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Natural gemstones... from rough to polished gem

Natural gemstones... from rough to polished gem

RuxiTirisi is built on three pillars: the jewelry, which is hand crafted for you, our customer; sustainability and giving back to our community.

I want to talk about the second of these pillars, which is sustainability and more specifically the journey of gemstones from the rough mineral that is uncovered from the Earth and to its final, polished and glamorous look we all know and love. 

Do you ever wonder how that gorgeous natural stone that is part of your favorite piece of jewelry came to life and the journey it took to reach you? Where it came from?

We all have those special pieces of jewelry, the ones that we care so deeply about. It could be your wedding ring or Aunt Mary’s favorite necklace; it could be the earrings that bears your birthstone or the gemstone colored ring you received as an anniversary present. 

Read on as we explore a stone’s journey from a rough to a polished gem. 

How are gemstones formed and where are they found?

Precious and semi-precious stones form over millions of years deep under the earth’s surface in favorable conditions, such as, temperature and pressure. According to the “Gemstones in the United States” report published by the United States Geological Survey, gemstones are found principally in igneous rocks and alluvial gravel, but also in sedimentary and metamorphic rocks.

Gemstones are made up of different chemical elements (think back to your periodic table of elements in chemistry class).

Precious and semi-precious stones are found all over the world, with the most variety of precious and semi-precious stones found in Brazil, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Madagascar, India, Burma, China, Russia, Canada and the United States.

In the United States, stones are found in California, Oregon, Montana just to name a few states. 

Brief history of gemstones

So, what is the difference between precious and semi-precious stones?

Precious stones are deemed more valuable due to rarity, hardness and beauty. Diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires are categorized as precious stones. The most popular and well known semi-precious stones include opals (very few specimens are actually considered precious stones), topaz, beryl, amethyst, citrine, tourmaline, aquamarine, turquoise, peridot and garnet. 

Gemstones have been used in jewelry since ancient times. The Egyptians, Romans and Greek royalty all used stones in jewelry. They also used precious and semi-precious stones to adorn their garments and household décor. Lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone, whose look resembles denim, was mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is one of the oldest known literature.

80% of diamonds and 10-20% of colored gemstones are mined using industrial mining practices. 20% of all diamond mining and 80-90% of all colored gemstones are mined by artisanal and small scale miners all over the world. An estimated 30% of small scale miners are women. Mining is the main source of income and a way of building a better life for the populations surrounding known mineral deposits, especially in East Africa.

How are the stones unearthed?

In industrial and large scale mining, technological advances have allowed for some innovation in the extraction of these stones from the Earth. Depending on the type of stone mined and its location, mines and deep tunnels have to be dug in the Earth’s core to reach these mineral deposits, which requires heavy machinery.

In small scale mining shovels, pickaxes and hammers, in addition to drills and dynamite are used to extract the minerals from the Earth. This process is much slower for obvious reasons and produces much smaller outputs of gemstones.

 raw garnet stone

Environmental and health concerns in gemstone mining

Mining (both large and small scale) poses serious environmental and human health concerns. Gases and dust particles released from drilling and splitting the precious material from the ore, can cause respiratory illnesses, if proper safety procedures are not exercised. The dust and gas released also travels by wind onto surrounding areas, polluting the crops and sources of drinkable water.

Tunnels and pits which are dug in order to reach the crystal deposits are sometimes not properly fortified, which can cause partial or total collapse, causing injuries and potential fatalities.

Sustainability and ethically sourcing gemstones

Various initiatives have been established with a focus on training small scale miners in health and safety. Some of the initiatives also focus on ensuring that the stones mined are brought to market in a transparent manner and that these stones are free of conflict and provide a fair price to the miners and local lapidary artists, who transform the rough material into the finished gemstone. Moyo Gems (meaning beautiful spirit or blessed heart in Swahili) is one such program, which focuses on educating and promoting female miners in Tanzania and providing transparency in the gemstone trade.                                                                                    

From rough to shine… the journey continues

Once the precious and semi-precious material is separated from the ore, they are then either sold as rough material or are sent off to lapidary artists. These artist then cut the rough stones and decide on what shapes and facets the stones will take. Each rough, which is to become a gemstone is evaluated and its individual size, shape and facet is determined at this point. The lapidary artist determines how to best bring out the shine of each individual stone by looking at these three categories.

The most popular cuts for stones are round shapes. Squares and triangles are second and third in popularity of cut shapes for stones.

The material that is not deemed a best fit for faceted stones is sometimes cut and polished into a domed shape, known as a cabochon.

 garnet, peridot, fire opal and champagne sunstone

The gem’s final journey home to you…

The precious and semi-precious stone is now ready to be set into what will become your new favorite piece of jewelry, created by your favorite jewelry designer.

I hope this post brings more insight into natural gemstones and their journey from the Earth into your hands.  

Next time you look down on your wedding ring; the earrings that bear your birthstone or the gemstone colored ring you received as an anniversary present, know that those beautiful natural gemstones were most likely dug out of the Earth and hand polished by a fellow human. 

RuxiTirisi buys the stones used in our jewelry from reputable sources, who ensure that fair wages are provided to the miners all over the world and are transparent in their environmental responsibility efforts. We believe that we are stewards of this beautiful planet and our fellow humans and it is our responsibility to do the best we can to preserve and protect both to the best of our ability.

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Thank you so much for reading. 


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