Gemecology Research Overview

The central aim of this project is to conduct firsthand empirical research on the environmental and social benefits and impacts of artisanal gemstone mining around the world.  Artisanal mining is difficult to define because it is often interchanged with small-scale mining; however, in regards to gemstone production it refers to non-mechanized, generally informal, and sometimes illegal mining in developing countries where the labor population is transient and poor.  It is very different from large-scale mechanized mining because it is more transient, more dynamic, less predictable, and less heavily supported by large companies.  While an estimated 30 million people depend on small-scale mining, directly or indirectly, for their income [1], this estimate is low because it does not fully account for artisanal miners.  The International Labor Organization further estimates that there are 13 million small-scale miners operating in 55 countries scattered around Africa, Asia and Latin America [1].  Most previous research on environmental impacts of artisanal mining has been done on the gold and diamond sectors, but much of the growth and market share of artisanal mining in the world’s jewelry economy has been in the three non-carbon precious gemstone sectors: sapphires, rubies and emeralds.  This project focuses on communities involved in artisanal mining and processing of these three commodities.  Unlike gold and diamond mining, there are relatively few complex negative impacts of colored gemstone mining and because of the geology behind underground formations of emeralds, rubies and sapphires, artisanal mining is necessary to find the gems that larger, mechanized methods will miss.  In addition, there is growing recognition that economic development stratgies to cluster manufacturing and service industries around regional small-scale mining sectors can manifest as incubators of entrepreneurship and sustainable development.

It is hoped that this research will result in direct resources that can be used effectively by communities where mining is taking place to improve their environmental health while securing their livelihoods.  In addition, the research will yield useful tools for policymakers, governments, environmentalists and companies to support sustainable development and promote environmental integrity through artisanal gemstone mining.




[1]: International Labor Organization, 1999.