More and more people are inquiring into the origins of stones, where do they come from and whether they have an ethical provenance.
This article is continuing my collaboration with the wonderful supplier of precious and semi-precious stones Pierres de Charme. I'm happy to share with you this post by Pierres de Charme.
This is the first part and it will look at the jewelry ethics concept and introduce you to three producing regions in Tanzania as an example of how the concept works in life.
The concept of ethics
- Moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity.
- The branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles.
When it comes to jewelry and precious stones, several aspects come into play.
1) Human aspect:
- working conditions;
- fair wages;
There are mainly two types of workers; small artisanal and independent miners and those employed in larger companies. Independent miners are often in charge of their own safety and they sell their produce to local merchants or big cities.
Employees of larger companies or those of larger scale production often benefit from a more stable salary and better prevention mechanisms. With regard to age, it is to be considered that several producing countries have a different notion of adulthood than North America or Europe.
2) Environmental aspect:
- use of water and other natural resources.
Many foundations act to protect wildlife, and governments also enforce laws to protect national parks and other natural resources. There are practices that can help our planet become more fertile, as in the case of Australian sapphires (see August 2018 newsletter).
3) Political aspect:
- governments of the day.
Some people confuse "blood diamonds" with the gemstone market. The production of coloured stones does not contribute to the financing of armed conflicts. It may also happen that a customer will favour certain origins depending on the political conditions.
Tanzanites come from a tiny piece of land near Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. In 1990, the government decided to separate the small territory into 4 different zones - A, B, C and D.
Today’s rules imposed by the government are very strict. Although the area is small, the mines can be very deep and that's why 65% of the mines are not producing at this time. Only block C, attributed to Tanzanite One, and block B, which includes several independent mines, sare till active. All workers entering and leaving the mines have an ID card and are frisked when entering and exiting the premises.
Minors, mostly local, make up 80% of mine workers. The other 20% is made up of engineers, geologists, landowners and others.
All workers have health insurance, fair wages and good working conditions. The mines operate on two shifts of 8 hours each. Many investments have been made to improve the ventilation systems needed for mine operations.
Spinel and malaya garnet
It was in 2007 that the first rough spinel of the region was discovered, when a farmer was planting his seeds and his machine stumbled on a huge red rock weighing nearly 52 kg. This region is known for producing the finest spinels in the world of an intense red or pink colour. Spinels are found ten to fifteen meters deep in alluvial deposits. It is also there that we can find the orange-pink malaya garnets.
Today, the region is completely closed and mining activities have stopped; only a few minors risk it out at night to find stones. The government imposes rules that are very difficult to follow. No foreigner can have an office in Mahenge. Locals that are entitled to an office must hire a minimum of ten lapidaries; but the production is so limited that there is not enough work for these ten lapidaries. However, operations should resume shortly.
Sapphire, ruby, spinel, garnet, zircon, chrysoberyl, alexandrite and others.
This southern Tanzania region is supposedly the richest mineral deposit in the world. Stretching along the Muhuwesi, Lumesule and Ruvuma rivers, east of Tunduru, the alluvial deposit produces an impressive amount of gems including blue, yellow, purple, pink and green sapphires, some rubies and some pink, purple, dark blue, gray and other spinels, as well as garnets, zircons, chrysoberyls, alexandrites and much more.
However, production has become difficult because of the law preventing mining activities along rivers. Authorities seem to be more tolerant of individuals who exploit the mines in an artisanal way. The river being flooded 5 to 6 months per year, the hundreds of miners who go in search of stones can do so only when the water level drops.
In Liliondo, near the Serengeti National Park, we find spessartite garnets. The deposit being located very close to the park, the government is particularly strict about where mining can take place.
Calibrated stones and consistency of colour
We do not have the origin of all calibrated stones such as quartz - including amethysts, citrines, smoked quartz, pink quartz, prasiolites - black spinels, and others, because these stones are purchased in large quantity lots. Calibrated sapphires are often sorted and categorized by colour, even before being cut. Stones from a same lot may come from different origins.
Prices and availability
Let’s not forget that ethics can entail a certain cost. Fair wages and investments in prevention and modern machinery also have an impact on prices. When governments create laws that are too difficult to respect, companies can temporarily stop production and reduce the availability, and therefore the supply, of certain stones, as well as investments.
Thank you, Pierres de Charme, for a wonderful material about ethical gemstones!