One of the biggest mysteries in the jewelry industry is not knowing where our gemstones come from. Gemstones form all over the earth but when you purchase a crystal from a metaphysical shop, buy beads from a craft store or perhaps you use Etsy or some combination of resources to acquire any kind of gem your heart desires; Where do all the gems come from? They come from many places, all over the globe but why is it so hard to know the origin of our gems? Some locations are better than others at labeling localities. Is it because no one cares? Maybe it doesn’t matter? They certainly all can’t come from slave labor or corrupt governments. In my experience independent people, small businesses or artisans are the majority when it comes to sourcing gems. But why is it so hard to know where every specific gem comes from when we acquire them? Is it important?
What I understand, gemstones come from all over the world, are sought after by many, and distributed in many ways by many people. Most people I’ve met who sell gemstones are very down to earth. Some are spiritual, some are educational when it comes to gemstones. While being part of the industry, as what some may call an up & coming jewelry designer, I’ve noticed that there’s a slight divide between people who create with ‘base metals’ and those who create with ‘fine metals’. Some designers use all kinds of materials, a bit of each. The most apparent difference is the price between 'fine' materials and basically everything else. 'Fine' metal jewelry is a much higher price point because the materials cost more. This slight divide also manifests with ‘quality’ and type of gemstones used while designing. There’s another layer to this divide in which people and gemstones are exploited for profit because of the demand for these materials which are labeled as ‘fine’. Governments, royalty, military leaders, businesses, can become incredibly unjust when it comes to claiming Gold and Diamonds as their own, for example. Modern awareness of this murderous greed have become quite the topic of discussion in the jewelry industry, especially in the ‘Fine’ jewelry section of the industry where the 'fine' materials are in demand. At the moment there’s a call to action to be ‘responsible’, ‘ethical’, or to be transparent with your sourcing.
This kind of movement was easy to understand for me because I tapped into Fashion Revolution around 2016. At this time I stopped shopping for clothing in the retail environment. I made a conscious choice to thrift or swap for clothes. When I can, I support small local fashion designers. These kinds of topics have been at the forefront of my mind for many years and I’d wondered how to include these ideas into my jewelry design process. One way I did was by using beads donated to me over the years or buying thrifted to up-cycle.
The idea to be ‘ethical and responsible’ is definitely appealing but what does that mean for small businesses like Citrine Tangerine? Many people wonder what these terms even mean and if they really mean anything.
When I first studied this concept of ‘responsible jewelry design’ or sourcing, I can’t lie, I laughed at the hypocrisy! How can people who can afford gold and fine gemstones not question their own contribution to the demand? Not question their own destruction of the planet and its people? How can you claim to be ethical but want to work with materials that people are being exploited for across the globe!? But after another moment I asked myself how could I possibly be ‘ethical’ or ‘responsible’ if I am sourcing materials that are destructively plucked from the earth? At this point I’d stumbled into a full blow existential crisis. I have to stop making jewelry! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
After calming down and returning to my rational mind, I decided quitting is not an option. How can I be ‘ethical’ and ‘responsible’ while sourcing my materials? Thinking more deeply about it is a great first step! I took another step forward in 2019 when Craig and I drove out to New York to teach ourselves how to mine for gemstones that are native to this land mass. We were inspired by The Crystal Collector and a few other videos we saw online of people cracking open rocks to discover sparkly double terminated quartz. I also don't use 'fine' quality gemstones at this time, which helps keeps costs down for everyone and doesn't contribute to the greed affiliated with 'fine' graded gemstones. We took another step when we learned that drilling holes in gemstones is NOT an easy task. This experimentation resulted in a tremendous respect for those who make beads and cut stones. And another step forward when deciding to source gemstones from independent miners, businesses, and people.
It’s not always easy to make this choice. The price of materials greatly increases but in my opinion it's totally worth it when you can connect with trustworthy businesses. I think it also has to do with how far the materials have traveled and how many people they moved through before you find them. A few times I've felt completely disregarded by people who source and sell 'responsible & ethical' gemstones. It feel like some businesses won't give me the time of day! It's very strange but I suppose there are unprofessional people every where! Who knows why. To be honest, I assume it’s because I don’t work in ‘fine’ metals or gemstones that cost me thousands of dollars to purchase. I'm hesitant to work in these materials because it's so hard to 'ethically' source them. I also don't have a market for pieces that cost $1,000 + yet. Maybe in another 5 years or so! I am VERY GRATEFUL for the new connections I do have now and those who have been kind enough to connect with me through Citrine Tangerine. Ultimately I use this movement as inspiration and a way to grow stronger and get better at what I do. My dreams are to be a respected and adored gemstone jewelry company. I don't think there is any respect in not bringing issues of this industry into the awareness of our industry and people who purchase them. Especially if we understand that each gem has energy. A lot of people, including myself, tap into the vibration of gemstones for healing and to enhance our experience in life. I want to know where my gems come from and I'd honestly prefer to source the directly from people or with my own two hands from the earth.
