Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Drive to Itremo Massive)

Early in the morning, we leave Ambatofinandrahana for the long drive to Itremo Massive, the quartz capital of Madagascar. This area is famous for numerous quartz veins producing an enormous number of quartz specimens each year including rock crystal quartz, pineapple quartz, quartz with rare fuchsite or hollandite etc. The countryside is beautiful!
The road to Itremo Massive
National road #35 was so bad it took us over four hours to go 35km (21.7 miles). Some of us took the opportunity to get out and walk for a little exercise. Sometimes it was quicker to walk than ride! I met my driver at the top of the hill. Many national roads in Madagascar are difficult to navigate and require the use of a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
The road to Itremo Massive

There’s a bit of a problem when we come upon the only bridge across a river and it’s missing some boards, making it impassable for our 18 4-wheel drive vehicles. Drivers and security guards scramble to find wood for a makeshift repair.

As we await the slow and careful passage of all 18 4-wheel drive vehicles over the semi-repaired bridge, we get our first lesson in Malagasy: Mora mora = slowly, slowly!

In my next post, we will stop along the way to Itremo in a town called Ihasofotsy!

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Ambatofinandrahana)

Ambatofinandrahana
Ambatofinandrahana is probably my favorite town in Madagascar. This once-thriving town in an area rich in quartz, Beryl-Columbite, Lepidolite, danburite and other minerals, is now in disrepair.

Upon our arrival in Abatofinandrahana we were greeted at the boarding house by local mineral dealers selling mostly quartz. I purchased the small pineapple quartz in the upper right hand coner for about $4. The dealer was happy to quickly grab my money, so I think I may have over-paid for this piece.

I enjoyed walking around the town, meeting some of the locals. I was even given a wagon ride by several giggling children. I am looking forward to returning to this town to spend a few days getting to know the people better.

Accommodations were very basic on this night. Electricity was provided by a generator that was only on for a few hours. And we had to flush the toilet with a bucket of water since there was no running water. But I enjoyed my time in Ambatofinandrahana, the villagers are very beautiful, happy people.

Ambatofinandrahana was our stoping point before the long drive the following day.
In my next post, we’ll take the long drive to Itremo Massive.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar A Gemologist’s Journey (Ambatonapetraka Tourmaline Locality)

Tourmaline Fever
Ambatonapetraka is a recently discovered weathered pegmatite zone with a very high concentration of tourmalines. Because it is such a recent discovery, the locals still have “tourmaline fever.” We are there on a Sunday, so fewer miners are busy working. We’re told there are normally hundreds of miners digging in this area.

Families working in Ambatonapetraka
Here entire families work the mine in the hopes of finding the next best tourmaline. Women and children scoured the dump piles. While older boys and men worked the mine shafts. While our group walked among the miners being lookey-lous and taking photos, we barely disturbed their work.

The road between Ambatonapetraka and our next destination of Ambatofinandrahana was full of interesting creatures. We encountered a swarm of locusts of biblical proportions! The locals catch them in nets and eat them.
Swarm of Locusts of Biblical Proportions
In addition to the locusts, we also shared the road with herd after herd of zebu making their way to the market to be auctioned off in two days.
Zebu on the way to market

In my next post, we’ll visit one of my favorite towns, Ambatofinandrahana.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Sahatany Valley Pegmatite Field Part II)

My previous post I covered the first half of our day in the Sahatany Valley. I ended at the Estatoby dig where our group split up. I chose to continue on up the mountain.
Ampatsikahitra Mining Locality
We begin the long hike up the mountainside to see the active underground mining activities at the Ampatsikahitra mine. There’s a small mining camp high on the mountain where miners stay while they are mining. This locality has produced some beautiful red and polychorme tourmaline crystals.

Some brave souls tour the dark narrow passages of the underground mining shafts. This was the only horizontal mining tunnel we saw. Others search the dump pile for treasures including kunzite, amazonite, citrine, tourmaline and more. I found some nice pieces, but in the end, I put them back because I didn’t want to carry them with me the whole journey. Of course, I now wish I had kept them.

Hiking up the mountains
After leaving the mining camp, we march on to the top of the mountain to see more active mining operations in the Tamponilapa dig site. The view from the top of the mountain was spectacular in all directions! Madagascar really is a beautiful country.

