First published in Gemmology Today 15 February 2017.
Four Pillars of Modern Gemmology.
I start with a quote from Jason Williams who was the Chairman of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem A) until 2015.
Best practice education and training is an important growth area and we are currently working in conjunction with CIBJO, the World Jewellery Confederation, on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and supply chain accreditation. Educational courses are in development and should start late in 2014. Branded Trust, a complete CSR solution for the jewellery industry, has recently received recognition from the UN through ECOSOC. (Chairman’s Statement for year ending 31 December 2013)
In one simple paragraph, Jason Williams gave Gem A all the rationale it needed to recognise the future of the gemmological world. Strength in education, best practice principles, recognition of the future landscape of gems and jewellery, strategic partnerships, international alignment with global issues and a clear leadership position for the organisation. Jason Williams was correctly articulating the future landscape of modern gemmology.
In my own adventures as a jeweller, I have witnessed what happens when the gem trade ignores the ethical questions in the name of financial expedience. In Greenland, institutional racism, misuse of power, false arrests, confiscations of goods, nepotism, neo-colonialism and abuses of power have all undermined Greenland’s gemmological potential. Having seen the potential of the ruby and saw first hand the maleficent behaviour of international gem mining companies and mineral authorities I still to this day contend, that unless a stone comes from the hand of a local Greenlandic miner, the stones cannot be called ethical.
Ethics – A quick overview.
At the centre of the debate in gemstones and jewellery at the moment is ethics. There is no meaningful discussion around ethics unless rooted in truth. This is the philosophical and ontological foundation of all ethical discussion. What is the truth? The principles upon which ethical behaviour, whether individual or collective is three-fold.
1) The first pillar of ethical behaviour is natural justice, charity and generosity.* Combined these actions both benefit the individual person as well as their community, society or trade. What is important to note here is that ethics do not work effectively in a self-centred, self preferential or selfish environment. Where this kind of negative environment exists, the articulation of ethics becomes a disturbance to the self-preferential status quo and a prophetic call towards more openness, transparency and truth.
2) The second pillar of ethical behaviour is respect, or put another way, treating people as you would like to be treated yourself. This simple idea translates to every area of life and includes business and the sciences. I recently listened to a long-standing member of the Board of Gem A say, ‘We don’t do CSR, we only do the science of gemmology’. Divorcing ethics and science is a very dangerous and unintelligent practice, as it creates the environment where we can ignore injustice, racial discrimination (as I have witnessed in Greenland), human rights abuses, exploitation and human and ecological suffering. Put another way, we could say ‘I don’t care if this stone comes from indentured slave labour, I only do the science’. We should all, and of course do, deeply care about how we treat people. This applies to gemmology as well. Science should never be used to avoid the truth of a situation.
3) The third pillar of ethical behaviour is the idea of utilitarianism. Where natural justice, charity, generosity and respect are present, we can say a utilitarian outcome is possible. An environment and culture where the greatest happiness is achieved for the benefit of the greatest number of people. Surely this is an outcome we all want for everyone in the gemstone world, whether miner, trader, student, staff member or Board member. A happy gemstone world that benefits everyone.
When it comes the material question at hand, what is the future of modern gemmology? I believe we can say with a strong degree of certainty that the old forms of Jurassic gemmology as championed by that member of the Gem A Board are the voices of a soon to be extinct ideology.
A Changing Gem World.
Anyone with eyes and ears open will know that the world of diamonds, gemstones and jewellery is changing. Social and digital media is breeding a new consumer awareness of tragedies in the jewellery supply chain. Civil society groups are equally demanding transparency and disclosure are becoming the commercial environment we must all live in. The new world demands gemmology is more than a one-dimensional single issue scientific understanding of gemstones. The ethical nature of a gemstone is as much to do with its social context, and its environmental provenance as it is with its scientific mineral composition. These things are not mutually exclusive, they are proudly complimentary. Education is the primary platform from which this new ethical reality must be embedded. For all the jewellers, organisations and associations that promote the wonder of gemstones, teaching the ethics of gemmology to customers and students is a primary duty of care. Trade Associations in particular should not bury its head where the sun don’t shine and pretend everything is alright. Promoting a science only approach or dumbing down the unpalatable supply chain truths to protect an economic bottom line are simply living in the dark ages. Consumers see through corporate spin. The questioning ethical customer is the customer I am wanting to attract.
Four pillars of modern gemmology and coloured gemstone jewellery.
Science – Of course we must engage in the science of gemmology. The very fabric, mineralogy and composition of a gemstone is a wonder to explore and a natural beauty to behold and be celebrated. Of course we must talk about the source. If the stone that we scientifically analyse comes from a conflict zone it is profoundly unethical of us to ignore this.
Education – Of course ethics is not easy and any one who says it is, is clearly deluded. Students and trade people need to get a firm grasp on the ethical challenges such as child labour, trade exploitation, conflict minerals (yes gemstones are also a part of the conflict trade), slavery, political corruption, lack of access to markets, systemic poverty of gemstone miners etc. Trade and education bodies need to invest resources into developing ethics courses for all students of gemmology, so we are preparing the next generation of gemmologists and jewellers in the very best practices and supply chain models.
Supply chain transparency – Of course we must engage in supply chain issues, mine to market traceability is best business practice and something all students and professionals should be fully versed in. This is the new and emerging currency in jewellery, and there is no gemstone industry without the jewellery buying public. As gemstone experts, who is better placed to champion colour, the mineralogical and of course the ethical nature of the origin of denomination.
Consumer communication – Of course we must be consumer champions for coloured gemstones. What does the consumer look for? What questions should the consumer be asking the jeweller to make sure the very best quality of purchase? What information does the jeweller need to sell with integrity coloured gemstones to the public? These and more are all issues material to an ethical best practice in gemmology. I do not want to be one of those jewellers who dazzle a customer with stories of science, mineralogical perfection and intensity of colour to then distract from the truth of the horror of the source. This is unethical practice. What we need to prevent this, and of course to strengthen the jewellery and gemmology consumer story is a Fairtrade Gemstone process, similar to that in Fairtrade Gold.
To conclude, the beauty of gems and jewellery rests in their unique ability to bring raw unadulterated pleasure and happiness to people. As a jeweller this is my job and through Valerio Jewellery this is what I aspire to. When I buy a gemstone for a piece of jewellery I am asking the happiness question. Is what I am buying bringing happiness to my customer, my supplier and the mining community from whence it came. We should all gain benefit from these treasures of the deep and allow the true light to refract through our profession from mine to retail.
*These are Aristotelian Virtues.