Professional Jeweler Archive: Brazilian Green Fever

November 2003

Gemstones & Pearls/News


Brazilian Green Fever

Brazil's Belmont mine is producing a steady supply of emeralds while remaining environmentally conscious. Robert Weldon takes you there


The hole diving 400 feet into the Belmont Mine is narrow, dripping wet and devoid of light. The waist-level elevator cage plunges quickly, and miners hold their arms close to their bodies for fear of losing them to the jagged rock walls of black biotitic schist. But the trip is worth it, for the mine is producing gem-quality emeralds that help supply jewelers with consistently fine specimens at a time when they are cycling back into demand.

Antonio Ramos, an official with the Canelhas Group, a consortium partner developing Belmont’s emerald cutting industry and marketing plan in Brazil, says that in addition to steady production, the emeralds are a beautiful color and contain fewer fissures than usual. Ramos says these emeralds need only light oiling to improve their appearance.

The 25-year-old Belmont Mine is in an emerald-rich region called Itabira in the state of Minas Gerais. Not too far away are other important emerald mines, including Nova Era, located in Capoeirana; the Piteiras deposit, which is beginning to produce fine emeralds also; and the Santa Terezinha de Goias mines.

Emeralds are a fairly recent discovery in Brazil. The country’s geologists and independent miners long theorized emeralds must exist somewhere in Brazil, but the first deposits weren’t discovered until 1963, in the states of Piauí and Bahia.

In several cases, mines were discovered in the search for other minerals. At Santa Terezinha, for example, heavy machinery was clearing ground for oil exploration when the tractor blade exposed an emerald-bearing seam. A legend often retold is of a bull sticking his horns into the ground during a bullfight and revealing a superb emerald. It’s no surprise Minas Gerais – which also produces aquamarine, tourmaline, topaz, alexandrite, quartz, kunzite and morganite – translates as “general mines” from Portuguese.

Belmont Stakes

“Run-of-mine [production] of Belmont runs about 1,000 cubic meters of ore per month, or about 2,000 tons of emerald-bearing ore,” says Marcelo Ribeiro, a mining engineer at Belmont. “Of that, about four grams per ton are gem quality – suitable for jewelry.” The Belmont mine is reportedly one of the largest and best-developed mines in Brazil, serving as an example of how the government expects other mines to be managed. The mine is highly mechanized. Overburden, extracted by jackhammer and picks, is laboriously taken out of new mine tunnels, loaded onto trucks and transported to a sorting facility where emeralds (and in some cases alexandrites) are separated from ore. First the ore is washed with a water cannon and then sorted according to specific gravity. (Mine officials say new, more efficient methods of selecting rough are in the works). Resulting stones travel on conveyor belts where about 20 mine hands separate out the green gemstones.

Maintaining the environment is important too. “Everything we touch is restored,” says Ribeiro. “Not only are the trees in the property restored or replanted, any water we use is reclaimed and recycled. Even earth extracted from the mines gets washed and recycled.” Ribeiro is proud of the environmental record and says his company is not shy in telling visitors about their efforts. It’s a selling point for jewelers to convey to environmentally conscious consumers as well.

In the full sun of a Brazilian noon, the Canelhas Group’s Ramos delicately places a magnificent 87.2-ct emerald crystal on a white leather pad. Beside it, he places a cut emerald. Glowing as they do in the sun, it’s clear the Belmont Mine has what it takes to join the ranks of other world-class emerald producers.

• Canelhas Group, Sao Paulo, Brazil; (55-11) 3218-7233, Antonio@ canelhas.com.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

All Photos by Robert Weldon

Marcelo Ribeiro, a mining engineer for Belmont Mine, examines a large emerald crystal for clarity and color.
Light at the mining site shows the way for miners at the Belmont Mine in Itabira, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
A finished emerald from the Belmont Mine and a 87.2-ct emerald rough are processed for sale by the Canelhas Group.
Ore is taken to a washing site where emeralds are separated out.
Emeralds are collected and then arranged by quality and size.

Copyright © 2003 by Bond Communications