View Full Version : the ethics conundrum

19-07-2017, 02:48 PM
Ok, so last night's news broached the ethics topic again, this time with sapphires from Maddagasca and the indri lemurs. So I'm wondering how everyone else views the ethics angle, (not just in this particular instance) and how they square it. It seems like such a can of worms, and so complex - there's so many different ethics concerns to take into account and so many ways in which exploitation can take place, and whatever approach taken can make things worse somehow/somewhere. What thoughts do you all have about it? and how does anyone try to offset these problems as best they can?

19-07-2017, 04:49 PM
Exploitation is everywhere, Sue.

That goes for food, clothes - you name it.

The best you can do is to buy where you hope it will be responsibly sourced.

Some gemstone dealers, such as AE Ward will tell you the provenance of the stones. Dennis


19-07-2017, 09:23 PM
You're so right Dennis, it's impossible to live a modern life in the modern world without having an adverse impact somehow or other, I guess all we can do is to be aware, and exercise whatever caution/care that we can in the decisions we make.

21-07-2017, 01:10 PM
Jewellery will in a sense never be truly ethical due to the materials not being renewable. I wish precious metals and stones grew on trees, but alas.

Many times I find that the most available "ethical" precious metals are labelled as recycled. This is good but only for a while. The recycled metals has to come out of the ground at some point, so buying recycled only solves the problem to a point.

I'm still hunting for traceable silver.

02-08-2017, 02:12 PM
Hi Joella,

Dennis is quite absolute in his position about ethical practices in jewellery and I guess that his is the voice of experience but here is my take on jewellery and ethics. There are still more questions than answers!

I do not label my jewellery ethical because until I can know with absolute certainty the effects of every component on every individual in the chain of supply I cannot categorically state the my jewellery is ethical. What I can state is that I purchase materials from reputable sources and that I am trying to build a fully traceable, ethically, environmentally and financially responsible business.

Let's start with gold. I love Fairtrade gold. I love the idea and the way that it is growing a sustainable responsible model BUT even if every single artisanal and small scale mining company become a Fairtrade gold mine it would still only equate to 12% of the demand for gold. I use Fairtrade gold when it's available and ecogold when it isn't but what has to be understood is that whilst I'd rather my gold was Fairtrade however the question that this poses; is it fair to buy from other artisanal and small scale miners who are not yet Fairtrade ready but want to work towards that model? Equally, large scale mining operations whom Fairtrade does not certify but that have made inroads into improving safety, pay and facilities for miners...should this be considered fair trade?

Fairtrade only certifies silver and platinum found with Fairtrade gold. why are there no Fairtrade silver mines?

jeniberry Jeweltree certifies silver but it can only be bought through retailers who are then certified by Jeweltree to make jewellery from their certified materials (like Jewel Tree London) and the jewellery itself is then certified. (Runs a similar model to peopletree) This is the closest that you will get to truly ethical jewellery.

I had hoped that Gemfields would become the Fairtrade equivalent for gemstones and in fairness they are doing a number of things well...backfilling mines to minimise environmental damage, looking after their staff and maintaining good health and safety practices and having a transparency about the way that they bring their gemstones to the market BUT in doing so they have completely altered the traditional nature of the gemstone market for emeralds pushing prices up so that some of the smaller traditional gem cutters have been priced out of the market and have to subcontract to bigger gem cutting establishments in order to obtain stones to cut. The knock on effect of this on the gemstone markets of India is very noticeable and a new infrastructure is emerging where the industry there is becoming more complex and creating businesses that mass produce from stone to finished jewellery for the international market using mechanisation alongside time honoured techniques. Gemfields are also BIG business and are looking at end to end productivity (They own Faberge) for the luxury market and as a consortium has now delisted the company and taken it into private management buying out all the little shareholder I suspect that their ethical practices will endure as long as they support their financial aims.

