photo by Thomas Kluck
Several of Bario Neal’s collection pieces feature colored gemstones, and customers often request them in custom designs. As with all sectors of the jewelry industry, sourcing for colored gemstones can be tricky, erratic, and sometimes unreliable. While traceability is difficult, since no valid third-party certification system exists, the colored gemstones we offer come with certifications provided by our suppliers. Bario Neal develops relationships with suppliers we trust in our efforts to achieve transparency, and uphold high standards of ethicality for our colored gemstones. This article discusses how Bario Neal addresses sourcing and traceability for colored gemstones, and describes the origin of each colored gemstone we use.
Avens Ruby Ring © Bario Neal 2013
Custom Victorian Filigree Ring with Ruby © Bario Neal 2013
Custom Patterned Ring with Inset Rubies © Bario Neal 2013
Rubies are commonly requested for custom pieces, and the Avens Ruby ring is one of our popular collection pieces. We currently source most of our rubies from an ethical British supplier, Ruby Fair. They run a mine in Tanzania, and offer a partnership between British and American jewelers, and Tanzanian miners. Two of Ruby Fair’s owners studied zoology, and care for the environment at and around the mine site is paramount. Their policy is to leave the mined area, which has been mined for rubies on a small scale for many years, no worse than when operations began, and will make efforts to leave it in a better condition. You can read more about their environmental policies here. The miners are well-paid, well-trained, and work in a safe environment. Additionally, Ruby Fair gives back to the local community by sponsoring the Ukwama Children’s Home and Orphanage.
Aquamarine Halo Ring © Bario Neal 2013
Reticulated Narrow Ring with Oval Ruby © Bario Neal 2013
The Raw Stone also provides us with rubies, in addition to aquamarines, amethysts, opals, tanzanite, and zircon. Of those stones, rubies and aquamarines are featured in Bario Neal’s collection pieces, including our Aquamarine Halo Ring, Reticulated Narrow Ring with Oval Cut Ruby, and of course the above-mentioned Avens Ruby Ring. We use the other stones supplied by The Raw Stone for custom designs. We have had a working relationship with Kerin Jacobs, founder of the Raw Stone, for several years. She has a wealth of information on the precious gems mining industry, and I was lucky to have the opportunity to interview her for a second time for this article (you can read the full interview here). Kerin works primarily with the Tanzania Women Miner’s Association (TAWOMA), an NGO and non-profit based in Tanzania that was started by its Secretary General Shamsa Diwani. TAWOMA’s empowering mission is to help women miners organize themselves so that they can access financial, technical, educational, and marketing services, with the ultimate goal of carrying out mining activities that are economically viable, safe, and environmentally sustainable. You can learn more about TAWOMA on their website (link). Most of the stones from TAWOMA are cut in their own lapidary, and sometimes Kerin will have them reshaped by a cutter she trusts in San Francisco. This is important information because many of the human rights abuses occurring in the precious gems industry occur during the cutting process. Kerin sells the rest of her stones rough or uncut. Occasionally, The Raw Stone buys from someone who has purchased the gemstones directly from a mine or from another source that Kerin trusts. If that is the case, she has the stones checked by a gemologist to confirm their origin and quality.
Cala Sapphire Ring © Bario Neal 2013
Cala Small Sapphire Ring © Bario Neal 2013
Cala Sapphire Studs © Bario Neal 2013
Sapphires are used in several of Bario Neal’s collection pieces, including our Cala Sapphire Rings and Cala Sapphire Studs, and are often requested for custom pieces. Most of our sapphires come from the Chimwadzulu Hill Mine in southern Malawi. We also source sapphires from Montana, which are subject to U.S. labor and environmental laws and are fully traceable. The Chimwadzulu Hill Mine protects its surrounding environment by operating only during the dry season, when runoff will not enter streams, watersheds, and groundwater. Its mining operations are kept on a small scale, with a projected lifespan of 20 years, which will be followed by an environmental remediation effort to restore the site. Chimwadzulu practices fair trade ethics by paying its workers above-average wages and offering health care to all workers. Sapphires from the mine are cut in a facility in China that pays its workers three times the minimum wage and offers comprehensive employee benefits. You can learn more about our Malawi sapphires here.
Sapphire Slice Studs © Bario Neal 2013
Aside from our Cala Studs, Bario Neal currently produces three other pairs of fine earrings featuring colored gemstones. The rough sapphires featured in our Sapphire Slice Earrings are also Malawi, originating from the Chimwadzulu Hill Mine. Our Apatite Bezel Studs feature cabochon-cut apatites that come from a small family-owned mine in Madagascar. We source our moonstones from an American who lives in Tanzania for half the year, where he has direct connections to certain mines. His wife is Tanzanian, and together they sort through the rough gemstones with some of her family members. He has worked in the gemstone trade for many years, and is well respected in his field in the US and world wide. We discovered him through Boston Gems (BG), a company that has sourced different rough gemstones from him for the past 16 years. Finally, we are releasing a new earring this fall featuring triangular shaped boulder opals, which we source from the southwestern United States.
Herkimer Diamond Ring © Bario Neal 2013
Our Herkimer Diamond Ring is set with a rough Herkimer diamond, which is actually a form of crystal clear double-terminated quartz. These gemstones are sourced from a small mine in Upstate New York, where you can actually mine your own Herkimer diamond.
While these are our current sources for colored gemstones, they are subject to change depending on availability. We do not stock our gemstones, but rather source for each order. Sourcing can be difficult, and our suppliers don’t always have what we are looking for at the time that a customer requests it. If a customer requests a gemstone from a specific source, we do our best to fulfill their request within the given timeframe–getting the stone you want from your desired source may involve a longer leadtime. We believe it is of utmost importance to source from ethical suppliers, and are continually researching and developing relationships with those we trust. If you have any questions about sourcing or are looking for a specific stone, please don’t hesitate to contact us.