Part I: Lapis in Badakhshan
By Gemologist Vincent Pardieu
Edited by Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
Gemologist Vincent Pardieu recently traveled to Afghanistan to see the famous Lapis Lazuli mines in Badakhshan. The following are excerpts from his personal Facebook account. Pardieu’s trip was to build up his own private reference collection for gem origin studies—not to purchase gems for resale. Also find him at @vincent_pardieu. Learn more about gem origins here.
Arrival in Afghanistan
Welcome to the Ulu1… I arrived in Kabul for the 6th time since 2006, and the first time since the Taliban took power in August 2021. The airport looks about the same as before, but there are a few obvious differences at the exit: The large Ahmad Shah Massoud portraits are gone. Instead, we were surprised to find a rather kitsch “I Love Afghanistan” sign, a few white Taliban flags, and a small “Super Cola” (no less surprising) advertisement. No more Black Hawk helicopters flying around and fewer security structures. People at immigration and elsewhere in the airport were nice (as before).
I’m traveling with my old friend Guerchouche Karim, from Premacut Ltd. in Bangkok. Both of us are traveling as consultants for Zoa Gemstones, a gem trading company active in Afghanistan that is managed by Raphaël. I first discussed Afghanistan with Raphaël a few years ago after my expeditions there for GIA in 2010 and 2011. Raphaël was starting to do some gem trading in Afghanistan. Now with more than 15 years of experience in the country, Raphaël and his team from Zoa Gemstones were the right guys to get us the authorization we needed to visit the places I had been trying to visit for 16 years. Four times I failed to visit the Lapis Lazuli mines in the Badakhshan province, each time due to security measures that were difficult for a foreigner to navigate.
After some meetings in Kabul, we had the necessary introductions to travel to Badakhshan. There our next step would be to get the approval from the governor to visit the different gemstone-producing areas. On the very top of that list are the Lapis Lazuli mines at Sar-e-Sang. The drive from Kabul to Faizabad, the largest city near the mines, takes 14 hours.