The subject of ethical practices involved in mining precious metals and gemstones and making jewellery is a complex one, but it’s a ‘nettle that has to be grasped’, if we are to change and improve the way that we are treating the planet and each other.
Fortunately, the raw materials used in precious jewellery are recyclable and this opens up a whole new way of working which can eliminate new-mined resources completely. With commission work I can often offer a beautifully sustainable approach to new jewellery by making it from old pieces.
One such recent commission that I made was a wonderful example of recycling. My customer had several family rings that were never used – either the wrong style, wrong size, or damaged. The new creation (a ring) was to celebrate a significant birthday, and was to incorporate all the gold and as many diamonds as possible from the old rings.
To make the ring, I removed all the stones and melted the gold together into a single ingot. I could then work with this gold bar to make the rails and background band that were required for the shape. I made a setting for the large central diamond by rolling a much thinner piece of gold into sheet and curving it round to make a tube, this was then soldered on to the top of the ring.
Before the diamonds are set, the jewel goes off to the London assay office to be tested for quality and have its hallmark stamped into it. The hallmark is a legal requirement and a guarantee of quality. The tiny marks indicate the maker, the year, the type and quality of the metal and which of the four UK assay offices it was stamped in. Once back, the stones are set and the piece is given a final polish.
It is easy to feel powerless about the state of our planet, the way we conduct ourselves and the impact we are having over our future. But we can make small positive differences by looking close to home, reviewing our choices about the way we work and live on a daily basis. For me it’s all about continuing to understand my raw materials, their source, their extraction, their trading history and finding ways of using them in a sustainable and responsible way. It is not an approach that is easy, quick or without hazards, but how can I create a jewel, so personally imbued with sentiment, from materials that are connected with exploitative and inhumane practices?