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Entering The Ethical Maze

Entering The Ethical Maze

Timber roof supports in the Leadfield mine in California.Photo taken by Daniel Mayer in April 2003. Via Wikipedia Commons.

Last week a student asked me for some guidance on a potential project on Tanzanite.  She sent over a mind map detailing the areas she might cover in this project which included the history, the mining, the marketing, the colouration, the properties, the ethics and the locality of the material… as a start!  Given that one might cover all these aspects in the form of a book, I wrote back suggesting that she narrow her focus to a couple of these aspects and look into them a little more closely before making a final decision. 

She started to look into the ethics behind the material and I soon had another email… “Stumbling across lots of nasty stuff – do I want to go in this direction?”  I asked her what she meant and the reply came “corruption, violence, deaths – the usual!”  My response was that “this is the downside of many of our lovely stones…  Humans do terrible things to other humans in the quest for gold and glory”.  Sadly, this is the nature of men (by which I mean the species, not the gender), and also the nature of the history behind the rise of ethics in the jewellery and gemstone business.  As my student rightly commented later in our exchange, “The devil wears a pretty face”.

Despite her initial qualms, my student decided to look further into this field and came back with a wonderful list of focus points and an excellent project plan about which she was excited to begin research.  Hopefully once written, she might permit us to share it with you.


The Blue Carbuncle

The fact that humans perform atrocious deeds for beautiful things is well documented throughout the history of the world as reflected in art and literature, especially when it comes to gemstones.  As Sherlock Holmes observes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s TheAdventure of the Blue Carbuncle, gemstones and the values that we bestow upon them, together with the human capacity for greed, violence and the mistreatment of fellow men, create the ideal environment for “nasty stuff” to occur. 

"It's a bonny thing," said he. "Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil's pet baits. In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed. This stone is not yet twenty years old. It was found in the banks of the Amoy River in southem China and is remarkable in having every characteristic of the carbuncle, save that it is blue in shade instead of ruby red. In spite of its youth, it has already a sinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide, and several robberies brought about for the sake of this forty-grain weight of crystallized charcoal. Who would think that so pretty a toy would be a purveyor to the gallows and the prison?”

Aside from his questionable gemmology, Conan Doyle was right.  There are a number of diamonds in this world whose history is so drenched in blood and misfortune that they have become reputed for carrying bad luck.  The Hope Diamond (now housed at the Smithsonian Museum) was one such gem.  A number of the owners of this beautiful stone suffered grave setbacks, both personally and financially.  Strangely enough, it too was a blue diamond, but one with a long and intricate history that we will look into another time.


The secret is out.

Alas, there is this side to the industry that we move in, that is now becoming steadily more apparent as more attention is being paid to it.  Miners work in terrible conditions in dangerous areas in order to scrape glittering gems from a muddy gash in the terrain where once there was a beautiful landscape.  If we leave the alluvial mining and look at the mines that are dug into the surface of our planet, we find gaping holes as a result of the open-pit technique of mining.  The aptly named ‘Big Hole’ at Kimberley is one such place.


There is the impact, not only ecologically, but also in the human sense – the conditions of work are dark, dank and dangerous.  Explosives are commonly used in order to release gem-bearing rock.  The number of incidents where miners are hurt in these is not clear, but it is unlikely that there have never been fatalities.  The tunnels through mines are shored up with timbers, but how often do these fail?  Also, for those alluvial miners (those panning rivers and streams with simple equipment), how often do they realise the proper value of their gemstones? 


And then we have blood diamonds…

Also known as conflict diamonds, these are stones dug from areas controlled by forces in opposition to their legitimate governments.  These forces then sell the stones to fund their efforts.  The subject caught everyone’s attention when the supermodel Naomi Campbell was involved in the trial of warlord Charles Taylor in 2010, accused of accepting a pouch of these dodgy diamonds. 

For all of these difficulties, dangers and dark overtones, there is light.  With the continued rise of globalization and the increase in social media, we have a far more informed customer base which is rejecting those materials which have an unsavory background.  The demands of these end users are forcing change in the field. 

Measures have been put into place by concerned bodies such as CIBJO, the UN, and the Fairtrade Foundation.  The Kimberley Process has been in place since 2002 – a system of controls and warranties to prevent and control the use of blood diamonds to fund conflicts.  However, at present, none of these measures is flawless.  But efforts are being made, and hopefully one day we will be able to gain access to those beautiful, coveted materials without collateral damage to people and the environment.


Our stance

Here at ShinyPrettyThings, we are aware, and we are deeply concerned. 

We take these issues extremely seriously and plan all our business activities to have a positive impact on the environment and those communities with whom we trade.

Initially, we will do this by using recycled materials wherever possible; by promoting estate and vintage jewels which have no impact on the current state of the world; and by investigating and increasing awareness in the measures being taken today.

In the future we will use either Fairtrade or recycled gold and gems when we come to making our own jewels.  We will also be looking into initiatives that we can support and promote in years to come. 


While we cannot change the past, we can try to do better in the future.  


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