Responsible Jewellery Part Two - Gemstones
The blockbuster movie Blood Diamond highlighted the fact that some diamonds distributed by otherwise respectable companies had actually been mined in war zones in Africa, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Ivory Coast and Angola, funding militia and wars.
In 2003 the UN-sponsored Kimberley Process created a tracking process for diamond roughs to curb the trade in conflict diamonds..
If you’re buying small amounts of diamonds, it is almost impossible to determine exactly which mine your diamonds originated in, because most Mining Companies (eg. De Beers) will aggregate their stones from many mining areas/countries before they distribute them to cutters and dealers worldwide. However buying from a reputable dealer, with a solid and regular supply-chain should give you the confidence that these diamonds have been charted through the Kimberly Process, and are conflict free.
For more provenance, Canadian Diamonds and Australian Diamonds will fit the bill. The Canada Mark assures that a stone is conflict free and will come with a certificate of origin.
Most diamond mining takes place in large scale mines in Africa, Russia, Australia and Canada.
There is no denying that large scale diamond mining is very destructive towards the environment in regards to deforestation. Large scale mining also involves using huge bulldozers and excavators to extract the diamonds. In addition, they might use chemicals and explosives in the extraction process.
On the plus side, these large, often multi-national, companies are bound by (and frequently have to publicly disclose performance against) various international health, safety and environmental standards (such as the UN Guidelines and the OECD Due Diligence), and each mine employs tens of thousands of people.
80% of coloured gemstones are mined in small or artisanal mining operations. Profits in these instances are more likely to go straight back to the local families and communities, with a lot of the funds being channelled into education and schools as well as hospitals in the area.
These mining operations have minimal environmental impact, for example, using local trees to build scaffolding to climb into the mine (usually less than 10 metres deep), which then gets back-filled once mining in that spot is completed. There is far less use of chemicals in the mining of coloured gemstones too.
There is nothing like the Kimberley Process in place to certify coloured gemstones as they progress from mine to market, But, simply put, the shorter the supply chain from mine to jeweller, the less chance of funds being misdirected.
Many of my gemstones have a full provenance all the way from the mine to me. I feel this makes a wonderful story of each gemstone’s journey from discovery to design.
The shorter and more transparent the supply chain, the easier it is to source from mines that:
pay a reasonable wage for the miners
establish and maintain a minimum hiring age
prioritise environmental rehabilitation and reclamation
and adhere to strict health and safety standards
fair working hours
Lab Created gemstones:
Whist simulated stones offer many benefits over the physical impact of mining, it isn’t a clear cut option. Firstly, the miners who eke out a living by small-scale mining would ultimately suffer. As would their families and communities.
Also, in some instances, the production of simulated diamonds and gemstones uses more energy than a mining operation would use to extract the same quantity of material.