Finally! Trade #10 is here!!!!

•September 21, 2007 • 2 Comments

Rubies & yellow mumsSnapper is trade #10.Trade #9, Rubies for a Snapper riding mower, went off without a hitch just a few days ago.

Now it’s time for Trade #10! I have a Snapper riding lawnmower available now. Runs strong. New battery. Elec. start.

Where will trade #10 take us?


Between a Rock, a Bottle, & a Gun

•March 20, 2007 • 3 Comments

We’ve narrowed down the trade offer for my Ruby from Madagascar now between a Flintlock pistol from the early 1800’s, and a Decanter from the early-mid 1800’s.

Does anyone have any thoughts?  This is a tough decision, but I do have some time, since Kyle has been kind enough to offer to travel to me.  (also since he wants to see some of my ex-boyfriend’s antiques while he’s here)*d7C3xZBbgv4xQp5Fd3Ig=

Choices, choices….

•March 12, 2007 • Leave a Comment

A wonderful young man from North Carolina has offered me my choice of any of his items (shown below) for the ruby.


I have an antique red label Johnie Walker case with perfect stamps and the original paper consignment label intact.I have an autographed copy of Amazing Spiderman 45.I also have a two headed,happy,sad,knickerbocker doll.I have available a union made creamer manufactured by the Knowles company.There is a Crush bottle from 1920,a sterling silver coin,an antique base ball glove & bat,a torpedo bottle from the 1800’s,and about a half a dozen pieces of original art.*0w4v4xQp5Fd3Ig=*uG3hv4xQp5Fd3Ig=

The Rubies are Here!

•March 2, 2007 • 2 Comments

Rubies on an Owl FeatherThe Rubies of Madagascar are here!  And I already have an offer… pending, one one of them!

Here is a photo, taken with them on top of an Owl feather, with a black velvet background.  Who knew Rubies were so hard to photograph?

My horoscope for the day… Pretty fitting! Have a Vision~

•February 24, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Dear Erin,
Here is your horoscope
for Saturday, February 24:

Expand your vision of who you are and what your life could be. If you can imagine it, it can happen. It sounds like a fairy tale, but only to cynics or those who have given up. The trick is to ask for the right things.

Seeing Red

•February 22, 2007 • 1 Comment

Seeing Red – A Guide to Ruby Connoisseurship
by Richard W. Hughes


Blue, green and red – sapphire, emerald and ruby – the colored-stone trinity. There is something primal about our attraction to these gems. Each relates to a familiar part of life. Blue is ocean/sky. Green – verdant soothing. And red? Red is fire, blood, the very life-giver itself – passion. Women do not paint their lips green, nor do men send their love blue valentines. No, for thoughts of love and passion, only one color will do – red. And no more passionate gem exists than the ruby.
That said, let us take a look at the beast known as ruby.

Building the perfect beast
Ruby is among the rarest of all the major precious stones, with only a handful of sources producing facet qualities in any commercial quantity. In analyzing this gem we must first realize the perfect ruby does not exist. Get it out of your head. With ruby, there are no tens. So rare is this lass that even an eight is worthy of down-on-your-knees idol worship.
Why that is so is because fine ruby requires chromium, and chromium, as it does in emerald and alexandrite, messes with the stone, breaks it up inside. Thus there are plenty of corundums with chromium, but only a rare few that grow slowly enough to achieve perfection.
The best rubies have high color saturation. This results from a mixture of the slightly bluish red body color and the purer red fluorescent emission.

Let it glow
Ruby’s red glow is like the snowflake and the rainbow. In one of those glorious accidents of nature, ruby is blessed with both a red body color and a tendency to take bits of visible blue and green light and blast them back with a laser-like red emission. Indeed, the first lasers made use of this very property (synthetic ruby is still a common laser material).
This red glow is key, for it tends to cover up the dark areas of the stone caused by extinction from cutting. Thai/Cambodian rubies might possess a purer red (less purple) body color, but they lack the strong fluorescence. These Fe-rich rubies display good color where light is properly reflected off pavilion facets (internal brilliance). However, where facets are cut too steep, light exits through the side instead of returning to the eye, creating darker areas (extinction).
All stones possess extinction to a certain degree, but in fine rubies, the strong crimson fluorescence masks it. The best Burmese stones actually glow red and appear as though Mother Nature brushed a broad swath of fluorescent red paint across the face of the stone. This is the carbuncle of the ancients, a term derived from the glowing embers of a fire. Indeed, the King of Ceylon was said to possess a ruby that shone so brightly that when he brought it out at night, it would light up the entire palace.

