Ethics & the Jewellery Industry
Most precious metals and gemstones are mined from deep within the earth, often in third-world countries where ethics are, let’s just say, not quite what you would want them to be in terms of health & safety and welfare and supply chains are long and complex. In addition, some of the traditional-style mines employ processes involving the use of mercury and cyanide for example, both of which are damaging to the environment as well as to the workers. Things are improving however, with many mines now tightly controlled; employee welfare is monitored, modern extraction techniques are used and in many cases a percentage of the profits is ploughed back into the surrounding communities to improve welfare, education and so on.
Global initiatives aimed at making the mainstream jewellery industry more ethical such as the ‘No Dirty Gold‘ campaign (www.nodirtygold.org) and the Kimberley Process (www.kimberleyprocess.com) are helping but it can be INCREDIBLY difficult to trace the origin of precious metals and gemstones. We do however only use suppliers with a transparent supply chain and, wherever possible, gemstone suppliers who have a direct trading relationship with the mine. We check that our sources are socially and environmentally responsible and do not exploit their workers or use child labour. We use EcoGold and EcoSilver which are recycled back via a traceable process into fine gold and silver, Fair-trade gold and we can source Ethical Gold on request which refers to gold from responsible Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM).
Sourcing gemstones ethically is a complex business; the politics may not be acceptable, the environmental impact may be too high or there may be human rights issues. You will almost certainly have heard the term Blood Diamond….this is a term used for diamonds mined and sold on the black market to fund rebel fighters, dictatorships and insurgencies. Definitely takes the sparkle off your lovely diamond engagement ring doesn’t it? And then you have the issue of the desperately poor people who depend on mining gemstones to live, to feed their families, and then it doesn’t seem so ethical to only buy diamonds from Canada for example. At the present time it is impossible to guarantee that every single gemstone can be traced back to an ethical source but coloured gemstones mined under Fair-trade principles are now widely available and this is important to us because we know they come from projects that are independently audited for health & safety standards in mining and cutting. All our diamonds are certified conflict free and are purchased from trusted suppliers.
In spite of the difficulties, gemstones are still a passion of mine….I am fascinated and drawn to them like a moth to a flame. In particular I tend to use:
Opals – the birthstone for October. I particularly like Ethiopian Opals as they have the most remarkable fire and patterns as well as plays of colour that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. During the time of the ancient Romans and Greeks, Ethiopian Opal was often perceived as a Promethean cut stone that had stolen fire from the gods and given it to mankind.
Turquoise – the birthstone for December. In many cultures of the Old and New Worlds, this gemstone has been esteemed for thousands of years as a holy stone, a bringer of good fortune or a talisman. Some of the finest turquoise is found in the Southwest United States although some of the more famous mines such as Sleeping Beauty are now closed. My personal preference is for Iranian (also referred to as Persian) turquoise….it has been mined here for at least 2,000 years but is now becoming rarer but in my opinion, especially beautiful.
Labradorite – this is a member of the Feldspar family and is treasured for its remarkable play of colour and irridescence (or schiller, to give it it’s correct terminology!). Labradorite was discovered in Labrador, Canada, by Moravian missionaries in 1770 who named it for the area. The stone is however referred to in the legends of the Inuit people who claim the stones fell from the frozen fire of the Aurora Borealis. There are variations of the stone found in Finland, Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Italy, Madagascar, Mexico and the USA but I particularly like the classy grey-green colour of Canadian labradorite. It is also said to be charged with mystical and magical powers which will incite in you a sense of adventure and protect you from negativity!
Ruby – the traditional birthstone for those born in July. Considered one of the four precious stones, together with sapphire, emerald and diamond, who can resist a ruby? From pink to blood-red, there is a vast range of shades and opacities to choose from. Most rubies are heat treated to make them clearer; I however prefer raw untreated rubies which are opaque and altogether more natural looking. Rubies are found all over the world, from Thailand, Cambodia and Burma to Afghanistan, Japan, Australia, Namibia, Brazil and even Scotland! This gemstone has always been held in high esteem in Asian countries – they were used to ornament armour, scabbards and harnesses of noblemen in India and China and were laid beneath the foundation of buildings to secure good fortune to the structure.
Emerald – the traditional birthstone for those born in May. This stone is found in the most beautiful shades of green and has been a source of fascination and reverence in many cultures for over six thousand years, sold in the markets of Babylon as early as 4,000 BC. It was a stone worshipped by the Incas, believed by the Chaldeans to contain a Goddess and was highly honoured in all major religions for its spiritual power and beauty. Emerald was considered a symbol of eternal life in ancient Egypt, a gift of Thoth, the God of Wisdom, and was a favourite of Queen Cleopatra. Today they are often heat treated or injected with resin to improve the clarity but I prefer raw untreated emeralds for their natural beauty.
Tanzanite – recently added to the official birthstone list for December. It was discovered in 1967 by a Maasai tribesman who shared his find with Manuel de Souza, a tailor by profession and prospector by passion, who happened to be in the region in search of rubies. At that time these two had no idea that they had discovered an gemstone that had never been seen before. It was unveiled the following year to the rest of the world by Tiffany & Co. who gave it it’s name and it is now the second favourite gemstone in the USA after the sapphire. It is a thousand times more rare than diamonds and is only found in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania; this area has a unique geology so the chances of it being discovered elsewhere are less than a million to one. There are an estimated 30 years of supply remaining and the mines are tightly controlled. I absolutely love the exquisite colour of tanzanite – it is an intriguing mix of blue and purple and can be any shade from palest lilac to deep indigo and violet.
Our jewellery comes in a choice of finishes – polished, frosted, hammered and matt. It is important to note that whatever the finish to start with, be it gold, silver or platinum, the metal will wear so that matt finishes become more shiny and polished finishes will become duller. This can happen quite quickly in the case of rings which are subject to regular wear but will take a long time with earrings or necklaces which are far less likely to be knocked and rubbed.
We are always happy to restore the finish for the cost of postage for you, but we rather like the way the jewellery changes with the wearer, reflecting the bumps and shiny bits of life. You can also refresh a matt finish yourself by lightly brushing the surface of the jewellery with Scotchbrite.
Looking after your Jewellery
The scratches and bumps from everyday wear will show on any metal. Generally, all jewellery should be regularly washed in hot soapy water (excluding certain soft porous gemstones such as pearls and opals). You can buy proprietary cleaning products for gold, silver and platinum and these metals will easily retain their colour. The finish on all metal will change with wear – matt finishes become more shiny and a highly polished finish will become duller. This change is particularly noticeable on rings because they are more likely to be knocked and rubbed than say a necklace or a brooch. General wear and tear simply adds a pleasing patina to most finishes; more serious damage such as digs and dents can, more often than not, be erased or repaired.
I will be updating this section with information on the different materials and processes I use in the making of my Jewellery. If you need more information, do not hesitate to contact me.