When Sarah contacted me regarding having a custom ring made, one of her biggest concerns was the sourcing of the materials. Recycled gold is readily available and I use it in pieces which can support its higher cost, but her gem concerns were a murkier subject.
Like many, she knew of the unethical and eco-unfriendly practices of gem-mining, and wanted to avoid purchasing a stone which funded those practices.
While purchasing free trade stones or stones marked as eco-friendly seems like the obvious choice, it isn’t that simple. The world of diamonds and gems is complicated and of dubious transparency, and most of the worlds’ beautiful gems come from areas which are in turmoil, or where work and environmental practices are not what someone else might consider enlightened. Additionally, there is no single international industry authority governing eco and free trade certification.
When I first started goldsmithing I wanted to offer stones of kinder origins, but after researching I came to the conclusion that there simply might not be such a thing. Are there companies which do follow stones from the mine to the cutter? I’m sure there are. But there are also many, many companies who know they can offer stones with such certification for much higher prices, and they create the certification themselves. How does one know the difference? I haven’t figured that out yet. Much like buying free-range or organic products, there are not any industry standards and these terms can mean anything.
Many large gem companies selling stones guaranteed to be ethical, conflict free, and eco-friendly work the same way. They offer stones with these certifications, but when you go digging they also own the companies which provide the certification. For instance, while free trade is a common term, “Free-Trade” is a term trademarked by the company which markets these gems, and they promise the stones have been overseen from the mining through the cutting to ensure ethical practices. The gems are sold through only one dealer, and that dealer is….ready for it? Free-Trade’s parent company, Columbia Gem House. While I wouldn’t accuse them of misleading the buyer, they don’t seem to be answering to any governing body and I don’t know how to gauge the validity of their certification.
So, what can you do? Find a reputable dealer who provides the country of origin for a gem, and then decide if you can live with that country’s mining standards. You could buy a lab-made gem. You could buy a gem with some sort of certification, and hope it means something.
Sarah decided that she wanted a garnet, and the option she felt most comfortable with was using one of the sangria-colored garnets my mother’s oldest friend, Cynthia, brought back from India years ago. Sarah felt a stone which was several decades old was at least not harming anyone or anything now, and she could live with that. I admired that in her purchase she was trying to do right by the earth and others, and I wish doing so was easier and more straight forward.
My mother is thrilled to know one of her stones is being given such a special use.
Sarah wanted a ring similar to the Simple Diamond Ring, but with the garnet set sideways. While she felt she would not be wearing the engagement ring much after she was married, I urged her to let me change the bezel a bit, just in case she might want to wear it more than she anticipated. We went with an angled bezel, which will provide her with a more comfortable fit when worn with a wedding band.
When Sarah saw the ring? She said, “I don’t think I’ll want to take it off!”
I couldn’t have hoped for a better reaction!
National Geographic has explored this subject for years, and as an impartial observer their articles are a wonderful resource for those who are concerned about gem-trade practices. One article, in particular, illustrates the circuitous path gems take from mine to market: an article on the diamond trade here.