Let It Bleed • New Rubies From Madagascar • Lotus Gemology

by Richard W. Hughes, with Wimon Manorotkul & E. Billie Hughes
Let It Bleed • New Rubies From Madagascar • Lotus Gemology

When it rains red, it doesn't simply pour. It bleeds. Following closely on the heels of the ruby strikes in Mozambique, a major new find of the crimson stone is made in Madagascar.

Hello, my old friend

2 Sept. 2015 (updated  28 Sept. 2015) – Recently, a close friend of ours gave us a heads-up about a new ruby mine in Madagascar, sending a photo that showed several pieces of gemmy blood-red ruby rough sitting atop a small scale. Word had it that the Madagascar bush had yielded up yet another piece of crystallized treasure, this twist on terra firma in the form of blood-red ruby. Today rumor became reality. A client walked in with a few dozen faceted rubies. As always, we asked for the source. "Mozambique" was the reply. Ho hum. Until I scoped the first piece.

Have you ever met someone briefly, and then, after a long period, you glance at a face and think to yourself: "Something's familiar. I think I know you from somewhere." Gazing into the microscope brought back vivid memories of an epic 2005 visit to Moramanga, aka "Sierra Leone," a mine deep in the Madagascar bush. Yes, we had met before.

Rough ruby said to be from the new (2015) find south of Andilamena, Madagascar. Two weeks after receiving this photo from a friend, cut stones began arriving at Lotus Gemology's Bangkok office.

Map of Madagascar showing the major ruby and sapphire localities. The new ruby find is thought to be south of Andilamena, at Ambodivoahangy, in Zahamena National Park. Map: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the map for a larger image.

Ruby from Moramanga on offer in the market at Andilamena, Madagascar in September 2005. Photo: R.W. Hughes. Click on the photo for a larger image.

A Visit to Sierra Leone

September 2005 – The way to Moramanga involved one hour by road, followed by a combination of jungle walk and boat. If one leaves Andilamena early in the morning, with luck it is possible to be in Moramanga by nightfall. Luck stayed behind, so for us it became a two-day journey, broken in a small riverside village.

Malagasy miners carrying gem-bearing gravel above Moramanga village, deep in the Madagascar bush. Photo: R.W. Hughes, September 2005.

Malagasy miners carrying gem-bearing gravel above Moramanga village (aka 'Sierra Leone'), deep in the Madagascar bush. Photo: R.W. Hughes, September 2005. Click on the photo for a larger image.

The following day, Vincent [Pardieu's] prediction came true. Mud, serious mud. As we made our way towards Moramanga, we forded one stream after another. Finally, crossing one rise we found ourselves descending into a cauldron of human activity where tiny huts were stacked on top of another like a long brown snake coiling through the jungle. We had arrived at Moramanga.

The scene was one straight out of America’s gold rush, albeit in a jungle setting. Today, some 15,000 people have carved out a toe-hold from the surrounding forest where they mine for both ruby and sapphire. They mine the hillsides, they mine the river bottoms, they mine the mountaintops. They even mine the muddy effluent-ridden lanes of the town itself. I have seen some spectacular mining camps in my day (Burma’s jade mines come immediately to mind), but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything quite like Moramanga, where thousands of miners are living and working literally on top of one another.

Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes above Madagascar's Moramanga village. The new Madagascar ruby find is believed to be in this area. Photo: R.W. Hughes, September 2005.

Lotus Gemology's Richard Hughes above Madagascar's Moramanga village. The new Madagascar ruby find is believed to be in this area. Photo: Vincent Pardieu, September 2005. Click on the photo for a larger image.

The new rubies

A quick examination of the new rubies reveal features quite similar to the stones I had collected at Moramanga in September 2005. With one major difference. These rubies were much bigger. And much better. No more the poor stepchild of the ruby world, suitable only for glass filling. These rubies could strut their stuff completely and unabashedly au naturel, no silica implants needed.

