Gems TV Cambodian Zircon

Uploaded by GemsTVUK on 19.04.2011

"Bangkok's Chao Phraya River can get a little bit choppy at times, as you can see. But its
a wonderful place to escape the hustle and bustle of Thailand's capital. But there is
another purpose to my journey, one that will take me to a remote region of Cambodia.
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to visit Cambodia and something is drawing me
back to that beautiful country. Home to some of the best Blue Zircon in the World. In fact,
my trip is particularly well timed because it’s given me a chance to drop in on the
Bangkok Gems and Jewellery Fair to see what’s on offer and maybe even see some of that Cambodian
Blue Zircon."
Bangkok is a huge and colourful city with plenty to explore and no stop over would be
complete without a quick tour of some of the landmark attractions, like the grounds of
the Grand Palace.
Throughout Bangkok there seems to be a market of some description around every corner, and
it doesn’t take long before I work up an appetite for some local delicacies.
"Hello... uhh how much? 20? Could I have three please? One for me and two for my camera crew?
Lovely, thank you very much!”
Bangkok is well known as a major international centre for the gems trade and every year attracts
thousands of visitors to the Bangkok Gems and Jewellery Fair. This years fair featured
a special pavilion to celebrate the 80th birthday of the King of Thailand. Although there is
a lot to see here, I dropped in for one reason. To see some samples of the wonderful Zircon
that comes from Ratanakiri.
"Now we have heard that Ratanakiri is a depleting source of Blue Zircon, that’s one reason
why we are on our way there and having stopped on the journey in Bangkok to visit the Gem
and Jewellery Fair we're very lucky to have found this one stall which features Cambodian
Ratanakiri Blue Zircon and even more fortunate to have found that its really high quality
- now in this particular one I see exactly what I’m looking for in a gemstone of this
type. Ratanakiri Blue Zircon first of all you are looking for the good colour and this
one has I would say ten out of ten for colour electric blues, swimming pool blues a really
good level of brilliance as well, when you see how the light passes into the gemstone
the faceting on this exact one is so good that we can see how all of that light spills
into the gem and straight back out the top and something else that you see and you must
demand to see in a good quality Blue Zircon is the fire that’s when the light goes into
the gemstone and splits into all the colours of the rainbow and with this, you can see
them in there. The purples, the indigos, the other blues, the greens, the reds, the yellows
all of that colour is coming out and it makes for a particularly high grade example of Ratanakiri
Blue Zircon.
"If it clear, the energy for a gemstone to make you wealthy and healthy increase also"
"ahh - so the clearer the gem, the healthier and wealthier you'll be - if only that myth
was true!"
"Blue Zircon and Zircon in general is becoming very rare is this correct?"
"Yes, because the rough is from Cambodia and Cambodia is very difficult to go inside and
"We're certainly seeing a depleted source of the gem"
"Blue Zircon is one of those gemstones that just invites the viewer right to within the
heart of the gemstone, and its colour is so so vibrant, if you are looking for something
that has a real energy to it, a real attractiveness - Blue Zircon is a perfect choice."
Its also a perfect reason to explore the origins of this most beautiful gem, so I bid farewell
to Bangkok and begin my long journey to Ratanakiri in northern Cambodia.
"Its just after dawn and we left Phnom Penh around about an hour ago we were supposed
to be travelling yesterday, but unfortunately our transport didn’t turn up- today we have
managed to negotiate this vehicle and all being well we should be arriving in the remote
North-Eastern Ratanakiri region of Cambodia around about early evening."
As we head north, the road conditions indicate just how remote my destination is and I’m
constantly reminded, just what a beautiful country this is for travelers, especially
those with a sense of adventure.
By the end of the day though, my driver and I are glad to finally arrive in Banlung and
at the travelers lodge at the edge of a small lake.
"Well that was an exhausting journey, my lungs are full of dust from the roads, but it was
worth it to reach this beautiful region of Cambodia, where I will be spending the next
few days. Tomorrow I’ll be on the trail of some Zircon, but for now, there is only
one thing that I need and that’s a really good night sleep.
"Just going to gab this, because there is a frog in the bathroom are by the wardrobe
and I’m going to get it. Oh now it’s gone into the wardrobe!"
"He's moved out"
Dawn arrives peacefully in Banlung with only the sounds of nature breaking the silence.
While local fishermen take to their canoes in search of the days catch - I board our
four wheel drive and head out of town.
Ratanakiri's pristine environment is making it a popular destination for eco-tourism,
so I decided to combine my search for the source of Zircon with a few excursions to
some of the local visitor attractions. As I discover getting anywhere in this part of
Cambodia is a bit of an adventure but always worth it and there is something really energising
about getting off the beaten track.
On a broad hill, nestled in the jungle not too far from Banlung town a winding trail
leads through lush bamboo forest, eventually finishing at the edge of a picture perfect
volcanic lake. Every bit as attractive as I’ve been told.
It may seem strange at first but I have come here to introduce you to an imposter.
"What do you think is the difference between these two? Well this one is a factory made
cheap synthetic look-a-like - known as Cubic Zirconia. This on the other hand is Zircon.
A genuine gemstone. As you can see its really easy to be fooled. So if you are looking to
buy Zircon you'll want to be certain you are buying a piece of the Earth's natural treasure.
This is Ratanakiri Blue Zircon, rare and beautiful. The other, Cubic Zirconia, merely wears a
mask of beauty and it belongs over there to learn a lesson from nature."
"And if you are going to learn a lesson from nature what a great place for it. Having seen
what sets Zircon apart and how Zircon truly reflects the beauty of nature, I’m going
to a little of Banlung town before I go on search of the Zircon Mines."
This is Banlung, the provincial capital of the Ratanakiri region.
