Madagascar – the heart of Gondwana
Geologists estimate, 180 million years ago, the supercontinent of Gondwana split as a result of tectonic movements, causing the small island of Madagascar. Large segments of Gondwana moved away, triggering geological events forming the Himalayan mountain range, countries and continents like Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Australia, and South America. These geological incidents subsequently led to the creation of other gem deposits in Kashmir, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Burma. While the world was changing, Madagascar stayed an isolated island for 88 million years.
Interestingly, due to the land’s historic geological connections with Sri Lanka and India, some gem labs find it challenging to distinguish sapphires from Madagascar with those hailing from Sri Lanka and Kashmir. Due to their first-mover advantage in terms of discovery, their imprint on history, and heightened awareness, sapphires from Kashmir, Burma and Sri Lanka are more celebrated. The notability of older sapphire discoveries (like Burma and Sri Lanka) fetch them higher prices. This premium pricing based on origin incentivises specific segments of the market to sell Madagascar sapphires as Sri Lankan or Kashmir.
Unlike other gem-bearing geographies, in Madagascar, one can find sapphires from various timelines. For example, blue sapphires from Andrandondambo (South-East) are 500 million years old (a metamorphic type deposit known to produce “Kashmir like” stones). In contrast, sapphires from Ilakaka, are 50 to 100 million years old. Blue sapphires were first discovered by French colonialists in the Andrandondambo area, in the fifties. After a gap 40 odd years, the rediscovery of this deposit in the nineties, triggered a gem-rush, yielding some of the finest, rich-blue sapphires.
Madagascar’s solitary existence is probably responsible for its unique eco-system, with approximately 90% of its species endemic (not found anywhere else on the planet). The country’s diversity, however, extends beyond flora and fauna to immense mineral wealth. Madagascar is home to a rainbow of gem colours, such as blue, pink, blue-violet, violet, purple, orange, yellow and translucent sapphires. The land also yields zircon, chrysoberyl, alexandrite, topaz, garnet, spinel, andalusite and tourmaline. Although 80% to 90% of the country is gem-bearing, stakeholders and non-governmental bodies are keen to maintain the delicate balance of nature and man. On Jan 29, 2020, the President of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina announced a national drive to plant 60 million trees, and media reports suggest that Madagascar has received more than US$700 million in funding for conservation since 1990, across 500+ projects seeking to protect the country’s unique biodiversity.
Sharing her firm’s experience in Madagascar sapphires, second-generation, Maria Belmont, explains, “Since we have a strong reputation as buyers of high-quality gemstones we are one of the first to hear of a new gem discovery. As a result, our firm has been sourcing sapphires in all hues from Madagascar since the early days of the deposit’s rediscovery in the nineties. We have seen the most beautiful intense cornflower sapphires and other than yellow, many of our fancy sapphires hail from Madagascar. In addition to sapphires, we also source interesting rare colours of spinels, such as a recent collection of grey-tinted spinels, which are favoured by many international jewellery designers.” Maria further shares her views on this new deposit, “We believe sapphires and other gems from Madagascar are as beautiful as any historic deposit and should be appreciated for their unique origin. Compared to three years ago, the supply from Madagascar is already down 30% to 40%. It is only a matter of time when this currently producing deposit will also run its course, causing an escalation in the price of Madagascar gems. The time to acquire top-grade, untreated sapphires from Madagascar is now, to reap the benefit of their appreciation after 20+ years.”