Our first stop in Australia was in Inverell, New South Wales, where the majority of Australian sapphires are sourced. This small town of just over 11,000 inhabitants is located about 320 km southwest of Brisbane.
The area is much less arid than the Outback where we find the opals. There are many farms there, beautiful birds and, of course, lots and lots of kangaroos!
We had the chance to meet John Wilson who operates one of Australia’s largest sapphire mines. It is about 20 km from the city, surrounded by corn fields and wind farms.
The mine employs around ten people who drive trucks, mechanical shovels and other machinery.
Here are the different steps involved in extracting sapphires.
- The first step is to dig the black earth that is on the surface of the soil and then reuse it, once the process is complete.
- Sapphires are found quite close to the surface, about 6-7 meters deep. They were transported by rivers hundreds of years ago. We find them mixed with clay.
- The mechanical excavator takes this clay which contains sapphires and loads it into a truck.
- The truck then dumps its contents onto a large plate, or conveyor, where the pieces of clay are separated with a powerful jet of water. The clay goes through several stages before it is separated.
- Large sieves then sort the crude into three different sizes.
- The crudes thus sorted are automatically transferred to a large padlocked box that the owner empties at the end of the day. They are then sent to Thailand where they will be cut.
- All the water used is filtered and dumped into a large basin for reuse.
- After the process, the remaining soil and clay are loaded into a truck and returned to the hole that was originally dug. Then the black earth is returned to the surface.
- The field is now ready to receive new seeds. As the land has been turned, it is more fertile and the new crops are even better.
In the age of ethical and environmental awareness, it is important to consider choices that respect your values and those of your customers. Australians share very similar values to Canadians; the good working conditions they offer, as well as their environmental awareness, make it possible to market ethical sapphires, but above all relatively affordable!