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Gem hunting in Namibia
Namibia the country
Located on Africa's western coast, Namibia's desert landscape meets the wild Atlantic ocean to produce spectacular views and unforgiving terrain. Its home to the Namib desert and the worlds tallest sand tune, a real test of your fitness, as well as the Etosha national park where you will see the wide variety of wildlife that Africa is famous for.
A successful and progressive country, Namibia benefits from a wealth of natural resources that have been well managed by the democratically elected government. Since independence the country has see free and fair elections with peaceful transitions of power, avoiding the turbulence that has sadly dogged other African countries since independence from colonial European rule.
Namibia was once a German colony and was the location was what is widely acknowledged as the first genocide of the 20th century. German forces tried to annihilate the indigenous Hierro people and very nearly succeeded. They poisoned water holes in the already arid regions that the Hierro people fled to after resisting colonial rule.
You can still see that German influence in the main towns. The capitol Windhoek and the coastal town of Swakopmund. Whilst Windhoek has a genuinely progressive, vibrant and mixed feel to it, Swakop seems to be stuck in a time warp and your likely to encounter some attitudes that belong firmly in the past.
Diamonds in Namibia
The minerals that Namibia is most famous for is diamonds. Like other countries in the region Namibia takes advantage of the presence of diamonds and they play a key role in the countries economy. NAMDEB is a partnership with diamond mining giant De Beers and is owned 50% by the Namibian government and 50% by De Beers. Namdeb contributes significantly the the Namibian treasuries income and provides many skilled jobs for people in Namibia.
Most of Namibia's diamonds are mined off shore in what is the worlds largest and most productive marine diamonds mining operation. With the sea acting as what is essentially a huge alluvial deposit, huge trawlers trawl the sea bed to sweep up the diamonds that the Orange river has deposited there.
Namibian diamonds are some of the best quality in the world and the peaceful conditions, stable government and good working conditions mean that they meet all the criteria you could image for 'ethical diamonds'.
Other Namibian gemstones
The diamonds mining areas are strictly off limits to most people and the penalties for being caught in possession of uncut diamonds in the country is severe. However there are plenty of other beautiful gemstones that can be found in the country. More than enough keep you occupied for a few weeks on a gem hunting mission.
Tourmaline is a gemstones that can be found in almost any colour and a single stone can fetch thousands of pounds on the international gem markets. They are found in abundance in Namibia. An amazing property of Tourmaline is that you can often see 2 colour in the same crystal. This is known as dichroism ( di-chro-ism) and is best observed when viewing the stones on their axis.
Water melon tourmalines are fetching huge prices at the moment and its easy to see why. The have an attractive natural ombre, going from green to red, like a water melon.
Demantoid garnets are a little known member of the garnet family, a gemstone which is better know for being a brownish red gemstone. Found in Namibia, demantoid garnets can range from and intense green to a light brown, with many shades of greeny yellow in between.
The most striking thing about demantoid garnet is the gemstones fire, its sparkle. Coloured stones are mainly bought and valued for their depth of colour but demantoid garnet can be forgiven for a lighter colour if it has exceptional fire.
The gemstones popularity had mean prospectors have been hard at work to identify new deposits and new mines have been springing up. Some of this mining operations have been at least part funded by the government who have invested in subsidised plant hire operations to aid small scale Namibian miners.
Gem hunting experience
Have you seen the gem hunters on the Discovery Channel? If you have every fancied trying it out for yourself then Namibia is a great place for a rookie gem hunter to start. There are city based gemstone dealers, relatively accessible mines, a friendly and knowledgeable population and most importantly plenty of gems.
Here are 5 tips for first time gem hunters in Namibia
1. Always take plenty of water! Namibia is mostly desert and if you get stuck for a lift or your vehicle breaks down then it could be a long time before anybody comes along to help you out.
2.Re-search local shops - The gem trade is well established in Namibia and there are generations of gemstone dealers and jewellers who can give you good information about the available gemstones.
3.Don't be afraid to trade - Remote mining villages many miles away from shops are often glad to trade goods instead of taking cash. Be fair and don't try to take advantage of people, shoes are always welcome as well as tinned food.
4.Always ask for contacts - everyone knows somebody and will be glad to give you contact details for bigger dealers ( everyone gets a cut). Paying for information can be a sound investment.
5.Take a light and a loupe - always be on the lookout for fakes and imitations sadly it does happen but use your skill and judgement to choose the right stones. If you don't know what your looking at avoid faceted stones as a rule.
To export gemstones out of Namibia you need a permit. This is easily obtained from the ministry of mines and energy, although the front desk security is somewhat severe. If you are buying faceted stones from a dealer you need a receipt and a permit is not required.
The Erongo region is home the Erongo mountains and their gem rich deposits, thought there are many areas with gemstone deposits. In the north, near the town of Tsumeb there are malachite and until recently a large fluorite mine at Okuruso, although that ceased operating in early 2015.
There are various efforts to develop skills in Namibia and the Gemstone centre at Karibib is one such project. The centre's main focus is on teaching local people to cut and polish gemstones, adding value to the finished product. There are plenty of jobs cutting and polishing both diamonds and coloured gemstones in Namibia for larger companies and small scale operations.
The Karibib gemstone centre is part funded by the government and foreign investment. Karibib is the location of many of the most spectacular gemstone finds in Namibia, specifically tourmalines.
Many gemstones used to be found on the surface although it now thought most of these have been picked off and more sustained mining operations will be needed to continue to extract gemstones from the ground.
Water is scarce in Namibia and very dry conditions make mining even harder than normal. To get at the harder to reach deposits specialized equipment and expensive geological surveys are required. It will be a testing of Namibia's gemstone industry as the cost of production inevitably increases as prices fall across the world and China's slowing economy curtails global demand.