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There’s a reason gemstones are so valuable. Not only are they rare and beautiful, they require a tremendous amount of resources to retrieve from the earth.
The average consumer doesn’t know where their gemstone came from, let alone what mining methods and labor practices were used to extract it. That’s because gemstone mining is complex and difficult to trace.
But our customers are not the average consumer.
We evaluate every gemstone we source for environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
Here’s how we select ethical diamonds and colored gems that go beyond merely reducing environmental impact, to helping conserve and restore ecosystems.
To Choose Wisely, Know Your Gem Miners
Inherently mining gemstones in principle are not truly sustainable- they are a limited resource. But there are ways to minimize harm to the environment. When mining operations are not thoughtfully designed, they can pollute air and water, erode soil, and destroy habitats.
In order to identify a gemstone that is thoughtfully sourced, it’s important to understand the various gem mining methods in use today and how they impact the environment. There are nearly a dozen complicated methods used, that fall into one of two categories: surface mining and underground mining.
What is Surface Mining?
Just like it sounds, surface mining includes all methods of extracting gemstones that are near the earth’s surface. The most common methods of surface mining used are open pit mining and strip mining:
- Alluvial mining: deposits of minerals are sifted from a creek bed or stream
- Open pit mining: Layers of the earth are removed to reveal the rock below, and explosives are often used to dig deeper. When the mining is done, the pit typically becomes a landfill.
- Strip mining: After bulldozing the mining area, multiple small holes are drilled through the rock and stuffed with explosives. This is repeated in long strips, eroding precious topsoil and decimating forests and animal habitats.
- Mountaintop removal mining: Entire mountaintops are blasted away to reach gemstones buried inside. The displaced mountaintop material pollutes and alters landscapes and ecosystems.
What is Underground Mining?
While there are many different underground mining methods, they all begin with drilling or tunneling below ground or into a mountain. Next, miners use water, chemicals, explosives, or further digging to access the precious stones.
In borehole mining, for example, miners drill deep holes into the earth and blast powerful streams of water to break up the rock below. A slurry of rocks and dirt is brought to the surface and processed for gems.
Underground mining can cause tunnel collapses, contaminate water, release toxins into the air, erode soil and destroy vegetation. And hazardous chemicals used to extract and process the gemstones can leak into the environment, even harming local human populations.
Three Facets of an Eco-Friendly Gemstone
So how can you know that your gemstone isn’t linked to environmental destruction?
Here are three things to look for so you can confidently find the ideal eco-friendly gem.
1. Locally Managed, Small-Scale Mining Operations
Large-scale mining can lead to all the disastrous effects outlined above. And gem rushes, when thousands of miners descend a newly discovered gem deposit, can trample an ecosystem.
When only the local community is involved in mining, however, the impact is more easily contained and managed. In fact, a small mining operation can have less impact than a fair trade coffee plantation. Often in artisanal mining small holes or areas are opened, then quickly filled in and then used for farming.
But look closely. Even artisanal mining can have a harmful impact if not carefully managed.
2. Restorative Environmental Practices
Erosion, deforestation, and habitat loss are not inevitable. The most sustainable gem mines include a careful plan for restoring the landscape and ecosystem after extraction.
The first practice to look for is land remediation. This includes the removal of hazardous waste and heavy metals from soil and water.
The second important practice is land reclamation or rehabilitation. This involves restoring topsoil and planting native vegetation so the land can be inhabited and enjoyed once again. At Thesis we source from mining operations that consider these principles.
3. A Thoughtful Jeweler
Jewelers with a proven commitment to conservation and sustainability are your best guide. An ethical jeweler has already done the exhaustive research to identify the best gemstone sources and suppliers.
Our relationship with Sheahan Stephen Sapphires is just one example of how we vet our sources at Thesis Gems and Jewelry. Sheahan gives us full transparency into each sapphire’s journey, down to the very river it came from. And he goes one step further to support a gemstone library and laboratory in Sri Lanka that promotes ethical sourcing.
Can Buying a Gemstone Be Good for the Environment?
Yes! If you are a conscious consumer, your gemstone can actually contribute to environmental restoration and community livelihoods.
Something that draws me to gemstones is how long they last. Fine gems that are decades, or centuries old are often being sold at auction houses such as Sothbey’s. They are truly unique in our modern, disposable economy.
If you’re searching for a gemstone you can proudly treasure for a long time, don’t hesitate to reach out. I would love to help you find or design socially and environmentally conscientious piece of your dreams.
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