As you may have noticed in our recent interviews, the question of ethics and transparency in the gem trade is a bit of a recurring issue of late.
Today, we are lucky enough to have with us Hayley Henning from the Greenland Ruby A/S and we will be discussing just this: Ethics in the gem mining industry.
Greenland Ruby A/S is the only large scale gem mining company to operate under the European Union laws to my knowledge and perhaps the only ruby mine in the world that can claim to stand on ethical grounds.
Back to Hayley though, she has been working for various of the most iconic mining operations in the last twenty years among which the now known as Tanza One that she helmed for little under a decade!
Without any further delays we give you, Hayley Henning!
The famous Hayley-Copter of Greenland Ruby A/S - Photo credit: Greenland Ruby A/S
Asia Lounges: Hi Hayley, thank you very much for being with us today. We will start with our traditional first question: who are you Hayley Henning?
Hayley Henning: So great to be given the opportunity to speak to you in this forum – thank you, and thank you for the brief intro. I’m Hayley Henning, VP Sales and Marketing for Greenland Ruby, having formerly run the Tanzanite Foundation. I’m in love with coloured gemstones, and particularly intrigued with the idea that gemstones link people and places, which is what I learned many years ago, from one of our Industry Icons, Richard Hughes. I was born in South Africa, which is also where I started my career in gems nearly 30 years ago. I now live in New York, travelling frequently to Europe and Asia, on a mission now setting up sales and distribution for the rubies and pink sapphires mined in Greenland.
Asia Lounges: You have had a prolific and successful career in the trade but I’m wondering, what drove you to enter our merry business field? Passion? Family? Curiosity? Something else entirely?
Hayley Henning: Actually, it was something else entirely! To be honest, I knew very little about the industry all those years ago, when a dear childhood friend married a man who travelled frequently to parts of Africa, sourcing rare gemstone rough. They were setting up a business and needed a sales person: somebody who they could trust with their valuable inventory, and somebody who would tell the story of a recently discovered gem called Tanzanite.
Asia Lounges: There is a question I have asked myself countless times since I have entered the trade. What drives so many South African into the mining industry, be it gem mining or otherwise?
Hayley Henning: An interesting question indeed, and I sometimes wonder myself! Is it the strong connection with nature, the intrigue with our earth, or simply the fact that South Africa is so very rich in mineral resources that it’s only natural that we take an interest? Johannesburg is after all known as the City of Gold, and was built on the discovery of Gold in the early 1800’s. Let’s not forget to mention the incredibly rich history of diamond mining. As young South African’s we were all aware, and proud of our rich heritage of natural resources.
Asia Lounges: I understand you started your CSR career when you were at the Tanzanite Foundation, can you tell us more about that? What drove you to take on that challenge and how is that, in your opinion, important for the trade and our eco system?
Hayley Henning: The Tanzanite Foundation was established as a not-for-profit organisation that not only provided education and information on Tanzanite, but also recognised the importance of giving back to the communities that surround the Tanzanite mining area. The Foundation felt strongly that if a company was removing a resource, they should also give something back; something that would be meaningful and sustainable in the long-term, like education and water supply. I personally found this all very appealing and felt very strongly about making these kinds of differences to the lives of those at the source of the gems. As much as I love gems and jewellery myself, these items are indulgences – their real value only really untapped when they become life-changing.
Asia Lounges: Further in that line, I understand that a big chunk of the Greenland Ruby A/S communication and sales drive is on the basic of ethics, can you tell us more about it? Actually, can you tell us more about Greenland rubies in general?
Hayley Henning: I can. The rubies and pink sapphire deposit in Greenland is a relatively new discovery, having been identified by the Danish Geological Survey (GEUS) in the 1960’s. Despite being one of the newest mining operations in the world, the gems are believed to have started formation more than 3 billion years ago, making them the oldest on earth! Because this is the first operation of its kind in Greenland, and the location of the mine is so remote, getting started has taken more than 10 years and millions of dollars. The mining license was finally awarded to a Norwegian group, LNS, with careful attention being paid to environmental, health and safety, and human resource requirements – all being held to the highest of Northern European standards. Not only is the company doing our own mining, but we are keeping the processing and treatment, cutting, polishing and sorting in-house with contracted factories. Each stone can be tracked and followed from the mine into the hands of the customer and comes with a Certificate of Origin issued by us.
Asia Lounges: How do you position yourself as a company in a market, granted I’m seeing this with “Asian” eyes, that tends to ask everyday cleaner, natural stones? What is your target audience and how are you planning on reaching them?
Hayley Henning: That’s a very good question! Actually, we are introducing the rubies and pink sapphires from Greenland as something completely new and unique; a gem that has never been seen before, nor to be compared with any other gemstone! Yes, they’re rubies, and we are grateful that we have that incredible legacy of the rarest and most well-known of all the gems, but THESE rubies are so totally different from those of other origins – not only have they been buried under ice and snow for nearly 3 billion years, but their inclusions are unique, and they tell this incredible story!
On a more theoretical level, the deposit is of a hard rock nature, so the extraction is complex, and treatment is essential.
Our target audience is one that is intrigued with unique treasures that conjure up images of far-away and unexpected places, and who are concerned with responsible and best mining practices. We are aiming to interest a gemstone buyer, or jewelry wearer who might never have imagined themselves to ever own a ruby, perhaps associating them with an older jewel. Our social media hashtag #notyourgrandmothersruby hopes to entice a younger audience with a fresh approach to gems, jewellery and even design.
