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Sapphire - The Most Ethical Precious Gemstone?

Updated: Jan 16

What is an Ethical Sapphire, and how is this defined?

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 at whether the KP was nothing more than a clever marketing ploy to cover the problematic diamond sourcing image as a whole. The Kimberley Process (KP) is a trade regime established to prevent the flow of conflict (sometimes referred to as blood) diamonds. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, implements safeguards on shipments of rough diamonds to certify them as "conflict-free" in turn making that gemstone "ethical". However, even with the Kimberley Process in effect, it is near impossible to pin the true origin of most diamonds that enter the global market.

Sri Lanka Ethical Sapphire Mine

Pictured: This is a sapphire 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.

This ethical manta has rolled over into the Sapphire and coloured gemstone industry with customers, especially socially conscious millennials, wanting to ensure that the Sapphire they purchase is ethical. I will focus on Sri Lankan sapphires as most of what I broker and import comes from the luscious island formerly known as Ceylon.

Sapphires are the most ethical choice for a coloured gemstone for the following reasons.

  1. Sri Lanka does not allow heavy machinery mining operations. Nearly all mining operations are small-scale, with teams of 10-20 men working within a small mining footprint. Most mining operations are tunnel or shaft, meaning the surrounding area is kept intact. Government regulations state that open pit mines must be revegetated before the operation moves to the next location. Overall, these practices have a low impact on the natural environment and wildlife is not affected or displaced.

  2. Child labour is strictly prohibited in Sri Lanka, and there are harsh penalties for mine owners who breach the law. Child labour is not part of the culture of the industry, which is very family and community orientated as a whole.

  3. Miners have a part ownership in the mine they are working for. This creates a high level of trust between the Mine owner and the miners and ensures that the team benefits as a whole.

  4. Sapphire and gem traders in Sri Lanka come from multigenerational gem trading families. The industry is void of large companies due to the heavy restrictions on mining.

  5. The mines and the gemstone trade support whole communities and feed a bustling economy.

  6. 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 own industries by applying the rules and regulations that Sri Lanka has trailblazed.

  7. The origin of a sapphire is easily identifiable by a trained gemologist in a laboratory with the correct equipment. Unlike most diamonds, the country of origin can be established by tells within the gemstone.

Beruwala Sapphire Market Buying Ethical Sapphires

Pictured: The Beruwala Gem Market - The largest cut stone market in the world. Nearly all Sri Lankan sapphires move through this market.

GIA is the governing body of the coloured gemstone industry, and this organisation is integral to the industry and how it is regulated. Most who work within the industry and who have a social conscience recognise that there is still work to be done. With the early development of track and trace blockchain technology, the industry will eventually move toward a system that allows the journey of a gemstone from mine to retailer to be clearly documented. A system like this would further raise the ethical standard of sapphires.

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

Buying Ethical Padparadscha Sapphire in Sri Lanka

Pictured: Gemma (The Sapphire Merchant) buying Sri Lankan Padparadscha Sapphires at the Beruwala Market in Sri Lanka.

Sidenote: In 2019 I had the pleasure of spending a month in Sri Lanka touring sapphire mines, buying sapphires in the outdoor gem markets, and meeting people who work within the industry. I was impressed by the beauty of Sri Lanka, the friendliness of the people, the community orientated feel of places such as Beruwala (home to the largest cut stone gem market in the world), and the passion the Sri Lankans have for the coloured stone industry.

The Sapphire Merchant stocks an exquisite range of ethical Sri Lankan Sapphires. Browse our catalogue of blue sapphires. Peruse our catalogue of fancy sapphires. Take a peek at our catalogue of padparadscha sapphires. If you have specific requirements, contact Gemma today to discuss your options.


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