When a company operates long enough to become multi-generational it tends to have seen almost everything the industry can throw at it, and as such conducts itself with an added bank of knowledge and experience that younger companies can only dream of.
Here RM Shah owner, Nilesh Shah, details the six decades his family business has worked with gem mines, and some lessons learnt during that time.
60 years ago, RM Shah’s s mine-to-market ethos started with my late father Ramanlal Shah.
He began his journey in India and Burma, exploring both the geological source and cultural heritage of the fine gemstones he manufactured, and in 1956 started to bring them to Hatton Garden.
Over the decades, my father and I did not just visit mining areas as tourists or businessmen, we travelled directly into the mines with artisanal miners across the world; stayed with them, ate with them and worked with them, searching daily for the elusive, exquisite gemstone that would change their lives.
I recall my very first visit to a tiny aquamarine mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil, climbing steep mountainsides and venturing into a narrow dark tunnel in search of crystals. It was a nerve-racking experience, barely able to see a thing.
My early memories of working in a large Zambian emerald mine in the early 1980s are vivid, boiling under a burning sun during the day and freezing in a caravan at the mine’s edge at night, ever vigilant for armed bandits raiding from across the border.
Six decades since have taken our family business to Sri Lanka, Brazil, China, Kenya, Zambia and many more.
Most recently, in 2019, we went to ruby and sapphire mines in Mogok, Burma with the ICA (International Colored Gemstone Association), of which our firm is a founder and accredited ethical member.
The ICA biannual congress and subsequent educational mine tours have allowed us to continually learn and update ourselves about the industry and contribute to what we can do to improve it.
Each partnership is a humbling reminder of the care and dedication involved at every step of a gemstone’s journey – miners and cutters on the ground working hard, in often difficult circumstances, and yet warm, friendly and proud to share their goods.
Visiting the small gem markets that spring up near new mining areas is always a joy – bartering and being cajoled into buying something that you don’t really need for more than its material worth just to see the sheer delight on a budding seller’s face.
Of course, today, large corporations take over many major gem production mines around the world, bringing modern methods for large-scale mining, along with improved safety measures and healthcare for their workers, and building roads, hospitals and schools for local communities.
However, artisanal mining is still very prevalent and the ICA has created an important initiative of which RM Shah is a proud supporter.
The ‘Gems Keep Giving’ Fund is a global project to improve the lives of artisanal miners, providing timely and effective assistance in key areas of concern such as human rights, safety, fair labour, inclusiveness, environmental impact, sustainability and community amenity.
Aligned with the UN Sustainable Development goals, its projects and initiatives seek to further these specific goals while serving artisanal and small-scale coloured gemstone miners.
At RM Shah, mine-to-market is a philosophy and a reality whatever the scale.
We bring our customers the finest gemstones from around the world working with like-minded large ethical mining companies to small family businesses.
Honesty, responsibility, integrity. RM Shah – London’s finest gemstones from mine to market since 1961.
Donations can now be made at: www.gemskeepgiving.org.