With Enji’s newly released sapphire rings and earrings, you might be wondering about the stone’s ethical background. Ever since princess Diana chose her stunning 12 karat sapphire wedding ring, the magnificent blue gemstone has been making a strong comeback in the jewelry industry. With the sapphire gaining popular momentum and emerging ecofriendly trends, there has been more demand for ethical sapphires than in previous years. But, where exactly do these little gemstones come from? Who produces ethical sapphires? Enji is here to explain it all.
Before we dive into sapphires, it is important to understand why the ethical and sustainable movement hit the gemstone industry and why it is important today.
As you may know, diamonds rose in popularity rapidly around 1938 due to a marketing campaign for diamond engagement rings. With this rapid rise in demand many companies sought out ways to decrease costs and raise profits. The term “blood diamond” first came into play during the bloody civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, Republic of the Congo, and Central African Republic, where diamonds mined under brutal conditions were being used to fund these conflicts. These inhumane practices gained more attention and lead to a public outcry for more sustainable and ethical diamond mining.
However, the slow changes in diamond regulations led consumers to decide to find more sustainable options to diamonds. Including lab created diamonds, colored gemstones, and synthetic stones. This movement also helped bring more awareness to sapphires as an ethical choice.
Sapphires have an advantage that diamonds do not have and are in general more traceable than diamonds. Diamonds are difficult to trace back to their origin due to the many mines in existence and the routes they take around the world on their journey from a rough diamond to the polished and faceted ones you see in jewelry. This makes it almost impossible to know where that diamond came from and while only an estimated 1-5% of diamond in the supply chain actually fund wars and conflicts (making them actual “blood diamonds”), you still can’t be certain what conditions the stones were mined, transported, and cut under.
Sapphires, like many colored gemstones, on the other hand tend to come from small and independent family mines and therefore are easier to trace than diamonds. This means that with each sapphire purchase you likely support a local family and business. Supporting these small mines is crucial for stimulating their local economy.
It is also unpopular to create synthetic or lab created sapphires, so any sapphire you buy is most likely natural. Natural sapphires can also cost less since many lower quality sapphires can be enhanced by heat treatment.
This doesn’t mean that all sapphires are ethical as there is always a risk, but it is a step in the right direction.
Some of the most popular sources for sapphires are Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar. Sri Lanka is the preference of many ethical companies because this is where the government has the most control over gemstone regulation. This site to also has a strong preference because the sapphires are mined by family owned businesses or small companies.
The reason there are many small operations is largely since Sri Lanka favors small operations over large companies and automated machinery. GIA stated that “Mining licenses in Sri Lanka are regulated by the National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA). Of the more than 6,500 licenses issued in 2013, more than 6,000 were for pit-mining operations using traditional methods. The remainder went to river and mechanized mining,” this means that the large companies are not competing with small mines.
More smaller mines mean less large-scale mines that destroy and disrupt the land, surround communities, and fuel wars. With each license application miners must give a cash deposit. These deposits are returned when the mining is complete, and the land has been restored. Any deposit fees left behind are used to rehabilitate the land.
Another source that is preferred by jewelers is natural Montana mined sapphires. The sapphires from Montana are not your traditional mined gemstones. They are often collected from a river with little impact to the environment.
The reason the environmental impact is low is due to natural weathering processes. Unlike traditional mines where you must dig to reach sapphire deposits, Montana relies on alluvial deposit. Alluvial deposits happen when a large portion of sapphire is exposed to weather processes which break up the stone. These smaller portions end up in rivers, streams, and lakes when it rains. Any one mining for sapphires or minerals must adhere to the strict Montana guidelines. And to top it off, it supports local industry as most sapphires mined in Montana are also cut in the US, so they don’t have the same carbon footprint as stones that travel all around the world, from the mine, to the cutting facility, to the dealer, to the jeweler and then to you.