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World Mining Report - Central and South America - November/December 2005
By Gordon Austin, Morgan Beard, Mick Elmore, Cara Woudenberg, and Megan Zborowski
World Mining Report 2005 | Africa | Central & South America | North America | Asia | Australia | Eastern Europe | The Middle East
Central and South America
About 9 tons of rhodochrosite is produced each month during the winter season, and 12 tons during each summer month, compared to only 1.5 tons a month prior to the purchase of the mine in 2001. Although material must still be mined mostly by hand because too much blasting can destroy gem materials, the current mine owners have been able to increase manpower, thus boosting production significantly.
In the year 2005, the mine is expected to produce a total of 11 million cut stones in a variety of grades and sizes. This includes six million carats of amethyst, three million carats of ametrine, and two million carats of citrine. Approximately 60 tons of cabbing rough in mixed colors is also produced annually.
The output at the mine has gone down in the last few years, and dealers are reporting a shortage of better amethyst rough, as well as ametrine. The company that operates the Anahí mine has created policies aimed at increasing profits which limit production in an effort to extend the life of the mine. This includes cutting more material locally and selling better rough material direct to select high-end designers and cutters, thus decreasing the amount of material available to the market.
One area that has seen development is Brazilian emerald, especially in Minas Gerais. All existing emerald mines continue to produce material, and new deposits are slowly being discovered and developed. The quality of Brazilian emeralds also continues to improve with the depths of the mines, with more and more dealers comparing the best material to that of Colombia.
Emerald is mined somewhat steadily in the states of Tocantins and Goias, but Itabira and neighboring Nova Era in the state of Minas Gerais are the richest emerald-producing areas in Brazil. Itabira's two main emerald mines, Piteiras and Belmont, use advanced mining technology to produce a steady supply of emerald. Belmont reportedly produces about 60 to 80 kilograms of rough per month, with Piteiras at about 12 kilograms per month. Unlike Belmont and Piteiras, the mines at Nova Era are operated by a large number of independent miners with little in the way of technology. Emerald strikes are hit or miss, but reports indicate that Nova Era is producing some very fine emerald rough lately.
Other emerald mines between the cities of Itabira and Nova Era have had successful test production. One such mine is Rocha, a large deposit near the Belmont and Piteiras mines. Production for the coming year is expected to be 70 to 80 kilograms per month, with quality ranging from low to exceptional, priced up to $1,000 or more per gram. Mine owners expect the deposit to continue to produce for some time.
Tourmaline is mined in several areas throughout Minas Gerais, but current production is down, especially in higher qualities. There haven't been any major new finds in years, and most of the producing sites are either trickling production or closed altogether. Reports have also indicated that some tourmaline being sold in Brazil is actually African material.
Imperial topaz rough from the Ouro Preto area has been scarce; the largest imperial topaz mine in the region, the Capão Mine, produces somewhat steadily, but better quality material is being cut locally or sold directly from the mine to overseas buyers.
One bright spot in Minas Gerais is aquamarine. New finds of large, fine aquamarine crystals continue to develop, while sites around Minas Gerais, as well as the states of Bahia and Espirito Santo, continue to produce aquamarine on a regular basis.
Minas Gerais has been a known source for alexandrite, particularly in the Nova Era region, but production has been limited in recent months. Many varieties of quartz are also abundant in Minas Gerais, including amethyst, citrine, rose quartz, Lemurian quartz, Diamontina lasers, and green-gold quartz.
North of Minas Gerais, the state of Bahia is a major producer of good quality amethyst and citrine. Although Bahia is a significant source for emerald, production is currently low and mostly low grade.
Opal production in the state of Piaui is slowly recovering after interference from the Brazilian environmental protection agency, but most of the opal is exported to Australia direct from the mines and little is seen on the Brazilian market.
The famous Paraíba tourmaline mines -- located in Parelhas in the state of Rio Grande do Norte and in São José da Batalha in the state of Paraíba -- are known for producing the finest examples of tourmaline, including the electric blue colors unique to this deposit. Production of Paraíba tourmaline has remained extremely slow over the past few years, and the mines continue to produce very little -- if any -- new material.
Also located just outside of Parelhas, the Santa Barbara iolite deposit is currently producing about 50 kilograms of iolite rough per month in very good quality, including some cat's-eyes and stars. The clean material varies in size from approximately one gram to as large as 50 grams, but the bulk of the rough is in the small and medium sizes.
Aquamarine is also mined in this area -- in Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte -- where current production includes nice, clean faceting rough, although it is dark and sizes are small.
The state of Pará is known for its amethyst, particularly the Maraba deposit. Some fairly new sources of topaz are also coming out of the area, in the Amazon basin, in a limited but ongoing supply. One dealer predicts, however, that this area may run into problems with the Brazilian environmental agency in the future.
Topaz is mined in the state of Rondonia, but supply has dwindled in recent months, especially stones in larger sizes. Low production is attributed to lack of equipment at the mines, which have gotten deeper after decades of surface mining. Rondonia also produces limited amounts of fire opal and amber.
Rio Grande do Sul -- the southernmost state of Brazil -- is a primary source of agate; the material is some of the finest quality in the world and is available in large quantities. The state is also a major source for amethyst; it is known to produce fire opal in varying shades from yellow to red, often in large sizes, but there is no information about current production.
Colombian emerald production has changed slightly in the last few years, as investors and miners have moved to the newer mines of the La Pita deposit. Emerald production is growing compared to five years ago, but it is still far from the production of the 1990s, when 5 to 6 million carats were extracted each year.
The Muzo, Coscuez, and Chivor mines are still active, but the investment and mining operations there have been reduced over the years. It is estimated that 60 percent of the current production is from La Pita, 20 percent from Coscuez, 10 percent from Muzo, and another 10 percent from Chivor. Coscuez produces mostly commercial material, as does La Pita, although there is a little bit of fine, clean production there. Muzo is still producing some top quality stones, and Chivor emerald is a mix of fine and commercial.
About five kilograms of blue amber is being produced in the Santiago area each month, but only about a half kilogram is high-quality material. Red, yellow, and darker-colored amber is also found at the mines near Santiago, as well as nice insect-included material and good fossil specimens. Amber is still produced at the mines near Santo Domingo, but the material is of inferior quality, being softer and more brittle than northern Dominican amber.
Larimar, a rare gemstone unique to the Dominican Republic, is mined in a volcanic mountain range in the southwestern region of the country. Most material is retrieved through open pit mining, although the Dominican government is making efforts to modernize the mining system.
Although production is limited, over the last four to five years, the quality of jadeite sold in the local shops has been significantly upgraded. The best Guatemalan material is not as fine as fine Burmese jadeite, but there are Motagua jadeites that have unique color, the most sought-after being the blue and blue-green.
Opal has also been produced at mines near the town of Gracias, about 25 miles north of Erandique, but there is little to no current production.
Currently, production of blue opal is down and pink is up. An estimated 10 tons of pink opal is produced per year, compared to only 4 tons of blue opal. Only 10 percent or less of this blue opal is suitable for jewelry; the material is known to dry out and lose its clarity. The pink opal in general is of better quality, but is in less demand than the blue.
Peruvian blue opal production has decreased by more than half in the past 10 years due to limitations of the deposit; mining of large quantities is sporadic at best.
Dealers in Uruguayan amethyst say that supply at the mines has held steady over the past few years. Artigas is not a high-producing area compared to other amethyst mines like those in Bolivia and Brazil, but demand is high for Uruguayan amethyst, which is famous internationally for its distinctive deep violet color.
This report was produced in collaboration with the International Colored Gemstone Association.