Gharany Gemstone

Gemstones from Afghanistan

Although the political situation in Afghanistan continues to be very unstable, Afghan miners remove many thousands of carats of fine gems each year from that country. In addition to the historically famous deposits of lapis lazuli, significant quantities of emerald, tourmaline, and kunzite, among other gem materials, have emerged from the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan within the last few years. Small amounts of fine ruby are also being mined. Most of these gem materials are of very high quality relatively little has been published about these other gems. Afghanistan has historically been well known for its lapis lazuli deposits, significant amounts of fine emerald, tourmaline, kunzite, and some rubies are n o w emerging from that embattled nation. Emeralds come primarily from the Panjshir Valley, northeast of Kabul. Large amounts of green, blue, and pink tourmaline, as well as considerable quantities of kunzite and some aquamarine, have been taken from the pegmatites of the Nuristan region, east of Panjshir. Smaller quantities of fine ruby have been found in the Sorobi region, between Jalalabad and Kabul. The occurrence, mining, and distribution of these gem materials are summarized, as are their gemological properties. Lesser amounts of garnet, amethyst, spinel, and morganite have also been located. The prospects for future production of emeralds and pegmatite gems, in particular, are excellent.

The Hindu Rush Gem-Producing Areas

The mines that have recently produced gem material are for the most part in the northeastern portion of the country, north and east of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Emeralds have been found primarily in the Panjshir Valley. Pegmatite gems-tourmaline, kunzite, and aquamarine-have been found in the Nuristan region, crossing the provinces of Laghman and Kunar. Rubies have been found in the southern portion of the Sorobi district, in Kabul Province. The topography of the region is dominated by the towering Hindu Kush mountain range. These mountains form the western end of the Himalayas, which stretch eastward across northern Pakistan and India. The Hindu Kush range is one of the most rugged areas of the world, with mountains reaching up to 6,000 m (19,500ft.) separated by narrow, steep river valleys. The road network is limited, and many areas in this part of Afghanistan are inaccessible except by foot. This, combined with a climate that ranges from extremely cold winters to hot, dry summers, contributes to the in hospitability of the region. Despite their remoteness, both the Hindu Kush range and the adjacent Karakoram range in neighboring Pakistan have been the sites of spectacular finds of gemstones during the last 15years. In addition to earlier descriptions of Panjshir emeralds (Neilson and Gannon, 1977)and of pegmatite gemstones from Nuristan (Bariand and Poullen, 1978))important discoveries of tourmaline, beryl, corundum, and other gemstones have been made in Pakistan in the Gilgit area (Kazni et al., 19851, in the Swat and Hunza valleys northeast of Peshawar (Gubelin, 1982),and in Kashmir (Atkin- son and Kothavala, 1983). These areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan are located in one of the most geologically dynamic regions of the world- at the juncture along which the Indo-Pakistan and Asian crustal plates collided to give rise to the Himalayas. The geology of this region is quite complex, and it has been investigated in detail only recently (for further information, see Weippert et al., 1970; Lapparent, 1972; Fuchs et al., 1974; and Wolfart and Wittekindt, 1980).These investigations indicate that the Hindu Kush area represents the western end of a succession of important gem-producing regions that stretch all along the Himalayas through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and into Burma. Rosovsky and Kovalenko (1976) have suggested that these separate regions are in fact part of a much larger “South Asian” gem pegmatite belt whose formation can be linked to the sequence of orogenic events that resulted in the formation of the Himalaya range. Although gem beryl was found during the archeological excavation of an ancient Greek city in northwestern Badakhshan, organized mining of beryl, tourmaline, kunzite, and ruby in Afghanistan dates only from the early 1970s (Dunn, 1974; Bariand and Poullen, 1978).Ostensibly the mines are under government jurisdiction, but most active mining and selling is done by independent miners, usually local tribesmen. Because of the volatility of the current political situation in Afghanistan, the gem-mining areas around Kabul and Jalalabad are virtually inaccessible to foreign gem buyers. Once mined, the uncut crystals of emerald, tourmaline, spodumene, etc., are smuggled across the border into Pakistan, primarily into tribal Agency areas such as Bajaur (surrounding Peshawar), where most of the trade in Afghan gems is conducted. To enter Afghanistan, or even to travel along the frontier Agency areas of northern Pakistan, one must have special permission from both the government and the local tribal leaders. Such passes are nearly impossible to obtain, and even then, there is no guarantee of safety. Right now, most of the gem materials currently originating in Afghanistan.

