Innovative sustainable solutions in the gemstones supply chain in times of COVID-19
“What can I choose to do differently now, today to make jewelry or the jewelry industry better given what I love most about it, what I hope it will become and, what it will be if it were at its best? What can I do now and today?
Start by becoming aware of what is possible. Ask, what does the day hold for me/us? In this, feel your capacity to choose - become aware of that power to choose. This is where you need to be whenever you wish to be ethical - mindful and deliberate about your choice.” Mark R. Wheeler, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, SDSU-Imperial Valley
Professor of Philosophy; Director, SDSU Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs Ph.D.Ethics; Consultant for Ethical Metalsmiths
When I started making jewelry in 2008, established jewelers entrusted me with a list of suppliers, including casters and gemstone dealers. When dealing with precious metals and gemstones it is important to trust the dealers you buy from and I made use of the list without question. A few years ago I started looking at my supply chain with an eye towards sustainability and a recognition that I should be using recycled metals when possible. Additionally I attended talks on sustainability in the fashion industry and became acquainted with the United Nations Sustainable Goals (The Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all). I went to the New York City Jewelry Week round tables on sustainability in 2018 and 2019 where I was provided with a list of resources of sustainable suppliers. It is then that I realized that I should work with like minded people. Indeed “the more agents working towards a trustworthy supply chain, the more trustworthy it will be. The laws are only as good as the people enforcing them.” Mark R. Wheeler, Ph.D.Ethics Consultant for Ethical Metalsmiths As manufacturing shut down in March 2020 and I was confined at home, I listened to webinars on colored gemstones hosted by the people I had met at the last New York City Jewelry Week symposium and in the process discovered initiatives worthy of my support. I realized that by purchasing gemstones from initiatives that partner with Artisanal and Small Scale Mining associations I can be ensured of the provenance of the stone, empower people in the supply chain, support communities and protect the environment. That is an investment towards a more responsible future.
Below is the list of the initiatives I have found:
Nineteen48 (www.https://www.nineteen48.com/) sells responsibly-sourced, fully traceable, ethical gemstones from Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Malawi and Australia. Each stone they sell comes with details of its provenance. When you buy your gems from them, you have the peace of mind that your jewelry will be made with a stone that is guaranteed "conflict free" and conforms to the principles of full disclosure and fair trade. What I love about Nineteen48 is that they provide for calibrated gemstones, and that from their profits, they support charitable causes in the countries they work with such as Sri Lanka.
Moyo Gemstones (https://moyogems.com) is an ethical gemstone collaboration between Nineteen 48 and Anza Gems ( https://anzagems.com/) born in Tanzania. They are working with female artisanal gem miners of the Umba Valley to assure rubies, sapphires, tourmaline, garnets, citrines, and amethysts, from mine to market. The rough gemstones are brought to the United States and cut by renown gem cutters such as Beth Stier (http://bethstier.com/index.html). I recently bought a rhodolite garnet gemstone from them and the gemstone and the cut are impressive! I received the stone with information about its provenance, the name of the miner and the cutter’s name. What I love about Moyo Gems is that they empower women: both the miner and the cutter are women! Women make up 40-50% of the artisanal gem mining work force in East Africa. Yet they fall far behind their male counterparts in terms of access to markets, access to education about gemology and basic business skills, and the price received for their hard-won gemstones. Moyo Gems represents a collaboration of hearts and minds that helps change the status quo for women artisanal miners in Tanga, Tanzania. They empower women miners to work safely, mine better, improve financial security, and create stable, equitable markets for fair trade.
Below are the photos of the stone I purchased and the wrapping paper it came with.
Virtu gem (https://www.virtugem.com/) sources rough gemstones from Artisanal and Small Scale Mining associations in Zambia and Malawi. Mining of colored gemstones is an important part of Zambia’s history, culture, economy, and future. Gemstone mining is done in remote areas and is often the only source of income in the vicinity. Rather than exporting stones as rough, Zambia can better benefit from the gem trade through cutting and polishing locally and exporting finished stones. This can also help create a market locally and enhance the linkage between tourism and gemstone mining. What I love about Virtugem is that they offer rough gems directly to jewelers, with custom gem cutting in Zambia and Malawi. It is a virtual mine to market gemstone sales in times of covid!! In addition to offering a way to keep gemstone sales going, this initiative also provides food and masks to mining communities!
In conclusion the impact of COVID has been severe. With no international buyers traveling to Africa or Asia, revenues from gemstone sales have significantly decreased. Many small scale miners have stopped working due to the pandemic. For some of those who can work, lack of food is hurting their ability to do labor intensive mining work. Small scale miners have been amazingly willing and trusting in transitioning from in-person trading to a virtual trading platform - showing that it is possible to create new pathways for the entire industry to work more collaboratively and engage with trading closer to the source. I invite jewelers and consumers to buy gemstones from the three initiatives and make the gemstone’s journey become what you want to talk about.