Original article by Jewellery Focus – www.jewelleryfocus.co.uk
Callum Gildart explores the importance and relevance of ethical considerations in the jewellery market in 2013, and takes a look at some of the latest ‘collections with a conscience’
You needn’t look too closely to see that you can’t spell ‘aesthetics’ without ‘ethics’. As the world shrinks, world views grow and, subsequently, the number of people whose purchases are influenced by a compassionate conscience is proliferating. In October 2012, the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), of which Jewellery Focus is a supporter, announced that it had surpassed the 400 member mark. An expansion that RJC CEO Michael Rae put down to a burgeoning recognition of the importance of ethics in the industry: “RJC’s healthy membership numbers in all parts of the supply chain reflect the growing awareness of the importance of ethical, human rights, social and environmental performance in the jewellery industry.”
The need for the jewellery industry
to have commitments to social
responsibility was also highlighted
during CIBJO president Gaetano
Cavalieri’s speech at the International
Gem and Jewellery Conference GIT at
the back end of last year.
Initially, the provenance of jewellery materials may not be high on the list in prospective purchasers’ minds, but when faced with collections that are able to market themselves, in one way or another, as ethically sound, it could influence their final decision – especially if the original source of their jewellery is something they hadn’t previously considered.
“Jewellery should make
wearer, giver and
maker feel special. How
can it truly do this if it
has not been produced
with thought and care
for all of those involved in its production and
the environment.” Erica Sharpe.
A research article carried out
by University of Bath scholars
Iain A Davies and Zoe Lee asked, ‘do consumers care about ethical
luxury?’ One of the issues they struck upon was consumers’ inability, or unwillingness, to maintain the same conscious effort when purchasing luxury goods over commodities.
One respondent to the article remarked: “I think that it is not in the conscience of everybody that a handbag or iPod comes from a raw material which has been removed from the earth by humans. These products disconnect us from reality by the association of high performance or complicated technologies, thus sterilised from the barbarity or really bad conditions of work, which is not true for coffee or tea, because we can easily imagine a Chinese woman taking the leaves of tea, or a Mexican collecting coffee grains.”
Jewellery, in essence, is a perfect marriage between a commodity and a luxury. While it may not be an essential purchase, it is ubiquitous and, however extravagant, its mineral qualities are always apparent.
“I think it’s really important that we
think about the ethics of the industry
we work in,” says Alice Rochester,
senior designer manager at Harriet
Kelsall Jewellery. “Customers are
becoming so aware of what they are
buying that it’s no longer good enough
to go on as we have been.
“More and more people want
answers to questions like, ‘Where has the gold come from?’; ‘How can I ensure that I don’t have a conflict diamond in my engagement ring?’; or, ‘I like sparkly things but I want to have something as ethical as possible — what would you suggest?’ In the past we haven’t been able to answer those questions satisfactorily enough — either for our own peace of mind or for that of our customers.”
Erica Sharpe of Erica Sharpe Fine
Jewellery agrees with Alice Rochester
about ethical jewellery’s importance
and its sentimentality: “The industry
provides beautiful products and
heirlooms to mark significant
and important events. We have a
responsibility to ensure these pieces,
which are very often bestowed with
great meaning and sentiment, are
created in a fair way which has not
caused suffering. Jewellery should make the wearer,
giver and maker feel special. How
can it truly do this if it has not been
produced with thought and care for all
of those involved in its production and
The fact that so many companies at all levels of the jewellery supply chain are aiming to gain some sort of accreditation also reflects the growing importance of ethical jewellery. Harriet Kelsall Jewellery, Erica Sharpe Fine Jewellery, Rachel Helen Designs and CRED Jewellery, amongst others, have all launched Fairtrade and
Fairmined gold jewellery ranges in the past year.
Rachel Helen Designs’ Briar Rose collection is a selection of limited edition wedding and engagement rings that can be set with any stone and are made with 18 carat Fairtrade gold. There are currently four engagement rings and two fitted shaped wedding rings to match.
It was in June 2012 that Fairtrade and Fairmined gold arrived on the British high street, when wedding collections were launched in both independent and chain jewellers alike. Then, in the Christmas build up, London jeweller Cox & Power produced the first collection of Fairtrade and Fairmined platinum jewellery, which was closely followed by CRED Jewellery’s announcement of the arrival of the world’s first batch of Fairtrade and Fairmined silver.
Director of CRED Alan Frampton believes this has been made possible by changing consumer tastes. “It is so
exciting to have silver now join gold in this certification, made possible through the increasing demand from consumers for ethical metal,” he enthuses.
CRED has worked with miners directly in order to develop standards, safe working practices and fair wages. The company states that sales of its Eairtrade and Fairmined wedding and engagement rings saw an 86 per cent year-on-year increase in 2012.
Victoria Waugh of the Fairtrade Foundation sees the Fairtrade and Fairmined accreditation as a special selling point for jewellery, remarking: “Wedding rings made from Fairtrade and Fairmined gold are extra special. It means you know the gold was mined with care by small-scale artisanal miners, who received a fair price.”
Fairtrade and Fairmined gold jewellery contains a dual stamp to guarantee that it has been sourced and certified to Fairtrade and Fairmined standards. This hallmarking is almost a badge of honour for the manufacturers, retailers and consumers whose jewellery it graces, allowing each to highlight their commitment and compassion for their fellow man and, indeed, their planet.
Frogpearl is a company that manufactures what is described as ethically-sound, pearl-based jewellery. The company’s ethical credentials come from the sourcing and polishing of its pearls, for which it employs environmentally friendly methods of cultivation and uses corn, rather than chemicals, to polish the gems.
