Updated: Apr 30, 2021
#Eachforequal on International Women’s Day 2020 – women in the gemstone world!
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day 2020 is #eachforequal. As the IWD website explains, “Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive.”
This got me thinking about women in the gemstone and jewellery industry, from the pioneering women of the Gemmological Insitute of America, to mining company CEOs, to the hard-working artisanal miners in all the countries I’ve visited on my research trips.
As a female gemmologist and solo traveller, I’d like to take a moment to name and celebrate some of these inspirational women.
Eunice Miles – first female gemmologist at gia laboratory. Got the gemstone bug as a child thanks to her grandmother’s mineral and gemstone collection. Nicknamed mother GIA due to her groundbreaking research and dynamic lectures. Took time for her to be accepted by the industry’s dealers – was told “What can a woman know about diamonds” But her research into diamond coating techniques and identification was later used by the FBI to uncover a rogue diamond dealer. She won many awards and her work remains influential today more than 20 years after her death in 1997.
Eira Thomas has been a star of the mining industry for more than 25 years. She started her career as a six-year-old accompanying her ex-coalminer father on expeditions before qualifying as a geologist with a BSc from the University of Toronto. In 1994, she discovered a rich deposit of diamonds in Canada, a country that had previously been thought devoid of diamonds. Her discovery led to Canada producing 16% of the world’s gem quality diamonds and led to Eira’s nick-name ‘Queen of Diamonds’. The acquisition of Quebec’s first diamond mine was led by her, and she founded Lucara with two others in 2007. One of these was Catherine McLeod-Seltzer, herself a pioneer as one of the first CEOs in the mining industry.
A champion of diversity within the industry, Eira is very proud of the fact that 80% of Lucara’s senior leadership is made up of women. Lucara has the first female Botswana woman, Naseem Lahri, running the company in Botswana – in fact the leadership team in Botswana is composed exclusively of Botswana nationals.
Mining work is notoriously tough, with miners working in backbreaking conditions often for very little pay. Cristina Villegas, director of Mines to Markets and a co-founder of Moyo Gemstones, is determined to bring about change in the industry.
Moyo Gemstones is the world’s first responsible coloured gemstones programme and its aim is to educate and empower. This collaboration between several organisations is specifically targeting female miners, who are more liable to exploitation than men.
Cristina’s mission is to provide the necessary education for miners to earn far more of the value of the gems they find.
Asha on her mine – photo credit to Pact.
Moyo ladies – photo credit to Pact
Salma registering Moyo ladies – photo courtesy of Pact
So, here’s to these amazing female pioneers, and also to the many, many wonderful women I have met on my own journey through the gemstone industry!
Be sure. Be smart. Buy with confidence