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Whether it’s a dazzling emerald engagement ring or a ruby heirloom necklace, a bright piece of jewelry can instantly elevate any outfit. And these precious gems are far more than just beautiful to look at—each gemstone, created deep within the earth over millions of years, is totally distinctive, which means there is a magic to owning one.
“Every gemstone is unique, just like a fingerprint,” says New York-based fine jeweler Sandy Leong. “No two are ever alike, which makes designing jewelry with them such a personal endeavor, both for me and for my consumer. It’s special for the wearer of one of my pieces to know that their piece is as one-of-a-kind as they are.”
Appreciate the history
Formed through intricate natural processes, gemstones are, in fact, crystallized minerals. Two of the most coveted stones—rubies (the red variety of corundum) and emeralds (a type of beryl)—are created when the minerals are forced together under extreme heat and pressure in the earth. Cool, right?
These precious gems are also steeped in historical significance and cultural lore. Egyptian emerald mines date back to 1500 BC; some cultures believe that placing one of these bright green stones under your tongue helps you see the future and protect against evil.
If emeralds are a queen’s gem, then rubies are a king’s stone. In Sanskrit, the word for ruby is ratnaraj, meaning king of precious stones. Some peoples believed that rubies held the very power of life, and it is still seen as a symbol of commitment today—this fiery stone is traditionally given on 40th wedding anniversaries. “There are some rare exceptional colored gemstones with provenance that discerning clients consider more important than purchasing a special diamond,” adds Vartness Knadjian, of watch brand Backes and Strauss. In fact, large natural rubies frequently cost more per carat than colorless diamonds.
Understand the journey
How do these raw beauties make their path from forming deep within the earth to dazzling on our necks and ears? There are a number of techniques to uncover these gemstones including underground mining, wet digging, and open-pit mining. Gemfields, a leading supplier of responsibly sourced colored gemstones, prefers open pit mining for harvesting rubies in Mozambique and emeralds in Zambia.
Here’s how it works: Geologists begin with the all-important job of locating the gems underground. Then they remove the overlying surface to reveal the gemstones before washing them under high pressure and moving them to the treatment plant, where they are sorted into minutely detailed grades based on size, shape, color and clarity.
“Gemstones are unique: each tells a story, and no two are the same,” says Josina von dem Bussche-Kessell, global sales director at Fabergé. “Through our bespoke work, we often find that clients tell us that certain gems ‘speak to them’ and therefore, selecting gemstones for a piece is a really personal process.”
Once graded, the rough gemstones are sold through auction to cutters, who then prepare them for jewelry designers, ready to work their magic transforming each one into a unique accessory.
“A gemstone waits below the ground for hundreds of millions of years, but once discovered it can take just one year for it to reach the consumer,” says Elena Basaglia, a gemologist at Gemfields.
Look for transparency
How can you be sure when you buy a piece of investment jewelry that its provenance is as clear as the gems themselves? With growing demand from consumers for responsibly sourced gems, transparency is now a critical part of the mining process. “We have the power to demand change by choosing to vote with our wallet and support brands that are working towards leaving a positive impact,” says Amie Tran, PR strategist at Eco-Age, a public relations firm that specializes in “progressive sustainability solutions.”
To that end, leading brands such as Gemfields and their peers have developed The Gemstones and Jewellery Community Platform in a bid to ensure fair labor and better environmental protection and governance. Gemfields, for example, has partnered with conservation organizations to protect African wildlife and is funding farming projects that generate income for local communities.
It doesn’t end when the gem leaves the ground, either. “Before a cutter acquires a gemstone from Gemfields, they sign a declaration to ensure that they conduct business in a responsible manner,” explains Basaglia. The company also keeps the topsoil removed in search of gems to refill pits or replant trees. “We are mining a finite resource,” she emphasizes. “We must focus on the future and be aware of the impact we have, including the benefits we can bring to both the workforce and the local community.”
In the end, says Basaglia, “No matter what we find, we recognize that every gemstone is a gift from Mother Nature. We value each one. Color is so important in people’s lives, and there is something very magical about discovering that buried deep within the earth.”
Find out more about how to shop and style rubies and emeralds at gemfields.com.