How to buy ethical gold and silver: your guide to sourcing top-quality jewellery

The brutal reality behind the jewellery we give with love is often one of child labour, mercury poisoning and exploitation.

Here’s how to make sure you’re giving a stylish gift with a better story…

Buying Fairtrade gold ensures a better livelihood for the gold miners. However, gold is a soft metal and so is always mixed with other alloy metals to make it more robust.

The alloy mix is also used to change the colour of the gold from traditional yellow, to rose gold or white. There is currently no way of tracing the alloy mix.

The higher the carat, the higher percentage of gold in the wedding band – a 9 ct gold ring has 37.5 per cent gold, and an 18 carat gold ring has 75 per cent.

Some jewellers will give you the option of using recycled precious metals to create your wedding band, including Ingle & Rhode – where it costs the same to choose this option as it does to buy Fairtrade Gold.

“I personally prefer supporting Fairtrade over recycled,” says Ingle. “All metal is recycled, so reusing old jewellery doesn’t have as big an impact as demanding better mining conditions.”

Silver is a by-product of gold mining, so Fairtrade silver is harder to source.

This used to be available to buy as Fairtrade – but isn’t any more due to the small Fairtrade mine getting taken over by larger non-Fairtrade mines around it.

Currently the best way to buy Platinum or Palladium is recycled, from an accredited source such as SCS Global Services in the US.

Palladium is a by-product of platinum mining.

Almost all jewellers will tell you their diamonds are ethically sourced and certified by the Kimberly Process. Framption and Ingle insist this isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

“This is used, unfortunately, by the industry to try to fool consumers,” says Ingle.

Both jewellers source their diamonds from Canada where they have a well-established traceability scheme, such as the Canadian Mark Scheme. Diamonds which are over 0.3 carats are laser inscribed, but that’s not viable for the smaller ones.

Lab grown diamonds are classified as type IIA, the most valued and purest form of diamond. Less than 2% of the world’s mined diamonds belong to this category. (CredJewellery)

Cred Jewellery is now also offers lab grown diamonds which are created from a small diamond seed in a high pressure, high temperature conditions – a similar process to how they are naturally created. Leonardo DiCarprio is just one of the high-profile investors in this technology.

“Mining diamonds is an energy intensive and ecologically invasive procedure, affecting fragile ecosystems across the world,” says Frampton. “Lab grown diamonds are a victory for the environment, human rights and diamond supply chain transparency.”

They are currently sold for around two-thirds of the price of a conventional diamond, and Frampton believes they will hold their value – perhaps even bringing the value of a naturally produced diamond down in years to come.

Ingle & Rhode source their sapphires from Sri Lanka, where the mining is made up collectives or co-operatives, with a lower environmental impact than large scale mining

These are generally mined in smaller artisanal mines, which can be rife with similar problems to gold.

It’s much harder to trace the source, which means you may be supporting small-scale producers or you may be buying from corrupt mines.

The buyer’s decision essentially has to be based on their trust of the jeweller.

The best way to build this is to ask lots of questions about how they source of their precious metals and stones. A key factor will be if someone from the company has visited the mine and can speak about the experience first-hand.

Fairtrade gold costs about four per cent more than non-Fairtrade gold. Buyers can also expect to pay a premium of at least 10 per cent to have it crafted by a UK jeweller, rather than mass-produced in a factory in Asia.

Canadian Diamonds are about 10-15 per cent more expensive than diamonds from mines in other parts of the world.

2 thoughts on “How to buy ethical gold and silver: your guide to sourcing top-quality jewellery

  1. Pingback: The first Fairtrade gold hits the UK from Africa: here's what you need to know

  2. Pingback: Fairtrade fortnight: the true cost of gold and diamonds and where to buy ethical jewellery

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