Cash and Treasures: Digging for gems in Brazil

The last two weeks of The Travel Channel’s Cash and Treasures on Wednesday night haven’t included kids at the dig sites, a quality I was impressed by early on. Still, I continue to be hooked into this show. This week, I stuck around for the back to back episodes because host Kristin Gum headed out of the United States for points south in what worked as a double feature. Normally, the first half hour show satisfies me. The episode right after the first usually has a totally different theme.

Episodes: Digging for aquamarines, morganites and more.

What are they? Gems that can be worth beau coups bucks. Aquamarines range from dark green to a light blue, like clear water. Morganites are light pinkish. Gum found an aquamarine worth $3,000 and a morganite worth $1,481, once they were cut and polished.

Location: In the mountains and hills of Southeastern Brazil before the jaunt to Rio de Janeiro for the cutting and polishing. The first episode was shot in Governardor Valadares in the state of Minas Gerais at the Jaco Mine. The second episode was at the Rio Doce Mine near Rio Doce.

Getting to the Jaco Mine involved first taking a train and then a jeep on an unpaved road with 32 switchbacks. The bonus of the effort, besides the gems, was the gorgeous scenery. Gum was given mining tips by the mine’s owner and his son. The snaking tunnel of the mines where the walls shimmered turned up nothing, but once Gum sifted through the tailings using a large screen, she found several aquamarines. One of them was large piece that was turned into the $3,000 beauty. The others were the type you’d put in a collection and were not considered valuable.

Even though finding an aquamarine most probably will happen at the Jaco Mine, as the son said about looking for gems, “It’s gotta be hard to be good.” You’re also not guaranteed to find a valuable one like Gum did. There’s a reason why quality gems are expensive.

The Rio Doce Mine is owned by Jerry Call, an American who has mining and gems in his blood. His sister owns a mine in North Carolina with the same name. [see Web site] Gum unearthed the morganite in Call’s mine.

Even if you don’t find terrific quality gems, the variety of what can be found in Brazil is astounding. Sixty-five percent of the worlds’ gems come from here. If I heard right, 100% of the different types of gems are here.

During her digs, Gum also found tourmaline and assorted other rocks and minerals like feldspar, mica and quartz.. If you want to go mining in Brazil, the Cash and Treasure’s Web site has a link to Chang Express, a travel agent that the show recommends.

Because the focus of the show is more on what you can mine than the culture of the country where the episodes take place, Brazil wasn’t presented much more than a miner’s delight. There was drinking juice out of a whole coconut, soccer playing and eating various meat dishes that Gum found divine.

Cost of mining: $100 per wheelbarrow