The conundrum around corundum.
The earth is flooded with millions of variants of minerals, but despite its unique properties, the corundum group is one you may have never heard of. Did you know two of the most recognizable jewelry pieces worldwide are corundum products? Corundum is a naturally occurring mineral found most commonly in Africa and Asia. Corundum, chemically referred to as aluminum oxide, is one of the hardest naturally occurring minerals on the planet, only second to diamond. Its hardness and rarity give it multiple uses as jewelry due to its unique appearance and as an abrasive material.
Corundum is better known as a gemstone by its more recognizable names, Ruby and Sapphire. A deep red corundum mineral is called ruby, and the blue mineral is sapphire. These gems are prevalent in jewelry because of their unique colour and rarity. These gems are two of the world’s most recognizable pieces of jewelry.
Corundum unparalleled hardness has earned it a nine on the Mohs hardness scale. This hardness makes Corundum useful in the abrasives industry. It has applications such as optical grinding machines- an optometrist tool for shaping lenses. It also has household applications like sandpaper as well as a grinding wheel. This unique property of corundum has given it use in many industries.
Corundum’s hardness and chemical stability expand the amount of practical and industrial applications it has. Wafers for circuit boats, industrial bearings and scratch-resistant windows are typical applications of Corundum due to its immense hardness.
Gemstone mining is a business that has been practiced for thousands of years, and despite the industry’s profits, the environmental costs are dramatic. The scale at which irreversible damage is done to the land by the mining industry is frightening, and gemstone mining is one of the most significant contributors to this, as large plots of land are torn apart for mining. Carbon emissions from the heavy machinery used in mining are another considerable concern as the gemstone industry continues to be profitable. The toxins often used in mining are another consequence of mining these precious stones. Chemicals like cyanide and fuel oil are prevalent in gemstone mining and often leak into neighbouring water streams, causing further damage to the surrounding ecosystem. These toxins often affect the worker’s air quality, which is one of many dangers of which miners are at risk.
Synthetic Production and the Corundum Conundrum
The mining industry brings many ecological and economic issues; however, avoiding that destructive process has been utilized since 1837. Corundum, because of the simplicity of its chemical makeup, can be produced synthetically. Corundum’s chemical identity is simply aluminum oxide which is a reaction that can be executed in the lab with relative ease.
Synthesizing Corundum is not only better for the environment, but it also makes it more useful in many industries. Synthetic Corundum is a more effective abrasive because of the compounds used in its creation, so industrially, the need for naturally formed Corundum is nearly obsolete.
However, in jewelry, it is the opposite. The presence of synthetic Corundum makes the natural form even more desirable as markings and signs of its age are present in natural Corundum. This demand fuels the mining industries, and there are no signs of this ending. The rarity of natural Corundum is a crucial factor that drives its popularity as a gemstone. This situation is a conundrum that needs a solution.
Corundum is one of nature’s beautiful gifts and comes with benefits because of its unique properties, Its hardness and luster are truly unparalleled. The ecological downsides that come with its mining are tremendous, but a way to combat that already exists is in the form of synthesized Corundum. By pushing for synthesized gemstones and controlling the mining of new ones, gemstones can be a truly sustainable industry.
Corundum. Geology. (n.d.). https://geology.com/minerals/corundum.shtml
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (2023, June 7). Corundum. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/corundum
Energy & Mining. (2022, July 25). Corundum. Energy & Mining. https://www.energymining.sa.gov.au/industry/minerals-and-mining/mineral-commodities/corundum
Environmental issues in Gemstone Mining. Gemstones and Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub. (n.d.). https://www.sustainablegemstones.org/supply-chain/environmental-issues
What is corundum and what are its basic qualities? (n.d.). https://www.eoas.ubc.ca/courses/Dist-Ed/eosc118-webpromo/01-modB-les17-webpromo.html
The Corundum Conundrum