ETHICAL GEMSTONES - WHERE WE ARE
As you're probably aware the issues behind sourcing gemstones ethically are complex - where the politics are OK, the environmental impact may not be or there may be human rights issues. It is impossible at the moment to guarantee every one of these will be OK for each gemstone, given the difficulty of tracing them down the supply chain, although thanks to the Kimberley Process we can be very sure that we'll never be using conflict diamonds.
This doesn't mean we should just throw up our hands and not do anything. Within the jewellery industry we all struggle with the choice between buying only from westernized countries where we know the labour laws are up to scratch and rigorously enforced (although there is generally a higher environmental cost from heavily mechanized mining techniques) or conversely trying to find people who are doing a good job in less developed countries.
What we and our gem dealers keep coming back to is that there are people down the line who won't be able to eat if we don't keep buying gemstones from them. When you've travelled to some of these desperately poor places and met the people who depend on artisanal mining and the production of gemstones to live, it doesn't seem so ethical to only buy diamonds from Canada for example.
Whilst there is no such thing as a Fairtrade gemstone, one option that has recently become available is gemstones mined under fair trade principles. This answers a lot of questions for us because we know they come from projects that are improving their environmental standards, labour practices and health and safety in mining and cutting, as well as insuring that the miners are paid fairly and their community benefits. We are able to source sapphires, spinel, ruby, garnet, peridot, tanzanite and tourmaline which have been sourced from suppliers who work on fair trade principles and who do all they can to ensure their stones are from ethical sources... and this list is growing!
If the practice of mining worries you then we do have alternatives, including using what we call '"recycled" diamonds which have come from pieces of jewellery that are too old and damaged to be repaired. We think of them as having been pre-loved and relish the opportunity to give these gemstones a new lease of life. We can also use synthetic gemstones which have been laboratory grown.