As part of our social impact series featured our valued advertising partners, we speak to Catherine Claus, the woman behind Bay Area jewelry company Thesis Gems and Jewelry. Her elegant creations celebrate both local craftsmanship and the true beauty that comes from gems that are ethically sourced in every way.
What is “ethical jewelry”?
Simply put, this means to obtain fine gems from known sources offering transparency, and that is the ethos of Thesis Gems and Jewelry.
When sourcing new gems, I work with mines that ensure safe conditions, provide fair wages for workers, minimize the impact to the local environment, and in best-case scenarios, restore the environment. To offer an even lower carbon impact, we offer re-cut antique or post-consumer diamonds that keep new stones from being mined from the earth. Our pieces are primarily made with substantial gold, as it provides the brilliance and durability needed for a piece of jewelry to last generations. Mercury is an incredibly toxic byproduct of mining gold, so we also feel it is essential that all of our gold and precious metals are recycled and refined in a SGS-certified facility.
Every piece of jewelry tells a story. We want the story to be one you can be proud to share.
How did your commitment to being an ethical jewelry designer evolve?
My journey began as a curious gem collector about a dozen years ago. I quickly learned that my questions about the origin of the gems, and whether they had any treatments, could rarely be answered. I longed for honesty, wanted to understand where they came from and if they were natural or enhanced. Most notably, I needed to understand if was I contributing to environmental or social harm by purchasing them. I found myself on a path of deep intrigue and education. On my search, I have gathered dozens of disturbing stories of people buying misrepresented gems — rubies filled with glass and sapphires that were in fact, not sapphires. These can be pitfalls for an uneducated consumer.
And this has lead you to be personally invested in your jewelry and its sources.
Yes, I am deeply passionate about sourcing fine gems and gold for our jewels in a very intentional way. It is impossible for me to honor the gems and jewelry without understanding the paths they took to come to me. The risk for corruption and abuse is great when the goods hold so much value — more so when there is such lack of trackability in the extraction process. Gems are very seductive; scruples can be explained away in the face of a brilliant gem at a “great price.” One should not have to undergo corruption and questionable ethics in order to invest in fine jewelry.
Can you share how ethics in the jewelry industry has evolved?
For hundreds of years, the process of bringing gems from the mine to the market were shrouded in a certain level of mystery. Gems originate from dozens of countries around the globe, from extraction to cutting, and they often pass through many hands before reaching the consumer without clear documentation. The countries that these gems come from are some of the most marginalized in the world. Too often workers don’t even know what they are mining, or how to distinguish the value of the material. This creates a tremendous polarization in how the wealth from these goods are distributed.
Transparency in this industry is essential for both human and environmental health, as well as the efficacy and future of ethical jewelry creation.
In what ways do you think your commitment to ethical jewelry is having a positive broader impact?
The jewelry industry is founded on trust, so I feel that being a company openly committed to transparency fortifies this in all aspects of our operation. Customers want and deserve to know the truth of what they are buying. Knowing the origin story of a gem deepens the connection and meaning of the jewelry itself. In addition to educating my clients and helping inform their choices when it comes to ethical origin, I have continuous conversations with other designers and companies about sustainable mines, using fair-mined, fair trade or recycled gold, and re-cut diamonds. I am seeing this creates a critical mass, challenging the industry and moving it in a positive direction.
How is Thesis Gems committed to helping others?
Fundamentally, I feel that philanthropy is the core and guiding principle of Thesis Gems and Jewelry. In addition to being members of 1% For the Planet, we partner with non-profit organizations in order to give back the communities from which our gems are mined. We contribute to The Gem Legacy, a family-run non-profit that raises funds for mining tools and education in East Africa. This organization also funds an orphanage in Malawi and primary school in Tanzania. Our work also supports Pact, a nonprofit organization that has worked in over 60 countries to alleviate poverty and marginalization in the gem and jewelry industry. They empower communities abroad with technical know-how, and aid in natural resource management. In both cases, we see our partnerships with on-ground organizations as critical to being a business with integrity. These organizations help to ensure a fairer distribution of wealth when it comes to an international trade industry, and work to protect the environment and communities affected by the downstream effects of mineral extraction.
Is there anything else you want to share?
The jewelry we make is meant to honor every step of the journey, including the land and people involved, and ultimately to become an heirloom with investment-quality gems and gold for our clients.