With every fine jewelry collection we design, the Bario Neal team prioritizes ethical sourcing of all gemstones and precious metals. While “blood diamonds” have gained international attention, the mining of colored gemstones can also lead to environmental pollution and human exploitation. From the start of our business, Bario Neal has worked with thoroughly vetted suppliers to source ethical colored gemstones, including andalusite, aquamarine, garnet, jade, morganite, opal, and tourmaline. We partner with 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. We ensure these colorful gemstones are also processed at cutting and polishing facilities that value worker welfare.
Throughout history, careless mining operations have polluted the environment, exploited workers, and robbed communities of their natural resources. After extraction, colored gemstones are sent to cutting and polishing facilities, a lesser-known step in the supply chain where human rights abuses and health risks can occur. Due to a lack of industry oversight, the Bario Neal team set our own rigorous ethical sourcing standards — and we’re committed to continual improvement wherever possible.
Bario Neal has established a protocol for supplier partners to ensure that we share the same level of ethical standards. We interview prospective suppliers about everything from business history to their relationship with gemstone mines. All of our suppliers sign our Code of Conduct, which outlines a commitment to fair labor practices and respect for the earth. Our suppliers visit mines where our colored gemstones 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 documents such as photos and government licenses and monitoring paperwork that show mines and cutting and polishing facilities are operating responsibly. We work with around 40 suppliers, and we’ve been partners with many of them for at least a decade. Like Bario Neal, many of our suppliers 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 these suppliers aren’t “greenwashing” and take these issues seriously.
Our first annual Bario Neal Sustainability Report, which will be published in 2020, will detail 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 colored gemstones. We’ve conducted dozens of in-depth interviews with our suppliers and we’ll continue this practice and update the publication every year going forward.
Bario Neal’s Colored Gemstones
Ethical colored gemstones give you the freedom to paint outside the lines when proposing marriage, buying wedding rings, or celebrating any special occasion. “Gemstones aren't monotone. Their color is so dynamic,” says Bario Neal Principal + Lead Designer Anna Bario. “They change in different light, and depending on the metal they're set in. Stones get influenced by the colors of other gemstones they're set with too. You can see vast spectrums of color just in one stone.”
Whether big or understated (smaller gemstones are called “melee”), Bario Neal’s colored gemstones come from all over the world — and all are ethically sourced, often from small-scale, artisanal miners and collectives, or family-owned mines. We only offer gems from suppliers and mines that meet our high standards for environmental care and social responsibility and are working toward improving labor standards and sustainability. Below, we’ll detail the ethical sources for colored gemstones in our collections.
You may have heard some of the stones we’re covering here referred to as semi-precious gems. However, at Bario Neal, we embrace all the jewelry materials we source equally and don’t really think of gemstones in such terms. “We don't use words like 'precious' and 'semiprecious' when it comes to gemstones at Bario Neal,” Anna says. “Those terms indicate an approach to valuing jewelry that misses a lot of less well-known gemstones like aquamarine that are beautiful to work with and have a different appeal."
Bario Neal works with recycled andalusites that are repurposed from old stock or other jewelry, which means no industrial processes are required and we avoid further human or environmental impact. Our newly mined andalusites come from a collective of small-scale artisanal miners in Madagascar, who also cut the stones. Andalusite has a neutral appearance and color. Each stone can exhibit a play of color through shades of yellow, olive green, and reddish brown. Look at our Nikko Andalusite Pear Ring from different angles, and you’ll see how the stone changes depending on the light. The marquise cut andalusite in our Lash Cluster Triad Andalusite Marquise Ring adds a richness to the center of a trio of ethically sourced gemstones. See more andalusite rings.
Aquamarines, according to the Gemological Institute of America, get their name for their likeness to seawater. Well, count us in for a long swim. Most of Bario Neal’s cool blue aquamarines are mined in Brazil. Our hand model Jazman Dobson — who tries on dozens (!) of Bario Neal rings during our photo shoots — names the Stellium Aquamarine with Diamond Halo Ring as one of her standout favorites.
Similar in color to rubies, our garnets are striking crimson stones that are … mined by ants in Arizona. “This is a great story,” Anna says. “There are these specific ants that, in the process of building their ant hills, surface garnet crystals. Collecting them is a traditional Navajo practice.” With our Lash Linear Garnet Ring you get a row of five garnets in a unique, but timeless, prong and bezel setting.
Many gemstones are mined outside the United States, and we seek to support the ethical work of miners we partner with around the globe. However, as Bario Neal was founded to design jewelry made in the U.S., we do savor the chance to handcraft our pieces with gemstones made in the U.S., like the black jade in our Half-Moon Black Jade Ring. Most people think of green when they hear jade, but we work with black jades that comes from Wyoming and is faceted by hand in Philadelphia to our exact specifications. Faceting brings a brightness to the dramatic color saturation of black jades.
Bario Neal sources morganite from an ethical mine in Brazil that has been in the same family for generations. Morganite brings an ethereal pastel paleness to several Bario Neal handcrafted ethical rings, from solitaires like our Kalmia Rose Cut Morganite Ring to clusters like the Burst Cluster Morganite with Diamond Ombré Ring. Fans clamor for morganite as an alternative to a white diamond. They’re drawn to the restrained pink for just a hint of color and the look of something different than the traditional solitaire diamond engagement ring. See more morganite rings.
We work with opals from an Ethiopian mining collective that makes sure the operation benefits the community. The miners mostly use hand tools and work close to the surface, which means low environmental impact. The opals are cut and polished in a well-respected facility in Jaipur, India. The timeless opal gives off flashes of color, especially when set with other colored gemstones. The perfect example is our Dez Opal with Rainbow Halo Ring. Opals look lovely with diamonds too, like in our Linear Opal Ring, but they are more delicate than hard diamonds and sapphires. (See our tips for the care and cleaning of opals.) You should avoid wearing an opal ring when doing an activity that’s hard on your hands like gardening or rock climbing. See more opal rings.
Depending on what minerals are present in the earth where tourmalines are formed, these colored gemstones can be green, pink, or even watermelon (green on the outside and pink on the inside). Our Linear Hex Sapphire Ring has a princess cut pink tourmaline that holds its own among colorful sapphires. We have several tourmaline sources around the world, including Afghanistan, Brazil (where most of the more rare paraiba tourmalines are mined), and Tanzania. The last is a notable source of colored gemstones because of the Tanzania Women Miners Association (TAWOMA), which seeks to eradicate poverty in the mining areas of Tanzania by serving the interest of women and children in the mining communities. When we designed our Dez Half Eternity Round Rainbow Band to celebrate 10 years of Bario Neal handcrafting ethical jewelry, we tried many colored gemstone combinations. In the end, we knew we had to include this special stone and reached for green tourmaline.
Ethically Sourced Colored Melee Gemstones
Melee gemstones come in all colors and types, from andalusite to tourmaline. How small a colored gemstone has to be in order to be considered melee varies depending on the country. The size is typically less than .18 carat. We use colored melee in cluster rings and in eternity bands. The size, and therefore the prices, mean many gemstone suppliers in the industry don’t take the steps necessary to ensure melee are fully traceable. Many of our colored melee gemstones come from the same suppliers and mines we partner with for larger stones, which means our vetting process ensures they’re mined and processed in ways that minimize environmental impact and strengthen community benefits. Whatever the design, we carefully source melee from trusted suppliers and mines that uphold high standards for environmental and social responsibility.
Ethical Colored Gemstone Sourcing Is Always Evolving
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 set-in-stone standards, we can give every client details about where their colored gemstones 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 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.