It has the feel of something from the wild west, a dusty town in the middle of no-where,
but with improvements in roads, communications and infrastructure the area is attracting
an increasing number of visitors who come to take in the peace and tranquility of this
dramatic landscape and to experience the culture of the people who live in this harsh, but
beautiful environment. The old and the new live literally side by side in Cambodia, while
a new generation of Cambodians embraces modernisation and the changes now taking place; many customs
and traditions continue. None more so than the belief in Buddhism.
"A reclining Buddha lies here watching over the country that is seeing so much pain suffering.
Now, all is peaceful again, as Cambodia looks towards a brighter future. Beautiful things
come from beautiful places and out there a gem of great beauty is mined."
"Our base camp in the town of Banlung lies within the golden triangle of Cambodia. To
the west, lies Thailand. To the north - Laos and over in the East the Vietnam border and
that’s where we are headed next."
Next morning I head east along the dusty road carved through the jungle, this fine red dust
gets everywhere and into everything - but we are fortunate to be here during the dry
season because when the rains are heavy, these roads become impassable."
"Thank you!"
But the end of the road isn’t the end of my journey and it’s a hot half hour hike
along the perimeter of the jungle before the mine comes into view.
"In Cambodia's remote northeast lies the source of some of the World's finest Zircon. Millions
of years ago, rains eroded the ancient mountains that surrounded this area washing away the
gemstones with it."
"Gradually over time the gemstones were deposited in what is known as alluvial layers of earth.
Today, just at the edge of the jungle miners tap into that layer, just a few meters below
the surface."
"Mining for Zircon has gone on in this general region since about 1960 and for the last year
or so in this spot. When the area here becomes depleted, the miners will then move on and
continue elsewhere."
"Here is today's yield and inside this pot there are several good examples, but the truth
is not all of them will make the grade. But if you are looking for some of the best Zircon
in the World you can be certain it will come from this region."
"The mines in this area seem to become depleted quite quickly, but I’m told that deeper
in the jungle are some new mines which are yielding superb examples of Ratanakiri Zircon.
So that's where I head next..."
Even in gem mining there is a place for local traditions. We arrive just in time to encounter
a local miner performing a ritual blessing with incense and offerings of fruit. The Anamist
belief system holds that everything has its own spirit and these spirits are acknowledged
in all aspects of daily life. This ceremony is commonly performed to bring good fortune
to the miners, but Mother Nature does a good job at hiding her most beautiful treasures
and there is no escaping the difficult work required to find the rough gems, hidden in
the Earth.
Traditional mining methods are still the most effective in this environment. The harsh dry
season here means that the miners have to take a different approach when searching for
"Usually with alluvial mining you will see the miners using water to wash the earth in
order to find the rough gemstone but at the moment its the end of the dry season here
in north eastern Cambodia and these miners are not using water they are just sifting
through the gravel and the earth by hand in order to find the rough pieces of Zircon."
"All the signs I’ve seen in this region while I’ve been here today point towards
the fact that Zircon is depleting, but having just spent about half an hour with these two
miners it seems that they are having quite a lucky day. Every few minutes, they're finding
a piece of rough Zircon."
The yield is somewhat deceptive though because only a small proportion of the rough will
produce a quality Zircon gem but as anyone who owns a piece of Zircon jewellery knows
- its worth the effort and as the afternoon sun starts to fall its time to make my way
out of the jungle and begin my journey back to Banlung town.
The real excitement of Zircon lies in its wonderful colour and fire and what better
place to explore these properties than a visit to one of Banlung's leading gem traders.
"Zircon has been referred to under several different names over the years. Some believe
that Zircon is derived from the ancient Persian word Zargun. Zar meaning golden and gun meaning
colour and just look at the golden colour in these two examples.
Historically Zircon has also been referred to under the name Hyacinth - reference to
its beautiful blues similar to those of the Hyacinth flower. Look at this one.
When considering what makes Ratanakiri Blue Zircon so special, so individual its worth
bearing in mind other gemstones with a similar colour. First of all let’s take Swiss Blue
Topaz. In that gemstone you have got an amazing brilliance or internal reflection of light
and you have also got the electric blue but you don’t have the fire, the dispersion
of light that Zircon gives you. When you have the rainbow colours of purple, blue, green,
orange, yellow and deep fiery red and let’s take another example - Apatite, a very good
choice for collectors if they are looking for something completely different and it’s
got that vibrant sky blue colour to it but Ratanakiri Blue Zircon possesses double refractivity.
Splits the light to really maxamise the brilliance and sparkle you see within the gemstone.
So there you have it. It’s the fire, it’s the vibrant blue colour and its the way it
splits the light to really bring the gemstone to life that makes Ratanakiri Blue Zircon
such a special and individual gemstone."
It’s my last day in Banlung, so I make one more excursion to see some local sights and
explore the landscape that produces Ratanakiri Zircon and to look at some Zircon under natural
light. Where its exquisite properties are most visable.
"and its rivers like this one that millions of years ago would have washed the Zircon
down from the surrounding mountains to their final resting place in gemstone mines today.
On the edge of the jungle surrounded by nature what better place to talk about the beauty
of white Zircon, in fact the Cambodian sunshine is really helping this bring out the properties
of this gemstone and its so easy to compare Zircon to Diamond. Look at the luster, the
brilliance and the fire. All the colours dancing within this gemstone. It really is beautiful."
In fact the word beautiful doesn't quite describe just how captivating Zircon can be, but it
certainly describes the lush environment I have enjoyed on my short visit to Ratanakiri.
As always much of the pleasure we get from gems comes from appreciating the rich tapestry
of landscape and cultures that bring them to us.
I hope you have enjoyed our excursion to the spectacular origins of Ratanakiri Zircon and
I hope you will join us on our next Gems Adventure!
Titles by Barry Kirley