The Ethical Gem Suppliers—a new-ish collective of gem dealers that are focused on transparent supply chains and educating the industry and consumers on responsible sourcing—got rolling as a collective right as COVID-19 began its spread in the U.S. in early 2020.
As with most other industry entities, its momentum slowed in 2020. But now, after hosting a handful of virtual events throughout the pandemic, the collective is staging its first in-person trade event in over a year: its signature Ethical GemFair.
The show, happening Sept. 15-16 at Balefire Goods, a sustainability-minded jewelry boutique located in Olde Town Arvada, Colo. (just outside Denver), will feature well-known and emerging gem suppliers including Agere Treasures, ANZA Gems, Capricorn Gems, Columbia Gem House, Fairtrade Gemstones, Nature’s Geometry, Nineteen48, Perpetuum Jewels, Quore, and Virtu Gem.
We caught up with two of the group’s early organizers, Natasha Braunwart of Columbia Gem House and Ian Bone of Capricorn Gems, to find out more about its history, mission, and show:
The Zing Report: When was the Ethical Gem Suppliers formed and by whom?
Ian Bone: The Ethical Gem Suppliers group was initially formed in the U.K. in 2017 with a group of three suppliers—Capricorn Gems, Nineteen 48, and Fairmined Gems. The first Ethical Gems fair was in London in 2017 with a further range of fairs in 2018 and 2019 in London, Edinburgh, and Bristol.
After doing research in 2019 for a location in Tucson, my company, Capricorn Gems, proposed the holding of an inaugural show in Tucson for 2020, and invited a number of suppliers to participate that were of a similar view in terms of provenance and ethical supply of gemstones to designer-makers. The initial fair was held in 2020 in concurrence with the other Tucson gems shows.
Has the collective grown since forming?
Natasha: Since this is a small group of like-minded dealers and brands, we have kept it similar in size to when we first began, partly because of COVID-19, but also partly because it’s not an association. This is just a group of brands that work well together and support a transparent and ethical mine-to-market approach in bringing gemstones to market.
Ian: In addition to this, the group realizes that other suppliers may wish to join, and is currently considering criteria that will guide those seeking to join with the group. The group has no intentions or ambitions to grow the size of the group for its own sake.
What happens at the Fairs? Do all your members show?
Natasha: In general, when COVID-19 is not limiting travel, all the brands that make up this collective will bring specific gemstones that represent their individual brands to sell at these events.
Ian: The groups’ target market is jewelry designer-makers around the world who seek transparency and a backstory regarding the gems that they bring to the market. A growing number of designer-makers worldwide (and their clients) are seeking to have the assurance that gems supplied meet today’s expectations of standards relating to ethics in mining practices.
Traditional gem suppliers have been largely unable—and/or unwilling—to verify or confirm full transparency in the supply chain of the gems. The participants in our group can meet these expectations and can provide a comprehensive background to the gems that they sell and market.
Do you feel like word is getting out to consumers on the traceability and ethical supply chain of gems? And if so, how is that changing the market?
Natasha: Yes, we do, but it’s even more than that. Consumers are actually demanding this whether they know it exists or not. There has been a pretty obvious shift in how the market is buying and what [consumers] are looking for. As a collective, we’re trying to let designers, retailers, and manufacturers know that this exists, which in turn allows us to all help educate consumers together.
Ian: Absolutely, however, the penetration is different in different markets. The UK and Europe would be to be the most advanced in this space. The concept of traceability and ethics in the supply of a wide range of goods generally is reaching a mark of being the norm rather than the exception. Gemstone supply presents particular, but not insurmountable, challenges—and our Ethical Gem Suppliers group is leading the way in showing how this can be done.
Registration for the fair is free at ethicalgemsuppliers.com, and appointments are available throughout the event on a first-come basis.
Top photo: Emerald-cut sapphire from ANZA Gems (courtesy of ANZA Gems)