Around 1900, Maynard Bixby discovered red beryl. Naturally, he named it bixbite. Because of the meager production and small size of the gems, it has thus far only been prized by gemstone connoisseurs. Recently however, an international consortium with some money behind it and a new marketing name, red emerald, set out to make this stone a household name. Well, not exactly, with production of less than 10,000 carats a year (probably closer to 5000-7000 carats) and prices reaching over $10,000 per carat. However, their plan is to carve out a profitable niche in the gemstone and jewelry marketplace. According to Kelly Hyslop, CEO of Gemstone Mining, Inc., "There is only one red emerald for every 150,000 diamonds, 12,000-15,000 emeralds, and 7,000-8,000 rubies. Only one woman in 3 million can own a .80 or larger red emerald. These goods are really fit for royalty, only one woman in 50 million could own a large red emerald necklace."
What's in a Name?
Some trade organizations and strict linguists do not like the name red emerald. They feel marketing the product as red emerald is technically incorrect and believe emerald is strictly synonymous with green. Other beryls are not sold as colored emeralds. Morganite, for example, is not sold as pink emerald, nor aquamarine as blue emerald. However, according to Kelly Hyslop, "We are marketing the material as red emerald. Red beryl is a misnomer. If we have pink, orange, yellow, and purple sapphire, why not red emerald?" As many in the trade are aware, it is difficult to market gemstones with bad names. For example, blue zoisite is sold as tanzanite and green garnet is sold as tsavorite. Let's face it, red emerald is a sexier name than red beryl or bixbite. Although I prefer red beryl, I understand why the owners believe red emerald will help to sell this stone.
The Harris Group owned the red beryl mine in the Wah Wah Mountains of Utah for years. The mine has been producing since 1958, but consistent mining of red beryl has only taken place since 1978. Utah mining giant Kennecott bought a one year option on the mine but backed out. Kennecott is a large scale operation and did not have the specialized skills for small, time consuming mining. Recently, Gemstone Mining, Inc. of Utah bought the Ruby Violet Claim for US$10 million. Red Emerald Resources, a publicly traded company from Vancouver, Canada is responsible for mining. Red Emerald, Ltd. is responsible for preforming, cutting, polishing, enhancing and marketing the material from Gibraltar.
Red beryl crystals are found in matrix formations dispersed throughout a volcanic rock called rhyolite. Like emeralds, red beryl occurs as hexagonal crystals. The fact that red beryl is so rare suggests some unusual conditions for gemstone formation. The Ruby Violet mine site is a small operation. They have five employees and six security guards. It is approximately 250 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Speculating about the size of the mine, Kelly Hyslop states, "Our guesstimate is the mine encompasses 1.7 million tons of ore. We anticipate .7 carats of red emerald per ton. These numbers may improve as we explore deeper." They mined 10,000 tons of ore in 1999.
Red Emerald Resources Corp. runs the mine in a similar manner to Harris. It is a low tech operation. They mine with explosives, 2 Caterpillar excavators, a DC dozer, an Atlas 242 hydraulic drill and a 25 ton haul truck. It is a surface mining operation. They blast a promising area and send in one person with an excavator and one observer. As soon as someone sees a red crystal, someone goes and gets it with a hammer and chisel and pulls the rock away. Unlike many northern hemisphere mining operations, Red Emerald Resources Corp. has not been hampered by cold winters.
The main target market for these goods is the US. At one time, the Japanese were the largest buyers of the material. Small stones less than a carat are being targeted for the jewelry manufacturing market. Red beryl over a carat will probably be sold to collectors or to high-end jewelry stores. The faceted goods and specimens are displayed at the Denver, Las Vegas, and Tucson gem shows.
It is manganese that creates the red in this material as opposed to chromium or vanadium that creates the green in emerald. The bottom line is, the more manganese, the deeper cherry red or raspberry the color. Secondary colors are pink, orange and purple. Medium tones are ideal.
