What we mean by ‘ethical’ jewellery
Ethical jewellery is:
Handmade by a well paid/non-exploited worker (in our case Australian or US made)
Made with recycled precious metals
Set with Fair Made or Fair Trade diamonds and gemstones, or
Synthetic diamond and gemstone, or
Recycled and vintage diamond and gemstones
We do not work with material from a conflict area. Or material processed or fabricated by an exploited workforce.
No war zones. No sweatshops. No child labour. No mined metal.
We mostly make engagement and wedding rings. It is important to us that such symbols of love do not have any harm attached to them.
- Precious metals: We make rings with recycled precious metals. The recycled metal we use in making rings & ingots for ‘The Promised Ring’ come from responsible metal refiners.
- Diamonds and coloured Gemstones: Wherever possible we offer Australian diamonds and coloured gemstones. The natural diamonds and gemstones we offer in our rings and Promised Ring packs come from non-conflict regions. All from fair made or fair trade suppliers.
- We do not supply newly mined gemstones or diamonds that were processed by child (or otherwise exploited) labour.
- We do not use irradiated gemstones enhanced with beryllium or any other toxic or non-permanent treatments. Many stones are treated with radiation or beryllium to improve or change their colour. We don’t support any processes that put people’s lives at risk.
- Our jewellery is made to last. We make sure our jewellery is not only beautiful, it’s able to cope with the rigors of everyday life.
- We do not cast our jewellery. We offer Australian handmade jewellery. The only other jewellery we supply is machine pressed/die struck. This comes from a responsible refiner in the US.
The problem with gold mining
The gold needed to make one ring requires displacement of around 20 tonnes of earth. This is then extracted using toxic chemicals.
The jewellery industry uses more than 60% of all newly mined gold.
But, there is a stockpile. Old and broken jewellery, jewellers’ scraps, obsolete computer and mobile phone hardware etc.
This could serve our needs for the next 50 years or so.
The jewellery industry has a responsibility to utilise these existing resources. And to do so in such a way that does not further damage the environment. Along with many leading retailers overseas, we have signed Oxfam’s ‘no dirty gold’ pledge. We have also taken the ethical jewellery pledge.
The facts about mining
Gold & Silver
Mining is a dirty business. Gold & silver mining is particularly so. Using processes that are very damaging to the environment.
Cyanide and heavy metal (especially mercury) poisoning of mine sites is a by-product of conventional leach mining practises. Damage to the local ecology is common place thanks to workplace accidents. Some of the most notorious incidents include the Baia Mare spill in northern Romania in 2000 that polluted the Danube and Tsiza rivers. Placer Dome’s Misima mine in Papua New Guinea that, in 2004, spilled cyanide into the ocean killing local marine life. And the Kalgoorlie Gold Mine spillage into local groundwater in 2004.
To economically extract ever-decreasing supplies of raw Gold & silver, mining companies use a process called leach mining. This involves saturating ground-up rock with cyanide.
Heavy metals, like Gold & silver, attach to the cyanide solution for later separation.
Responsible mining companies go to considerable efforts to prevent environmental damage. Accidents happen. There is a very long list. Cyanide spillages, failures of tailings dams and other industrial accidents.
Cyanide is only part of the problem. Industry supporters will point out that cyanide biodegrades very quickly. But it’s the other heavy metals, like lead and mercury. Trapped in the tailings and slurries they cause lasting damage. As a lot of the world’s remaining Gold & silver deposits are in ecologically sensitive areas, you have a recipe for disaster.
It also seems that economic status and legislative controls make little difference to where the damage happens. Serious accidents have been reported in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Romania, Hungary, China, Ghana, The Republic of Congo, Papua New Guinea and many others.
The problem is so significant that Oxfam America and EARTHWORKS launched their No Dirty Gold campaign in 2004. Its purpose is to educate retailers and the general public about the true social and environmental cost of gold.
In Australia, the concept of ‘dirty gold’ is almost unheard of.
And it seems even on a global scale, ‘dirty silver’ doesn’t even rate a mention. Even though it’s produced using essentially the same cyanide leaching process used in gold mining.
Most platinum comes from South Africa, the United States, Russia, South America and Canada. South Africa and Russia produces 60% of the total. (It’s estimated that 90% of the world’s remaining supplies are in South Africa.)
Like Gold & silver, platinum is a dwindling resource. It is even more difficult to recover (hence its higher price). It’s actually more plentiful in the Earth’s crust than the other two precious metals. But production volumes are only around 10% of those of Gold & around 1% of silver volumes.
There are three factors that make platinum hard to recover:
The depth of deposits (for example, the Merensky Reef is South Africa is nearly 1.5km below ground)
Low concentration. Most platinum metals are in fine granular form, widely dispersed in the ore. On average around 2 to 3 tonnes of ore must be processed to recover enough platinum for one wedding ring; and
Chemical bonding with other platinum group metals. Less than half of all platinum group metals mined wind up as true platinum. And it can take five times longer than gold to extract.
On the socio-political side, South Africa is the main ‘hot bed’. Some publications report widespread dislocation and oppression of local populations. Including imprisonment of dissident leaders, violent quelling of protests, destruction of crops and intentional polluting of community water supplies.
But, other publications (like The Times) report a beneficial local economic boom. Job creation, infrastructure development, real estate value increases and the like. Either way, unlike Gold & silver, platinum has significant uses outside of jewellery. It’s an irreplaceable component in car exhaust systems for example. The jewellery industry is not the major production driver.
When it comes to ‘dirty’ Gold & silver, there is almost no public awareness of the issue in Australia. Even inside the industry, very few jewellers are aware of the damage conventional mining of Gold & silver does to the environment.
Ethical Jewellery Australia grew from the desire to do something about changing the status quo. As EJA’s position is to reduce the impact the jewellery industry has on the environment and its people. We only use recycled Gold, palladium & platinum. We source our metal from responsible recyclers.
Diamonds and gemstones
When it comes to gemstones, most people are familiar with the concept of “blood diamonds”. But the problems of exploitation, cartels and unsafe work practises are not limited to the diamond industry.
Our policy is simple – no exploited labour. That means no children, no sweatshops, no sub standard cutting factories.
We can’t do much about the fact that diamonds come from big holes in the ground. But we can ensure that no one is harmed by their removal or processing.
Apart from the corruption and unethical practises rife in the international gem trade, several of the processes used to enhance gemstones are also very damaging to the health of the people applying the processes. Particularly in emerging countries.
Irradiation of gems carries a significant health risk to operators. As does treatment with beryllium (a carcinogen).
There is growing awareness about the negative issues associated with the diamond and gem trade. More and more consumers and jewellers are preferring non-conflict stones.
The issues surrounding the production of diamonds, gemstones and organics are every bit as complex as those associated with precious metal production.
In the diamond trade, most of us are at least somewhat aware of the issues relating to human rights abuses and cartels. Whether that be in a country torn by civil war. Or one where the population is oppressed by corrupt governments and powerful enterprises.
When it comes to gemstones, there are literally dozens of types of precious stones in common use sourced from around the world. Like the diamond trade, gems are every bit as subject to exploitation and corruption. Though the incidence of fraud (through production of synthetics and treatment of stones) is more prevalent.
At EJA our policy is to only use gems from suppliers where we can verify the source. Likewise we avoid treated stones.
We understand that some of our customers prefer not to buy newly mined diamonds and gemstones. We offer synthetic, recycled and vintage options. We can also create rings using supplied heirloom diamonds and gemstones.