Like the Moramanga rubies of old, these new stones come in two subtly different flavors. Many stones are a vivid "blood red," falling into the Lotus Gemology "Royal Red" color type (See 'From Peacock to Pigeon's Blood' for more on Lotus color types). Others are one level down in saturation. Superficially, many of these stones will be confused with the darker varieties of Mozambique ruby. Thankfully, microscopic examination can easily separate them.

Stone sizes were, for ruby, excellent. The lot we examined consisted of faceted gems ranging from 1.04 to 7.16 ct, with many being larger than three carats.

Four untreated rubies from the new find in Madagascar, ranging in size from 4.0 to 6.5 ct. As can be seen, the new production is extremely gemmy. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul/Lotus Gemology.

Four untreated rubies from the new find in Madagascar, ranging in size from 4.0 to 6.5 ct. As can be seen, the new production is extremely gemmy. Most gems fell into the Lotus Gemology "Royal Red" color type. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul/Lotus Gemology; rubies courtesy of Zahran International. Click on the photo for a larger image.

This six carat ruby is an example of the more open color that is also found at the new deposit. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul/Lotus Gemology; gem: Daniel Sherf/Shoham. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Microscopic features

The microscopic features of these new Madagascar rubies are quite distinctive and allow ready separation from rubies from other sources.

Perhaps the most distinctive inclusion feature of these new rubies from Madagascar is the dark red to black rods of what appears to be primary rutile. Also note the zoned cloud of exsolved particles. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology

Perhaps the most distinctive inclusion feature of these new rubies from Madagascar is the dark red to black rods of what appears to be primary rutile. Also note the zoned cloud of exsolved particles. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

A closer look at the dark red to black rods of primary rutile. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

A closer look at the dark red to black rods of primary rutile. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

In reflected light, the metallic luster of the primary rutile stands in contrast to that of the surrounding ruby where the rutile is cut through on the surface. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

In reflected light, the metallic luster of the primary rutile stands in contrast to that of the surrounding ruby where the rutile is cut through on the surface. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

A crystal of what appears to be mica hovers over a backdrop filled with rounded crystals of what are probably zircon in this ruby from the new Madagascar find. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

A crystal of what appears to be mica hovers over a backdrop filled with rounded crystals of what are probably zircon in this ruby from the new Madagascar find. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Another crystal of what appears to be mica in a ruby from the new Madagascar find. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

Another crystal of what appears to be mica in a ruby from the new Madagascar find. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Rods of what are most likely amphibole in one of the new Madagascar rubies. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

Rods of what are most likely amphibole in one of the new Madagascar rubies. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Again, rods of what are most likely amphibole in one of the new Madagascar rubies. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

Again, rods of what are most likely amphibole in one of the new Madagascar rubies. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Small rounded crystals and clusters of what is probably zircon in one of the new Madagascar rubies. These crystals are common in Madagascar rubies and sapphires from many localities and will allow separation from rubies from Mozambique. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

Small rounded crystals and clusters of what is probably zircon in one of the new Madagascar rubies. These crystals are common in Madagascar rubies and sapphires from many localities and will allow separation from rubies from Mozambique. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Another example of small rounded crystals and clusters of what is probably zircon. These crystals are common in Madagascar rubies and sapphires from many localities and will allow separation from rubies from Mozambique. Photo: E. Billie Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

Another example of small rounded crystals and clusters of what is probably zircon. These crystals are common in Madagascar rubies and sapphires from many localities and will allow separation from rubies from Mozambique. Photo: E. Billie Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

A high percentage of the rubies from the new find examined contained hexagonal clouds of exsolved particles and rutile silk. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

A high percentage of the rubies from the new find examined contained hexagonal clouds of exsolved particles and rutile silk. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Rutile silk in one of the new Madagascar rubies. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

Rutile silk in one of the new Madagascar rubies. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Polysynthetic twinning was found in many of these new Madagascar rubies. Photo: E. Billie Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

Polysynthetic twinning was found in many of these new Madagascar rubies. Photo: E. Billie Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

A single twin plane viewed between crossed polars provides a spectacular backdrop for several rounded zircon crystal grains. Photo: E. Billie Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

A single twin plane viewed between crossed polars provides a spectacular backdrop for several rounded zircon crystal grains. Photo: E. Billie Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Two orange crystals of what is probably monazite floats amidst polysynthetic twin planes in a new Madagascar ruby. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology; crossed polars.

