Meeting with Eric, trader in ethical stones<> and supplier of Nyala pink sapphires for the Talisman capsule.
Where do these ethical pink sapphires come from?
These are Nyala sapphires, they come from Malawi, in the center of the country. These are stones whose color is natural, they have not been heated. We find under the name Nyala the gems that come from the Chimwadzulu mine. All naturally in pink or red tones, there are in particular these magnificent pink sapphires and the famous Nyala ruby.
These sapphires are “Level 1” according to our “Quality Assurance & Fair Trade Protocols” charter. That is to say that we have total transparency throughout the chain and that they have a significant positive impact for the miners and the local community.
It is the name of a native antelope from the Chimwadzulu region whose dress is in shades of red. It is a beautiful and rare animal, like these sapphires and rubies!
How long have you been working with the Chimwadzulu mine?
We obtained the operating lease in the 1990s, in partnership with David, a British consultant specializing in the development of mining operations. Under his leadership, the mine employed approximately 200 people and was a model of safe and ethical stewardship.
How do you discover a new mine?
In general, it is the locals who find stones by chance, on the ground or in a watercourse… For diamonds, they only form under certain very specific geological conditions, so it is geologists who study the terrain. Afterwards, you have to find partners capable of launching a larger campaign and putting the stones on the market. Mining is a risky and very difficult activity!
How many people worked in this mine? More men or women?
Recently about 50 people, about 75% male.
Concretely, how does the Chimwadzulu mine work?
It is an open pit mine. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked for 2 and a half years now. After our lease, we worked with a local operator, but refusing to pay bribes, he lost the right to operate. Currently the people who hold the lease do anything and do not respect our ethical charter. That's why we don't want to work with them...
This lease necessary to operate the mine, who holds it and who grants it?
The government of Malawi is the only one entitled to grant them. Recently, a new government - which seems less corrupt - is in power… Maybe we can continue the project soon!
Editor's note: In the case of Malawi, as in other African countries, the state owns the mines and allocates operating leases. To have total transparency on compliance with the ethical charter, you must be the mine operator yourself. Unfortunately, the state - more or less corrupt depending on the government in place - allocates leases according to opaque criteria.
What is your relationship with the community?
When our cooperation with the operators ended in 2018, we were really supported by the local community, who had worked very hard to get the state to renew our lease. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
We wanted to go further than fair trade, so we developed the Dnzonze District Development Fund project in the early 2000s. from the school and the local doctor. The idea was to have an independent office to identify priorities in terms of community development, financed by mining revenues. This program was based on 3 components: education, health and environment. So we were able to build a school, accommodation for teachers coming from afar, pay the teachers and create a kindergarten. We have also built wells to facilitate access to water but also provided support to the local clinic, in particular concerning the care of patients with HIV. Regarding the environmental component, we have, among other things, contributed to the development of a nursery in order to help with reforestation.
Unfortunately, the current operator does not wish to finance this development fund… Today there are only 4 teachers left for 950 pupils. Despite everything, we remain very attached to the project, particularly to the school for which we recently raised funds here in the US to repair the roof, blown by a storm...
Were you supported by the government or NGOs in this project?
At the very beginning of the project, a Canadian association participated in the launch of the school. After nothing, the money mainly came from our pocket and from jewelers here, from the American West, who helped us raise funds to finance the project. No NGO wants to talk to us because they want to work only with “non-profit” organizations. It always drove me crazy, because I invested my own money in it, even when the mine was not profitable! J could have created a separate "non-profit" organization, but I didn't find it honest...
The final word?
Every day, we - traders and jewelers - work hard to affirm our support for a more transparent and fairer supply chain. And it is thanks to you - customers - that we will build the jewelry of tomorrow, and perhaps even a better world!
Many thanks to Eric, David and Kathy for answering our many questions and introducing us to this fascinating universe.