Alina Uhlitz is a certified gemstone appraiser (DgemG) and founder of the company MIADANA - fair gemstones from Madagascar. We proudly source the majority of the sparkling gemstones for our jewelry from her small family business. In our interview, she tells us about the dark side of conventional mining and trading of gemstones and explains the key differences to the mine-to-market principle of fair, traceable gemstones.

Alina Uhlitz


1. Dear Alina, thank you for sharing your expertise with us and giving us an insight into the world of gemstones! When did you discover your passion for the subject?

As a teenager, I always wore jewelry myself, and of course I could only afford costume jewelry, but when I found my birthday card and my christening ring made of real gold in my mother's jewelry box, I wore them again with great pride. I first came across gemstones in my grandmother's jewelry and my godmother didn't know what to do with the individual stones, of course, but just thought the colors were beautiful. At that point, I didn't even think about where the stones came from.

That changed when I met Trina during my year abroad in Madagascar. From then on, I gained a completely new perspective on the subject of colored gemstones, as he was already a prospector in Kleinenberg at the time. The more I knew about the background, the more I was captivated by these sparkling gems.

Alina and Trina

2. How and where is a gemstone actually mined?

A gemstone can be mined either by small-scale or large-scale mining. Small-scale mining can be thought of as artisanal work and large-scale mining as industrial and mechanized.

Small-scale mining involves working with shovels and pickaxes. Tunnels can be dug by hand and follow the veins of gemstones. Or the gemstones can be found further up on the surface and extracted by sifting in rivers. This means that many people work here and the impact on the environment is minimal.

Large-scale mining includes open-pit mining and underground mining. You've probably seen aerial photographs of areas of land that look like Swiss cheese. Here, excavators have dug large open pits to gain access to gemstone deposits. Then there is underground mining, where machines are also used to build deep and complex tunnel systems. This has a huge impact on the environment, and because a lot of machines are used, fewer people are ultimately working behind them.

Madagascar

Mining Madagascar

Image Miadana

3. What would you say are the biggest challenges in mining and trading gemstones?

The people behind the small-scale mining projects are most important to us. In the beginning, there was often jealousy from neighboring mines when they heard how we paid the workers. But we can't just start projects everywhere if we can't see the safety of the workers, for example. That's why Trina continues to be on site 2-3 times a year to see how our projects are developing and to ensure that our criteria for responsible small-scale mining are being met.

The colored gemstone industry has been campaigning for years for more transparency and traceability in gemstone mining. We want to achieve this in the best possible way and have made it our mission to make the jewelry industry more sustainable and transparent. I would even go so far as to say that we have the shortest supply chain in the entire industry, as Trina and I are our own middlemen, so to speak. :)

Note: this principle is called Mine-To-Market. If you want to learn more about it, you can check it out here.

4. What do you do at MIADANA differently than conventional gemstone dealers?

Fairness. I think we really need to break down the word "fair" or "fair trade", which you currently see on every third advert, and put it into practice. Because it is fair when both the person who sells the gemstone can earn a living and the person who mined the gemstone with their own hands can do the same. Being able to send the children to school, having a full supply of rice and being able to build a house out of stone instead of bamboo - that is fair.

Every stone purchased from us can be traced back to the mine and directly supports responsible small-scale mining and the surrounding community. Our rough stones are also not cut in Asia as is usually the case, which would mean an additional trading step and more CO2. MIADANA gemstones are cut into beautiful gems by two independent cutters in the capital Antananarivo. This means that the largest possible part of the value chain remains in the country itself.

Image Miadana

Image Miadana

5. Can you give us an insight into your mines? Where exactly are they located and how many miners work there? What stones do you mainly find there?

Our mines are located in several locations in Madagascar. I still remember the very first mine, near Vatomandry in the east of the island, after a farmer found red pebbles in his field. That was pretty exciting for all of us. We then traveled there with a handful of workers, set up camp and 3 months later we came across the layer of earth that proved that there was corundum - in other words ruby ​​- there.

We subsequently also developed a beryl mine in Tanambe, a sapphire mine in Ambondrofe and another ruby ​​mine in Andilamena.

In total, we employ around 60 miners spread across the country. By the way, these are not our mines; the land still belongs to the farmers, who in turn lease the land to us and receive a monthly percentage based on the value of the stones found. The miners receive a salary equivalent to that of a primary school teacher, which is above the average standard of living in the region, as well as a percentage based on the finds.

In these partner mines we mainly find rubies, sapphires, garnets and beryls. As is typical in small-scale mining, mining is done by hand with simple tools, without the use of chemicals or mechanical equipment that requires fuel. We only use water pumps to drain the holes in the rainy season. In the ruby ​​mines, where small amounts of gold are also found as a by-product, women do the washing.



6. Last but not least: Do you have a personal favorite gemstone?

It's hard to say because there are so many beautiful and unique gemstones. But I have to say that I'm very fascinated by the petrol and bicolor sapphire. These color mixtures of blue and green or sometimes yellow are really quite special. And the nice thing is that the colors are so unique. That actually makes it difficult to find pairs for jewelry designs sometimes - so they are truly unique. Sapphires are also very hard and are great for long-lasting jewelry.

In the garnet family, I particularly like the demantoid and the Malaya garnet. These are both stones with incredibly beautiful brilliance and great color shades from pastel to intense - depending on your taste.

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Would you like to find out more about Alina and her company MIADANA? Then check out her Instagram account @miadana_gemstones or visit www.miadana.de !

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We use sparkling gemstones from Alina and other fair suppliers for our jewelry. Discover our collection of personalizable rings here.

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