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Ethical Jewellery – Why We Should Care

Published 22 May 2011

In a nutshell, the point of sustainable development is to ensure that our children would be able to take deep and healthy breaths without getting an asthma attack from air pollution. Wild animals would still be roaming around in pristine forests. I would also love to eat fresh fruits in some 20 years time, which have not been manipulated with artificial chemicals.

While there are still many people who don’t exactly see the point of organic or sustainable food production, this area of sustainability has been widely published and discussed. We have lots of shops and companies that are now aware of food sustainability.

However, there is much less information on ethical jewellery, specifically the environmental and human impact from the mining of gems and precious metals. I have been working as a goldsmith for a couple of years, but this topic never came up. We bought gold, silver and precious stones from the allotted dealers; everything was strictly controlled regarding the paperwork and certificates we needed to have to be able to purchase even a gram of gold, but we had no any idea of where and by whom the metal was mined and refined.

Only in the recent years have I started to look at the profession with different eyes. The fact is that gold is the same dirty as it is beautiful. Molten gold is like silk, tempting to touch if you didn’t know that its melting point is 1064°C. For precious stones – well, I can’t stand synthetic and artificial gemstones, there is nothing like the colour and shine of a precious emerald, ruby or fire opal.

Unfortunately, the majority of all these products are traded unethically. A slow change can be seen amongst relatively small companies and traders, but we are still far from an ideal situation. The mass production process by the big companies use sources they should feel ashamed about to think of at all.

Have you heard about the lead poisoning that killed at least 400 children between March and October in 2010 in Nigeria’s Zamfara State due to illegal gold digging? This is not really a widely talked about topic. The impoverished farmers choose to dig up rocks by hand in open mines in order to provide to their family, but the unearthed ore around their villages contains high concentrations of lead, contaminating the air, soil and water. In addition to lead poisoning, the mercury levels – mercury is used in the gold extraction processes – were extraordinarily high. Inhaling mercury affects the nervous and digestive systems. Excessive lead can cause irreparable damage to the nervous and reproductive systems and the kidneys.

Mining has a horrific effect on the environment too with the mentioned mercury and cyanide used in the process. Even so, the gold trade is flourishing, ever more so with the recent high gold prices.

Fortunately, as mentioned, there are attempts to change the situation. Here in London we are relatively lucky in this sense; there are a good number of responsible traders to choose from.

Ingle & Rhode in Mayfair are passionate about creating beautiful bespoke jewellery, and are committed to the highest ethical standards. They use conflict-free diamonds and fair trade gold. Ute Decker in Islington is an artist-jeweller and leading proponent of ethical jewellery working in fairtrade gold, recycled silver and bio-resin. At CRED Jewellery in Clerkenwell they believe that ‘true beauty goes beyond aesthetics to encompass a responsibility to both people and the planet’. Oria Jewellery in Mount Pleasant  is a socially and environmentally committed jewellery company dedicated to making fine jewellery using ethically sourced gold, silver and gems.

I would encourage everyone to ask the shopkeepers and craftsmen about the origin of the raw gems & metals they use for making those beautiful pieces they sell. The sources are always possible to be traced back if they are traded ethically. So before buying that diamond engagement ring or that gold wedding band – do make the effort to find out where it has come from and the process from mine to shop.

  • Mopodc

     Great information. What connections do you have in the States or are you on-line? If some one here in the States wanted to contact you, how.

  • Adrienn
  • http://www.utedecker.com/ Ute Decker

    Dear Adrienn, thank you for this article.

    would like to cordially invite you and your readers to join us at  Essence
    – the Ethical Jewellery Pavilion.

    is the key event at the heart
    of London
    Jewellery Week’s
    main selling exhibition: 
    Treasure held in
    Bloomsbury from
    10 – 12th June.  

    Over 11 award-winning ethical jewellers will exhibit – a unique schowcase of ethical jewellery in the UK and worldwide.

    10 – 12 June  2011, London
    –  the Ethical Jewellery Pavilion at Treasure, London Jewellery
    Southampton Row
    London WC1B 4DA

    underground station

    Friday 10th June 12noon–6pm
    Saturday 11th June 10am–6pm
    Sunday 12th June 10am–6pm



  • Sanjiv

    Well written Adrien!
    This is very true that people moan about organic food fair-trade coffee(which is still questionable) but very few bother to ask the origin of jewelery.  4 years ago, when the film “Blood Diamond” came, that time people did talk about it but not he one who buy the diamond so frequently. 
    Long way to go but lets assume this a beginning :-)

  • GK

    Thanks for this article. While the diamond industry likes to imply that the problem of conflict diamonds has been mostly solved (though the Kimberley Process), what you say here is closer to the truth — we have a long way to go. Most jewelry is not being produced in an ethical or sustainable way. So it’s terrific to see that jewelers are realizing this, and that ethical origin jewelry is starting to take off!

    A few jewelers are mentioned in your article, but I’d also like to introduce your readers to Brilliant Earth. We’re committed to providing luxury jewelry that meets the highest ethical and environmental standards. We have a beautiful selection. We’re based in the USA, but we offer our jewelry worldwide. – GK, http://www.brilliantearth.com  

  • Adrienn

    Thanks GK, I really like your website. In the article I focused on jewellers based in London, and mentioned only a few of them. It is great to know that this movement is spreading worldwide. All the best!