When I ventured out to Namibia last year to investigate ethical gemstone mining I was hoping that a positive outcome of blogging about the experience might be that I make some like-minded contacts in the jewellery industry. That proved to be exactly what happened when Stuart from Nineteen 48 reached out and invited me to a small group of ‘ethical jewellers’ meeting at IJL. What was then an informal group that met to discuss ethical issues within the jewellery industry has now turned into FLUX: Fair Luxury with Stuart as a founding member.
Aside from being actively involved in promoting responsible sourcing and transparency within the jewellery industry Stuart runs Nineteen48, a source of traceable coloured gemstones. Alongside business partner Gary, Stuart work closely with mine owners in Sri Lanka and regularly post about the mining and gemstones production process. By posting regular updates via his blog Stuart gives and insight into what goes into mining gemstones responsibly and the issues that are involved.
Its transparency like this , as well as Stuarts efforts to organise and unite people within the jewellery industry that gives me the confidence to recommend ninteen48 as a source of responsibly sourced gemstones both for trade and private buyers. Transparency is crucial if the jewellery trade really is going to get serious about cleaning up its supply chain. Acknowledging what issues surround mining and showing the world that you deal with them is infinitely better than refusing to even acknowledge them, let alone address them, as sadly is often the case.
Artisanal Small-scale Mining
The mines that Nineteen48 work with are what’s known as ASM; Artisanal Small-scale Mining and in the case of shallow mining and open cast mining has little lasting impact on the environment.
Shallow mining is the most basic type of mining and miners only need dig 1-2 metres below the surface to find ‘surface gem gravel, known as illama. Mining like this has minimal impact on the environment and there is little danger for miners.
Open cast mining is when gem gravel is slighter deeper and the top layers of soil need to be removed, up to several metres. When the gem gravel has been excavated the soil is returned and in a few months the land has been recovered to be re-used.
Shaft mining is also common in Sri Lanka and is used when the gem gravel is much deeper, potentially in excess of 20 metres. The sides of these mines are reinforced with local timber and the wooden supports are known as tattuwa which is placed every half a metre. Being further underground these types of operations can be much more dangerous and the quality of the structure is important.
In Sri Lanka mines are regulated by the National Gem & Jewellery authority who issue mining licences. Although they do good work to promote the Sri Lankan jewellery trade it is still important to know exactly where your gemstones come from as it is still up to mine owners to construction and operate their mines safely.
One of the most exciting things that Nineteen48 offer is the chance to go out and see the mines in action. They have teamed up with tropicalvacations.co.uk to offer a 4 day/ 3 night trip around Sri Lanka’s main gemstone mining areas. As part of my degree course, last term I wrote an essay about the experience economy, a concept that these guys clearly understand.
All the images on this post are of Stuart and the mine in Sri Lanka, for plenty of in-depth articles about how the mines operate the Nineteen48 blog is worth a read
The Nineteen48 team of Gary and Stuart is another example of people coming from outside the jewellery industry and spotting a gap, namely more ethically sound jewellery. I think its telling that two people, who have already been successful in their field, have chosen ethical mining to invest time and money in. Coming from a background in digital marketing, a profession heavily focussed on analytics, I think it’s reasonable to assume that as well as the ventures charitable intentions there is sound data that shows there is a demand for more ethical jewellery. I would for instance guess that they have a good idea of how many people search for terms like ‘ethical jewellery’ or ‘fairtrade gold’ and on google every month and how these searches turn into sales.
Its a stain on the jewellery industries reputation that the people who are driving change in the industry have come from outside. From Greg Valerio MBE, to Alan Frampton ,another person who has been successful in his own right investing in ethical jewellery, these guys have looked in from the outside, spotted a gap and gone for it. A gap left by inaction and denial by those already in the trade.
Change is happening slowly but that fact that people are looking in and identifying ethics as a problem should really serve as a wake-up call to those who continue to ignore the ethics of the jewellery industry. The perception is that the jewellery industry has a problem and for an industry so utterly reliant on image, that in its self is a problem. (not that these isn’t an actual problem)