Namibia gem hunting trip

Originally posted, March 15 2015.

Without some original photos

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I’ve been in the jewellery trade for almost 10 years, leaving school at 16 to work in workshops in London’s Hatton Garden and I recently went on Namibia on my first gem hunting trip.

Namibia is maybe most famous for producing some of the worlds finest gem quality diamonds, but it also has a host of other minerals and semi-precious stones.  I decided to focus on Green Tourmaline and Fluorite for this trip.

Small amethyst and aquamarine crystals, stones also found in Namibia.



Spitzkoppe Namibia

Also found in the country is Aquamarine, although the colour is rarely as good as those found in Brazil.  There is also topaz, malachite, most varieties of quartz and some other stones.

A veiw of Namibia’s rugged and often baron desert landscape

The country’s diamonds are mined by Namdeb, an equal partnership between the Namibian government and De Beers, which has contributed over 6 Million USD to the Namibian treasury since its formation in 1994. Around 20% of Namibia’s landmass is owned by Namdeb and this forms a restricted area, with its own armed security force.  An area which I will certainly NOT be including in my gem hunting trip.

There are many reasons why I decided to make Namibia my first gem hunting destination.  The presence of high quality material and an established gem trade was one major factor, but there are many other reasons. Safety and good governance are also important.  Although not perfect, Namibia has been largely peaceful since independence from South Africa in 1990 and has had free and fair elections, meaning the diamond and gem trade is well regulated and conflict free.  ( For a brief history and my social commentary of modern day Namibia, click here)

Namibia’s independence museum, with a statue of the countries founder and first president Sam Nujoma. Built by North Korea and known to some locals as the ‘coffee machine’

I’m a firm believer that the jewellery trade needs to take the lead in making sure the products we offer to the public are not just well made and designed, but that they are responsibly sourced and that everyone involved from the mine to the shop, benefits.  Non of us can change the past but in places like Namibia the gem industry is benefiting the economy and the country as a whole, small scale mining operations have a minimal effect on the environment and there are no armed disputes.  It’s not perfect, but by going and seeing for yourself, making informed decisions about where and who you source your materials from, you can satisfy whatever appetite you have for creating ethically sound jewellery.


I started my ‘Gem hunt’ in the capitol Windhoek, home to some very well established gemstone traders and jewellers.  The idea of the trip is to get as close to the source as possible, but shops and dealers are a fantastic source of information.  Some more so than others, of course, not everyone is keen to keen to divulge key information about source locations, but many are keen to chat and were enthusiastic and friendly.


Green namibian tourmalines

One well established and particularly friendly shop, with a great array of stones is the House of Gems of Werner-List street.  Full of minerals, slices, tumbled stones, cabochons and faceted stones, I asked lots of questions and bought an interesting kite shaped tourmaline, as well as some other smaller stones. Sometimes when it comes to stones, if you see one you like, that you may never see the like of again, it can still be worth buying from a dealer rather than rough from the mines and having it cut.  As a designer and maker I immediately had an idea for what I was going to do with the stone and took advantage of some down time to do some sketches, paintings and make a 3D model.


I also visited other jewellers around the city, trying to get a feel for pricing as well as the type of stones that were available.  Most seemed to concentrate on  stones found in Namibia, although I was also able to see Emeralds from Zambia, Tanzinite and Tsavourites from Kenya. Qualities, sizes and prices of stones seemed to vary a lot from shop to shop,  all were less than a ‘retail’ price you would find at home, although not by much.

Another key source of information was the Ministry of mines and energy, located next to Eros airport, just South of the city.  The MME caters for all kinds of mining in the country and is friendly and accessible to people looking for information, with an informative exhibition on the ground floor. The MME is responsible for issuing miners with permits and for anyone wishing to export rough material out of the country, with a license.


After a few days in Windhoek I left for Swakopmund, a coastal town in the gem rich Erongo region and Namibia’s 4th biggest town with a population of just under 45,000.  The drive from Windhoek to ‘Swakop’ is something of a tour through the Erongo regions gem center’s and the scenery is fantastic.  It’s no wonder that every second traveller you seem to meet in Namibia is a photographer.

