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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’

Stella Ring by Erica Sharpe

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.

Stella Bangle by Erica Sharpe

 

“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 environment?”
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.”

 

Stella Collection detail, Erica Sharpe

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
Erica Sharpe.
“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.

Supplier listing
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
Frogpearl www.frogpeal.com
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

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