New in 2019: The Nigerian Sapphire Initiative



Gems from Africa


By now you’ve no doubt noticed the great deal of attention that’s paid to the materials entering the workshop: Locally sourced Montana sapphires, Fairmined certified gold, diamonds on a global blockchain — and sapphires from artisanal miners in Nigeria. For the past couple of decades there’s been a sort of moral panic over African gems, which have been broadly assumed to all be associated with conflict and dangerous working conditions. But in reality, small-scale mining provides much needed economic opportunities to many communities with scarce resources, who are often responsible in their practice and reinvest in their own businesses and education. If companies like ours don’t support communities like these (with fair prices that engage them in a global marketplace), then who will?



Our Nigerian Sapphire Initiative


Artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) can be defined as subsistence miners who are not officially employed by a formal mining company, but rather use basic pans and hand tools to work in the earth (typically seasonally, as most are also farmers). It’s estimated there are some 20 million people in developing countries globally, mostly rural poor, who have come to rely on ASM as a significant means of socioeconomic opportunity.  Next month Green Lake will present the new Nigerian Sapphire Initiative, our organized effort to support the sustainable development of a few select mining communities in Nigeria with investments in health, safety, and education.


As some may have heard, Green Lake has already financed the geophysical survey, drilling, and equipment for a well to provide safe drinking water to one of the main mining communities from where we source sapphire rough. It’s now built and in operation. The cost was comparatively modest but was an important step in sustaining a valuable, long-lasting trade relationship. In the future, we plan to support education in the form of books, safety with updated tools and techniques, and health with access to clean water and modern medicine.


To accomplish all this, we’ve partnered with a native-Nigerian physician at the University of Washington who leads a team on global health – and also happens to be a gem enthusiast, who in his spare time has been forging these relationships and supplying Green Lake with unique blue-green and color change sapphires over these past few years. It’s only been with his help on the ground that Green Lake has been able to ensure our supply chain is both ethical and responsible.



How a village of farmers became sapphire miners


Beneath a range of undulating hills and rock formations sits the quiet village of L’akweme, a community with a small mosque and schoolhouse that was entirely focused on farming, at least until 1994. That’s when a few men from a nearby region visited the home of the village head, Alhaji Abudulahi Hamidi (pictured below in the mauve tunic). They reported geological signs of sapphire deposits in the bush in neighboring areas, and asked to investigate the village’s abandon wells. Hamidi, believing that God in creating the world put treasures underneath the ground for the wellbeing of his people, invited initial explorations so long as they avoided farming areas. By 1996, the discovery of sapphires was so significant that it attracted one investor from Mali, Mohammed Bandami, who offered more experience in mining and was able to connect the village to a broader gem trade. Today, the village maintains all of its own mining independently and sells its rough to visiting traders from other parts of Africa, and to Green Lake Jewelry Works.



More than selling jewelry


The beauty and rarity of blue-green Nigerian sapphires are unmatched, and hopefully, by ensuring they are responsibly mined and fairly traded, their story will be equally valuable. What could all too easily be argued as a trite gesture from the West – offering a well to a village to spare its residents of disease and a two-mile walk for water — actually resulted in genuine, humbling gratitude from each of the miners. Videos just in (which will be available on the site next month) feature the very miners who contribute to our collection of sapphires offering thanks in their native Hausa dialect: “As strangers, Green Lake saw our needs and have come to give us water for our wives and children. God bless you all and may God open new doors to you anywhere you go – thank you.”



Sapphires of Nigeria


Green Lake will continue to grow its Sapphires of Nigeria collection. We presently have 22 total stones in inventory, which includes rough awaiting to be cut as well as a very nice rose-cut currently residing in the Seattle studio. Our Nigerian material is primarily coming to us in the teal to blue color range, although we do have in stock one 9.70ct unheated yellow as well as an approx. 2ct round unheated orange – both are truly spectacular. Nigerian stones are often color shift sapphires, and a few of the stones we have are full color change stones which are quite rare (moving from a complete shade of teal green in fluorescent light to almost 100% blue in natural light).


Green Lake is fortunate to have a direct mine source which allows us to offer these very unique gems. ASM operations in this region of Nigeria are all fairly new, and these sapphires have so far not been well distributed in the market. Aside from Madagascar, the colors that are showing up in this region are fairly unique. They’re quite different from Sri Lankan stones, with more consistency in color change and often in an unheated state. The sapphires that we get from Montana offer some of the same color shift, but much less on the full color change — and almost never in the same teal to blue change.



To see Nigerian sapphires, either rough or polished, make a viewing appointment by emailing us at or searching in the online Gemstone Gallery.