Rough and cut rubies from Burma, Vietnam and Afghanistan
Photo: Harold & Erica Van Pelt; Gems: Pala International

What gods are these? Not only did they bless the ruby with an inborn glow to match its scarlet skin, but such was their benevolence that they also gave us silk – oriented needles of rutile – gossamer threads that banish the darkness besmirching the rest of the mortal gem world.
Such tiny exsolved inclusions scatter light onto facets that would otherwise be extinct (dark). This gives softness, as well as spreading it across a greater part of the gem’s face. Thai/Cambodian rubies contain no rutile silk, and thus possess more extinction.
In actuality, rubies from most sources possess a strong red fluorescence and silk similar to those from Burma, with the Thai/Cambodian rubies being the exception. However, those from Sri Lanka are generally too light in color, while, with other sources, such as Kenya, Pakistan and Afghanistan, material clean enough for faceting is rare. Thus the combination of fine color (body color plus fluorescence) and facetable material (i.e., internally clean) has put the Burmese ruby squarely atop the crimson crest. Indeed, some consider Burma to be not just the best source, but the only source of stones fit to be called ruby.

Seeing red
What do I look for in ruby? Bright is first and foremost. Can’t stand the dull or dark stuff. Not for me the burgundy reds typical of the Thai/Cambodian border. When I fill my tank, I want gasoline that burns.

For ruby, the intensity of the red color is the primary factor in determining value. The ideal stone displays an intense, rich crimson without being too light or too dark. Stones which are too dark and garnety in appearance, or too light in color, are less highly valued. The finest rubies display a color similar to that of a red traffic light.
There is a tendency for the market to favor stones of the intense red-red color. Certainly the highest prices are paid for these. But do not overlook the slightly less intense shades. Such gems have a brightness missing in their more saturate brethren and often look better in the low lighting that one typically wears fine jewelry. Like beautiful women, rubies do come in many shades, the preference for which is a matter of personal taste. Ah, but isn’t that what makes life worth living?

In terms of clarity, ruby tends to be more included than sapphire. While the general rule is to look for stones that are eye-clean, i.e., with no inclusions visible to the unaided eye, extremely fine silk throughout the stone can actually enhance the beauty of some rubies.
For star rubies, while a certain amount of silk is necessary to create the star effect, too much desaturates the color, making it appear grayish. This is undesirable.

In the market, rubies are found in a variety of shapes and cutting styles. Ovals are cushions are the most common, but rounds are also seen, as are other shapes, such as the heart or emerald cut. Slight premiums are paid for round stones, while slight discounts apply for pears and marquises. Stones that are overly deep or shallow should generally be avoided.
Cabochon-cut rubies are also common. This cut is used for star stones, or those not clean enough to facet. The best cabochons are reasonably transparent, with nice smooth domes and good symmetry. Avoid stones with too much excess weight below the girdle, unless they are priced accordingly.

With the exception of imperial jadeite and certain rare colors of diamond, ruby is the world’s most expensive gem. But like all gem materials, low-quality (i.e., non-gem quality) pieces may be available for a few dollars per carat. Such stones are generally not clean enough to facet. The highest price per carat ever paid for a ruby was Alan Caplan’s Ruby (‘Mogok Ruby’), a 15.97-ct. faceted stone that sold at Sotheby’s New York, Oct., 1988 for $3,630,000 ($227,301/ct).

Stone Sizes
Large rubies of quality are far more rare than large sapphires of equal quality. Indeed, any untreated ruby of quality above two carats is a rare stone; untreated rubies of fine quality above five carats are world-class pieces.

Quality ranking of rubies by country
An approximate ranking of important ruby origins is given below. This applies only for the finest untreated qualities from each source and is but a general approximation. In other words, a top-quality Thai/Cambodian ruby can be worth far more than a poor Mogok stone.

Mogok, Burma
Sri Lanka
Nanyazeik, Burma
Everything else
When we talk ruby, we talk Burma. For connoisseurs, no other will do. In the days of yore, matters were simple. Burma meant Mogok. This storied deposit was known for over 1000 years as the home of the finest ruby on the planet.
While Mogok is the traditional source of the world’s finest rubies, good stones are rare even from this fabled area. Pigeon’s blood was the term used to describe the finest Mogok stones, but has little meaning today, as so few people have seen this bird’s blood.
Mogok-type rubies possess not just red body color, but, by a freak of nature, red fluorescence, too. In addition, the best stones contain tiny amounts of light-scattering rutile silk. It is this combination of features that gives these rubies their incomparable crimson glow. In Mogok rubies, the color often occurs in rich patches and swirls, and color zoning can occasionally be a problem. The shape of Mogok ruby rough generally yields well-proportioned stones.
In addition to faceted stones, the Mogok Stone Tract also produces the world’s finest star rubies.

Möng Hsu
When the Möng Hsu deposit came on stream in 1992–93, it took the ruby world by the storm. Suddenly, we were awash in a sea of red the likes of which had never been seen before. And fine stone it was, too. This was not the garnet-like hue of Thailand, but a rich, fluorescent red.
In 1992, the Möng Hsu (Maing Hsu) deposit in Burma’s Shan State began producing good material. This has continued to the present, so much so that close to 90% of the fine cab and facet-grade ruby in the world market is from this deposit. But most cut stones are under two carats.
Möng Hsu material can be extremely fine, but virtually all is heat treated, and most is also flux-healed.

