For Hursts' Berwyn Jewelers owner Kathy Hurst, every piece of jewelry she sells represents far more than the metal and gems. Hurst sees the pieces she offers her clients as an opportunity to pass on a story. On Saturday, September 17, Hurst will be sharing the story of fair trade gems through a Fair Trade Colored Gem Event. For her, it ties into a life-long mission of the store.
Hurst recalls that her late husband Ron and his brother George purchased Berwyn Jewelers Incorporated from the estate of their former boss in 1967. She says that their day jobs in local schools informed the way they ran the business.
"They both were educators, and as a way to differentiate themselves from other jewelers, they started working with designers who were branded so they could share a story over the counter with a customer. That story could be passed down with the piece of jewelry to the next generation. There are not a lot of things like that which endure, but we try to pass along something that lasts: both the gemstone and the story that goes with it."
Hurst, who began working at the store while in high school, has carried on that message in the store. At a jewelry seminar, she was inspired by one of the speakers, Eric Braunwart of Columbia Gem House. "I wasn't really aware of the fair trade gem market before this. It made so much sense to me that you would want to buy a piece of merchandise that is not only beautiful but that it also transparent in the way that it got to you. Most people who buy jewelry are privileged, and I realized that in buying fair trade gems, they might want to share that privilege with someone less fortunate."
Braunwart, who will be hosting the Colored Gem Event with Hurst, has been involved with fair trade gems for more than sixteen years. He recalls that a trip to Madagascar on behalf of the World Bank in 2001 informed his firm's move into the fair trade market.
"Madagascar had recently been found to be a huge trove of gemstones, and I was tasked with how to use gemstones and mining as a way to alleviate poverty."
Braunwart took inspiration from that trip and turned his business' focus onto sustainability. "It changed the way we do business. It's not just the positive, such as price and the beauty of the stones that you consider. We also consider the negatives: how was the stone obtained, where it comes from, how was it produced?"
While he estimates that focusing on fair trade sources cut his potential sources for gemstones by three quarters, Braunwart says the difference his business and its partners help make in the communities, from safe mining practices to providing schools and wells, adds immeasurably to the value of the gems he sources.
"Fair trade sustainability and transparency are technical goals because focusing on these ensures that the people who are providing your gemstones are not harmed from the industry. The romance comes into the story when you learn about the people and the places where these gems come from."
On Saturday September 17 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Hurst and Braunwart will share the story of fair trade gems at a trunk show at Hursts' Berwyn Jewelers. Braunwart will provide information on the sources of stones and customers will be able to see a variety of fair trade products. Braunwart says that some of the favorite stones include the rare pink to orange padparadsha sapphires as well as green, sea foam, yellow and blue sapphires from Malawi.
Customers will be able to purchase loose stones or already completed pieces. Hurst, Columbia Gem House expert, Eric Phillips, and Hurst's expert bench jeweler will also be on hand to sketch custom designs for purchasers of loose stones.
Hurst welcomes customers to attend the event and believes the ethical message will resonate with others as it has with her. "This is a limited opportunity to buy gems that are beautiful and contribute to the world."
Hursts' Berwyn Jewelers, Inc. is located at 6418 Cermak Rd., Berwyn, IL. For questions or to make an appointment during the event, please call 708.788.0880.
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