GIA Field Gemologist Documents Madagascar Ruby Rush

Madagascar Ruby Rush
Join GIA’s recent field expedition to the ruby rush in Madagascar’s Zahamena National Park.

The landscapes and people of Madagascar spring vividly to life in this video from GIA’s field gemology department. We invite you to trek through the Malagasy jungle with GIA field gemologist Vincent Pardieu on a quest for ruby. Pardieu’s companions on this arduous two-week trip include cameraman Didier Gruel and gemologist Manuel Diaz. “We’ve been traveling for approximately 98 hours,” says Diaz in the video. “In that 98 hours, we’ve covered not less than 50 kilometers.”

It’s late September 2015, and Pardieu is in this area in because a ruby “rush” is taking place in the northeast of the island. There’s news of miners converging on a remote area in Zahamena National Park in search of the lucrative red gem. “It’s about 100 kilometers of mountains covered with jungle, in which you have ruby deposits and sapphire deposits everywhere,” remarks Pardieu.

These new rubies are reportedly similar to ones collected during an earlier rush in Moramanga in 2005, but this time they’re of higher quality overall. While the specimens from the earlier find were mainly candidates for glass filling, most of these newer rubies have no need of that treatment.

The expedition starts in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital and largest city, followed by a drive to the bustling town of Andilamena, where the group stops to buy provisions. It’s more than five hours (382 km) northeast by road from Antananarivo. Here they see evidence that Sri Lankan buyers are becoming more prominent in the Malagasy ruby business. The group visits some dealers and sees rubies from this latest find. “It’s good material,” Pardieu says. 

From there, by way of numerous villages and small settlements, they travel to the site of the new ruby rush. The main mining site, where the current activities started about three months ago, is to the south and east of Andilamena within Zahamena National Park. On the approach to the national park, the going becomes tougher, with the group leaving their vehicles and trekking by foot into the area. “Sometimes you have to do field gemology with the feet,” explains Pardieu with a wry smile. 

As they travel deeper into the national park, the rugged, hilly country and the muddy trails prove challenging. The group has to ford rivers, scale numerous muddy slopes, and transit though many villages where they meet hardworking, hopeful Malagasy people drawn to take their chances digging for precious stones in the absence of other economic opportunities.

Finally they reach the main mining site, a scene of concentrated activity and bare, exposed earth, where diggers and washers work alongside their makeshift camps.

“These miners here are motivated,” adds Diaz, looking at the pits the miners have driven into the jungle floor with hand tools and hard labor. The team follows a stream bed in the mining area upslope.

“If we go up, we’ll be able to find people with bigger stones,” explains Pardieu. As you’ll see in the video, they do find miners with larger rough gems. “For sure, we are the first lab to visit this area,” says Pardieu. “I think we’ll have to do that again next year.”

GIA staff often visit mines, manufacturers, retailers, and others in the gem and jewelry industry for research purposes and to gain insight into the marketplace. GIA appreciates the access and information provided during these visits. These visits and any resulting articles or publications should not be taken or used as endorsements.