So where are the diamonds, Em?

If you’ve looked around my website, you may have noticed that I don’t use many diamonds. It’s not that I don’t have access to them—I have great relationships in the NYC Diamond District and can get pretty much whatever I (or you!) want. I just tend not to gravitate toward them.

“Why?” you may wonder. “Diamonds are girl’s best friend.”

Well, not this girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love them. I just love other things more. Let me explain.

I’m biased. I ran the Colored Stones Research & Identification Group at GIA’s NY Laboratory. In GIA-speak, “colored stones” refers to everything outside of diamonds and pearls, which each have their own dedicated teams at GIA. I spent five years of my life staring down a microscope at all sorts of exotic gem materials and issuing reports on them.

Not only that, I’ve also done a ton of research on gem-quality corundum, aka ruby and sapphire. I spent a year of my life in Bangkok building a research database on ruby and sapphire. I also spent a decade of my life on research with Dr. John Emmett, working out a quantitative description of the causes of color in ruby and sapphire that we eventually published as a book chapter.

You can’t spend that long studying something, following it to the other end of the Earth, without coming to feel like it’s a part of you. Corundum, especially, has become a part of me. You’ll notice that most of my early designs feature sapphire. That’s partly because Dr. Emmett gave me some leftover experimental samples to play with. But mostly it’s because I just feel connected to it, after working on it for so long.

If you’re going to fall in love with a gem species other than diamond, it turns out that ruby and sapphire are excellent choices. First, they’re extremely durable, second only to diamond in terms of hardness. Second, sapphire comes in virtually every color of the rainbow, with the exception of emerald green. But oh, the teal green sapphires more than makes up for that! From lemon yellow to lilac purple to pylon orange to olive green to cornflower blue, there are so many choices to adore. Have you ever seen a coveted padparadscha sapphire? From pinkish orange to orangy pink, padparadschas showcase the enchanting colors of their namesake lotus blossoms. Their colors are brazenly beautiful, so much so it makes me blush.

Thirdly and very importantly to me, it is not difficult to find excellent-quality fair trade sapphires. What are fair trade gemstones? We’ll dive into that in more detail in a future post, but let me introduce some ideas here. All along the gemstone supply chain from mine to market, there are many points where unethical, irresponsible, unfair behavior can occur. Harsh mining practices can damage the environment unnecessarily. Miners can be treated inhumanely, working in unsafe conditions for less than a living wage. Polishing factories can fail to have proper safety protocols in place, posing health risks to workers like silicosis of the lungs.

Look, I’m the first to admit that I’m not a perfect consumer. I can’t guarantee that all the gemstones I use are 100% fair trade compliant. We're just not there yet as an industry. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try my best to use fair trade gemstones when and where I can, as much as possible. One of my main suppliers is the industry leader in fair trade gemstones. He's a trailblazer and has done amazing work moving the trade in the right direction. I have access to tons of gorgeous fair trade sapphires (any many other types of gems) through him. I feel good about using them, so I do. A lot.

Fourthly and lastly, I especially love sapphires from Montana. Loving gemstones has always been one form of expressing my love of the outdoors and love of the mountains. Many types of gems are formed during mountain building events. My favorite mountain chain is the Rocky Mountains because I half grew up there. Using Montana sapphires and wearing them every day makes me feel connected to home. 

Where is home for you? Literally or metaphorically? I bet there's a gemstone that comes from there--drop me a line if you're curious to know what it is!

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