Ethically sourced crystals from Minas Gerais, Brazil
Do you know where your crystals come from?
We believe that good energy starts with good sourcing. As more people are finding themselves drawn to the beauty and power of crystals, awareness is also increasing and many are questioning the sourcing conditions behind the abundance of exotic stones available on the market today. At Solstice Stones, tracing the connection to lands and communities is something we value deeply. We believe that any crystal or piece of jewellery that earns a place in your collection deserves to come from the very best source. For us as a business, this has meant taking a very real and hard look at industry practices to ensure that each and every piece offered in our shop meets our own rigorous ethical sourcing criteria.
Solstice Stones is one of an extremely small number of crystal shops taking responsible sourcing seriously. While 'ethical' ultimately has a very personal definition for each of us, unfortunately these days it seems the word is being used in ways that are often misleading or broadly unsubstantiated. Having 'trusted suppliers' is simply not enough. At Solstice Stones we are dedicated to the deeper work - pouring our energy into thousands of hours of research and investigation, digging in, and asking the hard questions. We are extremely passionate about what we do and every aspect of our business is a reflection of our profound appreciation and respect for the stones, the people who mine them, and the places where they come from.
Simply put, crystals are a product of the mining industry.
Holding a glistening crystal in your hand can feel pretty far removed from the sometimes gritty realities of the mining industry. Many crystals do not have such positive origins, and the truth about their extraction and trade is often unknown, overlooked, or not disclosed by other sellers. In reality, mining conditions can be dangerous. Large scale mines can compromise groundwater, community health, and ecosystems. In regions of political instability, the sale of gemstones has been known to fund conflict and violence. Unscrupulous middle men also take advantage of indigenous miners who may be unaware of a stone's true market value. Polishing factories can fail to uphold health and safety considerations, putting workers at risk for silicosis or other injury. In some countries, mining is vastly unregulated and the exploitation of people and natural environments inevitably occurs.
Navigating all of these complex environmental, socio-economic, and geopolitical aspects requires experience, open eyes and an open heart. As a small business, coming up against these giant shadowy forces means standing apart from the industry's bottom-line culture of quality and price. It means challenging the pervading trade practices to put people and the earth first, in every way we can, however small. At Solstice Stones we are devoted to this work, unafraid of asking the difficult questions in pursuit of the highest integrity in our crystal offerings. We are committed to seeking out the true rare gems - the few and far between miners and suppliers who conduct their operations with sensitivity and transparency. For us, compassion, deep investigation, and conscionable choices are the only antidotes to this 'dark side' of the crystal industry.
Responsible sourcing matters.
So what exactly does an 'ethically sourced crystal' look like? Without the oversight of any official fair trade body or framework similar to the Kimberly Process (developed by the United Nations to certify conflict-free diamonds), the trade of raw mineral specimens and semiprecious crystals falls into much more ambiguous territory. Over the years we have carved our own path, grappling with obscure moral questions and refining our approach as we've dug deep and peeled back more layers. Intensive research into the socio-political situations in specific countries and gem producing regions has further directed our choices, as has investigation into extraction methods and the study of unique geological environments, their mineral constituents, and issues around potential contamination and health risks.
At Solstice Stones, our ethical sourcing model has been developed based on 15 years of our own insight and experience in the industry, as well as protocols adapted from the responsible jewellery movement. We have been inspired by initiatives set out by Columbia Gem House in their mine-to-market scheme, as well as other guidelines promoted at the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference and the Ethical Gem Fair, both of which we have been fortunate to be able to attend. Resoundingly, the importance of traceability, transparency and a short supply chain is clear, as is supporting positive development in ecological awareness, fair labour practices, and empowerment for women. We have made choices not to purchase from certain countries, as well as choosing not to carry certain crystal types, sometimes in spite of demand. We never buy from large crystal wholesalers - where the mass import of stones notoriously involves long, opaque supply chains with unverifiable origins. Our jewellery collection is either personally handcrafted in house, or set in recycled sterling silver as per our custom designs by our direct source - a woman-owned silversmithing workshop in Bali, Indonesia.
Distilling all of these ethical components and considerations is a complex undertaking. On our journey we have dared to peer beyond the veil of illusion, questioning every step of the process in pursuit of greater compassion and transparency. This is the real work, the heart work. Things are not always perfect and there is always room for improvement, but we are dedicated to this path as a business, reaching for these best practices in all that we do.
Our Ethical Sourcing Model
Alongside our other criteria, a short supply chain is essential. Our highest assurance of ethical practice is going straight to the source, purchasing direct from small scale mine owners who meet our thorough criteria and share our vision. In our shop, we call this Level 1 in our responsible sourcing model. We treasure the often candid and heartfelt conversations we have with our miners, hearing the stories of their stones, their communities, and their land. Being able to personally thank the miners who work so hard is one of the most rewarding aspects of our business! It is an honour being able to support their livelihoods directly in this way. While the exact figure changes from year to year (and might show differently depending on what is currently listed in the shop), approximately 25 to 30 percent of our inventory comes direct from our wonderful miners.