Like emeralds, these goods are typically included, so the cleaner the better. Red beryls are either unenhanced or Red Emerald, Ltd. treats the material with colorless oil. Arthur Groom's Gematrat process also appears to work on the red gemstones. Red beryl does not respond to heat treatment, exactly like emerald.
Most red beryls are subcarats. Recently, Red Emerald, Ltd. offered a 2.72 for sale and, in July, 2000, cut their largest red beryl to date, a 2.84. The largest well known, gem, faceted red beryl weighs approximately 8 carats.
This material has some obvious marketing benefits: It is an exclusively American gemstone, it is truly an ultra-rare stone with an great story. Although it may never be fully accepted in the retail jewelry world due to its rarity and price, red beryl offers another red alternative for ruby buyers or consumers looking for something different to covet.
"Nowadays, due to a viewpoint largely liberated of any emotion and enveloped in scientific modernity, gemstones are rightfully considered to be the best and most compact way of preserving capital."
This new book is co-authored by Eduard Gübelin, the father of gemstone inclusion microphotography. Although Gübelin is no longer associated with Gübelin Gem Lab in Switzerland, it is obvious his passion for gemstones still burns. My favorite gemstone photographers, Erika and Harold Van Pelt, are responsible for the superb photos in the publication.
Early chapters deal with how gemstones are formed (with one of the best illustration charts ever produced), what chemicals cause color, crystal systems, and how gemstones and diamonds are mined and cut.
Each colored gemstone family has its own mini-section that includes a gemstone's chemistry, crystal system, colors, refractive index, birefringence, dichroism, density, hardness, consistency, occurrence, and extraction information. This can be valuable information for stones in which you may have an interest.
Although the diamond section is small compared to the totality of the book, it includes photos of many famous diamonds and actual photos of how diamonds are graded.
The authors do an excellent job describing how Mogok Burma ruby was probably formed in a host rock over 500 million years ago. Of course, the combination of alumina and chromium creates the red we all seek. Also, the photograph of the Inkyauk mine near Mogok is priceless. They also argue that simply because a gem is from Burma, it is not necessarily a fine stone. Each source country has its world class gems and many low quality stones. They properly note gemstone inclusions are vital for a positive identification.
Other chapters that stand out include sapphires (If you have never seen a Kashmir sapphire, check out the color of the stone on page 66.), garnets, and spinel. This book is comprehensive and includes chapters from emeralds to zircon. Also, the publication covers ornamental gems from agate to turquoise.
A large section of the book deals with gemstones as symbols of authority and power. Many of the photographs are of objects built during the Middle Ages to honor God. The book also includes many interesting stories of the history of numerous crowns and imperial treasures from Europe, the Mideast, and Russia. Much of this information is updated and filled with intrigue and deception. The authors also discuss jeweled works of art and talismans.
My favorite chapter is "The Fascination of Internal Life". According to Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.), "Thus each gem has its own features dependent on the country from which it comes." This is an extremely astute observation that is almost 2000 years old! This section has numerous microphotography images. If you ever wanted to inspect an excellent photo of Burma ruby rutile, see page 221.
I disagree with the authors' view on which gems people should collect. They emphasize benitoite, brazilianite, cuprite, ekanite, and others. Although these gems can play a part in a well diversified collection, they probably should not be the main emphasis due to the fact they are so thinly traded. We do agree that collecting rare gemstones is a fascinating hobby, coupled with the protection against erosion of value.
The book is primarily designed for someone who is just beginning to research gemstones and diamonds. The entire publication is written in a non-technical manner. The best way I can describe its writing style is romantic, uplifting, European prose. It can also be utilized as a reference tool, you can simply read the sections presently of interest. You will be amazed that they published and printed this book for $49.00, given the high quality and amount of color photographs. This looks like a $200+ coffee-table book. For hard core collectors, "Gemstones: Symbols of Beauty and Power" would be a welcome library addition.
You can purchase this book on-line at Amazon.com.
JCK, September, 2000
"If a customer comes in with an old stone, don't assume that because of its age, it has to be natural. It might be a synthetic. Synthetic rubies were made at the turn of the 20th century, and synthetic sapphires have been around almost as long. The "alexandrite" that was purchased during a military tour of duty or during a Mexican vacation is more likely a synthetic sapphire that changes color."
