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Supportive supply chain keeps everyone in the gold | Currents Feature

click to enlarge Supportive supply chain keeps everyone in the gold

(Ethical Gem Suppliers/Submitted)

Eric Brunwart inspects what could become a precious gem. (ABOVE) Capricorn Gems offers a myriad of gems, including sapphires. Capricorn Gems will be at the Ethical Gem Fair.

Behind the ornate facade of the Scottish Rite Cathedral is a market where dealers offer the stuff of dreams, where guests may find sapphires, rubies, diamonds, pearls and opals, to name just a few.

They’re coming from mines around the world, including the United States.

“We have everything plus a lot you’ve probably never even heard of,” said show organizer Eric Brunwart.

Only a lucky few may enter the Ethical Gem Fair, set for Saturday, Jan. 28, to Tuesday, Jan. 30, as this market is only for those in the business who can buy wholesale. This happens all over the city this time of year, however, the dealers here can provide details about the people who have touched each gemstone.

The small show houses eight to nine dealers, including Columbia Gem House, Brunwart’s company.

Brunwart has been thinking about fair and ethical trade for at least 20 years.

“At that time, we knew where our stones were from, but we did not trace them from the mining and the brokers to the cutting to heat treatment to us,” he said.

In fact, in 2001 he was in Madagascar to discuss just this subject with representatives from the World Bank Group. While there, he had another meeting, this time with a high-ranking American government official. Brunwart was dressed for the occasion: a well-cut suit paired with designer shoes. That’s when it happened.

“I walked out of (my hotel) in my suit and my Italian shoes and stepped in an open sewer,” he said. “I looked down and was pretty annoyed that I ruined one of my Ferragamo shoes. Then I thought about it. I’m here for poverty alleviation, and one of my shoes cost more than the average annual income in Madagascar at the time.”

He asked himself, “Is that reasonable? Is that equitable?”

He restructured his company to track the stones’ origins, seeking ways for all the people along the supply chain to also benefit. It’s what he calls the supportive supply chain method.

The idea of making a commitment to ethical gemstone trade was not well received within the industry. Still, Brunwart soldiered on and, along with 31 others, helped found the American Gem Trade Association, which emphasizes educational resources and ethical practices.

Curiously, about five years ago the conversation came back around to fair trade and ethical treatment of all those involved in producing the stones.

“A lot of the younger buyers and manufacturers and their customers want to know more about their stones and how they came to market and under what conditions,” he said. “Now it’s much more, certainly not mainstream, but understood.”

click to enlarge Supportive supply chain keeps everyone in the gold

Just a sampling of what Eric Brunwart’s Columbia Gem House offers.

It’s not that Brunwart thinks all dealers who do not call themselves ethical traders are unethical.

“I’m not fond of the word, ‘ethical,’ because there are plenty of ethical people in the jewelry industry,” he said. “They may run their supply chains differently.”

In the end, Brunwart is working with many like-minded dealers.

“At this show, people’s goals are to look at everybody along that supply chain, whether it’s the immediate person they deal with or somewhere two or three people down the line, and (asking themselves), ‘Are you all benefiting some from it?’ instead of squeezing the crap out of one so you make more money at the other end.

“That’s really the focus of the dealers there. It doesn’t mean the other shows are bad, but they’re also not going into detail on where they produce, how they produce, under what conditions, that sort of thing. We all spend a lot more time with that.”

Is it worth the trouble? Yes, said daughter Natasha Brunwart, who works with her dad at Columbia Gem House. She will also be at the Ethical Gem Fair.

“It is definitely more work but indisputably worth it,” she said. “I grew up surrounded by this industry, and at the end of the day, I believe creating a more equitable and sustainable supply chain is the only way to do business. No one’s livelihood, any landscape, or being, is worth sacrificing just for something pretty. The process we have created is something meaningful in itself and results in a beauty that does not compare.”

The Ethical Gem Fair

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, to Tuesday, Jan. 30

WHERE: The Scottish Rite Cathedral, 160 S. Scott Avenue, Tucson

COST: Free; registration required; dealers only


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