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 Home / Columns / Madagascar Guide / Madagascar Mining Locations May 16, 2022  

Ever wonder just where your treasured gemstones came from?
by Werner Spaltenstein and Janna Semenova
The Republic of Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, is about 420 kilometers east of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean and has an area of 581,540 square kilometers.

Madagascar is home to some of the world’s richest untapped seams of pink sapphires, and as regular visitors will know, pink sapphires are among the hottest coloured gemstones to hit the market in recent years.

Esira Bekily Vohitrambo Ilakaka Irondro Vatomandry Marolambo Ankezomiriotra Tsiroanomandidy Maevatanana Andilamena Andapa SambavaGem Locations Map Gem Location
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Ten hours by car or 90 minutes plane, my partner asked me if I thought Andilamena was at the end of the world. It isn’t the end of the world but it is the end of the road. The ruby mines are another 80km to the north near the national park and walking is the only way to go. The area also produces maize and Andilamena was probably in existence before the discovery of gems. There are two rough dirt roads, one from the grass airfield 4 or 5 km away and the other leading to the capital. Ten or twenty buildings mark this memorable locality. Besides gems, there were cassettes, ice cream, clothes, meat, vegetables, and water for sale. The day I visited there were a few trucks and cars parked in the area maybe 3 trucks and 3 cars (two of them were ours).

The first rubies were discovered in October 2000, but these were not transparent and appeared over-dark. Better-quality material was found in January 2001, and a "gold-rush" atmosphere ensued. Within six weeks there were nearly 40,000 miners working in the area. Since foreign buyers have not been allowed into the mining region, many set up buying offices in Andilamena. Most of the rough occurs as well-formed tabular crystals (which average 0.5 gram each) with slightly to moderately rounded edges. Clean, attractive rubies showing fine red color are very rare, but can exceed 5 grams.
Ilakaka is located more than 150 miles east of Tulear. The road from Tulear is paved and in excellent condition. As in most parts of Madagascar, there are few cars and more pedestrians and cattle. This part of south central Madagascar is high dessert plain, - warm or hot in the day and windy and cool at night. Before the discovery of gems, the only attraction was the nearby Isalo national park known especially for its unique painted rock formations and there are an estimated 300,000 hand-miners in the Ilakaka area working in the field at present day.

The town of Ilakaka is only two or three years old. There are perhaps 100 small one or two storey hastily built shanty/buildings with wooden shutters instead of glass windows. (Glass windows are unavailable in most parts of Madagascar.) The buildings include gem offices, two or three room hotels, clothes stalls, petrol pumps and garages. This town is here for the gems and I cannot imagine any other reason for its existence. The highlights include the Thai hotel/ restaurant 2 km outside of town and the Les Renes De L’Isalo (Hotel in the Rocks) in the national park about 10 km away. A small grass airstrip lies outside of town near Les Renes De L’Isalo. The government recently moved the gem buying area a few kilometers out of town.

The Vatomandry ruby deposit was discovered in September 2000. Access to the mining area, which lies along the Sakanila River, requires traveling on a dirt road approximately 30 km southwest of the coastal town of Vatomandry, which is located 140 km south of Tamatave (Toamasina). Soon after the ruby discovery, several thousand miners moved in. However, the Malagasy government closed the area to mining in February 2001, and all trading and exporting of the gems were prohibited. Many of the miners subsequently left the area, and ruby production decreased substantially.

The majority of the ruby rough produced weighs 0.1-0.3 grams, and rough stones exceeding one gram are rare. Although most of the rubies are purplish red, some show an attractive color that is similar to fine Burmese rubies, and a significant percentage of the Vatomandry rubies are marketable without heat treatment.

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