If you’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio’s controversial 2006 film, Blood Diamond, then you’ll know that many gemstones in circulation have a dark history. Trying to track the origin of historic stones is near impossible and many people still trade illegally. The best way to purchase with a clear conscious is to ask your retailer for transparency and do your research or to purchase from an ethical brand.
In July 2019 I travelled to Bali, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India in search of ethical and sustainable jewelry and product suppliers. After quickly realising that factories in these countries use mostly silver and precious stones for jewelry, I knew that I had to learn more about gemology.
Do you know where your diamonds and precious stones come from?
Brazil, Afghanistan, Madagascar, Tanzania, Myanmar and Sri Lanka are home to the world’s highest quality gems. The United States, India, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Thailand are among the world’s top five gem importers. Ironically, the countries that import the most precious stones also produce the most fake precious stones. It is impossible for a buyer to tell the difference between the two without education. A few years ago, a Dentist was sent to prison for using his surgical equipment to manufacture fake precious stones. With the rise of fake ‘official gem trader’ certificates, it is difficult to know who to trust in the industry and if you mistake a fake stone for a real stone then it is worthless.
The gem capital of Sri Lanka, Rathnapura, offers a one-day gemology workshop for $30 USD with a Rathnapura gemology legend named Rohan. Rathnapura is not on Sri Lanka’s tourist trail. It has tea plantations, gem mines and many surrounding volcanoes however, they are in the business of exporting rather than entertaining. From the time I arrived until two days later when I departed, I did not see one other tourist.
The night before the training we visited a temple where the locals were setting up for an annual festival. The entire town gets together once a year for a celebration at the temple because they believe that if they do not then bad fortune will come to the town. A public holiday was also happening soon in Sri Lanka with it being a full moon, every full moon day is a public holiday across the entire island.
On the day of the training, we went to Rohan’s gem shop, located on the gem trading street in Rathnapura. It takes several years to obtain an average amount of knowledge in the discipline. In one day, I learnt as much as I could;
Looking through the microscope
- Real stones have parallel straight lines.
- Fake stones have slightly curved lines at the ends.
- Real stones will likely have excursions.
- Fake stones can look perfect. *
- Fake stones might have air bubbles.
* Fake stone manufacturers have equipment that can create realistic excursions and the highest quality of precious stones can look perfect.
Using a Gemstone Refractometer
- This tool provides a reliable gemstone classification by displaying a number that associates the gemstone that you are testing with a specific type of gem.
- For example, a diamond has a refractive reading of 2.42 while quartz has a reading of between 1.54 and 1.55.
- Fake stone refractive readings will be inaccurate.
- The number also determines the quality of the gemstone. The closer the reading is to the official classification, the better the quality.
- It is a risky business. You do not know if the land contains any value until you start mining it.
- If yellow sapphire is found then it means pay day. Many other valuable stones are likely to be in close proximity.
- There are numerous health and safety risks associated with working in the mines.
- Some areas that are abundant in stones are illegal to mine. Desperate people are still caught mining in these areas.
- In Sri Lanka, you cannot own a gem mine; you have to lease the land for a 12-month period.
Health, safety and corruption
- Of all gems, rubies may be the most problematic: Ninety percent of those mined today are from Myanmar, and their sale helps to finance the country's corrupt and repressive regime.
- Australia, Sri Lanka, and Malawi implement environmental safeguards and ethical employment practices.
- Child labour is common in the sector.
- Some people believe the practice to be sustainable because of the quality. Meaning that gems last forever so families can pass their special pieces down from generation to generation.
- I did not find any information about if removing the stones from earth causes any harm to the environment.
- The healing and energy meanings associated with gemstones are true on a placebo effect only.
- The placebo effect is defined as a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient's belief in that treatment.
- There is unfortunately no scientific evidence that gemstones have any healing qualities except on a placebo effect.
Following Sri Lanka, I continued my gemology studies in Jaipur, the gem stone, silver and gold wholesale capital of India. I wanted to see the working conditions of the people making the jewelry. Some workers are based on site however some are based out of sight in neighboring towns. Without knowing that the working conditions are ethical, I will not invest in the company.
Finding authentic and sustainable precious stone suppliers is not a quick task and although I feel closer to achieving this, it will take some more time before I can confidently buy and sell diamonds.
See you in the next post!