While most people are familiar with the notorious “blood diamonds,” the problems inherent in my adopted industry run far deeper. Vast quantities of gemstones are mined under conditions unsafe for the environment and the people working the mines. Most beads and many other gemstones are cut in third-world factories notorious for health hazards and poor working conditions, and smuggling to avoid trade embargos is common. The mining of precious metals is extremely toxic and destructive to the environment.
The solution is not simple, and I cannot honestly tell you the origin of every stone I work with. What I can tell you is the steps I am taking as I learn more, and encourage you to investigate the origins of the jewelry you buy.
I buy all of my precious metals (silver and gold) from US-based wholesalers who buy their stock from US refineries who work only with recycled metals. This means that no new metals were mined to produce my jewelry; all of my metal is recycled. All commercially made charms, clasps, and components used in my work are either made in the US or fair trade certified.
I order or purchase my stock primarily from:
– Fair trade sources.
– Stones that were mined and cut in countries that protect the human rights of their workers (like the US, UK, Germany, etc.).
– Stones sourced from dealers who buy directly in the source countries and examine the mines, cutting shops, and other workplaces carefully to ensure the respect of human rights and fair, safe working conditions.
– Stones rockhounded and cut by individual lapidary artists who create their finished stones as a hobby, business, and labor of love just as I do my jewelry.
This causes an increase in prices but I believe the knowledge that nobody risked their life or health to produce the stone is worth it. I get emails every day from vendors in developing countries boasting of the great deals on gemstones they can give me because they have the lowest possible labor costs – and I delete every one of them. One from a factory in China even referred to the number of workers they owned! Gems and jewelry is an international trade, and it provides income for people around the globe including many small businesses in emerging economies. The trick is to make sure those who mine and cut the stones are benefited rather than exploited.
All of my diamond sources sell only Kimberly process compliant, conflict-free diamonds. With a little more work, I can even find you diamonds mined in Australia or Canada instead of Africa if you feel more comfortable with that.