At the top of the mountain, more tourmaline mining is underway in the Tamponilapa dig. The Malagasy miners don’t like to mine in tunnels, so they dig vertical pits one after another in which to work. These two holes follow a pegmatite, none continues horizontally. See the tiny miner in the bottom of this hole?
Tamponilapa Mining Locality
We’re just in time to see one miner bring up a bag of promising tourmaline pieces. While not fine mineral specimens, these pieces can be faceted into beautiful gemstones for gemstone jewelry. Federico inspects the pieces and pays the miner for a job well done. The miner is very happy.

In my next post, we’ll visit the new tourmaline deposit in Ambatonapetraka.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Sahatany Valley Pegmatite Field)

Sahatany Pegmatite Field
Our day in the Sahatany Valley was a long one, so I’ll split it up into two consecutive posts. Sahatany Valley is of the most famous and productive pegmatite areas in Madagascar. This gorgeous valley is known for producing polychrome tourmaline, pink, green, blue and polychrome beryl, kunzite and garnets among others.

In Ibity (the town to the right of Tsarafara), Federico Pezzotta, who owns many mining claims in this area, gives us an overview of the pegmatites and the different dig sites in the area we will be visiting. We have a long day of hiking ahead of us as shown below.

Sahatany Pegmatite District
From Ibity it’s about an hour walk to the Estatoby dig area passing through the Tsarafara pegmatite field along the way. From there we hike to the top of the mountain to visit the Ampatsikahitra and Tamponilapa digs. We have about 8 hours of hiking through varying terrain to reach all the planned stops.

Along the way, miners sifted for gem fragments or dug vertical mining shafts using a bucket on a rope to discard the excess dirt. Some of the most extraordinary tourmalines in the world are found in this area of Madagascar, so it’s worth their effort.

Sahatany Pegmatite District
Other miners were selling mineral specimens. I bought a green and a red tourmaline and a doubly-terminated quartz crystal with a fuchsite phantom. The two tourmaline specimens I purchased for 120,000 ariary, or about $55 at the time. For the doubly tourmaline quartz with fuchsite I paid 10,000 ariary, or about $4.25. Unfortunately, the red tourmaline crystal broke later in the day. I just glued it back together, but it’s lost much of it’s value now.

We finally arrive to the Estatoby workings. It’s a vast area of dig sites with heaping mounds of red and white tailings. The white tailings are kaoline, a product of eroded feldspar and mica. The Estatoby pegmatite has produced some famous, giant multi-color liddicoatite specimens.

Sahatany Pegmatite District
We stayed for a short time so those who wanted to could field collect. From this point, those who were fit could continue up the moutain to our next location. Others who did not want the challenge could head back down to town. I chose to continue up the mountain…

In my next post, we hike up the mountain to the Ampatsikahitra and Tamponilapa digs.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Tsaramanga Pegmatite Mine)

The journey from Mahaiza to the Tsaramanga Pegmatite was beautiful. Terraced landscapes of rice paddy fields are very common in this area. What looks like a cascading waterfall on the hillside is actually a vein of marble.

From Mahaiza to the Tsaramanga Pegmatite Mine

All along the way we saw women on their trek to or from the Mahaiza market carrying baskets on their heads. I was amazed at the sheer volume and weight of objects the Malagasy people can carry on their heads!

We arrive to the dig site! Tsaramanga is one of the most famous localities in Madagascar. It comprises a beryl-columbite subtype known for dark blue beryls, columbite crystals and world-famous rose quartz.

Renowned Madagascar rose quartz forms in large crystal grains rather than terminated crystals. It is famous for it’s color, transparency and asterism. We could buy rose quartz from this pile, or find a piece in the dump area to take home at no charge. I chose to take a piece from the dump pile.

Tsaramanga Pegmatite Mine
This was our first opportunity to dig in a mine. Those of us who brought our own tools could dig in the open pit. Unfortunately, no one found anything valuable digging in the pit in the two hours we stayed. But it’s always fun to tell people I got to dig in the Taramanga Pegmatite Mine in Madagascar.

