Category

Gemstone mines and other finds

Rare crystal of lapis lazuli from Sar-i Sang gemstone mines, Afhganistan
Rare crystal of lapis lazuli from Sar-i Sang mines, Afhganistan. / Parent Géry, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

WorldBlue Described gemstone mines and other finds

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WorldYellow What is included in this category?

Emerald from Muzo mines, Colombia
Emerald from Muzo mines, Colombia / / CC BY-SA 3.0

Gemstones are decorative stones of high value, used in adornments, mostly – in jewelry.

Kinds of gemstones

None can say the exact number of kinds of gemstones. Creative lapidaries can make beautiful jewelry for almost any materials – but most widely used are some 30 kinds of gemstones.

More than 100 other kinds of natural stones are gorgeous gemstones as well but are used less frequently due to their extreme rarity or rare occurrence of gemstone quality samples.

Qualities

Main distinguishing qualities of gemstones are:

Opal "Galaxy" from Opalville, Australia
Opal "Galaxy" from Opalville, Australia / Assignment_Houston_One, / CC BY-SA 2.5
  • Beauty – most important value. Distinguished gemstones have lively, lucid color (e.g. the incredible blue color of the best tanzanites) or even many colors (high-quality opals and spectrolite). Top-quality gemstones should not be just transparent crystals, they should have special brilliance, luster. Best in this respect is the king of gemstones – diamond, but some other gemstones, like zircon and garnets, also have a high index of refraction.Lucidity, transparency is another important factor for most gemstones – the beauty of emerald, ruby or spinel can be appreciated only if the crystal is clean. Many gemstones have specific "wow" factor – unique light effects. Thus alexandrite or the very rare blue garnet change their color according to the lighting – they are red in artificial light and green or blue – in natural light. Spectrolite and opal have a special effect of iridescence and some stones have specific inclusions that cause effect of asterism.
  • Hardness, stability, and/or sturdiness – this quality is important for practical reasons – after all, people would be happy to use their jewels often and at the same time retain their jewelry as the legacy of the family for many generations. Some gemstones belong to the hardest substances known in nature (diamond, sapphire, ruby, chrysoberyl, and the extremely rare moissanite). There are comparatively soft gemstones – such as amber or chrysocolla – but these can be used as gemstones thanks to their comparatively high sturdiness. A weak point of many popular gemstones is their loss of quality over the time. Thus, some especially bright colors in crystals are caused by natural radioactivity – and, as the crystals are removed from their original location, after some years the beautiful color is lost. Softer gemstones over time can become dull – their surface is covered with crevices and scratches. Very often gemstones are artificially improved – and lose their improvements over time.
  • Rarity. Jewelry is a mode of expression – and in order to excel, one needs to have something unique. There are just a handful of red diamonds or blue garnets with changing color in the world – it is simpler and cheaper to buy a Lamborghini than such a stone. One tiny blue garnet (4.2 carats) has been sold for 6.8 million dollars in 2003. Or – one can try to become the owner of the gem-quality natural moissanite or grandidierite crystals (each of them represented by ONE piece) or chase the few existing gem-quality musgravites or serendibites, each costing millions of dollars.
Entrance in amber mine, La Cumbre in Dominican Republic
Entrance in amber mine, La Cumbre in Dominican Republic / Ken Mayer,
/ CC BY 2.0

Gemstone mines and finds

While such gemstones as diamonds can have classic mines with state of the art equipment, very often the gemstones are mined by hard manual labour.

Even in their places of finding gemstones are very rare and one needs to sift tons of rock to find a gem.

"Gem fever" can start by a lucky find of two – three beautiful stones. Often nothing more is found – but sometimes findings continue and then more an more people arrive in the search of luck.

Sometimes the mine is exhausted in one or two years. But sometimes gems are mined for millenia and such mines become legendary – such as the lapis lazuli mines in Afghanistan (Sar i Sang) and Tajikistan (Ladzhuar-Dara) or Maya jadeite mines (El Ciprés in Guatemala).

Illicit diamond washing in Sierra Leone, Kono
Illicit diamond washing in Sierra Leone, Kono / Brian Harrington Spier,
/ CC BY 2.0

The process of gem mining is far from being graceful and romantic. In less developed countries gem mining communities too often are living in terrible shanty towns and are suffering from violent crime. Gemstone mines for most part are dangerous ratholes which can collapse over the heads of miners.

After their finding gems travel from one hands to others, miraculously becoming more and more expensive. Finally the miners earn just a tiny fraction of the final price of gemstone.

Nature’s unspoilt beauty

1.3 cm large spessartine crystal, Tanzania
1.3 cm large spessartine crystal, Tanzania / Rob Lavinsky, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Irrespective of the hustle around the gemstones they are beautiful. Lots of rare coincidences were needed to create them – extreme pressure or exceptionally long time periods with very even natural circumstances and purity. One can think that gemstones are a kind of summit in nature’s achievements, at least in the realm of inanimate things.

Nothing compares to the feeling when one takes a jewel in hand and looks at it. Legs may become a bit shaky, heart beats faster and, after a longer look on gem everything else feels pale and dull. Gemstones certainly have miraculous charisma and have influenced many lives by exposing the hidden nature of many people.

There are the following articles about the gemstone mines and finds:

WorldViolet Top 25 gemstone mines

Africa

Merelani Hills – the only find of tanzanite

Tanzania

World’s only find of tanzanite – unusual, deep blue gemstone.

Tanzanite
Kakanda malachite caves

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Caves lined with highly unusual malachite stalactites. Found also unique malachite crystals that are up to 2 cm large.

