This is how Zambia became home to emeralds

Deborah Dzifa Makafui December 08, 2022
World's largest uncut emerald was unearthed in Zambia. Photo: Guinness World Records

The uncut jewels that nature extracts from the earth are much more interesting. Due to its vast emerald supply, Zambia has caused a stir in the gemstone industry, rising to prominence as one of the world’s most valued sources of emeralds. 

Colombian emeralds have over the years been recognized as the best source of this stone. It was the main distributor in the emerald industry until Zambia emerged as an emerald producer. Its beautiful blue-green emeralds can today be compared to the famous Colombian emeralds, experts say.

Zambia emerged as one of the world’s most valuable sources of emeralds since the mining industry was liberalized in the early 1990s. East African emeralds are geologically older than emeralds from other regions because Zambian emeralds formed more than 500 million years ago as a result of a unique fusion of minerals and heat from deep inside the Earth’s crust.

Although emerald reserves in Zambia have been known to exist since the 1920s, they weren’t exploited for profit until the 1970s, which also marked the advancement of prospecting and mining methods, according to phillips.com. A gigantic emerald known as Chipembele, which in the local dialect of the Bemba of Zambia means “rhino,” measures 7,525 carats or 1.505 kg. 

According to Guinness World Records, the enormous gem was found in July of last year in the Kagem mine in Zambia’s Copperbelt district by geologists Manas Banerjee and Richard Kapeta and their team.  Soon after the discovery, Eshed, a global provider of natural diamonds and emeralds, purchased Chipembele before the end of 2021. They made the decision to apply to Guinness World Records because they thought the gem would break a record, and in April of this year, they received excellent news. It was formally acknowledged as the “world’s largest uncut emerald” by Guinness World Records. 

Two additional large emeralds were spotted at the same location before Chipembele was found. Insofu, which means “elephant,” was found in 2010, and Inkalamu, which means “lion,” was found in 2018, both weighing 5,655 carats. 

Together with the Industrial Development Corporation of Zambia, the three emeralds were discovered in the same mine, Kagem. In Zambia, the Kagem mine is renowned as the source of emeralds. It is well-known as the largest mine in the world that produces emeralds. 

This open-pit mine is situated in the heart of the Ndola Rural Emerald Restricted Area, a mineral-rich region in Zambia’s southern copper belt. The Kagem emerald mine, which accounts for 25% of global production and is the world’s single largest producer of emeralds, is primarily owned by the UK-based mining company Gemfields. 

Recently, emeralds from Zambia became the talk of Hollywood. Taraji P. Henson, the Best Actress winner at the 2016 Golden Globes, wowed in a set of rare, 107-carat Zambian emerald earrings made by jeweler Kimberly McDonald. Mahershala Ali, who starred in “Green Book,” collected the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe Award in 2019 while donning an emerald signet-style ring also created by McDonald.

Last month, the Emeralds and Semi-Precious Stones Mining Association of Zambia (ESMAZ) announced that Zambia has moved from being the world’s third-biggest producer of emeralds to number one. ESMAZ President Victor Kalesha noted that it was high time the small-scale mining industry became well organized.

“I want to announce to you that with the level of marketing our brothers have put to our emeralds, Zambia has moved from world’s number 3 emerald producer to number 1 and furthermore, Zambia is now home to the world’s number one emerald mine which is Kagem mine. In addition to that, Africa has become the number one exporter of emeralds.”

“This is now the opportunity we have to become a vibrant and well organized small scale mining sector. Once we get organized and learn lessons from our big brothers Kagem and Grizzly Mining respectively, success will be knocking on our doorsteps,” Kalesha said, according to Money FM.

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