We’re collaborating with Christina T. Miller Sustainable Jewelry Consulting to bring a series of writings, each building on the next, to expand on what we know about jewelry and how it’s made.
COVID-19 has been changing our approach to work around the globe. Because of this crisis, we wanted to highlight some of the people all over the world who bring colored gemstones and gold to the market. We sat down with Rachel Dery to speak about Gem Legacy and the charity’s quick response to support those most in need. We’re sharing the conversation in two parts; stay tuned for the second story.
Do you have a favorite gemstone? Perhaps it is a blue sapphire, a green emerald, or maybe a brilliant purple tanzanite. You may know that it’s an heirloom or associate a special memory with it, but have you ever considered the real journey of your gemstone? The truth is, your gemstone traveled a long way across the world, passing many hands and taking on different forms, before finally reaching your treasured piece of jewelry.
In this piece, we will take a look at the first step of a gemstone’s journey: the mining of colored gemstones.
You might be surprised to find out that a majority of colored gemstones (between 70-80%) are mined by artisanal and small-scale miners. These are everyday people who participate in the trade to sustain their daily needs. An artisanal miner might also be a farmer, a mom, a community leader, or a young person looking to start earning money. It’s pretty hard to describe artisanal and small-scale miners in one way, but what they all have in common is difficult and labor-intensive work, often with few tools and little support in terms of financial and legal resources.
Artisanal and small-scale mining occurs in countries all across the world, primarily in South America, Africa, and Asia. Many of the countries where colored gemstones are found face high levels of poverty, and one of the main reasons that millions of people participate in this exhausting work is to provide enough food, water, and other essentials for themselves, their families, and their community. Mining is not just for men! In fact, depending on the location, between 20-40% of artisanal miners are women.
Imagine spending your day walking miles to a mining site in a remote area, where you labor for hours with limited resources and simple hand tools in hopes of uncovering a colored gemstone. You may make this journey and put in this effort every day for weeks or months until you find something. Once you find the colored gemstone, which will be in its rough form, it may be difficult to tell if the trader will buy it from you. You may use all the money you have on hand and travel more than four hours to reach a trading center. If the material is purchased, you will have enough money to get home and provide food for your family for a short time. If not, you may be in even more dire straits than when you started.
Experiences like this are the reality for many of the 41 million people directly engaged in artisanal and small-scale mining around the world. The life of an artisanal miner is often very difficult. Because many artisanal miners are informal workers, there can be a lack of information available to them regarding how gems are formed in the ground, what the best mining practices are, and how to identify the best way to profit from the trade.
Every industry is working to improve its business practices. For the jewelry industry, this means looking closely at the way we source materials like gemstones and gold so we can ensure that the people who mine and produce these materials are paid fairly, work under safe conditions, and are treated like the valued members of our supply chains that they are.
The gemstone trade is important in supporting the daily livelihoods of people all across the world. Members of the jewelry industry are working to continue improving their sourcing practices so that the way they purchase and use materials supports the wellbeing of these miners and hopefully creates long-term benefits. When miners are paid fairly and work under safe conditions, there is money to support their ability to feed their families, pay school fees, and contribute to community development, including healthcare and social services.
It matters where and who you purchase your gemstones and jewelry from because every purchase is an opportunity to buy from businesses that can prove their commitment to ethical sourcing, because otherwise you just don’t know.
Robert Goodman Jewelers is committed to supporting artisanal mining communities by working with sustainable designers and giving to organizations dedicated to helping artisanal and small-scale miners. One of Robert Goodman Jewelers’ key suppliers in this work is Anza Gems, which works closely with several mining operations in East Africa to purchase gems directly from the miners and donates 10% of its sales to Gem Legacy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting artisanal mining communities.
In Part Two of this story, we will share more about the work of Gem Legacy and details about how artisanal and small-scale gemstone miners in Tanzania and Kenya are handling the COVID-19 crisis.
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