It has always been a dream of mine to visit a mine! To be able to go to the beginning of the journey that gems and diamonds take to be finally presented on the pieces I share on a daily basis. Finally an opportunity presented itself back in May/June 2022 thanks to Eshed Gemstar and we were connected to Gemfields! Eshed Gemstar acquired Gemfields Chipembele emerald which is the largest single cluster emerald that was unearthed in Kagem mine and holds the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ for the largest uncut emerald (1.505 kg 7,525 carat). Following unearthing Chipembele, Gemfields recovered the Kafubu Cluster, a colossal 37,555-gram (187,775 carat) emerald cluster which was sold during a recent auction that took place in November 2022.
Gemfields Group is consisting of Faberge (100%), Kagem Emerald Mine in Zambia (75%) and Montepuez Ruby Mine in Mozambique (75%).
After the introduction, Gemfields were too happy to invite and host us on an 8-day trip to visit their Kagem Emerald Mine in Zambia! Conference calls later, our itineraries were booked and fast forward to October 2022, vaccinated and packed, I was ready for my first ever trip to Africa and first mine visit.
Over 24 hours of travel via Singapore Airlines from Melbourne to Johannesburg, I arrived in Johannesburg airport and reunited with my partner in bling, Tracey (AKA TheDiamondsGirl). We were joined by Beatrice from Gemfields London office, and our main journey to Ndola, Zambia started! A short flight later, we all arrived in Ndola located in the northern part of Zambia. Over night stay in Ndola was much needed to be ready for our drive to Kagem Emerald Mine in the morning. Later that evening, Gillian joined our group, she runs a successful PR firm in Lusaka and Gemfields is one of her clients.
Our drive from Ndola to Kagem took approximately 4 hours and we finally arrived at Kagem Emerald Mine. Located in the district of Lufwanyama in Copperbelt Province of Zambia, the area is enriched with natural resources of Copper.
I honestly couldn’t believe that I am finally here at the world’s largest emerald mine! Kagem is supplying over 30% of global emerald demand. After induction meetings and going through security measures, it was time for us to drive to the pit. Gemfields Kagem Emerald Mine has 3 operating open pit mines: Chama, Chibolele, Fibolele. Chama open pit mine is 2.2 km long and 140m deep and is supplying around 25% of global emerald production. Arriving at Chama open pit mine, the scale was mind blowing, and we had the chance to drive down into the pit where heavy machinery were moving the waste rocks, ores and chisel men discovering emeralds! To see it firsthand how an emerald is unearthed was such a remarkable experience. They were kind enough to hand us the very recent emeralds that they unearthed, knowing it is their first encounter with light after being in darkness for the past 500 million years only adds to the romance of gems…
Following our mine visit, next stop was the wash house where emeralds and rocks from mine are transferred to be washed and separated on huge conveyor belts. I managed to spot emeralds among all the rocks and ores, you can see the video on my Zambia highlights on my Instagram page. We stayed at the accommodation provided on the mine site where all the employees stay during their weekly/monthly shifts. Dinner was held at the Lake House with most of the employees and management team in attendance and we finally met Sean Gilbertson, CEO of Gemfields Group who mesmerized us all by his vast knowledge of mining and passion for emeralds and rubies.
The next morning started by visiting the sort house. Jackson the manager of the sort house has been at Kagem for the past 28 years and talks and breathes emeralds. His incomparable knowledge and experience is a true asset to Kagem. He managed to take us through every step of sorting and separating emerald from the host rock to piles of recovered emerald that have been sorted, washed, oiled and ready to be taken to the auction. Kagem has its own proprietary grading system which provides a true evaluation and declaration of treatment and is trusted and respected by the industry. Kagem also partnered with Gübelin and introduced provenance proof (paternity test) technology that provides traceability using DNA-based nanoparticles. In a nutshell while emeralds are at the sort house, an invisible layer of special nanoparticles are inserted within the inclusions which remains in the stone throughout polishing and cutting. When an emerald with that specific process makes it way to Gübelin for grading, Gübelin gemologists can determine it was mined at Kagem and trace it back to the source.
To give you a better perspective on rarity and scarcity of emeralds, yield out of 100 tons of waste is only 1 ton of ore which only 50 grams of emerald and beryl mix is recovered from that ore, and 0.3 grams of premium emerald is recovered on average from the emerald and beryl mix.
Note: There is a NO CAMERA policy throughout the mine site and operating facilities, but we were granted special permission to carry our camera/phones everywhere and provided access to restricted areas to record and film as we wished, and share our unbiased opinion of the mine and its practices.
Rest of the day spent driving around the area and visiting community projects as part of Kagem social sustainability program; building schools, hospitals and sponsoring agricultural initiatives. We managed to interact with school principals and teachers and have a better understanding of how community projects are vital for the area and locals to thrive.
1% of Kagem Emerald Mine revenue is allocated to fund community and conservation projects. Delivering long term benefits to local community in health, education and livelihood is part of Kagem three key values: Transparency, Legitimacy and Integrity.
25% of Kagem is owned by Zambian Government and 75% by Gemfields. Gemfields took over Kagem back in 2008 and as of 2022, Kagem has 1250 direct employees and 413 employees through contractors. As per interim report dated June 30 2022, Kagem first half-year auction revenues totalled in $85.2 million, an all time record high for Kagem. Since the first auction in July 2009, 41 auctions have taken place which generated $835.3 million in total revenues. All this information is available to public through Gemfields website. Kagem produced 109.6 thousand carats of premium quality emeralds for the six months ended June 30th 2022 while handling 5.8 million tonnes of rocks and waste.
Our last evening coincided with award ceremony which was held to recognize employees for their efforts. And followed by an eye opening speech by Sean Gilbertson, CEO of Gemfields about ethical mining practices, social responsibility, immense growth of revenue and vision for the future. Great way to say goodbye to Kagem Emerald Mine. (You can watch snippets of the speech on my Instagram Zambia highlights)
The next day, four of us embarked on an all day trip from Kagem to Ndola, Ndola to Lusaka and Lusaka to Livingstone! By evening we were standing on the Zambezi river in the beautiful town of Livingstone. Spent two days visiting the Victoria Falls, cruising Zambezi river to see wild life and stayed in the most wonderful hotel: The Royal Livingstone Hotel with wild life roaming the grounds.
Eventually had to say goodbye to the beautiful Africa and head home but still after 6 weeks since the trip, I am reeling on the wonderful and unforgettable memories.
My sincere thanks to Eshed Gemstar for the initial introduction, Gemfields Group, Kagem Mining Ltd, management and the whole team in London and Ndola for arranging everything, their warm welcome and outstanding hospitality during this trip, making this experience an unforgettable one!