Amethyst Stone from Uruguay
Amethyst stone in the northern region of Artigas is one of the best quality stones in the world and for this reason Artigas was declared the National Capital of precious and semiprecious stones in 2015.
Artigas is without a doubt the birthplace of one of the higher quality amethysts found in the world, yet this activity is not known so much even by the Uruguayan society and from the people from Artigas themselves.
Deposits of Semiprecious Stones
The currently prolific deposits of semiprecious stones, agates and amethysts are found in cavities of basaltic rocks located in the geological units called the Arapey Formation, which stretches along the regions of Artigas, Salto, Paysandú, Rio Negro and Tacuarembó.
Types of Stones in Artigas
Amethysts: It is a variety of quartz that gets its violet by certain impurities such as iron. Their morphology formations with peaks are within geodes in the range of violet colors are the most preferred. The price of amethysts reaches a thousand dollars per kilo.
Agates are a byproduct of the amethyst with an average production of 130 tons per year. Most of Agates have the added value of the artisan workshops of Artigas.
Cavas: In the area there are dozens of cavas containing geodes and exploitation is done by drilling in rock, usually at the base of steep slopes. The operation is done in two ways. 1. Open with explosives detonating in sectors breaking the pocket. 2. Tunneling to reach the stone using a precision tool to look inside and then a special gunpowder detonates its outline without damaging it.
Geodes: Are large oval basaltic rock formation with different stones that are according to its shape. In 2014 a geode of 20 tones valued at US$ 100,000 was found in a mine in Artigas.
Shaping the Industry
The amethyst extraction began as family businesses with one or two employees with difficulty to finance growth but with accumulated knowledge it was able to respond to demands and generate foreign steady commerce.
The level of industrialization of amethysts in the region of Artigas has added value to infrastructure, training human resources, technological improvement in the extraction. Training of the artisanal sector added value for economic activity and will increase exploitation, processing and marketing. In Artigas only, there are actually 40 companies from the mining and extraction employing around 500 people, including extraction and industrialization, a figure that can multiply.
Between 1977 and 1995 raw and processed agates and amethysts were exported to over 40 countries for an amount of more than 10 million. Agatha`s and amethysts production do not follow economic cycles and has increased due to Chinese demand since 2013. The quality of these stones is exceptional. The average production of amethyst is about 75 tons per year. In the past 15 years companies increased exports, from US$400,000 to US$ 21 million annually over the last 10 years. To meet the demand of amethyst they cross the Atlantic Ocean and are being exported to Europe and other continents.
25% of the stones that come from Artigas are industrialized and commercialized within Uruguay. However, the other 75% of raw stones are exported directly to Brazil, the main industrial and commercial world center of agates and amethysts. From there, stones of Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and even Africa are sold to the rest of the world.
There are current trails and tours to the quarries and mines to get to know the stories and process of amethysts extraction in Artigas.
Stories of Success
During the early nineteenth a period of emigration from Germany (Idar-Oberstein) started in the region of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. The Becker family learned of the existence of deposits in northern Uruguay, particularly in the area of Catalan and began to buy amethysts to send to Germany. In 1890 Augusto Becker bought a plot of land in Catalan where they settled since that time and a company Becker-Becker-Schuh was formed. Now the Becker Company is the fifth generation of the Becker family. Currently the mines are still in the old field Catalan and they have diversified and grown. The main products of the company are: agate and amethysts and they are based in Artigas and in Punta Del Este.
The Sityá Quarry
The Sitya family has a quarry located in the department of Artigas in the privileged area framed by the streams Catalan Grande Catalan Chico, Tres Cruces and Cuaró. The Sityá Quarry can be reached by starting from the thermal complex of Arapey, then taking the unpaved roads. Geodes and stones are extracted from this quarry located across the road, very close to the house, then cleaned, equipped, made ready for sale and then transferred to the centers in Artigas.
By Mary Ann Thompson