In my next post, we head on to our next mining locality, the Sahatany Pegmatite District.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Mahaiza Market)

Mahaiza Market
The market at Mahaiza was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was a busy Friday afternoon and the streets were packed with people who had come from miles around to shop at the market. Here one could buy anything from clothing, food, live chickens and zebu, purses and cookware to gems and minerals. Locals were given a heads up that we were coming, so many had gems and mineral specimens ready for our viewing.

It was a chaotic free-for-all in the street. Crowds of local market-goers looked on to watch the Vazaha (Malagasy word for white foreigner)! Those of us who were lucky got first dibs on some amazing minerals.

Mahaiza MarketThe deal of the day was this beautiful perfect tourmaline crystal on a quartz crystal. It looks black in the photo, but the tourmaline was a beautiful deep green color. It was a steal of a deal at just 100,000 ariary, or about $43 at the time.

Mahaiza Market
The streets were so crowded we needed an escort for our 18 4-wheel drive vehicles to get through the market. Our group was the largest group the people had ever seen in Madagascar, so everywhere we went it was like being in a parade!

It was here at Mahaiza Market that I realized, some of the people here had never seen a white person before…or at least not one with blonde hair and blue eyes like mine. There were several young gals who took one look at me and backed up in fear. For some, a smile was all they needed to feel comfortable coming closer. For others, they just backed up all the way around me as if I was some sort of taboo to them. It was quite interesting.

In my next post, we head on to our first mine of the journey, the Tsaramanga Pegmatite Mine.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Antsirabe)

Antsirabe Mineral Market
Antsirabe, called the city of water for its thermal activity, is also the gem and mineral trading center of Madagascar. Upon our arrival we met local gem and mineral dealers having their usual street show.

There were mineral specimens, cut gems, cabochons, beads, carvings and just about anything else you could think of at a gem & mineral show.

Madagascar is one of the top producing countries of gemstones in the world.

Antsirabe Mineral Market
I pick through the offering and left with just these two pieces: A bi-color tourmaline and amethyst scepter. It was only the first day so I wanted to save my money. I actually bought a small red tourmaline crystal on matrix too, but I lost that specimen along the way. For the three specimens, I paid about $25.
Antsirabe Lake Tritriva
From the Antsirabe mineral market, those of use who wanted to, could take the scenic drive and short hike to Lake Titriva. It is a beautiful lake that fills the extinct crater of a volcanic cone surrounded by majestic metamorphic cliffs. This is a must-see for anyone in the area. I also bought a nice polished and cut ammonite for about $4.50 from a vendor in the parking lot.

Antsirabe: famous for pous-pous
Like most evenings, we ended this first day in Antsirabe with a dinner and party. But the day didn’t end so well for one of our travelers.

Antsirabe is famous for its rickshaws, or in Malagasy pous-pous. Upon leaving the dinner party this evening, one of our fellow travelers tripped over a rickshaw and broke his elbow and knee in three places. He was airlifted to Reunion for immediate surgery. Unfortunately, he remained in Reunion until after our journey was over.

In my next post, we head south west to Mahaiza mineral market.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Antananarivo)

Antananarivo: Capital City of MadagascarOur journey began May 28th in Antananarivo. Antananarivo, also called Tana, is the capital city of Madagascar and also the largest city in Madagascar with an estimated population of 1.6 million people.

I have to admit, I imagined Tana to be much more metropolitan than it is. The city has very few tall buildings, many buildings are very run down or in disrepair. My driver, Tanjona, said the lack of tall buildings is because the city is built on soft ground, which wouldn’t support the weight of tall buildings. Not sure how accurate that is but it makes sense. In the center of town there are lots of beggars, many young women with babies etc. They seem to flock to white people, whom they consider wealthy.

Antananarivo: The Marketplace in Tana
Amid the hustle and bustle of the busy city is the marketplace. Locals and visitors alike go to the market to buy anything from fresh vegetables, clothes, live chickens and even gems and mineral specimens. Visitors must be especially careful of pick-pockets in the busy marketplace.

I was intrigued by the basket of live chickens I saw for sale. The chickens were just sitting nicely in their place in the basket, barely moving. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the feet of the chickens were tied together, making them immobile.

