Environmentally sound options for brand-new jewelry may not be available at your corner jewelry store, but fortunately, there are a number of companies with high ethical standards that allow you to shop with the assurance that your new accessories come with an earth- and people-friendly bill of health.
Antique, vintage or pre-owned (usually referred to as “estate”) jewelry pieces–or family heirlooms–are the most ecological choice, simply because no new materials were mined to make them. Diamonds rarely depreciate in value, and you can add sparkle to old rings simply by boiling them.
Recycled metals reduce the need for destructive mining. According to the environmental nonprofit WorldWatch Institute, 80 percent of gold mined from the earth is used for jewelry. Also look for recycled silver, titanium and platinum and other recycled materials, like glass and leather, used in more casual pieces.
Buy diamonds from Canada and Australia.
Buy gemstones from Kenya, Madagascar, Israel, India, Belgium and South Africa.
Pearls have a relatively low impact on the environment. Cultured (or farmed) pearls have even been used to clean water and reduce heavy-metal pollution.
When buying new, always buy from reputable retailers that you trust and who can attest to the origins of the gold, diamonds and gemstones they sell. Ask your jeweler if he or she can provide a “Certificate of Origin” stating that the diamonds for sale came from government-controlled areas where conflict diamond mining is at a minimum. If a certificate of origin is not available, ask your jeweler which company supplies the store’s gold and diamonds, and research that particular supplier’s standards and policies before purchasing.
If your jeweler sells African diamonds, ask for the supplier’s name and if he or she can provide a Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) certificate of origin. Shipments of diamonds from Kimberley Process participating countries are shipped with a certificate of origin, and participating countries only trade with other Kimberley Process participants.
Socially Conscious Companies
A February 2007 survey by Amnesty International and Global Witness found that Helzberg Diamonds, Sterling Jewelers and Tiffany and Co. had the most comprehensive policies in place (including internal and third-party auditing) to combat conflict diamonds. The survey also noted that Birks and Mayors, Finlay, Fred Meyer Jewelers, Samuels Jewelers and Zales had, to a lesser extent, implemented measures to prevent conflict diamonds from entering their supplies. Tiffany and Co. has also been a vocal opponent of destructive mining, and the company is a member of Jewelers of America, which has taken a hard-line stance against human-rights abuses in Burmese gem mines.
Most recently, in February 2008, Tiffany signed a pledge, along with Helzberg Diamonds, Fortunoff Jewelers and Leber Jewelers (a Chicago-based jeweler also committed to selling conflict-free diamonds and gemstones), refusing to buy gold from a controversial gold-and-copper mine under development in Bristol Bay, Alaska. If developed, the mine could prove devastating to some of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries.
Trigem Designs, a division of Columbia Gem House, supplies ethical jewelers with fairly traded gem stones. Eric Braunwart, CEO, has adopted a set of criteria he’s named the “Fair Trade Gems Protocol,” which include fair labor conditions, environmental protection standards and transparency in the supply chain. Look for jewelers that use Trigem gemstones on the Product Comparisons page.
Corporacion Oro Verde, or Green Gold Corporation, is a gold mining company dedicated to reversing the harms of large-scale gold mining on the diverse ecosystems of Columbia. It has adopted 11 criteria to reduce a mine’s environmental impact, among them, forbidding the use of mercury, cyanide and any other forms of toxic pollutants and requiring all areas mined to achieve ecological stability within three years of the end of their useful life. Look for jewelers that use their gold on the Product Comparisons page.