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Filtering by Tag: ethical gemstones bay area

What I Learned at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show - the Ethical Edition

Sharon Zimmerman

When I made the decision 6 years ago to expand my designs to include precious gemstones and diamonds, I wanted to make a conscientious choice about my suppliers. And hoo-boy! It was a bleak landscape for those of us seeking ethically-mined and sourced gemstones. It has long been my opinion (and the opinion of others, tbh), that “conflict-free” stones come with some dubious claims. Choosing gems that meet certain criteria means that I ask some variation on the following questions when looking for stones:

  • Know where they come from - are they natural? If so, what country are they from, where they were mined or how they were gathered.

  • If lab-grown, what country grew and cut them?

  • Did the people who mined them get paid a fair price?

  • How much do you know about where they were cut?

Mine-to-Market Stones: all the cool kids are doing it!

With all of these questions in mind, for the first time ever I entered Tucson - The Granddaddy of Gem and Mineral Shows. Nothing prepares you for how massive it is. The whole city turns itself into one big emporium for gemstones, rocks, and minerals. There are the official shows, with all of the official and certified dealers coming from the US, Mexico, Brazil, India, Hong Kong, Kenya and so many others (So. Many.) Then there are all of the sideshows: hotels clear out their rooms to host crystal and geode vendors; there are shows in tents, parking lots, muddy fields, even at gas stations. There are gemstone dealers who aren’t at the shows and you have to make private appointments to see what they have. Decision fatigue is real, and you regret 100% of the gems you don’t buy. Alas, your suitcase is only so big and your budget too.

Ant-hill garnets - these were some of my favorite finds in Tucson

Ant-hill garnets - these were some of my favorite finds in Tucson

Finding the right people, those gemstone dealers who will welcome your questions is a relief. The newest term to hit the industry is mine-to-market. Think of it as farm-to-table, but for gemstones. When you’re in an industry that would love to never talk about the worst parts of your industry, it can be difficult to find the ones who will help to shed light on these dark places. Making jewelry is a joyful act, and I want the materials I work with to be joyful too. It’s the primary reason why I source stones with such strict rules in mind.

The good news is that I found gems! I know how worried you were. My favorite discoveries at this show were the Australian sapphires. They knocked me out. The colors, the sheen, the depth. Oh, and the guy I bought them from lives within 50 miles of mines that he works with. This isn’t abstract for him, he lives within this world, oversees the cutting, controls the amount of waste, and also sells them. He knows where they came from, who cut them, and how much the people mining and cutting get paid.

Australian bi-color sapphires. The colors were un-freakin-real.

Australian bi-color sapphires. The colors were un-freakin-real.

But my favorite find at this show were the Ant-Hill Garnets *record scratch*. Wait, what? Oh yeah. Garnets. Mined by ants. Yes, really. Ants dig underground to build their hills, the garnets are in their way, so they push them up to the surface, the garnets roll down the ant hills and Voila! Garnets that are eco and human friendly and such incredible colors. These in particular were found in Arizona. Designing around these is going to be delightful.

Ant-hill garnets are my new favorite gemstone.

Ant-hill garnets are my new favorite gemstone.

Going to this show gave me a lot of hope for the future of jewelry. So many more designers, producers, gemstone dealers than ever are passionate about getting behind ethical gemstones.


Have a question about ethical gems? Ask in the comments below!

Ethical Gemstones Part Two- What is the Deal With Lab-Grown Diamonds?

Sharon Zimmerman

As promised from our last post, I’ll be talking about lab-grown diamonds in this post and asking--”how sustainable are they?” There’s been hype from Leonardo DiCaprio, Silicon Valley, and millennials, all in support of lab-grown diamonds as a socially-responsible and sustainable alternative that uses technological innovation to produce an identical and affordable option to mined diamonds. And I am totally effing on board! Lab-created diamonds aren’t tainted by the conflict of mined diamonds, and many are created right here in the United States. I’ve been proud to use lab-grown stones for the last five years, but I’m always concerned about where/how my suppliers produce these diamonds that we use in our engagement rings.

A lot of the labs that grow diamonds do not disclose their procedures and "proprietary information". They don’t have to. While the mined diamond industry has come under appropriate scrutiny, the lab-grown diamond industry, still a baby, doesn’t have a current certification, not even one as vague as the Kimberley Process. So some, playing off the label of “lab-grown” are profiting without having to meet consumer expectations in regards to conflict-free status or sustainability practices.

And the deceit doesn’t stop there. Since lab-grown diamonds are physically, chemically, and optically identical, they are being passed off as mined-diamonds and sold at those prices. These fake mined-diamonds are so believable that only trained gemologists, equipped with the most precise instruments, can tell the difference. In my opinion, it's shady when those that claim that lab-grown diamonds aren’t the real thing, bypass the experts in order to sell them as such. For those consumers interested in real lab-grown diamonds, responsible businesses will certify the quality-grade of their lab-grown diamonds.

With mined diamond production slowing down and becoming increasingly costly, I’m curious to see how giants like De Beers, who started manufacturing diamonds in the 1960s, will spin and sell lab-grown diamonds eventually. Right now, De Beers and friends are speaking out against cultured diamonds in defense of their workers. According to them, mining diamonds creates jobs for more than seven million of the poorest people in the world. But I think real concern for these communities might look like preparing them for the inevitable exhaustion of mined diamonds, using higher current wages and training in alternative work. Even Botswana, a country that has experienced relative stability with it’s own diamond trade, will likely exhaust their diamond mines by 2029.

Across the board, transparency and traceability for lab-grown diamonds haven’t become industry standards yet, but I’m super-optimistic that all of us conscientious consumers will demand it. I believe we’ve brought about the changes we’re seeing now and that lab-grown diamonds will continue to evolve to become a real solution for a future shortage.

Next time, I’ll be talking about another option I endorse - traceable colored gemstones. Please tune in, join the discussion on sustainable jewelry, and feel free to get in touch.