A team of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) field researchers undertook a trip to Zambia, to study emeralds and collect samples for the Institute’s gem identification database and to document the current state of Kagem, the world’s largest emerald mine, located in the Kafubu mining area. Gemfields, the publicly-traded gemstone mining company, acquired the open pit mining operations six years ago.
The team consisted of Field Gemologists Vincent Pardieu and Andrew Lucas, Gems & Gemology (G&G) Technical Editor Tao Hsu, videographer Didier Gruel and expedition guest Stanislas Detroyat.
“I’ve visited numerous colored gemstone mining operations throughout the world, but one of this size, modernization and organization really gives a visual of the changes that may be coming to our industry,” said Lucas. Detroyat said that, “By combining an understanding of the geology with professional mining methods, Gemfields has turned Kagem into a profitable operation. In July 2009, its first high-grade rough emerald auction achieved $4.4 million, and in February 2014, $59.31 million.”
Along with a standardized grading system for emerald rough and an auction platform, environmentally sound practices and community outreach programs have revolutionized the mine-to-market gemstone business.
Following the visit to Kagem, Pardieu, Detroyat and Gruel, toured other Zambian emerald mines to collect comparative samples. At the small mining operation of Musakashi in the Solwesi province, the team confirmed the existence of an emerald deposit with internal features and color reminiscent of Colombian emeralds. Several other operations in the Kafubu area, such as Miku, Dabuisha, Matenke and Benisa, are now run by Chinese companies.
“It was fascinating to visit and study the Kafubu emerald mining area, one of the oldest gemstone producing areas is Africa, and to witness the challenges faced by the local miners. In comparison to other gems, emerald is very difficult to mine since it’s mainly mined from primary deposits and production is technically much more challenging,” said Pardieu.
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