Nanyazeik (Nayazeik)
In the past year or so, rubies have started to come out of Nanyazeik in Burma’s Kachin State. I did see one fine purplish red piece from this deposit on my last trip to Burma in June, 2001. Only time will tell whether Nanyazeik has the makings of an important source. Other than ruby, Nanyazeik has produced some super red spinels, equal to anything from Mogok.

Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
The classic case of giving a dog a bad name. Some of the world’s finest rubies have come from Sri Lanka’s gem gravels, but because of the erroneous “pink sapphire” moniker, they have been largely overlooked. Top-grade Sri Lankan reds are virtually indistinguishable from their Mogok brethren, but most tend towards purple or pink. As with Sri Lanka sapphires, color accumulates in large stones and so they can be quite magnificent in sizes of five carats or more. Due to the bipyramidal shape of the rough, many stones are cut with overly deep pavilions. Sri Lankan ruby is strongly fluorescent and stars are common.

When I was teaching gemology in Bangkok, I used to point to an island off the coast of Africa and inform my students that, if they wanted to hunt gems, this would be a great place to start. Known in olden times as the “Beryl Island,” Madagascar was long considered mineralogical nirvana. And today, it is equally known for its gem wealth.
Prior to this year, Madagascar produced mainly fine blue sapphires and pinks. But now two important ruby deposits have been discovered. The first is about 10–30 km. inland from the coastal town of Vatomandry, while the second is roughly 45–70 km. from the town of Andilamena. Vatomandry is said to produce the better-quality stone, being lighter and brighter (more reminiscent of Burma), while the Andilamena stone is somewhat darker and not as clean. Rutile silk seen in some pieces suggests that star stones may be forthcoming. Much of the material from both deposits is heat-treated.
It is still too early to properly rank Madagascar in the ruby world, but the stones I have seen so far suggest that there is great promise.

Beginning in the late-1980’s, fine ruby began pouring out of two different deposits in Vietnam. Although Vietnam’s ruby originates from two different mining areas, Luc Yen (north of Hanoi) and Quy Chau (south of Hanoi), both sources display similar characteristics.
There’s nothing like time to put things in perspective. In the late 1980’s, Vietnamese ruby literally exploded on the world gem market. The best Vietnamese ruby approaches fine Mogok, but since the early 1990’s most have tended towards pink. Today, little facet-quality is produced, and even the cabochon material rarely competes with that available from Möng Hsu. Some pinkish star material is also produced.

Kenya & Tanzania
Stones from these sources are magnificent when clean, but facet-grade material is rare. Like Burma, much of this material is strongly fluorescent. Star stones are not produced from these deposits.
One specific deposit is worth mentioning. Beginning in the mid-1990’s, mines near Songea began to produce material with a dark, garnety color veering towards orange. While this material is ruby of a sort, it is marginal due to its high Fe content.

Jagdalek has produced rubies that rank with fine Mogok stones, but facetable material is in short supply. Similar to Vietnamese rubies, many of these stones contain small areas of blue color. They are also strongly fluorescent, and if the deposit ever produces clean material, watch out. No star stones here.

This material’s main attribute is its high clarity, but the flat crystal shapes generally yield overly shallow stones. Due to the high iron content, which quenches fluorescence, most stones tend to have a garnet-red color. An additional problem is the total lack of light-scattering silk inclusions (star stones are not found). Although heat treatment does make improvements, it is not enough. In Thai/Cambodian rubies, only those facets where light is totally internally reflected will be a rich red; the others appear blackish, as with red garnets. Thai stones are actually less purple than most Burmese rubies. However, Burma-type rubies appear red all over the stone. Not only is a rich red seen in the areas where total internal reflection occurs, but due to the red fluorescence and light-scattering silk, other facets are also red.
With the decline in Burma production during the 1962–1990 period, the market became conditioned to Thai/Cambodian rubies, with some people actually tending to prefer them (in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king). Thai/Cambodian rubies are acceptable only when good material from the Burma-type sources is not available. Today, production from the Thai side of the border is zero, and that from Cambodia is negligible. One occasionally hears statements about how Cambodian stones are superior to those from across the border in Thailand. This is untrue. The deposits are essentially one, directly straddling the border.

Buying considerations

Proper lighting is crucial with any colored stone, but it is particularly important with ruby. The culprit is the fluorescent tubes so much a part of the modern office.
Most fluorescent tubes are so red-deficient that what they do to the color of a ruby should be outlawed. The reason is not hard to fathom. Ruby requires a light source with at least some red in it, and fluorescent tubes ain’t got none. Thus to bring out the inherent beauty in your stones, use halogen or incandescent bulbs, or natural skylight.
When using skylight (not direct sunlight) to view gems, keep in mind that red stones will appear best around noon, while blue stones look their finest just after sunup and just before dusk. So the rule is, if buying with natural light (skylight), don’t buy rubies (or red spinels) in the middle of the day.

Background checks
A word should also be said about the viewing background. At mining areas in Burma and elsewhere, rubies will often be sold on brass plates, yellow table tops or in stone papers with yellow liners (flutes). This makes the purplish red color more reddish. Place your stones on a white background for accurate color assessment.

