bulbs illuminating the apartment: For most of us, who happen to have been fans of the manga "Dragon Ball" many years ago, the wonder we had in front of our eyes was not just melo pearl: It was a wonderful Dragon Ball!

Indeed from Dragon pearls to Dragon balls there was then another easy step: The rare melo pearls, often called: "Dragon pearls" are commonly associated with the Vietnamese Emperors, whose symbol is a Golden dragon very similar in design with the Dragon of the Manga.

Hunting for melo pearls from traditional and romantic Hanoi to the wonderful marine landscapes of Ha Long Bay, it was for most of the members of our team not only a gemological expedition, it was also an real initiation with the discovery of Vietnam and its traditional Asian culture. For young western gemologists there was obviously something reminding "a Journey to the West" or at least its modern version as a manga: "Dragon Ball". The manga was never very far away: First, the classic landscapes of Ha Long Bay (meaning the Declining Dragon Bay) were very similar to the design of the manga. Then most of us were surprised to learn that our destination: The Cat Ba Island, the largest island of Ha Long Bay, is inhabited by the "Cat Ba Langur" a rare endemic orange color monkey not without reminding young Sangoku with his monkey tail and the famous orange color of the melo pearls. In fact after a while and so many references here or there to the manga, most of us were wondering if Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball had knowledge of Ha Long Bay and of melo pearls. The author is not such a fan of the manga to be able to answer that question properly but obviously there was so much in our expedition that was reminding us of the manga.

More seriously and gemologically correct, we were glad to see in Hanoi several interesting melo pearls and in Cat Ba Island we could meet again, as last year, several fishermen who happened to have some melo snails in their boat. We could then collect some additional information about the location and the way they fished them and of course Nick Sturman was also able to collect some interesting shells for his research.



("Kame-Haa Melo!"
... Pierre Hemon, a young French gemologist on an initiatic and somewhere also iconoclastic journey to Vietnam discovering Melo pearls and associating them with one of our classics: Japanese manga "Dragon Ball"!
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Part 2: A visit to "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" pearl farm in Ha Long Bay: After our expedition to Cat Ba Island we moved North, to the famous Halong Bay in order to visit the "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" pearl farm. We sailed on the Nang Tien junk belonging to the owner of the Viet-Y travel agency in Hanoi, who happened to be one of the author friends from the 1990's when the author was taking regularly groups of French tourists to visit Vietnam. As in January and May 2009, we visited one of the "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" pearl farming operations. With less than 1 million oysters it is, compared to most pearl farms in the rest of Asia, a small operation producing Akoya type pearls from Pinctada chemnitzii. During our visit we could witness there the grafting operation and the cleaning of the oysters performed on site in Ha Long Bay.



(A Vietnamese worker from "Vietnam Pearl Co. Ltd" working at the farm on Ha Long Bay.)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

Part 3: A visit to "Taiheiyo Shinju Viet Nam Co Ltd" pearl farm in Bai Tu Long Bay: After returning in the main land we took the road to the north in direction of the Chinese border. We moved to Van Don Island, the largest island of the Bai Tu Long Bay. There we took the boat to the "Taiheiyo Shinju Viet Nam Co. Ltd", a joint Viet Nam and Japanese company. The cruise was again beautiful; as the Bai Tu Long Bay has the same incredible marine landscape as Ha Long Bay but as it is much more remote there is nearly no tourists there. After about one hour sailing we reached the "Taiheiyo Shinju Viet Nam" pearl farm located on the western side of a remote island. The operation is much larger than the "Vietnam Pearl" operation and more than 100 technicians were working there, most of them being Vietnamese women.



(View over the "Taiheiyo Shinju Viet Nam Co. Ltd" pearl farm located in Bai Tu Long Bay, as we can see with the two Vietnamese and Japanese flags, the farm is a joint venture between Vietnam and Japan)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

Part 4: Return to Hanoi and visit of the "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" factory: We returned to Hanoi on April 14th in the evening. The following day we went to visit the "Vietnam Pearl Co Ltd" factory in Hanoi. There we could witness how pearls are prepared to be use in jewelry. In pearl farming as in gemstone mining, not all the production is naturally attractive enough to find a market; some treatments are thus required on the lower quality. These treatments can go typically from simple cleaning (in order to remove residues and odors) to more sophisticated techniques using gentle heating and prolonged exposure to light in order to bleach the pearls and produce whiter pearls. Some organic compounds are also commonly used in the Akoya type pearl industry after bleaching in order to produce a slight pink overtone or to get a better luster. These processes require a lot of experience and knowledge in order to be successful, they can be different from company to company and the details are usually kept secret. Nevertheless Mr. Thanh provided us some interesting explanations about the process used in his company on his pearls from Ha Long Bay and he allowed us to meet and speak with his technicians. It was a very interesting visit.


(Mr. Thanh presenting us some of his pearls from Ha Long Bay before and after treatment)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

Finally after these few interesting days in North Vietnam Nick Sturman and Kham Vannaxay returned to Bangkok, while the author and the rest of his team continued their Vietnamese expedition to the ruby and spinel rich mountains of North Vietnam. Finally the author would like to thanks all his team for that wonderful expedition and also all the Vietnamese people who welcomed us and helped us and particularly Dr. Pham Van Long, from the "Vietnam National Gem and Gold Corporation" for his precious support and friendship.


The author would like now to invite you to visit the "Orange harmony: Vietnam and its melo pearls photo gallery, you will find there some high resolution photos of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay and their fascinating melo pearls...


All the best,


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.