• Kate Seow

Fulfilling my Fair Luxury Pledge

In March 2021, I announced that I intended to further my commitment to ethical sourcing for my jewellery creations. I made a Fair Luxury Pledge to "make my next collection using fully traceable materials". I then discovered that this was easier said than done!

What is Fair Luxury?

Fair Luxury is an independent collective of jewellery industry changemakers with a shared vision for a responsible and sustainable future. They launched the Fair Luxury Pledge framework in 2021, which is designed to support jewellers and industry professionals take tangible steps towards a better business. By choosing to create jewellery as responsibly as possible, we can help to provide sustainable livelihoods for everyone in our supply chains, from the metal and gemstone miners, to the gemstone cutters right through to our own businesses and the upkeep and well-being of our families. You can find out more about Fair Luxury here.

Easier Said Than Done!

The first step in fulfilling my pledge was to design my collection. Inspired by a combination of daisies and a reworking of the motif from my (now retired) Villefranche collection, I developed an elegant, modern design that could be adapted across a number of pieces. Whilst working on my initial sketches, I was also researching the possible materials that I could ultimately create my jewellery with. This was where things started to become challenging.

As a small, independent designer, it can sometimes be difficult to source exactly the right materials and components for my designs. Gemstones are now relatively straightforward to get hold of as there are some wonderful ethical gemstone suppliers with beautiful stones and inspiring stories behind them. For this collection, I decided to start with some beautiful teal-blue sapphires from Queensland, Australia, sourced and supplied by Nineteen48.

Early concept design for the Marguerite collection.

Precious metals, on the other hand, are a bit trickier! I decided to make the first few pieces of my new collection from silver so that I could test its reception before committing to the expense of gold. This is where I had to make a compromise. Whilst Fairtrade and Fairmined (FT/FM) gold is relatively easy to get hold of, the same cannot be said for FT/FM silver. Although in theory, FT/FM silver is available, in reality it is very scarce as it's a by-product of FT/FM gold mining. There are currently no Fairmined-certified silver mines in operation, and silver mining for the most part is a large-scale operation as the commercial cost of silver makes artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) unviable. Periodically, I make enquiries about its availability but it's either unavailable at the time of asking, or prohibitively expensive for the quantities I need.

Problem-Solving Time!

So, I've had to find an alternative for my silver. The next best option is to use recycled silver, which is much easier to come by. From an eco-friendly point of view, recycling metal uses far fewer resources and has a much smaller carbon footprint compared with mining and extracting new material. Recycling still comes with its own problems, however, the first being that recycled silver is no longer fully traceable. Next, an increased demand for recycled silver (and gold) seems to have done little to reduce the quantity of newly-mined metal entering the market each year; quite simply, society's current consumption of these materials cannot be met solely by recycled metal stock.

It should also be remembered that recycling precious metals is not new - metalsmiths have been saving, melting and reusing scraps for as long as the craft has existed. We even send our floor sweepings to the refiners to reclaim what precious metals we can! This means that regardless of how it's been marketed, most silver (and gold) bullion will contain some recycled content. One last consideration is that recycled metal doesn't support ASM miners, many of whom are among the poorest people in the World with little to no other means of supporting themselves and their families.

Does this mean we shouldn't bother with recycled metals then? My view is that although it's an imperfect option, choosing recycled metals is still a step in the right direction - it's still another vote for the sustainable World we're striving for. So I have opted to use recycled silver for my new collection. In fact, although I can't trace the silver all the way back to its original source (it could have been mined hundreds of years ago), I do know that some of it was previously used in old NHS x-ray films!

Introducing the Marguerite Collection

So, now you know where the materials for my new collection have come from - let's see how it's made. I started by sawing a round disc of metal and then heating it repeatedly to create an organic texture on the surface, known as reticulation - cutting the disc out first meant that it "puffed up" during the heating cycles. Next, I fused five little metal balls (called granulation) to the surface of the disc and soldered jump rings and ring bands on where necessary. After a clean and pre-polish, I flush set the 2mm round sapphires in the centre of each the disc - this was a little trickier than normal as the surface was a little uneven due to the reticulation. A trip to the assay office and a final polish brought the pieces to life. If you would like your own piece of the Marguerite collection, it's now available in my shop.

My Next Pledge

The process of exploring the (ever-changing) options for more sustainable jewellery making materials has been fascinating and has left me enthusiastic to do more. But I also need to think carefully about the feasibility of my pledge given the challenges and compromises that I faced throughout 2021. One area that I am already developing within my business is my fine jewellery offering - this means introducing some gold items to my collections. I already offer both Fairtrade and Single Mine Origin (SMO) gold to my clients for bespoke work, but I have yet to introduce gold in my collections. This is likely to form the basis of my Fair Luxury Pledge 2022.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this and have found it informative. If you would like more content like this delivered directly to your inbox, you can join my mailing list here.

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