Namibia – Gem hunting trip

Cast of the travel channels 'gem hunt' show
Cast of the travel channels ‘gem hunt’ show

If you’ve ever come across ‘Gem hunters’ or ‘Game of stones’ on the Travel or Discovery channel then you have some sort of idea how precious and semi-precious stones are bought and sold.  Seeking high quality deposits of desirable minerals, in often remote or hostile locations is the name of the game.

The highest margins are in finding good quality ‘rough’ material and then getting it cut and polished to create rare and beautiful faceted stones for either a collector or the jewellery trade.

For some its a full time job, making several trips a year and racking up some serious air miles, making use of long established, trusted contacts.

Poster for the discovery channels ' game of stones'
Poster for the discovery channels ‘ game of stones’
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From ‘rough’ to polished gemstone, ready for being made into Jewellery

But how do you get started?  Is it sensible to jet off to a foreign land and proclaim to the world you have money to spend on precious stones? Of course not, but you have to find out where the stones are and who’s selling them.


I’ve been in the Jewellery trade for almost 10 years, leaving school at 16 to work in workshops in London’s Hatton Garden and I recently went on my first ‘gem hunting’ trip to Namibia in southern Africa.

Namibia is maybe most famous for producing some of the worlds finest gem quality diamonds, but it also has a host of other minerals and semi-precious stones.  I decided to focus on Green Tourmaline and Fluorite for this trip.

Small amethyst and aquamarine crystals, stones also found in Namibia

Also found in the country is Aquamarine, although the colour is rarely as good as those found in Brazil.  There is also topaz, malachite, most varieties of quartz and some other stones.

A veiw of Namibia’s rugged and often baron desert landscape

The country’s diamonds are mined by Namdeb, an equal partnership between the Namibian government and De Beers, which has contributed over 6 Million USD to the Namibian treasury since its formation in 1994. Around 20% of Namibia’s landmass is owned by Namdeb and this forms a restricted area, with its own armed security force.  An area which I will certainly NOT be including in my gem hunting trip.

There are many reasons why I decided to make Namibia my first gem hunting destination.  The presence of high quality material and an established gem trade was one major factor, but there are many other reasons. Safety and good governance are also important.  Although not perfect, Namibia has been largely peaceful since independence from South Africa in 1990 and has had free and fair elections, meaning the diamond and gem trade is well regulated and conflict free.  ( For a brief history and my social commentary of modern day Namibia, click here)

Namibia's independence museum, with a statue of the countries founder and first president Sam Nujoma.  Built by North Korea and known to some locals as the 'coffee machine'
Namibia’s independence museum, with a statue of the countries founder and first president Sam Nujoma. Built by North Korea and known to some locals as the ‘coffee machine’

I’m a firm believer that the jewellery trade needs to take the lead in making sure the products we offer to the public are not just well made and designed, but that they are responsibly sourced and that everyone involved from the mine to the shop, benefits.  Non of us can change the past but in places like Namibia the gem industry is benefiting the economy and the country as a whole, small scale mining operations have a minimal effect on the environment and there are no armed disputes.  It’s not perfect, but by going and seeing for yourself, making informed decisions about where and who you source your materials from, you can satisfy whatever appetite you have for creating ethically sound jewellery.


I started my ‘Gem hunt’ in the capitol Windhoek, home to some very well established gemstone traders and jewellers.  The idea of the trip is to get as close to the source as possible, but shops and dealers are a fantastic source of information.  Some more so than others, of course, not everyone is keen to keen to divulge key information about source locations, but many are keen to chat and were enthusiastic and friendly.

One well established and particularly friendly shop, with a great array of stones is the House of Gems of Werner-List street.  Full of minerals, slices, tumbled stones, cabochons and faceted stones, I asked lots of questions and bought an interesting kite shaped tourmaline, as well as some other smaller stones. Sometimes when it comes to stones, if you see one you like, that you may never see the like of again, it can still be worth buying from a dealer rather than rough from the mines and having it cut.  As a designer and maker I immediately had an idea for what I was going to do with the stone and took advantage of some down time to do some sketches, paintings and make a 3D model.





