Interview: Transparency in Crystal Dealing with Jill Urwin, She’s Lost Control

Jill Urwin is an East London jewellery designer and co founder of She’s Lost Control, crystal dealers and conscious style and wellness brand for modern soul seekers.

When did you first become interested in crystals?

I’ve been fascinated with them since I was in my teens really. I received a retro 1970s Rock and Minerals book from my Uncle when I was about thirteen and I couldn’t believe the natural beauty, symmetry and formations that Mother Earth produced, so I began collecting them as a bit of a science geek. Then, after a ten year career in fashion buying, I left the corporate world to launch my own jewellery brand and modern crystal jewellery seemed like the most obvious and inspiring choice. There weren’t a lot of other contemporary crystal jewellery brands around at the time so it felt really fresh and unique.

I’ve got to be honest, although ancient symbolism was intrinsic to my designs, at this point I really wasn’t into the healing properties of stones at all but it wouldn’t be long before I changed my mind. Having them around me so much meant that I started picking up on their subtle energies and one statement piece of jewellery I made for myself out of smoky quartz was the turning point. I swear that when I wore it, which was pretty much everyday, I was able to completely balance my business head with my creative head, which essentially lead me to launch She’s Lost Control with my best friend Cheryl Eltringham. I’ve always had quite an entrepreneurial mind so when I couldn’t find the type of modern crystal store I was looking for, I realised there was a gap in the market and the rest is history. It was important to myself and Cheryl that we didn’t just create a shop but that we created a platform and a voice for an awakened generation, so we’re mega happy that we’ve achieved that with SLC. It’s a lifestyle really, our lifestyle.

How do you source your crystals?

Sourcing crystals responsibly has always been a challenge actually, which is another reason why launching SLC felt like the right thing to do; I felt like I could never be certain of a crystal’s origin or journey when buying from some of the older new age shops. We wanted to educate customers and help them purchase responsibly. Crystal mining or specimen mining as some call it isn’t a regulated industry unfortunately, mainly because it’s not worth enough money but with the recent surge in crystal sales this is certainly changing. We source our crystals from a variety of countries, collectors and friends. Some are relationships I built up from back in my early jewellery days, others are direct from the mines themselves, some are from collectors who spend the whole year with miners around the world and some are from ethical wholesalers either in the U.K. or U.S.. On occasion I’ve gone to the mines myself, which is great but it obviously increases costs significantly and being a sustainable business is as much about sustaining a profitable business as it is about positive social and environmental impact. We work to balance all three as best we can.

What does ethically mined mean and why is it necessary? 

The key is to ask all the right questions and understand the lineage of your stones. To ethically mine a crystal means to mine in safe working conditions, for acceptable hours, no child labour, no heavy explosives, minimum environmental impact without the risk of leaking chemicals or contaminating emissions; all the same conditions and responsibilities that you’d expect of any industry. However, the difficulty with the crystal industry is that it’s often muddled up with the murky conflict world of precious stones such diamonds, ruby, sapphire etc. This is where there can be high mortality rates, child labour, theft, dangerous conditions and destructive explosives. This is a different world. In fact, quartz damages easily so explosives couldn’t really be used anyway, mining operations use bulldozers and backhoes to remove soil and clay and expose the quartz crystal veins in the rock. A backhoe is a piece of excavating equipment with a tractor and loading bucket.

We strive to ensure that all our products and ingredients are ethically sourced and continue to work towards a more transparent world with a positive social and environmental impact.

For specimen mining, the value and volume of most of their finds is pretty low, so generally it’s all about striking ‘gold’ with a collector’s dream piece. Most miners in the field love exploring Earth’s hidden secrets, you never know how much the next rock pocket will give. It’s about carefully and expertly excavating the special pieces or collecting pieces that are the byproduct of larger mines. However, as with every industry there are still those who exploit and until crystals are regulated it’s about getting out into the field and ensuring we’re on the ball as best as possible and collating our own evidence for crystal lineage, making it our primary business to understand the specialties, standards and processes of the mines we work with and avoiding any vague sellers.

For instance, for a new jewellery collection I’ve been working on I’ve tracked the aquamarine right from the miner himself to the customer with photos of the exact small pocket of land where it grew, this makes the whole process more meaningful. And this year at the Gem Show in Tucson, Arizona, we arranged appointments with expert collectors and bought our stones in collections from specific mines that tell a story we can pass onto our customers. There are other responsible traders, like us, as well as miners and wholesalers who are collectively working towards more transparency in the industry and many are now applying for ISO status (independent, non-governmental international body monitoring industry standards) which is great news.

