There have been question marks hanging over the methods behind the sourcing and production of precious stones in recent years, with the ethics and sustainability of mining a major concern. In past decades, horror stories of the huge toll mining operations have taken on poorer nations – particularly in Africa have left the industry with a rather grubby legacy, and one that certainly follows it around. From unscrupulous regulation and even military enslavement through conflict gem mining, the negative connotations abound.
One mining company that is confronting the stigma and tackling these issues head on is Gemfields – the gem production company to operate with total transparency, fairness and ethical social practices at the heart of its operation. It has been a staunch advocate for local communities that surround its mines and has a firm belief that mining should not be synonymous with the pillage of local communities and resources, but rather the industry as a whole should leave an indelible positivity on the social, cultural and ethical landscape and those its industry comes into contact with.
Gemfields mines for precious stones worldwide, but its home is in Zambia at its Kagem Emerald mines, where currently the world’s richest seam of those intoxicating green gems is being excavated. Emeralds are more than twenty times scarcer than diamonds and are keenly sought after by jewellery designers worldwide – and many firms will do anything to get their hands on this fine and coveted stone. But doing “anything” to source raw materials is what has made mining such a dirty word, but this is far from Gemfields ethos.
Its dedication to Zambia and its people is a real example of a corporate entity making itself wholly accountable to the people and area that makes the industry possible. The stunning Zambian scenery, which is being impacted by the mining operation, has instilled a sense that despite the fiscal value of gems being sourced, it is the intrinsic value of the surrounding environment which is the real treasure, and it must be preserved at all cost.
From the communities around Kagem Gemfields sources over 700 people who are employed in safe, fairly paid jobs. The company has also set up schools, medical centres, an HIV clinic and a farmer’s co-operative to safeguard the surrounding area and ensure a sustainable future for its inhabitants. It is a unique approach to corporate social responsibility set up that tries to minimise the negative impacts of the mining industry – once tainted by ineffectual regulation and its subsequent geopolitical impacts.
With stories of conflict stones and environmental pillage abounding, Gemfields stand on the subject of ethics is as refreshing as it is necessary. Mining companies can no longer afford to be seen pillaging without consequence and Gemfields have decided to set the standard. Working in partnership with dealers and manufacturers, tracking and monitoring its stones throughout their journey to the consumer, Gemfields has the ability to guarantee each of its gem’s provenance to customers, assuring that stones are conflict-free and have come from a company that prioritises the health and safety of its workers and the well-being of their communities, environmental sustainability and the implementation of best business practice.
But Gemfields does much more than simply offer peace of mind to its customers, it actively participates in the communities its mines come into contact with. Gemfields doesn’t simply leave gaping holes to scar the landscape after mines are shut down – instead transforming old sites into lakes, which are then seeded with fish, offering nearby communities steady and clean supplies of food and water. It also builds schools and through the agricultural-assistance programme, is supplying farmers with seeds and fertilisers to help increase their crop yields.
From an ecological standpoint too, Gemfields is innovating implementing new methods and technologies with the aim of becoming a zero-carbon initiative. The mining methods have become much cleaner and greener as a result of eliminating the use of harmful chemicals. Beyond the mines, simpler innovations are proving equally helpful to local communities.
Gemfields does not just explore, mine and market its coloured gemstones but also operates a mine-to-market supply chain. This means that the source of each of its stunning gems is traceable, giving clients the ultimate peace of mind in the knowledge that the purchasing of their jewel has not had negative impacts on local communities down the line.
The company also actively supports foundations whose aims align with their own, particularly with the World Land Trust, an international conservation NGO that buys, preserves and protects threatened habitats worldwide. In partnership with the World Land Trust, the University of East Anglia and London’s Natural History Museum, Gemfields has undertaken the monumental task of identifying, monitoring and conserving the previously unstudied flora and fauna of Zambia’s Miombo woodlands, a region immensely rich in biodiversity, in which its Kagem mine is located.
However, despite its commendable commitment to ethical practice, Gemfields is also making a name for itself on a purely business and jewellery production level, having recently acquired one of the illustrious and internationally recognisable jewellery brands in the world – Fabergé for $142 million. Founded by artisan Gustav Faberge in 1842, Faberge made its name catering to the tastes of noblemen and royalty throughout Europe at the end of the 19th and early 20th century and is perhaps best known for its imperial Easter eggs created for the Tsar of Russia from 1885 through to 1916. The Russian Revolution brought the first chapter of the Faberge story to a violent close. The brand was belatedly relaunched in 2009 and after legal wrangling over the use of the names and trademarks lasting nearly 20 years, Faberge is still one of the preeminent names in international jewellery.
The deal gives Gemfields, this new kid on the gemmological block, a real connection with a historical and heritage rich brand and the perfect forum through which to showcase its stunning range of coloured stones.