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The Issue with the Promise of ‘Ethically Mined Gemstones’

Published date: 07 June 2024

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As the trend for semi precious gemstones has reignited across the jewellery market in recent years, fuelled by a growing community of crystal and healing gemstone enthusiasts, with it has come a slew of new terms, one of these new favoured claims attached to gemstone jewellery is ‘ethically mined gemstones’.

Whilst we are loving seeing the rise of gemstones in jewellery and the beautiful additions these make to designs, what’s the truth in these terms? Are they genuine indicators of ethical sourcing, or merely marketing ploys designed to deceive consumers into a false sense of ethical consciousness?

The concept of ethically mined gemstones has filtered down from the precious gemstone mining industry which has sought to introduce a change in sourcing precious gemstones.It encompasses the principles of social responsibility, environmental sustainability and fair labour practices throughout the entire supply chain. Ethical mining seeks to address the significant challenges that have long plagued the fine gemstone industry, including issues such as child labour, unsafe working conditions, environmental destruction and conflict financing. Aiming to ensure that the extraction and processing of gemstones respects the rights and well-being of local communities, preserves ecosystems, and upholds ethical standards in all aspects of production.

Despite the promise of ethically sourced gemstones, there are significant challenges and complexities in the semi-precious market which makes these ethical statements in the marketing of gemstone jewellery near impossible to prove. Issues such as lack of standardised definitions, difficulties in tracing supply chains, the large geographical source area and range of semi precious stone types available, through to the number of partners required to process gemstones from source to market. What are the real chances of jewellery marketed as containing ethically mined gemstones being truly ethically mined? And what does this mean for semi-precious gemstones?

Understanding Ethical Mining

Ethical mining has come about from the precious gemstone industry where the mining of one stone for example Diamonds, had become tainted by stories of mass corruption, drug cartels and illicit practices, with the exploitation of the source market both ethically and environmentally. With huge sums of money at stake, the major investors and partners have taken the challenge to make clean their industry. When mining just one valuable material there is huge control available and the money to invest in monitoring the supply

  • The Key principles of ethical mining
    Ethical mining principles encompass a collection of new considered practices from fair labour, environmental sustainability and community engagement.
  • Fair labour practices - workers involved in gemstone extraction and processing are treated correctly, receiving fair wages and working in safe conditions.
    Environmental sustainability - considers responsible conservation of natural resources, minimising ecological impact through practices such as reforestation, water conservation and reduced carbon emissions.
  • Community engagement - meaningful consultation with local communities, to ensure the industry respects their rights, traditions, and cultural heritage, whilst also fostering socio economic development through education, healthcare, and infrastructure projects. chain from extraction to end consumer.

The Complexities of Ethical Sourcing

Considering the entirety of what ethical mining concerns, when we apply this to the semi-precious gemstone market, very quickly the issues can be identified.

Commercial gemstones or semi-precious gemstones, are sourced worldwide, and some specific stones maybe available from multiple continents, take the ever popular Rose Quartz it can be found in Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar to name a few locations, even Spain has deposits. 

There are also a multitude of different mining methods across the industry depending on the nature of the deposit and the gemstone, often gemstones maybe mined as a by-product of a bigger mining industry, through to small deposits being mined by locals within a locality. 

It maybe easier for large scale mining corporations to prove they are following ethical mining practices, but for smaller mining operations, the cost of this level of requirement would likely see the process becoming unfeasible to maintain operations and can even be beyond a small teams abilities to adhere to, due to the countries they exist in.

Once mined the stone is usually sold into the market and may exchange hands multiple times as it crosses the globe before reaching manufacture for cutting into cabochons, facets or gemstone beads. It can often be the case that gemstones ending up in manufacture were mined many years ago and have come to market as the supply is waning and the material value increased.

Challenges in tracing gemstone supply chains

Now consider the ramifications of this across every single gemstone available in the market.

There is no singular standardised production protocol or certification system in place due to the multitude of countries from which gemstones are sourced, and the intricate, multi-step journey from extraction to manufacturing is challenging to document. Gemstones originate from various geopolitical states, often from less developed countries, adding complexity to the process. Furthermore, the cost of implementing such a system would likely surpass the value of the gemstones involved. 

The complexities of the supply chain, diverse extraction methods, routes to market and manufacturing, origin countries, and certification process costs all pose significant barriers to demonstrating ethical mining practices.

