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.
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.
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.
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.
The microscopic features of these new Madagascar rubies are quite distinctive and allow ready separation from rubies from other sources.
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.
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.
Table 1. Properties of the new Madagascar (Andilamena) rubies
|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|
LW (366 nm): Medium to strong 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.|
Moderate to weak. O-ray: Purplish red to red; E-ray: Reddish orange to orangish red
Natural inclusions such as:
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.
- 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 Madagascar. The 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.
- Leuenberger, A. (2001) Gem News International: The new ruby deposits in eastern Madagascar: Mining and production. Gems & Gemology, Vol. 37, No. 2, Summer, pp. 147–149.
- Pardieu, V. and Rakotosaona, N. (2012) Ruby and Sapphire Rush Near Didy, Madagascar (April–June 2012). GIA News from Research, October 14.
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).
Wimon Manorotkul 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.