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Exploring the Ethics of Sapphires: Are They Truly a Sustainable Gemstone?

Updated: Apr 29

It is more crucial than ever to ensure that the sapphires we take from the earth are procured sustainably and in a socially responsible way. Mining practices should be conducted in a way that cares for and preserves the land for future generations to enjoy. The Sapphire Merchant adventures directly to the mining source to hand select our gems, so we deeply understand whether Sri Lankan sapphires have the right to bear the ethical tick of approval. Here is why we think Sri Lankan sapphires are one of the most ethical gemstone choices you can make.

Sri Lanka Ethical Sapphire Mine
Mining operation in Pelmadulla, Sri Lanka. The footprint of no larger than 150msq. Once the mining operation is finished the law requires the mine owner to renaturalise the mine before moving to another location.

Are Sapphires Ethically Sourced?

At The Sapphire Merchant, we take our Sri Lankan Sapphires seriously and are passionate about the industry's future. This importance of ethics around precious gemstones has rolled into the Sapphire and coloured gemstone industry, with customers, especially socially conscious millennials, wanting to ensure that the Sapphire they purchase is ethical. Sri Lankan Sapphires are the most sought-after and coveted coloured gemstones we have the pleasure of dealing with, and we love that they lead the charge in what it means to be ethical.

Sri Lanka Cornflower Blue Sapphire Ring
Sri Lanka Cornflower Blue Sapphire Ring

Sri Lanka does not allow heavy machinery sapphire mining operations:

Nearly all Sapphire mining operations are small-scale, with teams of 10-20 men working within a small mining footprint. Most mining operations are conducted in tunnels or shafts, keeping the surrounding natural environment intact. Government regulations state that open pit mines must be revegetated before the operation moves to the next location. This mining style has a low impact on the natural environment, and local wildlife is unaffected or displaced.

Sapphire mining operations in Sri Lanka do not use child labour:

Child labour is strictly prohibited in Sri Lanka, and mine owners who breach the law face harsh penalties. Child labour is not part of the industry's culture, which is very family—and community-orientated. The Sapphire Merchant has travelled extensively throughout the Sri Lankan mining areas and has spoken with many miners working the job. We have only ever observed teams of men working in sapphire mining operations.

Sapphire miners have a vested interest:

Miners often have a part ownership interest in the mine they work for. This creates high trust between the mine owner and the miners and ensures that the team benefits when an extraordinary find is made.

Sri Lankan Vivid Blue and Cornflower Blue Sapphires
Sri Lankan Vivid Blue and Cornflower Blue Sapphires

The Sri Lankan Sapphire industry is a family affair:

Sapphire and gem traders in Sri Lanka come from multigenerational gem trading families. Due to heavy mining restrictions, the industry is void of large companies. The Sri Lankan sapphire industry is entirely run by small family businesses. The sapphire mines and the gemstone trade support whole communities and feed a bustling economy.

Sri Lanka trailblazes ethical sapphire mining practices:

Sri Lanka leads the way in ethical mining practices, and governments from other nations that run mining operations, such as Madagascar and Tanzania, regulate their industries by applying the rules and regulations that Sri Lanka has as a trailblazer. Sri Lanka has created a sustainable, long-term industry that continues to stand the test of time.

There is no disguising a sapphire's origin:

The origin of Sapphire is easily identifiable by a trained gemologist in a laboratory with the correct equipment. There is no hiding the origin of a sapphire. Unlike most diamonds, the country of origin can be established by tells within the gemstone.

Beruwala Sapphire Market Buying Ethical Sapphires
The Beruwala Gem Market - The largest cut stone market in the world. Nearly all Sri Lankan sapphires move through this market

What is The Kimberley Process, and does it Apply to Sapphires?

The ethical catchphrase evolved from the diamond industry, which has a history of conflict and child and enslaved person labour practices. Since the Kimberley Process (KP) was established in 2003, the diamond industry has had a higher level of regulation; however, there is scepticism within the industry about whether the KP was a clever marketing ploy to cover the problematic diamond sourcing image. The Kimberley Process (KP) is a trade regime established to prevent the flow of conflict (sometimes called blood) diamonds. The Kimberley Process uses a certification scheme that implements a safeguard on the shipment of rough diamonds, certifying them as conflict-free at the early stage of their journey into the market. This effectively checks the ethical box and works as an assurance to the customer. However, even with the Kimberley Process in effect, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint the true origin of most diamonds that enter the global market. The Kimberley Process is exclusive to diamonds and does not extend into the Sapphire and coloured gemstone industry.

Sri Lankan Green Sapphire Engagement Ring
Sri Lankan Green Sapphire Engagement Ring

Regulation Within The Sapphire Industry

GIA (Gemological Institute of America) is the governing body of the coloured gemstone industry, and this organisation is integral to the gem industry and how it is regulated. GIA has dedicated field gemologists who document and study prospective gem mines and working mines. They liaise with government agencies and mine owners, compiling information, reporting, and publishing papers. Most who work within the industry agree that there is still work to be done around protecting the environment and ensuring that mining conditions and remuneration for work are fair.

Blockchain Technology For Tracing Sapphires

With the early development of track and trace blockchain technology, there is hope that the Sapphire and coloured gemstone industry will eventually adopt a system that allows the journey of a gemstone from mine to retailer to be clearly documented. This technology has the capacity to create a digital and decentralised ledger following the journey of the gemstone as it moves through the gemstone pipeline. Blockchain innovation for gemstones and jewellery is happening within the industry, and a system like this would further increase the ethical standard of Sapphires and allow for total transparency throughout the supply chain.

Sapphire is an Ethical Engagement Ring Gemstone

When selecting a Sri Lankan Sapphire for an engagement ring, you can be confident that the gemstone is ethical. Sapphires are an extrodinary coloured gemstone, vibrant, brilliant and with their own unique character and charm. Follow this link to learn more about why Sapphires make the best engagement ring gemstone.

You can have confidence when buying a Sri Lankan Sapphire:

When you purchase a Sri Lankan sapphire, you can be confident that you are making an ethical choice. Your purchase supports numerous small businesses within the gemstone supply chain, and you can also be assured of responsible mining practices with little to no environmental impact. A Sri Lankan Sapphire is an ethical choice!

Buying Ethical Padparadscha Sapphire in Sri Lanka
Gemma from The Sapphire Merchant buying Sri Lankan Padparadscha Sapphires at the Beruwala Market in Sri Lanka.

The Sapphire Merchant stocks a sensational range of ethical Sri Lankan Sapphires. We regularly travel to Sri Lanka in pursuit of extraordinary Sapphire options, perfect for adorning engagement rings and customised jewellery pieces. Shop our collection of sapphires, and select a sapphire that will tell your story.



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