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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Discover fieldgemology newsletter:
(Currently under "hibernation status"...)

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



THANKS for their support
for our field expeditions since 2005:


about gems, gemology, field expeditions, studying gemology, minerals, jade, pearls or jewelry?
We recommend these FORUMS
where the author is contributing:

Do you want to

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 | 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 12th, 2012 | 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,

June 29th, 2010 | 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,


April 6th, 2010 | Keywords:Cambodia , Pailin , sapphire , ruby Travel |
Blog Title: GIA FE15: Apr. 03 - Apr. 04, 2010: Pailin, Cambodia

GIA FE15 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 15): Apr. 03, 2010 - Apr. 04, 2010:


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 Pan Pacific hotel on Rama IV road in Bangkok. The hotel is conveniently located just half way between the GIA Thailand School on Thanon Sap and the GIA Laboratory Bangkok on Rama IV road. It is each time a great occasion to attend a presentation of gemological interest and also to meet people active within the Bangkok gem trade, foreign gem merchants visiting Thailand, gemology students, etc. For the author it is all the time a good place to meet new people and old friends and to find good traveling companions for weekend expeditions to gem mining areas around Bangkok.


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.


For the 34th edition of these GIA Gemstone Gatherings, the speaker was Vichian Veerasaksri, who spoke about CIBJO and its role within the gem industry. There I met again Jonathan Muyal, a young French gemologist who graduated last year from GIA Thailand. Jonathan was regularly attending the GIA Gemstone Gatherings since then and we had the occasion to exchange some words at different occasions. Jonathan Muyal has an incredible background as a former Thai boxing champion and a true gift for learning languages: He is fluent in French, English, Spanish, Thai and Japanese and has good basic in more than 5 other languages. As many others (including myself) he became interested in gemstones after spending nearly 10 years in another field (Professional Thai boxing for Jonathan, tour guide for me). Living in Thailand for few years, he came to logically to GIA Thailand to study gemology, get a diploma with a large international recognition and try to start something in relation with gemology. Jonathan was preparing a visit to Japan but had no plans for the weekend. We decided to visit Pailin in Cambodia for our first expedition together. A classic.


We left Bangkok early in the morning on April 4th with the bus while thousands of red shirts protesters were entering the city. First as usual we travelled to Chanthaburi, the gem city of Thailand we reached in about 4 hours. From there using a small songtaew we took the road to the Thai Cambodian border distant of about 50 additional kilometers. Pailin city is located 23 kilometers from the border. Nearly seven hours after leaving Bangkok we arrived in Pailin welcomed by some heavy rains... The region around the small city was green. Such a big contrast compared to 2 weeks ago where everything was dry and brown. Then gem mining was nearly reduced to zero due to the lack of water. Ruby and sapphire deposits around Pailin are secondary deposits. Gems are found from gem rich gravels that are washed. No water, no gem mining! Obviously during the last week rain was back and thus we had then good chance to be able to witness again some gem mining operation around Pailin. We nevertheless had to wait for Sunday to witness gem mining as on Saturday the author local contact and guide Votha Un was as many people in Pailin busy farming red corn. If gem mining can wait, in agriculture there is no time to waste when the rain has come... We met Votha for diner in our usual diner spot. There we could discuss about the next expedition we were planning to in few months to remote ruby mining areas located in the jungle south of Pailin. Of course we also discussed about the program for the next day: The visit at the morning gem market was looking promising!


On Sunday morning at 7 am we visited the gem market in order to take our breakfast, to get some fresh news about who was mining and where and of course to see some gems. For Jonathan it was a great occasion to study some interesting small rough sapphires and discover their inclusions.

(Gemologist Jonathan Muyal studying a parcel of sapphires in Pailin morning gem market that takes place each morning down the Phnum Yat temple.)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

As local gem dealers started to gather around us we saw as usual some interesting stones both rough and faceted. Most of the stones we saw were small in size as it is common in Pailin. Nevertheless it seems that the 2010 gem mining season had a good start as we could see some interesting stones that, reportedly, have been mined recently.


(Votha presenting to the author a very fine Pailin blue sapphire about 5 carats and a nice ruby about 2 carats. The sapphire was reportedly mined few years ago around Phnum Yat while the ruby was very recently mined near O Beng village, few kilometers north of Pailin city)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)


The author could see that once again the best way to see some good stones is to show some money buying a fine gem... Local gem dealers then realize two important things: You know what a good gem is and you can afford them. At that point some merchants might invite you to their place where they might show you some fine gems they usually don't bring to the market. To your surprise you might then find out that some people you were feeling that you knew well were in fact keeping some fine gems secret and for some reason that day they feel good to let you look at them and even take some photos of them... Funny!


Of course the inverse is also true: Start your day buying a synthetic or a piece of glass in front of everybody for the price of a natural gem at the Pailin gem market, then be sure that for the rest of the day and probably also for several weeks, you will see mainly glass and synthetics as nobody will dare to show you anything good.


That weekend we were lucky to experience the first case: After spending about one hour at the gem market we were invited by some of the most serious gem miners and merchant in Pailin to visit them. We had then the great opportunity to see some stones of a quality so far never presented in Pailin to the author since 2004. That was really an interesting day!

