Knowledge is the Key to Green Jewelry
Browse through the CustomMade galleries and you’re certain to find artisan statements about adhering to eco-friendly practices and descriptions of projects created from responsibly sourced and/or recycled materials. Although wood may dominate many discussions of environmental sustainability in the galleries, you’ll discover that artisans working in many different media also share these concerns.
The responsible sourcing of precious metals and gems is of particular concern to custom jewelry makers as well as one of the world’s most recognizable and prestigious jewelry retailers, Tiffany & Co.. Over the last 20 years, Tiffany has developed its corporate stance on sustainability and responsible mining in response, in part, to crises such as “blood diamonds” and “dirty gold.” In recent years, Tiffany has opposed, based on environmental risks, the establishment of the proposed Pebble Mine gold mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Journalist Adam Aston recently interviewed Tiffany CEO Michael J. Kowalski about Tiffany’s stand against the mine as well as the evolution of the company’s environmental policies. The interview appears in the article, “Meet the Change Makers: Tiffany’s Diamonds and Gold Add Greenish Sparkle,” on the OnEarth Magazine website.
One subject in particular discussed by Mr. Kowalski in this fascinating interview illuminates a critical difference between most retail jewelers and custom jewelry makers, and environmentally and socially conscious consumers should be aware of it.
In the 1980s, Tiffany didn’t manufacture the majority of their jewelry and relied heavily on other manufacturers from around the world as well as on intermediaries for purchasing polished diamonds. The mining conditions at the sources were largely unknown to Tiffany. Since then, the company has strived to vertically integrate their resource supply chain so mining and manufacturing conditions are known and can be better controlled. Tiffany is “rather unique” in that it is, after many years of effort, “without a doubt the most vertically integrated retail jeweler in the world,” says Kowalski.
Smaller-scale custom jewelry artisans are more likely to act as their own buyers, gem cutters, polishers, and, of course, manufacturers than their retail competition. What makes Tiffany “rather unique” among large retail jewelers is more often found among these custom makers. Although no one, not even Tiffany, as Kowalski acknowledges, can affirm with 100% certainty that no conflict gems or metals enter their supply chain, the custom consumer is likely to be in close contact with the person, the artisan, most knowledgeable about his or her business’s supply chain and the origins of the specific metals and gems to be used in a custom jewelry design. Custom clients have the advantage over retail clients, too: they will know all about the origins of their custom made jewelry before it is even created.
These one-of-a-kind wedding bands were inspired by the moving water of a river that the engaged couple lived next to. Their two families each gave them a silver spoon, which I melted together to make their rings using the lost wax casting method. The silver was oxidized and polished to show off the unique, fluid texture.
Martha McLeod Keith can take responsibly sourced materials, “from sea glass to conflict-free diamonds” and even repurposed (and romantically sourced) silver, and create a special piece for her customers.
Makers, what environmental or social concerns have your clients expressed and how have you addressed them? Leave your comments and let us know.