Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Oral Presentation Session
In the mineral-rich mountainous region spreading across contemporary Afghanistan and Pakistan, colored stones have been mined, processed, transported, and appraised in both realms of economy and culture for centuries. This paper explores changing ideas of value and quality in the contemporary circulation of a precious commodity, colored gemstones sourced in the mines of Afghanistan and Pakistan, that are geared for a regional and global market which has increasingly shifted to China. By examining the biographies of the emeralds of Panjshir and Swat, rubies of Jegdalek, and sapphires of Kashmir, this paper seeks to cross-examine what serves as a parameter of value, both in local and international markets, in which particular aesthetics and emphasis on origins appear as a source of identity for the stone. In this process, the stones’ integration into local understandings of consumption as objects that are efficacious, spiritual or symbolic, are replaced by principles of supposed rarity, ethics, and aesthetics. Drawing on ethnographic narratives that follow the dealers of gemstones from Peshawar to Bangkok, I elucidate how gemstones are certified and sold to a diverse global market marketed through discourses of value and quality that diverge drastically depending on consumer group and contexts that these stones enter. I suggest that the notion of gem valuation is a social construct whose validation depends more on the observer as shaped by logics of organizations and individuals of the Global North, than on the object of that gaze in local consumption practices and history.