Hey there Rock hounds and Friends, today I'm going to type to you about my passion, Australia's Ethical Gemstones and minerals; what they are, how to source them, and how to not overstep the line between appreciation and exploitation. This is a really important topic and by the end of this blog you will understand so much more about the hidden workings of Gemstones and the industry. So grab a cuppa, get comfy and get informed!
As a society we rely entirely on the earth to provide us with all of the resources we need to survive.
We've got plants and animals for food, trees for oxygen, petroleum and natural gasses for fuel, precious minerals for medicines, fertilisers and jewellery. We've got heavy metals such as iron, copper, zinc, lead, silver, gold, and so on. All these and many other resources are naturally created, and then exploited by humans. Behind the scenes the harvesting process of many of the resources we rely on are having a severe impact on our mother Earth. There is a huge imbalance. As consumers of all of the above industries, we must be more informed and act morally to ensure we are not directly supporting the exploitation of our planet.
To understand the “sustainability” of a resource, first you must know how it is created, so you may properly judge if the item is renewable or finite. So let me tell you how crystals form; and how they are finite, it may seem like a miracle but its all science!
There are minerals all around us, like the white quartz all over the Hinterland region, or the iron that makes our soil red. Many of these minerals are the ingredients of gemstones, but for every 'one transparent perfect crystal' there are thousands of tonnes of similar minerals that never got their chance to form into a gem. For example, 'Quartz' is made of 'silicon dioxide' which is abbreviated to the chemical formula SiO2. Silicon Dioxide is the most abundant mineral combination on the planet, making up to 59% of the earths crust and being the main constituent of more than 95% of rock types such as granite and sandstone. Mostly Quartz or SiO2 it is not found in a crystalline form. Meaning it does not look like a crystal and doesn't display any crystal 'habits' like a quartz crystal shape or clarity. However, if those same quartz ingredients were exposed to the right set circumstances at the right time, the same mineral combination could have grown into a whole variety of crystals; such as Clear quartz, Purple Amethyst, Pink Rose quartz, black Obsidian, yellow citrine, grey smokey and many more. If all the Planet's Silica had been under the right conditions to form into quartz gemstones, all the sand on our beaches would be crystals! Spikey!
So we know crystals require the right mix of minerals deposited together to form, under the right conditions, for the right length of time. And those three elements allow for the molecules inside the mineral deposit to bond together into chains of various shapes. This chain repeats itself and stacks together until a crystal is grown in a shape specific to how the molecules bonded in the chain. This perfect tightly packed mineral atom arrangement is directly responsible for the shape of the gem and each gem type. For example Pyrite which we all know as fools gold, which only forms in cubes of various sizes, sometimes tiny and crammed together giving the appearance that there are no cubes at all, or sometimes a perfect individual cubic crystal that kept growing. These differences are just due to their individual growth conditions, but equate to very differently valued stones.
Gemstones are categorised in the same way as plants, they have a family that contains similar mineral combinations, and typically have the same distinct "habit" or shape that makes them alike. An example of this is the 'Corundum' family which are categorised as aluminum oxide crystals with a 'hexagonal barrel shape'. You likely know this highly prized family of stones which include Ruby, Emerald and Sapphire. These three gems are nearly the same mineral composition and shape, but each have different values linked to their rarity and colour. Each of these gems is more rare than diamonds, however often value is placed on the wrong stones because someone cleverly marketed it that way.
Gemstones are given "Marketing names" which may not always reflect what the stone actually is, and may piggyback off another stones value. For example Herkimer diamonds, which are in no way related to diamonds, but instead are double terminated quartz from the Herkimer region. This can make it a little confusing to be confident in what you're buying, but by discovering the mineral composition and where it was mined you can understand the real value of the stone.
Because Gemstones only form in ideal "Goldilocks" zones, (we call it that because the conditions are 'just right') there are only specific places around the world to source each type of gemstone, meaning the quantity and quality of what will be uncovered in the mineral pocket is never known before someone starts digging. Take for instance the gemstone "Larimar" which is a blue variety of Pectolite that was renamed by its original discoverer. Although white and grey Pectolite occurs around the world, the blue colour is unique and distinctive to the Dominican republic due to the mineral copper existing in the pocket during Larimars formation. The Stone is mined at a depth of 450meters underground in risky shafts, from a pocket that could be exhausted at any time, which would significantly raise the value of Larimar. No one would undertake this danger for regular Pectolite, but the Copper Blue colour has made Larimar so popular amongst jewellers, because a limited gem is a valuable gem.
In our local ancient history many areas of Australia underwent massive environmental changes. For example what were inland oceans are now deserts, and the silica left behind from decaying shells and sand absorbed into the rock beds below leaving behind seams of Opal. Our local mountain ranges from Kin Kin to the Glass House Mountains were once ancient volcanos covered with kilometres of dirt and rock surface. This surface has since eroded away to reveal the rock faces of the inner volcanic core. This granite layer visible on our local mountains is where many gems may have formed. Which explains the abundance of quartz, chalcedony, agate, thunder-eggs, gold and other goodies found in our back yard. As these environmental changes take place, new gems are uncovered naturally via erosion and are washed into rivers or gullies with rain and flood waters, waiting to be found. After all that rain we've just had now is a fabulous time to hit the creek and fossick pebble wash for gemstones. There is nothing more rewarding that finding your own gemstones, it's local, everyone can do it and all you need is a bucket and patience. Alternatively, you could visit a Gem store or lapidary club and buy their gems, but like with every industry these days, it pays to do your research before committing your purchasing power.
