Progress Report From Madagascar

Tom Cushman, gem importer for Allerton Cushman & Co., Sun Valley, Idaho, and an official International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA) ambassador in Madagascar, reports that the gem business in Madagascar is slow, but the new gemology school there is open for business.

At press time Madagascar was in the midst of its rainy season, which makes travel and communications difficult, so experts don’t expect much production until March. Last year’s rainy season extended into April, and all that bad weather combined with mediocre mine production for everything other than blue sapphire has resulted in a gemstone drought.

Mining. Cushman reports that “quantities of geuda rough for calibrated blue sapphires continue to be plentiful coming out of Ilakaka.” His use of the term “geuda” is significant. Until now, “geuda” had been used exclusively for Sri Lanka’s indigenous non-gemmy off-whitish/grayish/yellowish rough that can be heat-treated to create desirable transparent blue sapphire. (Larger rough—above 2 cts.—goes directly to the resident exporter/buyers.)

Something retail jewelers should be noticing in finished jewelry, according to Cushman’s report on rough, is that “pink sapphire prices are approaching the astronomical.”

In other corundum news, ruby production from both Andilamena and Vatomandry is down significantly. That may not be due to lack of rough, Cushman notes, but rather continued uncertainty about ownership of claims.

“Stocks of other colored gemstones are thin in the capital city of Antananarivo, with qualities down and prices up,” he says. He also says that to buy any of the better production—which doesn’t make it to the open market—requires a presence at the mines.

Back to school. The Institut de Gemmology de Madagascar (IGM) planned its grand opening for August with a series of three GIA extension courses. This month will see the start of an FGA gemology course. Cushman, a specialist in Madagascan gems, is helping to launch IGM.

The cutting school, which was scheduled to open in September, will focus on the mechanical precision cutting of center stones rather than large-scale calibrated manufacturing. It will receive direction from Soosai Prosper (formerly of Canada’s Byrex Inc.), a winner of the 2002 AGTA Cutting Edge Award. Forty students will learn the basics of cutting over the course of two months.

IGM is seeking the ideas, collaboration, and assistance of ICA members and others who would like to contribute to the school’s success. In particular, IGM needs teaching stones, including low-quality stones for lessons on inclusions. Chipped, abraded, poorly colored, extinct, or windowed stones have teaching value, if not commercial value. Of particular interest and importance to the school are stones of non-Madagascan origin. The FGA course also needs rough teaching stones for its classes on crystals and crystalline structure.

Any and all assistance by ICA members and other members of the international colored gemstone business community will be remembered and appreciated.