Emeralds

The Panjshir Emeralds

Several thousand carats of fine-quality emeralds, some of which are very similar in color and quality to those from the famous Muzo mine of Colombia, have emerged from Afghanistan in recent years. The emerald-mining area of the Panjshir Valley is located approximately 110 (air)km (70 mi.) northeast of Kabul. The Panjshir River, a tributary of the Kabul River, bi- sects a portion of the Hindu Kush mountain range.

The emerald-mining district lies along the south- ern slopes of the Hindu Kush, south of the Panjshir River. The emerald-mining district lies along the south- ern slopes of the Hindu Kush, south of the Panjshir River.  It currently encompasses six thunder active mines-Darkhenj, Mikeni, Butak, Buzmal, Bakhi, and Darun. Access, Geology, and Mining. Although travel in this area is extremely hard at the present time, access to Panjshir from Kabul is fairly straightforward. Travel north by field vehicle 58 km to Charikar. From Charikar, travel 14 km north to Jable-0s-Seraj, then 35 km northeast along the north side of the Panjshir River to Rokha, then another 29 km to Senya, and-for the last 19 km-by a poor dirt road to where it ends at the village of Buzmal. The Panjshir Valley is densely populated. The emeralds occur at an elevation of 3,000-4,000 m, requiring that the miners walk several hours up the rough slopes (30°-40 angle] as there are no horse or mule trails.

The Panjshir emerald locality has been actively mined only during the last 10years, with the greatest activity since the early 1980s) although the deposit reportedly was found by Russian geologists in 1970. Within this district, the emeralds occur along small re- placement or fracture-filling veins. The veins cut through host rocks consisting of metamorphosed lime- stones, calcareous slates, phyllites, and micaceous schists of Silurian-Devonian age (400 million years). The veins themselves consist mainly of quartz and albite, and are apparently related in origin to a local igneous intrusive rock described as a quartz-feldspar porphyry. When followed in an exposure, these veins vary in thickness up to 15 cm. Emerald mineralization along and within the veins is distributed sporadically, but is often associated with pyrite, which the miners use as an indication of the emerald. The emerald is believed to be of hydrothermal origin, and apparently resulted from a chemical reaction between solutions traveling along the veins and the enclosing host rocks.

Dynamite is used first to identify where in the host rock the emerald crystals are most likely to be found. The bombings that frequently occur in this area occasionally perform the same function. Using picks and shovels, the miners dig in pits as shallow as one meter and as deep as several meters to extract the individual crystals or specimens. In spite of the extreme weather conditions, the mines are worked virtually all year.

Tourmaline

Tourmaline and Spodumene from The Nuristan Region

Literally hundreds of thousands of carats of good, gem-quality tourmaline and fine kunzite have emerged from the Kolum district of the Nuristan region northeast of Kabul since active mining began there in the early 1970s. This area is also known for its production of fine aquamarine. The tourmalines and kunzites are found in pockets within the pegmatites that dot the Nuristan region. The most active mines currently are Mawi and Suraj. In addition, Nilaw and Korgal have historically been important that between 2019 and 2021, more than 5,260kg of gem-quality kunzite was mined from the Kolum district.
Access, Geology, and Mining. Access to this sparsely populated region is difficult even during peacetime conditions.