Gary Roskin, Gemology 101
The practice of heating rubies and sapphires to enhance their appearance has been known since Roman times. Development of better ovens in the mid-1970's allowed treating corundum at significantly higher temperatures, creating a more dramatic improvement. The Bangkok cookers were heating rubies between 1,600 - 1,800C, aiming to improve the color and reduce the silk. Treatment research accelerated when it was discovered Sri Lanka's pale-colored (gueda) sapphires could be turned into gem blue sapphires via heat.
The Thais have become experts at understanding crystal chemistry. Many state-of-the art cookers today utilize electronic furnaces and computers. They use chemistry, engineering, physics, and maybe even magic. They bathe the gems in oxygen and hydrogen, and cycle the gems with precise digital increments. Others still use the old method, which involves putting rough or finished gems in a crucible and heating them inside a steel drum. Every cooker has their own theories and secrets.
In the early 1980's, gemologists began to notice that a solid, foreign, glass-like substance was either partially or completely filling surface cavities. This condition became known as "glass or fracture-filling" in the trade. It is the result of a new heat treatment that almost reaches the melting point of corundum (2,050C), used in conjunction with borax, silica, or aluminum chemical powders.
Corundum may be treated to improve color, improve clarity or transparency, heal fractures, or to fill open fractures and cavities. For example, many Mogok Burma rubies contain "silk", or microscopic rutile needles. This silk clouds the overall appearance of the stone. When heated to a temperature between the melting point of rutile and ruby, the "silk" dissolves without damaging the stone, and the stone's appearance becomes "lively".
The heating of rubies and sapphires is now the norm in the international marketplace. This technology allows large quantities of rubies and sapphires to be available to meet the international demand. The only gems that are not cooked today are those either too bad or too good to improve. If possible, collect the unheated rocks that are too good to fry.
"Things are going from bad to worse. On my last visit to Burma I had to wait for some colonel to sign my export papers for three days. The guy was in some muddy golf tournament. Clearly, the authorities are doing everything to slow export, except for shutting down the country completely. Corruption is rife and expensive. The Burmese, who are totally isolated from the outside world in terms of prices, are asking enormous prices. I was offered a 5 carat piece of light pink, not so great, spinel. The price asked was US$20,000. The guy said he had an offer of US$12,000, but would not sell. It is next to impossible to find clean stones. What is happening now in the spinel market is, before they were cutting rough to a few small and clean pieces. Now, they are smarter, and they cut the same piece into one large, included piece and ask the moon for it.
As you know, the government raised the salaries of its employees sixfold overnight. This is creating inflationary pressures and uncertainty, which pushes prices of gems up, as they buy them unselectively to protect their capital. In the last few months, petrol price, one of the major factors in mining costs, has gone up like the rest of the world. The private miners are struggling with higher operational expenses. This is not helping prices to be reasonable. The bottom line is that no matter what the supply side is doing, the demand is increasing anyway. What I foresee is steady increase and those who can afford the gamble will keep on buying, others will stay out of the game. We are seriously considering diversification out of our line, so we would not be at the mercy of this spinel-o-rama."
In August, hackers shut down Burma's military government's Web site. The Web site gives the military regime's side in a propaganda war dominated by overseas supporters of the democratic opposition led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won general elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power. Only government ministries and some business organizations in Burma have access to the Web, and just a few hundred domestic users have e-mail. The government keeps tight control on all media.
Heroin and AIDS
Burma continues to be among the largest sources of illicit opium and heroin in the world, with poppy cultivation doubling since 1988. Intravenous drug use is on the rise in Burma, and is contributing to the alarming increase of HIV-infected people. The UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP) estimates the number between 400-500,000. The main reasons for the high rates of heroin use and HIV are the young Burmese internal migrants working in the jade and ruby mines in Shan or Kachin states. Hundreds of thousands of people come from all over the country to work in the mines during dry season.
