Field Report

GIA Field Gemology Team Explores Sapphire Mines at Ilakaka, Madagascar

Exploring Madagascar’s Sapphire Mines
Tour Ilakaka’s sapphire mining areas with GIA field gemologists.

In this short video you will accompany GIA Field Gemologist Vincent Pardieu and his team as they introduce you to Madagascar’s Ilakaka sapphire mining area. Located in the south of the island of Madagascar, the Ilakaka area is one of the world’s largest sapphire deposits, and currently one of the most active. Potential sapphire deposits cover an area of about 75x62 miles (120x100 km).

“Madagascar has huge potential as a sapphire producing country,” says Pardieu. “GIA will keep visiting the island to study and document all its deposits.” According to Pardieu, the institute has already compiled the most accurate map of the island’s sapphire workings yet published.

Discovered at the end of 1998, the area around Ilakaka produces many other gems besides corundum, including chrysoberyl, spinel, garnet, tourmaline, and zircon.

Miners seek sapphire-rich layers concentrated in former river beds that geologists call paleochannels. Using hand tools, they dig simple pits to reach the gems, which they wash in nearby rivers. The pits are often less than a meter in diameter to minimize the risks of collapse. Some pits go as deep as 197 feet (60 meters). “Finding gem-rich gravel is the only thing that matters for the miners,” says Pardieu.

In this video, you’ll follow him down one such pit—about 118 feet (36 meters) deep—so he can see the conditions under which the miners work with his own eyes. “It is hard work to say the least,” reflects Pardieu.

You’ll see unparalleled aerial footage of the mining area as GIA’s drone skims over the miners’ heads. You’ll also be treated to a unique aerial view of Ilakaka itself.

A big goal of the trip is the gathering of samples for GIA’s reference collection, and that requires gaining the confidence of local miners. “Once people know what you’re here for, the stones start to appear,” explains Pardieu. It’s also good if you can stay in the area for a while, he says. “Time is our best ally in all these kinds of expeditions,” continues Pardieu. “The longer you stay, the more chance you have of seeing something interesting.”

This video was compiled from two separate Madagascar expeditions—FE39 and FE55—that took place in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Besides Vincent Pardieu and cameraman Didier Gruel, expedition participants included Boris Chauviré, Jonathan Muyal, and Stanislas Detroyat.

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.