All that glitters: Dirty gold, the truth behind the glitter...
Our first blog post is the obvious place to start to explain some of our ethical and sustainable methods and why we choose to work responsibly; starting with the gold we use and why its so important to be responsible for your corner of the world.
My team and I have all worked in the industry for a very long time. I have been fortunate enough to work with incredibly talented people and run some amazing projects for royalty, films and people both known and unknown. It has been a real privilege.
However, in our industry there is often a rather..."see no evil, hear no evil" approach. From the very beginning when you start an apprenticeship you are told not to ask. Don't ask where the stones come from or where the gold comes from or whose hands it passes through along the way. Don't ask about extraction methods, chemicals or the human and environmental impact of these beautiful materials we are lucky enough to work with.
This has never sat comfortably with me. I have never been able to shut off the feeling that these beautiful materials aren't that beautiful after all, that the gold dust running through my fingers as I work is dirty, with a far greater cost than money. Sometimes that beautiful, precious dust feels like blood on my hands.
I had a time where I wondered where my career should take me next and I considered changing path entirely, to do something where I could give something back. Then it dawned on me that I should be trying to make a difference within my own industry. If we all consider the impact of our own corner of the world and how we can be more responsible within it then things can improve for all of us.
The first material to look at is gold. Gold is beautiful. It has a warmth, a glow like nothing else. Gold is rare not just on earth but within the universe. Earth isn't even able to create gold, instead gold comes from the stars. Colliding dead stars to be precise. A Harvard paper describes how it takes a cataclysmic event such as the dead cores of two stars that exploded as supernovae colliding to create gold. Wow!
Gold is thought to be the first metal that humans were aware of, long before iron or copper, people found this strange, beautiful material and felt it was special. It has been found connected to our ancestors scattered across the world. We have adorned ourselves as long as we have existed and finding this beautiful element that was soft enough to shape and didn't tarnish must have felt exceptionally special.
Gold has been worshiped, linked to the gods, royalty, the wealthy, the powerful. As the human race has evolved the passion for gold has remained. We didn't just use gold that we found in stream beds, we began mining for it. This is where our story loses its lustre. Before gold was even used as "money" it was so highly prized that slaves, prisoners of war and criminals all over the world from China to Egypt were used to mine for it.
Today gold mining doesn't just have human costs, it also has massive environmental costs; An estimated 600,000 children mine gold and they are part of mining communities that are exploited and work in dangerous conditions that often result in injury or death. The humanitarian concerns are vast. The environmental costs are also vast. Open cast mining isn't just dangerous, it is massively destructive.
Mining destroys the land and pollutes the earth and water with a barrage of chemicals including cyanide and sulphuric acid. One of the worst and most infamous chemicals is mercury. Mercury has both environmental and human impact. Miners use mercury to draw the gold from the ore. The mercury is boiled and the workers inevitably inhale and ingest the substance. Mercury is a special kind of dreadful and it causes lesions to the brain that cause a slow madness and then death. The term "mad as a hatter" actually comes from the use of mercury in hat making. Mercury was used to treat materials and the subsequent poisoning caused brain damage and insanity. I don't think "mad as a gold miner" will catch on in a time where we like ignore the true cost of the products we covet.
That mercury isn't just responsible for the slow, torturous death of our miners, it is what is responsible for poisoning our fish stocks. Many of you will have heard that we need to limit the amount of fish we eat each week and that is due to substances like mercury that are accumulating in the food chain.
There are many many other aspects of the gold mining industry that are unpleasant including those innocent bystanders whose lives are also affected. The Yanomami communities in the Amazon are disconnected from the outside world but illegal mining is destroying their land and killing their communities with damage to their environment, introduction of disease and murder when they are in the way. The governments are given backhanders to ignore what is happening and it being in a far flung part of the world, it is mostly ignored by the rest of the world too.