“It is of great value to be
able to offer information
about how pieces are
produced and where the
materials are from” Erica Sharpe
Erica Sharpe Fine Jewellery is a registered licence holder for Fairtrade and Fairmined gold, and company founder Erica explains that even when she doesn’t use Fairtrade gold, she creates her commissions, wherever possible, from recycled ‘eco’ gold and silver.
But it isn’t only eco-friendly metals that she uses; “gemstones are [also chosen] from ethical sources because I care about their origin, history and possible treatments, and very often my commission work involves re-using existing gems and precious metals,” she explains.
“My collections have a story, which integrates my inspiration and design with their raw materials and sense of place, heritage and location. When I create a collection I research every aspect to ensure the story is complete and the pieces are beautiful in every way.”
The notion that ethical jewellery creates a great selling point is an interesting one. “We don’t call
ourselves an ‘ethical jeweller’,” says Alice Rochester. “We specialise in bespoke jewellery, and when most people want to buy their first bespoke piece it tends to be for an engagement ring. They tell us what the would like and we produce some designs and only then do they find out that they can have the ring made in gold or Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. At this point, the customers tend to remark that they had no idea that it was an option and usually go for it, because then not only do they feel good about their ring, they also feel good about themselves. We are not preaching to anyone.”
Erica Sharpe believes that being an ethical jeweller is an important selling factor and that there will be a time when ethical jewellery becomes de rigueur. “As a designer-maker, as well as a qualified gemmologist, I am involved with my clients from the design stage right through to the finished piece. This often involves explaining where the raw materials for my work come from and how I will use them in my pieces. It is of great value to be able to offer information about how pieces are produced and where the materials are from. Clients are rightly becoming much more aware of ethical issues and are keen to find out the background to their purchases.”
Eden Diodati’s spring/summer 2013 line is inspired by planetary systems and primal elements. The designer is committed to an ethical approach to manufacturing, and an overall aesthetic that seeks to express true beauty from a more compassionate viewpoint. In this way, each piece comes with a story, and detailed product information tracing its journey down the supply chain. The brand also pledges to donate 10 per cent of all dividends to Médecins Sans Frontières, an independent humanitarian medical aid organisation.
People have been heard
to say that the jewellery
industry is too big and
too complex to improve,
but the strides that have
been made just in the
last year are huge and
completely disprove that.’ Alice Rochester.
Compassion for fellow humans is central to the human psyche. Something not quite so ingrained, however, is mankind’s ability to
imagine the suffering of others without having it played out in front
of them; ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’, if you will. This means that measures need to be taken in order for people to know that their jewellery has not come at human cost.
Last summer, the United States Securities and Exchanges Commission voted to implement the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires companies to determine and disclose if they use minerals, including gold and tungsten, which benefit militia and armed groups in central Africa. While this is accepted as an important step to take towards universal ethical jewellery, companies without direct control over the manufacture of their products are exempt from the regulation — a bone of contention for the environmental group Earthworks.
“We are disappointed about the free pass that’s been given to big-box stores and other large retailers,” said Payal Sampat of Earthworks at the time. “These companies have tight control over their manufacturers when it comes to product cost and quality. Why, then, are they off the hook when it comes to human rights violations or corruption?”
Following the passing of the Dodd-Frank Act, the RJC announced an agreement of mutual cross-recognition of both the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and the EICC-GeSI Conflict Free Smelter programme’s (CFS) gold refiner audits — a measure that could be seen as the first steps towards a standard for all jewellery manufacturers when it comes to the human aspect of mineral refinery.
Alice Rochester comments: “People have been heard to say that the jewellery industry is too big and too complex to improve, but the strides that have been made just in the last year are huge and completely disprove that. Recycled precious metals and Fairtrade and Fairmined gold are already out there; platinum and silver are just being made available and numerous gem dealers are working on their offerings too —we’d be daft not to use them wherever we can.”
Initiatives such as Shu&Me — a start-up jewellery and accessory brand, which recycles broken and unwanted jewellery into new, vintage-styled fashion pieces — show that brands are looking to improve their responsible credentials even without, or in lieu of, recognised accreditation. Handmade by the company owner, recent graduate Lucy Bannister, the pieces would definitely be termed as ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’, however organisations such as the RJC may not certify the brand because it could have used materials not sourced to its standard’s specifications, no matter how environmentally friendly recycling is.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of ethics in all aspects of consumers’ lives has also paved the way for companies with unfounded credentials, informally referred to as ‘greenwashers’, to ride its wave. Therefore, it is up to organisations such as the RJC to continue their work with manufacturers of jewellery to create guidelines that can determine a company’s level of ethical commitment to act as a fillip to the industry, in the hope of cementing the reputation of ethically conscious brands.
“There is always scope to increase awareness and give encouragement and support. We are all learning,” says
“Being a member of the [Responsible Jewellery] Council is certainly a good start,” adds Alice Rochester. “To become a member there is a huge audit process that you have to go through to ensure that you’re doing what you can. This involves everything from looking at employment records through to waste disposal, so it does say a lot for a company if it can say that it has got through it!
“We are continuing to ask questions of our suppliers about their sources and pushing for things to improve; not just waiting for things to improve around us,” she concludes.
Arabel Lebrusan: 07946 942 350, arabel©arabellebrusan.com or wwwarabellebrusan.corn
CRED Jeweller: www,credjewelIer.com
Eden Dfodati: www,edendiodati.com
Erica Sharpe Fine JeweIIer: 01934 710 449, info©ericasharpe.co.uk or wwwericasharpe.co.uk
Harriet Kelsall JeweIler Design Ltd: 01223 461 333, www.hkjewellery.co.uk or Twitter @HKBespoke
Rachel Helen Designs: www.rachelhelendesigns.com
Shu&Me: 07817 293 962, www.shuandme.com or Twitter ©shuandm