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Ethical Gemstones

Ethical Gemstones Choices
Ethical Gemstones Choices

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 jewelers. 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’?

To help you make an informed choice I have gathered together a few gemstones which should tick most boxes when it comes to ethical, sustainable gemstones.

No country is perfect or without some form of exploitation but there are a number of gemstone producing countries which have marked labor and environmental laws where one can feel quite safe in buying - Australia, Canada, Finland come to mind.

Boulder Opals from Australia

Harsh conditions and strict regulations make digging for Boulder Opals in the outback of Queensland a job for only the most determined. No toxic chemicals and a commitment to rehabilitate the land once it has been mined mean buying these gemstones is good for body and soul.

Boulder Opal Gemstones
Boulder Opal

Howlite from the USA

An hour from Los Angeles in Tick Canyon, Howlite can be picked up from the floor and can also be found in Death Valley and San Bernadino. This polished white gemstone is great for unique handmade jewelry pieces.

Howlite Gemstones
Howlite Gemstones

Ammolite from Canada

This outrageously colorful gemstone is only found in the rocky mountains of Canada and the finished mining areas are returned to their natural state, every layer of land replaced in order, trees and bushes planted so you would not know a mining company had even existed.

Ammolite Gemstones
Ammolite Gemstones

Spectrolite from Finland

Spectrolite is a very high quality form of Labradorite that is only found in Finland. The mine, in Ylämaa, South Karelia, is open to any visitors who would like to see how this beautiful gemstone, which is said to contain the Northern Lights, is extracted.

Spectrolite Gemstones
Spectrolite Gemstones

The gemstones I have mentioned so far 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?

The following gemstones come from countries where small scale or artisanal mining practices are the most common. Families or villagers work together in streams or shallow pits, often using picks and shovels rather than mechanized equipment, which can be quickly returned to arable farm land.

At GemSelect we, or trusted associates and suppliers, have personal contact with several sources in our neighborhood of South East Asia – most notably Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Here in Thailand and in neighboring 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.

Yellow / Orange Sapphire from Thailand

A hundred years ago pepper, tobacco and sugarcane farmers in Eastern Thailand would collect gemstones off the ground as they dug the soil, then sell them by the pound for a few cents. They are a bit rarer and a little more expensive these days but the wonderful orange and yellow sapphires are quite stunning.

Yellow Sapphire Gemstones
Yellow Sapphire Gemstones

Zircon from Cambodia

Just over the border from the most well known mining areas of Thailand, lie the mines of Cambodia. Sapphire, garnet, quartz and more gemstones can be found but the range of Zircons here are fantastic. Blue, orange, red, pink and white colors can be found in this fiery gemstone.

Zircon Gemstones
Zircon 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 where Larimar gemstones are to be found, the mines are even open to visitors as a tourist attraction.

Hessonite Garnet from Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to the finest of the world’s gemstones including the highest quality rubies and sapphires but for an interesting change take a look at the lovely orange Garnets. Traditional small scale mines are less harmful to the environment and provide regular work for the rural population. They are easily and quickly returned to useful farmland when all the gemstones are collected.

Hessonite Garnet Gemstones
Hessonite Garnet Gemstones

Tsavorite Garnet from Tanzania

Recent efforts by organizations such as the Tanzanian Women’s Mining Association (TAWOMA), Pact and Moyo to improve the lives and prospects of artisanal miners in Tanzania have worked wonders. The gorgeous green Tsavorite Garnet is named after the world renowned Tsavo game reserve in nearby Kenya.

Tsavorite Garnet Gemstones
Tsavorite Garnet Gemstones

Tanzanite from Tanzania

In 2020, an artisanal miner working in the Merelani Hill discovered two Tanzanite gemstones weighing a combined 15kgs (33lbs) which he was able to sell for US$3.4 million. He says he is planning to use the money to better the lives of the people in his community although his 4 wives and 30 children may make a dent in those funds.

It is certainly encouraging news that a simple small-scale miner was able to keep the profits of his hard labor and that the money will be circulated within the local society rather than be gobbled up by multinational interests.

Tanzanite Gemstones
Tanzanite Gemstones

Larimar from Dominican Republic

Larimar is the only gemstone found in the Caribbean. Its beautiful blue color sums up the exotic tropical seas perfectly. They are mined in the thick jungles of the Bahorucos Mountains where the government make efforts to ensure the miners’ safety. A school to teach cutting and polishing techniques as well as jewelry making was opened recently in an effort to keep more of the profits in the hands of the locals.

Larimar Gemstones
Larimar Gemstones

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 colored gemstones are too convoluted to examine in a simple article and the pros and cons are endless.

No matter what the adverts or the press releases say it is impossible to trace the route of any gemstone from the rock face or stream bed where it was found through the hands of several traders to the shop window of your local jeweler.

Rest assured we at GemSelect are aware of these issues and, through a network of trusted sources built up over nearly two decades in business, acquire only gemstones with an unblemished history.

Ethical Gemstones Chart

Gemstone Origin

Boulder Opal

Australia

Howlite

USA

Ammolite

Canada

Spectrolite

Finland

Yellow Sapphire

Thailand

Zircon

Cambodia

Hessonite Garnet

Sri Lanka

Tsavorite Garnet

Tanzania

Tanzanite

Tanzania

Larimar

Dominican Rep.

  • First Published: July-11-2020
  • Last Updated: July-11-2020
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    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of GemSelect.com (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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Size and Weight

Gems are always measured in Millimeter (mm)

Dimensions are given as;
length x width x depth,
except for round stones which are;
diameter x depth

Select gems by size, not by weight!
Gem varieties vary in density, so carat weight is not a good indication of size

Note: 1ct = 0.2g

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