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
www.ruby-sapphire.com
"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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Number 01: Sept 2006
(I know: it was long time ago...)

 



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about gems, gemology, field expeditions, studying gemology, minerals, jade, pearls or jewelry?
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emeralds


 


 


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All the best,

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


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


 




Introduction:


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


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


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


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


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


All the best,




Summary of the FE17 Field Expedition to Afghanistan:


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



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


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


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


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


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

 

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




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


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


ruby & Sapphire by Richard W. Hughes

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

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

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

Gems & Gemology

Gems & Gemology

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

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

You might be also interested to visit the rest of Gary Bowersox informative website: www.gems-afghan.com



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

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




About Jegdalek and ruby mining in Afghanistan:


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


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


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



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


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


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




 

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



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


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




 

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




 

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



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




 

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



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




 

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



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


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


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


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


 

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



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




 

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



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




 

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



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




 

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



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




 

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



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




 

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





 

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



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




 

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



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


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




 

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



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


 




 

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



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


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




 

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



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


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


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


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




 

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



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




 

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



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


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




 

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



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


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


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


- The long walk of the Kuchis (2006)


- Lessons from an Afghan Oasis (2010)




 

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





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


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


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




 

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


All the best,


 




Special thanks:


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


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


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


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




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.