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Gemstones from Afghanistan

Gemstones found in Afghanistan
Gemstones from Afghanistan

Mention the country, Afghanistan, these days and all we can imagine is war, explosions and suffering but this mountainous and challenging nation has a history which stretches back thousands of years and its beginnings are strongly linked to its gemstones.

Of course its geological history is a lot older than a few thousand years. Much like many other hotbeds of mineral resources, the rocks found in Afghanistan are very old - up to a billion years in the making.

Add to this the movement of tectonic plates 40 million years ago, which created the towering mountains and provided the heat and pressure needed to form gemstones, and we have the perfect environmental storm.

The ancient Silk Road that linked China to Europe via the middle-east went straight through Northern Afghanistan and its natural resources including tin, copper and gold were exported far and wide. The Lapis Lazuli found in Ancient Egyptian tombs is believed to have come from the famous mines of Badakhshan, which were in operation as long ago as 7000BC.

Afghanistan may have a very long history of mining for gemstones but it also has great potential for the future if it can find peaceful resolutions to its many problems. We live in hope and present a few details of the gemstones found today in Afghanistan.

Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli has been mined in the high country of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan for thousands of years and this area is still the world's main source of this precious gemstone.

The epitome of a blue gemstone, Lapis Lazuli was used in the death mask of Tutankhamen, it is mentioned in mankind's earliest story, Gilgamesh, written in 2750BC, and spoken of in the bible. Michelangelo used it to color the Sistine Chapel, Vermeer painted the Girl with the Pearl Earring with ground up lapis and Van Gogh mixed oil and lapis to create his Starry Night.

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Easy access to dynamite finally put an end to 'fire-setting', an ancient method of releasing the gemstone from a mountain top. A raging fire would be lit near a rock wall of Lapis Lazuli which would then be doused with water. The sudden change in temperature would cause the rocks to shatter and the quickly retreating miners would return to pick up the broken pieces.

To this day, lovely large, beautifully cut and polished lapis lazuli are readily available, in all sorts of shapes and carvings at very reasonable prices for what is a piece of history.

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We leap from one of the world's most ancient gemstones, lapis lazuli, to its almost polar opposite with the bright pink and thoroughly modern Kunzite. Discovered initially in America at the beginning of the 20th century, named after the vice-president of Tiffany's and worn by the rich and famous to Hollywood parties, you could not find a more contrasting stone.

Despite the differences, Kunzite is found in the same barren highlands of Afghanistan. Kunzite is a pale delicate pink to vivid violet form of the mineral spodumene with the more intense colors fetching the higher prices.

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It is quite plentiful so only the clearest of specimens are faceted into gemstones and they can be found in nice large carat sizes. Kunzite gemstones have a fairly uncommon phenomenon where they seem to display two or even three colors depending on which angle they are viewed from. This is called pleochroism and the gem cutter has to bear this in mind when faceting so as to show off this peculiarity at its best.

This really is an eye-catching gemstone but is generally quite affordable and durable enough to make just about any type of jewelry item.


Morganite is another pink gemstone, usually a bit more subtle in color than kunzite and is a member of the illustrious beryl family alongside such gems as emeralds and aquamarines.

It has an additional link to kunzite as George Kunz was the first to identify this gemstone and he named it after New York financier, JP Morgan, way back in 1910.

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Morganite can range in color from pale pink to violet, salmon or peach and, like other beryls, has a rating on Mohs hardness scale of 7.5 - 8 making it a very durable gemstone.

Its brilliance, luster and excellent clarity make this gemstone ideal for all types of jewelry.


Colombia in South America and Zambia in Africa are the two best sources of emeralds but the Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan is quickly gaining a reputation for some excellent gemstones.

This location in the mountains north of Kabul has been mined for emeralds for thousands of years but it is only recently that good enough quantities are being found to make it economically viable.

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The gemstones found in Afghanistan tend to be of a bluish-green color but when the examples are of a decent size and clarity they can compete with those uncovered anywhere on earth.

As the country hopefully opens up to more business, the prospects for more emeralds to emerge are very good indeed.

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Yet another of the beryl family of gemstones found in Afghanistan is aquamarine. The finest examples of this durable gemstone come in blue hues, reminiscent of the sea, from which it got its name - aquamarine - ‘water from the sea'.

Nearly all aquamarines selected good enough for the gems market are eye-clean, that is no internal blemishes or inclusions are visible to the naked eye. This is especially important as aquamarine tends to be transparent and light in color.

They are available in nice large carat sizes and can be faceted into just about any type of cut and shape.

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The story of Hiddenite's discovery is rather unique and a little strange. Mr. W.E. Hidden was on a mission for Thomas Edison to find platinum for his new light bulb. He got to North Carolina and while he was prospecting the area he was handed a green gemstone by a local man.

Mr. Hidden sent them to be identified and it was announced as a variety of green spodumene (pink spodumene is Kunzite) and named after Mr. Hidden.

Since then Afghanistan has become one of the best sources of this subtle green gemstone with the sparkle that is the envy of other stone types.

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Tourmaline is a very colorful variety of gemstone that is found in numerous locations across the world. It is a durable crystal which is very rarely treated in any way to improve its appearance and comes in a range of prices to suit all budgets.

The tourmalines found in Afghanistan so far have been the pink, green and blue form, including some small but spectacular finds of indicolite tourmalines in Nuristan Province as well as stunning mint green and blue lagoon tourmaline examples.

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Along with the more famous types of beryl found in Afghanistan - emerald, aquamarine and morganite - plain beryl, especially the golden variety has been discovered in various spots.

Golden beryl can be cut into a variety of shapes, comes in nice carat sizes and tends to have excellent clarity at very affordable prices. Its rating at 7.5 - 8 on Mohs hardness scale means it can be made into all types of jewelry.

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Spinel is a relatively unknown but fine gemstone which comes in various colors from many locations across the globe. However ‘Spinel' was also a term used in ancient times to refer to any red gemstone and this led to some confusion with rubies and garnets.

Several rubies from the crown jewels of several royal families around Europe and Asia have turned out to be spinels - the Black Prince Ruby and the Timur Ruby amongst them.

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The better examples were referred to as Balas Rubies and originated in the mountainous region of Badakshan in northern Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, despite the history, there is not too much Afghanistan spinel on the market these days.

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Serpentine is a typically opaque gemstone with a green coloring and a silky finish that can sometimes be a substitute for jade. It is often composed of a group of different minerals which can create veins and spots of different colors on the surface.

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So there we have a selection of Afghanistan's finest gemstones. There are a number of other stones which have been found in this landlocked and often troubled country such as ruby, sapphire and garnet. However as yet sufficient enough quantities and good enough quality material cannot be found on a regular basis for us to include them, yet.

This country's geology does suggest that in the not too distant future even more gemstones will become available.

Quick Guide to Afghanistan Gemstones

Gemstone Color


Light Blue


Golden Yellow




Light Green



Lapis Lazuli



Light Pink




All Colors


All Colors

  • First Published: December-08-2020
  • Last Updated: December-09-2020
  • © 2005-2021 all rights reserved.
    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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Gems are always measured in Millimeter (mm)

Dimensions are given as;
length x width x depth,
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Select gems by size, not by weight!
Gem varieties vary in density, so carat weight is not a good indication of size

Note: 1ct = 0.2g

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