Sapphire Hunting in Madagascar
After tourmalines, my next stop in Madagascar was to Ilakaka with its sapphire mines. I had visited here last year, and not much has changed.
The sapphire mining community is an entirely different world than the brash new world of tourmaline mining. Here in Ilakaka, sapphire mining is well developed. In 1998, there were just 40 people living here. That changed rapidly when sapphires were discovered and relatively easily extracted. The town soon boomed to over 10,000 people.
The days of easy extraction are over. Mining is now better organized and worked by teams of men who are use battery-generated tools. Still, the work is manual. Gravel is hauled from the pits and washed in nearby rivers.
Ilakaka is full of Sri Lankan and Thai dealers with “offices” in the village, ready to buy the best gemstones. But some Malagassy miners are too afraid or suspicious of foreign dealers and prefer to sell their finds to other Malagassy. Some wooden “barraques” are in the streets of Ilakaka to attend those miners
In addition to visiting directly the sapphire and tourmaline mines, I always found dealers with inventory of other stones. Sapphires and tourmalines, as amazing as they are, are not the only top-quality gemstones found in Madagascar. I also find the finest ocean jasper, rose quartz and star rose quartz, amethyst, change of color garnet, spessartite garnet and of course, magnificent morganite which is the official Malagasy gemstone.