Of course that was not meaning that production had been recently excellent: Most of the stones we saw were old stones they were treasuring possibly for years. Studying their internal world with the author GIA Dark field loupe, we found out that there was nothing that would enable to sustpect that the gems were not indeed rubies and sapphires mined in Pailin as those with visible inclusions under 10x loupe had classic inclusions for pailin gems.

(Details on the same fine ruby and sapphire presented on the previous photo. Note in the background an interesting pear shape zircon that was also mined around Pailin.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

The author did not missed the opportunity to practice macro photography with his new camera. Things were obviously not really perfect particularly regarding colors. Anyway, it has to be expected and the author will have obviously to practice a little bit with this new camera before to get back the quality expected with the old one.


Most of the fine rubies and sapphires we saw were small in size compared to fine gems from other mining areas. Fine large gemstones are truly rare in Pailin but nevertheless there were some noticeable truly beautiful little gems: We could see a very fine and clean emerald cut blue sapphire about 5 carats displaying an even rich blue color. The stone was presented an unheated. Besides this fine gem, we could see many nice small rubies between 1 and 3 carats. Most of the rubies we saw were either heated displaying a deep red color, or unheated with then a distinct purplish secondary color. Besides these fines rubies and sapphire we could also see few interesting brown zircons.

(Rough and faceted Pailin rubies and sapphires. The rubies were reportedly mined near Bang Pra Lat village few kilometers from Pailin in the direction of the Thai border while the sapphires were mined around Phnum Yat volcano in the south of Pailin city. The largest faceted ruby is a little bit less than 3 carats. Most of the faceted rubies were probably heated while the rough stones still have the common purplish color of unheated stones.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

But we did not spent our week end just visiting gem merchant, after few hours we learned that one of the most important gem miners, known usually to mine rubies near bang pra Lat village had started few days ago a sapphire mining operation few hundred meters from Pailin city on the North of the Phnum Yat volcano.


We took the road to visit that mine and found out that he was working in partnership with a local farmer. The miner was providing the machines, was financing the whole mining operation including the rehabilitation of the land in exchange of 80% of the stones produced. The farmer was getting 20% of the stones produced. He told us that he was expecting that mining will be finished within 3 months and hopefully he will have enough stones to provide the capital he will need to turn the land into a fruit plantation and get enough to be able to wait for his trees to start producing something. In fact such practices where a gem miners and a farmer collaborate are very conservation friendly practices, as the land mined today will not became a wasteland. To the contrary gem mining can then provide to a poor farmer enough capital to improve his farm.

(Sapphire mining near Pailin using high-pressure water to turn the gem rich gravels into mud. The mud will be then processed using the fact that gems like sapphires, rubies and zircons have a higher specific gravity compared to non-gem material.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

The mine was similar to those we saw in the past: a team of about 10 miners was working on a hole about 6 to 8 meters deep which had been dig using an excavator in order to remove the overburden, the miners were then using high pressure water to turn the gem and gravel rich layer into mud. This gem bearing mud is aspirated to the jig where, using gravitation to his advantage, the miner was concentrating the sapphires in traps while lighter stones were taken away bu the water flow. At the end of the day the production will be carefully collected by the miner, his team and his partner (the farmer). That day sadly we had no time to wait to see the harvest. We had to return to Bangkok in order to be there in time for Jonathan to fly to Japan and for me to be at the GIA Lab Bangkok for a new week referencing the stones collected in the field and preparing the next field expeditions.


It was a again an interesting week end in the field. Full of surprises particularly for Jonathan but also even for the author even after nearly 20 visits to Pailin.

March 30th, 2010 | Keywords:Thailand , Chanthaburi , Kho Laem Sing , Cambodia , Pailin , sapphire , MJP Travel |
Blog Title: blog GIA FE14: Chanthaburi, Pailin and meeting the MJP.

GIA FE14 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 14): March. 19, 2009 - Feb. 21, 2010:


Last week end with Tracy Lindwall, a gemology student from California sharing with the author a keen interest for both gemological and conservation fields, we decided to leave Bangkok to travel to Cambodia to meet in Battembang Stephen Bognard, the CEO of MJP, the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, a conservation and community development organization with a special focus on the Cardamom Mountains, the moutainous region along the Thai border linking Pailin to lSamlaut. On the way to Battembang, we decided to spend as usual some time in Chanthaburi and in Pailin in order to continue discovering these fascinating gem mining areas and their rich historical background. It was a week end full of surprises.


We left Bangkok to Chanthaburi on Friday evening and spent the night in Chanthaburi.


Chanthaburi (Thailand): The lion and my camera: On Saturday 20th 2010, early in the morning we left of guesthouse near the river to travel to Khao Laem Sing, the mountain located at the mouth of the Chanthaburi river. There we first found the scenic jungle covered Phairee Phinat fort, the small ruin that was more than 100 years ago a small fort defending the entrance of Chanthaboon port with two canons. There we found an old jungle chedi that was built after 1908 during the reign of Rama V as an independence monument to celebrate the end of the 10 years of French occupation of Chanthaburi. The area was desert, it was nice...


