A question asked by a Malawi farmer of Rachel Dery during one of the Dery’s visits to educate and enrich the East African mining communities.
“Is it true, and how is it possible, that gemstones form in the sky?”
Blessed with mineral rich lands, many of the tribal farmers in East Africa are unaware of valuable gem treasures waiting to be discovered under their feet as they tend their fields.
“Looking deep into the eyes of kids reminds us why we do what we do. We have to push forward, do the hard work, and make a path where none have gone before for the next generation. The kids of the orphanages, schools, and mining communities that we support in East Africa are dreaming big dreams and living on hope. We want to make sure those dreams come true. We have lots of exciting new things to announce in 2019: a year for building relationships, careers, and hope for the future.”
-photo from post on Gem Legacy's Instagram Feed
Roger Dery, his family, and their team are revolutionizing how gems are sourced.
Through Gem Legacy, and Roger Dery Gem Design, the Dery familys is ensuring that the miners and communities they support benefit to the highest measures through education and guided support.
Below are just two examples of treasures the Derys procure on their trips to East Africa. Upon return to the States, Roger facets each gemstone to its optimal appearance and carat weight.
Both images above are from Roger Dery's Instagram post.
Conversation on Jewelry Navigator Podcast Shares More About Gem Legacy's Missions
Before I go on, Gem Legacy will be celebrating their launch
at the 2019 Tucson Gem Show, at
JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass
Friday, February 8th
San Pedro Ballroom
8:30am – 9:00am Breakfast & Mimosas
9:00am – 10:00am Panel Conversation
Panel Conversation will share the power a gemstone carries to
transform communities and the industry.
Christina Clover-Field, Field’s Jewelers
Monica Stephenson, idazzle and ANZA Gems
Ben Smithee, The Smithee Group
To attend, RSVP at www.gemlegacy.org.
This is the coordinating blog post to my podcast visit and conversation with field gemologists, Roger Dery, and his daughter, Rachel.
It's episode Thirty of the Jewelry Navigator Podcast, and you can hear the entire conversation on iTunes, Spotify, Podbean, or Google Play Music.
Through their newly established 501(c)(3) non-profit, Gem Legacy is changing how gemstones enhance and enrich the lives of those committed to discovering and mining them.
Mt. Kilimanjaro seems to welcome the Derys back!
Pictured: Rachel, with her father, Roger Dery in Kenya, on one of his 35 trips to East Africa, July, 2018.
-photo used with permission, from @rogerdery Instagram Feed
Roger's Path Into the Gem Trade
It may seem that random serendipity played a part in Roger's start in the gem trade.
As he shared in the podcast, he hadn't given much thought into what impact he would create with his career.
Roger's passion is proving that helping those at the East African gem sources is as valuable as the gems he facets through Gem Legacy.
After high school, Roger completed a trade program in pipe fitting and welding.
Ten years into working within the trade, he realized the hazards of the work, evidenced by seasoned workers’ injuries and physical toll.
In 1981, loose gemstones and jewelry caught his interest, and he began buying selling loose gems to jewelers across the country.
Soon, he realized the need for finer goods, and the means and skills to recut and facet his own rough.
In 1999, he was approached to head a marketing program in Namibia to revive their gem mining economy.
After a twenty four year war for independence, Namibia experienced nearly 40% unemployment.
By 2001, Roger built two gem cutting schools to aid Namibia’s gem mineral economic revival.
Little did he know the “marketing” opportunity would lead to a lifetime connection to East African gem trade.
Between 2001, and 2009, Roger learned to cut and facet on his own gems, with a focus on precision gem cutting, using rough he sourced in East Africa.
A 3.62ct “Strawberry” garnet, faceted by Roger Dery, and available on Roger Dery Gem Design. Origin, Tanzania.
Since then, Roger has made 35 trips to East Africa, developing connections and much needed support through a primary school, an orphanage, and a gem cutting school in Arusha, Tanzania.
His mission grew from merely sourcing gems from East Africa, to a practice they term, holistic sourcing, and a philosophical practice to leave the miners and their communities better than before they arrived.