President Clinton delivered a $1.3 billion U.S. aid package in August. He believes this will help Colombia defeat its drug traffickers without getting the United States into a Vietnam-like quagmire. President Andres Pastrana stated Colombia has no intention of drawing the United States into its military conflict. Police discovered and deactivated a 4.4-pound bomb found five blocks from a neighborhood Clinton planned to tour. The U.S. assistance is part of Pastrana's $7.5 billion "Plan Colombia", designed to end decades of civil war, fight drug trafficking, strengthen the judicial system and revive an economy in the doldrums. The largest part of the $1.3 billion U.S. contribution to Plan Colombia is for military assistance, including 60 helicopters to be used mostly by the Colombian army in eradicating the lucrative drug crop. The United States already has about 100 soldiers in Colombia to train counternarcotics battalions of the Colombian army. In response to the Clinton visit, the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia, the country's largest guerrilla group, has made a series of attacks on isolated towns and police headquarters. They killed more than 200 people. Many of the attacks have been staged from the demilitarized zone handed to the guerrillas by the government in 1998 as a gesture to promote peace talks. Military and police units were removed from the zone, giving the rebels a safe haven in the heart of the country which is the size of Switzerland. We wonder at what point will the entire production of emeralds be at risk?
Approximately 12 rebel groups are fighting for Kashmir. In August, 30 unarmed Hindus and Muslim porters were killed by Kashmir rebels. In retaliation, Islamic guerrillas killed 48 who were working in a brick factory and another 40 Hindus south of Kashmir valley. It is believed the attacks were carried out by militants who oppose the talks between the Indian government and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the largest guerrilla group in Kashmir. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation front is urging the international community to accept a formula where Kashmir would be reunited and independent in 15 years. It is presently under the control of India, Pakistan and Gilgit Baltistan.
The Thai police and tourism authorities vowed to clamp down on jewelry scams in Bangkok. Every year, hundreds of unsuspecting tourists buy fake gems. Victims are typically approached by drivers and illegal "guides" who offer to help them find inexpensive jewelry. Despite warnings in guidebooks, many travelers are taken in by promises the gems they buy in Thailand can be resold at much higher prices once they return home. Last year, 477 tourists complained of being defrauded by gem dealers. About 200 people are arrested for jewelry scams each month. They are charged with causing a nuisance and fined a maximum of 1,000 baht ($25 dollars). Under the new plan, reputable stores will be identified with a logo and the industry will be watched closely for fraud.
World's Largest D-Flawless
A 90.97 carat, D-Flawless, round brilliant diamond was sold to an unnamed buyer for an unnamed price at a party at Monte Carlo's Terrasses du Soleil Casino. It was originally named the "Icon" by famous cutter Laurence Graff. The party included laser beams and a special light show. Guests were also entertained with flower displays, water fountains, a procession of fire throwers, costumed performers on stilts and a live cheetah. The diamond was carried on a velvet cushion by a small Indian boy, who was carried into the room amidst billowing smoke by two African pole bearers. The stone was placed in an elaborate showcase for the enjoyment of the guests. One attendee purchased it without a moment's hesitation for his collection. He renamed it "The Safia" which is Arabic for "pure".
Large Diamond Found
Majestic Resources of Australia said it recovered a 30 carat rough diamond of gem quality in the Pniel region in South Africa. They named the rock the "Star of Pniel". It was discovered less than seven kilometers from where a 308 carat stone was discovered in 1914.
Cambridge Mineral Resources recently began drilling for precious gemstones in Ireland. They have already discovered tiny samples of rubies and sapphires, and diamond-bearing host rocks. They have been exploring for three years and have completed two extensive airborne magnetic surveys. The recent tests will determine whether the project is commercially viable. The drilling rig, operated by Irish Drilling Ltd., will take samples of core rock down to a depth of 100 meters. The material will then be sent to Canada for independent analysis.
