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.
We have assurances from all our gemstone suppliers that they are not buying from anyone who uses restrictive labour practices or child labour. We generally use gemstone dealers who travel all over the world actually visiting the places they are buying from, and they are experts in small far away conflicts. The goalposts between what is responsible to buy and what will go to fund something undesirable keep changing, but we have built up relationships with people we trust to keep up with this and to do the right thing.
As members of the Responsible Jewellery Council, one of the things we're really excited about is that they are building a process of gemstone certification right through the supply chain, so it won't just be a question of finding people we trust, there will be independent certification of the work that we're doing. The RJC already audits for diamonds, gold and platinum group metals and we feel that this extra step can only improve working practices and trust in the jewellery industry. They started with diamonds, which are the highest value gemstones and so attract the most problems, but because we have always worked with our coloured gemstone suppliers to make sure that the gems we buy for your jewellery are sourced as responsibly as possible, our suppliers will be ready to step up and get certified when the time comes.
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.
We can also source synthetic gemstones. Chemically, these are real gemstones but they have been produced in a laboratory in the space of weeks or months rather than deep underground over the course of millions of years. They tend to have good clarity because there are no impurities present while the crystal is forming and synthetic diamonds can be treated to change into different colours. Some people love them because no mining has taken place but the amount of energy that has to go into creating crystals and then growing them is huge and this can make them more expensive than people expect. We are also wary of this energy use and what it might mean environmentally, and the fact that mining supports millions of people all over the world who often have no other access to employment.
The technology behind the creation of synthetic gemstones is improving rapidly, which means prices are coming down. This is great for customers who don’t like the idea of new mining as it is making things more accessible; however it does mean their jewellery is likely to devalue. We actually have some synthetic diamonds that we have had to reduce in price as their value has gone down already.
We're always really pleased to talk to customers about any of their ethical concerns- if we haven't answered your questions here just ask us!