To me, creating in small batches and sourcing gemstones from individuals is one of the most ‘responsible’ and ‘ethical’ ways to be. Especially because we live in a capitalist society where we can’t stop making or spending money and gigantic corporations have endless amounts of cash to silence any unwanted noise. When we support small and independent business, we are cultivating a global community. It’s the mass purchasing of fine gems, the land snatching of gem rich lands from people that’s truly the problem. If we don’t know where our gems come from, how can we be sure that they were not mined in an inhuman way? I honestly have no idea other than I don't purchase controversial and 'fine' grade gemstones such as Diamonds, Emeralds, and Rubies. I'll purchase the raw quality of them though which are not as highly valued or sought after by corrupted people & companies. I know a lot of gemstones in the USA are purchased whole sale from gigantic global events such as ‘The Tuscan Gem Show’. I’ve never had the opportunity to go. But some day! There are an abundance of gemstones you can mine for or source yourself right here in the USA.
I know that mining for gemstones is not easy at all. It’s definitely not as pleasant as walking on the beach searching for different colors or interesting details. We’ve traveled to NY to get our hands dirty mining for gemstones, two years in a row, soon to be three years. It’s not easy to do this kind of work and some times you don’t find anything!! This experience makes me feel so much more for the humans who mine for the gemstones available on the market today. It seems the people who extract our gemstones from the earth are the least of anyone’s concern in the supply chain. The folks involved in the mining, faceting, and bead making end of the process definitely deserve a fair wage! This also leads me into another question:
Who is making our beads? How deep should we go back into the supply chain? Should we always assume people shaping our beads are underpaid or working unsafely? While attending a conference about creating a ‘responsible’ jewelry industry, I was made aware of an illness called silicosis. This illness comes from breathing in silicates when drilling into or faceting gemstones. To my understanding, there are two ways; wet and dry. The wet method includes water, which greatly reduces, if not removes the silicates from flying through the air. The dry method is yes, without water, and the particles of silicates fly through the air. Without proper facial covering, you are at risk of breathing these silicates in, resulting in a painful lung illness that will eventually lead to death depending on your length of exposure. Once learning about this my first though is, OKAY I’ll make my own beads. But like I mentioned before, drilling into stones is no easy task. There are proper machines and procedures for these kinds of tasks. The equipment requires space, and is expensive! There are people who've been creating gemstone beads for many years. It’s impossible for me to think I could acquire all the equipment, learn these processes, and source my own rough in any kind of short period of time. There are other ways to make beads as well.
Who are we to assume all gemstone bead companies are unsafe and putting workers at risk? How could we possibly know? Being aware of the potential abuses and risks associated with our supply chain is definitely important. But painting a picture that all beads come from abusive working conditions is wrong and potentially damaging to the people who are independently creating or businesses who aren’t harmful to people. The important aspect of this is to make sure we are more conscious of our buying choices and doing research to make better choices. One person I trust for global information exposing the truths of exploitation in the gem industry is Yianni Melas aka GEMEXPLORER. Definitely worth following on instagram.
What am I doing to contribute to some small amount of change with my limited capital and resources? I mentioned a few things above but let me reiterate! For the past two years I’ve sourced gems from localities in the USA with my own to hands. Craig and I are heading out on another adventure to source gemstones ourselves this year too. Cracking rocks open with sledge hammers and chisels. We are hoping to go to another couple locations in the USA to mine this year too. I am making choices to source gems from companies like Anza Gems, who source from women in Africa. We've also sources from a small independent mine located in Brazil called Nature's Geometry. Glenn Lehrer and his story of being a self taught gem carver is also an influence in my works. I’m creating much smaller amounts of jewelry, purchasing less material, and sourcing with intention. I am also educating myself on the jewelry industry, its issues, and thinking of ways we can advance. Another way to be more mindful while designing is to remake old jewelry or use beads from old broken jewelry or thrifted jewelry. Do any ideas come to your mind? I’d love to start a conversation with you about these topics but I understand if these topics are not your cup of tea! Maybe you feel like this post has no information and just kind of went in a circle? Welcome to my world! It is hard to know when gems are moving so quickly from person to person across the globe!
What are my goals for the future? To travel through out the USA to source all kinds of gemstones available to us here. Over time extending our sourcing to other localities internationally. I’d also love to find people to directly work with for sourcing/creating beads. This would be a powerful partnership. I want to learn how to make my own beads and acquire space / equipment to make my own beads. On the topic of space I’m looking to open a space that would house my jewelry studio and is a retail space for gemstones, jewelry, and classes.
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About the Author & Artist
Megan LaCroix also known as Citrine is the daughter of a Navy Veteran. She’s lived all over the US but has roots in Michigan where her family is from. Spending summers in Northern Michigan exploring nature inspired her to create art work starting with jewelry and photography. She’d spend hours looking for rocks and creating assorted beaded jewelry with her sisters. In 2014 She graduated from University of Michigan School of Art & Design with a BFA then moved to Detroit where she is currently living and working. She is a multi-media artist with ever expanding skills but is best known for her jewelry, screen printing, photography, and paintings. Detroit Graffiti has a significant influence on her painting and drawing style. She’s participated in ArtPrize 2015 & 2021 and currently has a studio in the Village Arts Factory of Canton, MI.