On the way you pass through Karabib, the location of some of  Namibia’s best Tourmaline finds and the ‘ Karabib Gemstone Centre an ongoing project by the Ministry of Trade and industry to train local people in the art of stone cutting.  Later in my trip I will visit the gemstone centre and spend more time ( & money) in the town.


The karabib gemstone centre

The Karabib Gemstone Centre, training local people to cut and polish rough stones


The journey also provides an encounter with one of the differences between Africa and the UK, taxis are generally shared and buses leave when they’re full.  The Roads in Namibia are notoriously dangerous and in the case of the journey to Swakop that can only be put down to bad driving as the single lane highway is entirely paved and well maintained.  An encounter towards the end of our trip gives a stark example of this.


Also en route are Okahandja, home to  ‘Namgem diamond manufacturing company’, Usakos and the Spitzkoppe Gem market as well as numerous signposts to various mines, mostly I am told, Marble and Uranium mines.

Arriving in Swakop and having a look round some shops it’s clear straight away that your closer to the source and gemstones play a bigger part in the local economy than they do in the capitol.  For a town of this size there are a high number or Jewellers and specialist gemstone shops with mineral samples and a good collection of loose, faceted stones.  A couple of shops even had cutting facilities, cutters on site and rudimentary mining tools for sale. Information was a little harder to come by in Swakop and some shop owners were defiantly wise to what I was doing.

One large shop, masquerading as a museum and charging N$20 for entry is the ‘Kristall Galerie’  home to the Largest Quartz Crystal cluster on display in the world and, it must be said, some impressive examples of all of the gemstones found in Namibia.

Watermelon Tourmaline slices on display at the Kristall Gallerie





By way of an exhibition, there is a cave like walkway, narrow and dimly lit with what I assume are imitation Quartz crystal clusters, dotted about to simulate the conditions in which these stones are found.  After that there are 4 shops as well as a jewellery making and stone cutting workshop, that were, at the time of my visit,  under renovation.



A little short on the ground was written and photographic information about the history of mining and prospecting in Namibia. Maybe that because this is just a glorified shop, not a museum, or because some aspects of the past and colonial rule are somewhat unpalatable, but I feel this is something this place is lacking and would go some way to justifying the entrance fee.

You are welcome to take photos of the exhibits in the forecourt, however they’re not keen on you taking photos of the stones in the shops, as I found out.   Again though this proved a useful place to get information about pricing and the types of stones available, I was able to ask about price per carats for all the stones and mining locations.

As nice as the Kristall Gallerie and other shops in Swakop were I was no further to finding any dealers, or better, miners with stones.  Next stop was the tourist market by the beach, a far more local experience and much more fruitful.  Among the many ‘shops’ with wood and stone carvings were a few with ‘stones’ mostly mineral samples of Quartz, some aquamarine and black tourmaline.

Its not hard to get chatting to these guys and when I told them what I was after it seemed to mobilize everyone in the market.  No more stones appeared but I was busy giving my number to people and making ‘appointments’ for the next morning.

Everyone knew a bit about stones and seemed to know someone, often family members involved in mining and gems.  A couple of hangers on, not stall holders, claimed to know someone locally with good quality stones.  They just  needed money for a taxi and they would bring them for me to look at.  As tempting as this was, I declined.  As I was to find out the next morning, this is a common theme but not always a scam.

Edward Fleming
Old posts

Back in June I switched my website from wordpress to squarespace and in the process, down entirely to me, I lost all of the blogging content that I had built up in the last few years. There simply isn’t time to retrieve all of it, though over the next few weeks I will be re-posting some of my more popular, interesting and important articles form the old site, word for word, starting with a run down of my 2015 trip to Namibia.

Edward Fleming
Blue Topaz and diamond ring re-make in 18ct Fairmined white gold
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One of the greatest pleasures of being a jewellery designer is making and remaking pieces for friends and family. This Blue Topaz and diamond ring is the result of combing the stones from two of my grandmothers rings, passed down to her from her mother and aunt and dating from the 1930’s.

