In my first jewelry classes, more than 15 years ago, I ordered some silver. I spent a whopping $25 and that amount was so precious to me. But where did this silver come from? I asked my teachers where the silver originated and got some vague answers - Arizona? New Mexico? (Mildly true, since that’s where my main supplier of raw materials is based). The mine and source of the metals was not commonly known to my teachers (maybe you had teachers who taught you this, if so - lucky!), wasn’t taught as part of the curriculum, wasn’t published in the supplier’s catalog, and wasn’t disclosed anywhere on their website. I persisted and kept asking different people, but it wasn’t until 2005 that I started to get answers. Thanks to organizations like Ethical Metalsmiths, those of us in the jewelry industry who cared now had a place to find answers.This was a great resource since bad news about mines, mercury leaching into the water and human rights issues around mining were rarely big news, unless the story was incredibly tragic.
I think that many of us have this picture in our head of a miner, with a long beard, a scruffy hat and dirty clothes, leaning into a riverbed, perforated pan in hand. Maybe he’s scooping up river sediment to sift through - I know that I always like to think of him biting into a newly discovered gold nugget like in the cartoons, with eyes that turn into dollar signs. Maybe this is the way that it originally went down in California during the gold rush, and to be sure there are still places where you can go panning for gold, but methods for gold and silver mining turned far less idyllic, and far more destructive.
The good news is that there has been a sweeping movement to reform mining practices and more and more suppliers are signing on to use recycled metals in their offerings. Even more modern methods and partnerships have resulted in better options for both recycled and Fairmined precious metals.
Here are just a few reasons why you should seek out jewelry made from recycled or Fairmined gold (and silver!)
1- Preventing mercury contamination
Mercury is a waste by-product of gold mining. It is released into the air (and ultimately into our water supply) during the process of gold mining. The truth about how gold is mined is less a story of a single man finding nuggets in the ground, and more about large companies using mercury to separate miniscule fragments of gold from the sediment in which it rests. This process has been terrible for the environment around communities near these mines, not to mention that these communities aren’t benefiting in a way that is equitable. Mercury gets into our water supply when mining companies don’t do enough to care about how their wastewater is handled. This often happens in parts of the world where the poorest people are the worst affected https://earthworks.org/issues/mercury_air_emissions_from_gold_mines/
2 - You won’t be contributing to Human Rights Violations
Once gold is mined and then shipped to the refiners to be made into sheet and wire, you and I have no way of knowing where, exactly, this gold came from. If it comes from Nevada, we may “only” need to worry about mercury poisoning, but if it came from other parts of the world - Mali, for instance - your gold may very well have been mined by children as young as 6. There are new sources of gold from Fairmined sources, with certification that gold and silver were mined using environmentally-friendly standards, with inclusive and gender-equitable workplaces, and with economic support and equity going to the communities that mine the gold and silver. http://www.responsiblemines.org/en/
3 - It is easy to find recycled gold and silver
Finding suppliers of recycled gold is easier than ever. With increasing transparency in the jewelry industry, more and more suppliers are signing on to use only recycled metals. In the interest of my own transparency, know that I order my Fairmined and recycled materials from Virginia-based Hoover and Strong - their refining and environmental practices are above industry standards when it comes to reducing emissions and wastewater - their practices actually ensure that no wastewater is discharged into the environment. I also order recycled metals from New Mexico-based Rio Grande, a company that uses 100% recycled metals for most of their silver and gold.
What questions do you have about sourcing recycled and Fairmined metals? Hit me up in the comments!