Harry Winston Estate Settled
Harry Winston died 22 years ago and his sons started suing each other 12 years ago. Harry Winston groomed Ronald to take over the business because Bruce dropped out of college and spent six years roaming Europe. In the will, Harry gave Ronald his inheritance outright, while Bruce's would be parceled out by a trust. Ronald insisted their father wanted more than anything else to keep the company in the family, offered $5 million, then $17 million, for his brother's share. Bruce Winston went to court, claiming Ronald was mismanaging the business and demanding the company be sold so he could get his share. They sealed the deal in White Plains, New York with a handshake. Ronald Winston, 59, is paying Bruce Winston $54.1 million for his share of the fabled company, which Harry started in the 1920's with $2,000 and a love of precious stones. Ronald obtained the $54 million from the investment firm, Fenway Partners.
Palace of Gold & Light Exhibition
The "Palace of Gold & Light: Treasures" will be at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, FL, from Oct. 15 to Feb. 28, 2001. It includes over 200 works of art and artifacts from Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Many of the pieces have never been seen and some items may be of interest to gem collectors. In the area devoted to "The Mysteries of Kingship", Suleyman I's ebony campaign throne is inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl. His turban is adorned with a trio of large emeralds and diamonds. A sword of Suleyman I has gold scrolls and flowers with a ruby-eyed dragon fighting a serpent. Helmets and maces carried by the sultan's guards are also in gold and inlaid with turquoise and coral. The famous Topkapi dagger, the object of desire sought in the 1964 film "Topkapi", features a handle encased in quarter-sized emeralds and diamonds, with an eight-sided emerald concealing a watch on its top. It was commissioned as a gift for the Iranian Nadir Shah, who was killed in an uprising before the Ottoman emissary arrived, so the dagger was returned to the sultan.
In May, Downey Designs, an Indianapolis jewelry company, mailed a large brown box with $350,000 in jewelry to a jeweler in Columbus City. They shipped the goods via U.S. Postal Service's one-day Express Mail delivery. After Downey Designs was unable to verify the receipt of the package, a theft report was filed with Columbus police. The company didn't want to draw attention to the jewelry and listed it as a missing package valued under $500. The postal service also was informed of the derailed shipment. According to investigators, the package arrived, but to the wrong address. For more than six weeks, the package lay in the hands the wrong recipient. A store employee, as part of that person's daily duties, opened the box and found the jewels. That person denied having received the package until confronted by police who had verified the delivery. The person admitted having received the shipment, but said he had stocked it with other inventory. After news accounts of the missing gems were aired on a local television broadcast, the diamonds reappeared in a duffel-style bag securely locked to a third-floor parking garage at 3 a.m. in the morning. The person faces felony charges of obstruction of correspondence and possession of stolen mail, both punishable by fines, restitution and up to five years of prison.
In July, Florida jewelry salesman Stuart W. Smith, Sr. stopped at the Montgomery Highway carwash. He was on his way back to Florida after a jewelry show in Atlanta. While Smith was inside the carwash lobby, a man jumped in Smith's dark green, 2000 Cadillac waiting outside after being washed and drove the car off the lot. Police found the stolen car nearby with $100,000 worth of jewelry still in the trunk. The bulk of Smith's goods was missing. Authorities are investigating the likelihood that the thief or thieves stalked Smith and knew of his stash of precious gems. Smith told police he might have been followed from a nearby restaurant where he had noticed a man watching him. Such gem thefts are not uncommon. In recent years, federal authorities have investigated a series of similar jewel heists on the West Coast. In each case, robbers, described as South American or Hispanic, pulled off well-planned heists in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Sacramento and Salt Lake City.
Condos of an upscale, 28-floor, skyscraper Brazilian tower building in Sao Paulo can sell for over US$2 million. The occupants pay US$2,200 per month for bullet-proof doors and around-the-clock surveillance. In July, fifteen men in ski-masks and surgical gloves dodged 10 security cameras, six on-duty guards and an electric fence to break into the chic building. The machine-gun carrying raiders bullied the porters to request the occupants open their doors to carry out emergency heating maintenance. The unsuspecting residents opened their doors to the thieves. Without leaving a trace, the robbers made off with large amounts of cash, precious gemstones, diamonds, and a Mercedes.
Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive jeweler David Orgell is known for providing pricey gems and jewelry to movie stars. However, he recently sued Michael Jackson. The lawsuit alleges Jackson was given a 100-carat, diamond-encrusted Vacheron Constantine watch to take home for a few days. The understanding was that the singer would purchase the timepiece for the reduced price of $1.45 million if he liked it or he would return it promptly. The watch retails for $1.9 million. The lawsuit states Jackson kept the watch for four months without paying for it. The suit says several invoices were sent to Jackson, but were always ignored. After four months, Jackson finally returned the watch, stating he wasn't interested in buying it. The jeweler alleges, "The watch was returned with lotion on it, was scratched and was dirty from food particles." The jeweler contends the watch is now used and wants the full price of the timepiece. Mr. Jackson calls the lawsuit meritless.
A traveling diamond salesman was recently robbed while driving southbound on U.S. 101 in San Francisco. He had left the Jewelry Center at about 2:30 p.m. and was followed by two vehicles. One of the cars cut off the salesman from the left, and a van struck him from behind. The salesman thought he had simply been rear-ended on the freeway. Suddenly, two strange men pinned him in his car and pointed a gun at his chest. He tried to get out of his car, but was shoved back inside. Seconds later, the thieves found a pouch full of loose diamonds worth $250,000 strapped around the salesman's waist, took it and immediately fled. Not a single motorist passing on the highway saw what happened. The salesman summoned help from a nearby call box. The staged accident is blamed on the loose-knit jewel theft ring that originates in South America.
The well hidden, one-mile-long lake is sheltered on three sides by steep limestone faces and is reachable only by a narrow, wooded path. Reports indicate workmen under SS guard were seen dumping heavy metal cases into the waters. Rumors have spread that the cases included gold, precious stamp collections, diamonds and other valuables looted by the Nazis from Jews during the war.
In 1959, the lake yielded millions of dollars worth of fake British pound notes, as well as secret documents detailing the Nazi's official counterfeiting operation aimed at devaluing the British currency by flooding markets with fake notes. In 1973, the Austrian government salvaged more trunks stuffed with fake British pounds and other documents. Anything discovered must be turned over to the Austrian government.
Divers from RMS Titanic Inc. are searching the Titanic for a cache of missing diamonds. The Florida-based salvage company stated the artifacts would be preserved for display and would not be sold. They are using manned submersibles and a miniature remote-operated vehicle dubbed a "flying eyeball" that is equipped with a video camera. The company's five expeditions have recovered about 5,000 items.
Diamonds and passenger jewelry are believed to be stashed in pursers' bags. It is known two brothers were traveling from Switzerland with a shipment of diamonds to New York. They could be valued be at $300 million. Millvena Dean, the youngest living survivor of the disaster, who was just 9 weeks old when the ship went down, is against the dive and believes the ship and its contents should be left in peace.
District Judge J. Calvitt Clarke, Jr. issued an order in August that repeated his ban on selling Titanic artifacts. He was concerned the company's new management is pushing in this direction. RMS Titanic says its next dive will be the first time people will go inside the wreckage. RMS Titanic Inc. said it would sell artifacts that have no historical or archeological significance, such as jewelry, currency and gold. The company has already sold items like coins and chunks of coal.
Afghanistan's Emerald Heights: The gem-studded mountains are a pot of gold for anti-Taliban forces.
by Lucian Kim
"AFGHANISTAN: Explosions rock this high mountain valley as puffs of smoke rise above the craggy peaks. Fifteen years ago, the blasts could have come from Soviet jets targeting mujahideen hideouts. Today the quarry is emeralds. Laboring at the end of claustrophobic tunnels, men use metal bars to sift through the rubble dislodged by their dynamite charges. The brilliant green stones they find are filling the war chest of Ahmad Shah Masood, the commander of the last significant resistance to the Taliban. Since its rise to power in the mid '90s, the Taliban militia has forced its strict interpretation of the Koran upon the roughly 90 percent of the country captured so far. And the war continues. At the beginning of July, new fighting erupted between the Taliban and Commander Masood's forces.