Malachite stalactite from the cave in Katanga province, Democratic Republic of Congo
Silica Glass Valley

Egypt

In the western side of the Great Sand Sea can be found pieces of pure, transparent silica glass (Libyan Glass) – the only such find in the world. The largest pieces are up to 26 kg heavy. It has been used as a jewel already in Ancient Egypt. Possibly created by the impact of a large meteorite.

Kianjavato Emeralds

Madagascar

Here, in tropical forest are found some of the finest emeralds in the world.

Wegel Tena Opal Fields

Ethiopia

A fairly recent find of top-quality opal with an unusual effect. When these stones are immersed in water, they become fully transparent.

Malakialina pegmatites

Madagascar

Rich find of beryls, where reportedly is (or was?) located the largest crystal in the world. This beryl crystal is 18 m long, with a 3.5 m diameter, weighs 380 tons. Here has been mined beryl, columbite-tantalite.

Tulua pegmatites

Mozambique

Pegmatites with numerous rare minerals and large crystals of precious stones. Here are found high quality crystals of verdelite, beryl, topas, spodumene, citrine and other minerals.

Asia

The old Persian turquoise mines near Nishapur

Iran

Ancient, more than 2000 years old mines of turquoise, considered to provide the best quality turquoise in the world. Mine is closed now.

Freshly mined turquoise in Nishapur mines
Ladzhuar-Dara lazurite mine

Tajikistan

Legendary, nearly inaccessible and for long centuries secret mine of high quality lapis lazuli – lazurite. It is extremely hard to access, thus adding value to this gemstone. Rediscovered in the 1930ies.

Sar-i Sang lapis lazuli mines

Afghanistan

For several millenia here is mined the best lapis lazuli in the world.

Lapis lazuli, Afghanistan
Popigai crater

Russia

One of the largest impact craters in the world, with a diameter of 100 km. Created approximately 35.7 million years ago (Eocene) by a 5 – 8 km large bolide. Here are found up to 1 cm large, very hard diamonds created by the impact.

Popigai crater, Russia
Panjshir emeralds

Afghanistan

Rich find of some of the best emeralds in the world.

Laghman Pegmatites (Nilaw, Mawi, Korgal)

Afghanistan

Finds of the best known kunzite and other types of spodumene crystals (gemstones up to 1 m long), as well as tourmaline (possibly the best elbaite in the world), beryl (morganite, aquamarine and other types), garnets and other gems.

Merit Pila lignite mine

Malaysia

In this lignite mine, the largest known pieces of amber are found. The largest extracted piece was 3.5 m long, 1.5 m wide and some decimeters thick, but layers of amber in the lignite are even 130 m long.

Polished amber from Merit Pila, Malaysia
Kashmir sapphire mines: source of the best blue sapphire

India

Now legendary, abandoned sapphire mines where the best sapphire in the world was mined.

Kashmir Sapphire Mines near Padder in the late 19th century
Kukh-i-Lal mine

Tajikistan

Ancient mines that are up to 50 m deep. The best find of gemstone quality clinohumite – transparent stones in the color of fire. Clinohumite here is found together with another very valuable gemstone – spinel – that was mined here since the 8th century AD.

Faceted clinohumite, Tajikistan
Hpakant jade mine (Phakant mine)

Burma (Myanmar)

Major find of high-quality jade. World’s largest jade stone has been found here – it is 21 m long and 6 m high.

Finds of cobalt blue spinel in Lục Yên, Vietnam

Vietnam

The best-known find of the extremely rare cobalt blue spinel is Lục Yên in Vietnam. Local gemstone mines provide also sapphires and rubies.

Cobalt blue spinel from Lục Yên mines

Australia and Oceania

Lightning Ridge Opal Fields

Australia

World’s best find of black opals.

"Harlequin Prince Opal" - exceptional black opal from Lightning Ridge Opal Fields

North America

Mont Saint-Hilaire

Canada

414 m tall mountain with one of the last stands of primeval forest in Saint-Lawrence valley. Mountain has very high mineral diversity, here have been found 366 minerals, many are unique or near-unique to this site. Here was discovered poudretteite – seven pieces of this beautiful gemstone have been found on this mountain. A legendary site, known also thanks to frequent observations of UFOs.

Find of Olmec blue jadeite, Río El Tambor

Guatemala

The only place in the world where is found blue jadeite. This stone was the most valuable material for the Olmec civilization.

A piercer from Guatemalan blue jade, 12th - 16th century AD
Red Beryl finds in Wah Wah Mountains

United States

Finds of a very rare red beryl – bixbite.

Red beryl, Wah Wah Mountains in Utah, United States
Magdalena Opal mines

Mexico

The find of the near-unique lloviznando opal – a variety of opal with a near transparent, light blue color and phenomenal play of colors. Finds of these opals are very rare, but here are found also fire opals of exceptional quality.

Tablon mine of seam opals

Honduras

Some of the most beautiful and expensive opals in the world, with extremely bright iridescence. May cost up to 5,000 USD per carat.

South America

Rio Itoco emerald mines in Muzo

Colombia

The site where the best emeralds in the world are found. Other famous Colombian mines are in Chivor and Coscuez.

WorldYellow Recommended books

Gemstones of the World


Following the spectacular success of the first four editions of Gemstones of the World, the revised fifth edition exhibits important updates and a beautiful new cover. All the gemstones ever discovered—now over 1,900—are treated in their many variations. More than 1,500 full-color photos showcase each precious and semiprecious stone in both its rough natural state and its polished and cut renditions.

Rare Gemstones: How to Identify, Evaluate and Care for Unusual Gems


This guide provides concise, interesting, and practical details on uncommon gems that are now being used by designers to create distinctive jewelry. It not only lists the identification properties of the gems, but tells you where they are found, how they are used, why they are unique, how they are priced, and how to care for them. High-quality photos show the different colors, cutting styles, and varieties of each gem and give you ideas on how each can be used creatively in jewelry.


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