The following article is the first of a 4-part series on the 2019 Tucson Gem Show.
I almost quit my business on Friday.
I was suppose to be gem-shopping, finding treasures for my customers. There I was, an early-bird at the Tucson Gem Show, the biggest mineral show in the world. I had a detailed plan of action and a shopping list. I had arrived relaxed and confident. I was ready to ethically-source healing stones.
I was definitely NOT suppose to be disillusioned and reevaluating my career.
Part One: Why I Almost Quit
It all started when I was visiting one of my suppliers. This particular source is a "big guy" in the industry. I prefer smaller operations, but this source tumbles many types of stones, with good prices and good quality. Since my company also specializes in tumbled stones, we do some business together.
As usual, I asked the owner a few questions about sourcing, treatments, etc. I've done that every year. This year, my questions were mostly to verify my own research. While ringing up my purchases, I remembered I wanted to re-verify that their dark Smoky Quartz is naturally irradiated. So I asked, "is this Smoky natural or treated?" Bare in mind, this is a standard question in the mineral industry. No doubt, they get asked that same question, year in and year out.
The man looked at me. He saw a petite, pretty white woman, and from that he drew his own conclusions. He decided I was interested in metaphysical healing crystals. So he sighed and replied,
"What answer do you want to hear?"
I was shocked and responded, "The truth". He told me it was natural. He put his hand over his heart and promised it was natural. He correctly guessed that was the answer I wanted to hear. I don't believe him.
Walking away, I was deeply disturbed by the encounter. It wasn't just that one moment, it was everything it represented about the gem & mineral industry. It was a stark reminder about the dark side of the healing stone business. I knew it was just one snarky, asshole remark. But it highlighted the secrecy, the lies, and the belief that only money matters. It made me question whether or not I want to be a part of the industry at all. Certainly I don't want to do business with THEM!
Later that day, I ran into a dear friend who also has a healing crystal store. She invited me to visit one of her sources and check out some Lemerian Seed Crystals. When the seller unveiled them, my friend and her companions were immediately enamored with the energy and began picking up one stone after another. They oohed and awed and said the usual things healing-crystal-people say. I stayed quiet, with my hands in my pockets. At one point, the seller said, "these are from the Andes, the best quality in the world." I don't think anyone particularly cared and the Andes sounded suitably spiritual and exotic. So they haggled on the price and made a deal. Buyer and seller were equally happy with the exchange.
But I wondered about the miners in the Andes. I wondered how many times the crystals had traded hands. I wondered why I seem to be the only person who cared. Quality and price, is all that seems to matter at the show and in the stone industry. Ethical sourcing? Transparency? What's that? No, no, no we should simply TRUST that all is well. Not check if it's true, just trust that it is.
Once again, I was disturbed by the encounter. Once again, it wasn't just the one moment, it was everything it represented about the healing crystal community. How we love things that appear pretty and easy. How we constantly talk about energy and use power words like 'compassion' and 'transformation'. Yet, often times, we shy away from doing the real work, because it's difficult and scary. Because it makes us feel uncomfortable and inadequate. So we take the easy road and just ooh and awe over the pretty stones.
So I almost quit my business right then and there. Why should I buy anything? Why should I participate in something that feels unconscious at best, dishonest at worst? I felt so disillusioned and lonely.
Luckily, Brian was available for a beer.
Part Two: Why I Decided to Keep Going
A few weeks prior, Brian had contacted me through email. He's a committee member for a conference on sourcing and sustainability in the jewelry industry. He had read an article about ethical sourcing in the healing crystal industry, which quotes me extensively. He wrote to say, if I'm really serious about sourcing, I should attend their conference while I'm in Tucson. Unfortunately, the timing was all wrong and my plane tickets were already booked. I sent my regrets, but added, "I love what you're doing. Can I buy you a drink when I'm in town?"
Now I was in Tucson, disgusted at the industry and reconsidering my career. I called him up and we agreed to meet for happy hour.
As soon as we sat down, I asked him to tell me his story and how he became interested in ethical sourcing. Turns out, he's been in this industry since before I was born. He knows everybody; from industry leaders at Tiffany's and De Beers, to metaphysical gurus like Melody. He also works directly with poor miners in Brazil. He understands the industry, top to bottom.
We talked for two hours.
During that conversation, I started to feel less lonely. It turns out that other people do share my concerns and want to help bring about a change in the industry. Some of them are even industry leaders and government officials. What a cheerful thought!
I decided to stay in business. In fact, I decided to change my flight and stay 4 extra days just so I could attend the conference on responsible sourcing. There are people coming to that conference that I need to meet and learn from. They also need to hear my stories and get my expertise. Because the metaphysical side of the industry doesn't attend events like this conference. Metaphysical people attend spiritual workshops and become certified masters (level 1) in weekend courses and online classes.
Sourcing is important to me. It matters. Someone in the metaphysical community needs to be a voice on this topic. For me, personally, it's either follow this road further into ethical sourcing or else quit the business altogether. I've got to be true to myself.
I asked Brian, "How do you do it? How do you balance out your ideals and knowledge with the reality of this industry?" He replied,
"I do the best I can."
Wise words. Actionable too.
I'm feeling grounded again - happy and confident. I'll be shopping today and all the next week. My shopping list is focused and clear. I'll be bringing home lots of pretty treasures for all of you. But, I also intend to come home more educated and more connected. I have a strong feeling that interesting adventures are on the horizon. I'll keep you posted. Thank you for being part of my journey.
Find Out What Happened Next
Part 2 & Part 3: A transparent look at how I actually sourced stones at the 2019 Tucson Gem Show
Part 4: The Sustainable Jewelry Conference & my epiphany about what comes next