Antananarivo: Sanitary Conditions
Like other third world countries, the sanitary conditions in Madagascar are a bit shocking by our standards. The streets are littered and the rivers are very dirty. Just outside the marketplace, one boy uses the river as a toilet. I’m told his mother cleaned him off with his shirt, then put the shirt back on him. Further down the river, women wash clothes in the same river. Some locals even drink the river water!

Antananarivo: Queens Palace
Perched on the highest hill overlooking the city is the Queen´s Palace. This is a must-see if you are visiting Antananarivo. Here we learned some history, legends and admired an incredible 360 degree panorama of the city.

The French invaded the capital city in 1895, prompting the Queen’s surrender. Madagascar remained a French colony from 1895 to 1960 when it transitioned to an independent country. Here are some of the buildings at the Queens Palace, including a traditional tomb and beautiful protestant church.

Antananarivo: Dinner Party with Entertainment
We ended our first day in Madagascar with a dinner party of delicious local cuisine and entertainment. Our entertainment was live traditional music, singing and dancing by local Malagasy talents. This was just the first of many similar dinner parties with live entertainment.

In my next post, we head south to Antsirabe, the mineral trading capital of Madagascar.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (FAQ)

Madagascar: Frequently asked questionsWhenever I give a presentation about the trip or tell friends about it, I’m always asked the same three questions: What are the accommodations like? What is the currency of Madagascar? and is it safe?

With regard to the accommodations, most of our hotels and bungalows where very nice with running water and electricity. Most of them had an Internet connection somewhere on the premises we could use. One of the places we stayed did not have running water, but we could flush the toilet with a bucket of water. The electricity in this place was powered by a generator and was only on for a few hours each evening to allow us to charge phones etc. In general, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the hotels were for our group.

With regard to the currency, the primary currency in Madagascar is the Malagasy Ariary (MGA). In my photo I am showing a stack of their largest bills. Each bill is 10,000 Ariary, which, at today’s exchange rate is about $3.77. For my $1,000 in US dollars, I received about 2,655,000 MGA and for the first time in my life, I was a multi-millionaire! It felt strange to be carrying around such a large stack of bills! It also became far too easy to just whip out 10,000 MGA for anything and anyone.

Just an FYI, decent rooms in Madagascar can start at about 25,000 MGA per person per night and on up. So housing is relatively inexpensive. For my return trip in three weeks, I found a nice, contemporary 2 bedroom apartment with all utilities and WIFI in Antananarivo for just $160 for the entire week.

As for safety, of course no matter where you go, whether it’s Madagascar or Kentucky, there is always a risk of some sort of danger. I didn’t feel unsafe or threatened in any way the entire three weeks I was in Madagascar. I’m not aware anyone else did either. But we were traveling in a large group. Nevertheless, when we toured the mines or shopped at the mineral markets, we had hired armed guards to accompany us. One must also be careful in the market places of pickpockets etc.

For my return trip, I have hired a full time body guard, who is also my driver, because I stick out like a sore thumb in Madagascar being a blonde hair, blue eyed, white woman traveling otherwise alone. A little common sense always goes a long way when traveling overseas.

In my next post, we begin our journey in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Geological Overview)

Madagascar: A Gemologist's JourneyI recently took a trip to Madagascar for a mineralogy conference and to tour some of the remote mining villages. It was such a wonderful trip and I learned so much that I’d like to share my experience with you over the next couple of weeks.

Before I begin specifics about our journey, I’d like to touch on the geology of Madagascar. Madagascar has a very unique geological history, which created many unusual mineral deposits.

Roughly 2.5 billion years ago several land masses, including Madagascar, collided to form the Gondwana Supercontinent. The magmatism and metamorphism generated by this collision is largely in part responsible for Madagascar’s wealth of gemstone and mineral deposits.

Madagascar is divided into 3 geographical zones clearly visible on the image below:
1: Low Plains in the west comprised of Mesozoic to Cenozoic sediments
2: Central Highlands comprised of old crystalline basement complex
3: Narrow Coastal Strip in the east comprised of lower Cretaceous volcanics

Madagascar Topography

Madagascar has more mineral deposits than any other island in the world. It is especially rich in pegmatite deposits. More gems are found in pegmatite deposits around the world than any other type of deposit. Pegmatites form in granite and when conditions are perfect, can form gem pockets.

