By Brecken Branstrator
“T.I.A. This is Africa.” Gem cutter Roger Dery must have written that phrase at least half a dozen times in the emails he sent to me and my traveling companions in the weeks leading up to our trip. It was meant to remind us that as prepared as we might try to be, anything could happen and we should just roll with the punches.

And now that I’m here, traveling through Kenya and Tanzania after Roger graciously invited me along on this trip so I could experience this end of the gemstone market firsthand as he buys rough, visits mines, and establishes important relationships in the communities, the phrase is frequently being thrown around as we navigate our way through the local environment and happenings.

My travel companions on this adventure include Roger and his wife, Ginger; Nancy Schuring of Devon Fine Jewelry and her husband Joe Portale, both of whom are part of the Devon Foundation, which helps people in Africa involved in the gem trade; and another gemstone cutter, Dan Lynch.

10X-RogerHere’s gemstone cutter Roger Dery evaluating some of the rough stones we saw in Voi, Kenya.After flying into the airport at Mount Kilimanjaro and spending a night in Marangu, Tanzania, the following day found us traveling to Kenya to begin our adventures.

This supplied the first of many new experiences for me, which was watching as two gemstone faceters look through rough to decide which stones, if any, they wanted to buy.

We went to the office of gemstone dealer and broker Gichuchu Okeno in Voi, Kenya. (Gemstone dealer and broker are just two of the many hats Okeno wears. He also has his own mine and is working to build the local gemstone market, especially as it relates to cutting in the country—more on both of those in a future blog post—as well as being quite possibly the best tour guide and most gracious host imaginable.)

The first thing that struck me as I watched Roger sift through parcel after parcel of stones was how quickly he was able to navigate through them.

With one sweep of a light, he could evaluate within seconds the stones within a group that might be fit for a second look. After expressing my surprise out loud, he compared it with my ability as a journalist to read through a sentence and immediately spot any mistakes. Fair point.
10X-AmethystA parcel of rough amethyst we saw in Voi, Kenya

As Roger was looking through rough, he explained the flaws that could rule out a stone immediately—factors like an unfavorable color, a size that wouldn’t yield a big enough stone to sell, and of course, the presence of inclusions that could present problems when it comes time to facet the stone.

I also was given the chance to look through the stones on my own.

I sifted through amethyst, many different types of garnet, tourmaline and more, trying to see what they were seeing (and also lusting after almost every stone, regardless of whether or not it was of faceting quality.)

There’s nothing quite like seeing the stones when they’re straight from the source and getting to understand what might take it to the next step in the market.

Stay tuned for more posts about our journey in Africa and the other sides of the gemstone market I’m seeing.

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