Campbell R. Bridges

  • Mining, Murder and Tiffany: The Strange History of Tsavorite Green Garnet

    Tsavorite is a richly colored and multi-faceted gemstone that is increasingly in popularity thanks to its beauty. But there's more to this rare and beautiful gemstone than its dynamic appearance - it has a dark past. One that stretches back several decades and across the African continent. One which centers around a man with a passion for gemstones, a high-end store known for luxury and a violent attack that spawned search for justice that went on for more than 5 years.

    Back in the 1960s Campbell R. Bridges, a gem prospector and geologist from the UK, uncovered a deposit of green grossular garnet he had never seen before. He was, at the time, stunned by its color which managed to be rich and dynamic without losing its transparency. Campbell immediately understood he had found something truly amazing but the path to mining and sharing this gemstone was beset by challenges from the very beginning. He found the first deposit in a small village named Lemshuko, located in north-eat Tanzania. Bridges' find wound up being interesting to other gem hunters and initially he tried to mine more in that location, but the Tanzanian government refused to give their permission.

    Bridges wouldn't be deterred, however, and he followed a hunch that the same mineral deposit he found was actually part of a larger one that he thought originated in nearby Kenya. In 1971 Bridges hit pay dirt again when he was able to find the mineral deposit again and secure a permit to mine the area from the local government. Thus began the world's romance with tsavorite as well as the beginning of Campbell's ultimate demise.

    For the next few years, the gem grew in popularity among gem hounds but remained widely unknown. All that changed, however, once Tiffany & Co. stepped in with plans to market the gemstone to the public. Sir Henry Platt, then president of Tiffany, called the gem ' tsavorite' after the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya where the gem was mined. The marketing was a huge success and today it is considered one of Tiffany & Co.'s “Legacy Gemstones” along side iconic gemstones such as kunzite (named for famed gemologist Dr. George Frederick Kunz) and morganite (named after the Gilded Age financier John Pierpont Morgan).

    Once the public got a taste of this amazing gemstone, demand went through the roof. The discovery also launched the career of Campbell Bridges into the stratosphere. He became a well known gem expert and secured a lucrative consultancy contract with Tiffany & Co. Over time, Bridges built his reputation as a world-renown gemologist and his mining operation grew profitable and expanded in Kenya. He went on to cultivate a large piece of personal and mining property in Kenya and garnered a Lifetime Achievement Award from the gemstone industry.

    But then, in 2009, tragedy struck when a mob overtook Bridges' property and mining operation. He and his son fought alongside several of their loyal workers to try and fight the mob but, ultimately Bridges lost his life after being stabbed. His son, Bruce, was also wounded but survived. The attack was reportedly over some illegal local miners being angry about a man they saw as a foreigner – in spite of the fact that Campbell and his family lived in Kenya for years and were well-known for treating his workers well – stealing what they felt what rightfully theirs. A group of thugs decided to attempt to take the mine by force which led to the violent attack.

    The fatal attack came on the heels of numerous death threats Campbell fielded over the rights to the mines and the precious gemstones they contained. The Campbell family had been to the police several times to ask for help but felt as though they were being brushed off. Eventually, Campbell said he would retain private security but by the time he had made that decision, it was already too late. Campbell and his son, Bruce, knew they were up against men who would stop at nothing to steal the mining rights and on a summer moving in August of 2009, everything came to a head. A mob attacked the property, ultimately killing the man who brought tsavorite to the world.

    For the next several years Bruce fought alongside other family members for justice on his father's behalf. Even though several of the men who killed his father had been photographed and arrested shortly after the murder, the investigation was dragged out and hampered by several political issues, including corruption at different levels. Finally, in 2014, his father's killers were tried, convicted and sentenced to more than 40 years in prison. A small consolation to the family who lost a father and the gem world that lost a leader and visionary with a true passion for gems.

    Today, tsavorite is becoming increasingly popular as more and more people discover how beautiful, durable and versatile this rare gemstone truly is. But few of them realize the price one man – and his family – paid in order to make sure it was something the rest of the world could enjoy. Truly, this is a gemstone worth treasuring for its rarity, its beauty and its dark and troubled history. For people who treasure this valuable gemstone today, understanding the lengths the Campbell family has had to go to in their quest to bring tsavorite makes its beauty bittersweet and even more breath-taking.

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