Fair Trade Ethically Sourced Jewelry, Now

- July 17, 2012

"And the amazing thing is, for the first time, such rings are available"

Finally, the time comes for you to buy the rings.

You and your fiancé pass through the glass doors of your store.  The jeweler knows why you have come—he can see it in the light in your faces, how your bodies casually lean into each other as you look into the cases. 

“We’re looking for a unique wedding and engagement ring set,” you say...Already, she is pointing to a white gold designer ring with a floral pattern and a one-carat diamond. 

Even though you’ve dreamed about getting married, now, with the ring, it’s a little scary. But you can feel the beauty of what you have together and the mysterious connection you share that make life a miraculous gift.

Yet as she picks up the ring, she expresses some hesitation.  She was not the type you could surprise. To get her to go to a jewelry store, you had to tell her, this one is different—really.  

“What about the issue of blood diamonds,”  she asks.

“Our Canadian diamonds are traceable straight to a mine that has third-party oversight,” he says.  

You like diamond, but she is not 100% percent sure about getting one.

“If you prefer a colored gem, we have fair trade sapphire from Malawi,” he says, pulling out a tray of gemstones.

“What about the gold?” she asked, mentioning the news magazine television shows about conflict gold… dirty gold….child labor gold. 

“You have a choice—wedding rings made with recycled gold, or fair trade gold wedding rings, where the gold is traced straight back to a small-scale mining community in Peru that is third party certified.” 

The jeweler pauses a moment, and looks you in the eye and asks,  “Shouldn’t the sourcing of the ring reflect a life-giving, hopeful future?”

Of course.  It makes total sense.  And the amazing thing is, for the first time, such rings are available. In fact, a handful of companies in the US are making their entire product line out of recycled or fair trade metal.

How We Got Here

The responsible sourcing movement is a radical paradigm for jewelers.  For all but a few jewelers, the material from their product is still viewed only as commodity--  no different than lumber or oil.  Yet over the last five years, a new ethical sourcing movement within the jewelry sector has taken root. Pioneer jewelers demand traceability and transparency from their supply chain and they want to support small producer mining communities.  

What usually comes to mind when most people think of mines are huge open pits and earthmovers with 10-foot tall tires. Yet between 13 and 20 million men, women and children from more than 50 developing countries work in small scale artisan mines, often in impoverished areas associated with corruption, war, and terrible environmental conditions.

According to the World Bank, over 100 million people depend upon small scale mining for survival.   These artisanal miners produce more raw materials and benefit more people than all the large scale multinational operations combined.   The small-scale miners around the world supply 20 to 30 percent of newly minted gold and about 80 per cent of all colored gemstones.  Almost all of them live in abject poverty.

The gold mining by small-scale miners, in particular, is an extremely toxic activity.  Mercury, one of the most dangerous of all neurotoxins, is used to extract gold from ore.  Once it gets into an ecosystem, it wreaks havoc on human and ecological communities. 

A few jewelers around the world have begun to create jewelry made from recycled precious and fair trade gold.  They are also sourcing diamonds and gems that can be traced back to the source and provide an ethical chain of custody.  These jewelers are passionate about creating ethical jewelry that really benefits small scale producer communities.

How To Buy Ethical Jewelry

The challenge for the conscious customer is that the market is a bit like a jungle.  The term, “conflict free” actually is meaningless.  In fact, about 15% of diamonds entering the supply chain are conflict diamonds labeled as “conflict free diamonds.”  These include those from Zimbabwe, where human rights atrocities are common.   Plus, if gold is not traceable to a source, it could be tied to social and environmental atrocities.

These days, the ethical movement in the jewelry sector represents only a tiny percentage of its overall sales.  Fortunately, their jewelry is competitively priced.  What you need to do is actually pretty simple.  When you go into a store or visit a jewelry website, you need to know where, exactly, the gold, diamond or gemstone actually comes from.  If the jeweler cannot tell you this simple information, just assume that their product is not conflict free.  

The good news is, there are many small jewelry companies that are actually making ethical jewelry.  By supporting these companies, you not only can find beautiful jewelry in alignment with your heartfelt values. 

Marc Choyt is President of Reflective Images, an ethical jewelry company that selling unique designer wedding rings online and conflict free diamond  artisan wedding and engagement rings at Artisan Wedding Rings.  His company produces eco-friendly, recycled gold, platinum and palladium wedding and engagement rings and ethical Celtic wedding and engagement rings.  Marc is also a jeweler activist and Director of Fair Jewelry Action, USA, supporting green, fair trade, socially responsible jewelry practices.