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Madagascar Gems: Ruby, Sapphire & Emerald

The Gem Island of Madagascar

Article Copyright © 2012 AllAboutGemstones.com

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, located in the Indian Ocean off the south-east coast of Africa. The island is the land that time forgot, offering a unique oasis of biological diversity that is a window into our distant past. Over 150 million years ago Madagascar separated from the other main land masses that formed the super-continent of Gondwanaland, forming its own specialized and unique species of plants and animals. Species such as the baobab tree (below, right), and the elephant bird, lemur, tenrec or zebu are only found on the island of Madagascar.

Madagascar's Gem Trade

The Malagasy have an abundance of mineral wealth that includes rich gem-deposits of diamond, aquamarine, emerald, garnet, ruby, sapphire, and tourmaline.

Although they are relative newcomers to sapphire and ruby production, the Malagasy are now one of the world's leading producers of the rough gems. As supplies of Thai, and Burmese Mogok or Mong-Hsu rubies and sapphire dwindle, the international gem market has become increasingly reliant on Sri Lanka and Madagascar to fill the void. Much of the raw material that is produced in Madagascar is in need of some color enhancement, finding its way to Thailand for heat-treatment.

Map of Madagascar

   Madagascar Baobab Trees

Baobab Trees (Photo: Public Domain)

As Madagascar's full potential is being realized, investments in larger-scale mining operations are being conducted by international conglomerates like the Rio Tinto Group and Pan African Mining, Corp. of British Columbia, who are working with local agencies such as Madagascar Resources NL, and SIAM (Societe d'Investissement Australien a Madagascar) [1].

The World Bank is funding development projects in cooperation with the Malagasy government, forming the "Project de Gouverance sur les Resources Minerales" (PGRM) to help facilitate an increase in Madagascar's gem production [7]. The newly created "Institut de Gemmologie de Madagascar" (IGM), and "Institut de Gemmologie d' Antananarivo" have been established to cultivate research, technological development, and training through their lapidary schools.

Sapphire from Ilakaka

The isolated mining town of Ilakaka is Madagascar's modern-day version of the American southwest during the gold-rush era. This "sapphire rush" boomtown of 60,000 people is located in Toliara province, aproximatly 60 km northeast of Sakaraha, on the highway from the port city of Toliara (Tulear) on Madagascar's southwest coast.

Ilakaka's sapphire and alexandrite fields, known as the "Swiss Bank" deposits, are some of the richest gem mines in southern Madagascar. Mining of the Swiss Bank deposits is accomplished with a combination of hand-dug pits, horizontal tunneling, and small-scale mechanized mining operations.

Town of Ilakaka

Ilakaka (Photo: Public Domain)


Ilakaka Gem Market (Photo: Public Domain)

Ruby from Vatomandry

The city of Vatomandry is a coastal township located on the central-eastern side of Madagascar, in the province of Fianarantsoa. Vatomandry is one of the "ruby boomtowns" of Madagascar, with ruby mines located in the mountainous interior to the west of the city.

Vatomandry's mining region is covered in rain forests, bringing the potential for conflict between mining interests and ecological preservationists. The Vatomandry mines are some of the first ruby mines in Madagascar, producing higher-quality stones known locally as "ruby star." It is reported that some of Vatomandry's best ruby-star specimens can approach the quality level of Burmese ruby [2].

Ruby from Andilamena

Andilamena is a mining town 140 km north of Antananarivo, in northern-central Madagascar. Rubies were first discovered at the Andilamena mines in late 2003, near the mining villages of Moramanga and Tananarivekel. Andilamena's rubies are lower in quality than stones from elsewhere in Madagascar, with hues of brown to orange-red [3]. Mining operations in the region have slowed due to environmental degradation of the surrounding rain forest.

Blue Sapphire Rough Gems

   Color Zoning in Blue Sapphire

Sapphire from Andranondambo & Tranomaro

The mines of Andranondambo & Tranomaro are approximately 80 km north-west of Taolagnaro (aka Fort Dauphin or Tolanaro) located in the "Tranomaro Zone," which lies along the Manambolo river, on the south-eastern coastline of Madagascar.

The Tranomaro and Andranondambo mines figured prominently in Madagascar's "sapphire-rush" of the early 1990s. This mining region is located within ancient alluvial drainage basins and plains, with gem deposits that are buried under several feet of clay and sand. Sapphire in Tranomaro is found within river-gravels, occurring as loose individual pebbles, or imbedded within metamorphic limestone. The Andranondambo mines produce cornflower-blue sapphire that is reputed to rival Myanmar's Mogok and Mong Hsu regions, or Sri Lanka's Ratnapura region.

Emeralds from Manajary (Kianjavato)

The Kianjavato emerald mines are located in the rain-forest region of eastern Madagascar, approximately 60 km west of the coastal city of Mananjary. The Kianjavato emerald mines sits just north of the town of Irondro, in the Vatovavy Region of Fianaranatsoa Province. Emerald deposits at Kianjavato are associated with pegmatite rock that are as much as 3 billion years old. Sapphire is also produced at the Kianjavato mines. Pan African Mining, Corp. of British Columbia (PAM Madagascar SARL) has optioned mining rights at the Kianjavato mines, with the intent of increasing production in the future.

Madagascar emeralds are also mined at the Ianapera (Sakalava) emerald deposits in the Ianapera (Janapera) area of Tuléar (Toliara) Province, 350 km east of the town Toliara.

With the current pace of mineral exploitation in Madagascar, that island is becoming an increasingly integral part of the World's rough gem market. The only limitation will be the International community and the Malagasy people's desire to preserve the unique biological resources of the island.

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Bibliography on the Gems of Madagascar

1. Mauritius Embassy, Investments in Madagascar . www.mauritius.embassy.gov.au

2. Mick Elmore, Madagascar Ruby Floods the Market . www.tucsonshowguide.com

3. PJM, Madagascar Ruby Rush . www.professionaljeweler.com

4. Madagascar Consulate, Madagascar Information . www.madagascar-consulate.org

5. Thomas R. Yager, The Mineral Industry of Madagascar . minerals.usgs.gov

5. Walter Schumann, Gemstones of the World . NAG Press; 2Rev Ed edition

7. Gem Forcaster, Robert Genis, Madagascar's IGM Forges Ahead . www.preciousgemstones.com

8. Alain Darbellay, John Darbellay, Andranondambo Sapphire Discovery . www.gggems.com

9. Lori Walton, Colored Gemstone Deposits . www.geology.gov.yk.ca

10. Madagascar Consulate, Geology & Mining Potentiality in Antananarivo . www.madagascarconsulate.org.za

11. Madagascar Consulate, Mining in Madagascar . www.madagascarconsulate.org.za

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