Buying parcels is a specialized area beyond the scope of this article, but I do want to mention that parcels often look great with all the gems piled together. This is because they draw color from one another, with each gem adding color to the whole. For an accurate assessment of color, spread the parcel out such that individual gems do not influence the color of those nearby.

Ruby was one of the first gems to be treated, with reports detailing the heat treatment in Sri Lanka dating back over 1000 years. But today’s treatments are far more sophisticated than the primitive heatings of years gone by.
Today, ruby heat treatments run the gamut. The simplest is heating to knock out the blue component that makes a stone purplish. Such heating can be done at lower temperatures (say 700–1200 °C) and is often undetectable.
Another type involves heating to higher temperatures (1200–1800 °C) to remove rutile silk, and this is generally detectable.
But the type of heating that is most controversial is that applied to Möng Hsu rubies. This involves heating (1200–1800 °C) in the presence of a flux. The flux produces healing of surface-reaching fractures and openings. Thus a highly fractured stone can be healed and the fractures dissipated. [For more on this, see ‘Foreign Affairs’]
A further treatment occasionally seen is oiling/staining. Gentle heating in alcohol (be careful!) can generally remove oils/stains.
One of the true tragedies of gemstone enhancements is that they raise expectations among the gem-buying public to unreasonable levels. Once a customer has seen the shocking reds produced by human tampering, it becomes far more difficult to accept the more ordinary hues of nature. No where is this more true than with Möng Hsu ruby.
I will not go into enhancement ethics. But it is essential that both buyers and sellers are aware of the presence of any treatment, for they can have an important impact on value. It is my personal opinion that, when spending a significant sum of money on a ruby, one should avoid treated stones of any kind.

Bring it on home
Blue & green, sapphire & emerald – two legs of the colored-stone trinity. And what of red? Red is the most corrupting of colors and ruby the most wicked of gems, the very symbol of desire. Red is fire, blood, the very life-giver itself – passion. If this bothers you, then please shirk the scarlet stone.
A fine gem is a sexual being. It lives, pulses, throbs in a way that only those who have given themselves over to pure desire can understand. In each of us, there is a beast waiting to appear. We do what we can to suppress it, but it lays dormant, ever watchful for its moment. Ruby – that most sexual of precious stones – brings out the beast in me. Long ago I surrendered myself to her flesh. And now – having experienced those sensuous kisses and passionate nibbles – no other lover will do.

• • • • •

About the author. Richard Hughes is the author of the classic Ruby & Sapphire.

Author’s Afterword. Published in The Guide (2001, Vol. 20, No. 6, Part 1, November–December., pp. 4–7, 16).

• • • • •

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Madagascar – Island at the end of the universe

•February 22, 2007 • 2 Comments

It is evening in the Madagascan town of Andilamena. In a small restaurant, three Hogmies and one Malagasy pore over a map, intensely focused on a blank spot where no road goes, miles from the nearest settlement. The Hogmies have traveled halfway around the world to visit this miniscule cartographic smudge of tightly wound contour lines. For it is here that Madagascar’s finest sapphires are said to be found. But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Let me begin a bit further back…
     My first recollection of Madagascar was grade school, where we dutifully learned that a prehistoric fish, long thought extinct, had been fished from the coastal waters of this errant isle. Later, in gemology class, my teacher again brought up the subject of this forgotten land, mentioning that the famous French naturalist, Alfred Lacroix had written a paper about it (Un Voyage au Pays des Béryls). From that moment on, Madagascar became known to me not just as something out of a Jules Verne novel, but as the “Beryl Island.”
     The Island of Madagascar is an anomaly in many respects. While lying just 400 km from the coast of Africa, it was not settled until roughly 2000 years ago, and not by Africans, but by adventurous sailors from the Malayo-Indonesian Archipelago, some 6400 km to the east. Today the country’s human population is a tumultuous stew spiced with Malay, African, Arab, French, Chinese and Indian ingredients.

Lemur in Madagascar

Madagascar is a wildlife wonderland, as the photo of the lemur above shows. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     Madagascar has long been recognized as one of the most biologically diverse spots on the planet. The following will give you some perspective:

  • While the California-sized island makes up just 0.4% of the earth’s total landmass, its plant and animal species make up roughly 4% of the planet’s total.
  • 80% of Madagascar’s species are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else on earth.
  • Although Madagascar occupies only about 1.9% of the land area of the African region, it has more orchids than the entire African mainland and is home to about 25% of all African plants.
  • Close to 100% of all lemur species are found only in Madagascar.

     Madagascar owes its biological diversity to geology. Over 165 million years ago, the island was a land-locked plateau at the center of the supercontinent, Gondwanaland. At this time, giant reptiles roamed the earth, while flowering plants and birds were first beginning to appear. Gondwanaland subsequently broke up, leaving Madagascar like a castaway in the Indian Ocean, marooning many of these ancient species. These were further pollinated by plants, animals and humans flying, drifting, swimming, sailing or blowing onto the island, creating a magnificent menagerie unlike any other on the planet.

