Mining the Old Fashioned Way

The sapphire mining process begins with a borehole large enough to lower a man 30m into the earth. If round stones – the signs of an ancient riverbed – are found, sapphires might be found as well. This leads to the digging of a second hole by the mining equivalent of a bucket brigade, with one man shovelling to the next, and so on, for a very, very long time. If it rains, walls collapse and the digging begins anew. Some mines are dug by individual owners, while others are financed by groups of investors. Some yield valuable sapphires, others produce nothing. There have been enough of the former to create a sapphire rush in Ilakaka involving tens of thousands of people. In fact, Ilakaka sits on top of the biggest sapphire deposit in the world, all 4000 hectares of it, even though you will not see a single piece of mining machinery beyond a spade. Just be careful what you are offered in the street. As the saying goes, ‘the closer you get to the mine, the more synthetic you find’.