Companies that retail mine to market gemstones such as Nineteen48 and Lawson gems (Australia) have the right idea in many respects because the money goes back to the mining community but without the other support that they, Fairtrade and JewelTree foundation offer money can be counter productive. It comes down to the old proverb give a man a fish....
If these companies engage with the miners, provide tools, safety equipment and advice for the miners and pay a fair price for their work then I would count them to be ethical but for every company that does this there is another who is just there for cheap trade but will claim mine to market and this is a problem. I particularly like the fact that Lawsons gems is involved with the gemmological education of miners and providing basic tools like dichroscopes.

I did hope that GIA might take a bigger role in the concept of ethical and responsible small scale mining. I have watched many short films on youtube of field gemmologists from GIA visiting various mines to collect samples for their database so surely such professionals, having built these relationships with the miners would be best placed to assess how ethical the mine practices are? I dare say that they are sharing their insight...probably behind closed doors!

I buy my gemstones from various sources. I mainly source semi precious stones. Recently I have been told by my bank not to purchase gemstones from Peshawar. This was one of the oldest gemstone markets in the world but has been undermined by gem dealers importing stones from Afghanistan acquired under dubious/criminal circumstance and as such, any dealing with Peshawar is considered a money laundering risk. (Personally, I believe that when the new bank guidelines were issued re money laundering they were aimed at dealing with the hundreds/thousands/millions paid in cash for gemstones and not my fully traceable and accountable purchases of $10 peridot) So now, despite the longevity of the buying relationships I am placed in a situation where I cannot purchase from family dealers who are having to shut up shop under these restrictions. I also buy from gem dealers who are or were miners or cutters themselves. This is because I believe that they have a much better idea about what their life is worth and therefore what a gemstone is worth. One of my favourite is Seda gems which is a multi generational company started by and engineer/opal miner.

The internet has opened up the gemstone trade considerably. A miner can put his own gemstones up for sale via mobile phone but as with any kind of internet shopping, or indeed gemstone sale the transaction is based on trust. Of course you can test the gem when it arrives and check (if your prepared to pay) it's origin but without first hand knowledge you cannot absolutely know where a gemstone came from or how ethical it's journey has been. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive for best practise and ask the awkward questions.

I love the fact that Fairtrade and ecogold raise awareness of these issues and I believe that many of our customers would prefer to buy jewellery which has a minimised environmental impact and for which the producers are paid a fair wage and have a safe working environment but until all precious metals and gemstones can be certified mine to market with every person involved in the supply certifying that is so it is a dream. For a small number of jewellers willing to work at it being ethical is possible but it is not possible to match supply and demand for all jewellery at this time.

That's my opinion...subject to change without notice!
Hope it helps.

05-08-2017, 04:49 PM
This was really interesting to read - thanks Ceri.

I don't often use gold, but when I do it's always Fairtrade or eco-gold. For silver I use recycled wherever I can.

Like Dennis and Jeniberry say, it's almost impossible to make truly ethical jewellery from precious metals and gemstones, but taking steps wherever we can to minimise impact as much as possible can only be a good thing?

09-08-2017, 10:36 AM
For anyone looking for information regarding becoming an "ethical" jeweller... three links. The first is for Greg Valerio's Red and Green book as a series of PDFs about different aspects on Ute Decker's website http://utedecker.com/ethical_jewellery.html
The second is a link http://ambassador.fairtrade.org.uk/about is to a short course for anyone wanting to learn more about Fairtrade gold.

Lastly, for any jeweller wishing to register as a Fairtrade goldsmith in order to purchase Fairtrade gold; http://www.fairgold.org/goldsmiths-registration/ Please note that there are 2 levels of Fair trade membership; a Fairtrade goldsmith can purchase Fairtrade gold to manufacture their pieces but only an audited Fairtrade licensee can have the Fairtrade mark struck when sending a piece to be hallmarked.

It's not enough....but it's a start!

26-08-2017, 07:25 PM
Thanks Ceri for that info.

I have actually found fairtrade silver in an american shop so apparently it's available! :)