Greetings from Chrysa!
What an amazing trip to East Africa! My daughter Rachel and I were honored and humbled to be a part of this special group of travelers. Fourteen of us came from all parts of the US jewelry industry. A few have brick and mortar stores like we do, a few are designers, one sources for her family’s international catalog business and one is a manufacturer. We all came with the common goal of learning more about gemstones and where they come from. Our hosts, Roger and Ginger Dery and their daughter Rachel introduced us to so many wonderful people!
Have you seen the movie “Black Panther”? The correlation between the fictional (and bright blue) heart shape herb grown underground in the story and the real gemstones found underground in East Africa is unmistakable. Tanzania is home to Tanzanite (the only area in the world where it’s found), Spinel, Tourmaline, and many varieties of Garnet. Kenya boasts select varieties of Garnet such as Tsavorite Garnet found near Tsavo Park, and Tourmaline, with Chrome Tourmaline found in Southern Kenya.
Traveling to the mines was eye opening. There were long stretches of countryside so different from our own. But meeting the mine owners and miners was even more so. The patience and perseverance of those involved in mining is astounding. They can mine for years and not find significant gems, usually using hammer and chisel. It’s hard, hot and dangerous work. They look for indicator minerals to let them know they are on the right path. It’s a miracle of Mother Nature when they find beautiful gemstones, one that motivates them to continue to search for more!
We visited two Kenyan Kiwi Garnet mines. The Baraka Mine, formerly called Moma’s Mine, is the oldest operating female-owned mine in East Africa. It is currently being run by Moma’s daughter, Gladwell, and her husband, Christopher. “The baby stones lead you to the mama,” Gladwell told us. They are following a new vein and are excited because they believe it will hold a big deposit. We viewed the area they have blasted and are now clearing out. According to Roger, the mine looks completely different from when they last visited four years ago, including new housing for mine workers.
The second mine we visited is called the Precious Women Mine, led by Esther Okeno, the widow of Roger’s dear friend and mentor who passed away two years ago. Now as the sole source of income for her family of three, she’s had many difficult changes in her life. She and several other women work in this mine every day. They have found graphite, mica and feldspar, minerals indicating they may soon find garnet! We were inspired by their tenacity, joy, and determination. They have made remarkable progress, but they need a compressor to run a jackhammer to more quickly get through the rock, and we are hoping to help them with this.
We met with the mines’ designated representatives in both Tanzania and Kenya to purchase rough gemstones. It was nerve-wracking at first, since I’d never analyzed rough gemstones for purchase before this trip. With Roger’s careful guidance, we all learned what to look for! Once we receive the rough gems home (they are purchased, documented, and imported into the United States legally, and this can take time), we have the wonderful anticipation of waiting for Roger to cut them to bring out their amazing color and beauty!
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