Gemstones Q&A: Kathy Chappell, Fair Trade Gems

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On the UK’s increasing demand for ethical coloured gemstones.

Kathy Chappell operates Fair Trade Gems, a UK-based business that forms part of Columbia Gem House, Inc., a vertically-integrated gemstone mining, cutting and marketing company founded in 1977. She tells Professional Jeweller about the increasing demand for ethical coloured gemstone and the issues facing the ethical stone industry.

Professional Jeweller: How has interest in coloured gems grown among your customers?
Kathy Chappell: Here in the UK we have noticed a significant increase in demand for our ethical coloured gemstones. The larger stones, from 1ct up to 3ct in size, are particularly popular and are being used for engagement rings. As a percentage increase over the last 18 months, I would say coloured stones are up 200% to 300%. Our customers are mostly interested in our range of Malawi and Australian sapphires and our Malawian rubies, which seems to be due to the range and vibrancy of the colours available. The other major factor driving sales is that our Malawi ruby is 100% natural with no form of heat enhancement.

PJ: What kind of issues does the ethical gemstone industry face?
KC: This is a huge question, so I will touch on four main areas:

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Financing: Banks have been through a lot, so now if they even consider financing our industry, they don’t care if we treat the supply chain ethically. Six years ago they would talk about financing a company that had a strong responsibility base. Now it is never mentioned.

Sourcing
: Most gemstone mines are very small in colour, so the only certifying they can afford to do is tell us about how they mine and what they do for the local community.

Communication: We are absolutely positive that a certain percentage of consumers want traceable, ethically produced gemstones. Most retailers are not offering it. How do we get the message out so consumers know there is an option and to demand ethical stones from traditional retailers? Our greatest number of retail or jewellery clients who are actively buying and selling traceable, responsibly-mined gemstones are doing so via their web presences.

Responsible production: Consumers think that responsible production only applies to mining but this is not the case; more people are dying at cutting levels than in mining. In China, somewhere between 700 to 2,000 people die each year; in India it is down to silicosis, but also indentured workers and actual slaves. This is not what our industry wants to speak or even know about, but it’s true. At Fair Trade Gems, we cut all our own stones and put in very effective silica or beryllium dust controls.

PJ: How do you reassure customers of a stone’s provenance?
KC: We know where all our stones come from and who produces them. If we are directly involved in the mining, we make the rules. If indirectly involved with the mine, we set our criteria for buying and watch to see if they take them to heart and follow our instructions. We also cut and track all origins of stones separately.

This Q&A was taken from the October issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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