In mid October 2016 a sapphire rush developed east of Ambatondrazaka, Madagascar in a theoretically protected area for conservation. About 45000 people had walked 12 hours into the jungle to dig for sapphires and I joined to find out exactly why.
Each morning I woke to the noise of digging and cheers rising through the morning mist that hung above the valley. Pots and pans clunked together as cooks served the stable: rice, pot noodles and watery haricot beans or coffee and mofo gasy (circular shaped donuts) to hungry people.
Miners, traders and brokers showed me stones they had found and traded: from “au vive” (a light swimming pool blue with good transparency) to a deep “royal blue”. Some stones had an uneven colour distribution blue/white, many were actually milky and some were “polychrome” meaning that they were several colours but usually contained lots of brown.
In the 3 days I spent there I didn’t see one sapphire taken directly from the sieve, although foreign traders were flying in to Madagascar having heard of fine +100 carat rough.
To read a full account, which contains more details including photos of the stones and describes life at the mining site, please download the pdf by clicking the link above.