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.