Most gemstones go through a massive supply chain before reaching the retailer or designer, and ultimately, you. In most cases, it’s impossible to be sure which country the stone originated from, let alone the specific mine.
Most gems pass through 10 to 15 hands before reaching a jewelry designer or retailer. The journey for a typical gemstone looks something like this:
- The gemstone is mined
- The miner passes the stone(s) onto a Broker. The Broker’s job is to help the miner sell their gemstones. This is often what happens: they will sell the stone(s) for a much higher price than they tell the miner, and they give the miner a tiny portion of the selling price.
- The Broker sells the gemstone to a Rough Gemstone Dealer
- The Dealer sends the gemstone to a Cutter (often in another country) who cuts the rough stone into the finished gemstone. This step is not talked about much in ethical sourcing. Cutting is often outsourced to Thailand because it’s cheaper than cutting locally. It’s cheaper because the cutter is paid less. The truth is, ethical costs more because people along the way are paid fairly.
- The Cutter sends the stones back to the Dealer
- The gemstone is sold to a Trader
- The Trader passes the gemstone to a Broker to sell
- The gemstone is sold to a Wholesale Importer
- The gemstone is sold to another Dealer, usually in the destination country
- The dealer sells the stone to a Jeweler or Designer, who sets it into a piece of jewelry
- If the end of the chain is a large retailer, there will be even more steps involving several manufacturers and distributors
Because of this long, winding supply chain, unethical sourcing and mining practices can easily be hidden – think: labor issues, dangerous working conditions, corruption, and low wages. Also, it makes it hard for the person responsible for mining the stone to a get a fair share of the stone’s sale price. When miners get their fair share, it helps bring communities out of poverty and enrich the areas where stones are mined.
Looking through that supply chain, even at Step 3, when a Dealer buys a stone from a Broker, that Broker can easily make any claims about the origins or ethics of that stone and the dealer has no way (or doesn’t try) to verify the truth. Then, think about the last step in that chain – the Jeweler. They have no way to verify the true origin or mining practices behind that stone after it passes down the telephone line of 10-15 people.
If a jeweler says their gemstones are ethically sourced, but has no information about the origin or sourcing of that stone, be very wary. Oftentimes these Jewelers are taking the word of the dealer they purchased it from, and sometimes they are just claiming “ethically sourced” because it’s what the market wants to hear or conflating with “conflict free” sourcing.
We believe “ethically sourced” has a different meaning than “conflict-free” although the industry often uses these words interchangably.
Transparency is what matters here – we should all be able to purchase gemstones that align with our ethos and that’s only possible if we know the truth behind a stone. When you’re dealing with someone honest that doesn’t know (or can’t verify) a stone’s origin, they will simply say they can’t be sure.
At Gem Breakfast, we always try to source mine to market stones or stones with origin, however depending on the client’s design requirements, it can be challenging. We ask clients to understand that when we say “we don’t know” about a specific stone’s origin, that is the most ethical answer (when many in the industry feel compelled to stretch the truth to appease clients). We all deserve the truth without filter.