Going into the Field with The Gem Odyssey

Ground expeditions: This new program takes collectors and jewelers on educational tours of colored-stone mines.

April 2, 2024  |  Sonia Esther Soltani

With the origins of metals and gemstones becoming a burning issue for both the trade and consumers, going straight to the source is an attractive proposition. Enter The Gem Odyssey, a new travel-meets-gemology initiative that offers “educational adventures for those interested in gemstones, jewels and maintaining a sustainable planet.”

The two founders, gemologists Carlos Torres and Laurent Massi, plan expeditions to mines in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil to explore how emeralds, fire opals and Paraiba tourmalines are sourced, respectively. Starting in April, each group of up to 10 people will get the chance to see the gemstones’ retrieval firsthand and meet the artisanal miners behind the operations.

Emerald miners giving instructions before going into the
Chivor deposit.
(The Gem Odyssey)

For pros and private clients alike

The Gem Odyssey tailors its activities to suit the knowledge and expectations of its participants, offering two separate programs: one for industry professionals, and one for private collectors.

“The main goal is the same for both trade and private, which is learning and having hands-on experience about the mine-to-market process for the specific gemstone we are focusing on that trip,” Torres explains. “The difference is, the trade will be more focused on the gemological and technical process, as we will be instructing while we are there. Let’s call it a class of field gemology and enabling networking while we travel.”

Torres expects gemologists, designers and dealers to create working connections with the locals at the mine for future collaborations. As for the lay participants, they will learn from Torres’s and Massi’s vast gemology knowledge, but with a lighter technical touch. “The regular customer goes mainly for the adventure rather than for the professional aspect,” Torres says.

Paraiba rough from Rio Grande Do Norte, Brazil.
(The Gem Odyssey)

A deep appreciation

Massi is an educator, author, and former director of the Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences (AIGS) Gem Laboratory in Bangkok, Thailand, as well as the Gemological Institute of America’s (GIA) Bangkok office. Torres has extensive experience in gemstone procurement and mine-to-market strategies.

What matters to The Gem Odyssey’s founders is that participants come back from the nine-day excursion with “more knowledge and experience than the average individual,” according to Torres.

Seeing how difficult it is to retrieve the gem-quality material used in jewelry will make consumers appreciate the price and rarity of these stones, Massi adds. “It’s a long and complicated chain to turn a piece of rough material into a jewel. Most people only see the finished product at the end of the chain. We will show [them] how this chain begins.”

The remote locations of most mines make them virtually inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t have an established network with the miners. To ensure a fully immersive — and fully secure — experience, Torres and Massi have carefully selected the mines they will tour.

They hope the next stage will be to increase the number of localities they visit. For Torres, the aim is “to be the point of reference for the experience and education of the mine-to-market process. [We want to] increase awareness of how things work at the beginning of the value chain, and keep developing the relationship with the mines we are already visiting.”

Miner carrying a debris cart back inside the mine.
(The Gem Odyssey)

Main image: From left: Carlos Torres, designer Emmanuel Tarpin, and Laurent Massi visiting Colombian emerald mines. (The Gem Odyssey)

This article is from the March-April 2024 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

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Going into the Field with The Gem Odyssey

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