From @rogerdery Instagram post, “Meet Rehema, with the smile of one who has been victorious. These women love color. They wear it with grace, shine it with their life, search tirelessly for it in the red dirt of Tanzania, and seek to adorn themselves with earth’s most prized possessions of color.”⠀
Valuable Field Lessons
There are several times in our discussion on the podcast where Roger and Rachel explain how many of the miners and dealers in the East African countries don't know what the gem rough is they're finding.
True to the philosophy they practice, the Derys take every opportunity available to educate the miners.
They guide and instruct the miners how identify what they're finding, how to find more, and how to separate varieties of similar minerals, like garnet.
By providing them with gemological tools, the miners are able to productively search and find gem rough that can then be sold for faceting.
(You can find this excerpt of the podcast at approximately 17:00.)
Another story they shared was how Malawi farmers were perplexed by the appearance of gems in their fields after rain.
I know the question asked by the farmer seems naive and primitive, but when you know the limit of his understanding, it makes sense.
(I really got so excited, because the answers combine both geologic mechanics and gemology, and to talk to two people who get to experience it first hand made my day!)
Malawi is 90% agricultural, so when the farmer asked if gemstones rained from the sky, he was basing his understanding only on what he could see.
Once Roger, Rachel and their team explained how the formation of the minerals was due to the geological environments of their reagion, they understood how erosion and alluvial deposition would seem like gems had rained on their crops!
Gem Legacy is instrumental in educating the miners in East African countries on their valuable mineral resources on so many levels.
Understanding the cultural landscape is as important to understanding the geology of the region.
The Derys understand the issues and deficiencies the mining communities face, and are learning to integrate their knowledge of regional gemology with the needs of the mining communities, while respecting and honoring local cultures.
As a result, they've established trusted relationships with the mining communities.
The technology and education provided by Gem Legacy is allowing the mining commuities in East Africa to flourish in today's gem industry.
More From Our Podcast Conversation
Below are some of my favorite highlights from our podcast.
I've noted the time stamp for each, so you can go to your podcast platform and listen for yourself!
(Some of the discussions are verbatum, others are paraphrased.)
Gem Legacy Trips to East Africa
12:20 Minutes into the Podcast
BRENNA: On your trips to Africa, what happens from the time you land, to the time you leave to return home?
-photo Roger Dery
ROGER: Our visits are cenetered around purchasing rough, visiting mines, and seeing where we can give back.
Once we land, we try to have an easy day for the first day on arrival; for many of the people, it's their first time traveling to Africa, and often their first time out of the country.
We move onto visiting 3 to 4, and up to 9 mines in a day.
Then we move onto purchasing faceted and rough gem material.
Then we typically end up on a safari or bush tour, then it's time to pack up and head home.
RACHEL: Our time in Africa is to highlight the gemstones as the foundation of the trip.
For each gemstone that's adopted out of Roger's collection, it's ensured that each was passed along the supply chain with transparency and ethical practices, as well as holistically (mind, body, and soul) impacting the miners, their families and communities.
How to Buy Gemstones Sourced by Gem Legacy
14:35 Minutes into the Podcast
BRENNA: If someone wants to purchase a gemstone sourced by Gem Legacy, how do we go about that?
RACHEL: The gemstone collection is always available online at rogerdery.com, but is often traveling, because Roger likes to present the collection in person so he can relate the stories of the stones.
ROGER pointed out that their purpose is to work with retail jewelers, so when a consumer is interested in one of Roger's gemstones, they will work to contact a retail jeweler in the consumer's area to work directly with them. They will then send the gemstone the consumer is interested in, so they can see it first.
By participating with Roger Dery Gem Design, retailers can share the benefits of holistic gem sourcing established through Gem Legacy.
Not only are gems sourced through Gem Legacy traceable to the precise mine and location, but often the stories of the people, their families, and the communities who mine the stones shared, making gemstones sourced through Gem Legacy even more endearing.
Sharing a Gemstone's Legacy
I love how Roger's gemstones represent the power to change the lives of those who mine the stones he uses to facet and feature in Roger Dery Gem Design.