The Taliban has financed its campaigns through the multimillion-dollar drug trade, which it largely controls. Meanwhile, the forces loyal to Masood are holed up in a mountainous patch of country, rich only in rocks. The anti-Taliban forces are rallying against a regime they view as merely a puppet of foreign powers like Pakistan. In a good year, Masood's camp yields up to $60 million from the hundreds of emerald and lapis lazuli mines in the remote northeastern corner of Afghanistan. Vast fortunes are believed to lie in these mountains, where per capita monthly income can usually be counted on two calloused hands. What drives men to work in these mines is more the hope of striking it rich than patriotic duty. Yet most end up staying for a lifetime. "We make our living through the emeralds," says Abdul Wara, head of a 25-member extended family. "Once we find something, we eat. And then we start working again".
Mr. Wara, who has been mining these mountains for 20 years, works in a team with three other men. Their tools consist of a few sticks of dynamite, a sledgehammer, two crowbars, and a shovel. As is typical for the work cycle here, the team took a break after finding a $20,000 gem half a year ago. When their meager shares of the profits -$800 per man - ran out, the miners returned to work. Like the other miners here, Wara and his comrades spend five days a week on the mountainside, as the nearest village is a two-hour hike away and they often work late into the night. Sleeping in tents perched among the crags, they are never far from their mines, which dot the sun-beaten mountains like rows of caves.
Despite the hardship, Abdul Kafil says he prefers mining to farming, Afghanistan's dominant occupation. "It's better. It's like a game...only a really long game. It's up to God if He gives us anything." The head of an eight-man team, Mr. Kafil works in the valley's largest mine, which he says has yielded more than 20 pounds of emeralds over the years. As he speaks, four men with wheelbarrows come charging out of the cavern, dumping heaps of rock over a nearby precipice. Anyone can join in the labor, automatically acquiring one share in future returns. When Kafil's team recently found a $300,000 emerald, he took home a shabby $6,000 cut. With the money, Kafil built a house for his young family. The entrepreneurs who provided tools, dynamite, tents, and other supplies took a significantly bigger cut, up to one-third of the total shares.
Once the emeralds are sold to middlemen, the rough stones travel to Pakistan, East Asia, or the Middle East, where they are then cut and reappraised for sale on the international gem market. Many of the miners are acutely aware that the brilliant stones they dig from the mountains are worth many times what they earn. Theft is a temptation, despite the watchful eyes of fellow miners that make decampment difficult. "A lot of people do that - once they find an emerald, they run away. I'd do the same now," says one miner, who claims that he was cheated out of profit from an emerald he discovered. "Next time we find an emerald, we won't let anybody know. Small stones go in our pockets, big stones go in theirs."
Other miners, like Kafil, view mining emeralds as doing their patriotic duty to fund the war against the Taliban. "I started working here as a child - like those kids - looking for little stones," he says, pointing at a boy with a face blackened from the mine. The 12-year-old makes the two-hour climb from his village every morning. Per day he never makes much more than a dollar, which he dutifully turns over to his father.
"It's like a casino in those mines," says Rashiddudin, Afghanistan's jet-setting emerald merchant and a major shareholder in several mines. "You can put $10,000 into one mine and make $1. Or you can invest $100 and make a million. People work by experience, but not by knowledge of geology." Rashiddudin (who only goes by one name) says that reliance on chance is only one of many problems. "We need the proper technology. The drills that miners use are jackhammers for repairing roads," he says. "And a lot of emeralds go lost in the explosions." Modern exploration technology, which largely eliminates the hit-or-miss method used in Afghanistan, has still not made its way to these high mountains.
Emeralds have been mined here only for the past 30 years. Rashiddudin says that foreign geologists who have visited the region are impressed with the potential for exploration. New mines are opening every year. For the mujahideen fighting the Taliban, that means a reliable source of income - and a steady supply of weapons - for years to come."
For comments, questions or price quotes E-mail NGC, Attn: R. Genis
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