Verifying Our Gemstone Vendors

Rio Grande buys from around the world, always seeking out trusted favorites, as well as the newest trending gemstones that have risen in popularity.

Last edited: 2/6/2019

Rubies, topaz, sapphires, amethyst, and so many more! Gemstones are truly wondrous gifts from Mother Earth. We love them, and it is my privilege to be the product manager overseeing Rio Grande’s gemstone offerings. Rio buys from around the world, always seeking out trusted favorites, as well as the newest trending gemstones that have risen in popularity.

One question I have often been asked is where our gemstones come from. The answer is sometimes easy, but other times difficult. For example, we know opal comes from Australia, and we know turquoise comes from Arizona. But some gemstones are more commonly available, for example, we’re not able to say where our various types of topaz were mined. However, we always know where our gemstones are cut.

I thought Rio Grande customers might like to understand how we source gemstones. First of all, Rio Grande requires all suppliers to provide fulsome information about their firm. We ensure that there is no child labor. We ensure that these firms are legal entities, and that they comply with all trade-related regulations. As a firm of 75 years, we have always bought gemstones from reputable firms. We’ve striven to select trading partners who share our belief that employment should be good for the workers who do the labor.

Every supplying cutting house we work with is committed to giving honest materials with full disclosure. Many varieties of gemstones are routinely given enhancements. The AGTA has a fulsome roster of all the gem enhancements in common usage. You can see that every gemstone Rio Grande sells has the appropriate AGTA disclosure code. Our supplying cutters disclose this to us. But further, Rio Grande employs GIA Graduate Gemologists to inspect the gems we sell, always keeping an eagle eye out for compliance. If we experience issues with shipments from a cutting factory, we seriously consider if we have the right business partner. Thankfully, we have found many ethical and reliable cutting partners in the gemstone business.

We believe in providing the best repeatable quality available. We know that you want the best materials in your creations, and we strive to be the supplier you can trust for these materials. This commitment to quality is a powerful incentive to our gemstone factories to produce the best quality products they can. And with many of our relationships stretching over decades, we have come to know our partners well, as well as understand the way they conduct themselves in business.

In 2012 we began formally visiting our cutting factory partners to inspect the working conditions present, and to document our experiences there. In 2013 Rio Grande joined the RJC, the Responsible Jewellery Council. The RJC is a trade organization committed to ethical business practices. Further, the RJC partners with Underwriters Laboratories, who will conduct audits worldwide in service to upholding RJC bylaws. When we began in 2012, we knew we could not be a verification firm. But we wanted to give witness to what we were seeing.

While it is great to know your trading partners, there is also value in a formal inspection plan. We were looking for the following things when we inspected our cutting factories:

  1. No child labor
  2. Adequate ventilation
  3. Available health care
  4. Reasonable work hours
  5. Payment of fair wage
  6. Allowance for time off and reasonable vacation
  7. Compliance with local labor and pollution laws
  8. Adherence to import/export laws and consumer policies

We were delighted at how happy our cutting partners responded to our inquiries. They were proud of their business record, and eager to show us both the physical situation, but they also opened their records to us to show their legal compliance and employment records. We traveled to Thailand and India to conduct site visitations. It became clear that our cutting centers share a common belief that employees are precious and not to be mistreated.

With regard to ventilation, we could see the care that our cutting centers gave to protecting their workers:

Rio Grande Gemstone Vendors

In addition to face protection, we observed the rooms in this Thai factory had multiple air ventilators. Also, a quick look outside the factory helped confirm how much effort is given to promoting good air to breathe:

Rio Grande Gemstone Vendors

In India, we observed a commitment to ventilation as well, although it sometimes it was more simplistic:

Rio Grande Gemstone Vendors

On a general safety level, we were pleased to see that in Thailand, our cutting center had marked escape routes (in case of fire). Fire extinguishers and an alarm system were present:

Rio Grande Gemstone Vendors

While our India factory did not have a marked escape route (which we asked them to create), they did have smoke alarms and fire extinguishers deployed. And they did point out to us that they have huge windows (which you can see below) that are easy to open, making quick exit possible.

Rio Grande Gemstone Vendors

The in-office nurse station at our Thai cutting center, which is pictured above, reassured us that health care is important to our cutting center partners. Also pictured above, we observed that whether you live in America or Asia, punching a time clock is part of the routine, and it’s interesting to simply get to know our friends from different cultures better. For example, did you know you take your shoes off when reporting to work in India?

Our Indian site also had a room devoted to rest. It was not a true medical dispensary, but a doctor is on call just minutes away.

Of course, there is more to safety than just ventilation and emergency evacuation routes. We also went over their compliance with our other criteria of not using child labor, facilitating reasonable work hours, paying fair wages, providing time off, and ensuring legal compliance with labor, pollution and export laws. We were able to review time-off requests and payroll records; including punch records, and government inspection reports. We received affidavits of no child labor.

Overall, we were really heartened by the way our vendors opened up their operations to our site inspections. We have always striven to work with world-class firms. We want to provide the best gemstones to our customers. What we did not initially understand was how excited our suppliers would be to show us what they do, and how well they do it.

I hope this report is helpful to Rio Grande’s customers. We run Rio Grande through our stated principles. You can read more about our principles here. By giving you a glimpse behind the scenes, we hope to assure you that the gemstones sourced by Rio Grande are ethically cut.

Recently Rio Grande has been concentrating on finding out more about where the gemstone rough was actually mined. This is a complex subject, and is still a work-in-progress. Since Rio Grande does not typically buy rough gemstones, we do not always know the mine or the miners who dug the gem crystals out of the earth.

However, our recent American Mined program does trace the gems back to a specific mine. For now, we are concentrating on gems mined in America. But we hope to better know and share all sourcing information regardless of where in the world the source mine is located.

We are asking our supplying cutters to tell us from which mines they buy. Whenever possible we are told, but sometimes a rough dealer sits between the miner and the cutter, so we sometimes are unsure of the provenance of a gem material.

Rio Grande is committed to conducting an ethical gemstone business. We demonstrate that in our day-to-day operations, and by joining other like-minded firms in trade associations. Rio Grande is a member of AGTA, ICA (International Colored Stone Association) and RJC. We attend and participate in industry events and panels. We are committed to helping foster an environment where every gemstone worker works under humane conditions and has a decent wage while they produce the wonders from the earth that we all love.

I’d love to hear from interested or concerned parties. Feel free to leave a comment or drop me an e-mail at [email protected].