CEO Bruce Bridges helms the firm and Garnet mines first realized by his father.
By Bruce Bridges, Bridges Tsavorite
As the son of Campbell Bridges, who discovered Tsavorite, I have the privilege of carrying on his work and furthering the promotion of the green Garnet to a global audience of collectors.
My father discovered Tsavorite in 1967 about 13 km from the village of Komolo in Northern Tanzania. He mined at this location until 1970, when the President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, nationalized our mines. After we were forced out, my father traced the Tsavorite strike into southern Kenya in Taita-Taveta county, where he rediscovered the gem in late 1970. We’ve been mining there ever since.
Our claims in Kenya range over an area of approximately 2,000 acres and are most well known for Green Garnet Mines 1–3 and the Scorpion Mine. Both G.G.1 and G.G.3 produce Tsavorite in a variety of shades of green, but most of the material is a lighter tone, and sizes rarely exceed 3 carats. G.G.2 on the other hand, while still exhibiting a variety of tones, was later found to produce large stones in lighter colors. The Scorpion Mine was founded in 1980 and gets its name from the numerous and extremely large scorpions found there. It’s a consistent source of material with a richer tone that is found in larger sizes.
The Scorpion Mine has produced some of the largest pockets of gem-quality material of any Tsavorite claim in the world, including one pocket in 2005 containing over 5 kilograms of top gem-grade rough. From this one pocket the “Scorpion King,” a beautiful medium-dark, cushion-shape gem, weighing 20.20 carats, was cut.
The locations of these mines are remote; they are hundreds of miles south of Nairobi, the capital. Located near the “bush town”—a primitive village lacking modern conveniences—of Mwatate, only dirt tracks exist for travel. In the rainy season many of these “roads” are near impassable.
Most of our rough yields faceted Tsavorite weighing less than a carat. Less than 1% of mined material yields 1-plus carat Tsavorites of fine quality. Of course, on occasion we are blessed with larger gems and in the 5 kg pocket, not only did we cut the 20.20 ct. gem, but we were also able to cut a considerable number in the 3- to nearly 20-ct. range.
A big selling point for Tsavorite is its lack of treatment—none exists for it. Tsavorite is not successfully heated, oiled, fracture-filled, or irradiated to enhance color or clarity. The gems that the Earth yields are completely natural, as nature intended.
Certain times of year offer optimal mining conditions. Those are in July, August, September, and October, right before the long rains arrive in November until mid-January. During the rainy season, it’s difficult to mine because of the washed-out dirt roads and the potential for flooding in the mine tunnels.
We also mine in the dry season, from mid-January through March. While not as comfortable—lack of water is a camp concern—flooding is nonexistent. Still, our water catchment tanks generally see us through April, May, and June, which is when we see the rainy season start again.
Operational challenges include increased expenses due in part to COVID, but also larger macro-economic forces at play. For example, fuel costs have increased considerably. While we try to be as self-sustaining as possible with solar, rainwater catchment tanks, etc., there is no getting around the fact that extremely high fuel prices have greatly affected pricing on everything, from food, mining equipment, and general supplies to transportation. In short, the inflation and rising prices on consumables has made mining considerably more expensive.
Another issue is the government’s lack of mining law enforcement. Lawlessness makes it near impossible for a professional mining outfit to invest in development. Guarantees are needed that the laws of the land will be enforced. We hope the new government—President William Ruto started his term in mid-September 2022—sees the benefit our company has been to the country over the last 52 years and combats Kenya’s gangsterism. Everyone is hopeful—especially us—that he can turn the country around.
The court case for the murder of my father concluded in 2014 with four 40-year sentences handed down to half of the accused. After the verdict, Bridges Tsavorite invested in infrastructure and staffing to improve mining processes and implement new safety measures, all to ramp up Tsavorite production. However, in mid-2016, opposing political influences and the nefarious agendas of the same bad actors all but halted mining efforts.
Still, we retain all employees, many of whom have worked with us for decades. Our Scorpion Mine remains in pristine condition, and we look forward to sharing its treasures with the world again when conditions improve.
Despite the current uneasiness in the sector, we will continue to be the pioneers of professional, ethical, and environmental mining in East Africa. Our family remains the longest-standing colored gemstone miner in East Africa. We set the blueprint and led by example for what it means to be an environmentally conscious gem miner in the region.
Long before the term “ethical sourcing” became de rigueur, we created a mining model with ethics and environmentalism at its core. Blasting these buzzwords out to the media and public has never been our strategy. Rather, we have simply lived by this ethos, which can readily be seen in our operations and has been extensively documented for over 50 years of mining in East Africa.
All the best, Bruce
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