Professional Jeweler Archive: Madagascar Ruby Rush

August 2001

Gemstones & Pearls/News

Madagascar Ruby Rush

Newly found rubies are flowing to cutting centers and will soon reach U.S. retailers as finished goods. At the remote source, the landscape has turned into an overpopulated and dangerous encampment

Anew find of rubies in Madagascar will soon mean abundant supplies for U.S. jewelry stores. Quantities that have astounded dealers are already pouring into cutting and manufacturing centers in the Far East from the remote mining area near Andilamena in northern Madagascar.

The once quiet area is reminiscent of the California gold rush. “It was a small village just a few months ago, but 20,000 to 30,000 diggers and miners have descended on the ruby locality,” says Tom Cushman of Allerton Cushman & Co. Sun Valley, ID. Cushman frequently travels to Madagascar for gems. “From Andilamena, the area where the rubies are being found is a 15-hour trip by four-wheel drive, followed by 30 miles on foot. There are no hotels, and it’s a highly dangerous area because of the gems and cash involved.”

The area is so remote the Madagascar government hasn’t been able to monitor and control it.

Andilamena’s Bounty

Yianni Melas, a gem expert working for Swarovski Co. of Austria, says he thought the Andilamena area would be worth prospecting. He traveled by helicopter to the area and explored it over a two-week period. He asked gold prospectors what kinds of colored stones they found in streams and riverbeds, and he described ruby rough to them. “We started to see evidence of ruby in the area,” he recalls.

By December, ruby madness set in, and thousands of prospectors and diggers swarmed to the area. Gem markets in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, and abroad saw Andilamena material by the kilogram.

“What we saw initially was precursor stuff,” says Cushman. “Andilamena’s best is still mostly cabochon-grade material. A very small percentage is gem quality, much of it runs toward orangey colors and much of it has eye-visible inclusions. Today, we get at most 2%-3% gem quality out of every kilo of rough.”

Much of the Andilamena material continues to make its way to Bangkok, Thailand, and other Far East gem centers for a low-temperature heat treatment in which no borax is used, say eyewitnesses. (The use of borax with high-temperature ruby treatment is controversial because residue forms a flux that coats any fissures or pits in the gemstone.)

“The stones have a dull look, but they are very red, reminiscent of Siam tones,” says gem dealer Bill Larson of Pala International, Fallbrook, CA. (Siam tones are described as deep reds with the barest hint of orange). After treatment, the rubies are cut and manufactured for export, loose and in jewelry. “Prices for cut goods ranging from $400 to $500 per carat wholesale are not uncommon,” says Cushman. But some say prices are destined to fall as greater quantities begin to hit the market.

Andilamena’s ruby rush comes just as production of rubies from Myanmar – primarily the lower end Mong-Hsu rubies – slows to a trickle because of production and political pressures.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Rough and cut rubies from Andilamena (in the upper portion of the photo) are described as slightly orangey red. Vast quantities from this source are now reaching gem markets. In the lower portion of the photo are rough and cut gems from Vatomandry, a location in Madagascar that produces pinkish red rubies of superior quality. This area is closed until the government decides how to regulate it. Andilamena, meanwhile, is described as the Wild West because it’s too remote for the government to control. Gems courtesy of Allerton Cushman, Sun Valley, ID; (208) 726-3675. Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications