Moment of Clarity
Now more than ever, jewellers are committing to responsible sourcing via supply chains as lucid as the gemstones themselves, says jewellery editor Rachel Garrahan.
Photographs by Nadine Ijewere. Styling by Poppy Kain
It was not only the cherry-red radiance of the rhodolite garnet that Anabela Chan fell in love with when selecting gemstones for her latest collection. It was the wide, toothy grin of Prisca (who prefers to give her first name only), the artisanal miner in the remote Umba Valley region of Tanzania, who had pulled it from the earth.
It is rare in the jewellery industry to know much about a gemstone's origin, let alone co be able to trace its journey all the way to the person who discovered it. Stretching back thousands of years, the gem trade is one of the oldest in the world and it has always been famously opaque. A single stone is likely to pass through many hands and many countries, from miner to cutter to polisher to an entire network of dealers before it lands in the hands of the jeweller.
Chan's discovery of Prisca was made possible thanks to Moyo Gems, a project that provides female artisanal miners with vocational training and a fair mine-to-market price for their stones, allowing them to build safer, more viable businesses and improve living standards for themselves and their communities.
It is one of a growing number of positive steps being taken in the jewellery industry to improve supply chain transparency and sustainability. It's about time. The irony is that fine jewellery, which re lies on miracles of nature for its inspiration and its value, has too often blighted the planet and the lives of its inhabitants in the process of its creation.
In a global jewellery market estimated 10 be worth £230 billion, there is a growing demand among consumers to be able to make ethically sound choices just as they do with the clothes they wear and the food they eat. As in other industries, however, greenwashing is widespread. The term "ethical jeweller" is bandied about as a loose, sometimes misleading, marketing tool.
"If you overclaim, you pull everyone down," says Pippa Small. Helping people has been at the heart of Small's brand since its launch more than 20 years ago, long before it was de rigueur to be seen as ethical. She works closely with artisanal miners and craftworkers from vulnerable communities in places such as Afghanistan and Peru. This provides them with not only a job but an invaluable sense of pride and identity. "None of us needs jewellery but it supports the lives of many millions of people around the world," she explains.
"If we can continue to push for better, safer processes where people are paid fairly, and we stop poisoning the environment with things like the mercury used in gold mining, then it can have an enormous impact."