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Emerald Mining In Zambia

Kagem emerald mine Zambia
A map indicating the location of the Kagem emerald mine in Zambia. Photo credit:

Zambia is second only to Colombia in the production of emeralds. Since its discovery in 1895, copper mining has been the main source of revenue for the country, and building upon that history in mining techniques and endeavors, an emerald mining culture has taken hold of the country and produced a fast-growing revenue stream. As a landlocked country in Southern Africa, the Zambezi River forms a natural border with Zimbabwe and a vital route for transportation of materials and supplies by boat.

Modern Presence Of Emeralds In Zambia

The initial emerald deposits that were found near the Kafubu River in 1928 were overlooked as having little significance. As technology developed and interest grew to map the region for the possibility of greater emerald reserves. By the 1970s and 80s, rampant illegal mining forced the government to relocate native populations and establish restricted zones.

Gemfields mine in Zambia emerald rough
Found rough emerald crystal from a Zambian mine.

Seeing the huge economic potential, the government has stayed heavily involved in the emerald mining ventures. As of now, only government-authorized mining by large-scale companies and small-scale local miners is permitted.

As a result of this decision, many international companies have been involved in mining the region. Notably, the UK company Gemfields established a presence in 2008, claiming an open-pit mine at Kagem that was producing no ore. By a year later, the entire mine had been turned around to be profitable and produced over 27 million carats of emeralds. Kagem is now considered to be the world’s largest emerald mine.

rough emerald crystal
A huge selection of rough emerald crystal.

As different types of mining practices – like underground mining that has already started in Kagem – begin to be explored, the possibility of Zambia to continue to produce significant quantities of emerald only increases.

When dealers refer to “Zambian” emeralds regardless of their source or origin, they are referring to stones with a slightly darker tone , more bluish, less saturated color, and greater clarity than “Colombian” emeralds. Zambian emeralds owe their rich green color to the presence of chromium and vanadium. That color is often modified by iron, which is commonly present in emeralds mined from pegmatites intruding into schists.

Next we begin an exploration of emerald mining in Zambia’s neighbor with Zimbabwe Emerald Mines.
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