Down the fort is a small shipyard. We went to visit it in order to enquiry about our main goal: The famous lion rock which, like a majestic sphinx, seems on the drawings of Henri Mouhot a French traveller who visited the region in 1859 to keep the entrance of the Chanthaburi River. The rock was famous worldwide during the past centuries as before using planes to arrive in Thailand most travelers visiting the country then known as Siam where arriving by sea. Chanthaburi was known then as "Chantaboun" or "Chantaboon". The Chanthaboon lion rock was then a common and well-known symbol of the country. The region from Chanthaburi to Pailin was of some particular gemological interest. It was reported by several famous authors (Streeter, Bauer) as the world's most important sapphire mining area, both for the quantity and the quality of the gems produced at the end of the XIX century and probably a consequent number of sapphire of the jewelry from that period were mined in the region then called "Siam".


We could imagine that most of these sapphires, left probably the region and the country they were mined sailing on the Chanthaburi River and passing then near the majestic Chanthaburi lion of Khao Leam Sing before to leave Siam.


The lion was our objective on that Saturday morning. At the Shipyard we met its owner: Mr. Nuu a very friendly man who run a nice and remote home stay between the shipyard and the old jungle covered fort. He welcomed us, told us very interesting things the area and provided us a small canoe to be able to sail up to the famous rock. The water was quiet, but nevertheless the entrance of a river is not without dangers when you sail on a small canoe with a camera: While I was taking photos of the rock as small wave surprised me. I lost partially my balance and dropped my camera. My Nikon D300 felt into the sea. I had just the reflex to grab it before it to sink too deep in the salted water. Hopefully only the camera felt into the water and our 2 other cameras survived the short but hazardous marine expedition...

(Here is the last photo of my Nikon D300 camera associated with a drawing by Henri Mouhot, A French traveller who visited Chantaboun in 1859)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010

Back on land we took the road to the Thai Cambodian border where our friend and local contact in Pailin Votha Un was waiting us. We drove then to together to Pailin. As usual in March, at the end of the dry season, the whole region was suffering from the lack of water the hills once covered by green jungle during the rainy season were now covered with ashes. The destruction of the jungle and the forest is a major problem in Pailin region. In the south the Cardamon mountains were still green, but here or there we could see from the road several columns of smoke...


Pailin (Cambodia): Update about gem mining (March 20, 2010): We tried to find the ruby miner we met few weeks ago near Bang Pra Lat village but he was not working as there was not enough water to wash the gem rich ground. Votha took us then to the only place where we could possibly find gem miners during the dry season: Near the river. It was getting late in the afternoon and in all the areas we inspected we found the stream deserted. At the end of the afternoon as we were not hoping to find any gem miner, on the way to Pailin city between the river and Ta Ngan Krom, we saw a mining pit. A miner was digging less than 5 meters from a house just near the dirt road we were driving on. Inside the vertical mining pit, which was less than two meters deep, we found a former Khmer rouge soldier. The man was over 45 years old and one of his legs was missing under the knee. Outside of the hole his wood leg was placed near the tree dominating the mining pit. Seated in the deep hole he was nevertheless very actively mining, filling baskets of river pebbles which were then taken out of the hole by another, yet younger, miner. Both of them were friendly and we started discussing about their work and their life mining gems near Pailin. The old war veteran working as miner explained that he lost his leg on a land mine during the war more about 20 years ago. As a former Khmer rouge soldier, he said that he was not receiving any money from the Cambodian government and had then no other choice than working hard to be able to survive. With only one leg, digging for gems was the best way he found to make some money to survive.

Few minutes after our arrival, a local Pailin gem dealer arrived at the mining site, obviously to buy the production of the day. Today was a different story, I was already there and the production of the old soldier was already in my pocket to become GIA reference samples. There was no problem, it was only about few small stones and the dealer and I knew each other for many years. We spent the end of the afternoon together around the mining pit looking at the production of the day, at what the dealer had collected during the past days and discussing about the life of the people mining sapphires around Pailin.

It was a nice. Then as suddently a heavy rain started we all left in a hurry.


(V. Pardieu discussing about sapphire near a mining pit with a Khmer miner and some local people farmer including the gem dealer financing the small mining operation (with the cap and the sun glasses)
Photo: Tracy Lindwall, 2010

We then drove to Pailin. We found that the small city was dusty with road works. Hundreds of workers were building around and inside Pailin the major road that will link Phnom Phen to Battembang and the Thai border through Pailin. Pailin will then probably not be anymore a small and remote village close to the Thai border but a small boomtown on a major communication axis.


On Sunday 21st 2010, as usual we started our day visiting the small gem market located down Phum Yat temple. There, around some tea and noodle soups each morning between 7 and 9 am most of Pailin gem dealers are gathering to discuss and trade gems. About ten dealers, gem cutters, and gem burners were present. After few minutes an important gem dealer of the region came to meet us. During the French colonial times his grand father and then his father were already gem cutters and gem merchants in Battembang.


On an old traditional brass plateau he presented us a very interesting faceted sapphire:


Sapphires of interest seen in Pailin: The blue sapphire we saw that day is an attractive dark blue coussin weighting around 10 carats. Its color could be described as an even deep dark blue with nevertheless the typical grey overcast commonly found on most large basalt related blue sapphires. The stone was very clean with as inclusions just few tiny crystals, their aspect suggest that the onwer was probably right to say that the stone was not heated. Something very rare in Pailin, where several gem burners are working.