We also work with carefully selected partners who journey to the stone's county of origin to buy from miners on site. We call this Level 2 in our responsible model. With these direct crystal dealers we spend an extended amount of time communicating our values and discussing conditions at the mines before conducting any business, choosing only to work with those who are aligned with our strict sourcing requirements and are no more than one step removed from the actual mining process itself. Over the years we have walked away from countless crystal dealers who have been unwilling or unable to satisfy our questioning! Of the amazing partners we do choose to work with, many are doing important work within remote mining communities establishing fairer trade networks, educational opportunities, and local value-added initiatives. Some are also actively involved in raising awareness around responsible sourcing practices within the industry.
Our polished stones and those cut for jewellery are produced in small lapidary workshops. A few of our lapidary partners are also the miners themselves, being involved with both the digging and the polishing of their stones in holistic cottage industries (Level 1). The owners of our other lapidaries often travel to and deal directly with the mines (Level 2), or are they themselves at most only one step removed from the mining process and can verify and speak to the ethical provenance of their stones (Level 3). 'Upcycled' specimens from old collections also fall within the scope of our ethical definition, as do certain crystals known to be byproducts of large-scale industrial mining operations which would otherwise be discarded due to their lack of raw commercial value - noted together in our shop as Reclaimed. Traditional wholesale companies often supply many regular metaphysical and crystal shops, and these are what could be considered Level 4: they bring in rough and polished crystals en mass from all over the world with little to no traceability or transparency. At Solstice Stones, our inventory only includes crystals from Levels 1-3, as well as the Reclaimed category - indicated in the item description for each listing in our shop. Once we can trace each crystal to its source and verify its short supply chain or reclaimed status, then all of our additional sourcing considerations are taken into account to decide whether a stone makes the 'final cut'.
What can you do?
Support small businesses that reflect your values. Purchasing from a trustworthy and knowledgable source is essential. Don't be afraid to ask questions - truly ethical sellers will welcome the opportunity to share important details with you about a stone's origin, its mining circumstance, and the journey it took to get to you. With carved crystals, consider the time it took for a person to shape and polish it - if a piece seems especially cheap, the miner and carver are unlikely to have been compensated fairly for their work. Awareness around responsible sourcing is increasing, but you can also help by sharing these ideas with others crystal lovers and those in spiritual communities. Supporting ethical practices creates a positive impact for small-scale miners and stone carvers who work hard to uncover such beauty from the earth, and in some cases have few other income-generating options available to them in especially remote regions. With the growing popularity of crystals, these things matter even more - and in our experience, good energy really does start with good sourcing.
'Peace of Mined' from Solstice Stones
At the most basic level, a short supply chain is essential when it comes to transparency & traceability. We choose not to buy from mass wholesalers, where stones can exchange hands dozens of times through complex parallel transactions, obscuring the crystal's true origin and mining circumstances. Purchasing direct from the miners themselves or from carefully selected partners who are connected to the mines allows us to hear the stories of the stones and to understand critical information about conditions at the source. A short supply chain, combined with our own additional sourcing criteria, is our best assurance of ethical practices.
Being able to trace the exact origins of a crystal is another fundamental aspect of ethical sourcing. Many crystal shops do not know where their stones come from, or may only be able to provide a broad country of origin. At Solstice Stones, each and every piece we carry in the shop includes detailed sourcing information with specifics about the precise region and area where the crystal originates as well as the name of the mine itself, wherever possible. We prioritise buying from countries with strong responsible mining practices, and avoid buying from others known to use the sale of gemstones to fund conflict and other abuses.
All mining operations have some degree of negative impact on the environment, however we take the time to consider the size and type of mine we purchase from as well as any potential tailings management issues connected to the mineralogy. While environmental regulations vary greatly in each country, we work with our suppliers to raise awareness around practices such as safely backfilling mines and replanting native species. Historically-mined material & antique specimens with no sustained impact also fall within our ethical framework. We choose not to carry certain crystals known to be hazardous to human health & ecosystems.
While no official regulatory body yet exists for crystals & semi-precious stones, we have worked with existing fair trade definitions and have adapted our own protocols based on the responsible jewellery movement. We choose to support women-owned & small family businesses wherever possible, and invest time with our miners to ascertain real conditions at the source. With our jewellery and lapidary partners, we verify the use of proper safety gear, ventilation, & water-fed dust reduction systems. We support movement towards formalised small-scale mining operations & miner's cooperatives, as well as local value added economic initiatives.
We are always looking for ways that we can give back. Through our suppliers various community enrichment projects are supported, including an exciting new model for sustainable development in Bahia, Brazil. We have made contributions to an upcoming gemmology & jewellery design program for women in Ethiopia, and donate a portion of our sales each month to Gem Legacy (gemlegacy.org) - a non-profit working to supply mining communities in East Africa with gem education, lapidary training, tools and safety equipment. Our Peace of Mined jewellery collection was designed with 100% proceeds donated to this cause.