Sapphires: Providing more than just shine

19 Feb 2019

It’s a project she’s immersed herself in for the past four years, uncovering how these beautiful, rich resources make their way from the ground to our high-end jewellery.

Madagascar is considered to be a poor nation, but it is a nation teeming with resources. The artisanal sapphire mines of south-west Madagascar have produced many of the world’s most precious sapphires since the first deposits were found there, some 20 years ago. And it’s the local women who are playing a vital role in the industry.

“Reports and documentaries about the trade portray the area as a predominantly male frontier society with little mention of the contribution of women miners and traders, and the impact of the sapphire rushes on women in the area. Yet for many thousands of predominantly rural women, sapphire mining and trading has provided a lifeline,” Lynda said.

While thousands of women are involved in work with sapphires and other gemstones, there are very few opportunities for women to participate in the gemstone trade beyond sieving tailings in the river, surface mining and the sale of small stones by traders known as the ladies in hats.

Working at UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI), Lynda is dedicated to educating women miners and traders on how to best identify the stones they mine, and the characteristics of a stone that make it more valuable – making sure these women are getting more bang for their buck.

“In focussing on the lives of women in mining and trading of gemstones, we can provide valuable information for those involved in planning and capacity building to promote better life outcomes for women and their children.”

 Lynda worked with UQ trained geologist and gemologist Charles Lawson to conduct courses for the women miners, supplying them with a basic gemmology kit of a loupe, tweezers, a torch and a guidebook. These women are now in a position to turn their knowledge into power.

Not only is Lynda working alongside these women, she has also played an integral role in establishing an online knowledge hub, a digital encyclopaedia for coloured gemstones. It’s an initiative made possible thanks to a grant from the iconic Tiffany & Co. Foundation.

“This project is part of UQ’s and SMI’s vision of creating change for responsible resource development. The study of gemstones can also provide a window of knowledge into geological processes occurring on earth many millions of years ago.”

The work in Madagascar and the creation of the Gemstone Hub are just the first steps forward in Lynda’s vision of creating a sustainable and safe approach towards the sale and trade of coloured stones. Through spreading awareness and investing in education not only is she working to improve the industry, but better the lives of those who live in it.