If that sapphire was not the best blue sapphire I was given to see, it was far to be a bad looking stone and taking in consideration all its different aspects including its large size and exceptional clarity, it was probably the best stone the author saw in Pailin after nearly twenty week end expeditions since his first visit in 2004: In Pailin, fine sapphires over 10 carats are extremely rare, so rare that so far I never saw one. The largest fine Pailin sapphire I was told about from reliable source was a fine stone reportedly about 15 carats, but I could not get any details except that it was nice.

(A fine blue sapphire from Pailin associated with small pailin rough I collected the day before at the mines. The faceted stone, probably unheated, is about 10 carats and is the best faceted blue sapphire the author ever saw visiting Pailin since 2004)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010


Back home I was thinking that if I had seen the same stone at the Bangkok Gem Show in a classic booth from a dealer in the middle of hundred other stones, I would have seen the gem in a very different way. I was not just enjoying a lovely stone, but it was also about the moment, the place, the people and the whole story. Enquiring about the origin of the stone with its owner, Votha and the crowd of dealers who gathered around us, I was told that the stone was found few days ago on the ground at the back of Phnum Yat, the pagoda covered volcano, dominating Pailin. Later I heard another story about another recent find on Phnum Yat volcano: A large sapphire was reportedly found in a piece of basalt weighting about two kilos. A 20 carats rough sapphire was reportedly broken from the basalt and sold separately. Nevertheless a large broken piece of sapphire crystal, weighting probably still around 10 carats, was still present in the piece of basalt (see following photo)


Was the 10 carats faceted sapphire the author saw in the morning the piece that was broken from the basalt? It seems that they were found at the same place at the same period... That would be a lovely story. The author was nevertheless not able get confirmation about it. Nevertheless, the following week end, on March 28th the author returned to see the stones and was then able to see them together and document them. The sapphire in the basalt has, like the faceted stone, a large milky area in its center. Their dark blue color was also quite similar but only a serious study in the laboratory will be able to find out if the faceted stone and the sapphire still in the basalt could have been in the past a single sapphire crystal. Even if we don't know yet if this could be the case, the following photo might nevertheless be of interest for readers.

"Sapphires reportedly from Pailin as faceted stone and as xenocryst in basalt"

(Another photo of the same faceted sapphire in association with the sapphire xenocryst in Phnum Yat basalt. The Phnum Yat volcano is known to be the source of Pailin blue sapphires. Such pieces of sapphire taken in basalt are not commonly found as in Pailin most sapphire mining is performed from secondary deposits resulting from the weathering of the basalts. This sapphire in basalt was the third the author was able to study in Pailin since 2004.)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010


For more information about Pailin, please visit the GIA Laboratory Bangkok, "Lab Ongoing research - Field Reports Page" where you will find, among several other gemological expedition reports and gemological research pdfs, the following expedition report to Pailin:

Concise Field Report Vol. 01: Pailin, Cambodia: (Dec. 2008 - Feb. 2009) by V. Pardieu
"The Pailin gem mining area in Cambodia. It is a known source of basalt related rubies and blue sapphires since the end of the XIX century. This report provides an update about the current mining there and illustrates the way GIA field gemologists collect specimens at the source."


Meeting the MJP (Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation): After visiting the market we took the road to Battembang in order to meet Stephen Bognard from the MJP Foundation, it was the first time we met and we had a very pleasant lunch exchanging ideas and experiences. We spoke of course about conservation and gem mining. It was interesting to listen what was their experience in the region. In Pailin as in East Africa I was able to see that conservationists have some very similar problems. The main issue, there as in Pailin is the destruction of the habitats. Around pailin and samlot the region is still beautiful in the south of Pailin but in the north it is mainly dust and ashes. the whole are is as we could see at each of our visits is facing many threads. For more details, a visit to MJP website might be a good idea:


In 2003, Ms. Angelina Jolie created the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (MJP) an organization for the conservation of Cambodia’s endangered Cardamom Mountains. Its initial focus of its conservation work was on the protection of Samlaut National Park (Samlaut Protected Area), an area that contains most of the region’s biodiversity: forests, freshwater ecosystems, and endangered species...


We will meet again in the future and try to see if there is a way for Pailin and Samlaut rubies and sapphire to help to protect the gem that are the Cardamon mountains one of the last natural area in the whole South East Asia.


After lunch we left Battembang to return by road to Pailin, then Chanthaburi and finally we returned to Bangkok around midnight in order to be fit to return to work at the GIA Lab on monday morning. Back in Bangkok I got the confirmation that my camera and my lenses were beyond repair. I got also the confirmation that my insurance was useless in that case. That was a very costly week end but well, I will survive!

February 22th, 2010 | Keywords:Thailand , Chanthaburi , sapphire , Khao ploy Waen Travel |
Blog Title: FE12, Thailand: A visit to Chanthaburi sapphire mines

GIA FE12 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 12): Feb. 19, 2009 - Feb. 21, 2010:


Last week end with Richard W. Hughes and two gemology students: Tracy Lindwall (USA) and Jazmin Amira Weissgarber Crespo (Germany) we decided to leave Bangkok to return to Chanthaburi in order to visit sapphire mines around Khao Ploy Waen. It was also an occasion to visit again the recently renovated Roman Catholic Cathedral of Chanthaburi. I was informed by French gem dealer Didier Frediani, a true Chanthaburi lover, that it was now hosting a pure wonder: A beautiful new statue of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, the mother of Christ. A beauty of gemological interest...

