When it comes to finding the gems, there are a few avenues I like to take personally. Though I started my professional career as a geologist the closest I came to actually mining for gems was sifting through the tailings of my drilling rig looking for bits of quartz and pyrite crystals or occasionally lugging a jasper boulder out of a farmer’s paddock. So, though I do visit mines in my current endeavour, it is usually just to inspect or buy from the miners. I travel to Africa visiting Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa and have plans to try Namibia and Tanzania next. In South Africa the mines are all reasonably "official" so you end up buying the rough stones from yards or shops/buying points that have been established and given the social and economic climate of SA this is generally pretty easy and safe. Then you have Mozambique which is still a very wild country, we knew that the incredible deposits of ruby in the North and North East of Mozambique so that's where we focused our search for gems. Here we were able to find many beautiful stones, just not as many as we had hoped due to the fact that mining was always very small scale and inconsistent so we continually faced with the promise of stones if we could provide the capital to start mining and had time to wait for results. For a time we did just this and it was rewarding to help these small villages set up small mining schemes and teach them better techniques of gem extraction and generally just put a bit of wealth back into the community. Our latest endeavor is Madagascar, here we are actually setting up structured education in order to support the locals involved with the industry and very importantly, help add value to the stones before they leave Madagascar in order to help keep more of the profits within the local community.
Then there is South East Asia, most of my jewellery manufacturing is based in Bangkok and it is also here that I source many stones. I have a network of contacts that bring me news of new rough stones available including another Australian friend who is also bringing a lot of stones out of Africa and is very focused on intelligent mining, ethical sourcing and environmental protection. It was from him that many of the beautiful blue, pink and orange Nigerian tourmaline that we have available came from (bought from him in rough form then cut and set by us). I also travel to Thailand's surrounds, on the far Eastern border there is a town called Chanthaburi which is the main wholesale market for what most people would call semiprecious gems and also lower end precious gems, that said you can still easily find a 20ct aquamarine with a retail value in the tens of thousands of dollars in the regular buyers market but if you want to find the really good stones have to search out the wholesale companies outside of the market area. Though Chanthaburi is not quite the mecca for high end stones that it used to be it still has an ample supply of goods for the discerning buyer.
If you continue east you will cross the border into a town called Pailin this is a fairly rough town but once you get to know the locals they are very kind and accommodating. Here there are small gem dealers scattered throughout the town and as you start to venture out you can find small scale artisanal mining. In some cases it will simply be a family working by a stream digging and panning for sapphires and rubies, it is in these cases that that you will generally have pretty slim picking when it comes to finding and buying rough but that is no reason not have a splash around in the stream and play hide and seek with the children. Usually when we visit these types of operations when buy simply out of charity to support the families so that they can continue this old tradition.
There is still some small to medium scale mining in Thailand, however their boom has somewhat ended. For a time they, along with a couple of other SE Asian countries, were world leaders in ruby production. If you cross over to the Western border of Thailand you arrive in Burma/Myanmar. Here I visit Rangoon (or Yangoon) and it is very easy to feel unsafe here, especially as night falls. But the rewards can be significant if you have the local connections and know-how and you can bring out beautiful gems such as the stunning red spinels you can see on the website.
There are more sources which we utilise for gems, however what is mentioned above is probably the most used (and the most interesting).
Once we have the rough stones we send or hand deliver them to our master cutter in Bangkok, we went through many cutters trying to find the best and finally found someone who could produce beautiful finished gemstones for the best price. We have worked with him to also develop different cutting styles, such as the "geo cut" which you can see set into some our jewellery and also some that we have not released yet. For our manufacturing we have a also searched long and hard for suitable workshops and had a very trying time doing so. There is a massive cultural divide when it comes to Thai work ethic and it took some time to find manufactures that we could trust to produce jewellery to the quality we expect and could faithfully reproduce our designs. We have also started working with some wholesale manufactures, some well-established and some just starting out and looking for a break. They will be providing us with new modern stock, more than half of which has been tailor made to our specifications and we are very excited to release them on the site in the coming months.
On Lawson Gems I hope to create a full spectrum of the jewellery industry, making available rough and cut gems and finished jewellery all in the same store. I have confidence that our uniqueness along with our modern and ethical appeal, that we can go a long way with both our ability to supply top quality stones and jewellery as well continued support and enrichment programs to those in need.
Alluvial mine on the coast of Madagascar