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I also visited other jewellers around the city, trying to get a feel for pricing as well as the type of stones that were available.  Most seemed to concentrate on  stones found in Namibia, although I was also able to see Emeralds from Zambia, Tanzinite and Tsavourites from Kenya. Qualities, sizes and prices of stones seemed to vary a lot from shop to shop,  all were less than a ‘retail’ price you would find at home, although not by much.

Another key source of information was the Ministry of mines and energy, located next to Eros airport, just South of the city.  The MME caters for all kinds of mining in the country and is friendly and accessible to people looking for information, with an informative exhibition on the ground floor. The MME is responsible for issuing miners with permits and for anyone wishing to export rough material out of the country, with a license.






After a few days in Windhoek I left for Swakopmund, a coastal town in the gem rich Erongo region and Namibia’s 4th biggest town with a population of just under 45,000.  The drive from Windhoek to ‘Swakop’ is something of a tour through the Erongo regions gem center’s and the scenery is fantastic.  It’s no wonder that every second traveller you seem to meet in Namibia is a photographer.

On the way you pass through Karabib, the location of some of  Namibia’s best Tourmaline finds and the ‘ Karabib Gemstone Centre an ongoing project by the Ministry of Trade and industry to train local people in the art of stone cutting.  Later in my trip I will visit the gemstone centre and spend more time ( & money) in the town.

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.

Puffin ring

My interest in puffins was originally peaked by this photo by wildlife photographer Richard Costin of a puffin in warm evening light.  I thus search for more images of puffins and was taken by the bright colours of their beaks and depth in their eyes.


I was inspired to create a piece of jewellery inspired by at least one part of the puffin.

Atlantic Puffin with Sand Eel prey


The ring is designed to made in white gold featuring sapphires in yellow and various Orange hues in the beak as well as a black rhodium portion .  Blue sapphire feature in the unfortunate fish caught in the puffins beak

Diamond and Sapphire pendant

This is a post looking at the various design processes involved to create a jewellery design.  Specifically the techniques for painting small ‘pave’ set diamonds or coloured stones in metal with various finishes.  The example is pendant of my own design the inspiration for which I will talk about in future post, along with the rest of the collection.

Once the various sketches have been refined and the final design decided on I like to go straight into Rhino and create a 3d model.  I used to draw designs by hand but having learnt to use Rhino I like to save time by creating the model, the outline of which can printed out, using pen mode and, effectively, coloured in.

You then have the 3d model that can be rapid prototyped and a mould created for casting.  This doesn’t apply if the piece is going to be handmade, if thats the case just go with the method your most comfortable with to create the outline drawing.  As with any design process its about how you feel you can best communicate your ideas, if you can do that effectively and save some time in the production process then crack on.

3D Rhino model of pendant (rendered mode)
3D Rhino pendant model (pen mode)
3D Rhino pendant model (pen mode)
Top view of pendant in Rhino (pen mode)
Top view of pendant in Rhino (pen mode)


Now the outline has been printed you can see the two different techniques for painting in coloured stones and diamonds.












Manhole cover cufflinks on shapeways

At times jewellery design can be highly conceptual or abstract, and at others is can be as simple as seeing an everyday object  and thinking – that would make a nice piece of jewellery.

It is the latter that is true of our manhole cover inspired range of cufflinks.

To embellish the concept a little it could be said that the cufflinks are a celebration of the beauty in everyday functionality and industrial design, the little things that keep the vast cities we inhabit ticking, yet we rarely stop to appreciate.

Our first few models are of manhole covers from the UK and are re-produced in almost exact detail.  It is a source of inner conflict that we have used almost no artistic license to enhance the design of manhole covers.  To produce a collection without a story is arguably the purest form of jewellery design. To put your name to collection that bares little of your influence is to back your initial assumption. That what you have seen does indeed make for a great piece of jewellery and speaks for itself rather than for you the designer.

Initially our designs are available online through 3d printing service and marketplace site shapeways.  The limitations of this service mean that we can only offer the cufflinks with solid backs, as opposed to the snap back that we prefer, and will be producing soon.

That being said shapeways do offer and impressive array of materials, although again some are limited.

Shapeways allows users to upload designs and offer them for sale, taking care of production, order fulfilment and packaging themselves.

Shapeways shop



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Digital Camera

round round round

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