“Education is always the way forward. A portion of every gem’s proceeds support faceting training at the Arusha Training School in Tanzania. The students put their heart and soul into learning the faceting trade and it is our privilege to support their endeavors.” -Roger Dery, photo via @rogerdery Instagram post
At 16:15 minutes into the podcast, RACHEL went on to point out that we live in an instant gratification society, and that gemstones are more than a rock or mineral – they do represent people's lives, and how they can be positively impacted so miners' children can go to school, allowing them to dream bigger dreams, and realizing the rewards beyond their gem treasures.
Precious Women in Mining
I especially loved learning about the women who mine gems in East Africa.
Rachel and Roger shared there are several groups, like TAWOMA, Tanzania Women's Mining Association, but the one that stood out to me is Precious Women in Mining.
Based in Southern Kenya, where tsavorite is mined, Precious Women Mine is a group of women, many of whom are widows of miners, and have continued the vocation to provide for their families.
Tsavorite rough mined from Precious Women Mine. The women who are mining in Southern Kenya for tsavorite are hard workers, many of whom are widowed with families to provide for. -photo courtesy Gem Legacy Instagram post
These women often work harder than their male counterparts, because they continue their domestic duties at home.
Rachel and Roger shared that often these women will team up to share childcare and household duties for the progress of their mining efforts.
Gem Legacy has teamed up with Precious Women in Mining Co-op to provide necessary equipemnt to continue and progress, like an air compressor to provide power for tools, and oxygen at deeper mine locations.
Ginger and Rachel Dery with Esther of Precious Women Mine. -photo courtesy of Gem Legacy Instagram post.
“Gem Legacy has selected the Precious Women Mine as its first long-term mine partnership because of its female leadership and unique impact in the local community. The mine is run by a group of Kenyan women who have rallied together. Most are widows and all have challenges to keep food on the table. Their goal is to share the wealth of the mine with those in greatest need in the local community. The Precious Women mine has been working for almost one year and is currently finding small, richly-colored Tsavorite Garnet as they follow promising indicator minerals.” -Gem Legacy
Tanzanite, Tsavorite, and Grossularite
As Rachel shared her experience of four tsavorite mines during their last visit to East Africa in the Merelani Hills last fall.
She explained that many times, the gem a miner is seeking is surrounded by indicator minerals. Grossular garnet is an indicator mineral for tanzanite.
Faceted tanzanite – photo Roger Dery
We've all known that so far, East Africa is the only location where tanzanite has formed, and because of that, there is a supposed limited supply.
No one knows for sure – it's a subject I'll have to research more, but Roger explained that currently, tanzanite is being mined and uncovered at depts between 1500-2000 feet.
When tanzanite was first discovered, it was being mined at depths between 5-10 feet!
Gem Legacy was established only a few months ago, but the relationships established between the mining communities and the Dery’s Gem Legacy have been built on solid trust over the course of 35 visits.
As we finished our conversation on the podcast, I asked if either Roger or Rachel wanted to share any last thoughts.
At the minute marker 49:11, Roger directed his comment to those in the trade, that if we get the opportunity to visit or work with miners in East Africa, to consider looking at ways we can contribute back to the miners, and to take the opportunity to look out for someone who doesn't know how to look after themselves.
At minute marker 49:52, Rachel reminded us, that as consumers, we have a choice where we purchase our luxury goods, and to consider seeking jewelry made with gemstones and materials that will give back to the mining communities.
She also emphasized that gem Legacy is supporting the mines and people with business relationships, not charity.
With Gem Legacy sourced gems, we get to know and tell the story about who found the stone, where it was discovered, and how it's helping the people behind the mine.
I was so honored to speak with Roger and Rachel, and it warms my heart to know the industry is getting closer to more ethical and sustainable practices at meaningful levels.
Gem Legacy is taking it to the next level, by improving the well being and self sufficiency of the miners, and those involved in finding our beautiful gem treasures.
I challenge you not to find gemstones you'll pine for! When you do, be sure to reach out to Roger, and he will work with a retail jeweler local to you so you can be part of the Gem Legacy!