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Buying gemstones in Kenya

Hello All. I will be leaving next week for Nairobi, Kenya. Just
wondering if anyone has any good advise on picking up some stones,
beads, etc. Also would be interested in on buying and
transporting masks. We have friends there who can help us perhaps
with shipping, but would not be in tune with the gem market. With
all of the problems and controversy in this market, any help would be
appreciated. Thanks and keep up the great advise.

Diana Alexander

Dear Diana,

It has been a number of years since I spent three months in Nairobi
consulting to a client who was breaking into the gemstone market
there. Nonetheless I will give you some tips which may prove to be
useful. Nairobi is a major center for commerce in East African gems.
By the same token, that commerce is devious and nefarious and should
be approached with a certain amount of caution, Very little of that
commerce is open and visible.

Traditionally the Thorn Tree Cafe at the entrance to an old hotel
was the principal meeting place of dealers in stones. As I recall it
was located on Kimathi street in the center of town. That same
street has many dealers located in offices in high rise buildings
throughout the area. Some of them deal only in rough and others deal
in cut stones.

My contact there was a man by the name of Mwange ( wahng ee ). He
was a former school teaxher and he speaks good English. He was a
front man for Mumba who was a big dealer in rough. Mwange is a very
honest guy, but Mumba is a hard driving very shrewd guy who will
usually get the best of you. On the other hand, Mumba is so well
connected that if you want something that is otherwise hard to get
he will have it or know where to get it.

Down near the central market building there is an American dealer
who might also be helpful…seems to me his name was David Epstein.
His sign is out on the sidewalk.

The central market is a good place to get beads and other
handcrafted articles.One dealer in particular dealt in antique
artifacts and had a marvelous selectio n of items that are no longer
generally available. Most of the stuff in other booths is pure
"airport art" …cheap crap that is mass produced in factories using
labor that is paid next to nothing.

Downtown Nairobi is a dangerous place and one should never venture
out at night. Never wear any kind of jewelry and never make eye
contact with anybody on the street.

If you really want adventure you might consider traveling to Namanga
on the border with Tanzania. This grubby little Maasai village is a
center for goods smuggled out of Tanzania. It also has a pretty good
selection of stuff from Kenyan mines nearby. There is a large
cafe/bar behind a gas station in the center of town where the
dealers congregate. ( As I recall I think it was called “The Meeting

This town was very picturesque…most of the businesses there
operated out of shipping containers and cardboard boxes with
grandiose signs such as “The Grand Hotel” or “Best Butchers” I
stayed at a so called Motel and Resort, but it was a sad place with
cold showers and grimey mosquito nets over the beds ( They stank so
bad that I risked yellow fever and malaria by not using them ) Their
restaurant served up plat du jour type fare which seemed to me to be
road kill…yuk ! I was awakened one morning by a towering Masai
warrior who held out a bag full of rhodolite rough. I asked him how
much and he uttered a ridiculously cheap price. Being somewhat
apprehensive I gave him the asking price whereupon he broke into a
childlike grin and danced away uttering gibberish and laughter !
During the many times I have been to Africa this was my best
adventure. Do be careful…

Ron Mills at Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca

Obviously you must be savvy about stones and can recognize quality
from trash. The most reputable company I know there (from my days
of leading gem and wildlife safaris) is a company called Benlux.
They’re an upstairs establishment. They had a street level shop at
one time but I believe it has since been closed. I have not been in
touch with them for some time and I hope this is useful.

Be extremely careful on the street; you’ll be an easy target,
especially if it’s known that you are buying gems. Don’t march
around with a fanny pack full of money and/or gems. Benlux can
arrange to ship for you so you don’t have to carry the gems
throughout your trip. You could, alternatively do your shopping at
the beginning and then pick them up at the end on your way to the

I cannot emphasize enough how careful you must be in Nairobi. There
are eyes everywhere. Don’t wear any gold jewelry or any jewelry that
is of value on the street. Indeed, it is best not to wear any jewelry
in public. Chains will be snatched off your neck; earrings will be
pulled from your ears. As a woman, you should not walk alone. Your
friends should accompany you at all times.

If you want to contact me offline, I’d be happy to discuss this with

As for buying masks, you should be aware that there are no masks
native to Kenya so anything you buy will come from another country.
If you buy from a major craft gallery, they should be able to
arrange shipping for you.

Ettagale Blauer

Ron, fascinating tales of Africa. Unless there is another David
Epstein, my friend David Epstein is located in Minais Gerais, Brazil.
He occasionally posts on Orchid. Perhaps he has an other life, about
which I didn’t know.

David Barzilay
Lord of the Rings
607 S Hill St Ste 850
Los Angeles, CA 90014-1718


If you would like to buy authentic Massai beadwork, I would
recommend you contact the Doputo Women’s Group through the African
Conservation Centre. This is a women’s coop and the money they are
making is helping to pay for education for girls (which is still very
rare) and to keep their families on their traditional lands. Yes, the
economy is tough even in remotest Africa, where men are having to
look for work in cities rather than stay in their pastoral

I met them while doing consulting work with the Centre. You’ll love
the Massai ornaments – the men really go all-out (when I was at a
remote village the local fad for ornament–women give the handsomest
unmarried men jewelry as gifts, and fashions are localized and
imaginative–at the time was to incorporate plastic roses into
elaborate raised headdresses…one is tempted to laugh at the sight
of roses on beaded stems bobbing around except they are atop
6-foot-tall warriors carrying spears…).

The contact for the bead group at African Conservation Centre in
Nairobi is Zipporah Wanakuta; the website is The article is under BEADS for

You can check out the website for the coop at



Didn’t see last post but you are correct, David Epstein lives in
Teofilo Otoni, Brazil and has never been to E. Africa. Sent an email
to a friend I do business with in Nairobi. If he is available will
post his name, address & phone.


Continue from:

Hello All.

Just wanted to comment on a wonderful resource I came across in
Nairobi, on my recent quest for gems while in Africa. Our friends
there have a friend, Antony, at My husband and I
visited Lapigems headquarters in Nairobi where they handle not only
sales, but all of the cutting of rough they get straight from their
sources within Africa. Their website is awsome, with pictures of the
rough gems before cutting, a complete history on each stone as well
as certificates on each stone. Antony was a very professional fellow,
representing his family company, which has been in the mining and gem
business in Africa since 1974. The tanzanite we purchased is
incredible, and we were able to view hundreds of stones cut by their
craftsmen right there on site. I urge you all to check out their
website and judge for yourselves at What a great
experience to add to our wonderful trip to Kenya.

Diana in Atlanta, where the air is cooling off and we can feel
Autumn in the air.