From blood diamonds to mining with mercury and terrible working conditions, jewellery has long been regarded as one of the least ethical parts of the fashion business. Destruction of coral reefs, widespread pollution and the terrible toll taken on the denizens of third world countries rich in minerals all make up part of the rap sheet amassed by the jewellery industry. Latterly, green designers have made a stab at replacing serious jewels with natural materials such as shells, polished wood and recycled rubbish. Not surprisingly, their impact on the mainstream jewellery market has been limited to say the least. But that could all be about to change.
The launch of the world’s first ever Fairtrade certified gold back in February represented a sea change in the jewellery industry and for the first time ever, put the needs of artisan miners first. $137.5bn was spent globally on gold jewellery in 2010, 10 per cent of which was sourced from vulnerable artisan gold miners. Harriet Lamb, director of the Fairtrade Foundation said at the time: ‘The reality of gold production is at complete odds with what consumers imagine. Consumers care about the conditions faced by miners. This is why Fairtrade and Fairmined gold has the potential to tackle unfair supply chains, improve working and environmental conditions and deliver tangible and sustainable economic benefits to impoverished communities.’ And it isn’t just the Fairtrade Foundation that’s convinced of the need for Fairtrade gold – the world’s oldest jeweller Garrard has signed up as has Harriet Kelsall, a leading bespoke jeweller. Now London Jewellery Week is providing a platform for the talent for whom ethical sourcing is just as important as getting the design right – and there are no fiddly beads in sight.
One of the first to sign up to the Fairtrade Foundation’s ethical gold initiative, German-born Ute Decker specialises in pared-back, sculptural pieces that have an architectural feel. In addition to Fairtrade gold, Decker makes use of recycled silver and has substituted toxic chemical resins for a natural alternative derived from sunflowers.
Like Decker, Linnie Mclarty focuses on beautifully realised sculptural pieces and makes a point of using only Fairtrade gold and recycled silver. Describing her stance as wanting to ensure that the story behind her jewellery is as lovely as the jewellery itself, she’s also a fan of bio-resins and pewter.
Fifi Bijoux is a rarity among jewellers in the sense that it’s one of the few to list the source of its materials online. Among them are ethically mined platinum, Fairtrade gold and fairly traded gemstones. It also makes clear what ‘fairly traded’ means to Director and designer Vivien Johnston, including investment in green tourism, community organic farming and mines that don’t use mercury or cyanide to extract the ore. If that wasn’t enough, 10 percent of the proceeds from the Little Acorns range goes to the Entebbe Women’s Association Child Sponsorship Programme.
A finalist at the UK Jewellery Awards 2010, the Brighton-based CRED Jewellery was one of the first to recognise that jewels don’t always have to come with a dodgy back-story. Founder members of the Alliance for Responsible Mining, CRED were also one of the early partners in the drive to bring Fairtrade gold to market. While all diamonds sold by CRED come with a certificate of origin (Kimberley), CRED founder Greg Valerio is also working on a project aimed at creating a Fairtrade certification scheme for the jewels.
Like CRED, Foundation Jewellery make sure that their diamonds are ethically mined as well as Kimberley-certified, making the effort to trace their gems back to the original mine. The brand also uses recycled and Fairtrade gold, and uses dedicated UK workshops to create its jewellery, thus eliminating any chance of conventionally mined gold contaminating their Fairtrade product.
London Jewellery Week runs from the 6th until the 12 June. For more information, go to: www.londonjewelleryweek.co.uk
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