(A detailed view of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception statue in the Chanthaburi Roman Catholic Cathedral.)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

The statue is special as it is a gift to the church from the Chanthaburi Christian gems dealers and goldsmiths community. It is one of the older communities in Chanthaburi composed mostly of people Vietnamese origin. Their ancestors were coming from Vietnam in several waves: The first one was about 200 years ago when Vietnamese Catholics were trying to escape the religious persecutions of the Vietnamese emperors. The second was during the French colonial times when Vietnamese people fled the French controlled Indochina and came to settle in Thailand and finally after 1975 and the Communist victory in Vietnam.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the largest church in Thailand. It was built in Chanthaburi during the nearly 10 years of French occupation of Chanthabun (now Chanthaburi) from 1893 to 1904. It was completed in 1909 after Chanthaburi to have been returned to Siam (1904) by the French III republic.


The statue of the Virgin Mary is nearly completely covered with gold, gemstones and enamels... The blue of her cloak is composed of several thousand blue sapphires originating from Thailand (Chanthaburi and Kanchanaburi). Her white dress is made of hundreds of white sapphires from Sri Lanka. Here of there her clothes are also decorated with several rubies from Thailand, gold and green enamels. She is standing on a green globe where the oceans are again a mosaic of blue sapphires from Thailand while the land masses are composed of hundreds of yellow and orange (probably beryllium treated...) sapphires from Songea (Tanzania) and few yellow and orange sapphires from Chanthaburi highly appreciated here as "butsarakam".


The result is a truly beautiful statue that I really invite you to visit if you happen to visit Chanthaburi... Now with the old Bouddhist temple on the top of Khao Ploy Waen volcano, here is another spot of gemological and cultural interest in Chanthaburi for people not willing just to go there only to guy gems and have some good food...

For more info, I invite you to visit the photo gallery on Didier Frediani website about Chanthaburi and its sapphire covered "Holy Mary of the Immaculate Conception".


Thanks Fred for the info, it was worth a visit!


Of course we were not visiting Chanthaburi only to visit the cathedral and its beautiful statue, our main goal was to visit the sapphire mines around Khao Ploy Waen volcano.


(A Thai miner with mythological tatoos is presenting us the sapphire rich lateritic ground of Khao Ploy Waen.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

The weather in Chanthaburi region that week end was very cloudy and rainy, Chanthaburi is one of the most wet regions of Thailand and commonly the Chanthaburi river is flooding the whole gem city.

We started again our expedition by a visit at the temple on the top of the jungle covered volcano. The night had been rainy. The smell of the jungle was pleasant and the whole region was very appealing with the distant misty hills and mountains surrounding the plain. The air was pure and birds were singing all around us. The weather was cloudy but clear enough for us to study the area around the old volcano. We could find the location of two mechanized mines in production about 1 kilometer on the north of the volcano and spend some time to enjoy the nature and the atmosphere.

We could hear that at least another mine was in operation in the south of the volcano but could not locate it due to the numerous fruit plantations covering the area. After leaving the temple we started our visit by the large mining operation we visited in January, the mine was not in production as the miners were working on the maintenance of the operation and were moving the machinery. It was still very interesting to see that they had been very active during the past 2 months as was indicating the enlarged size of the mining pit. It was not surprising as we were now in the main mining season around Chanthaburi.


(Sapphire mine near Khao Ploy Waen, Chanthaburi...

Over the mine is floating the old battle flag of the King of Siam of the XIX century.)
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

After visiting this large mine we went to visit one of the mines we saw in operation from the top of the volcano. The miners were very friendly and we decided to spend some time there looking at stones, taking photos and discussing with the miners. The miner happened to be a shrimp farmer from the south of Ban Ka Cha. As the price for shrimps were not very high and as there was not much work in his farm, he was using his machinery to mine sapphire in the land of one of his friends. Sapphire mining was for him and his family a way to get some additional income and, he admitted, some fun... We left the miners for lunch and returned later to witness the harvest and collect some reference samples for the GIA Gemological Laboratory reference collection.

That day spent with Thai miners was also a great occasion for Tracy Lindwall and Jasmin Amira Weissgarber Crespo to discover the variety of the production of these interesting mines: Blue, green and yellow sapphires but also black star sapphires with 6 rays golden or white stars depending if the stone is a yellow or a blue sapphire and the rare 12 rays star sapphires. Besides that they could see that the mine was producing also zircons, red garnets, augite (pyroxene), some old rusted objects and even few used gun bullets...


It was a nice week end, interesting and full of surprises.

One thing is sure: We will return to Chanthaburi...

January 24th, 2010 | Keywords:Thailand , Kanchanaburi , sapphire Travel |
Blog Title: FE11 Thailand, A visit to Kanchanaburi

GIA FE11 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 11): Jan. 22, 2009 - Jan. 24, 2010:


With two gemology students: Tracy Lindwall (USA) and Jazmin Amira Weissgarber Crespo (Germany) we decided to have a week end field expedition to the SAP sapphire mine in Kanchanaburi. The purpose of the field expedition was to get an update about sapphire mining around Bo Phloi in Kanchanaburi and for Tracy Lindwall to advance on her personal project regarding "conservation gemology".

