The Buying Process of Ethical Gemstones
Imagine gathering up all of the gemstones you’ve worked so hard to mine by hand over the last few months, placing them in a bag, and hopping on your local bus bound for another town where local gemstone dealers gather. Here the gemstones that you’ve worked so hard to mine from the earth will be appraised and you will finally be paid for your months of work.
When you get there, so many things can go wrong. You might be told the “global price” of gemstones has dropped even if it hasn’t, payment may be delayed with vague promises of full payment later, or worse, you could be robbed on your way home. You’ve worked hard for months, traveled far, and might still be heading home without a living wage.
Sounds nerve-wracking right? Unfortunately, this is a common story for artisanal miners around the world, one third of whom are women. Too often, the gemstone jewellery we love exploits the person who mined the gemstone. They earn the least of everyone involved in creating that piece of jewellery. Most gem miners don’t have the luxury of a predictable market, and their success is up to the discretion and power dynamics of local brokers.
luxe.zen is committed to changing that. We want to be sure that every gemstone we use in our jewellery helps the miner who mined it live a good life. We’re working to transform the industry by demonstrating good practices and advocating for all jewellery makers to do better, so that we can all feel good about using and wearing crystals ethically.
One way we do that is buying gemstones from women who have an entire women’s mining cooperative supporting them. luxe.zen is proud to be working with Moyo Gemstones in partnership with the Tanzanian Women Miners Association (TAWOMA) and Pact to ensure that every piece of gemstone jewellery you buy enables an artisan miner to earn a good living.
What is Moyo Gemstones?
Moyo Gemstones is an ethical gemstone collaboration born in Tanzania. Moyo works with female artisanal gem miners of the Umba Valley to bring rubies, sapphires, tourmaline, garnets, citrines, and amethysts, from mine to market.
Moyo works to empower women miners to work safely, mine better, improve their financial security, and create stable, equitable markets for fair trade.
Moyo Gems began as a pilot project between the US-based nonprofit Pact, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and TAWOMA. They provide education and a safe place for women miners to sell their gemstones at a fair price. Moyo also uses blockchain technology to track each gemstone from the hand of each miner all the way to the end customer, which is unprecedented in the jewellery industry. Working with trusted partners gives us confidence that we’re bringing you ethical jewellery.
Why should you buy pieces made with Moyo gemstones?
Moyo means 'heart' in Swahili, and making pieces with Moyo gemstones fills our hearts with gratitude for the opportunity to create ethical jewellery that embodies our values. As we began to peel back the layers and complexities of ethical gemstone sourcing, we realized that the challenges are so much more complex than we ever imagined. Miners face unique challenges in every region and “how ethical” material really is can vary. Partnering with Moyo Gemstones helps us do better.
Working to buy gemstones from mine-to-market with Moyo Gemstones is a little different:
- We send our gemstone requests weeks earlier than usual so that miners know what gemstones to bring to market; no guessing games, and less risk for miners.
- Miners come to a safe, private location for the market. Travelling with stones or cash can be risky, and a private, confidential location helps keep miners safe.
- We pay in advance, which means that Moyo Gemstones’ buyers have cash in hand to pay the miners for their gemstones immediately. Usually, miners have to wait weeks for a gemstone to be cut and sold before they get paid.
- If miners prefer digital payments (think Venmo or Paypal, but for rural contexts), Moyo Gemstones does that too! Some miners prefer cash, and some like the security of digital payments.
- All gemstones are tracked from the miner to our hands, which means we can be confident that our gemstones were sourced ethically.
Most importantly, working with Moyo Gemstones means that the miners we buy from earn a fair price for their gemstones. Remember that graph above, that showed how artisanal miners are at the bottom of the pyramid of the jewellery industry, and often don’t earn a living wage from the gemstones they mine? We turn that on its head:
Moyo Gemstones are appraised by qualified professionals, which ensures that miners earn a fair price for each stone. Furthermore, the miners we work with don’t have to pay enormous commissions and fees out of their earnings - there’s just a 5% commission paid to local brokers, as brokers must be used in accordance with Tanzanian law and to prevent sabotage. Pact and TAWOMA deliver business training and support to help miners work smarter and sustainably grow their businesses, including giving them feedback on what stones and grades are being requested by buyers so miners can focus their efforts on what is likely to earn them the best income.
Too often, the jewellery industry does harm to artisan miners. luxe.zen aims to change that. Working with Moyo Gemstones helps us live our values and create beautiful gemstone jewellery you can feel good about. We're so excited to include Moyo gems in our Fall collection!
Finally, through the unique collaboration led by luxe.zen, we’re 100% focused on women! Pact and TAWOMA have created a system whereby women are the centre of luxe.zen purchases. Qualified male miners are allowed to participate in other areas of Moyo Gems, but with our purchases: women are our focus.