It all sounds pretty grim, there are solutions though; Gold extraction doesn't have to use chemicals and some mines are reverting back to water as an extraction method, whether through sluicing, panning, centrifuges, vortex concentrators or magnets. Although many miners use mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, it is possible to safely and economically recover gold without it. Mercury-free techniques are safer for miners, their families and local communities. They may also help miners market their gold at higher prices. They are sometimes slower methods but they are effective and do not have the environmental impact of other modern mining techniques. In some mining areas communities use these techniques to repair the land once mining has finished. With time I hope we see those sites used to benefit those communities in other ways such as being reused for farming and potentially crops that can be sold on the open market to again help reinvest in their communities.
There are now Fairmined and Fairtrade gold and silver mines. Most importantly, some of these mines are also Eco so they don't use chemical extraction. These organisations help to make sure the miners have safer, regulated working conditions and paying fairly for their work and the gold they extract. Money is also reinvested back into the mining communities to help break the cycle of needing to work in dangerous environments. Artisan miners are able to charge more for responsibly mined gold not only directly benefitting the individual miner but the whole community.
Few mines offer this though so the whole process is carefully governed so that there is a clear trail from source to consumer.
We choose to use Fairmined gold, that has a clear custody trail. Everyone involved has a unique code that registers the metal transfers along the route from mine to consumer. Every time we purchase a Fairmined metal we register full details of weights and type of metal with our unique code to show exactly where and when we received it. We can then send the gold to an assay office, which is where gold is legally tested and stamped to prove it is the metal it is sold as. Many countries including Sweden have a system of self assay so the maker can stamp the piece themselves. We prefer to send our pieces to London so that you can have total confidence in the metal you are buying.
We use London assay office as it has one of the most stringent testing labs in the world and I feel it is important to give the consumer the confidence in the product that a proper assay mark gives. Due to the clear custody chain of the metal we use, London assay office are able to hallmark our items with an additional Fairmined mark whenever we use Fairmined metal. This is important so you know we are trying our best to make responsible choices.
There are other options available, and sometimes we have to use them. For example, sometimes Eco gold just isn't available so we use Fairmined standard gold.
If available, we would also use Fairtrade gold but currently if we import it into Sweden the accreditation stops when it crosses the border, so we can't prove it is Fairtrade. Unfortunately international Fairtrade licences are extremely expensive and we don't currently have a refinery who can ship to us in a way that keeps the accreditation over borders. We have a license to use Fairmined and are on a list of goldsmiths registered to use Fairtrade but we wouldn't be able to use a Fairtrade hallmark. Confusing I know!!!
One thing I have learned through this journey is that the responsible choice is not the easy choice. We work tirelessly to make a product as responsible as possible so that you, the client, don't have to spend months and years searching the world for responsible options. We try to take the hard work out of the decisions for our clients, to make it easier to choose sustainable industry.
When Fairmined gold and silver isn't available we use recycled metal. For example, we can no longer source Fairmined metal for the very heavy rod we use to forge some of our Fealty range from. So we use recycled metal instead.
Some people argue that recycled is a better option than mined metal all together. Refineries using recycled metal take in gold from workshops who have scrap, dust, old pieces, industrial leftovers and old jewellery sold by the general public. It all gets melted down and made into new gold.
I feel however, that as new gold and silver are constantly being fed into the precious metal system, we need to make sure that any new metal coming in is as responsibly sourced as possible. Recycled metal is brilliant but it doesn't alter the fact that new metal is being mined all the time. If a workshop buys standard gold and then sends the off-cuts back to a refinery for remelting then really that metal is still a by product of irresponsible mining techniques. One day I hope that the whole mining industry reverts to responsible techniques and then we will all know for sure that the recycled metals truly are the most responsible option.
So there we are. It is a complex issue that I have simplified here but I hope it gives some insight into why we are fighting for responsible metals and why it matters. The more people buy Fairmined, Fairtrade and ecologically responsible metals the more they will be available. We need to keep pushing, keep being heard to stop the exploitation of the workers and the destruction of the land. Help us to drive a new way of working and thinking.
Old friends in the industry have distanced themselves from me because of the materials I use. Surely that means we are heading in the right direction?! We believe high quality, beautifully made products should also be responsible. If we each look after the corner of the world that we understand then the world will be a better place. This is the bit that I understand. This is my industry and I will fight for change.