The overlay below shows all the major pegmatite districts in Madagascar, taken from the book Madagascar, by Federico Pezzotta. As you can see, most are located in the central highlands. This is where we spent the majority of our time.

Madagascar Topography
Madagascar Book For more information on the geology and mineralogy of Madagascar I suggest this book written by Federico Pezzota. The book is full of amazing photographs of beautiful gem and mineral specimens along with a wealth of information about Madagascar’s mineral localities. The book is $35 and $13 of each purchase goes to helping the kids in the remote mining villages of Madagascar. Contact me if you wish to order a book…it is almost out of print and I have fewer than 10 copies left: 970-535-4139.

In my next post I will begin our journey of Madagascar.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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232 Carat Diamond Unearthed at the Cullinan Diamond Mine

Diamond Grading LabsAnother amazing diamond was discovered at the Premier Mine, renamed the Cullinan Diamond Mine, in South Africa. The mine is known for the famous Cullinan diamond discovered in 1902. When found, that diamond rough crystal weighed a whopping 3,106.75 carats and is the largest diamond ever discovered.

The announcement came on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 that another notable diamond was discovered at the Cullinan Diamond Mine. This diamond rough crystal weighs 232 carats and is D color with high clarity, consistent with other high quality diamonds found in this mine.

According to the press release from Petra Diamonds, owner of the mine: “Cullinan is renowned as a source of large diamonds and frequently yields diamonds larger than 10 carats. Furthermore, it has produced just under 800 stones weighing more than 100 carats, over 130 stones weighing more than 200 carats, and around a quarter of all diamonds weighing more than 400 carats.

In its history, the mine has produced four of the top 20 largest high quality gem diamonds: The Cullinan (3,106 carats rough), The Golden Jubilee (755 carats rough), The Centenary (599 carats rough) and The Cullinan Heritage (507 carats rough). The Cullinan Heritage was recovered by Petra in 2009 and sold in February 2010 for US$35.3 million, being the highest price on record for a rough diamond.”

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Differences in Diamond Labs

Diamond Grading LabsI have discussed the issue of different diamond grading labs in the past and whether it is important to get a lab certificate for your diamond. There is an interesting article out today regarding two law suits against a jeweler regarding diamond grading. It’s important to note that a diamond grade is someone’s OPINION, it is not definitive. Two different very experienced, well respected appraisers can give two different grades for the same diamond. The grades should be close, but they may be slightly different.

Likewise, different labs will grade diamonds differently as well. Some labs, such as EGL noted in the article, are known for giving generous grades. GIA on the other hand, established the diamond grading system, so I trust their grades over other labs. Still others believe AGS, another respectable lab, is the most strict in terms of diamond grading.

The bottom line is, you will likely get what you pay for. If you get a “killer deal” on a VS2, GH diamond, it was probably graded by a lab that grades generously. If the diamonds noted in the article came with GIA Grading Reports, I’m sure the consumer would have paid a much higher price for them because the grading would be more accurate.

I am very careful not to sell any diamonds with EGL Grading Reports. I’m a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist, so if I’m going to sell a diamond with a report, I want it to be a GIA report. Of course, I probably lose sales to people who don’t understand that some labs grade generously. I’ve had customers tell me they don’t care which lab grades their diamond as long as the report shows the quality specs they want. So they will pay less for an EGL graded stone because of what the grading report says. Even though in many cases GIA would grade the stone much lower on the quality scale.

In any case, I don’t think the jeweler should be held accountable for the grading report provided by an outside lab, unless there was some deliberate deception on his part. Besides, the stones were probably priced much less because they were graded by EGL. That’s my two cents.

Click here to read article

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Now this is beautiful Colorado amazonite!


The above image shows what impressive amazonite looks like…beautiful rich blue or greenish blue color on perfect crystals etc. While our cyrstals from my previous post are much larger than these, the color is not as impressive…which is why we didn’t invest in removing the iron staining from our amazonite crystals.

