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Stories 6. June, 2017

Travelogue: Brazil Through the Prism of a Jeweler

Peter and Karmen Malalan, at the invitation of the local gemmological association from the town Teófilo Otoni, travelled to the warm Brazil, the mineral paradise. Throughout the country, but mostly in the eastern part, rich deposits of emeralds, diamonds, aquamarines and other rare gemstones can be found.

During a few week long trip, they visited several companies that deal with the extraction, processing and sales of gemstones, but the two were especially impressed by the visits to two mines where aquamarines and emeralds are excavated.


In Addition to Coffee, a Variety of Gemstones


The state of Minas Gerais is one of the largest coffee producers in Brazil, while it is also extremely rich with precious stones; its gemstone industry employs about 2,000 people. Despite the fact that the majority of the excavation sites is privately owned, nature protection is at an extremely high level. Before they start excavating, the companies must obtain a number of licenses, while various nature conservation organizations actively pursue the protection of natural resources. When a company satisfies the high standards, they may – after geological research is done – begin with the horizontal excavation of an approximately 1 m wide and 2 m tall tunnel.

Aquamarine Minerals, Over 30 Cm in Size

In the first, smaller mine, the married couple observed the excavation of aquamarines. Six workers are housed right next to mine, while they search for the minerals manually: every day, they dig approximately 3-meters-long portion of the tunnel. The direction of the excavation is determined by the type of rock through which they make their way.

Aquamarines can grow into beautiful shapes of hexagonal prisms, which in rare cases can be more than 30 centimeters long. These are collected in the mine, while the remaining material is transferred to the surface and broken apart; crystals of different sizes can often be found within the rocks. Aquamarine is appreciated for its exceptional purity, while with a quality cut, it can develop a high luster.


Emeralds, Almost 300 Meters Under the Surface


The emerald mine in the town of Nova Era is slightly larger; after 20 years of operation, it employs 25 people who mine for gems in an almost 300 meters deep excavation. The couple descended into the somewhat scary, about a meter and a half wide hole in the ground, attached to a thick steel cable and down to the depth of 150 meters, where they had a transfer, followed by the final descent to 270 meters below the surface of the Earth. Through a small antechamber they descended into a cave, illuminated by light bulbs, where the excavation is currently taking place. By doing so, Peter and Karmen became true garimpeiros, as they call the miners in Brazil.

They search for minerals here by blowing a part of the wall up with explosives; then they load all of the material into rubber bags, which are then lifted to the surface with a wire rope. With each bag, they transfer approximately one cubic meter of material, while they lift about 50 bags per day, which yearly amounts to approximately 4 million dollars’ worth of excavated emeralds. These green beryl crystals are hidden in the gray crystalline rock, on a white matrix. When miners find it, they know that they are close to a gemstone deposit.

Unlike those who spend their working days in the depths of the mine, accompanied by fans for air supply, many of those who are not employed within the mine itself make do in different ways. From the mounds of processed rocks all around the mine, they try to pick out the last remnants of minerals. Every day, hundreds of people come to the mounds, who, with their own hands, try to find as many tiny gemstones as possible.

The Most Fascinating Museum of Minerals

Peter and Karmen made their journey even more interesting with a visit to the museum of minerals in Rio de Janeiro. Many of its display cabinets are adorned with all kinds of minerals that are excavated in Brazil. In addition to diamonds, aquamarines and emeralds, Brazil is also rich with tourmalines, citrines, amethysts, topazes, opals and kunzite. Both raw minerals as well as many different types of cut gemstones are exhibited, and in their words, the museum is among the most beautiful museums they have ever visited.

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