Golden opportunity for jewellery industry to take a standMarch 2015
Harriet Kelsall, designer and leading figure in the jewellery industry, explains why 'clean gold' should be the definition of modern luxury jewellery
We believe the best approach in the luxury arena is to not present ourselves as an ‘ethical only’ company. While some customers pursue us for ethical reasons, there are many more who just like our brand but who have never considered the ethics surrounding jewellery or heard of Fairtrade. However, as we chat about the options, they very often choose the ethical route if they can. So rather than take a definitve stance, we choose to spread the word in a collaborative way, gently opening the door to ethics in the jewellery trade.
It isn’t difficult to explain ethical options because we find that most of our customers are intrigued by the complexities of ethics. As with all ethical issues, the right path forward is not a black and white / good or bad story. For example, it’s not a simple truth that it’s best to go to first world countries such as Australia and Canada for gemstones – because who then feeds the child in the third world country who previously benefited from the standard diamond trade?
Fairtrade gold is really important as it’s the only source of gold from mine to consumer where you know that the miners have been given a fair price and also the community have also been educated and supported and it’s been independently audited. However, even if every artisanal miner sold their gold through Fairtrade, it would still only satisfy about 20% of the world’s demand for gold. So we need to also make sure that we are doing what we can to influence the big producers.
Undertaking the Responsible Jewellery Council audits is one of the ways that we aim to do this – it’s something that’s quite demanding of a small business. We were the first UK independent business to pass this audit and wanted our visible participation (as a small business) to pressure the bigger companies to undertake it. It’s really important that small businesses are not left out of these important conversations surrounding ethics and production, because much of the jewellery industry is made up of small independents. It’s quite impressive to think that if we all banded together, we’d make up a greater proportion of the industry than the big multiples!
Taking the ethical path has never been in question for me. My father was a doctor, so I grew up with an inherent acceptance that other people’s needs are more important than your own. It’s a small step from there to integrating that ethos into your life. I took Ethics in design as an option at university back when this was an entirely new concept.
When I started making jewellery over 25 years ago it seemed natural to ask a stone supplier ‘how do I know which stone is better ethically?’ His response was extraordinary and vehement. Various efforts to humiliate me culminated in ‘you’re in the wrong industry for that hippy rubbish’! At that point, corruption was rife . But I kept asking questions, and a few other jewellers did as well, until suppliers were pressured into finding answers. They weren’t great answers at first, but they improved over time. Then Fairtrade gold was pioneered and we were lucky enough to be asked to help the Fairtrade Foundation to establish their process for bespoke jewellery as one of the first 20 jewellers to be licensed to use it.
And whenever anyone asks us why we have such a strong emphasis on ethics and Fairtrade, we reply - why wouldn’t you? There’s no doubt that the definition of modern luxury in jewellery these days includes the consideration of ethics involved in the creation of the piece.
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