Greenwashing and misleading marketing tactics are increasingly prevalent in the jewellery industry, especially as sustainability becomes a selling point. However, it's essential to scrutinise the origins of these claims, particularly in the finished jewellery market. By the time jewellery manufacturers receive cut and finished stones sourced from various locations worldwide, it becomes challenging to trace their journey through multiple hands. This situation often leads to suspicions of greenwashing. While some of the largest brands are making efforts to verify the supply chain and mined origin, this remains a small fraction of the market. Moreover, even when verification is provided, it may only pertain to certain stones, such as quartz, which can be dyed to imitate natural varieties or create fashion colours. Such verification efforts often focus solely on sourcing, with little emphasis on ensuring a fully ethical process.

Another concern is the potential for jewellery manufacturers to claim the use of ethically mined gemstones to end-users who may lack knowledge of the complexities involved in the supply chain and production processes.

Can any element of the supply chain be verified?

As gemstones progress through the stone processing and cutting stages, it becomes increasingly feasible to assess their ethical credentials. This final step before market distribution is subject to growing regulation, with businesses required to adhere to environmental and ethical standards. Notably, the regulation is particularly stringent for Chinese cut gemstones, as detailed in our recent blog post about our visit to one of our gemstone cutters. However, it's essential to acknowledge that not all stone types may undergo cutting under these regulated conditions. Moreover, many wholesalers continue to source goods from the market place and with no paperwork on path to market, this information is lost, also other countries in which stone cutting may occur may not have as regulated practices.

Ethically Sourced Gemstones
Some brands are focusing on this end stage of production and may use the term 'ethically sourced gemstones' to market their gemstones with, this appears to ascertain only to the cutting of gemstones by a certified manufacturer, but this can be quite misleading to the consumer suggesting the whole route to market is governed. 

Consumer awareness and responsibility
In addition to relying on industry regulations, end consumers can take the initiative to conduct their own research into gemstone origins and production practices. By exploring which countries are primary sources of specific gemstones and researching the prevailing working conditions and regulatory frameworks in these countries, consumers can gain valuable insights into the ethical practices upheld within the mining process. This informed approach empowers consumers to make conscientious choices and support ethical sourcing practices that align with their values.

For those who are uneasy about the lack of supply chain information in the sourcing of semi precious gemstones, exploring alternatives to natural semi-precious stones is an option worth considering. 

The synthetic stone market is experiencing steady growth, presenting remarkable alternatives to natural gemstones. Cubic zirconia, for instance, mimics the vibrant hues of natural precious gemstones, offering a cost effective and ethically sound alternative. Lab created opals showcase a mesmerising play of colour at an attainable price point, providing an attractive option for jewellery enthusiasts. Additionally, synthetic versions of various gemstones are increasingly gaining traction in the fashion jewellery market. Moreover, as the cost of lab created diamonds decreases, they are poised to become a viable option for the lower priced segment of the gemstone market. These synthetic alternatives not only offer a reasonable alternative to their natural counterparts but also alleviate concerns regarding ethical sourcing and environmental impact.


We remain very wary of the term 'Ethically Mined Gemstones', our knowledge of the industry from over 50 years buying and supplying gemstones leaves us with many questions of any claim to the ethical status of semi precious gemstones. Even claims of ethical sourcing requires further questioning due to the vagueness of this term.

Despite growing awareness and efforts to promote ethical practices, significant challenges persist within the semi-precious gemstone market. The lack of standardised definitions, difficulties in tracing supply chains, and the diverse geographic sources of gemstones all contribute to the complexities involved in verifying ethical sourcing claims. It may be in time that more common gemstones are able to be certified to some extent, but the full and varied variety of semi precious gemstones would be difficult to ascertain due to the costs and processes involved.

Furthermore, the prevalence of greenwashing and misleading marketing tactics underscores the need for greater education and accountability within the industry. While some progress has been made by larger brands in verifying the supply chain and mined origin, this remains a small fraction of the market, leaving many consumers misled about the true ethical credentials of the gemstones in the market.

However, by educating themselves about gemstone origins and their respective source countries environmental & employment practices, buyers can make informed choices that align with their own values. Additionally, exploring alternatives to natural semi-precious stones, such as synthetic gemstones, offers a viable option for those concerned about the ethical implications of their purchases.

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