Rapaport Magazine
Colored Gemstone

Gemologically Joined

Colored Gemstone July 2007

By Diana Jarret
RAPAPORT... Several gem-rich nations on the African continent have joined together to promote the trade.

A few places on earth are so iconically connected to gems that the mere mention of their locale brings to mind a precious jewel. Think Burma and rubies, Kashmir and sapphires, Tanzania and tanzanite. Many colored-stone lovers can trace the romantic history linking the blue-violet variety of the mineral zoisite to the African nation of Tanzania. The same people, however, may be unaware that Tanzania and its surrounding regions turn out a kaleidoscope of other colorful gemstones. Tanzanite, mined in only a few square kilometers within Tanzania, is just one of scores of minerals indigenous to southeastern Africa.


Kenya and Tanzania produce ruby, various colors of sapphire,chrome and watermelon tourmaline and garnet — including tsavorite, the green variety of grossular garnet that, like tanzanite, enjoys a location-related name. The Tsavo district is a main Kenyan mining area. According to FieldGemology.com, Kenya’s Voi region, the visitor’s gateway to Tsavo National Park, was said to have been built mainly with “tsavorite money.” Chrysoberyl and aquamarine are found in Tunduru and Namtumbo. A hot African gem currently stealing center stage is the electrifying Mozambique Paraiba-like tourmaline. Pala Gems’ Bill Larson, just back from a Mozambique tour, displayed on his website copper-bearing tourmaline in three “surreal colors” of violet-purple, mint green and pure cherry hues.

A field trip to Eastern Africa, reported in the January 2007 issue of the Swiss Gemological Institute newsletter, SSEF Facette, described that “uncommon minerals of gemstone quality were repeatedly found” from deposits in several areas. While many of those gem names remain unfamiliar to consumers, African Kornerupine has segued into the popular culture so much that it’s occasionally pitched on home-shopping TV programs.


With these mineral deposits occurring in various African states, a system for exchanging information became essential for maximizing their economic potential. In 1977, the Southern and Eastern African Mineral Centre (SEAMIC), located in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was established under the umbrella of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) as an independent regional axis of knowledge and information for Southern and Eastern Africa. Originally comprised of Ethiopia, Mozambique and Tanzania, the organization was later joined by Angola, the Comoros, Uganda and Kenya. Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are preparing to join.

Gaining strength created through partnership, SEAMIC was appointed to be a Secretariat of Communities and Small-scale Mining, [CASM] (Africa). SEAMIC also agreed to be host of the CASM (Africa) website. SEAMIC later volunteered to serve as a Secretariat and host of the African Mining Network (AMN), an initiative for providing the means for the collection and dissemination of mining- and minerals-related information, and for facilitating the exchange of ideas across the continent.

SEAMIC’s comprehensive training programs should create a shift in paradigm away from southeastern Africa’s gemstone past. In 2005, IPP Media reported “Currently more than 70 percent of gems mined [in Southern and Eastern Africa] are rough and are sold at low prices in various markets. For a long time, gemstone miners have been exporting their minerals without cutting them, which denies them and the country a lot of money.”


Central to the goals of SEAMIC’s program is the training of local citizens to assume key roles all along the chain from mine to wholesaler, resulting in a greater percentage of gains that benefit the continent. Besides research and development advances, SEAMIC has organized lapidary schools, gemology classes, gem carving and jewelry education to provide the broadest experience for their students aimed at a career in Africa’s mineral-rich homeland.

Award-winning Swiss gem carver Hubert Heldner is a firsthand witness to the progress of SEAMIC. Heldner is a gifted artist who interprets his designs through the exacting discipline of precious gemstone carving. He is dedicated to projecting the relationship between the artist’s creativity and the intrinsic beauty unique to an individual gemstone. An educator at heart, Heldner exhibits the indispensable trait of a great instructor: the ability to freely share what took him decades to acquire.


Heldner travels from Montreux, Switzerland, to Tanzania twice a year to be a lapidary instructor for SEAMIC’s Gemstone Safari. There, students, who are mostly African residents, immerse themselves in programs that develop the creative and technical skills necessary for success in the gemstone and jewelry trade. Against the inspiring backdrop of the coastal beauty off the Indian Ocean near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, students pursue lapidary arts, learning how each gemstone will yield under the purposeful hand of a trained stone carver. To better equip the students for the realities of commerce, portions of SEAMIC’s training touch on price calculation and selling techniques, as well as presentation and conference techniques.

Heldner understands that a few people cannot do it all — forever. So a program was instituted to train certified lapidary instructors who will, in turn, become top-notch teachers of the lapidary arts in their own communities. “I have trained five lapidary instructors from November 2005 till the end of January 2006,” Heldner recounts. Since then, the five Tanzanian instructors have been teaching classes to African citizens from Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and others. In 2006 and 2007, Heldner implemented advanced sessions to further the competency of the five instructors. “The general interest for training is huge in Africa,” he points out.

For this renowned Swiss jewelry artist, the most meaningful aspect of the SEAMIC project has been the exchange of know-how and the interchange of cultural experiences. “At a first look, many aspects separate us from the African. The second look reveals many similarities. We share the same feelings, dreams and hopes,” Heldner explains.

The potential for SEAMIC’s ensuing projects is enormous in terms of regional benefits where gem deposits are now being worked. Asked to comment on the future projections for these endeavors, Heldner expressed his vision. “I see the SEAMIC research laboratory becoming internationally recognized. The Gemstone Safari will connect the miner with the gemstone trader, cutter or mineral collector, [resulting in] an interesting exchange of know-how and buildup of relations.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2007. To subscribe click here.

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Feb 3, 2009 10:34AM    By M.A.Chaudry FGA.
I am final year student in my final year at Kingston Uni.London studying Gemmology&applied MineralogyBsc.
and for my research I am writting a dissertation on Gemstones Of Tanzania with special emphasis on Umba valley as I was born in Tanga,and eventually would like to help teach gemmology to the youth of Tanga especially the Ladies.I have sent an e-mail to Seamic for help in geological maps of Tanzania in general and Umba in particular.Unfortunately no one replies.Can you help please.
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