Beautiful Amazonite from ColoradoThis pair of beautiful amazonite crystals were pulled out of the Confetti Pocket at the Smoky Hawk Mine in Lake George, Colorado. This pocket was featured on Season 2, Episode 5 of the Prospectors TV show.

The crystals were a gift from Prospector Joe Dorris who owns the mine. You see, our GIA Alumni Group was on a mining field trip at the Smoky Hawk when the Confetti Pocket was found. It was very exciting as the pocket was large and full of crystals!

Beautiful Amazonite from ColoradoJoe let each of us put our hand in the pocket a couple of times to pull out crystals. I pulled out an amazing and rare amazonite with twinned flourite crystals. Here I am with another sizeable chunk of amazonite I pulled out on my second go at it. You can see the difference in color between what I pulled out at Joe’s claim and what we found in our first pocket on our claim…Joe’s is clearly rich blue while ours is heavily iron stained. Now this is the stuff we’re looking for on our claim! I’m keeping our fingers crossed that this is our year.

In his mining operations, Joe uses heavy equipment to dig further down into the earth. That’s where he’s been finding higher concentrations of amazing amazonite and smoky quartz specimens. We’re using our own elbow grease to dig on our claim, so we’re not going nearly as deep. But I’m still holding out hope we find some amazing things.

Tomorrow I’m leaving for 3 weeks in Madagascar so I will have some wonderful gemology tidbits to share with you from that trip in the coming months!

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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The Search Continues for Colorado Impressive Amazonite

Beautiful Amazonite from Colorado
This is one of my favorite pieces we’ve found on our claim because it indicates the potential our claim has to yield some beautiful specimens. And its from the very first pocket we’ve ever found. Not only is the shape of this piece really neat, it has a small flourite piece in it. The mineral is actually amazonite, the blue/blue-green variety of microcline feldspar. You might be able to see some of the blue in certain areas. The outer color of this piece is due to iron staining. Under that layer of iron staining is the powder blue colored crystals.

This piece is not of much value because the blue color is so pale, so we haven’t put much effort into cleaning off the iron. But the pocket had many different shaped crystals in it. This was the first real pocket we found so we made several mistakes out of ignorance. Fist, I only kept the pieces I thought looked cool. The other terminated crystals I set aside because they were boring. I didn’t realize it was amazonite because it was all so heavily colored with iron. I should have kept everything…in the event the color was better on some of the other pieces, we could have pieced the pocket together like a puzzle and repaired it. It may have been more valuable in that instance. Unfortunately, when we returned our next time out and the rest of the pieces were gone.

I discussed the fragility of flourite in my previous post. Well, because of my ignorance, I put all these crystals together on one bowl to remove the iron. I didn’t think about the nice little flourite piece attached and how it could get damaged by the other pieces. Not only did I damage the flourite, but I damaged several other crystals from banging them together. I’ll know better next time we find a pocket.

Thankfully, our claim is in a known area for finding amazonite. So we’re just waiting patiently to find our first pocket of value! We keep getting teased by finding small cleaved pieces of bright rich blue amazonite around our claim. So I know it’s there. We just need to find a pocket.

Amazonite is most valuable when collected as fine mineral specimens. But the specimens must be impressive for them to be valuable. However, some jewelry makers like to make beads and cabochons from amazonite for jewelry. Amazonite is quite fragile also and cleaves easily, so it’s not really appropriate as a gemstone ring…expecially one meant for every day wear. Earrings and necklaces are more appropriate pieces of jewelry for amazonite.

In my next post, I’ll show you some beautiful amazonite pieces from Colorado…

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Colorful Colorado Flourite

Colorful Flourite from Colorado
Mining season is just around the corner and I’m getting anxious to get out there and mine for gems. You may know we have a gem mining claim in central Colorado. While we’re still beginners and haven’t found anything of great value, we have found some pretty neat things. Last year we found something cool every time we went out! I’m hoping 2014 is our year to find the mother lode!

Colorado has lots of flourite in a rainbow of colors! We’ve found several nice purple pieces. But this is one of my favorite pieces so far. This one is so beautiful because it shows so many colors: blue, purple, green, yellow, white and more! The other interesting thing about this piece is the secondary growth patterns on it. Flourites are often cubes, but this one has triangular grown patters that apparently occurred after the main crystal started to grow. I’m not going to pretend to be a mineralogist, but I have some friends who are and they thought this was a neat piece.

