I love it when a client asks me to design an engagement ring using sapphires. Not only are they beautiful, durable and available in a fantastic array of colours, they are also a good little ethical gem.
Most sapphires come from either Sri Lanka (commonly known as Ceylon Sapphires) and Australia. (Malawi and the USA should also get a mention!). Australia is a known quantity when considering the ethics involved in gem mining. Obviously, there is no child labour, workers are paid a fair price and employment laws are sound. Environmentally – whilst they are always improvements that can be made – on a world scale the practices are pretty sound. Sapphire from Australia tend to be denim blues, steely blues, yellows, greens and parti sapphires (green and blue or yellow and blue). Mining is small scale, often alluvial (panning and fossicking) and often family owned.
Sri Lanka has a long history of gem mining. It is a country full of beautiful gems. Corundum, which is the mineral specimen responsible for ruby and sapphire, is rich in Sri Lanka. It is well known that the best ‘cornflower’ blue sapphires come from Sri Lanka and if you are looking for an ethical ruby – Sri Lanka is a much better choice than Burma.
In terms of the miners – in Sri Lanka traditional methods are still used, miners work in groups called “karahaula”. These groups share profits from all gems found, they are overseen by an “uncle” who provides food, lodging and an allowance to each team member. More than that, each member of the group holds a share of the mine in return for contributing his labour. Child labour has been outlawed in Sri Lanka since 1992. Sri Lanka, whilst it has its problems, is a wonderful example of a gem rich country creating an ethical future for itself.
A special mention should go to an awesome company called Ruby Fair who have taken ethical sapphire and ruby mining to Tanzania. Ruby Fair is a partnership between British jewellers and Tanzanian miners where both the miners welfare, the environment and ecology of the land and the final quality of the gemstones are all given careful consideration. I can source my sapphires safe in the knowledge that both the miners and the land are given due care and reward and I thank them for it!
Whilst a blue sapphire is a thing of true beauty, the other colours of sapphire should not be overlooked. Rich yellows, baby pinks, bright oranges and vibrant purples to name a few – and if you don’t want a diamond – you can always have a white sapphire.