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Commentary: The Business

Jim Fiebig: Do the Right Thing

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Get to the source of the colored stone conundrum.

 

[dropcap cap=NOT LONG AGO,] Starbucks did a survey that indicated 38 percent of American consumers would pay up to 40 percent more for their coffee if it was Fair Trade. Now the jewelry industry is grappling with this issue as we deal with a growing number of conscientious consumers. Much has been written
about this topic, usually with reference to three areas: [/dropcap]

1. GOLD AND PRECIOUS METAL EXTRACTION.

Traditional methods of gold extraction often include dredging and the use of toxic chemicals that can destroy rivers and entire ecosystems. Most would agree this is the most damaging mining aspect of our industry. It occurs in every country on earth, including many smallscale operations in the U.S. The fix is easy for most jewelers: Buy recycled gold.

2. DIAMOND MINING.

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Here, our industry has addressed not only the ecological but the ethical aspects as well. After the “blood diamond” issue erupted, we reacted with the Kimberley Process, a way of policing the sources of diamond rough and its potential to fund armed conflict in Africa. Given that 90 percent of jewelry dollars are spent on diamond jewelry, this was critical. Sadly, recent developments in Zimbabwe seem to have damaged the effectiveness of this project and demonstrate that money still trumps conscience.

3. COLORED GEMSTONE MINING.

This is the real conundrum of our industry. First, color accounts for less than 10 percent of the retail jewelry dollar so the immediate reply is “Who cares?” Yet here is where we can really make a difference. The World Bank estimates that at least 80 percent of gemstones are still mined by hand by families and co-ops in developing nations. The cool thing is that when these poor people move from agriculture into the gemstone industry, their income invariably triples. So every time you sell a colored gemstone, lots of little guys and their families are celebrating.

Unfortunately, access to market is the real problem. There is generally a huge difference between the miner’s take and what you pay for a gemstone. The fix here is simple but daunting for many jewelers: Get involved in your gemstone sourcing. Ask about geographic origins. It will help you sell the piece too. Look at the  popularity of channels like NatGeo, Discovery and Travel — yet most jewelers fail to profit from the public’s interest in the wider world, and consequently, so do the little miners. Groups like the Green Gem Foundation and The Devon Foundation are working to boost knowledge and direct trade with the people who need it most while firms like Columbia Gem House have pioneered local benefits for their gem-source communities.

In the end, it is a simple choice to ask questions and do the right thing.


[smalltext]Jim Fiebig does sales consulting and serves as global sales director for Zultanite Gems. Contact him at [email protected][/smalltext]

[span class=note]This story is from the September 2011 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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