(The SAP sapphire mine main washing plant in 2005, it was then still in operation with more than 100 trucks bringing gem gravels to wash every day.)
Photo: V. Pardieu / AIGS, 2005)

The interest about the SAP sapphire mine in Kanchanaburi is that it was a large scale sapphire mining operation believed to be for years the world largest sapphire mine. The SAP investors were former tin mining entrepreneurs from Kanchanaburi region. Due to the low prices for tin at the end of the 1980's and the new sapphire finding near Bo Phloi in Kanchanaburi in 1978, they decided to move from tin mining to sapphire mining as they could use for sapphire the same equipment they were using for tin.


SAP Mining Co. Ltd started its operations in September 1987. The deposit is located in the Lum Ta Phoen Basin which was covered by lavas coming from the fault zone in Ma Kah Creek about 3 million years ago. There sapphires, black spinel, pyroxene, red garnet and zircons were mined under 7 to nearly 20 meters of overburden.


What was interesting at SAP is that from the beginning of the sapphire mining was planned in order for the land to find a use after sapphire mining will be finished in the area. The water used at the mine was processed with several sedimentation basins before to be released and a several projects including agriculture, fish farms, golf and resort were put in place for the day sapphire mining will not be anymore profitable.


During our last visit in Jan 2010 we were informed by the SAP staff there that sapphire mining had completely stopped in 2009. Now the only mining activity remaining is for construction and decoration material and the company is focusing on the extension of its "Blue sapphire" golf resort. A clever way to use the former mine landscape with its numerous deep lakes and hills.


(The remaining mining activity at SAP mining construction material. At the back a bouddhist temple and its crematorium and the basalt rich hills from which the sapphire rich lava once flowed several millions years ago.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

We went to visit the former mining area. We could see that the former washing plant, which was still in use in 2009 when the author last visited the area, was now abandoned and that there were some important works all around the area in order to develop it into new directions. The area was still beautiful and green with many birds looking to enjoy the lakes and the water.

(An Indochina tiger at Kanchanaburi tiger temple... What future for them there and in the wild?
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Finally after lunch we decided to return to Kanchanaburi and as we still had few hours we decided to visit what has become one of the most famous attractions in Kanchanaburi the Indochina Tiger conservation project at Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno.


It was a way to prepare ourselves for the coming Year of the Tiger and finally see with our own eye this temple and its tigers. With its growing success entrance fees had become much higher and the project is now becoming quite controversial. As usual the best way to get an idea was to go there and see with our own eyes. The difficulties the monks are facing seem to be very important: How to feed the tigers and to keep them healthy? To give them a decent place to stay? But may be most of all: How to handle the success of the temple? How to give to the hundreds of tourists visiting the temple everyday what they want? Most of them have no idea about how to get close to a tiger and see them as big cute teddy bears... It is obviously not easy to get enough experienced and trained staff to do that, and of course obviously the temple needs new infrastructures to handle its success: Entrance fees are going up and at the same time controversies about greedy monks making money with tigers... Not easy. Not much about gemology here but it was an interesting visit nevertheless...


So to all of you, happy "Chinese New Year" and have a great year of the Tiger!

January 3rd, 21st0 | Keywords:Chanthaburi , Khao Ploy Waen , Thailand , Pailin , Cambodia , sapphire , ruby Travel |
Blog Title: FE10, Thailand and Cambodia: New Year's Day visiting ruby and sapphire mines near Chanthaburi and Pailin.

GIA FE10 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 10): Dec. 30, 2009 - Jan. 02, 2010:


With two veterans of the recent expedition to East Africa: gemologists Jean Baptiste Senoble (France) and Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada) we decided to celebrate 2010 New Year's Day far away from the party crowds and close to both gems and nature. On December 30th 2009 we left Bangkok to travel to Chanthaburi, the former Chantabun of the XIX explorers and one of the most active gem trading centers in Asia.

The idea for that short week end field expedition was to get an update about sapphire mining around Chanthaburi and about ruby and sapphire mining around Pailin in Cambodia, at the same time it was a good occasion to travel with some new "padawans": Tracy Lindwall from USA and Neil Doohan from Switzerland, two fans of who contacted me after deciding to study gemology in Thailand as I did also few years ago.

Tracy was looking very motivated to help me on the "Conservation Gemology" project and during the next expeditions around Bangkok she will focus on such issues as ethical and conservation gem mining.

On December 31st we visited the sapphire mining area near Khao Ploy Waen and Ban Ka Cha few kilometers from Chanthaburi. The area was quiet but around ten mechanized sapphire mining operations were visible around the lovely jungle covered volcano and its old pagoda. If most operations were stopped during the New Year weekend, we could nevertheless see two mines in operation and speak with several miners. All the mines in the area are working to produce black star sapphires, some blue sapphires but the main production is yellow and green sapphires, which are later turned into bright yellow/orange sapphires (Locally called "Butsarakam") after heat treatment usually using the "beryllium" technology.

After visiting the lovely area around Khao Ploy rich not only with sapphire mines but also lovely houses and fruit plantations, we were joined in the evening by Neil Doohan, a young Swiss American studying gemology in Bangkok. After a great diner near Chanthaburi River, we decided to return to Khao Ploy Waen volcano to reach the old pagoda on its top and wait there for midnight to come.

At midnight, standing on the top of the volcano, which is the source of all the sapphires in the area, we could enjoy the fireworks all around in the plain... Simply nice!

