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Learning Library

Gemstone Mining

Mining is one of the oldest industries known to man, and the “Lion Cave” Haematite Mine in Swaziland is believed to date back to 4,100 BC. According to records by Marco Polo, the Kuh-i-Lal mine in Afghanistan, which first mined gemstones in 101AD, is the oldest gem mine in the world that is still used today!

 

There are many different procedures and techniques used in mining: some as simple as using a pick and a shovel; some using panning techniques similar to gold panning in the Wild West; some using explosives; and others using the latest in high-tech equipment. However, regardless of the level of sophistication used, all mining commences with the exploration or ‘prospecting’ process. Even with an immense amount of research into this field, gem hunting today is still very much a hit and miss process.

Around the globe, gem mining happens on all levels, from entrepreneurial artisanal miners in Madagascar who often work with buckets and spades, to huge Diamond mines using the biggest machinery you have ever seen. Mining for Lapis Lazuli is done by small tribes in Afghanistan, and in the Peridot mines of the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, it is done exclusively by Apache Indians.

Gemstone mining ranges from the corporate, such as the large, sophisticated corporation that owns the Tanzanite One mine, to the more informal “pay to dig” schemes operated in some states in America (similar to “pick your own” strawberries in the UK). In Australia, there is even an underground Opal mining village at Coober Pedy! As you can see, gemstone mining is anything but standardised, and over a million people globally earn a living from trying to discover and extract the most precious of Mother Nature’s creations.

Gemstones are discovered primarily in two different ways: they are either mined directly from the host rock in which they were formed, or in alluvial deposits where the gems have been separated from their host rock. Once a gem has been discovered, mines are then established either above or below ground.

Above ground (surface mining) techniques include: open pit mining, quarrying, strip mining and mountaintop removal. Underground mining techniques include: drift mining, tunnelling, shaft mining, bore hole mining, caving, room and pillar mining and retreat mining.

As I travel the world visiting our mining partners, I ensure that they mine in an ethical manner and are respectful of our environment.

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Large-scale corporate gemstone mining.

An enterpreneurial artisan miner

searching for Sapphire.