The surreal vision of a Greenland ruby in the Mother Rock in its natural habitat: Greenland's snow fields - Photo credit: Greenland Ruby A/S
Asia Lounges: What is your take on the so - called ethical gems that people like Leonardo Di Caprio advocates for: synthetics? Are they a competitor to you guys in the battle for ethical gem production supremacy?
Hayley Henning: Not really. I think that in part, the demand for synthetics came from the inability to source consistent supplies of responsibly mined gems and diamonds. Greenland Ruby is one of the only coloured gemstone mining operations that is able to claim gem mining in a country with stable geo – political environment, and a transparent route-to-market. Anybody looking for a responsibly sourced ruby need look no further. Also, I feel that lab grown diamonds are very different from synthetic coloured gems.
Asia Lounges: Come to think of it, we’ve been skillfully avoiding the elephant in the room so far and completely dodged the question: What is your definition of ethical gems and ethically mined gems? Both as a person and as a company?
Hayley Henning: Very skillful! ☺ How do we measure, or even define ethics? I always say ‘responsible’ which I feel is much more, well, responsible! I think most importantly one needs to be very careful about imposing one’s own standards upon standards that are acceptable or even normal in other countries.
Simply stated, I think ‘responsible’ means adhering to the rules and regulations defined in the location of operation.
I also feel strongly that responsibility starts with oneself, with your family and friends, at home and at work; being the best we can be and doing good by doing right. I also feel that each person can make small differences by themselves, so don’t only leave it to the big companies. There are so many incredible people in our industry who are doing what they can to support local people in gem mining areas, teaching them how to be better producers, and how to look after their resources at the same time. It’s also about education and we’re all responsible to share our knowledge where we can. I am proud to tell you that a few years ago I set up the Maasai Ladies Project, and taught a group of local ladies in Tanzania to hand-make a collection of jewelry, which they sold and managed to send all their children and grandchildren to school for a year! A small Project maybe, but with a big and important impact!
Hayley Henning with the ladies of Maasai Ladies Project - photo credit: Hayley Henning
More recently I have established the Pink Polar Bear Foundation which is the CRS arm of Greenland Ruby and will be supported by the proceeds of the sales of our gems. The Pink Polar Bear Foundation is concerned with International Polar Research and the impact of climate change on the communities in the Arctic’s, most specifically Greenland.
Asia Lounges: Bit of a curiosity question on my side here, how do you imagine the gem trade to evolve in the next five to ten years?
Hayley Henning: Oh – I think there’ll be quite a few changes in the next five years, and I think it’ll all happen quite quickly!
- With technology we’ll see all sorts of things happening, from buyers having access to previously unknown sources in remote locations, to the ability to track and trace gems that have previously been unaccounted through countless middle-men. This will change and influence supply chain, offering accountability and transparency, and probably eliminating many of the ‘middle men’ along the way. We most often can’t tell how many times a gem might’ve changed hands on its way from the mine to market, so this will all need to become more transparent. Also, the internet continues to create more and more opportunities for miners and dealers in what were previously unknown locations, making them all of a sudden accessible to buyers all over the world. This is only going to increase, which will also likely effect pricing.
- Accountability is becoming more and more important, and within the next 5 years this will be the rule rather than an exception. All companies, large and small, will have to comply with standards set within our industry. This is the only way to develop and build trust with the consumer.
- Marketing of colored gems is becoming a necessity and storytelling is essential. Up until quite recently this was in the hands of only a very few large companies. In the future, I see companies, large and small needing to pay much more attention to their marketing budgets, strategies; digital and otherwise.
- Consumer demands are also changing rapidly, so we will need to adjust to accommodate this. The end user wants more information – Where? Who? What’s being done to compensate people and environment? Scales will tip when the importance of CRS and provenance outweighs previously anonymous or illegitimate supplies.
- Education - with education comes intrigue, which will drive desirability. Colored gemstones have never been more popular than they are now! It’s because we are talking about them as an industry, and news is spilling out into the marketplace. Accessibility is also driving trends and desirability.
Asia Lounges: We are slowly reaching the end of this interview and I’d like to ask you a question that is now a customary one in our interview series. Could you please provide our readers with three books that you’d consider to be of capital importance to better understand the world of gems and jewelry?
Hayley Henning: For sure, anything written by Richard Hughes is the very least. Ruby and Sapphire – A Gemologist’s Guide, and A Collector’s Guide. I would be remiss not to mention my own publication with Didier Brodbeck – Tanzanite: Born From Lightning. This was Didier’s 13th book, and is a compilation of incredible tanzanite jewels, including the very recent history of the gem mined only in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro!
Asia Lounges: Is there any further topic you’d like to address before we let you go? Is there anything you’d like our readers to know that we have yet to address?
Hayley Henning: I think to conclude; I’d like for our industry to talk about what we do! Tell about the projects we are involved in and with, and how colored gemstones are doing well for the world. Stop talking about the negatives, when actually there is so much more good done as the result of the mining, marketing and sales of colored gems AND diamonds. Also important within our own circles to be positive about our businesses – stop complaining! We need to co-operate with one another as an industry – be inclusive, not exclusive! Let’s learn from the younger generation and share our ideas, growing and being successful together.
Asia Lounges: Thank you very much for your time today Hayley, I am convinced that our readers have enjoyed these lines as much as we did writing them! I hope we’ll see you again soon in these columns.
As for us, we’ll be back with you Loungers with more creations, more fun interviews and gem and jewellery related articles soon.
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