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Jewel of Africa – Gem 101

Last week, I was invited to take a tour of Zambia’s very own jewelry mecca – Jewel of Africa.

Zambia’s specialities in gem mining terms are its emeralds and amethysts – as luck would have it, two of my favourite gem stones! I love purple and I love green.  Happy days.

This tour was quite the experience – for one thing they put on refreshments for us (wine, cheese, soft drinks).  Very pleasant on a Friday afternoon after a LONG week.  

Once we were ‘refreshed’ (or if you prefer ‘lubricated’… it was just a small glass of wine, don’t be cynical),  we were taken ‘behind the scenes’ to see how their jewellery is made.  Everything is made on the premises, and I have to say I was incredibly impressed.  I know you’re all dying to see the emeralds, but you’ll have to either scroll down or wait patiently and be polite!  

Are you back from your scrolling journey? Good.  Check out the process for the hand crafted pieces of silver.  I was dazzled by the craftsmanship of these guys, working away in a little back room.

This gentleman was making chains by hand for the Masai Choker. It’s on their website priced at $285, which is admittedly quite expensive, but it is beautifully made by hand.  He was soldering and linking these chains all by hand. He even sort of managed a wee smile. (I would think a gaggle of teachers asking them questions as they’re trying to work might be a bit off-putting, but they were very accommodating and patient!). 

This guy hand makes the chains for this Masai Choker.
This guy hand makes the chains for this Masai Choker.
masai-necklace-400x400
Masai Choker

I found this photograph of the Masai Choker here.

I’m not on commission, I promise. I just like to be thorough!  

There were men working on silver belt buckles, rings, and bracelets, including this very cool one using a 1965 Zambian 5 Shilling piece. I can’t find that one on the website, so perhaps it was a private order. 

1965  5-Shiling piece
1965 5-Shiling piece

It would have been EVEN cooler, in my opinion,  if it had been 1964, which is when Zambia gained independence.  Zambia celebrated 50 years of independence last year.  Even so – it was pretty cool. I have a couple of smaller coins at home… I wonder what I could do with those! Hmm…

Next I saw these Tanzanite and Diamond earrings and pendant being made – one earring was done, the other was in the process. I can’t find them on the website either, it could be because they are a new line and aren’t ready for sale yet. Beautiful, but probably one earring is more valuable than all my jewellery put together! (And he let me hold them!) 

IMG_4700
Tanzanite and Diamond Earring
Tanzanite pendant
Tanzanite and diamond pendant

We got to see how they cut the gems, and this was pretty amazing.  They heat wax and stick it firmly to one side of the gem. They cut it using this machine.

IMG_4702

They’re pretty steady-handed, although you’d need to be! When they are happy that the cutting process is finished, and the stone is perfect…IMG_4705they wash it and then remove the wax like this: 

IMG_4714

I asked, ‘Don’t you have to be careful that you don’t heat the stone and crack it?’  I got a very level, ‘Yeeeees…’ from the guy trying to heat the wax and make sure he didn’t crack the gem stone.  Sorry! Dumb question I guess. Here she is: IMG_4718

One guy had the job of trying to salvage something from a large citrine cut stone that had been dropped on the marble floor of the shop. I missed getting a photo of it, but it was enough to make anyone wince.  

As part of the tour, we also got to see how the CAD pieces are designed and crafted.  They have a 3D printer, which makes a ‘blank’ out of wax. 

Wax ring
Wax ring

Next, they make a mould (think: plaster of paris) around the wax ring. They heat the mould, melting the wax ring inside leaving the inverted shape of the ring. Into this (I think I got this right)  they then pour the gold or silver for the ring. This method is used for the more popular ‘collections’.  

Zambian Emeralds and Amethysts (we were told) are considered to be the best in the world, and they are gorgeous. As you have seen, Jewel of Africa also make jewellery using Tanzanite, Citrine, Aquamarine, Diamonds, Garnet, and Tourmaline.  

We were shown a tray of uncut emeralds that got a gasp of ‘OOoh’ and ‘Aahhh!’ from our little tour group.  Raj showed us how a jeweller decides which stones will be ideal for faceted cutting and which are better for a cabochon. The cabochon will have a flat side underneath whereas the faceted stone is like the one in a diamond engagement ring – the light should refract off the facets and come back to you.  (I learnt quite a lot at this little tutorial!) Here is the tray of little beauties: 

Uncut emeralds
Uncut emeralds

The ‘green beads’ you see at the bottom right of the picture – yup, emeralds. 

So here’s the bit I had to rush – due to a prior engagement (as taxi driver for my son), I had to leave early and unfortunately missed the last bit. I WILL return, but I did get to see lots of beautiful gems that were waiting for their destinies. I learned from Raj’s sister, Rashmi that amethyst, citrine and rose quartz are all simply variations of quartz. The amethyst’s colour comes from iron impurities in the stone.  If it gets heated to just the right temperature (this should happen naturally but we’ll get to that in a minute), it’s colour turns yellow and you have Citrine. Neat, huh? We also learned that it would be unwise to do this deliberately as you would approximately halve the value of the stone!  However: 

Two coloured amethyst - isn't it pretty?
Two coloured amethyst – isn’t it pretty?
Tanzenites
Tanzanites
Amethysts, citrines (yellow an 'honey' and a quartz at the back there.
Amethysts, citrines (on the left a yellow one, and the oval one is a  ‘honey citrine.’)  Notice the quartz at the back there.

I did see some emeralds, but had to excuse myself before we got to really find out more about them, and I didn’t snap a picture.  As I said, I will be back. 

Thanks, Jewel of Africa! So interesting! 

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