So next I'm going to tell you about the two types of gemstone sourcing out there right now. And I'm going to tell you why as gemstone sellers, buyers or users we should all be aware of who is plucking our gems from the ground.
The first group are, Large scale Commercial mines; This group purchase exclusive rights to plots of land where a pocket has been discovered and tested for financially viability. This usually means the pocket is extensive or the value of the stone is high. They aggressively excavate the site to recover the maximum amount of gemstone product, often ignoring cultural, historical and environmental factors, in the name of financial gain. They then involve factories to cut and polish the material, often in India, China, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, then promote the product and sell it overseas to the highest bidder, excluding the Australian market. For example; Did you know you can't purchase Australian Mookite direct from the mine in WA? It can't be mined anywhere else in the world, yet to buy some you have to purchase it from a Chinese factory that owns the Australian mine; or a reseller in Australia who has already purchased from this factory. But first the stone has been shipped to china, cut and polished, then shipped back to you in Australia, accounting for two lots of carbon emissions, and a circumnavigated Australian economy.
The second group are Hobbyists, Fossickers and Artisanal miners: These environmental folk wait for the natural uncovering of gems and enjoy the journey to finding them as much as the stones themselves. They explore the country as a hobby and use their in-depth environmental knowledge to read the land, recognising where ancient water may have flowed and trace where gemstones have1 surfaced or may have been carried and deposited. They often use a metal detector, dousing rods, a pick or a shovel, or simply rely on their ability to read the landscape. They only collect what they can carry and make a minor impact on the environment, sustaining the deposit for themselves or others to enjoy in the future. Typically they either cut and polish stones themselves, are members of local lapidary clubs, or store their finds in the shed.
Personally we chose to only purchase from and support this second group, and fund them to get their campers back on the road and enjoy our Great Southern Land. When they return with a chest full of treasures, rather than put them in the shed, we catch up for dinner to sort the rough stones, make purchases and talk about the beauty of their adventures. Building relationships with our suppliers allows us to authenticate our sources, grow our ethical community and showcase Australian gems in a way we can feel good. Although we know that caravaning across Australia isn't totally environmentally friendly, the carbon footprint of our caravaners is considerably lower than the carbon exhausted in commercial mining operations, and shipping them in from overseas, especially ones that occur on our continent anyway.
Ethical gemstone sourcing is as important as buying Free range, spray free, slow fashion or any sustainability focused product. These titles say that the land has not been taken advantage of, that the workers have been respected, and that those selling the product are doing so for the love of the product and sharing the abundance with their community. However words and titles can be fickle, so always check that the proof is in the pudding.
Now, how can we all do our part?
As a consumer of gemstones, whether for personal use or re-selling, we encourage you to really get to know your products and the people selling them to you. We encourage you to ask questions, it's not rude, it's your right. You deserve to know that what you are purchasing with your hard earned money is something that isn't destroying our planet. Whether it be food, fashion or Gemstones, your seller should be able to answer you what it is, where it came from, who sourced it, how it was retrieved, and so many details. If you're an energy healer or use crystals for meditation this is especially important as you want to heal with gems that have had a positive journey. It's the 21st century and we all know in our gut that we can't trust a distant contact online or an overseas factory who claims to have done the "Ethical sourcing" for you, despite how much we want to believe it or how good our intentions are. If they don't or can't prove it, it's not true. Sourcing ethical is much harder, and has a much lower profit margin, which doesn't attract big businesses to change. However as consumers by directing our purchasing power toward truely sustainable and ethical product, we can reduce the profit of big greedy factories and force positive change to occur. Wether you are a buyer, or a seller, each of us has an ability to feel when we are doing the right thing, and it is everyone's personal responsibility to listen to your conscience and direct our actions toward saving our planet, and our future.
Gemstones are amazing. They are simply the creations of perfect natural circumstance gifted to us from Mother Nature. We are all responsible for ensuring they exist to be enjoyed for many generations to come.
I so would love to invite anyone who is interested in learning more about this topic, local fossicking, or learning how to recognise a manmade gemstone to message us any time, with any questions you may have. I may not have the resources to answer you immediately, but I will respond and I will be honest.
I've really enjoyed sharing the surface of my passion with you all, and If I can leave you with two insights, they would be that: 1. Gemstones are awesome, lets appreciate them not exploit them; and 2. Your money is an extension of you, it is equivalent to time spent. So you deserve to know that your purchases are supporting a sustainable future that will benefit you and your community. So please ask more questions and shop with your ethics held high. Collectively the way we change the world is with our purchasing power, and it all starts with the self.
Thank you for reading,
I'm Izzy from Ethical Crystals and I can't thank you enough for supporting us supporting the planet ❤