Interview with Jim Fiebig on Zultanite: A Responsibly Mined Gem

Ethically Mined Zultanite From Turkey

Those of us jewelers sourcing responsible gems, recognize that the choices are extremely limited. One new option that has come to market in the last few years is Zultanite.

Zultanite is rare. It is mined only in one location in Turkey. The gem is a strong alternative to diamonds. In this interview Jim Fiebig, who has been active in educating jewelers on mine to market practices, discusses some basic points that make Zultanite an option with considering. Here is a previous post on by Jim on ethical sourcing issues in Madagascar from August, 2008.

This interview was conducted via email in early April, 2010.

MC: Where is the Zultanite mine located?

JF: It is in the Anatolian Mountains of Turkey.

MC: What are some of the ecologically responsible practices at the Zultanite Mine?

JF: Murat Akgun (our founder) is very nationalistic about his home...the country and its people. When he acquired the mine in 2005, it was in very bad condition. He has done everything he can to clean up what the government destroyed and left open.

This includes the actual mine which is entirely under the mountain and the roughly 13,000 acres we hold. The government had cut trees for support in the mine in the 1970's-80's. Murat has planted over 1000 new trees and only uses recycled wood and old tires from the local village to support the mine galleries.

MC: Was Zultanite mined before Murat came in? What happened to the material?

JF: It was called "Turkish Color Change Diaspore" and all the rough and cut traded in the last 30 years was illegally extracted and smuggled out of Turkey.

MC: What was the quality of that material from the mine?

JF: It was mostly poorly cut (because the perfect cleavage and pleiochroism only yield about 4% finished gem from rough) and included. All genuine Zultanite is perfectly cut and eye clean.

MC: What is the reflective index compared to diamonds?

JF: Zultanite has an RI index of 1.72-1.74. Diamonds are 2.42. The light dispersion of Zultanite is second only to Demantoid garnet.

MC: Looking at the photos on your website, it is obvious you use explosives. How do you mitigate damage and what do you do with all those mining tailings?

JF: We do use dynamite from time to time because the host rock is Bauxite...very hard.

The blasting is only done under the surface and no chemicals are used in extraction. In fact, all the tailings of the mine get hauled away every couple months and made into concrete to enhance the infrastructure of the surrounding area developments.

JF: Murat is planning an olive oil press to add value to the only other local export, olives from the trees.

MC: What about the employment benefits for the miners?

JF: Murat is very mindful of local culture and donates a lamb or chicken for religious or civic events. He keeps lots of animals around...mostly all strays. Plus the dogs keep the scorpions at bay.

He did not think the miners were eating well enough so he hired the chef from the local hotel to come and cook for the guys. They all get insurance and unlike most of Turkey, he pays their employment taxes and has flat refused to bribe local and state officials who are always trying to extort him.

Sadly this is the story most places where the local government is the greater evil and is generally far worse than any foreign power when it comes to exploiting local resources and people. I see this everywhere!

MC: What about polishing and faceting the gemstones? Where is it done and what are the conditions of that factory?

JF: All of our rough comes directly from Turkey to the Wobito brothers near Toronto, Canada. They are world class third generation cutters. These guys determine what is cut by them and what is commissioned to other North American cutters. The smallest rough is sent to a cutting factory in either India or Thailand. These facilities have been known personally by the Rudi and Ralph Wobito’s family for decades. Only traditional old world methods are used by long time artisinal cutters.

MC: I know from experience how difficult it is to introduce a totally new product or concept in the jewelry sector. What have been some of your challenges?

JF: I have been amazed by the industry’s lack of understanding about colored gemstones in general. Less than 10% of the retail jewelry dollar goes to color…and that includes pearls. Further, in tenuous economic times it would seen a jeweler or designer would want to lure customers in with something new and exciting…like Zultanite. Plus we are totally “green” and ethical with no gemstone enhancement. We have no secrets that will come out later and bite dealers. And we are the only source for Zultanite in the world…talk about exclusive!

Yet, no one remembers when they had not heard of Tanzanite or Tsavorite, now both staples in the jewelry world. I want to tell people “What if you had bought IBM stock in 1970?”

It does truly seem that good guys finish last.

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