The business case for ethically sourcing semi-precious gemstones
One of the biggest surprises jumping into our ethical sourcing journey, was just how difficult it would become to source some of the more common semi-precious gemstone and mineral specimens. In fact, it is relatively easy to find high quality, high value precious stones rough ethically, despite deposits of good quality sapphire, emerald and rubies being geologically more rare than, say, quartz. Why couldn’t we find ethically mined rose quartz?
The simple answer is - no one has really attempted to source it and ethical stone dealers believed no one would pay the premium price that ethical sourcing inevitably requires. Since ethical sourcing at the very least requires fair living wages and additional tracking and handling - rough gemstones would need to be sold at a price sufficient to cover those expenses. The global gemstone market is roughly aligned to the relative rarity of the mineral and the perceived quality of the stone - the rarer stones with perfect clarity and colour fetching the highest market price. There are certainly exceptions to this rule in the market, with some gemstones having better PR than others. For very common and lower perceived value stones such as quartz, the market price is very low, even for premium quality specimens. For example, an artisanal rose quartz miner in Madagascar may earn as little as 25 cents USD per kilogram of rose quartz mined on the open market (McClure, 2019). With this work being both dangerous and labour-intensive, we know the market price is not a sufficient liveable wage for artisanal miners.
So how do we ensure that all types of artisanal miners are treated fairly when the market price is so low for certain gemstones? We simply have to start asking (demanding) that the gemstone material we purchase is traceable and ensures fair labour practices and we must be willing to pay more for that material. If the marketplace shifts toward the consumption of ethically mined material, it will simply be unprofitable to do business any other way. Gem brokers will be forced to shift the way that they work and pay miners a higher price (McClure, 2019).
While collective shifts like this take time there are a few things you can do to build momentum:
- When you are purchasing any kind of gemstone or mineral specimen look for evidence of ethical sourcing - source information, cutting information and ethical commitments on behalf of the brand.
- Stay curious - learn more about ethical sourcing and production of the products you buy.
- Share what you know about ethical sourcing with others, encourage them to consume thoughtfully.
We’re thrilled that we have found a small parcel of ethically sourced rose quartz from Mozambique. This rough was purchased directly from artisanal miners for a premium price by an ethical-minded Australian gem dealer while he was visiting the area. The rough then sat for several years in his shop. He had almost given up on ever selling this material until we emailed him out of the blue having received his name from other ethical gem dealers that he regularly visited and purchased rough from rose quartz producing areas. It was fate! We purchased several large chunks of near flawless rose quartz and had them cut down into smaller pieces for our raw rose quartz styles. It was important to us to offer ethically sourced rose quartz as one of our bestsellers.
Whether a sapphire miner in Tanzania’s Umba Valley or a quartz miner in rural Mozambique, all artisanal and small scale miners deserve a living wage, a safe working environment, and the opportunity for a joyful life.
McClure, T. (2019, September 17). Dark crystals: the brutal reality behind a booming wellness craze. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/sep/17/healing-crystals-wellness-mining-madagascar