Sustainable gold jewellery. Find out why it matters and what’s what – in this simple yet comprehensive guide.
Is recycled gold ethical? How to recognise sustainable gold? We cover these questions and then some more.
Know Your Gold contents:
1. Recycled Gold
2. Ethical Gold
3. Eco-Friendly Gold
4. Is indie jewellery ethical?
Gold mining can do irreversible damage to people and the environment – it’s all over town that the process can come with a slew of social and environmental problems. Child labour, worker exploitation, violation of land rights or contamination with harsh toxins are just some of them. Because gold (and silver) supply chains are global and complex, they are also extremely difficult to trace.
Of course there are different regulations, initiatives and jewellers who work on providing sustainable alternatives. Look up ethical jewellery, and you’ll see a variety of terms like “eco gold”, “green gold”, “recycled jewellery” pop up. You’re also likely to find certifications such as Fairmined or Fairtrade, and other initiatives that follow similar goals.
Add this page to your favourites to look it up before buying your next piece of gold jewellery.
Gold recycling aka the use of previously refined gold has been around for ages. It’s nothing new, rather, a normal practice, not thought leadership.
Jewellers use it all the time, it’s actually part of the jewel-making process to collect and to reuse the scrap. As any jeweller will confirm, if not certified as 100% post-consumer waste, recycled gold from scraps will often be blended with new gold. Apart from the jewellery making process, recycled gold can come from industrial waste, recyclable gold from jewellery or bars, and melted, ready-to-use recyclable gold.
Recycled gold can be seen as sustainable – albeit at a very basic level, and its true grad of sustainability can wary drastically. On the plus side the resources are reused, but on the minus side there is no positive change in the mining practice and offers no benefits whatsoever for mining communities coming from recycled gold. However, not all recycled gold is created equal: if the source of recycled material can’t be traced to an ethical source or is completely intransparent, gold recycling poses is a risk of conflict, smuggled, illegal gold entering the supply chain of sustainable gold products. Here, for exmaple, is a 2014 story as covered by the BBC about a major Dubai-based refinery scandal. If the recycled gold (or silver) is fully traceable, it’s a good sign.
How to buy sustainable recycled gold? Verify the recycled gold claims and sourcing before you buy.
The term ethical gold refers to gold from responsible artisanal or small scale mining – certified Fairmined or Fairtrade, this gold is produced in an ethical way just as the name suggests: good labour conditions, no child labour, no conflict gold, and fully traceable sources. Even though ethical gold mining may include the use of toxic materials namely cyanide and mercury, these are handled and disposed of in a safe way.
As you can see, its primary goal hereof is to provide safe and fairly paying working conditions.
To buy ethical gold jewellery, look out for Fairmined Gold and Fairtrade Gold certifications.
Behind the scenes at QuiteQuiet, a Berlin-based ethical jewellery brand working with Fairtrade Gold and traceable recycled silver from Germany.
Eco-friendly gold, briefly: eco gold or sometimes green gold – as these terms suggest they refer to gold mined without the use of cyanide, mercury or any other toxins. Green gold programs often include reforestation projects for local ecosystems, because even eco-friendly gold mining has a detrimental impact on the environment.
A positive impact on the mining communities and their working conditions can but doesn’t have to be part of eco gold mining.
However, supplies of eco gold are quite limited and may not always be available.
Certifications to look for are Fairmined Ecological Gold and Fairtrade Ecological Gold. These are not separate standards, rather an additional layer of requirements.
But what if I buy from small artisans or indie jewellers on Etsy or on artisanal markets, this must be ethical?
Excellent question. There is a growing community of indie fine jewellery makers – Etsy, Instagram, local markets: those dainty rose gold or chunky sterling silver pieces are everywhere these days. Many brands will claim that their jewellery is ethical because they use recycled materials or because it’s artisanally made in Europe, UK, the US or Canada etc.
Now, of course ethical and eco-friendly methods can apply to gold mining and recovery AND to the conditions under which the jewellery is made. Obviously, a master jeweller with a major jewellery brand or even en independent goldsmith based in Europe will equal fair pay and high standard working conditions. But let’s not mix the work of the two, the miner and the jeweller. Take into consideration the material the jewellers use. If conflict gold is used by an indie goldsmith, there is no way to see their jewellery as ethical.
Another point is: I’ve seen jewellery “makers” or “indie brands” online who base their collections off cheap elements – gold and silver chains, beads and charms, gemstone strands and gemstones in various settings – pre-produced in Asian factories. And one can only assume if these are made in an ethical artisanal community or in a jewellery sweatshop. Honest jewellers will be open about their sourcing and, if they work directly with the manufacturers, be able to provide at least some believable footage of the artisans and the community, so it’s always a good idea to just talk and ask questions.
Also let’s mention that because recycled gold (or silver) is the most affordable quasi-sustainable option and because ethical gold supplies can wary, many indie jewellery makers will choose recycled material to launch their brand. Even though this is not really innovative in terms of changing the industry, I think you should watch those brands if you love their designs – if you see them add other sustainable practices step by step as they’re growing or maybe eventually using eco-friendly or ethical gold (or silver) for their creations, it means you’ve found your perfect jeweller.