Gondwanaland map

Map of Gondwanaland, showing the position of Madagascar and Sri Lanka relative to the other continents. While Madagascar separated from Africa some 165 million years ago, it separated from India only 88 million years ago. Illustration © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     And what of Madagascar’s spectacular gem diversity? A quick glance at a map of Gondwanaland provides the answer. Before the breakup of that land mass, Madagascar’s nearest neighbors were East Africa, Southern India and Sri Lanka. These regions represent some of the richest gem deposits on the planet. Madagascar lies smack-dab in the middle of precious stone nirvana. It was these precious pebbles that had brought me halfway around the globe. The following is based on my visit in October 2005.

The party for this journey consisted of myself, American gem dealer Dana Schorr, and Bangkok-based French gemologist Vincent Pardieu. Vincent was a late, but important addition to the group, not just for his French language skills, but also because he had spent much of the summer of 2005 traveling round Madagascar and East Africa.
     Dana and I flew from California to Thailand. From Bangkok, it was a pleasant nine-hour flight to Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital. Madagascar is literally at the end of the earth. No place on the globe is farther away from my home.
     To understand travel in Madagascar, imagine California. Picture a “good” road that goes from San Francisco to Los Angeles and another from San Francisco to Sacramento. And nowhere else. Imagine spending two days driving the 615 “good” kilometers from San Francisco to Los Angeles, then a further three days to cover the 200 “bad” kilometers between LA and San Diego. Now you understand.
     As the map below shows, corundum deposits are found throughout the country; due to the logistical problems of traveling around an island with only two decent roads, we decided to concentrate on the two major corundum-producing areas, Ilakaka in the far south, and Andilamena, a day’s drive north of the capital of Antananarivo.

Madagascar Map

Map of Madagascar, showing the island’s most important corundum localities, along with the author’s route. Map © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

Prior to the discovery of sapphire in October 1998, Ilakaka was just a wide spot in the road. Today it is the center of Madagascar’s sapphire universe. Access is via a good road two days’ drive south of the capital. Because this area borders and stretches into Isalo National Park, environmental concerns have complicated the mining situation.

Ilakaka town

Ilakaka today
Once a small hamlet, Ilakaka has grown into a major outpost in southern Madagascar. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     The Ilakaka mining area is huge, encompassing perhaps 4000 sq. km. or more. This includes Ilakaka, Sakaraha, Manambo, Voavoa, Fotiyola, Andranolava and Murarano. Currently, the greatest mining activity is taking place south of the Ilakaka–Sakaraha highway, but we witnessed mining all along a belt stretching from Ilakaka to Sakaraha. Large quantities of pink sapphire are produced, as well as blue, violet, orange (including padparadscha), yellow, colorless and other fancy colors. While Ilakaka is famous for the prodigious production of pink sapphires, some extremely fine blue sapphires are also found. Geuda-type sapphire from this region responds well to heat treatment.

Ilakaka sapphire rough

A selection of sapphire rough from Ilakaka, Madagascar, showing the broad range of colors produced at this deposit. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     Most Ilakaka sapphires are distinguished by large numbers of small rounded zircon inclusions, which occur singly or as clusters. Rough material is waterworn, showing little if any traces of the original crystal shape. Most stones tend to be less than one carat after cutting, but bigger stones are occasionally found. Cut gems above five carats are rare.

The Relais de la Reine

Visiting mining localities in Third World nations is often dirty business, where the accommodation is primitive and the food literally catch-as-catch can. Thus we were pleasantly surprised to discover the Relais de la Reine, a jewel of a resort within spitting distance of Ilakaka.
     Conceived as a midway stopping point along the road between Tulear and Fianarantsoa, the Relais de la Reine was built at the entrance to Isalo National Park long before sapphires were discovered at Ilakaka.
     Imagine spending the day traipsing hither and yon across dusty roads to distant mines, and then retiring in the evening to the Relais de la Reine, where you will enjoy fine wine and a multi-course gourmet French meal. It is a simple pleasure that simply must be experienced first hand!

Relais de la Reine resort

The Relais de la Reine resort at Madagascar’s Isalo National Park. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

Swiss Bank mine in Ilakaka

Miner’s at Ilakaka’s “Swiss Bank” deposit, so named because of the riches that have been taken from its soil. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

Cargo Cults

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

A New Guinea man to author Jared Diamond
Gun, Germs, and Steel

Traveling around the world, I have often wondered why some places are so wealthy, while others so poor. In Madagascar, as we chanced upon a dirt-poor village between Ilakaka and Sakaraha with the unlikely name of Bel Air, I again voiced the question. Dana Schorr suggested the answer might be a simple one – geography.

