Green Tourmaline gem hunting in Namibia trip – part 3
To catch up on parts 1 & 2 click here. We pick up the story 2 weeks into the trip having eventually managed to get the number of a main gemstone dealer. . . . . .
I gave the contact a call and we agreed meet at a service station on the way out of town later that evening. We were of course due to meet the pair of miners we had met yesterday, to drive them back to the mine and see it for ourselves. A meeting time of 4 had been been arranged at the same service station on the edge of town. 4 came and went, as did 5 and as 6 was approaching we accepted that they weren’t coming. It was only at 5.55 that they showed up, considerably worse for wear and to our amazement in a new looking BMW 4 series with bags of shopping. Sadly, even considerably worse for wear is an understatement, these two were hammered and one guy had visibly wet himself.
The BMW belonged to their cousin, who I was to later find out was also a miner but had recently been ‘re-trenched’ and effectively made re-redundant. Getting a payout, the spend it all on the car and still lived with his mum.
The state these guy turned up in obviously concerned us. The plan had been to stay with them over night, leaving us totally in their hands for the next two days. I personally didn’t feel we’d have been in any danger but having only picked up our hire car that day we decided it was best we skip the mine visit. We were in the middle of a conversation about our concerns when the other contact turned up. He knew one of them and advised us that they were ‘stone guys’ but in this state it best not to go with them.
So we left Swakop for the first time in a week, to his place just outside town along the Swakop river. Although not a full time gem dealer, he had an impressive selection of both rough and cut stones to show us. It was something of an eye opener for us. Being in the jewellery trade your used to seeing trays full of cut stones but id never seen rough like this. For the first time I was able to see the two colour aquamarines I had heard about and some rough demantoid garnets that made the parcel I had bought earlier that day look a little drab.
As your about to see from the pictures we saw some really nice examples of Tourmaline, Demantoid garnet, Aquamarine, Topaz and Citrine. The bags of rough tourmalines were separated into bags of different grades but there was no top quality material for cutting, although plenty of well coloured stones suitable for cabochons. The best margins are in buying rough and getting it cut, so naturally any dealers will have the rough cut themselves and sell on the faceted stones.
In the end I settled for 2 faceted stones, a green tourmaline and a demantoid garnet, then a parcel of rough tourmaline. I picked out some stones and I relyed on his experience a little to select stones that once cut I could sell on. As of today they are still in Asia being cut and I am eagerly awaiting the results.
We ended up staying longer so decided it was best to head back to Swakop, stay the night and head north in the morning.
The next day we set of north to Henties Bai and then east across the desert to Spitzkoppe. The landscape is one of the dryest and harshed I have ever come across. If your not used to dirt roads then the rough surface takes some getting used to and there us always the danger of a stone kicking up and cracking your windscreen!
The further inland and closer to Spitzkoppe you get, things start to get a little greener and the first sign of humans are these small stalls by the side of the road. Seemingly unmanned at first, these stalls will have a variety of stones, although nothing of any great value. As I’ve said before, the miners here know if they get something good and it will go straight to a dealer. These stones here are for the tourist market and any passing trade. This being a ‘rainy’ season there was very little of that.
Spitzkoppe itself is an impressive granite peak and an interesting feature of the regions geology. Many small mines are located close to the peak and the junction with the road, from Windhoek to Swakop, is the site of a government backed gem market. The market is a place where local small miners and their families can have a stall, under cover, to sell what they take out of the ground.
As well as the stalls there are facilities being built to enable gemstones to be cut on site. Another local and government backed project in Karibib has been training local people to cut stones in the area since it opened in 2003. Graduates from this scheme have been finding work in the country’s diamond cutting industry but these facilities at Spitzkoppe will enable people to add value to the stones they find in the ground and can sell at the market.
After spending most the day at Spitzkoppe, the gem market and picking up hitch-hikers we headed to Uis, further north but still in the Erongo region. Uis is home to another gemstone dealer and small gem market. The town itself is tiny and reportedly has the highest number of professional pilots per capita, of anywhere in the world. More interestingly for us it is also rumoured to be the location of some rich tourmaline veins although they were reportedly remote and only accessible with a 4 x4.
We arrived in Uis pretty late, after dark and found out first hand why you shouldn’t drive on dirt roads at night. Unforeseen dips in the road and cows are a major problem so keeping your speed low is essential.
The next day we realised just how small Uis was and found out that sadly the main gem dealer in the town was away. We headed to the gem market which was deserted but did get chatting to some guys hanging around the supermarket who phoned up a contact with stones.
He arrived and had tourmaline that had good flashes of green and yellow and bar some small black inclusions at one end was totally clear.