Two orange crystals of what is probably monazite float amidst polysynthetic twin planes in a new Madagascar ruby. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology; crossed polars. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Two orange crystals of what is probably monazite with small zircon crystals in the background in this Madagascar ruby. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology; transmitted light.

Two orange crystals of what is probably monazite with small zircon crystals in the background in this Madagascar ruby. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology; transmitted light. Click on the photo for a larger image.

A slender amphibole rod perches next to a secondary healed fissure (’fingerprint’) in this untreated ruby from Andilamena, Madagascar. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology.

A slender amphibole rod perches next to a secondary healed fissure (’fingerprint’) in this untreated ruby from Andilamena, Madagascar. Photo: R.W. Hughes/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Visible spectra

The visible spectra were typical for dark red ruby, with the deepest colors showed virtually no transmission below the ruby doublet at 468.5 and 476.5 nm. The somewhat more open colors showed a corresponding slight increase in transmission below 468.5 nm.

Infrared spectra

Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) was performed on 38 rubies submitted for testing. As is common with rubies from other sources, the 3309 peak was present to some degree in virtually all samples. At the same time, the 3232 peak, which is often a strong indication of artificial heat treatment, was absent. This, along with the inclusions, suggested that all the stones submitted had not been subjected to heat treatment. Some specimens showed a large IR hump, which can probably be attributed to the inclusions of exsolved rutile needles and particles.

Typical infrared spectra for the new Madagascar rubies. Most showed a weak to moderate 3309 peak. Stones with lots of silk often showed a large hump surrounding that peak.  Typical infrared spectra for the new Madagascar rubies. Most showed a weak to moderate 3309 peak. Stones with lots of silk often showed a large hump surrounding that peak.

Typical infrared spectra for the new Madagascar rubies. Most showed a weak to moderate 3309 cm-1 peak. Stones with lots of silk often showed a large hump surrounding that peak. Click on the images for a larger photo.

Table 1. Properties of the new Madagascar (Andilamena) rubies

Property Results1
Color Hue: Red; Saturation: Vivid to intense; Tone: Deep to medium deep; most stones fell into the "Royal Red" Lotus Gemology color type. One stone out of 38 pieces (a 1 ct stone) fell into the Lotus "Pigeon's Blood" color type. Light blue and greenish blue sapphires have also been reported from the same locality.
Refractive Index 1.766–1.770 (0.008); uniaxial (–)2
Polariscope Reaction Doubly refractive, uniaxial interference figure
Specific Gravity
(Hydrostatic)
3.95–4.012
UV Fluorescence

LW (366 nm): Medium to strong red
SW (254 nm): Very weak to weak red

Visible Spectrum Strong Cr spectrum with moderate to low violet transmission
Infrared Spectrum Weak to moderate 3309 cm-1 peak. Stones with lots of silk often showed a large hump surrounding that peak. 
Pleochroism

Moderate to weak. O-ray: Purplish red to red; E-ray: Reddish orange to orangish red

Inclusions

Natural inclusions such as:

  • Amphibole rods. Long transparent rods.
  • Primary rutile crystals. These appear in high relief and black in color, except when very small, where a deep orange color is visible; when cut through on the surface they have a metallic luster compared with the surrounding ruby.
  • Rounded transparent and birefringent colorless crystals as individuals or clusters. These appear to be zircon or in some cases possibly xenotime.
  • Rounded transparent and birefringent yellow crystals of what appears to be monazite.
  • Transparent to white mica crystals, sometimes as "books," while other times in thin transparent plates.
  • Hexagonal or angular zoned clouds composed of minute exsolved particles and rutile silk intersecting in three directions in the basal plane.
  • Sharp angular growth zoning.
  • Polysynthetic twinning on the rhombohedron, with the occasional boehmite needle at the intersections of crossing twin planes.
  • Secondary healed fissures in fingerprint patterns made up of coarse to fine negative crystals.
  • Surface-reaching fissures with yellow to orange stains.
  • Primary negative crystal with mobile bubble was observed in one specimen.
1 Based on the testing of 38 stones weighing from 1.04 to 7.16 ct.
2 Based on the testing of 12 stones

