The current situation – ethical and environmentally friendly jewellery
Jewellery is a beautiful, luxury purchase, it’s sparkly, glamorous, a symbol of status and often of love and a reminder of special people and occasions. The mining and extraction of metal and gems, (and the ethical and environmental implications) are the side of the industry that jewellery lovers (and many jewellers until recently) knew little about.
Over the last 15 or so years there have been calls for the jewellery supply chain to clean up its act and become more transparent, one of the main proponents of change being Greg Valerio (link to his book below). It has taken some time, but things are changing and as jewellers we now have access to more ethical materials. I have been working over the last 2 years to source metal, diamonds and gemstones that are better than the “norm” (I have never used conflict diamonds or gemstones and all of my materials have come from reputable suppliers). It has not been the easiest of tasks and it’s not perfect – some things just aren’t available. It is however important to me that I’m doing the best I can. I work hard to keep up to date with responsible sourcing and if at any point I become aware of something I’m not happy with, I’ll stop using it.
I’ve spoken to many suppliers and I’ve found that for metal it’s relatively straight forward – Fairmined (of which I am now very pleased to be a licensee) or Fair Trade are both very positive – mining still goes on, but it supports communities that rely on it to make a living, whilst putting in place processes to support people and minimise environmental damage. Often the local population are pushed out by large mining companies (whether mining metal or gems). It’s worth considering that humans are very highly unlikely to stop mining precious metals and if mining is going to continue, Fairmined does at least offer the opportunity to support local artisanal miners.
Alongside Fairmined gold and silver, I offer 100% recycled silver, gold, palladium and platinum. Unless a piece is made of Fairmined metal, it will always be 100% recycled. In general, all gold in circulation today will be partly recycled – old coins and jewellery, industrial waste, gold fillings etc. 100% recycled metal means that no new mining will have taken place in order to make that piece of jewellery. It can give no guarantee as to how or where the metal was first mined, and whether that may have involved human suffering or environmental damage.
More information about Fairmined:
Fairmined is an assurance label that certifies gold from empowered responsible artisanal and small-scale mining organizations who meet world leading standards for responsible practices.
The issues in mining for gold and other precious minerals have been widely reported and discussed: • Fueling conflict, • child labor, • environmental destruction, • mercury use, • health and safety of workers, • gender inequality, • economic exploitation, • impact on communities
Artisanal and small-scale mining employs 90% of the workforce behind gold extraction and is responsible for 10% of global production. Approximately 10 million gold miners and their families are dependent on this economic activity worldwide. Artisanal and small-scale mining is largely a poverty driven activity. However, some of these mining operations see mining as the best way to strengthen their communities, and are looking to lead the way in responsible mining practices. With the right support and incentives small community mining organizations offer the greatest opportunity for positive social and environmental impact.
Fairmined transforms mining into an active force for good, ensuring organizational and social development and environmental protection.
Organizational development: rewards enterprise, a guaranteed minimum price and premium to invest in their operations, strengthened and empowered organization, legal mining operation, better trade relationships
Social development: no link to conflict situations, no child labour, creates safer and more stable jobs, promotes gender equality, promotes wellbeing in the community,
Environmental protection: supports small-scale mining , ensures safe handling, reducing the use of chemicals , protects water supplies, ensures a positive environmental legacy
For more information about the mines, miners and how fairmined is gold to be proud of, go to www.fairmined.org
Diamonds and Gemstones
The sourcing of diamonds in particular and gemstones, I have found to be a bit trickier. Again, I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the last couple of years. Stones are often labelled “ethical” as they meet the standards of the Kimberly process. Have you watched the film Blood Diamond? The Kimberly process was developed to make sure the production and sale proceeds from diamonds did not support civil wars in Africa and it would be unusual to find a jeweller these days who didn’t tell you their diamonds were conflict free. However many within the industry are saying that the Kimberley Process does not go far enough and that blood diamonds still manage to enter the market. Even if a diamond is conflict free, it doesn’t mean that those diamonds haven’t been cut and polished in a sweat shop of a factory, perhaps using child labour or that there haven’t been human rights violations or exploitation. Some sellers can guarantee conditions in the factories, but they still can’t tell you where the diamonds came from or conditions in the specific mine and without that information, how can you know that there aren’t human rights violations, that miners are being properly paid, that children aren’t working in the mines or that the gems aren’t funding violence?
In my opinion, there are currently no natural diamonds that are environmentally friendly. There are no traceable, small scale and artisanally mined sources of diamonds available either, which are usually less environmentally damaging. So, I give my customers the following options:
Diamonds sourced from De Beers mines in Canada. The diamonds are guaranteed natural and untreated and can be traced.
