Columbia Gem House Fair Trade Gems
While people in general seems to be fairly aware of fair trade as it relates to coffee, chocolate and other foodstuffs, fair trade gems have been slower to catch on. People are familiar with the issues facing the diamond industry thanks to documentaries, the movie "Blood Diamond" and the Kimberley Process but colored gemstones (except for the recent attention given to Burmese rubies) have stayed out of the spotlight. At the recent AGTA Gemfair in Tucson, Arizona I had the chance to hear Eric Braunwart of Columbia Gem House give a presentation on fair trade gemstones.
What makes fair trade stones covet-worthy is that they are closely tracked from mine to market to ensure that every gem has been handled according to strict protocols. The protocols include environmental protection of the mining sites as well as fair labor practices at the cutting and jewelry factories. On the mining level, the gem buyers work with the mine workers, who often live close to the gem deposits, to leave as much of the surrounding area untouched as possible and reduce the impact on wildlife habitat, streams, watersheds, and groundwater. After mining they pledge to restore and replant mine sites to as close to original condition as possible. Columbia Gem House has a cutting factory in China, where workers are paid three times the minimum wage and also receive room and board, a food allowance, paid vacation, overtime pay, medical, disability and unemployment insurance and an annual bonus.
The stone shown above is a 3.29 carat Nyala ruby which is listed at $27,965 learn more about this type of stone after the jump.
Because Columbia Gem House has control of a gem from the mine to the finished jewelry design, they can guarantee that no chance of undisclosed treatment or synthetics slipping through the cracks. The Nyala rubies and sapphires are promised not to be heat treated or fracture-filled (filling in marks in the stones with glass or other materials).
Another fair trade brand from Columbia Gem House is the Cortez Pearl. Many pearls come from Japan, Tahiti and other areas in the South Pacific but these pearls are saltwater cultured pearls from the rainbow-lipped Pteria sterna oyster, native to Mexico's Sea of Cortez. These cultured pearls aren't available in strands because there simply aren;t enough of them yet but they are used in beautiful jewelry as shown above (the 18K yellow gold pave pendant has a suggested retail price of $2,616 and the 18K yellow gold ring sells for $3,000). The shimmering untreated black pearls have helped to result in a new set of aquaculture laws to bring back the marine diversity in the Sea of Cortez.
In his presentation, Eric Braunwart stressed that Columbia Gem House's decision to invest in fair trade stones was not just an altruistic gesture. As jewelry has been edged out more and more by other luxury products (gadgets, designer shoes and purses, etc.) having products that encompass sustainability principles may be a way to lure some consumers back. Being able to purchase a beautiful item that also does good in the world has become increasingly important to today's consumers. It then falls to the consumer to complete the equation by being willing to ask for fair trade gemstones and to, in some cases, be willing to pay a little bit more for jewelry that has been created in an ethical manner.