Regardless of which gemstone is your favourite, every type of stone must go through the same complex process to get it from mine to market and in your hands. Whether you own gems in the form of a striking piece of jewellery or keep polished semi-precious stones in your house for good luck and health, before hitting the shop shelves, every gemstone has received bundles of time, love and care.
In this article, we explore the journey gemstones embark on from the mine to market.
From start to finish, gemstones go through five stages before the final product is complete.
Gemstones sit beneath the earth’s surface which means to get to them we must mine down through the earth’s crust. They are present all over the world; however, some of the most popular areas for gem mining include Africa, Canada, North and South America, Russia, and China. For instance, gemstones such as quartz, agate and topaz are found in abundance in Brazil while emeralds, rubies and turquoise, amongst other stones, are often found in the United States, and diamonds in Africa.
Mining requires heavy machinery and excessive manpower. There are a variety of mining techniques suited to different styles of mining, determined by what stone it is you’re mining. Leading methods include surface mining when gemstones are present in rocks near the earth’s surface; hydraulic mining where powerful water jets are used to loosen raw gemstones; and river panning in which gravel from rivers is washed into a designated area and then panned. Another popular method is open pit mining in which holes are dug out and rocks likely to contain gemstones extracted and processed to find the treasures inside. You can also mine stones from mountain tops and by quarrying, as well underground mining methods in which, as the name suggests, underground tunnels are created and then mined.
When discovered, gemstones are in their raw, rough form which will, usually, look like colourful rocks and, in most cases, they will not shine or shimmer like the cut gemstones you know and love.
To bring it up to scratch, the rough stone must undergo further processing.
Stage Two – Rough Reaches the Market
In most cases, rough gemstones will not be processed by the mine that found them. Instead, the mineral will go to the market where specialist gem cutters and manufacturers will be able to purchase them for further processing to create a wholly more valuable product which they can then sell. Companies that buy processed gemstones include jewellery brands and retailers, as well as brands that may use gemstones as adornments to interiors and furnishings, for instance. Large manufacturers and suppliers may also purchase gemstones to produce products which they can then sell to retailers.
Stage Three – Gemstone Manufacturing
No matter where a gemstone comes from, it will always end up at a cutting centre where a specialist team will cut the raw mineral to create something both visually striking and profitable. Often, manufacturers will separate large rough stones into dozens or, sometimes, hundreds of smaller stones which they can then sell individually. In some instances, such as with diamonds, they may retain a larger form for maximum value. If the stone is particularly valuable, manufacturers may use computers to scan the stone to determine the best way to cut it without losing value. Once the cutting is complete, the stone is polished, cleaned and graded to determine its value in preparation for sale.
Stage Four – Reaching the Customer
Once cut, polished and cleaned, the stones are sold on to jewellery brands and wholesalers, for instance. Although purchasing gemstones isn’t just a case of bulk buying – most businesses dealing in semi-precious and precious stones will have a specialist gem buyer to hand whose responsibility it is to liaise with the gemstone manufacturer and choose the best gemstones. Such brands then use the gemstones in their products, such as fine jewellery. For instance, brands may set jewels in rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Some of the most popular gemstones include diamonds in first place, followed by pearls, sapphires, rubies, amethyst, quartz, jade, and amber, plus many others.
As we live in an internet generation, more manufacturers are selling their gemstones online directly to brands rather than wholesalers to ensure they can retain higher profit margins and be competitive.
Stage Five – Transformation and Final Sale
Every stone has unique qualities, and it’s up to the brand designing with gemstones to highlight those qualities to ensure the result is as desirable as it can be. Once the cut gemstone is in the hands of a brand, it is up to that brand to create something beautiful that people like you and me will want to purchase. By setting stones in jewellery, brands can intertwine gemstones with a variety of other types of stones as well as precious metals such as sterling silver, gold, and platinum. Once the jewellery item is complete, it will be photographed and made available to purchase online or in-store, or both.
Bringing gemstones from the mine to market is a challenging task; however, it’s worthwhile.
Famous Gemstone Mines
All over the world, there are thousands of mines working around the clock to source a variety of gemstones. Although, some mines are more well-known that others, some of which include:
Bingham Canyon Mine
Located south-west of Salt Lake City in Utah, United States, Bingham Canyon Mine is, at present, the world’s largest mine, covering a whopping 1,900 acres. Concerning gemstones, many regard Bingham Canyon for its quartz; however, it is most productive in extracting large amounts of gold and silver.
In the town of Cullinan, 25-miles east of Pretoria in South Africa sits the Premier Mine, also known as the Cullinan Diamond Mine. The Premier Mine rose to prominence in 1905 when it discovered the world’s largest diamond, the Cullinan Diamond. It was nearly flawless and, in its rough form, weighed 3,106 carats before being cut into nine large gemstones and 96 smaller gemstones.
City of Gems
An entire city rather than an individual mine, Ratnapura in south-west Sri Lanka has been declared the ‘City of Gems’ thanks to the many infamous finds. Gem finds include the ‘Blue Belle of Asian’, the ‘Star of India’, and the ‘Star of Adam’, the world’s largest sapphire weighing in at a massive 1,404 carats.
When purchasing gemstones in any form, always ask questions about the origins of the stones.