Gemstones Travel the World: New Gems from Madagascar and their Many Adventures!

Gemstones Travel the World: New Gems from Madagascar and their Many Adventures!

I announced their arrival somewhat prematurely in the fall of 2021, right before all exports from Madagascar stopped because of an illegal export scandal in Antananarivo, the capital. A Sri Lankan gem dealer was caught with about a million dollars’ worth of sapphire rough in his hand luggage and an invoice claiming it was only garnet. The man was imprisoned, the goods confiscated, the Department of Mining closed down. Several more customs officers were arrested for taking bribes, even though, mind you, that is standard practice and the government knows about it. The ordeal ended up disrupting the entire gemstone trade including Tucson 2022. Rumor had it that higher ups in the government felt that they were not getting enough of the financial pie so they started to confiscate shipments occasionally so that they can collect “new taxes” before they release them to the relevant parties. The ensuing bottleneck is still creating issues for export.

In any case, my gems are finally here, after an adventurous journey from Antananarivo (Tana) to Mauritius, to Europe and then to the U.S. The Department of Mining in Tana is operating on a limited basis, and while there are still a lot of restrictions, some export is possible, in the semi legal fashion in which so many things work in African countries. The Sri Lankan who was jailed made it out safely a few months later, to Bangkok I am told, after some negotiations, which surely involved significant funds collected by the Madagascan government. Meanwhile, my faceted stones traveled underneath a layer of less expensive collector’s minerals that were exported this fall. That’s as much as I can say, except to add that I wasn’t part of the journey. Until export questions are fully legalized again, yours truly prefers to purchase remote. 

My shipment involved five parcels of gems: a largish box of yellow and green sphene in various mixed qualities, a smaller lot of color change garnet cushions, a large parcel of aquamarine, two parcels of mixed quality grandidierite, and finally my surprise gems, several large lots of Sapphirine. No, not sapphire. Sapphirine! Looks like sapphire and is named after sapphire, but isn’t.

My being the proud owner of a bunch of sapphirine is actually the result of an error, as the material was supposed to be Serendibite, a related mineral with extremely similar crystal structure and RI. Here’s what happened:

Back in the fall of 2021, I was told about a new find of gemstones in the South of Madagascar, where the grandidierite mines are located (not far from Fort Dauphin, if you want to check it on the map). The area is dangerous as it is populated by Dahalo, criminal gangs, so even other Madagascan clans do not go there. Incidentally, the Dahalo also do much of the gemstone mining in that and other regions but to sell it they bring it to adjacent villages. Rarely do Madagascans go to the remote areas in which the Dahalo live.

Additionally, much of Southern Madagascar is exceptionally poor due to droughts caused by global warming. Anyway, word had it that the material was Serendibite, normally found mainly in Sri Lanka; and a lab report was produced – a report that has since turned out to be either fake or simply mistaken. A refractive index test might confuse the two gems because their RI values are so close, but an X-Ray would be able to distinguish them. X-Ray machines are expensive however, and it is unlikely that a Madagascan lab would have one. Also, if you look through the information logged on MinDat here, you will see that Serendibite (but also Sapphirine) have indeed been found in Southern Madagascar before. So perhaps however the lab (or “lab”) report came to be, its author made an educated guess. Here’s the info for Sapphirine if you are interested.

Now as it turns out both minerals are rare when it comes to the world of faceted gems, so from that point of view, it didn’t matter to me which of the two I was buying, so long as the material was pretty. Serendibite would have fetched more money though, and I would have been the only one to own it. If you check on Etsy, sapphirine from Madagascar, though rare, is indeed available on the market.

So how do I know that what I have is Sapphirine? I sent a non-faceted sample to GIA, and they X-Rayed it for me. It’s definitely Sapphirine: a vibrant blue and brown di-chroic material, included and dark but the color itself is not at all ugly. 95% of what I have is not gemmy and I will probably sell it at a low price, but a few pieces are pretty enough to make jewelry out of them. Some of the faceted material was also cut along the wrong axis, so it looks more brownish than it should, or actually striped if you loupe it.

So there you have it. Would you like some Sapphirine? I will put it on Etsy of course but in the meantime you can just contact me.

Let me wrap up this blog with some notes on the other gems. The color change garnet is fantastic, the color change is complete, in blue light the gems are very blue, in daylight greyish blue, and in incandescent light a strong red. There’s a larger cushion as well which shifts from purple to pink, a lovely clean 6mm stone, and a matched pair of cabochons (4mm). The prices are good on all of these, and gems from Bekily are rare right now.

The sphene is gorgeous, at least most of it, including this pair here:

Here are some of the other sphene waiting to go on Etsy:

The aqua is lovely too but some pieces need recutting. The aquamarines are quite large for the most part, with the largest clocking in at 9 carats. Aquamarine has gone up in price significantly. I am not known for selling a lot of aqua but that was mainly because up until the last 3 years or so, it was readily available on the market. This is no longer the case when it comes to the finer goods.

Last but not least, the grandidierite I have is super nice. We have one on Etsy here. My photo here shows only a part of the parcel, I have another box. Much of it is satiny, not brilliant, save for a few pieces, and the nicest looking piece at AGL (because I am not entirely sure that it is grandidierite, it was very clean and slightly different color; whereas the rest looks right and also can’t be anything else given the color and inclusions). The color ranges from a deep greenish to a lighter blueish teal.

You will see all the material rolled out on Etsy in the next few weeks, as I get to it piece by piece. If you’d like to get ahead of the line for the best of the grandies, sapphirines, and color change garnet, please contact me.