From the earliest design stages to the handcrafting of our fine jewelry collections, the Bario Neal team prioritizes ethical sourcing of all gemstones and precious metals. Working with thoroughly vetted suppliers, we source our ethical emeralds and sapphires from small-scale, artisanal miners and collectives, and family-owned mines that are committed to operating in an environmentally responsible way that benefits workers and surrounding communities. Our emeralds and sapphires are also processed at cutting and polishing facilities that value worker welfare.
Jewelry industry supply chains span dozens of countries, and mining methods vary. There is no worldwide regulating body to oversee operations with regards to workers, their communities, or the environment. Throughout history, careless mining operations have polluted ecosystems, exploited workers, and robbed communities of their natural resources. After extraction, gemstones are sent to cutting and polishing facilities, another step in the supply chain where human rights abuses or health risks can occur. In unhealthy working environments in India and China that lack proper ventilation and personal protective equipment, workers breathe in dust from the stones, which can cause a devastating lung disease called silicosis. Due to the lack of industry oversight and cohesive third-party certifications, when Bario Neal Principals + Lead Designers Anna Bario and Page Neal decided to start a jewelry business, they set their own ethical sourcing standards and committed to continual improvement. At the time, there were plenty of skeptics, yet Anna and Page found a community of like-minded jewelers, suppliers, and miners. Over the years, they’ve collaborated with many of these passionate people to have a positive influence on the industry overall.
“Page and I both wanted to combine a creative pursuit with an environmental and social mission. As jewelry makers, we were both questioning where materials were coming from,” Anna says. “At first, we mainly worked with precious metals. Then we were lucky enough to attend the Madison Dialogue Summit about ethical jewelry and artisanal mining. And we made a connection with the Tanzania Women Miners Association, TAWOMA, which made it possible for us to work with our first ethical gemstones.”
In addition to partnerships like the one with TAWOMA, Bario Neal established a protocol for supplier partners to ensure that all of our collaborations complement our ethical mission. We interview prospective suppliers about their business history and practices and their relationship with gemstone mines. All of our suppliers sign our Code of Conduct, which highlights our mission to handcraft “beautiful jewelry with respect for all people and a responsibility to the earth from which our materials are created.” Our suppliers visit mines where our sapphires and emeralds come from as well as facilities where they are cut and polished to observe firsthand that these partners are making every effort to safeguard people and the planet. We ask our suppliers to provide us with as much tangible documentation as possible — photos, government licenses, regulatory approval paperwork — to show that mines and cutting and polishing facilities are operating legally and responsibly. We work with around 40 suppliers, and we’ve been partners with many of them for at least a decade. Like Bario Neal, these suppliers often volunteer their own time to foster industry changes toward greater transparency and ethical sourcing. They support nonprofits like PACT, which is helping artisanal miners, many of them women, learn to accurately identify and sort gemstones so their work can become more lucrative, and projects like Better Without Mercury, just as we do. We’re confident our suppliers aren’t “greenwashing” and take these issues seriously.
In 2020, we’ll release our first annual Bario Neal Sustainability Report. The publication will dive into the details of our ethical gemstone sourcing and share stories about the mines and cutting and polishing facilities we partner with so that we can work with ethical emeralds and sapphires. To compile this report, we’ve conducted dozens of in-depth interviews with our suppliers and dedicated hundreds of hours of time. We’ll continue this practice and update the publication every year going forward.
Where Do Bario Neal’s Ethically Sourced Emeralds Come From?
Emerald is the green to greenish-blue variety of the mineral beryl. Emeralds were mined in Egypt as far back as 330 B.C., and for centuries, the stone has been tied to religious rites and was considered something of a superpower. Bario Neal launched our first emerald jewelry collection in fall 2016 only after finding a mining collective in the Copperbelt Province of Northern Zambia that values people and the environment.
The collective’s workers sort and pick emerald crystals by hand, and they don’t introduce chemicals into the processing of ore. The mine is one of few in the area that rehabilitates waste areas by adding soil back and planting trees, which offsets the carbon footprint. Their goal is to leave the environment in a better state than when they found it. To support food security in the community and local farmers, the operation helps two local farms with selling their products. In turn, they provide fresh vegetables to the miners. The mine also has a school and teachers’ quarters nearby (the Zambian government provides the teachers), and there are plans for a secondary school and health center with children's and maternity wards. Our ethical emeralds are cut in Jaipur, India, where employees have hearing and eye protection and respirators. The factory also uses cutting oils that don't contain harmful chemicals such as nitrates and amines.
