Editorial Comment by Marc Choyt, FJA USA
Recently, there was a discussion on an ethical jeweler list serve over which metals are certified recycled from major supply houses. Recycled gold and silver have been foundation to ethical jewelers, particularly in North America, for many years. There’s no question recycled silver will remain a best option for a long time. Only a few kilos of month of fairtrade silver is available and it will be years before that changes. Recycled gold, however, is a different situation.
Though I moved my company to recycled metals as soon as it was possible, and I promote the hell out of it and get business because of it, I have begun to feel that the rise of popularity and consumer awareness at least concerning recycled gold is at best a red herring for jewelers and consumers and at worst a big problem for the ethical jewelry movement’s progress.
We all know gold has been recycled by jewelers forever. The difference now is simply that it is assembled in one place and marketed as “eco”. In fact, the push toward recycled gold by pioneer ethical jewelers and its acceptance by mainstream North American suppliers does nothing to impact the mining the producer communities.
I personally have come to the conclusion that recycled gold is an obstacle to the change I want to see in the jewelry sector. It allows jewelers and customers to feel like they are making a difference when in fact they are not. Gold mining will continue regardless of how much recycled gold we use.
In North America, the largest jewelry market in the world, using fairtrade/fairmined metal is difficult because we lack a strong supply chain. Despite great efforts of the EM consortium, we do not have a scalable solution. When I buy fairtrade gold, I have to import it from England. If I’m doing a cast of 14K white, then I have to buy up to an ounce of that gold. Then, the next order might be 18K white, which means buying and holding more gold to do a cast. This makes the whole process expensive and cumbersome. Also, my company works a lot with sheet and wire which is not readily available.
We need mill products and casting houses that are competitive and will allow us to bring fairtrade/fairmined gold to market easily. The good news is that in England this is happening. There were major jewelry supply houses already offering casting services in fair trade gold at prices that would just add $30 to the cost of a wedding ring. Fair trade, with their strong brand recognition and excellent reputation among progressive consumers in North America, is going to be offering gold early in the fall of this year. Plus, with Fairtrade’s new program, it will be easy and free for any small jeweler to buy and sell fairtrade gold, taking advantage of the brand.
Now, imagine how many hundreds of thousands of small scale miners would benefit if fairmined/fairtrade gold was mainstream in North America…
Instead of focusing on recycled metals, we have to a way to make fairtrade/fairmined gold affordable for the mainstream here and available to every small jeweler who wants it. If you even need to be reminding of why, check out this post about my recent visit to mines in Africa, where I learned about the movement toward Fair trade gold in Kenya and Tanzania.
Marc Choyt is Director of Fair Jewelry Action USA and President of Reflective Images, an designer jewelry company that sells fair trade gold and unique artisan wedding rings and designer Celtic jewelry.