Flourite is very fragile and can scratch and abrade very easily. As a newbie miner, I made the mistake of putting my flourite cubes in the same Iron-out soak with my other stones and I damaged them. I also dropped a perfect cube of bright purple flourite and shattered it. So this year I’ll be a little more careful! It is because of the fragile nature of flourite that it is not generally used for gemstone jewelry…although I do occasionally see it in a pendant or earrings…jewelry that is less likely to get damaged during normal wear and tear.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Patriotic Colorado

Last night our GIA Alumni Association of Colorado got to visit the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum. It’s the second most visited university museum in the country full of amazing gems and mineral specimens.

I learned something new last night. Colorado is the only state in the union that has red, white and blue for it’s state mineral, rock and gem.

Rhodochrosite Crystal from ColoradoI’ve mentioned before in my blog that Rhodochrosite is our Colorado state mineral. This amazing rhodochrosite crystal specimen comes from the famed Sweet Home Mine in the Alma District of Colorado. It’s beautifully red, but it’s very delicate rating only 3.5-4.5 with poor toughness. So Rhodochrosite is not very appropriate for gemstone jewelry. Rhodochrosite comes in many forms, I wrote all about it last year at this time. Put Rhodochroiste in the search bar to the right to learn more.


White Marble from ColoradoMarble is the Colorado state rock! It comes from Marble, Colorado, a small town in Gunnison County Colorado that was first incorporated in 1899.

The white marble from Colorado is said to be of exceptional quality. It was used for the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and parts of the Lincolin Memorial in Washington D. C.


Aquamarine from Mt. Antero ColoradoAquamarine is Colorado’s state gemstone and the birthstone for the month of March. It can be very valuable. The specimen here is from one of the most valuable pockets ever found on Mt. Antero in Chaffee County. Mount Antero has one of the highest concentrations of aquamarine in the country.

As you can see here, aquamarine makes a beautiful mineral specimen, but it is also commonly used for jewelry. Aquamarine rates 7.5 – 8 on the moh’s scale of hardness, so one must be careful when using aquamarine for pieces of jewelry meant for every day wear, such as an engagement ring. Aquamarine is most ideal for necklaces, pendants and earrings.

Interestingly enough, aquamarine is the same mineral species, Beryl, as emerald, yet there are no emeralds in Colorado…at least not that I know of.

In my next few posts I’ll talk about other Colorado gems and minerals.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Beware of “Manufactured Product” Written on your Gem Report

Chatham EmeraldIn my previous posts I discussed my continuing education lesson on Emerald Enhancements. There was one classification that I have yet to explain: Manufactured Product.

When GIA classifies an emerald (or any other stone) as a Manufactured Product, this doesn’t mean it is lab-grown, that’s not a clarity enhancement classification. It means there is so much filler in the stone that the filler is actually holding the stone together. The filler is serving more as a glue than a filler. I spent two weeks a couple years ago discussing this problem as it relates to rubies, which is becoming quite prevalent. But now GIA and other labs are spotting this problem in both blue sapphires and emeralds as well.

It’s important to know what you’re getting into if you buy one of these Manufactured Product stones. Special precautions need to be taken when taking a piece of jewelry with one of these stones in to be cleaned or repaired. They can literally fall into pieces if a cleaner or repair method damages the resin.

Even if your stone isn’t labeled a Manufactured Product, it’s important to know what processes can affect the stone. Over 90% of emeralds are fracture filled with oil or resin, which makes it very risky to clean with steam or ultrasonic cleaner as the oil or resin can seep out of the fracture. Any stone with filler can loose its filler with certain forms of cleaning. A jeweler’s torch can also cause fillers or resins to seep out. In addition, a stone’s color can be affected by a jeweler’s torch. For these reasons, jewelers will often remove a colored stone before performing any repair work on a piece of gemstone jewelry.