How quickly does the Earth replenish mined crystals and what are the implications of removing them?

Crystals are growing on Earth all the time and have been for five billion years so although they are being excavated, they are still living organisms replenishing from the Earth’s crust. The rate of a crystal’s growth or regrowth depends on the conditions it’s exposed to – heat, humidity, tremors, etc – so unfortunately it’s not measurable and we still have no idea what lies beneath the oceans, mountains and much off the Earth’s landmass, huge crystals probably. So although they’re still growing, we have no way of knowing how that rate compares to what’s mined. As with any of the Earth’s resources, like oil, cotton, gold, silicon, agriculture etc, crystal mining can’t be called sustainable by the very definition of the term. So it’s about weighing up their necessity and their positive impact versus the amount we’re excavating and asking, what else can we do to help?

For instance, some traders choose to stay clear of Brazil because of lack of regulations and instead source mainly from U.S. mines but we are passionate about contributing to the positive social impact of Brazilian mining communities by working with them to get the best results. Otherwise it’s like throwing a whole continent under the bus; gemstone mining is a huge industry that feeds many mouths in Brazil and visiting Brazil makes this even more apparent. It’s still early days but we’ve been looking into a model mining initiative in Bahia to invest in food production and tree nurseries to bring an additional source of income to the area so that when the stones run out there’s still another source of income for the community.

Crystal specimen mining in comparison to mining for minerals that we use in technology every day of our lives – iPhones, cars, computers, etc – is so minimal that our time would be better spent encouraging an overhaul of these industries. With crystals, however, I see this new wave of consciousness and ‘wake up’ as a positive shift for which we need crystal support. Ancient civilisations were more attuned to crystal energy and we are just teetering on the periphery of their true potential. I truly believe that the next twenty years will see radical scientific breakthroughs in crystalline energy.

We make it our business to ask the right questions and understand where our crystals come from to the best of our ability.

Every retailer, miner, wholesaler, agent, needs to take responsibility for their own consumption. For instance, at SLC, we very rarely buy tumble stones. We just feel like they’re available in abundance, so there’s absolutely no need for us to add to that consumption. Also, many go via China where various chemicals are used and you lose sight of them which isn’t really our vibe. We’ve started trying to buy our stones more in collections, with true stories, honouring the mine, the miners and the journey of our stones.

How we can we tell if a crystal is irradiated or lab grown and does this change their energy?

We get asked this a lot actually and it’s an important question. We generally ask the following if it’s not in it’s 100% natural state:

  • Is the chemical that it’s been infused with a natural recognisable element in the periodic table or is it man made? All minerals have their own energy fields so as long as it’s not mixed with a man made element we’re happy because combining the elements is creating a natural reaction that transforms the energy. For instance, without getting too technical, titanium aura created through a heat vaporising process is different to titanium aura that’s dipped and artificially coloured.
  • Is the crystal cut and processed at the mine or on a sister site? For example, some stones are sent from Brazil or America to India or China to be cut and polished which adds unnecessary costs, increases the carbon footprint and makes traceability more challenging.
  • Have any toxic chemicals been used in processing? For instance, most citrine is heat treated amethyst. This is essentially speeding up the process of nature as citrine starts life as amethyst and as it ages turns to ametrine and then citrine. So energetically, there’s nothing wrong with transforming the properties in this way but what you want to avoid is where some processes involve enhanced artificial pigment.

How can consumers find out whether their crystals are ethically sourced?

Ask all the questions! Make it your business to understand your crystal’s lineage as best you can. Use your intuition, trust and gut when picking your stones. Watch out for crystals that are labelled as coming from a country where they don’t grow, that may take a little research though. Be a little cautious when traders say their stones are from ‘small family run mines’, most of the time this is fine and often a lovely sentiment but sometimes this might mean longer hours with a smaller workforce in conditions that aren’t as safe as they would be in a slightly larger mine and controlled environment.

Should we monitor our crystal consumption?

Yes, just like anything in life. Ask, do we really need this in our lives. Like jewellery, crystals should be thought of as special keepsakes. When we’ve got from them what we need, they’re ready to be passed on. You can cleanse crystals and charge them up with your own intentions. Crystals are a gift to all from Mother Earth. At any one time you may feel drawn to a specific stone and it’s energy will work with your energy field in a personal way. No two people are the same, so what the next person takes away from the same stone could be completely different. Working with the same stone for a month or so at least really helps you understand it and open up to it’s healing benefits.

Full transparency involves huge changes – culturally, socially and financially, it’s not something that will happen overnight but we can all take measures to move towards a more transparent world.