Our melee emeralds come from the same Northern Zambia mine. Traceability is tougher with small stones — because some suppliers don’t want to take the time to ensure ethical sourcing for these less profitable stones — so we love having an ethical source for these petite-but-powerful emeralds.
Where Do Bario Neal’s Ethically Sourced Sapphires Come From?
Bario Neal’s collection is decked with white, blue, fuchsia, yellow, mandarin, and apricot sapphires. Many clients love white sapphires as a diamond alternative for engagement rings. We currently source blue sapphires from three countries: Sri Lanka, the United States, and Australia. U.S. and Australian gemstone mines are governed by strict labor and environmental laws, and the Sri Lankan government is held up as an example for its approach to licensing and monitoring gemstone mines to ensure sound environmental practices and fair labor standards.
Some colored melee sapphires come from Madagascar and Mozambique through a highly respected ethical supplier who visits the mines to ensure their commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility.
Sri Lankan sapphires: We work with sapphires from a small-scale Sri Lanka mining operation. (These stones are sometimes called “Ceylon sapphires,” after the country’s British colonial name.) Thanks to the country’s long history as a source of gemstones, Sri Lankans also have the knowledge and skill to handle the cutting and polishing phase of the jewelry supply chain. One of the partners in our Sri Lankan sapphires supply firm built a cutting and polishing facility adjacent to his home. That means this process is done in the country, thus avoiding the chance that the stones could be sent to a facility where human rights abuses occur. The employees at the Sri Lanka facility are paid a living wage, and the stones are cut using a wet cutting method that minimizes the dust they breathe.
Montana sapphires: Members of the Bario Neal team got the chance to see the United States mine where our Montana sapphires come from during a 2018 visit. By operating on top of a hill in the beautiful Rock Creek area, the mining company distances the extraction process from the popular outdoor activities the region is famous for, like fishing and hiking. They don’t mine more than 5 acres at a time, and when they are done with one area, they rehabilitate it by replacing nutrient-rich topsoil. They also use a water clarifier and recycle the water they use during processing. This diverts muddied waters from the clear creek and makes a more eco-friendly operation. About 80 percent of the water they use in processing is recycled. Local families work at the mine, and the company strives to be a good employer and neighbor in the community. Many of our green and blue melee sapphires come from this Montana operation too. Our larger Montana sapphires are cut in the U.S. Many of our Montana melee sapphires are cut at a family-run Sri Lankan business.
Australian sapphires: Australia has a long sapphire mining history that includes family-run companies and strict government regulations on how mining operations impact the environment as well as aboriginal communities. Our Australia sapphires are cut and polished in Australia too, by hand in a small, family-run facility.
Trust Bario Neal to Find Your Ethical Emerald or Ethically Sourced Sapphires Today
Due to ever-shifting supply and demand across the industry, Bario Neal’s sources may change as we make efforts to obtain accessibly-priced and high-quality materials for our clients when making their jewelry. However, thanks to our ethical sourcing standards, we can give every client details about where the metals and gemstones in their jewelry come from. We know our clients value this transparency, and we work diligently so that we can share that important information with them while we strive toward a more sustainable, equitable jewelry industry.
We appreciate the increasing awareness we’ve seen in the last decade about how gemstone mining can hurt miners and their communities. We will continue to hold ourselves to the high standards we’ve designed for our internal practices and support improvements around the world. “We’ve been very involved in the last few years in the Jewelry Industry Summit,” Anna says. “These efforts are changing industry-wide conversations around responsible sourcing, recognizing all the challenges that we face and all the opportunities we have to create benefits beyond just our companies and our clients, to all supply chains that we work with.”
Our team talks with full openness with clients about the materials we use and where the gemstones we work with come from. We love to share information about our approach to ethical sourcing and appreciate all our clients who come to us for ethical jewelry. Make an appointment to visit a Bario Neal showroom in Philadelphia or New York City today and learn more.