Both rings had had been gathering dust, not worn for years so it was deiced they needed a new lease of life. After a little discussion about the design I presented two design ideas, one in white gold and one in yellow gold, in a traditional gouache render.

 The original rings dating from the 1930’s

The original rings dating from the 1930’s

 Hand rendered jewellery designs

Hand rendered jewellery designs

After the final design was decided upon a CAD model was made, 3d printed and then cast in 18ct Fairmined gold. The gold from the two old rings was melted down and used to partially pay for the cost of the remake.

Once the ring has been cast, the casting is cleaned up and polished ready to be set by the stone setter.

Ring before setting
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From start to finish the process of remaking these two rings took 6 weeks and remakes and remodels start from £900.

Edward Fleming
Free wedding rings, marrying effective altrusim and the jewellery industry
Fairmined yellow gold wedding rings

I came across effective altruism in September as I was deciding what to write my dissertation about. In the end, I plucked for ‘Can it be proved that art encourages altruism’ (I concluded it could but in a somewhat unreliable way, you can read the dissertation here) and I used effective altruism,  or EA from here on in, as the philosophical backdrop for my piece.

Effective altruism is about using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis
— Centre for effective altrusim

Heavily influenced by the work of Peter Singer, an Australian moral philosopher, there’s loads of good info here, if like me you’re not a great reader, these videos on YouTube give a good backdrop and if your super keen you can go to one of their regular meetups, which I can recommend.

There’s a lot of debate within the jewellery industry as to what constitutes the most ‘ethical’ metals to use, and what exactly qualifies as ‘ethical jewellery’.  My opinion is that either Fairmined or Fairtrade metals (both of which we use and advocate for) are the best, by far, with recycled metals being only a slight improvement on mined and untraceable metals. Sadly, the term recycled is being used cynically, to lazily green wash a whole slew of questionable businesses and products and that those who use is genuinely don’t realize how little it does to change the really damaging issues that the jewellery industry is responsible for.   

 

However the inescapable conclusion from engaging with effective altruism is that non of these initiatives, Fairmined, Fairtrade or 100% recycled metals actually do any good when you compare the benefits that would be achieved by buying a non fairtrade gold ring and then donating the money to an effective cause.

Going one step further, you be doing almost infinitely more good by not buying a ring at all and donating the money you save to an effective cause.

 Scrap silver that I will melt down and make a wedding ring out of.

Scrap silver that I will melt down and make a wedding ring out of.

This is where I come in.  

The positive effect of you donating the money you would spend on a pair of wedding rings, the average current UK spend being around £600 a pair *, is so great that I’d like to encourage anyone getting married to do so and I will make them a pair of custom rings, from silver, and deliver them in a presentation box, for free, provided a donation of £300 is made to anyone of the charities listed here is made. 



Gold mine in Tanzania

If this appeals to you, then please drop me a line with proof of the donation, your ring sizes and your address and I will get the rings to you within 4 weeks.  It would be nice if you could post pictures of the rings on social media, mentioning us and how much you love the rings (if you do of course)

Effective altruism and the ethics of the jewellery industry are both huge, complicated issues that I’m hoping to start a discussion about with this offer and this post.  The issues are inescapably intertwined and I would be interested to hear from people on all sides in the comments section.

 


 

 *We have worked this out independently based on figures from the consumer price index for July 2018, which can be found here https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/datasets/consumerpriceindicescpiandretailpricesindexrpiitemindicesandpricequotes.  We have averaged all of the entries made for ‘solid 9ct gold ring’.

 
Hand made wedding rings
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Handmade wedding rings in platinum and palladium. Palladium is becoming an increasingly popular choice for wedding rings as an alternative to platinum, it polishes to a beautiful finish, is hard wearing and has a bright, vibrant, metallic colour. 

The ladies ring is a size I, diamond set, half eternity ring in platinum and the gents is a Size O 3mm court shaped band in palladium.

For all bespoke wedding ring enquireries please contact edward@edwardflemingjewellery.com or use the contact form below.  Bespoke wedding rings typically take between 4-6 weeks to make and we can use a wide range of metals including Platinum, Fairtrade or fairmined gold, silver or Palladium.