(Sapphire mine near Khao Ploy Waen volcano, Chanthaburi, Thailand.

Note the different bassins built in order to return to the river only clean water.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009)

On January 01 2010 we left Chanthaburi and Thailand by road to Pailin in Cambodia, a small Cambodian city we like to visit regularly despite its bad reputation for land mines and malaria (July 2009 and more recent) as it is an interesting ruby and sapphire mining area not very far from Bangkok. Pailin is located just north of the Cardamon Mountains one of the most interesting and endangered ecoregion of South East Asia. For some background information about Pailin and its gems, please download the "Concise Field Report Vol. 01: Pailin, Cambodia" on

In Pailin we met our Cambodian friend and guide: Votha. With his help, we visited several small ruby and sapphire mining operations around the city. Mining was quiet as most of Pailin population was busy with maize harvests:

Near Bang Pra Lat, we could meet a team of five miners we met last year at O Beng. As last year they were mining rubies with a small old jig and some high-pressure water. During the last month they produced few small rubies including an interesting stone about 3 carats rough.

In another area near Suan Umpal we met two groups of old men mining sapphires with iron sticks in holes in an area that was mined by Thai companies during the "Khmer Rouge" period. Finally near O Ta Prang we met a man and his wife mining in the river for sapphires. Near them an 83 years old Cambodian woman living usually in California, and currently spending some holidays with her family in Pailin, was also enjoying searching for zircons and sapphires in the stream with one of her grand sons.

The visit was interesting as we could add to the GIA reference collection the daily production of the miners composed of several small rubies and blue sapphires.

Our main surprise was to see how the city had changed in just few months as the new road built by a Chinese company linking Battembang to the Thai border had reached Pailin. The new road and the fact that Pailin is became a full Cambodian province since December 28th, 2008 has turned the small sleepy village into a small boomtown.


(A Cambodian sapphire miner searching gems in a stream near Pailin.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

On Jan 02nd, 2010 we visited Pailin gem market near the Phnum Yat pagoda were we met again all the usual traders and miners. Very few stones were visible at the market as the dealers said that there was very few mining during the past days.

(A small parcel of rough blue sapphires seen at the Pailin gem market on January 02nd, 2010
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2010)

Around noon, after a short lunch at Samaki market, we returned to Chanthaburi where we could see that the traditional weekend gem market was very slow. Nevertheless we could see many rubies reportedly from Mozambique including numerous large "paw mai" (lead glass treated) and several parcels of small-unheated attractive faceted stones. We returned then to Bangkok in the afternoon.


It was a short visit but it was interesting to visit again Pailin and Chanthaburi after several months away in East Africa and it was a great occasion to meet and spend some time with Tracy and Neil.

June 14th, 2009 | Keywords:Field Report GIA , Vietnam , ruby , spinel , sapphire , pearl , melo , Luc Yen , Quy Chau , Ha Long Bay , Yen Bai , Phan Thiet , Dak Nong , Di Linh , pearl farm Travel |
Blog Title: FE08: Vietnam: A visit to gem mines between the sea and the sky.

GIA FE08 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 08): May. 15 - Jun. 10, 2009: Vietnam
After our FE02 expedition to Vietnam in Jan 2009, we had now all the contacts and were able to make all the arrangements in order to be able to conduct a complete survey of Vietnam mining areas. This project was done in collaboration with:
- Dr. Pham Van Long, a well known Vietnamese geologist and gemologist working as Director of the "VGC Center for Gem and Gold Research and Identification" in Hanoi. This is the Vietnamese official gemological laboratory which also delivers all the necessary paperwork to export legally gemstones from Vietnam.
- Mr. Hoc, my old friend, a local French speaking Vietnamese tour guide working for Viet-Y. I was working with Hoc while visiting Vietnam during the 1990's when I was working as a tour guide in Vietnam for FRAM, a major French Tour Operator.
To help me in this expedition were several friends, all experienced travelers: Jean Baptiste Senoble (from France, in charge of photography and sourcing), Kham Vannaxay (from France, video and translation as he speaks Vietnamese), David Bright (from USA, in charge of GPS recording and photography) and Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada, in charge of photography and accounting). Note: as usual, all the team members were financing their own traveling costs and their part of the common costs in this join expedition.
Our program was to visit first the ruby and spinel mining areas in North Vietnam in the Yen Bai and Nghe An provinces and also a pearl farming operation in Ha Long Bay and an experimental farm in Hanoi. Then we were planning to visit the blue sapphire deposits in the south of the country located in the Highlands region north of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

"The Hanoi Opera and the Vietnam 2009 team"
Posing in front of the beautiful Hanoi opera, one of the author's favorite French colonial style buildings, which color harmony was an inspiration for the design of this website third version, are the member of the author's team for that 8th expedition for the GIA Laboratory Bangkok: Left to right: Lou Pierre Bryl (Canada), Jean Baptiste Senoble (France), David Bright (USA) and Kham Vannaxay (France)"
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