The bottom line is, it’s important to be aware of the different treatments of colored stones before you buy. A reputable jeweler will disclose any treatments to you. If you take a piece of jewelry in to be repaired or cleaned, be sure your jeweler is aware of different things that can affect the color or integrity of the stone. If you’re unsure about your stone, I recommend cleaning the stone with warm mildly soapy water and a gentle toothbrush.

My personal opinion is: If you send your colored stone in to GIA for identification and the report comes back with Manufactured Product written on it, send the stone back to the dealer who sent it to you. And consider going elsewhere for your purchase.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Select Your Loose Emerald Wisely

Chatham Emerald Engagement Ring
In my previous post I discussed my continuing education lesson on Emerald Enhancements. It was quite interesting learning how GIA judges clarity enhancements in emeralds.

I mentioned that because emeralds are type III gemstones and are almost always included, most all emeralds are enhanced to improve aparent clarity. It’s amazing the difference fracture filling can make in the apparent clarity and beauty of an emerald. Fracture filling can make a train wrek of an emerald look relatively clean after enhancement.

For this reason, one should take care when chosing the right natural emerald for a particular piece of jewelry. Natural emeralds often have large fractures that can hinder their durability. For example a large fracture across the corner of a stone could cause a chunk of the stone to fall off during setting. After filling, the fracture may look almost invisible, but the filling doesn’t make the emerald any less vulerable to damage.

Heavily included emeralds are commonly used for pendants and earrings. But I advise my customers to be a bit more picky when it comes to using a natural emerald for a ring…especially an emerald engagement ring meant for every day wear. In this case, I suggest finding an emerald with relative high clarity and minor enhancement to minize the risk of breakage due to trauma. And if a higher quality natural emerald isn’t in the budget, I suggest Chatham-created emeralds. They are real emeralds, just grown in a lab with top color and clarity.

The bottom line is, if you’re searching for the perfect emerald for your piece of jewelry, select your stone carefully…don’t just go for the best price. I have so many customers who tell me they will buy their stone from whomever gives them the best price. That’s not the best way of thinking when you’re considering natural gemstones. Generally speaking, you’ll get what you pay for. You should get the nicest stone possible for your budget not just the cheapest stone you can find.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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Clarity Enhancement In Emeralds

Fine EmeraldI just finished my GIA continuing education program for the year…talk about waiting until the last screaming minute. The final assignment was about clarity enhancements in emeralds.

One of the well-respected researchers at GIA, Shane McClure, was showing examples of clarity enhancements and demonstrating how GIA judges the level of enhancement: Minor, Moderate, Significant or Manufactured Product.

I found the session to be very interesting. Shane mentioned that the majority of emeralds on the market would fall into the significantly enhanced category. However, at the GIA lab the majority of stones they see are moderately enhanced. This is likely because most people wouldn’t bother with the expense to get a report on a significantly enhanced stone.

Because emeralds are type III gemstones and are almost always included, most all emeralds are enhanced to improve aparent clarity. One thing to note, however, is clarity enhancement classification isn’t an overall clarity grade of a stone, but rather an indication of how much enhancement has changed the apparent clarity of a stone. So a heavily included emerald can still have a minor clarity enhancement grade if there’s not much fracture filler in the stone. Surface-reaching fractures are filled, fully contained inclusions are not…so if a stone is full of inclusions, but has few surface-reaching fractures that are filled, the enhancement will be minor.

One thing Shane kept stressing is that the enhancement report is based on the stone at the time it is submitted to the lab. That makes perfect sense. However, some dealers will send a stone to GIA with only minor clarity enhancements, then after the report is issued, fill more fractures in the stone. Shane suggested if you notice a difference in the stone’s appearance in the report photo vs. how it looks now, you should consider re-submitting the stone to GIA for another evaluation, as the stone may have been further enhanced after the report was issued.

As with everything, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. The emerald shown here is an extremely fine emerald. It’s incredibly rare to find an emerald of any size without eye-visible inclusions and an emerald of such clarity would command top dollar. If you get a great price on a natural emerald that looks really clean, it’s likely clarity enhanced. A reputable dealer should disclose this treatment to you.

The bottom line is, if you’re in the market for a natural emerald (or any other gemstone), talk to a reputable Graduate Gemologist to help you find the perfect stone for you.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites JewelryImpressions.com and OurCustomWeddingRings.com

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