Many of us now live our lives with an awareness of our impact on others, and on the environment that we live in. Our knowledge of the damage that has unwittingly (or otherwise) been done makes us want to change our ways to minimise future problems. So how does that apply to jewellery? In particular, what do we need to think about when we are buying precious metals such as silver or gold?

There are a number of options for us to choose from now. In addition to the standard offerings, many bullion dealers now offer access to recycled metals, traceable materials including Single Mine Origin gold, and schemes such as Fairtrade and Fairmined. 

But what do these mean? Which is “best”? Well, each option has its own merits. I believe that your choice needs to reflect your own values, but it is important to understand what the issues are. Mining for precious metals carries a cost, and we have to consider the effect of mining on both the environment and the people. 

Environmental damage occurs related to the mines themselves. Open cast mines leave great scars on the landscape unless work is done to fill these in after they are exhausted, and to return the landscape to its previous state. There are also huge concerns about the use of toxic materials in the mining process itself, one example being mercury, which is used to extract gold from the surrounding rock. Release of these toxic materials has contaminated water supplies, killed off vegetation, and displaced communities. There are many communities that have a large percentage of their population working in the mines, and they depend on that work for income. Working conditions can be difficult and dangerous, and miners can be exploited, not always receiving a fair income for their work.

In terms of minimising environmental impact alone, the most effective outcome would be to stop mining, and to recycle precious metals that have already been extracted. This is a great option that is widely supported. An unwitting effect of this, however, is to disadvantage the mining communities. These communities have been dependent on mining for generations to provide income, and to sustain their communities. Stopping mining completely would be devastating for them. Because of this, a number of initiatives have developed that try and ensure that these individuals and communities are supported, while working to minimise the negative environmental impact of the mines and the mining process. 

Fairmined Gold is one of these. Within this scheme Fairmined supports artisanal small scale mining operations to work towards the Fairmined standard. This ensures a legal mining operation with guaranteed prices and improved trade relationships. There must be no child labour, no association with conflict, and gender equality. Environmental impact must be reduced working towards chemical-free extraction, and promoting a healthy and safe working environment for the miners. Gold coming from mines meeting these standards is traced and certified, providing assurance to jewellers and customers down the line. 

Single Mine Origin Gold is similarly traceable from an individual mine, but tends to focus on the bigger, more commercial mines. They guarantee no ties to conflict or child labour, and that miners are paid a fair wage, as well as communities benefitting from sustainability initiatives carried out by the mining organisation. 

Fairtrade Gold is the world’s first independent ethical certification system for gold. All certified gold is sourced from mine sites meeting the Fairtrade Gold standard, with the focus again being on supporting small scale miners to receive a fair deal for their work, protecting the environment, and improving conditions for themselves and their communities. 

I am proud to be able to offer a choice within my jewellery. I can currently offer both recycled and Single Mine Origin gold, and am working towards being able to register with Fairtrade and Fairmined which will allow me to offer their products. All my ready-to-wear gold jewellery is currently made from recycled gold. Which would be your preference?