Conclusion: When smoke becomes fire

This new discovery of ruby in Madagascar is a classic example of how gem exploration and production is not necessarily a linear process, but instead moves in fits and starts. Witness Colombia's Chivor emerald mines. Known and worked in pre-Columbian times, the deposit was also exploited during the early Spanish colonial period. And then the mines were "lost," only to be rediscovered by Peter Rainier about 1920 (Rainier, 1931). 

Similarly, America's Newry Maine tourmaline mines were heavily exploited in the late 19th century, and then abandoned. In 1972, mineral collectors struck gold, uncovering an incredibly rich pocket at this "exhausted" locale (Bancroft, 1984).

In the case of Madagascar's Moramanga ruby mines, the initial production included "polychrome" sapphire and low-grade ruby that, at the time of the lead author's 2005 visit, was used for glass filling. Fast forward to 2015. Miners unearth material in the same vicinity that is of far better quality. Suddenly smoke becomes fire and this incredible island is once again bleeding red.

Faceted Madagasar rubies from the 2015 find, along with rough rubies from Moramanga collected by the author in 2005. The faceted stones are between 1.2 and 1.3 ct each. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul/Lotus Gemology.

Faceted Madagascar rubies from the 2015 find, along with rough rubies from Moramanga collected by the author in 2005. The faceted stones are between 1.2 and 1.3 ct each. Photo: Wimon Manorotkul/Lotus Gemology. Click on the photo for a larger image.

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References

  • Bancroft, P. (1984) Gem and Crystal Treasures. Fallbrook, CA, Western Enterprises/Mineralogical Record, 488 pp.
  • Emmett, J.L., Scarratt, K. et al. (2003) Beryllium diffusion of ruby and sapphire. Gems & Gemology, Vol. 39, No. 2, Summer, pp. 84–135.
  • Hughes, R.W., Pardieu, V. and Schorr, D. (2006) Sorcerers and Sapphires: A visit to MadagascarThe Guide, Jan.–Feb., Vol. 25, Issue 1, Part 1, pp. 1, 4–6.
  • Rainier, P.W. (1931) The Chivor-Somondoco emerald mines of Colombia. Transactions, AIME, Vol. 96, pp. 204–223.

Further reading

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Por Kuang Tang of PK Gems (Bangkok), Tom Cushman of Richfield Investor Services (Madagascar), Daniel Sherf of Shoham (Bangkok), and Riccardo Bertoncelli (Madagascar) for their generous assistance with this article. RWH also thanks his favorite travel mates, Vincent Pardieu and Dana Schorr (r.i.p.), who accompanied him on his 2005 trip to Madagascar.

About the authors

Richard W. Hughes is the author of the classic Ruby & Sapphire and over 170 articles on various aspects of gemology. Many of his writings can be found at www.lotusgemology.com and www.ruby-sapphire.com. His latest book is Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide (2014).

 is a gemologist with over 30 years' experience in the gem trade. A skilled photographer, her gem and inclusion photographs have graced numerous industry publications.

E. Billie Hughes is a 2011 graduate of UCLA, who obtained her FGA in 2013. A travel-addicted citizen of the world, Billie was born into a gem-loving family, with her first visits to gem mines at age two; by age four, she was mining sapphire in Montana. Since then, Billie has participated in gemological expeditions around the globe, including Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India, China (Inner Mongolia & Tibet), Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi, and Rwanda. The youngest member of the Lotus gemological fold, 2014 saw Billie win two Gem-A awards for her photomicrographs. Her photos have appeared in publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Terra Spinel and Ruby & Sapphire: A Collector's Guide.

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