Bel Air, Madagascar

Bel Air, Madagascar. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     According to Jared Diamond’s Gun, Germs, and Steel, the East–West alignment of some continents, versus the North–South of others probably played the major role in determining the wealth of nations. While the fossil evidence suggests that all humans originated in Africa, as they spread out around the world, certain regions aided development. In other words, blame it on the weather.
     How, for example, did Pizarro’s 168 Spanish troops defeat Atahuallpa’s Incan army numbering some 80,000 soldiers? Diamond argues that the Eurasian continent, with its great East-West geographic expanse, allowed people to travel tremendous distances, sharing both their crops, diseases and ideas. This interchange among a huge geographic, gene and intelligence pool over thousands of years of human history produced peoples that had distinct advantages when they later moved into other parts of the world. Not only did geography allow European and Asian societies to develop superior technologies, but it also assisted development of superior disease resistance.
     In contrast to Eurasia, Africa, Australia and the Americas stretch largely North–South, across vastly different climate zones, making travel difficult for both crops and animals. This, in turn, restricted the range of the human populations, thus limiting their access to foreign ideas and diseases, making them easy prey when they eventually did come in contact with Eurasian “guns, germs and steel.”
     Diamond’s theory (which is not without its critics) offers a possible explanation as to why Madagascar, just 400 km distant from Africa, would be first settled not by Africans, but by Polynesian sailors, who traveled over 6400 km to reach the island.

The small town of Andilamena lies roughly one day’s drive north of the capital. Ruby and sapphire from this area has been known for over a decade, but it was not until recently that it was extensively mined. The main mining village of Moramanga is located a long day’s walk northeast from the town of Andilamena. Demand in Thailand for low-grade ruby that can be improved by filling fractures with high-RI glass has driven much of the current activity at this mine. A second mining area, Andrebabe, is noted for fine sapphire.
     Special permission had to be obtained to visit the mines surrounding this town. This took a full day of cajoling. To protect us, two policemen were sent along as a guard detail. Robberies are not unknown. Just days before we had arrived a West African buyer had been knifed to death in Andilamena. And shortly before Vincent Pardieu’s June 2005 visit to Moramanga, a party of traders was ambushed along the trail. For that reason, Thai and Sri Lankan dealers do not visit the mines themselves, but do all their buying in the town of Andilamena.

Moramanga ruby rough

Moramanga ruby on sale in Andilamena. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books


An African insect (‘Glossina morsitans’) whose bite is commonly regarded as nature’s most efficacious remedy for insomnia, though some patients prefer that of the American novelist (‘Mendax interminabilis’).

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

With the exception of the Ilakaka-Sakaraha area, by far the most mining activity in Madagascar is taking place in the hills surrounding Moramanga.
     The way to Moramanga involved one hour by road, followed by a combination of jungle walk and boat. If one leaves Andilamena early in the morning, with luck it is possible to be in Moramanga by nightfall. Luck stayed behind, so for us it became a two-day journey, broken in a small riverside village.

Moramanga ruby being examined

A miner examines a piece of ruby rough in Andilamena’s market. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     Vincent had warned Dana and I to be ready for some serious mud, but thankfully the track that first day was mostly dry. He had also told us to be prepared for some serious rats, and on this count, did not disappoint. What we were not told was the extent of Vincent’s rat phobia. When the little buggers made their first appearance, running across my feet, Vincent jumped up and started beaming his flashlight into all corners of the crowded hut. I felt like an unwilling participant in an episode of Cops. It didn’t take Dana long to catch on. Every few minutes he would gently tap or scratch the bamboo walls and the hut would immediately shake and shudder as Vincent leapt to his feet, light in hand, to chase away the imaginary vermin. Quite a night. I could almost hear the tsetse flies chuckling in the background.

Dana Schorr on the trail to Moramanga

Dana Schorr on the trail to Moramanga a tough and extremely muddy jungle walk from Andilamena. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     The following day, Vincent’s prediction came true. Mud, serious mud. As we made our way towards Moramanga, we forded one stream after another. Finally, crossing one rise we found ourselves descending into a cauldron of human activity where tiny huts were stacked on top of another like a long brown snake coiling through the jungle. We had arrived at Moramanga.

Richard Hughes above Moramanga

The author above the village of Moramanga, where 15,000 people claw rubies from the bush. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     The scene was one straight out of America’s gold rush, albeit in a jungle setting. Today, some 15,000 people have carved out a toe-hold from the surrounding forest where they mine for both ruby and sapphire. They mine the hillsides, they mine the river bottoms, they mine the mountaintops. They even mine the muddy effluent-ridden lanes of the town itself. I have seen some spectacular mining camps in my day (Burma’s jade mines come immediately to mind), but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything quite like Moramanga, where thousands of miners are living and working literally on top of one another.

Mining the streets of Moramanga

Mining the muddy streets of Moramanga. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books


A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

A day’s walk south of Andilamena is a small jungle encampment at Andrebabe where fine-quality sapphires are found. The area had intrigued me ever since Vincent mentioned it following his visit to Andilamena the previous June. Andrebabe, it seemed, was the sapphire mine at the center of the Island at the end of the universe. The area was said to be populated by pygmies, people said to be descended from the country’s earliest inhabitants. It was also said that they were sorcerers, people with the ability to appear and disappear at will. If we were to visit the area, we were warned we must pay strict attention to fady.

