We know that diamonds are steeped in ethical issues. Conflict, smuggling and pollution are all associated with the gemstones (read this 2015 report from Amnesty International, which takes the Central African Republic as a case study, if you want to know more).
But the problem doesn’t stop with the dazzlers. Gold is up there, too – the average 18-karat wedding band made from the metal is responsible for twenty tonnes of toxic mine waste, according to an analysis from mining watchdog group Earthworks.
But new generation jewellers are stepping up. Buying raw materials that support the people who mine them and have no part in fueling cartels and conflict, they’re working to craft exquisite pieces that have a positive impact.
Ingle & Rhode, an ethical jewelers, was launched in 2007 after co-founder David faced problems finding an engagement ring with fully traceable diamonds.“For us, it’s all about traceability throughout the supply chain,” he says.
The company have a tracking service for their diamonds, with each stone receiving a identification number from source to sale – meaning that customers can find out everything they need to know before buying.
A disturbing array of ethical and sustainable issues surround the production of our rings, bracelets and necklaces. Communities in Botswana are being displaced from the land that has been their home for thousands of years to make way for mining efforts, for example, while miners often work under dangerous conditions.
Unfortunately, it has become the norm for jewellers and retailers to not be sure where their metals and gemstones have come from. David says this is an integral problem when buying ethically in any industry.
“When the customer asks where the metal or the stones their jewellery is made from was sourced, it’s considered normal if the jeweller doesn’t know. This needs to change.”
Ingle & Rhode were one of the first brands in the world to offer jewellery made from Fairtrade gold, meaning that the mines that they buy from offer a living wage, work under regulated health and safety conditions and are child labour-free.Recycled gold is also a popular option and, once them metal is refined, offers an identical quality to newly mined metal.
David says that there’s been a spike in interest in sourcing jewellery ethically from consumers. “Thirty years ago, people would tell you that it’s impossible to track where your food comes from. Times are changing,” he tells us.
The high street is also taking heed. Ethical jewellery brand Made was formed by Neal Gershinson ten years ago, in an effort to create decent working conditions and better lives for a jewellery-making community in Kenya.
Made has worked on ranges for high street brands like Topshop, Whistles, ASOS and Whistles, and are particularly known for their repurposed artisan brass pieces.
Neal says that customers and businesses are now as interested in transparency as they are in beautiful jewellery: “Topshop was our very first customer – they’ve been extremely supportive.” In terms of where they get their ideas from, he says that the company are: “inspired by the upcycling culture in Kenya – in contrast to here, [the UK] where everything is deemed throwaway or disposable.”
With ethical jewellery looking swish from the high street to the fancy stuff, we’re fully on board this ethics/ aesthetics train.
It’s time to use bling for good.