I love coloured stones, more than any other aspect of the jewellery profession, the colour, the vivacious nature and uniqueness of coloured gemstones keeps jewellery alive and unique. However, in my own adventures as a jeweller, it was observing slave labour in garnet mines in Rajasthan that first provoked me to action. I have witnessed what happens when the gem trade ignores the ethical questions in the name of financial expedience. In Greenland, institutional racism, misuse of power, false arrests, confiscations of goods, nepotism, neo-colonialism and abuses of power have all undermined Greenland’s gemmological potential. Anyone in the trade can speak to the hot debates around the human rights deficit in Burmese Ruby, the lack of transparency or standards in the modern gem trade. Indeed I was horrified when I heard a Board Member of Gemmological Institute of Great Britain say in 2015, ‘We don’t do CSR, we only do the science of gemmology’. Divorcing ethics from education in the name of science is a very dangerous and unintelligent practice, as it creates the environment where we can ignore injustice, racial discrimination (as I have witnessed in Greenland), human rights abuses and ecological destruction. Put another way, we could say ‘I don’t care if this stone comes from indentured slave labour, I only do the science’. We should all, and of course do, deeply care about how we treat people.
For Valerio Jewellery the ethics and sourcing of our gemstones is very important. Below is the philosophical framework we work within, which informs how we source our gemstones.
At the centre of the debate in gemstones and jewellery at the moment is ethics. There is no meaningful discussion around ethics unless rooted in truth. This is the philosophical and ontological foundation of all ethical discussion. What is the truth? The principles upon which ethical behaviour, whether individual or collective is three-fold.
1) Ethical behaviour is natural justice, charity and generosity.* Combined these actions both benefit the individual person as well as their community, society or trade. What is important to note here is that ethics do not work effectively in a self-centred, self preferential or selfish environment. Where this kind of negative environment exists, the articulation of ethics becomes a disturbance to the self-preferential status quo and a prophetic call towards more openness, transparency and truth.
2) Ethical behaviour is respect, or put another way, treating people as you would like to be treated yourself. This simple idea translates to every area of life and includes business and the sciences.
3) Ethical behaviour is the idea of utilitarianism. Where natural justice, charity, generosity and respect are present, we can say a utilitarian outcome is possible. An environment and culture where the greatest happiness is achieved for the benefit of the greatest number of people. Surely this is an outcome we all want for everyone in the gemstone world, whether miner, trader, student or staff member. A happy gemstone creates beautiful jewellery that benefits everyone.
The World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO) Code of Ethics – Consumer Confidence
These principles are designed to ensure that best practice is observed in the jewellery industry
We are committed to operating our businesses with a view to ensuring that consumers buying jewellery are able to rely with confidence on the professional and ethical standards and technical skills of the jewellery industry, taking account of the following:
· gemstones are objects of prestige, generally acquired for sentimental reasons and are regarded as an item of value by the consumer
· the consumer has limited expertise about gemstones and consequently, in order to make an informed choice, the consumer is reliant on (i) the standards and integrity of the jewellery industry, and (ii) information from the jewellery industry as to cut, colour, clarity and carat weight and other attributes, including the application of any treatment as described in the CIBJO Blue Book
· the highest professional and ethical standards and technical skills are necessary to ensure that consumer trust is not misplaced and that the reputation of the jewellery industry is maintained and enhanced
· the non-disclosure of treatments, and the passing off of partly or wholly synthetic stones and simulants as natural stones, is contrary to the interests of consumers
· the injury and hardship suffered by local populations (and the potential for it) when conflicts arise in gemstone producing areas are unacceptable, as is seeking to profit from such conflicts.
A Changing Gem World.
Anyone with eyes and ears open will know that the world of diamonds, gemstones and jewellery is changing. Social and digital media is breeding a new consumer awareness of tragedies in the jewellery supply chain. Civil society groups are equally demanding transparency and disclosure are becoming the commercial environment we must all live in. The new world demands gemmology is more than a one-dimensional single issue scientific understanding of gemstones. The ethical nature of a gemstone is as much to do with its social context, and its environmental provenance as it is with its scientific mineral composition. These things are not mutually exclusive, they are proudly complimentary. Education is the primary platform from which this new ethical reality must be embedded. For all the jewellers, organisations and associations that promote the wonder of gemstones, teaching the ethics of gemmology to customers and students is a primary duty of care. Trade Associations in particular should not bury their heads where the sun don’t shine and pretend everything is alright. Promoting a science only approach or dumbing down the unpalatable supply chain truths to protect an economic bottom line are simply living in the dark ages. Consumers see through corporate spin. The questioning ethical customer is the customer I am wanting to attract.
Four pillars of modern gemmology and coloured gemstone jewellery.
Science – The very fabric, mineralogy and composition of a gemstone is a wonder to explore, a natural beauty to behold and should be celebrated. Of course we must talk about the source. If the stone that we scientifically analyse comes from a conflict zone it is profoundly unethical of us to ignore this.
Education – Being ethical is not easy and any one who says it is, is clearly deluded. Students and trade people need to get a firm grasp on the ethical challenges such as child labour, trade exploitation, conflict minerals (yes gemstones are also a part of the conflict trade), slavery, political corruption, lack of access to markets, systemic poverty of gemstone miners e.t.c. Trade and education bodies need to invest resources into developing ethics courses for all students of gemmology, so we are preparing the next generation of gemmologists and jewellers in the very best practices and supply chain models. This information is not proprietorial, Greg regularly gives lectures and talks to students and jewellers on the ethical foundations of gems and other materials in the jewellery profession.
Supply chain traceability and transparency – We engage in supply chain issues, mine to market traceability is best business practice in jewellery. This is the new and emerging currency in jewellery, and there is no gemstone industry without the jewellery buying public. As jewellers who is better placed to champion colour, the mineralogical of the sources the ethical nature of the origin of denomination. Valerio Jewellery is all about traceability and transparency. We will always tell the truth about our gems stones, treatments and the provenance.
Consumer communication – Of course we must be consumer champions for coloured gemstones. What does the consumer look for? What questions should the consumer be asking the jeweller to make sure the very best quality of purchase? What information does the jeweller need to sell with integrity coloured gemstones to the public? These and more are all issues material to an ethical best practice in gemmology. I do not want to be one of those jewellers who dazzle a customer with stories of science, mineralogical perfection and intensity of colour to then distract from the truth of the horror of the source. This is unethical practice. What we need to prevent this, and of course to strengthen the jewellery story is a fair trade gemstone process, similar to that in Fairtrade Gold.
Greenland Ruby & Diamond Cluster Engagement Ring
To conclude, the beauty of gems and jewellery rests in their unique ability to bring raw unadulterated pleasure and happiness to people. As a jeweller this is my job and through Valerio Jewellery this is what I aspire to. When I buy a gemstone for a piece of jewellery I am asking the happiness question. Is what I am buying bringing happiness to my customer, my supplier and the mining community from whence it came. We should all gain benefit from these treasures of the deep and allow the true light to refract through our profession from mine to retail.
*These are Aristotelian Virtues.