Clay figure

A mysterious clay figure on the road just south of Andilamena. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     Among the more curious customs of Madagascar is that of fady. Loosely translated as taboo, it governs to a certain extent the behavior of people with respect to actions one takes, the food one eats and even the days of the week it is “dangerous” to do certain things. While certain fady beliefs are destructive (in the past, twins were sometimes killed or abandoned), others are beneficial. For example, the killing of certain animals is often prohibited, thus aiding conservation efforts. Similarly, the area surrounding tombs is supposed to be left undisturbed, protecting at least some of the rapidly shrinking forests.
     The fady custom is further complicated by variations from one region to the next, one family to another, and even on an individual basis. This makes travel for the outsider somewhat problematic, as one is not always aware of just what one is, or is not, supposed to be doing.
     Prior to our visit to Andrebabe, we were given strict instructions that all fady must be followed. Now if we could just figure out what they were! The fady were said to include no wearing of red, no killing of animals, no work on certain days of the week. Simple, I thought to myself, I’ll just pretend to be a Hindu Catholic.
     We were warned that failure to obey the fady could have dire consequences. Witness the miner at Andrebabe who disobeyed the fady about working on certain days of the week. One day his gem pit filled with water and, as he descended to bail it out, he was attacked by a large eel that had appeared out of nowhere, literally hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. Ouch! No working on Tuesdays for me. I hate Tuesdays!

Andrebabe sapphire rough

A plate of Andrebabe sapphires on offer in Andilamena. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     Vincent had actually planned to make the trek to Andrebabe on his previous visit, but was so exhausted upon his return from Moramanga and its rats that he didn’t have the stomach for it. And so, four months later, as we huddled over the map in Andilamena, we batted the idea back and forth. Should we, could we? Finally, a consensus was reached. We’d give it our best shot.
     The following morning we assembled for what our guide Gaeton had suggested would be a 15-minute ride to the trailhead. Some ninety minutes later we rolled out of our 4×4 after our driver refused to go further up a track that resembled nothing so much as some devil’s roller coaster. Mother Nature protects her treasures well.

green insects near Andrebabe

Large creepy-crawlies on the trail to Andrebabe. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     The track contoured up and down a series of ridges as we walked into the mist, all to the accompaniment of ghostly howls from the nearby rainforest. Were these lemurs, or perhaps the sorcerers’ siren songs? I wasn’t about to find out.
     After several hours, we came to a house, and a few hundred meters below it, a truck stuck in the mud. The drivers were attempting to winch it up the hill and, at the rate of progress they were making, just might have it to the top by Christmas.

Gaeton in Andrebabe

Our Malagasy guide, Gaeton, emerging from a pit at Andrebabe. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

     Continuing down, we spied Andrebabe peak. A steep downhill stretch brought us to a clearing. As we entered, shifting shadows quickly disappeared into the surrounding forest. Someone had left in a hurry. We had arrived at Andrebabe.
     Time was short if we were to avoid being stranded in the forest for the night. We quickly took lunch and then set about exploring the area. Fresh diggings were located in several spots; Vincent and Dana even managed to locate a friendly boa constrictor. All too soon, it was time to go.

And in the end…

ENOUGH, pronoun
All there is in the world if you like it.
Enough is as good as a feast – for that matter
Enougher’s as good as a feast for the platter.
                                                 Arbely C. Strunk

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

And so what of Madagascar, this marvelous menagerie of the peculiar and precious? By the end we were all exhausted. We had toured the desert mines surrounding Ilakaka, traveled by jungle trail and river to Moramanga, we had even traipsed to Andrebabe and lived to tell about it, the first foreign gemologists to do so. No, we did not spy the pigmy sorcerers, nor were Andrebabe’s sapphires the finest we had ever seen, not even the finest on the Island. But they and the rest of Madagascar’s wonders were enough. And enough is just that – enough. A fine feast, one that would keep the Hogmies sated until their return.

Vincent Pardieu and Richard Hughes on the trail from Andrebabe

Vincent Pardieu and Richard Hughes at the end of a long day’s walk to the Andrebabe sapphire mines south of Andilamena. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

• • • • •

Other Madagascar Corundum Localities

According to Lacroix (1913), the first mention of precious stones in Madagascar was first made by French Captain Jean Fonteneau (a.k.a. Jean Alphonse), who claimed to have found them there in 1547 (Alphonse, 1559). By 1658, Etienne de Flacourt was speaking of the occurrence of topaz, aquamarine, emerald, ruby and sapphire on the Island. But the corundums were largely forgotten until the early 1990s.

Sapphire at Andranondambo was first reported by French geologist Paul Hibon in the early 1950s, but the modern rediscovery of these gems dates from about 1991. According to one story we heard, a Chinese resident of Antsirabe was offered some blue stones by some Malagasy miners. He thought they might be of some value and so sent them to a friend in Thailand, where they were recognized as sapphires. This set off an Island-wide gem rush that has continued to the present day.
     To date, the Andranondambo area remains the gold standard for Madagascar blue sapphire, with the finest stones said to come from Tiramene, just north of Andranondambo. Andranondambo sapphires can sometimes be of spectacular quality, in many respects resembling stones from the famous Kashmir, Burma and Sri Lankan mines. Terrific faceted stones of over 20 carats are known.
     At the time of Vincent Pardieu’s visit in June, 2005, an Australian company (S.I.A.M.) was preparing to begin work at the Andranondambo deposit.

