As consumers, I hope we are becoming more and more conscious of the way in which our choices impact the environment. Humans have inhabited earth for 200,000 years - our ancestors for 6 million years - and yet we have changed the landscape of this planet more in the last 200 years than the entire time we existed before then.
Jewellery, like any other industry, has its part to play in ensuring we are mindful of the resources we gather and the way we use them. But unlike many other contemporary craft practices, the raw materials I use as a jeweller are not easily accessible. They are found deep within the earth itself, and it requires a hugely intrusive, costly and often damaging process to bring them to the surface.
In my own jewellery practice, I currently choose to use recycled gold. Being an element, gold can be reused and recycled endlessly, and actually, recycling gold is nothing new - jewellers have always, always, collected their scraps and reused and recycled them. I buy 100% post-consumer recycled gold from a refinery in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, which contains no ‘new’ metal at all - this is gold which has been entirely reclaimed and refined from a variety of sources including old jewellery, electronics and other sources, and it is subject to exactly the same purity and quality requirements as any other gold.
(For full transparency, please note: everything I make in my studio is crafted with 100% recycled gold. The only two components I do not currently craft by hand (these are the only items I buy 'ready made', everything else is made by hand myself) are fine loose trace chain and butterfly ear backs and these are not always 100% recycled metal. I'm working to find suitable alternatives here, but these are costly, and as a tiny business I have to be realistic about what I can achieve at this stage. Please do get in touch if you have any questions - I take sourcing my materials very seriously and I'll be happy to answer any queries as best I can.)
Mining is a dirty business and is fraught with tragedy, corruption, exploitation, criminal and illegal activity and environmental damage. It is something that sits heavy on the heart of any mindful jeweller as we try to navigate making beautiful, meaningful objects with materials which are so problematic.
Large scale mines often bear the brunt of any outrage against gold mining, but I think it is important to note that these large operations are subject to a great many regulatory controls and inspections, and they have legal, environmental and ethical responsibilities and guidelines to follow for the entire lifespan of the mine - including rewilding and rehabilitating the land after the mine has stopped operations. Small scale and artisanal mining is often seen as an intrinsically more ethical choice for gold, but while this kind of mining can indeed be run in a socially and environmentally responsible way, smaller mines face a multitude of other issues which mean that without proper research, even this is not necessarily a blanket ‘quick fix’ to anyone seeking ethically sourced gold.
It is a hugely complex issue, and one which I’m not at all qualified to go into in any detail, but I’d like to share a few resources which I’ve found particularly helpful when it comes to researching and being mindful of where gold and other precious materials come from:
The Ethical Making Resource
Full of useful and practical information for jewellers, silversmiths and consumers who are interested in buying and selling ethically made jewellery and silverware. www.ethicalmaking.org
World Gold Council
Contains a lot of background information on small and large scale mining operations, as well as facts, figures and technical information about the gold industry. www.gold.org
Ethical jewellery pioneer Ute Decker has an array of resources and articles for jewellers, silversmiths and interested consumers - there is a lot to read here! www.utedecker.com
A ethical jewellery activist, Greg promotes the use of Fairtrade gold as the most ethical choice for jewellery. His website and blog is full of valuable information and detailed research. www.gregvalerio.com
The Fairtrade Foundation
The Fairtrade Foundation offers traceable gold from small scale miners who receive a fair wage and protection for their work. Jewellers must be registered to buy, use and sell Fairtrade gold, and this is the next step that I’m looking to take for my own business, so do let me know if you have any thoughts on this as an option for your jewellery. www.fairtrade.org.uk
Responsible Jewellery CouncilUpholding the global standard for the responsible jewellery and watch industry, focusing on business ethics and responsible supply chains. Runs an auditing system to ensure that members comply with the guidelines and regulations, and a good place to start when searching for larger businesses and brands. www.responsiblejewellery.com
"Every maker will have their own perspective of what ethical making means. Vet jewellers against your own standards and choose jewellery that supports what is important to you. Knowing where your jewellery comes from and in what conditions it was made, is the first step towards a more responsible jewellery industry". From the Ethical Making Resource, www.ethicalmaking.org