There is no doubt that mining of any sort is tough work whether it is deep underground in claustrophobic shafts, on the surface in searing heat or waist deep in jungle rivers.
Then again, if we could grow gemstones on trees in the back yard they may not be so valued!
But what can we do if we want to buy ‘ethical’, ‘fair trade’ or ‘sustainable’ gemstones? There are around 50 countries across the world with productive mines and some have less than blemish free reputations.
First we have to ask ourselves, “What is an ethical gemstone?”
Simply put, an ethical gemstone would be one that is extracted from the ground with minimal environmental damage by miners who are not exploited or suffering terrible working conditions and the profits are not used to fund war, terrorism or political corruption.
That is a very simplified explanation of an ethical gemstone but it is such a widespread and varied trade that every person involved would have their own story to tell.
Our industry creates a great deal of wealth all along its many processes from the mine itself to the sorters, rough traders, cutters, dealers and jewellers. If we stopped buying gemstones, there are people in these far flung countries that would lose their incomes, with no social safety net.
So, which gemstones are ‘ethical’?
No country is perfect or without some form of exploitation but there are a number of gemstone producing countries which have marked labour and environmental laws where one can feel quite safe in buying.
The most ethical gemstones come from affluent westernized countries which, by law, have to take care of both the workers and the land. But is it more ethical to spend your money in these rich nations rather than the so-called third world countries where regulations may be less strict, but the workers rely on the sale of gemstones for food and shelter?
Families or villagers work together in streams or shallow pits, often using picks and shovels rather than mechanised equipment, which can be quickly returned to arable farm land.
At Amadeus, we have personal contacts with several sources – most notably Thailand, Cambodia,Colombia and Vietnam.
In Thailand and in neighbouring Cambodia, mining is a tough job but is always voluntary and the owners value education far too highly to allow their children to dig for gemstones.
Countries such as Sri Lanka and Tanzania have had troubled pasts but have made great strides forward in their efforts to make their natural resources profitable for everyone yet still sustainable.
In the picturesque jungle clad hills of the Dominican Republic the mines are even open to visitors as a tourist attraction.
We take great pride in our industry, the hard work and enormous skill involved in getting a piece of rough rock out of the ground and cut and polished into a thing of beauty. There is simply no one size fits all solution to this problem, but we can try our best to stamp out the worst practices and encourage the good.
There are very few items purchased in the world today which do not have some sort of environmental impact, from a simple cup of coffee to an expensive motor car, everything we buy has a consequence. We can change our habits to use less plastic, recycle our rubbish and make informed decisions about what we buy.
The political, economic, environmental, ethical issues to consider when buying coloured gemstones are too convoluted to examine in a simple article and the pros and cons are endless.
At Amadeus we have spent several years to scout the most sustainable approach to make jewellery. We are committed to sourcing precious metals from empowered responsible artisanal and small-scale mining organisations who meet world leading standards for responsible practices.