The far north
Sapphire occurs in northern Madagascar near both Diego Suarez (at Ambondromifehy) and Nosy Be. In both locales, the corundum is derived from basaltic source rocks, and so tends to occur in green, yellow and inky blue colors.
     In 1995, wood-cutters in the Ankarana forest near Ambondromifehy came across fistfuls of blue stones. At first thought to be useless, when they were later identified as sapphire, the rush was on.

Diego Sapphire

A handful of sapphire from Ambondromifehy, just south of Diego Suarez in Madagascar’s far north. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

The finest rubies from Madagascar occur near the town of Vatomandry, east of the capital of Antananarivo. The mining areas are at Tetezampaho, Ambidotavolo and Ambodivandrika.
     The deposit was discovered in September 2000, and soon a rush of miners descended upon the area. In February 2001, the Madagascar government closed the area. At the time of Vincent Pardieu’s June 2005 visit, most miners had left for the Andilamena area.

This deposit, which produces pinkish ruby and pink sapphire, was discovered in late 2004. The main mining area is located at Antsahanandriana, to the east of the road between the capital at Antananarivo and Antsirabe. By January 2005, over 2000 miners swamped the deposit. Like many mining areas in Madagascar, disputes over mining rights have created turmoil and uncertainty. At the time of Vincent Pardieu’s visit in June 2005, the deposit was under military lock-and-key.

Ambohimandroso ruby

Ambohimandroso ruby rough on offer in the gem market at Antsirabe. Photo © Richard W. Hughes/RWH Publishing & Books

Other deposits
I have just scratched the surface regarding Madagascar’s corundum deposits, with the above but a sampling of the more important localities. Incredibly, according to one authority we spoke with, just ten percent of Madagascar is not gem bearing. The future looks very bright, indeed!

• • • • •

References and further reading

  • Alfonse, J. [a.k.a. Fonteneau, J.], (1559) Les Voyages Avantureux du Capitaine Ian Alfonce, Sainctongeois. Poitiers, Ian de Marnef.
  • Behier, J. (1960) Contribution a la minéralogie de Madagascar. Tananarive, République Malgache Ann. Géol. de Madagascar, 78 pp.
  • Flacourt, E de (1658) Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar. Paris, Chez G. de Lvyne, 2 Vols. in 1.
  • Kiefert, L., Schmetzer, K. et al. (1996) Sapphires from Andranondambo area, Madagascar. Journal of Gemmology, Vol. 25, No. 3, pp. 185–209.
  • Lacroix, A. (1912) Un voyage au pays des béryls (Madagascar). La Géographie, Paris, Vol. 26, No. 5, pp. 285–296.
  • Lacroix, A. (1913) A trip to Madagascar, the country of beryls. Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1912, pp. 371–382.
  • Lacroix, A., 1922, 1923. Minéralogie de Madagascar. Société D’Editions Géographiques, Maritimes et Coloniales, Paris, I, 624 pp.; II, 694 pp.; III, 450 pp.
  • Milisenda, C. and Henn, U. (1996) Compositional characteristics of sapphire from a new find in Madagascar. Journal of Gemmology, Vol. 25, No. 3, pp. 177–184.
  • Milisenda, C., Henn, U. et al. (2001) New gemstone occurrences in the south-west of Madagascar. Journal of Gemmology, Vol. 27, No. 7, pp. 385–394.
  • Pardieu, V. (2005) Madagascar: A giant to explore.,
  • Pezzotta, F. (2001) Madagascar: A Mineral and Gemstone Paradise. extraLapis English, No. 1, 97 pp.
  • Schwarz, D., Kanis, J. et al. (2000) Sapphires from Antsiranana province, northern Madagascar. Gems & Gemology, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 216–233.
  • Schwarz, D. and Schmetzer, K. (2001) Rubies from the Vatomandry area, eastern Madagascar. Journal of Gemmology, Vol. 27, No. 7, pp. 409–416.

• • • • •

The author would like to thank all those who assisted in his journey, many of whom prefer to remain anonymous. It seems unfair to mention some and not others, so I will simply say that I know who you are and your aid, guidance and friendship has not gone unnoticed. Merci beaucoup! Also, a big thanks to my two traveling companions, Dana Schorr and Vincent Pardieu.

About the author
Richard Hughes is the author of the classic Ruby & Sapphire and over 100 articles on various aspects of gemology. He is Gemological Administrator and Webmaster at the American Gem Trade Association Gemological Testing Center and his writings can be found on his personal web site,

Penned in October and December, 2005, following my October 2005 visit to Madagascar. An edited version appeared in The Guide, January–February 2006, Vol. 25, Issue 1, Part 1, pp. 1, 4–6.

• • • • •

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First posted 10 January, 2006; last updated 1 October, 2006


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