From GEMS & GEMOLOGY
If wars and tribal conflicts were not tearing the country apart, Afghanistan could produce as much as $300-$400 million in colored gemstones yearly, according to Gems & Gemology author Gary Bowersox, of GeoVision Inc., Honolulu, who has been working with Afghan miners and dealers for 30 years.
Bowersox says the country could be a major source for numerous gemstones, including emerald, aquamarine, tourmaline, morganite, kunzite, pink sapphire, ruby and, of course, lapis-lazuli. As Bowersox indicated in the Winter 1985 issue of G&G ("A Status Report on Gemstones from Afghanistan," pp. 192-204), most of the country's gem deposits are located in the eastern region within the Hindu Kush Mountains, relatively close to the border with Pakistan. The challenges are formidable. Many of the deposits are in remote, mountainous areas, and some are accessible for only a few months of the year. In addition, he said, miners have already exploited the surface deposits. Now they must go deeper to find the gems, which will require more sophisticated equipment than the primitive digging and blasting that miners have used there in the past. In the Spring 1991 issue of G&G (pp. 26-39), Bowersox et al. reported on emeralds from the Panjshir Valley, which was also the home area of the recently assassinated Northern Alliance leader General Ahmed Shah Masood. At the time of that article, Masood "governed more than 5,000 villagers mining emeralds" in that valley. Bowersox maintains that this area still has strong production potential, and that the best gems are "comparable to the finest emeralds of the Muzo mine in Colombia." The mines, wrote Bowersox et al., are a collection of team-owned pits and tunnels located about 150 miles (240 km) west of the country's border with Pakistan, in mountainous terrain at 7,000-14,300 feet (2,135-4,360 m) elevation.
Despite the primitive mining methods, as much as $10 million worth of emeralds were produced annually in the pre-Taliban years. Bowersox believes there is potential for much more. Pegmatite gems are mined in the Nuristan region, which is east of the main emerald deposits and also nearly inaccessible. In his 1985 G&G article, Bowersox wrote that since the early 1970s "literally hundreds of thousands of carats of gem-quality tourmaline and fine kunzite" have been extracted from the area. Morganite and aquamarine have also been mined in the same region. According to Bowersox, the aquamarine deposits have yielded some large crystals of fine material in recent years, with great potential for more. The ruby and sapphire deposits are the most accessible, located near the road between the capital, Kabul, and the city of Jalalabad to the east. Because this has been one of the country's most embattled areas, production has been sparse, although Bowersox believes it has the potential to be a major deposit. The rubies range from a light purple-red to a deep "pigeon blood" red (See figure), reminiscent of Myanmar's famous Mogok rubies. For more on this deposit, see G. W. Bowersox et al., "Ruby and Sapphire from Jegdalek, Afghanistan," Summer 2000 G&G, pp. 110-126.
Lapis-lazuli, for which Afghanistan is noted, has been mined in the country for centuries. Located in Badakhshan Province, north of the country's other gemstone deposits, the locality was mentioned by Marco Polo as "the mountain where the finest azure in the world is found." As described in a Winter 1981 G&G article by J. Wyart et al. (pp. 184-190), the main deposit can be reached only between June and November because of the harsh climate and rugged terrain. Before the Russian occupation and civil wars, the Afghanistan government sorted and marketed all legal lapis exports.
Bowersox advocates keeping all gem mining on a local scale, because large-scale mining and government marketing schemes rarely work for colored gems. He's optimistic that, if peace and stability return to the country (which has known neither for some 20 years), "gems from Afghanistan will be flowing onto the market for many years to come."
For more on Afghan gems, see the articles cited above and the Gems & Gemology Twenty Year Index (http://www.gia.edu/gandg/indic es.cfm). To order back issues or to subscribe, e-mail email@example.com, or call toll-free 800-421-7250 ext. 7142. Outside the U.S. and Canada, call 760-603-4000, ext. 7142. Or, visit the G&G Web site at http://www.gia.edu/gandg, where new subscribers can now take advantage of a special limited time Internet-only promotion.
Figure Caption: These faceted rubies and pink sapphires from Jegdalek weigh 0.68-1.25 carats. Photo by Jeff Scovil.