From the Kabul-Jalalabad road go due north to Mehtar Lam approximately 20 km and then 40 km northeast to the village of Nuristan. The passable road ends several kilometers past Nuristan, and all further travel to the mines must be by foot. The rocks of this area are quite varied, and include metamorphic (gneisses, schists, quartzites, and migmatites) and igneous (gabbros, diorites, and granites) rock types. Gem-bearing pegmatites in Nuristan were first studied in the early 1970s by Soviet geologists (Rossovskiy et al., 1976, Rossovskiy et al., 1978; Rossovskiy, 1981).A number of separate pegmatite localities are known, but the most important gem producers seem to be those north of the village of Nuristan at Nilaw, Suraj, Mawi, and Korgal.
The pegmatites vary greatly in size and shape-in veins or lenses up to 40 m thick and up to several kilometers long. The pegmatites range from simple unzoned bodies to those that have complex internal zonation, but the latter group appear to be the more important gem sources. Major minerals include quartz, albite, microcline, schorl tourmaline, muscovite, and lepidolite, along with various minor phases. Crystals of gem tourmaline, spodumene, and beryl occur in cavities up to 50 cm across that are distributed along the central portion of the pegmatite. These crystals are quite remarkable in terms of their size, crystal perfection, and diversity of color. For ex- ample, Rossovskiy (1981) describes tabular, gemmy crystals of spodumene up to 45 cm long and “pencil” crystals of gem tourmaline up to 20 cm, both in a wide variety of colors.
For the most part, the crystals are found in soft, powdered clay that fills pockets within quartz-rich zones in the pegmatite. While the kunzite and tourmaline crystals usually occur in close proximity (within a few meters) of each other, only occasionally are the two gem minerals found in the same pocket. Because both are, for the most part, founding situ in the primary pegmatite, the crystals are usually well formed and complete.
Approximately 500 miners work the Nuristan region on a daily basis. To penetrate the hard pegmatite, they commonly use large drills. The gem-bearing areas of the pegmatite are usually en- countered between 11 and 20 m below the surface. When they reach a pegmatite pocket, the miners remove the gem crystals by hand, using only a few small tools to scrape away the encasing clay. As with the emerald mines in Panjshir, the Nuristan miners usually work year-round, in spite of the severe weather conditions that commonly plague the area.

Rube

Badakhshan Rube

Examination of a small number of cut stones and crystal fragments of ruby produced the following properties of a typical stone: refractive indices, 1.762 and 1.770; specific gravity, approximately 4.00; moderate to strong fluorescence to long- and short-wave ultraviolet radiation; and purplish red to orangy-red pleoch- roism. 

In the hand spectroscope, absorption bands were visible at 469,473,660,668,693, and 694 nm, and a broad band from 520 to 560 nm. Under the microscope, fractures, small unidentified crystals, and needles thought to be boehmite were generally abundant. Some twinning was also noted. The most interesting feature was a strong blue color zoning present in some of the rubies. Much has been written about lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. In recent years, however, the production and supply of lapis from Badakhshan has been greater than ever before, and many examples of superb material can be seen in gem markets worldwide. In 2020, reserves of 8,300 tons were estimated.
A single deposit of garnets has been found at Pachighram, in Nangarhar Province. Well-formed crystals of dark red almandine occur in Proterozoic schists. The garnet-bearing schists cover an area approximately 160-240 km wide and 800- 1,100 km long.
Small quantities of aquamarine are currently being mined in the area of Gur Salak, in Konar Province. The rough material occurs in pegmatites as well-formed crystals up to 2 cm thick and 7.5 cm long (1 x 3 in.). The crystals range in color from light blue to dark blue as well as various intensities of blue-green.
The author observed a few morganite crystals during his most recent trip. These crystals, which ranged in color from pink to brownish pink to peach, were reported by Afghan miners to come from the mine at Mawi, in the Nuristan region. Spinel has historically been reported from Badakhshan, northeast of the lapis mines, but little spinel has been seen in recent years. A 1970s edition of Afghan Development in Brief, published by the Afghan government, reported that amethyst had been found in both Badakhshan and Kandar. The author has not, however, seen any of this material in the local gemstone market.

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