The sad truth is that unfortunately there is a dirty side of the jewelry industry.
The stones and the metals we use in jewelry are pulled from the earth, often in ways that harm the environment and exploit the poorer workers and communities that live around these resources.
However, do not lose hope, you can find a way to create jewelry that reflects your values of sustainability. There isn’t a perfectly sustainable solution for this problem, however if we all strive to do better, the earth and humanity will benefit from our actions.
I’ve included a list of my favorite ethically-mined and cut stones as well as materials and phrases to watch out for. This list is by no means comprehensive but it is a great jumping off point to begin your journey.
These are special fully-traceable and certified diamonds of Canadian origin. Each diamond has a certification number that can be found and traced on the Canadamark website. These diamonds are mindfully sourced with respect for workers, communities, sustainability, and the environment.
“We know that responsible mining means improving lives, strengthening communities, protecting wildlife, and respecting the environment in which we operate.” - Canadamark.
Mines that are part of the program must adhere to Canada’s strict environmental protocols. In fact, “Canadamark diamonds are tracked through independent, audited process at every stage from the mine of origin to the polished stone.”
We all immediately think of the Leonardo DeCaprio movie Blood Diamond when we think about ethics in the diamond industry. The Kimberley Process Certification was the process established in 2003 to prevent "conflict diamonds" from entering the mainstream rough diamond market. However, it has recently come to light that the Kimberly Process is not living up to its mission. This means that unfortunately you can no longer rely on this designation as it currently stands.
Read more about the recent descent at the Kimberley Process Intersessional Meeting. It is my hope that they will be able to resolve differences and give this certification the assurances we all expect.
Sapphires have been revered for thousands of years. What makes Montana sapphires unique and even more valuable to many - is that they are ethically mined and sourced in an environmentally-friendly manner. In fact, these sapphires aren’t mined as traditional sapphires are (removal or rocks and tunneling), they are found in streams and dried up creek beds. One can often trace Montana sapphires from the mine to the market.
As well as being sustainably-sourced and mined, Montana sapphires are known for their high-durability and interesting colors characteristics, many with an icy steely quality.
While not widely available or accessible, there are many suppliers committed to sustainable wages and ethical mining practices. I have developed a list of trusted sources and are happy to work with you and our suppliers to find a sustainable stone that will suit your custom jewelry needs.
Fairtrade & Fairmined Gold:
Gold mining is one of the most environmentally-destructive activities out there and is the world’s largest single source of mercury emissions. This type of mining encompasses activities that often employ toxic materials including mercury. In many cases, miners work in incredibly unhealthy environments and hazardous conditions. Toxins - including mercury - are often inhaled by the miners and then it settles into the surrounding environment. The amount and types of toxic substances that are utilized often spread into the surrounding communities (including children) and the environment.
However, there is an increased awareness and need for ethically mined gold from artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) where education and financial stability are empowering individuals and communities to pull gold from the earth in a more sustainable way.
Fairtrade & Fairmined are assurance labels that certifies gold from empowered responsible artisanal and small-scale mining organizations (ASM).
It transforms mining into an active force for good, ensuring social development and environmental protection, providing everyone with a source of gold to be proud of.
As a result of the Fairtrade & Fairmined Standard, anyone who buys gold and associated precious metals can support responsibly managed community mines with strict traceability requirements. Learn more about the Fairmined Standard here.
What is Fairtrade?
“Fairtrade is a system of certification that aims to ensure a set of standards are met in the production and supply of a product or ingredient. For farmers and workers, Fairtrade means workers’ rights, safer working conditions and fairer pay. For shoppers it means high quality, ethically produced products.” You can learn more about fairtrade and how it works here.
This brings me to a note on “Recycled Gold” ….
Sourcing and safe work conditions are what can make the term “recycled gold” problematic. Though the term may appeal to an ethically-minded consumer, it’s incredibly misleading as gold is inherently always recycled.
The problem is not with recycling existing gold- it’s how we are obtaining the gold to begin with as well as the working conditions of the mines and miners. If an individual or company is marketing “recycled gold” - they aren't really supporting the ethics or sustainability of the industry or the environment.
However, if a company is using Fairmined gold, that’s a different story. Though Fairmined gold often does have a higher cost, you can rest assured that the business is truly prioritizing ethics and sustainability in sourcing all aspects of their jewelry pieces.
With Fairmined gold certification, miners are paid a fair wage and communities are supported. The mines must uphold environmental, health, and safety standards for certification.
Therefore, if someone is simply using the term “recycled gold” in their marketing materials and product descriptions, buyer beware. It is incredibly misleading, green-washing, and is taking advantage of eco-conscious consumers.