The journey of a gemstone
Posted on January 15 2017
The jewellery making process is a long and arduous one, with every gem telling a veritable tale of the sweat and tears shed during its discovery. The following article takes us on the journey of a gemstone, from the time it is uncovered deep within the Earth’s crust to the final moment when it is set into a piece of jewellery.
Beneath the Earth’s surface
Far from the industry where brands use synthetic or lab-grown gemstones, every piece of Manja jewellery includes natural gemstones that have been dug out from beneath the Earth’s surface. As natural formations, no two stones will ever be quite the same, making every piece of jewellery a unique work of art and every stone exquisite in its own way.
Natural gemstones are extremely rare to find. Many take millions of years to form, while a combination of wind, rain and tectonic plate movement means they will have taken a long stretch of time to even come close to the Earth’s surface. Some diamonds in circulation are more than a billion years old – a mind-blowing fact when you consider that they existed alongside the very first life forms on Earth.
The majority of gemstones are formed in the Earth’s crust, with just diamond and peridot developing in the mantle. The process by which gemstones are created varies between types, with stones formed from different types of rock, namely igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. The former is the most common, contributing to the origins of gemstones such as amethyst, diamond and moonstone.
As an intricate process with a number of variables, gemstone formation takes place when clusters of tiny minerals react with water close to the Earth’s surface. This solution then dissolves, cools and crystallizes to create gemstones. The nature of the stone will depend on a unique number of factors including how long the original solution takes to cool, the surrounding environment and if there are other elements present during formation.
Luck of the draw
The mining process involves gruelling labour and a huge number of man-hours, in an environment where luck is very much of the draw. Sometimes miners discover gems just below the Earth’s surface while at other times it can take weeks of deep digging. Gemstones can be mined in many countries across the world but it is more common for mining work to take place in Asia, America and the African continent. This is because the natural, geologic structure of the earth has led these areas to become rich in precious minerals.
The majority of gemstone mining takes place on the African continent in countries including South Africa, Namibia and Madagascar. In recent years, the world’s mining landscape has diversified with major superpowers becoming prominent mining locations, namely Russia, Canada, the USA and Australia.
According to the prominent gemmology institute – HRD Antwerp: “In a typical mine, 100 ton of rocks need to be processed in order to find a diamond larger than 1 carat. This is the equivalent of finding a four-leaf clover on more than 20 football pitches.”
It is a daunting prospect and one that shows just how much time, energy and perseverance needs to be invested into the long, laborious search for natural gemstones, emphasising also how precious it is to finally locate them.
A rigorous selection process
Once the gemstones have been dug up, gemmologists use their scientific knowledge to identify and sort the stones. Out of all the gemstones mined worldwide, only a fraction can be used and just 20 per cent of diamonds mined are of gem grade quality. In order to be eligible for such quality, stones must reach the highest standards of color and clarity. This is not as obvious as it might sound, as ‘quality’ is defined by one element: the rarity of the stone’s features. For example, expert graders will be able to recognise the most infinitesimal variations in colour that might make one stone more valuable than another.
With regards to size, larger stones are much more difficult to come by than smaller ones, which increases their value and gem grade quality significantly. Manja only uses those stones that have been defined as being of the highest quality. As miners will often find a variety of stones in the same deposit, it is essential for a gemmologist to verify which are fit to be used as jewellery.
Cut and polish
The next stage sees the gems go through another delicate process, this time in order to bring out their natural beauty and sparkle. Lapidarists – those trained to cut, grind and polish stones – are brought in to ascertain the best cut for each stone that will minimise wastage and maximise sparkle. This requires high attention to detail as many gemstones are dichroic and will show different colours depending on which angle they are viewed from.
The lapidary will then work out how many inclusions – the materials trapped inside the mineral during its formation – are visible from the table (top part) of each stone and use this to define its clarity. He then cuts, grinds and polishes the gemstones to the highest shine using a semi-automated process; only the smallest stones are cut entirely with automated machines.
A fine finish
Finally, gem buyers purchase the stones based on their cut, colour, clarity and overall shine. Experts will then set each stone into the piece of jewellery – this is a very sophisticated process as they must ensure not to scratch or break the gem.
The gems are set in Sterling Silver to ensure a robust finish and beautiful, long-lasting pieces that every owner will treasure. These are not simply products, every gem tells its own story – and what an incredible story it is.