Just for a moment, the gemstones slip from Kim-Eva Wempe’s mind. “Do we have enough water?” she asks the others, as Nezio, the driver, inspects the burst tyre of the Jeep and mutters something in Portuguese under his breath. It doesn’t look good. And to make matters worse, a group of urubus, the local red-headed vultures, are hovering close by.
There’d be no problem if Kim-Eva and her team weren’t stranded in the middle of nowhere, along one of the dusty red roads that weave through southeast Brazil. The sun is scorching and there’s no settlement for miles around — the nearest provincial town is 150 kilometres away. It’s the second day of a strenuous, unusual trip organized by Hellmut Wempe, who has been an enthusiast of coloured gemstones for many years. He’s invited his daughter and some close colleagues here to the heart of Brazil, the origin of many of these stones. But it’s not until their journey is over that they will notice the fitting name of their off-road vehicle: the Jeep Adventure.
This is a trip that came about not out of necessity, but out of passion. Kim-Eva and her group are travelling through Brazil for a week, searching for stones with a truly special feel to them. They stop at mines and visit gemstone dealers, but above all they want to see the sources of the beryls, tourmalines, topazes and aquamarines that will one day be painstakingly cut and polished, change hands at trade shows, and ultimately cause jewellery designers to puzzle over how best to preserve their breathtaking beauty. When the Jeep breaks down on the dusty road, they start to realize just how far a stone has to travel before it finally ends up adorning a ring on the finger of a satisfied customer.
When it comes to producing gemstones in every colour of the rainbow, Brazil is unrivalled anywhere in the world. Back in ancient times, most precious stones came from the Orient. Today around 90 per cent of the world’s gemstones come from Brazil. Only diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires used to be regarded as precious stones, while all other kinds were regarded as second-rate or of minor value. This is what gave rise to the term “semi-precious,” which has long since fallen out of favour among lovers of the shimmering, gleaming stones. The first emerald wasn’t found in Brazil until 1963, although topazes and tourmalines have been mined in the country for more than 300 years.
Some of the world’s most coveted colour variations are among these precious Brazilian treasures, including imperial topaz, a stone that sparkles like fine sherry in a glass, and the light blue or green Paraiba tourmaline, one of the rarest gemstones in the world.