Emeralds, rubies, sapphires and other coloured gemstones have seen a surge in price and popularity over the past decade for a variety of reasons – not least due the saturation of the diamond market and thanks to a certain engagement ring presented to the future Queen of England. Indeed, marketers were quick to come up with replicas of the famous betrothal present, with the ‘Kate’ sapphire and diamond rings – both real and costume jewellery – selling like hotcakes since 2010. Such sudden popularity often leads to ‘gem rushes’ – fuelling the US$15 billion-a-year coloured gemstone industry that has often been criticised for a lack of ethical and sustainability standards.
As the 2010 NGO report “Rough Cut: Sustainability Issues in the Coloured Gemstone Industry” showed, the industry suffers from poor working conditions, many gemstones are traded illegally – robbing local communities and nations of their wealth, while mining operations leave environmental devastation in their wake. Meanwhile, a group of researchers has come up with a bold idea that coloured gemstones – thanks to their unique mineral composition that allows traceability to the country of origin – could help fund conservation projects in the future.
As efforts to develop a future mine-to-market system for sustainable trade in coloured gemstones are gaining momentum, here are some examples that demonstrate that rare coloured gemstones do not necessarily come with a rough cut.
A brand of choice for coloured gemstones, Gemfields is committed to tackling the social and environmental issues that are associated with the mining industry, investing in local communities and wildlife conservation programmes in India and Zambia where its emeralds, amethysts and rubies come from. With Gemfields’ emeralds, you will be sure to choose green!
Belmont Emerald Mine
Grupo Belmont is a family-owned Brazilian emerald mine, which uses recycled water for separating gem material from the ore and restores land to its original condition after the mining site had been exhausted. Workers receive fair pay and health care – benefits still unheard of in much of the rest of the industry.
Named after the only country in the world where its limited deposits are found, the tanzanite, reputed to be 1,000 times rarer than a diamond, has taken the coloured gemstones market by storm. TanzaniteOne gemstones come with a certificate that guarantees they have been ethically mined and polished. Furthermore, through its Tanzanite Foundation, the company runs The Maasai Ladies’ Project which provides opportunities for local women who live outside the Tanzanite mining area to make wire wrap jewellery with donated tumbled (more opaque) tanzanites.