The Jewellery and Stones of Afghanistan

Turquoise Mountain

The Jewellery and Stones of Afghanistan
Afghanistan has a rich history of gem-cutting and jewellery-making, with many traditional practices still used to this day. There is a unique style of jewellery associated with each tribe, which can be easily identified and distinguished.

Afghanistan’s mountains are rich with mines of semi-precious stones such as emerald, ruby, lapis lazuli, garnet, and tourmaline. The abundance of these stones has made the cutting, polishing and faceting of gems, as well as the wearing of jewellery, an integral part of Afghan culture.

Lapis Lazuli
The province of Badakhshan in northeast Afghanistan contains the world’s largest concentration of lapis lazuli ('lajaward' in Persian). One mine in particular, known as Sar-e Sang, is over 200 miles long.

Lapis lazuli has been mined in Afghanistan since at least the 4th millennium BCE. Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman civilisations all obtained lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. The blue stone decorates the funeral mask of Tutankhamen - lapis defines the eyebrows of the pharaoh’s mask - and ceremonial weapons found at Troy.

Since the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli has been exported to Europe. Artists used to grind the stone to make ultramarine, a highly prized pigment. Painters would use this valuable blue colour in depictions of the Virgin Mary’s clothing and Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer used it in 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' (1665).

Using lapis lazuli to create the colour blue for traditional painting.

Lapis can be easily polished and used to make jewellery, boxes, mosaics, and other ornaments.

The Panjshir valley, a few hours' drive north of Kabul, is nestled in the foothills of Himalayas. It is famous for emeralds, which have been mined there for centuries, and for being the home of Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Emerald deposits are thought to spread over an area of 150 square miles in the Panjshir. Since no formalised mining system exists, hundreds of manmade tunnels worm through the valley created by small groups and families of miners.

Panjshir emeralds are of excellent quality and are highly prized around the world. Even though the quantity of mined stones remains small, the industry generates an estimated $10 million per year. Afghan miners use dynamite and drills to remove the black shale that holds the emerald-bearing quartz. This process damages many of the emeralds. Over the last few years, improved mining methods with safer mineshafts and open pits have both reduced the use of explosives and made working conditions safer, yet mining remains an poorly regulated industry.

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