Join us for our weekly BAJ:Insight on the latest industry trends by Rachael Taylor, a freelance journalist who writes about jewellery for a number of titles, including The Financial Times, The Jewellery Editor and Retail Jeweller. In her 10 years reporting on the industry, she has travelled the globe to visit key industry fairs, descended a Fairtrade gold mine on top of a Peruvian mountain, toured silver jewellery factories in Thailand, and regularly has access to the most sparkling jewels and people in the business.
Ethics have been something whispered about in the jewellery industry when many other sectors, like fashion, have been shouting. Why? Fear. Pure and simple. It’s the fear that selling ethical products will make the rest of an inventory seem dirty, and that when the questions about traceability and ethics start, the right answers – or any answers – will be lacking.
Very few people in the jewellery industry know where their products come from – and I mean, really know. They can probably tell a customer that a diamond is certified by the Kimberley Process to ensure its sale is not funding any wars (easy enough when this covers 99% of all diamonds). Yet should the question of which mine, or even country, it came from arise, and whether it was mined in a responsible way, they will blanche. The same will be true for precious metals.
Many will tell you it is impossible to know – and they are not wrong, it is very difficult to trace commodities like gems and metals – yet ignorance is not enough for a clear conscience. I once had a mouth-tightening conversation with a jewellery brand labelling themselves as ethical because they knew the family in India who set their coloured gemstones. ‘But do you know where those gemstones come from?’, I asked. The answer was no. I’ve also heard of unqualified junior members of staff at prestigious jewellery houses being made to sign supply chain compliance documentation relating to membership of ethical bodies. Deniability is always handy, isn’t it?
There are, of course, some exceptions. Those who use Fairtrade or Fairmined gold and silver, or stump up the cash for more expensive but traceable Canadian diamonds, for example, can confidently say where and how their raw materials came to the surface (and will probably have a few YouTube videos to back it up).
“Those who use Fairtrade or Fairmined gold and silver, or stump up the cash for more expensive but traceable Canadian diamonds, for example, can confidently say where and how their raw materials came to the surface.”
These stories are becoming so much more important as questions are being raised, and answers expected by you; by which I mean that obsessed-over, socially conscious Millennial generation. And it’s hitting even the big guys in the industry, like Pandora. In the past week it announced the impending arrival of a new Thailand factory that has been constructed with green technology in mind (winning it a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate). This was something that Pandora president Anders Colding Friis (who claims that more than 80% of the precious metals used by the brand are recycled and the majority of its stones man-made) says was driven by the fact that its customer base “expect that our jewellery lives up to the highest ethical standards”.
While the jewellery industry is as a whole moving towards transparency and solid ethics, it is still a tricky business to navigate. But good news! The Incorporation of Goldsmiths of the City of Edinburgh is currently working on creating a website that will bring all the information on ethical practices out there to one place, with a handy forum for you to ask all the difficult questions you like. What a brilliant idea.