The global gemstone business is a multibillion-dollar industry. Yet, even in modern times, there is no independent authority that can verify that each stone is sourced ethically and sustainably. Many suppliers and countries involved are organizing efforts to increase transparency and accountability. But for the time being, if you’re planning to buy a special present for someone you love, it falls upon you to make sure that your jewelry hasn’t been sourced in violation of any social or environmental codes. Here are three options for you to consider.
While there aren’t any Fairtrade gemstones yet, there are suppliers who strive to ensure the quality of their supply chain, working with partners that abide by applicable labor laws and implement responsible environmental practices at their mining sites.
Before making any purchase, talk with your supplier and request for documentation of their supply chain. This includes disclosure of their mining sites and licenses, as well as cutting and polishing facilities. Suppliers should be forthcoming about their efforts to procure only responsibly sourced stones. If you can’t find good documentation to this effect, you may wish to move on to another supplier.
There’s a fairly simple, practical, and traditional way of sourcing your jewelry ethically and sustainably: recycle it. Heirloom pieces and antique jewelry are not only beautiful but can carry a story through generations. If you do have such a piece in your family’s possession, you may want to think twice before purchasing anything new.
Even if you don’t own any heirloom jewelry, you can find reputable dealers who sell recycled gemstones. You might not want to remake anything owned by your mother or grandmother, for instance, but recycled pieces that are “new-to-you” will carry no such sentimental value and can be inset into a design of your specification. While these older gemstones are no more likely to have well-documented origins than freshly mined stones, you can be certain that by purchasing – or inheriting – heirloom jewelry, you have not contributed to any unethical or environmentally unsound practices.
True synthetic gemstones are different from simulants or imitation stones. Also called ‘cultured’ or ‘lab-grown’ stones, these gemstones are fabricated in a laboratory under controlled conditions, which may take up to a month for most sizes. The resulting gemstone is identical in every way to natural stone, except for the absence of impurities – something which can only be detected by trained gemologists with specific equipment.
The lack of trace elements can make synthetic gemstones more attractive to some, due to the increased clarity. Different treatments in the process can also control the hue of the final stone. With synthetic stones, there is no question of ethical violations in their direct creation. And while the raw materials used in their production do need to be mined, these materials are less valuable on their own and already extensively mined for other applications. Man-made diamonds, for instance, have already been used for industrial purposes for decades. Thus the demand for synthetic gemstones doesn’t drive additional harmful mining activity.
Making sure that your gemstones are sourced ethically and sustainably is difficult, but it’s the only way to demand accountability of this huge industry – and know that you aren’t buying your loved one a beautiful present at the expense of our planet and other human beings.