Investing in beauty with good karma:
The hidden cost of sapphires
In the last decades gemstones especially sapphires have become affordable to a much wider audience. Centuries ago only the rich and powerful could afford or have access to a ruby or a star sapphire. Today one might by cheap sapphires for less than $20 a carat on the internet.
Two main developments have led to this price drop:
a) Low grade corundum is nowadays treated with radiation, heat and chemicals to be then sold as "natural" gem-quality sapphire.
b) The ruthless exploitation of natural and human resources in the, mostly 3rd world, gem mining countries is in no way reflected in the international market prices but is carried by the local communities and mine workers.
From a financial point of view it is not wise to choose treated gemstones as an investment because their prices have been falling for decades, while the prices for untreated stones have been skyrocketing. Furthermore most treatments are under heavy critic for their potentially harmful side effects, the reduced durability of the stones and their unnatural colors.
However, the treatment of low quality stones does no harm anybody except the buyer. But the more and more industrialized mining of gems in totally uncontrolled areas in Madagascar, Myanmar or Sri Lanka does long lasting damage to nature and its inhabitants.
In Sri Lanka for example the "Ihlam", the gem baring gravel, is traditionally washed in the rivers which releases an all life killing mud downstream. For centuries this was not a major problem since mining was done only on a small and unindustrialized scale.
Today since sapphires have become the No1 foreign currency provider, one can see the brownish suffocated rivers in all gem mining areas, which is practically allover Sri Lanka. No fishes, no water animals, not even leaches survive the oxygen killing mud that comes down the rivers in tons every day.
With a government occupied fighting a civil war, the up-countries are turned into wasteland to satisfy the growing demand for dead cheap sapphires. The term "blood-diamonds" has been introduced to discriminate diamonds financing genocides, civil wars or governments violating human right, but the public is yet little aware of the social and ecological implication of sapphire mining.
For more on this topic see: http://www.wildfishgems.com/