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Emerald Mining in Zambia

A map indicating the location of the Kagem emerald mine in Zambia. Photo credit:

Zambia is the second largest producer of gem quality emeralds in the world, after Colombia. It is easy to get the impression that Brazil would be the second biggest producer, since it is much closer to the famed Colombian emerald mines.


No emerald mine produces a single color of emeralds. The possible colors range from yellowish green to bluish green. Quality is a range too, from green rocks to gems large and clear enough to go to auction.

When evaluating all the emeralds Zambia produces, they typically have a bluish green color that appears a little darker. This is caused by a mix of the element chromium and vanadium, the stuff that colors Colombian and Brazilian emeralds respectively. Iron can make the emeralds more bluish too. Zambian emeralds also typically have fewer inclusions than emeralds from other locations. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this generality.

E1644 | medium | right | play | “Emerald ID: E1644 – Weight: 0.96 Carats – Origin: Zambia”

History of Emerald Mining in Zambia

Emerald deposits have been known to exist in Zambia since the 1920s. However, there was no real interest in mining these deposits until the 1970s to 1980s with developed prospecting and mining techniques.

As is common with mining rushes, other issues rose up. Illegal mining activities ranging in severity from individual operations not cleaning up the mining site afterwards to forced mining labor. In response to the extent and variety of issues illegal mining presented, the emerald rich areas were restricted and people living within these zones were relocated.

Rough emerald crystal from a Zambian mine

Economic Potential

Since emeralds are so valuable, they are also capable of bringing in a great deal of wealth to Zambia. As a result the national government has continued to be involved in developing and regulating these mines.

This has led to a number of international companies, the most notable of which is Gemfields. In 2008 Gemfields claimed an open-pit mine at Kagem that was producing no ore. The entire mine was turned around a year later, becoming profitable and producing over 27 million carats of emeralds. Kagem is now considered to be the world’s largest emerald mine.

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