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“Have You Seen a Bolivianita?”

“Have You Seen a Bolivianita?”

 “Have You Seen a Bolivianita?”


IT WAS a little room that we squeezed into, and we did not expect to find anything extraordinarily beautiful. A young jeweler looked up at us from his well-used workbench, which was littered with tools and sketches. We told him that we were looking for jewelry.

He was friendly, and when we told him of our own attempts at making jewelry, his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. He began explaining his craft and showing us some of his creations. He is a talented jeweler. Then he asked us, “Have you seen a bolivianita?”

A New Appearance

Noticing our puzzled expressions, he pushed aside the debris on his bench. Then he carefully unrolled a black velvet cloth, giving us our initial glimpse of faceted bolivianite gems​—deep purple at first glance. But when we held one up to the light and looked into it, we saw the glimmer of gold. This is the unique beauty of bolivianite, a fascinating combination of purple amethyst and amber citrine in the same stone.

Bolivianite (bolivianita, in Spanish) is a trade name for ametrine. It was first marketed openly in 1989. When we heard that Bolivia, where we live, is said to be the world’s only significant source of natural ametrine, we wanted to see where this rare but affordable stone comes from.

An Adventurous Voyage

Visiting the mine turned out to be quite an adventure. In Puerto Suárez, near Bolivia’s border with Brazil, we boarded a little boat with an outboard motor for the 100-mile [150 km] trip northward up the Paraguay River through the Pantanal. We  were amazed by the wildlife​—egrets and jabirus in the air, alligators in the water, and otters playing on the riverbank.

We arrived six hours later, and then we took a four-wheel-drive truck to the mine. Some 120 people work there. Two engineers kindly offered to show us around. The mine covers about four square miles [10 sq km] and has numerous shafts, some almost 200 feet [60 m] deep. The engineers explained that they use the traditional mining methods of drilling and blasting, but once they reach the pockets of precious stone, they extract the crystals by hand. They send the mixture of raw stones to the processing plant, where 18 percent of them are turned into gems. The rest are formed into beads, spheres, and prisms. Some pieces are carved into sculptures, and other chunks are sold as ornaments just as they are.

A Cavern of Crystals

We donned gloves and hard hats for the descent into the mine. Using flashlights, we went down six flights of wooden ladders, descending in a shaft to a depth of about 65 feet [20 m]. When we came to the end of a winding tunnel, we gasped in amazement. We were gazing into a chamber measuring 13 by 10 by 4 feet [4x3x1 m], lined with purple-and-gold-colored crystal. The mine owner plans to preserve it as a natural wonder. It is one of the most beautiful sights we have ever seen.

Just how two colors come to be in the same crystal is not completely understood. It seems that as the quartz crystals were forming, some change occurred in the geochemical conditions, temperature, radiation, or pressure. Gemologists skillfully cut and polish the stones so that both colors are included in each gem.

It was an unforgettable trip. Remembering that isolated mine and the effort required to extract, cut, and polish the gems makes us appreciate the beauty of bolivianite even more.​—Psalm 104:24.

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A miner examines a crystal

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Crystal-lined cavern

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Crystal extraction

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A faceted bolivianite gem

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All photos except cavern: Minerales y Metales del Oriente, S.R.L.

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Gems: Minerales y Metales del Oriente, S.R.L.