surround us, each with an open gem paper showing his pedras.
We see rubellita from Cruziero, green tourmalina verde
from up north in Araçuai, Aquamarina from Nova Era
and Padre Paraiso, and esmeralda from Goias and from Carnaîiba,
the new mining area bordering the state of Bahia. Brokers with interesting
parcels are directed to David's office a few blocks away.
We are interested in fine stones, so the words,
boa extra and soù file, meaning "extra good"
and "fine only", are repeated ad nauseum. This is my fifth
trip to Brazil, and my Portuguese is good enough to carry on a basic
An hour later at the office a dozen brokers are
waiting. David unlocks the steel door that looks like the entrance
to an old-fashioned prison cell. We enter a narrow waiting room
where the brokers sit on a long wooden bench waiting their turns.
David's office is small, but the light is good.
We get right to it. A small parcel of fine blue
tourmaline is offered; "Quanto è-- "how much?"
I ask. A price is stated. "If I wanted to pay retail I could
have stayed in New York," I flippantly respond in Portuguese.
I am rewarded with a weak smile, but eventually the price drops
to something near reality. I counter offer and so it goes hour after
hour, day after day. If we see a large, but likely parcel, Rebekah
will sort it. This is a demanding, but necessary job. As any successful
dealer knows, it's all in the pick!
My wife Rebekah and I sit on the far side of a
wooden desk with the north light at our backs, greeting each broker
in turn. In the meantime our agent previews the goods, sending off
brokers whose stones are not up to the standard he knows I will
buy. The first day is crucial. As a new buyer you are an unknown
quantity. You must establish your bonafides! Pay too much for a
parcel, and from then on you carry a big "S" for sucker
invisibly tattooed on your forehead, and all the asking prices will
Two solid days of buying, and I'm beginning to
see a pattern. The salad days of plenty seem to be over, at least
for the present. Brazil hasn't seen a major strike since the late
1980's. The last one--a huge bi-color tourmaline pocket found at
Morro Rodondo more than seven years ago, lasted until 1998.
Emerald, mostly from the Carnaîba area of Bahia,
seems to be the most plentiful stone in the market, followed by
Aquamarine from Nova Era and Padre Paraiso.
Frustrated and with eyes longing to see something
great, we make an appointment to see T.H.E. Collection. Kahil Elawar,
patriarch of the family firm K. Elawar, Ltd. has been carefully
building a collection of the finest Brazilian gems from Minas Gerais.
Elawar, who immigrated to Brazil from Guinea-Bissau via Casablanca
in 1959, started in the clothing business. He eventually has come
to preside over one of the largest and most successful firms of
gem merchants in Minas Gerais. This collection that now includes
over two hundred-fifty gemstones has taken thirty years to gather.
It consists of a number of gems of world-class quality and size--aquamarines,
tourmalines, emerald, catseyes, all from Minas Gerais. It was featured
in the book "Gems of Minas", published in 1989 with color
pictures by the famous photographic team of Harold & Erica Van
Pelt. On our last trip we spent several fascinating hours viewing
this world-class collection, and we are anxious to renew our acquaintance.
Senor Elawar is gracious, and we spend a leisurely afternoon immersed
We have been traveling for three days and buying
for two. Finally it is Saturday, and a trip is planned up north
near the town of Padre Paraiso and another working aquamarine mine.
Haissam Elawar picks us up early at our hotel. The sun is sparkling
and the day shows promise. The scenery along the road north is breathtaking.
The rainy season has been a long one, and this mountainous region
is a sea of green.
We stop to photograph a batholith. Geologically
speaking a batholith is a knobby magmatic intrusion of hot lava
that originally formed underground, pushing up the country rock
to form a mountain. Over millions of years the rock above and around
the intrusion has weathered away, leaving behind a smooth formation
that looks like a shaved black skull. A green apron surrounds the
formation, but the batholith itself is so smooth and dense as to
be devoid of vegetation. Batholiths signal that gemstone deposits
may exist in the surrounding area. One of the most famous examples
of a batholith is Sugarloaf Mountain.
Padre Paraiso (Father Paradise) is a small
town built into a rugged hillside-- it looks much like one of Cezanne's
mountain paintings. Small rectangular whitewashed boxes are stacked
geometrically against the hillside, divided by narrow cobblestoned
streets, and punctuated by trees and shingled red clay roofs. It
is this same countryside surrounding the town that produced a large
amount of catseye Crysoberyl in the 1960s.
The mine we are visiting today has no official
name. It is usually referred to simply as Abelita's mine, in deference
to the owner's wife, a handsome, dark-complexioned woman in her
fifties. Despite a small workforce numbering only four, Abelita's
mine has produced twelve kilograms of aquamarine this season.
Our four-wheel drive labors on steadily as we enter
a lovely valley, pass a small cattle fazenda, and climb
up the shoulder of a steep mountainside, working our way to the
mine. Abelita's mine, closed on Saturday, is little different from
other sites we have visited. Detritus (tailings) from the mine form
a broad apron in front of a single horizontal opening set into a
shelf dug into the mountainside. A small generator sits under a
plastic canopy at the right hand of the entrance. Several large
quartz crystals are stacked on the other side of the mine entrance.
On the road below, a simple daub and wattle hut provides shelter
for the miners during the workweek.