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HISTORY & ART TO
HISTORY & ART TO LIVE WITH
GLITZQUEEN HOLDS COURT ON JEWELRY
& SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
I don't normally mix
politics and jewelry, but sometimes the worlds collide with a smash.
You've probably seen the film Blood Diamond, or read enough reviews
to feel that you did, but most people don't realize an even worse
situation exists with respect to rubies. It's particularly worth
considering now, because more ruby jewelry is purchased at the holiday
season than at any other time of year.
Only 15 percent of
diamonds, at most, originated in conflict zones while the African wars
were on. By contrast, more than 90 percent of all rubies,
including the best, come from Burma (aka Myanmar) and its brutal rulers
control licensing of mining operations, hold a majority share in every
mine and even run the huge gemstone auctions staged twice yearly.
Beyond directly enriching
those who oppress the Burmese people, the gems are produced under such
cruel conditions that employers keep their miners, mainly kids, by
addicting them to heroin, offered after each long day’s work. And
they’re literally worked to death, because needles are shared and HIV
infection is rife. “Young people go off to the mines with big hopes and
dreams and they come home to die,” as Debbie Stothard of the
ASEAN Network on Burma put it.
So just about every ruby
mined in the world since 1964, when the generals took charge of Burma, is
dripping blood and should be viewed as “an object of revulsion,” to
quote Illinois jeweler Brian Leber, America’s leading agitator for
sanctions against them. Thanks
to Leber, who founded the Jewelers’ Burma Relief Project, and the
industry association Jewelers of America, there may soon be national
legislation with teeth to keep these stones out of American stores, but
the bill is only in committee now. Until we're protected by its
passage, the only way to avoid blood rubies is by making sure they're
pre-1964 vintage or certified non-Burmese.