Three Minutes to Zircon

Gem Journal, Travel

Join us as we reminisce about our recent trip to Tanzania…
We left Babati mid-afternoon and had a luxurious, bump-free 4-hour drive on tarmac southwest to Singida, in central Tanzania. The area is surrounded by mountains known as kopje or koppie, which means “little head.” Africans also refer to these as “naked mountains” since there aren’t any trees or vegetation.

Singida is known for its remarkable supply of Zircon. In its prime during the 80’s the Singida Zircon mine was known as the “Three Minute Mine” since pieces of rough were said to be found every 3 minutes. The mine became mechanized and busy, with plenty of Zircon being found.


Today, mechanization is over, the supply of Zircon has tapered off, and it takes dedicated work to find what used to come easily to the surface. We visited a few mines in an 8-square mile area hosted by Ema, short for Emmanuel, a broker and owner.


Zircon mining at an old river bed filled with water from the rains


One mining area is an old river bed which fills with water during the rainy season. The rains had only just started during our visit, so the miners were thrilled to have some water to “wash” the gravel. These miners are moving several layers of surface dirt before they reach the gravel layer. Zircon is an especially dense stone so it settles deeper under the surface of the earth than other gems.

The stages of Zircon mining in Singida

We’ve seen many women working “tailings” (leftover pieces) at other mines and we have met several female mine owners, but at Singida we were delighted to work with Rehema, who loves to dress well, find Zircon, and smile contagiously. She was so excited to show us their findings.



These dedicated miners work
as a team to unearth Zircons.