After a short stay in Hanoi to arrange all the expedition details, the first part of our expedition for the GIA Laboratory Bangkok was to visit the Yen Bai area with the Tan Huong and Thac Ba Lake ruby and spinel mining areas. Sadly due to the heavy rains of the previous week all mining stopped as the water level was high. We then left to Truc Lau (ruby and spinel) and then Yen The, the main city of the famous Luc Yen district of the Yen Bai province. If our first day in Yen The was rainy and thus spent to visit the local gem market and the different town dealers, the following days were blessed by a sunny weather which enable us to visit all the mining areas we planned to visit. That was wonderful as the author was not able to visit them as he wanted in 2005 and Jan. 2009 due to the weather conditions: We first visited on May 19th the Bai Chuoi and Khoan Thong mining areas which were the places were the Thais and VIGECO were mining with machinery during the 1990's. Then on May 20's we moved to the An Phu area to visit the Cung Truoi 2 and 3 (Note: "Cung Truoi" means "the Sky Gate" it is a high marble cliff which is divided in three areas: Cung Truoi 1, 2 and 3) ruby and spinel mining areas in a failed attempt to visit the May Thuong ruby mining area (Note: "May Thuong" means "the high clouds" as this is one of Vietnam most remote and difficult to access ruby mines). The expedition was very difficult due to the jungle covered karst type terrain where we had literally to jump from marble pinnacle to marble pinnacle risking at each step a serious wound if we put our feets in the wrong place. The following day, using a different guide and path we visited the Cung Truoi 1 red spinel mining area and finally, after another very hard walk in the karst type cliff, we succeeded to visit the May Thuong ruby mining area which is producing most of the ruby in matrix specimens seen in Luc Yen region markets. Then on May 22, we went on the track of Vietnam fabulous blue spinels and were able to visit the main deposits in Bai Son and Co Ngan after another hard walking day in the jungle covered mountains. After these great four days hiking Luc Yen region scenic but deadly mountains we returned to Hanoi exhausted but really happy...

"An incredible blue spinel from Vietnam"
Here is what we were looking for regarding Vietnam spinels: An incredible small neon blue spinel with a very high saturation and nearly no tone... A pure little blue "Jedi" spinel far away from the "dark side of the force".
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

Back in Hanoi we got prepared for the second part of our expedition which was about pearls: We first visited a cultured pearl farm producing "akoya" type pearls from "pinctada fucata" oysters on Ha Long bay and its hatchery located nearby. The visit was interesting as we could witness on the Bay the grafting process. Later in Hanoi we could visit a experimental fresh water bead nucleated pearl farm producing pearls from mussels.

We then visited in Hanoi a melo pearl dealer and were able to get some interesting useful information that enabled us few days after to visit the Cat Ba island and its port and to meet there Vietnamese melo melo fishermen. We were able to study several specimens of these mysterious sea snails producing in very rare cases one of the rarest, largest but also one of the most beautiful natural pearls: Melo pearls. (Read our report on "Melos and their pearls in Vietnam" for more details)

Finally after a visit to the Quy Chau and Quy hop ruby and sapphire mining area, which was very quiet, we took the plane to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in order to visit the blue sapphire deposit of Vietnam Highlands. We started our survey on the cost around Phan Thiet city with the deposits near Da Ban and with Ma Lam villages. Then we took the road to the mountain to visit the former mining area near Di Linh where there is currently no activity as most of the local working force is busy working in the coffee plantations which have replaced all the jungle and covering nowadays all the region. We finally left to the new province of Dak Nong (formerly Gia Nghia) where we scouted the Dak Ton and Dak Rung mining areas. There as the coffee was not yet replacing all the jungle we could find after several hours walking in the jungle some small scale mining areas and meet some sapphire and zircon miners.

"Melo snail in Cat Ba port"
A Vietnamese fisherman is holding a melo melo sea snail in Cat Ba port, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. These sea snails are known to produce in some very rare cases beautiful large natural pearls.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboratory Bangkok, 2009

They after this visit to the south we returned to Hanoi in order to do, with the help of Pham Van Long, the necessary paper work for the export of our samples and returned to Bangkok on June 10th after a truly very successful field expedition.

All the best,

May 13th, 2009 | Keywords:Field Report GIA , Pailin , Cambodia , ruby , sapphire Travel |
Blog Title: GIA Field Report 01 Online!: Pailin, Cambodia

GIA "Field Report": May 13, 2009: Concise Field Report Volume 01: Pailin, Cambodia (Dec. 2008 - Feb 2009):
Today we have created a new page on GIA Laboratory Bangkok Lab Research pages: In this page will be posted in the future the different public versions of GIA Field Gemologists' field trip reports. The first report to be put online is about Pailin in Cambodia: This report forms part of a series of simple yet informative reports that describe field trips undertaken by GIA Field Gemologists in order to obtain specimens from mines producing a variety of gemstones throughout the world. You can download the field report on the GIA Laboratory Bangkok "Field Reports " (follow the link) where you will find also many other interesting gemological studies from my friends and colleagues at GIA Laboratory Bangkok.

"Pailin ruby and sapphire"
Two rough ruby and blue sapphire seen on a typical brass plate used by most Pailin's gems dealers at the gem market. The stones present the typical tumbled aspect of stones mined from secondary deposits.
Photo: V. Pardieu / GIA Laboraotory Bangkok, 2009

After these two expeditions we have been able to get a good update about the present mining activity around Pailin and were also able to collect some very interesting samples for our Origin Specific Reference Collection. These stones will be very useful for our research about rubies and sapphires from South East Asia.
I will keep you informed but if you want to help, please contact me at the GIA Lab Bangkok indicating of course my name.
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.