The way the gold supply chain works is that every jeweller in the UK recycles their offcuts and scraps from their workshop back into a big pot in the refinery. The refiners work on a large scale so gold from new mining, gold from goldsmith's work benches and old pieces of gold jewellery are all melted up together and made into new sheets and bars. This generally means that a customer cannot know where their gold has come from and definitively whether it has been mined in an ethically sound way or not.
We are pursuing a multi-pronged attack to tackle this:
- As the first independent UK Jewellers to have achieved full Responsible Jewellery Council Certification we are putting pressure on the commercial mines to clean up their act, and use the collective buying power of the UK jewellery industry, through this organisation, to force change to happen.
- We were one of the first twenty jewellers worldwide to launch fully certified Fairtrade gold with the Fairtrade Foundation, as an option to our customers for their bespoke jewellery. Since its launch in 2011 the availability of Fairtrade gold has increased and we are now able to source Fairtrade gold in both 9 carat and 18 carat alloys and in all three colours: rose, yellow and white.
- We have been consistently lobbying our metal suppliers to make changes, specifically in being able to provide both recycled metals and Fairtrade gold.
- In 2021 we made a Pledge with Fair Luxury that we would source only recycled or Fairtrade gold bullion.
In response to our requests, our gold bullion suppliers started to offer newly formed recycled gold bullion that had been refined separately to their standard gold and traced to ensure it is from 100% recycled sources. They have now transitioned to 100% of their gold bullion being recycled, and so we can now offer recycled metal as our ‘standard’ gold, whether we are handmaking pieces in our workshop or casting them. Traceability is still an issue for some people, as although the bullion dealers can confidently claim the metal they use is ‘second generation’ and not newly mined, it is still not possible to trace the metal back to source.
Fairtrade gold is, however, fully traceable back to the cooperatives in Peru where it was mined. We are really proud to be able to offer this as an option and to know that whilst mining has happened, it has happened on a small scale, in a way that supports the miner, their community and the environment. Artisanal and small scale miners (ASMs) produce 15% of global gold supply, but make up 90% of labour in gold extraction – using this gold can make a real impact on people’s lives.
Another option for customers is to consider reusing their own old gold - family jewellery can be melted down here in our workshop and made into a new piece. This isn't a perfect process – it’s difficult to avoid tiny bubbles and you never get as much gold as you expect. It is occasionally more expensive than getting gold from the refiners because of the time involved, but it imbues the new piece with a unique history that echoes through the family.
We are also signatories to the No Dirty Gold campaign. Dirty gold really is a big environmental problem, and in no way easy to solve. Large-scale gold mining can be extremely environmentally invasive. Small scale mining has been linked with violence, illegal trading and environmental degradation. It's very difficult to know where your gold has come from through the regular supply chain and so we feel it is really important that we do what we can to improve the situation. Through working closely with the Responsible Jewellery Council and others in the jewellery industry we have been proving to the large mining companies that extracting gold in a cleaner, more responsible way is important to customers. The gold mining industry has started to clean up its act. It's not there yet, but there is progress and momentum is building.
Platinum & Palladium
Platinum and palladium are beautiful but incredibly rare metals; apparently, if you put all the platinum in the world together in an Olympic sized swimming pool it wouldn't even cover your ankles! Platinum and palladium wear better than gold, which means that you are more likely to need to rebuild the back of a gold ring than, for example, a platinum one. Whilst this fact means they are energy intensive to mine and refine, the fact that they are likely to need less work in the future means that energy use is reduced over the life of the ring.
Palladium is found in many of the same places as platinum and therefore often comes out of the ground when platinum is mined. It is widely believed that palladium is a more environmentally friendly choice because it’s not mined for its own sake.
It’s also worth mentioning that because they are so valuable, platinum and palladium are routinely recovered and efficiently recycled all over the world. In fact, it’s valuable enough that some cities actually refine their road sweepings to be able to recover any metal that has come from catalytic converters.
Our casting companies use recycled platinum, but as yet there is no guaranteed paper-trail system to prove the platinum’s recycled status. The companies that we buy our metals from are not only highly reputable, but most are also members of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). If you buy platinum from us, we can’t guarantee that it has never done harm over its life cycle as we can’t be certain where it was originally mined. However, we can be as sure as possible that after it has been recycled it has not caused any harm.
It is often possible to reuse heirloom platinum jewellery, although unlike gold jewellery we can't just melt it down and reuse it in the workshop - it just doesn't work as well as gold. One option is to reuse it in the same form, so for example an old platinum wedding ring could become the shank for a new ring. Alternatively, we can send old platinum jewellery to our casting company who can melt it down under vacuum and at high temperatures so that we can use it in a casting process.
There is no Fairtrade platinum available because it is not commercially viable for the miners. As such, if a customer would like to use ethically sourced, newly mined precious metal that you can be completely sure has not contributed to human rights issues – even many years ago – then our advice would be to opt for white gold instead of platinum. We can then use Fairtrade metal which has been freshly mined with a strong mine to market paper-trail and audit too.
Compared to the other metals, silver generally doesn't take much energy to mine and refine. As much as 75% of the world's silver production comes as a by-product from mining gold, copper, lead and zinc.
Silver has a low melting point and this makes it easier to refine and work with which also helps to save energy.
We are able to source recycled silver bullion to create new pieces of jewellery without any new mining taking place, and although it is not commonly available, we can also work with Fairtrade silver too.
Rhodium plating can be applied to the surface of a white gold ring or piece of jewellery to give it a brighter white colour. The plating wears off over time and needs re-applying regularly. The solution used in this plating process is harmful to the environment if not disposed of carefully, so we like to avoid it where we can. Unlike most jewellers, we show our customers the natural, warmer colours of white gold and they will usually chose to avoid plating- either they like the colour of the metal as it is or they will chose platinum or palladium.
Our designers will be happy to talk you through any of these options, simply get in touch.
In part 2 of her series on recycling jewellery, Senior Designer Laurie looks at the ways in which gemstones can be reused
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