Opals run in my family. They’ve always been my dad’s favourite stone; I remember listening to him when I was a young girl as he explained how each stone was completely unique, and each opal was special. Imagine these tales combined with a childhood filled with tales from the hobbit as my earliest memories (“if I’m going to read to my daughter, I’m going to make sure I enjoy it too!”) and a strong enneagram 4 personality; a stone that was completely unique to each owner sure sounded like a piece of treasure worth having to me.
As I grew older I of course learned that getting hold of such treasure doesn’t require adventuring to mountains and fighting dragons. It comes from conventional mining practices, which in themselves carry some environmental considerations.
There are some really significant things to consider with gemstone mining. Politically and morally there’s been an increased awareness of the problem of stones like ‘blood diamonds’ financing conflict in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, or rubies supporting the military junta in Burma, all of which are situations we would never want to put our money towards. But beyond this, mining can create serious environmental impact.
When it comes to stones, most diamonds come from large industrial mines, whilst most coloured gemstones (rubies, sapphires, emeralds etc) come from smaller sites. Larger mines have larger impacts: disturbing land and drastically affecting biodiversity, digging machines with huge carbon footprints, using high quantities of water for gem processing, creating large quantities of waste rock that contributes to acid rock drainage (The average diamond in an engagement ring requires the removal of 200 million to 400 million times its volume in rock). Smaller mines have a lower impact but can still cause great damage, especially if they’re located in ecologically sensitive areas. Washing gems in nearby waterways can cause pollution, soil can be eroded, and land and forest is often cleared to create more digging sites and provide for things like cooking fires in areas where gems are found. Machinery runs on fossil fuels and causes dust, both of which pollute the air, and irresponsible mining can lead to problems like oil spills and rubbish issues as old machine parts and cars can litter local areas. Whilst opal mining causes less damage than some other form of gemstone mining, it definitely still takes its toll.
There’s also the human aspect to consider, as people literally risk their well being working in mines. Whilst many companies of course do as much as they can to keep their workers safe, it was only seven years ago that thirty three men in Chile spent 69 days underground, waiting to be rescued after their copper and gold mine caved in.
Science! Nowadays the technology has been developed to create gemstones in a lab which are chemically and visually the same as naturally created stones, with a much smaller environmental impact and no risk of human life. More expensive and hard-to-find natural gems, such as diamonds, coloured stones (sapphire, emerald, ruby), and opals are top picks for lab stones. They aren’t imitation gemstones, which are artificially made copies that aren’t chemically the same, they are identical chemically as well as visually and physically. It’s pretty amazing.
Lab gemstones are created by mimicking natural processes, however a stone can be grown in under a year as opposed to millions of years. The main difference is natural gems typically have inclusions from the crystallisation process — gases and other minerals mixing during the molten stage of stone creation. However lab created stones rely on a steady, controlled process of applying minerals, heat and pressure, so usually have fewer inclusions. The average person would find it virtually impossible to tell the difference between a natural and lab-created stone. Basically, you pay less while maintaining high quality and causing a much smaller impact. No mines are dug, labs use much less resources and energy than mining, and cause less pollution.
‘Stones created in a lab are chemically, physically and optically identical to those mined underground — but they have fewer flaws, a lighter carbon footprint and cost less, too’
Essentially, if you buy a lab gemstone no one’s going to be able to tell the difference, but you’ll have the knowledge that your impact was much smaller. However, as with jewels, there are of course varying qualities of stones, and it’s important to still purchase from a trusted jeweller who knows what your stone is and how to care for it. And this is where my new favourite jewellery company comes into it.
Why Valley Rose are Amazing
Valley Rose is a sustainable and stunning jewellery & accessories studio committed to creating jewellery made from recycled metals and conflict free, ethical gems. Founded by Brittany Ann McCall, this lovely California-based company only work with the most sustainable, ethical methods available in the world of jewellery design. Each piece is hand made and designed by Brittany in Sonoma Valley, where she uses artisanal metalsmithing techniques to create her one of a kind creations with a romantic, bohemian and timeless aesthetic. They use recycled gold or silver and their stones are either reclaimed/vintage stock, hand mined in conflict free environments with extremely high standards, OR lab created! When I first connected with Brittany I was so amazed with her lab grown opals that I had to show my dad. He’s an engineer, so science combined with his favourite stone was a winning combo.
As Brittany offered to make a ring specially for me, my dad helped me choose what to ask for. Despite a love for the stone that was passed down from my father, I’ve actually never owned anything opal for myself (although my mum has had quite the collection over the years), and it was such a special moment to pick out the ring together. We eventually settled on the Spiritus Blue Opal Ring, isn’t it gorgeous? Honestly one of the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve gone from reading about treasure as a child to owning my own little piece, and I’m head over heels. It’s completely unique with that ‘handmade-with-love’ feeling, as well as being completely stunning and fitting perfectly. It goes with everything, and it’s as delicate and precious as any stone that would’ve been mined from the ground, minus the impact. Instead of buying random, cheap jewellery from unethical sources, I know I have something that I’m going to love and treasure for my whole life. That’s a pretty neat feeling.
The band is made of recycled sterling silver and pure silver, and is nickel and lead free. Both the blue and white opals are lab cultured gemstones and there is genuinely no way to tell the difference. I can’t believe they were grown in a lab! Science is amazing. On top of this the ring comes packaged in eco-friendly and recycled packaging, and Valley Rose has a whole host of care instructions to help me out with my new amazing piece – trustworthy jeweller alert!
But that’s not all, Valley Rose Studio has also teamed up with me to give away $150 store credit to one of you lovely readers.
For $150 you could actually get several things from the store, but if I were you I’d have a look at their pieces with lab grown jewels. When you get yours, I think you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.