For the last ten years, the island nation of Madagascar has experienced a corundum rush. Madagascar exports large quantities of sapphires, and it also produces attractive rubies from mines in the eastern and southern parts of the country. Although rubies from Madagascar typically exhibit good clarity, a great deal of the material is heated to eliminate unwanted dark tones.
Madagascar has an extremely interesting geological history, which has undoubtedly played a role in the development of its spectacular flora and fauna. This also explains why the corundum deposits in the northern portion of the island come from weathered igneous basalts and those in the south have metamorphic origins.
Mechanized mining is difficult given the scattered nature of the deposits and the high costs involved. Miners manually excavate pits 15 feet wide and up to 80 feet deep. Gravel is hauled from the pits and washed in nearby rivers. When the pits become unproductive they are abandoned.
Despite government attempts to regulate the industry, there are complaints of rampant smuggling, corruption, and environmental degradation. The government has undergone the inventorying of deposits and modernizing the mining industry in order to ensure the sustainable development of its mineral resources.
Unfortunately, much of the mining in Madagascar remains unofficial and unregulated. The local economies often suffer as all able men in towns will spend hours walking to remote mining sites. One of the most recent deposits of rubies was found in Andilamena, and the gemstones from this location are of very high quality, beautiful deep red color, and of a large size with many coming in at over three carats.
But it’s difficult to say what the future of ruby mining in Madagascar may look like. Most locals have lived and worked through many cycles of gem rushes and discoveries of new deposits, and many will continue to hold out for the next one.