Colored Stones / Designers / Industry / Pearls

Buy a $25 Raffle Ticket, Save a Turtle


For the past five years, Columbia Gem House (CGH), a supplier of responsibly sourced gemstones in Vancouver, Wash., has sponsored the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) Design Challenge, an annual design competition featuring responsibly sourced gems donated by the firm.

Three years ago, CGH added a fundraising element to the challenge. By identifying a nonprofit connected to an area where CGH sources its gem materials, the company could ensure that the money it raised would go directly to a worthy cause. In 2021, for example, 100% of proceeds from a fundraising auction went toward Navajo Nation and its COVID-19 relief efforts. Last year, CGH and its nonprofit partner, NEST, raised money for the Jewelers United Auction in support of BIPOC jewelry designers and makers.

This year, CGH founder Eric Braunwart and his daughter, Natasha, the company’s brand and corporate social responsibility manager, decided it was time to focus their fundraising efforts on an environmental organization.

“We’ve covered the people and access—what are other areas directly representative of a responsible supply chain that we hadn’t touched yet?” Natasha tells JCK. “The environment in the local areas where we source gems came up.”

MJSA Design Andres Cardenas
One of nine designer pieces in the 2023 MJSA Design Challenge: a pendant designed by Andres Cardenas-Whorton of Nobles Metales

They wanted to focus on one of the gems included in the gem assortment given to the nine designers participating in the 2023 challenge: Amelia Mickelsen of Amelia Ray Jewelry, Andres Cardenas-Whorton of Nobles Metales, Claudia Gutsch of Goldammer Jewelry, Hannah Smythe of Toast Fine Jewelry, Kindred Lubeck of Jewels by Lubeck, Liz Stefany of Carrabassett Valley Jewelry, Megan Cochran of Megan Cochran Jewelry, Olivia Shih of Olivia Shih Designs, and Stephanie Maslow Blackman of Metalicious Jewelry. They chose pearls from the Sea of Cortez.

MJSA Design Kindred Lubeck
A ring featuring a Cortez pearl supplied by Columbia Gem House and designed by Kindred Lubeck of Jewels by Lubeck

The Braunwarts called their supplier, Perlas del Mar de Cortez, based in Guaymas in the Mexican state of Sonora, and asked if they could recommend a local nonprofit whose work affected their pearling operation. The answer was unequivocal: CRRIFS (Centro de Rescate, Rehabilitación e Investigación de Fauna Silvestre) is a team dedicated to wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and research along the Sonoran coast, including efforts to aid the local population of sea turtles.

“Whenever the pearl farm has higher mortality, they call up CRRIFS, which samples the water and researches what’s going on,” says Natasha. “They work together to create a healthier environment for the ecosystem the pearls rely on. It seemed like a very full-circle story about a nonprofit and how it connected to one of the donated gems.

“Also, we reflected on our previous fundraisers and how we could get more people involved,” she adds. “With previous years, we recognized that if you were not in the jewelry or gem industry, you might not be as motivated to participate in something so specific to the jewelry industry. Who doesn’t like to save the sea turtles? We’re casting a wider net.”

Turtle rehab CRRIFS
The nonprofit CRRIFS rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles along the Sonoran coast of Mexico.

This year, CGH shifted from an auction format to an online raffle—simply point your browser to between now and Oct. 31 to purchase a ticket in the Jewelry for Wildlife Fundraiser. Tickets are $25 each and 100% of each purchase will be donated to CRRIFS to support its 2024 goal of building a saltwater tank for sea turtle rehabilitation.

Another consideration in opting for a raffle instead of an auction was a desire to make participation in the fundraiser accessible to the largest number of people. “If we can do a raffle, that creates an opportunity where even my $25 goes to support a supply chain that actually has positive impact,” Natasha says. “The hope and the goal is to cast a wider net, and reach people who may never have thought of the jewelry industry and have a bigger conversation about where their dollars go.”

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By: Victoria Gomelsky

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