You can find out more about De Beers mines here: http://www.debeersgroup.com/en/explore-de-beers/mining.html
Canadian Diamonds larger than 0.3ct are individually laser inscribed with a unique serial number and can be tracked right back to their mine of origin. Canadian environmental protection laws require that a thorough environmental assessment be carried out before a diamond mine can be approved, that effective systems are in place to protect local wildlife, and that the land be restored once mining has ceased. It’s worth bearing in mind though that many of these mines are huge holes in the ground and that even with the best environmental protection laws, mining can still have a huge impact on the environment. On the plus side, Canadian miners are protected by strict health and safety regulations, and Canadian employment laws preclude child labour and any form of sweatshop labour. Unless you know where a diamond came from, you cannot know for certain that it was ethically produced. Canada is the only country in the world to operate a system to monitor and track diamonds from the mine.
Laboratory grown diamonds, these are grown in large factories, they are exactly the same composition as natural diamonds. We don’t have much in the way of reliable information as to whether they are more or less environmentally friendly than natural diamonds, however it is unlikely that they cause as much environmental damage as the huge diamond mines or the mining ships that dredge the sea bed of the coast of Namibia. Many in the jewellery mining sector would like to undermine sales and devalue lab grown diamonds.
Recycled diamonds, these are diamonds recovered from old antique jewellery, unsold diamond jewellery and industry. Any recycled diamonds I supply will have been recut and polished or will be old mine cuts. These could be the most ethical and eco friendly option, however as with recycled metals, there is no way to trace where they originally came from.
Have a look at my blog post for more on this subject
When it comes to coloured gemstones, I have begun working with a small number of suppliers, who are ethical (they pay fair wages, treat their staff properly, do not use child labour and operate in a safe and environmentally friendly way etc), are either fair trade and/or know the mine from which the stones came, can guarantee traceability, that gems did not fund wars/political unrest, no child labour, no human rights violations. One of these has mines is in Sri Lanka, the others are in Southern Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Australia and the US. These gemstones are natural. Sometimes the following classifications are used, and where this is the case, I will only purchase gemstones that meet level one or two:
Level 1 Complete Fair Trade.
We can trace the gemstones back to the mine where we have significant impact on the mining itself.
Level 2 Protocols to the Producer.
We can trace these gems back to the rough broker, who has an agreement with us that he can guarantee the material in question comes from the same locations. He understands and supports our Fair Trade principles and will communicate those principles to the mine operations.
Level 3 Country/Export Onward.
Known traceable country of origin, legally exported knowing they are not financing any civil wars, and cut only in gemstone workshops that meet our employment and health standards.
**Level 3 is the same as the Kimberly Process except we also know and track country of origin and who cut them.
Level 4 Factory Forward.
These gemstones meet our employment and health standards regarding cutting, and we know country of origin, but not the details of how they were exported.
Level 5 Cannot be Considered Fair Trade.
We do not cut these gems, therefore, we cannot follow their journey from mine to market in a significant manner to ensure that they fall into the Fair Trade categories.
Artisanal and small scale mining is generally less damaging to the environment, If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.
For those of you who would like to avoid mining completely, lab created gemstones are also available.
Jewellery remodelling and redesign
Remodelling your jewellery is essentially recycling and about as eco-friendly as it comes! It also means your sentimental/family treasures can be made into something you’ll wear for years to come.
Vegan and Vegetarian
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
My jewellery is vegan and vegetarian friendly – I aim to do no harm to anyone (animal, human or the planet) in the making of my ethical fine jewellery. I don’t use any animal products in my workshop (tools or polishes) or any organic gemstones (pearls, coral etc). My packaging also does not contain any animal glues (most jewellery packaging is made in China and contains animal glue).
More on Packaging
I am currently using up the last of my existing packaging.
My new jewellery packaging has been chosen following extensive research. As far as I am aware, it is the only 100% recycled, 100% recyclable jewellery packaging currently available that does not contain animal glues. It is made in the UK. Traditional jewellery packaging contains many different layers of boards, papers, glue, wood, metal, foam and fabrics. The fabrics and foams are often from petrochemical sources, the many different layers, lamination and printing make them impossible to recycle.
I have partnered with Daniel Lacey Furniture to produce a premium packaging range for purchases over £1500. These boxes will be made from recycled offcuts of wood from Daniels workshop and are fully recyclable and compostable.
It’s important to me to do business in a way which is respectful of both my lovely customers and the world in which we live. I aim to give you the information you need to make informed choices that reflect your own personal ethics. I welcome questions and will always do my best to be open and honest about the metals, stones and processes involved in the making of your jewellery.
If you’d like more information, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
*All fairmined pieces will have the Fairmined mark. Some existing stock will not currently have fair trade gemstones, those that do will be clearly labelled as such.
You might be interested in the following:
Fair Trade (USA) www.fairtradecertified.org
Fairtrade (UK) www.fairtrade.org.uk
Alliance for responsible mining http://www.responsiblemines.org/en/
Responsible Jewellery Council www.responsiblejewellerycouncil.com
You might like to read this book – Greg Valerio “Making Trouble – fighting for fair trade jewellery”.