Gemworld’s Gemstone Source Region Update: Tajikistan
In June 2005 and again this year, the author led The Explorers Club Flag Expeditions through 2,000 miles of Tajikistan. The 2023 team visited the country’s gem mining areas and is working with government officials to update the knowledge of mining and production of Tajikistan gemstones, which have been known since 101 B.C. More recently, the ruby mining area was discovered by Lev Rossovsky and his team in the late 1970s.
The visit and the knowledge gained from it have several purposes: to increase the market potential of spinels and rubies from Tajikistan; for updated knowledge on gemstone mining in Tajikistan; to provide GIA’s laboratory with samples of Tajikistan gems and Afghanistan spinels, helping make it possible to test ancient spinels to determine if they did come from the historic Kuh-i-Lal mine (this was not possible before); and to assist the government of Tajikistan in locating new mining partners.
Tajikistan covers an area of about 55,250 square miles, 90% of which is mountains and 50% of which is higher than 10,000 feet above sea level. The glaciers of Gorno Badakhshan reach heights of more than 23,000 feet.
The country’s ancient spinel deposit, known today as Kuh-i-Lal, “the mountain of spinel,” has produced some historically famous spinels found in the crowns of royalty and museums around the world (Gemstones of Afghanistan by G.W. Bowersox and B.E. Chamberlin, 1995).
These mines are currently closed while the government of Tajikistan selects a new mine organization to operate them. However, production of ruby, spinel, clinohumite, and scapolite are still available via two Tajikistan government-approved sales organizations. Gems in Tajikistan are largely sold as rough unless one goes to a local retail store.
Tajikistan gemstones are also sold in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangkok, as well as through a few U.S. dealers, including Gem Hunters Corporation.
A detailed report of the 2023 expedition to Tajikistan is being prepared for publication in GIA’s Gems & Gemology journal. This report includes the publication of laboratory reports on the origin statistics of samples provided to GIA. With this report and data, the priceless ancient spinels in the crown jewels of Great Britain, Australia, Russia, Iran, Bavaria, and numerous other spinels currently in the world’s museums can be proven to be from Kuh-i-Lal, Tajikistan, or other countries.
Many of the rubies of Tajikistan rival the Burmese rubies in color, size, tone, and clarity, but when it comes to current market prices, they’re priced much lower than Burmese rubies.
After 2,000 years of mining, one would expect the Kuh-i-Lal mine to be depleted. However, in 1985 a 26,000-carat spinel of good color was recovered from the mine and is now with the Tajikistan government.
While future production of the Kuh-i-Lal spinel mine is speculative, there is greater potential in the Murghab ruby area. The ruby mines of Tajikistan were only discovered in the 1970s. The deposits cover a vast area, and new discoveries are being made. The best quality rubies from the Murghab area in Tajikistan are selling for over $20,000 per carat.
The future growth in commercial mining appears to be most dependent on the willingness of the Tajikistan government to establish a favorable investment climate and mining terms favorable to foreign investors.
About the Author
Gary W. Bowersox, known as the “Gem Hunter,” is a renowned gem expert who has spent five decades exploring and researching gems and minerals in Afghanistan and Central Asia. He has chaired eight symposiums on “Gems and Minerals of the Hindu Kush and Central Asia” and authored two books.